What I Invested In This Week—1st Ed.
Life Debt and Leverage in the pursuit of thick desires
This is the first edition in a new series that I plan to publish periodically called “What I Invested In”.
I mean ‘invest’ in the broadest sense possible. The list might include a list of noteable essays or books that I’ve read since the last edition, along with new dishes cooked, skills learned, helpful products I discovered, relationships invested in, or transformative experiences I recently engaged in—from retreats, to new forms of play (I tend to invent a lot of games), or other things which I think might be helpful for readers to know about as we each try to construct thicker lives.
Very rarely, it will include financial investments I’ve made. (That’s not really what this is about; it’s about the investment of time, energy, and soul—and the unconventional long-term returns that these investments can generate.)
A regular reader of this newsletter, Nish, made a comment in the last Open Thread that has had me pondering for days. You can view the whole thing here (his comment is pinned to the top), but here’s an excerpt:
Lately I have been thinking about the risk of "Life Debt." A debt that is created when I/we choose Thin Desires over Thick Desires. The idea of Life Debt came to be based on the concept of technical debt from the software development world.
Defn: In software development, technical debt is the implied cost of additional rework caused by choosing an easy solution now instead of using a better approach that would take longer.
Thin Desires may be easier to focus on, to pursue. But what sort of debt does anyone of us accumulate when we prioritize the Thin over the Thick?
The thought of ‘Life Debt’ is a somewhat scary thought because I know I’ve amassed a lot of it over the course of the years. Nish’s post got me thinking, though: none of us will be able to get through life without some form of debt (especially life debt, generated by the pursuit of thin desires), but perhaps what matters far more are the desires we’ve chosen with intentionality and wisdom to invest in.
At the end of my life, the debt incurred by my thin desires will hopefully look miniscule relative to the cumulative, compounded, long-term returns of the investments I’ve made in my thick desires.
So here is my list of things that I invested in these past few days. Sometimes, I’ll include what I think are probably bad investments. And let’s face it: sometimes, we don’t know until later.
My hope is that this might help you explore some excellent people and things worth investing in, including yourself.
The essay What Progress Wants by Paul Kingsnorth, who writes the Substack “The Abbey of Misrule”. His summary of Del Noce may call to mind for you the difference between immanent and transcendent desire (at least it did for me). “Del Noce’s ideas are complex, but this claim gets to the heart of the matter. The modern epoch, guided by science, reason and the self, rejects the notion of anything ‘unseen’ or ‘beyond’. From the eighteenth century onwards, philosophy sweeps away religion: the world is now understood in purely human terms, and managed with purely human notions. Everything becomes immanent: literally down-to-Earth. There are no principalities or powers, and so everything is potentially transformable and explicable through human might.”
Claire and I watched Top Gun: Maverick. All I can say is that it was damn good entertainment—the kind of pure movie experience in which the writers and directors seemed to have no other motive other than pleasing the audience.
Went to the farmer’s market in West Michigan and picked up all of the herbs, flowers, and veggies we need to plant the garden this summer. I had a long conversation with the guy manning the vegetable section and asked him for the best ‘slice and eat’ tomatoes (for tomato sandwiches, BLT’s, etc). His strong advice was Better Boy. (Not to be confused with Butter Boy, which is the best butter money can buy—at least in the United States of America—and you can usually find it at Wegemans if you’re lucky enough to have one where you live.) I’ve already invested a few hours getting things set-up for the garden, but a lot of Vitamin-D absorbing work lies ahead for both of us.
I re-read about half of Jay-Z Decoded, a fascinating book not only for anyone who grew up listening to hip-hop (it ‘decodes’ Jay’s lyrics and his mind) but also for anyone interested in exploring one of the most fascinating ways that mimesis plays out. In hip-hop culture, perhaps especially in the 90’s, mimetic rivalry was a powerful engine of creativity. It’s the opposite of the startup world where it’s not cool to brag; in hip-hop, bragging is the whole game. How fly, how fresh, how hard, how real a rapper is must be, according to Jay-Z, transformed into a form of poetry that follows a very specific structure, not unlike a sonnet. If you can’t tell the world (especially your enemies) that you have the most street cred while using the same kind of verse and in the same space—in other words, without opting out of the structure—you’re simply not the best. There are rules for the competition. And there is nothing corny about it: finding a clever way to say that you have more money than your rival, or that your music is more respected, is the whole game. This Freshmanistan is a place of never-ending invention.
Claire and I played “The Game” for well over an hour the other night. We don’t really have a good name for it yet, but we both know what we mean when the other asks if we want to play. It goes like this: one person recalls (secretly) a wonderful meal that we had with the other and then gives the vaguest hint possible about what it might be (“We had a stoic server” or “It was in a very dimly lit dining room”). The other person has to name the meal: where it was, and any distinguishing features. The more clues they have to ask for (“What country were we in? What city were we in?”) the less respect they earn in the ‘Game’. We’ve been playing non-stop for about 5 years now. The best part is that you can play anywhere, for any amount of time: it can take 30 seconds, or 45 minutes (depending on how many experiences you want to conjure up.) Rotate and take turns being the Conjurer/Hint-giver vs. the Rememberer. One side benefit of the game, aside from the wonderful exercise of your shared memory, is that it gives you and your friend (or spouse or loved one) a chance to recall and make present what were presumably joyous ocassions, and it provides a way to deepen your bond.
I picked my dad up from the memory care facility where he is receiving intensive care for Alzheimer’s disease. We spent this morning together and then visited my mother’s grave. It was his first time being there since she passed away in November, and it all came back to him in a moment. Until he turned to me after a minute and said, “I have to take a piss and I can’t hold it,” at which point I found the nearest private point in the nearby woods and stood guard.
My dad’s a veteran of the 101st Airbone division with combat jumps in Vietnam. He made it out alive, but he lost a lot of friends, and the experience transformed his life. Shortly after 9/11, when I was a young college student in New York City (I watched the towers fall from a few blocks away), I called my dad and told him I was dropping out of college to join the military. He talked me out of it.
I learned that day how a vocation or a life trajectory can turn on a knife’s edge or on the words of a single conversation with a loved one.
So it seemed like my most important investment of the week: an investment in time spent with my father who will not remember a single minute of it when it wakes up tomorrow—but only love is credible, and only love endures.
Thank you, as always, for reading.
And I hope you considering joining me along with Byrne Hobart and dozens of other readers for our June 9 Zoom event on ‘Manias, Mimesis, and Markets’ at 6pm EST.
P.S. Attentive readers may have noticed that I said I was going to feature a Q&A this weekend, which is going to be pushed back or re-imagined as something else instead.