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August Links

I forgot that July was ending when I told you last week I’ll be continuing my series on wealth. I promised that I’d spend the first week of each month sharing some things I’ve been consuming. Here are some of my favorites.

Kodi Lee Sings on America’s Got Talent

Kodi, who is blind and has autism, is led by his mom to stand in front of the four judges. He talks with a broken sing-songy voice that’s full of excitement, eager to play for them. He heads over to the piano with his mom, and sits down in front of it. Before his mom leaves, she bends down next to Kodi and whispers, “This your time baby. There’s going to be like 20 cameras on you. Are you ready?” He replies, “Yeah!”

He takes a few seconds, blowing softly onto the mic to make sure he’s in front it, and a few more to position his hands on the keys. He plays the intro to Ray Charles’ A Song for You, and sings with an abandon and soulfulness that is magnetic. His voice is strong, his playing is confident, and he is lucid in his singing. Whatever barriers there are to him going through his daily life are lifted when he is singing, and you see Kodi for who he is.

He ends with these words:

I love you in a place
Where there's no space or time
I love you for my life
You're a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together

We were alone
And I was singing this song to you

After he sings, the judges are dumbfounded. They take turns complimenting him, and Kodi thanks them for their positive verdict. I’ve always disliked this part of the show. From American Idol to this latest iteration, it perpetuates the idea that validation from others is more important than your own integrity. Sometimes, it serves as a reality check for their delusion of their own talent, but more often than not, seems like an unfair balance of power used to entertain rather than encourage.

So I found myself dumbstruck when Simon Cowell, the resident “mean judge” says to Kodi, “Thank you so much for trusting us on this show. I’m going to remember this moment for the rest of my life.” Simon acknowledged the accountability the show has to treat artists like Kodi with respect. No matter its popularity, they need people like him to come and lay themselves open for the show to function. Maybe the power isn’t as imbalanced as I first thought, and the people coming are courageous, not desperate for approval.

The Artist’s Way in the Age of Self Promotion

I still have to write about the The Artist’s Way for you. I’m tempted to go through it again before trying to write about it. In the meantime, Carrie Batton’s essay is a great primer, and also has a great insight about the current “creative” age of Self Promotion:

This life chafes against the lessons of “The Artist’s Way,” rendering them almost impossible to follow. Hobbies are now necessarily productive. If you’re learning piano, you must try to record the jingle for that commercial your friend directed. If you develop a curiosity about a niche topic, you must start an online newsletter dedicated to it, work to build your audience, and then try to monetize the newsletter. If you have a nice speaking voice, you must start a podcast. We’re encouraged to be “goal-oriented” and rewarded with outsize praise for everything we’ve accomplished, and so we feel that we need to turn every creative pursuit into a professional one. This makes some of Cameron’s lessons more urgent than ever. But, unlike earlier generations of readers, we don’t need Cameron to protect us from the voices telling us to doubt ourselves. What we need, instead, are new voices granting us permission to try new things in private—and then leave them be.

I mentioned in last week’s letter about how people fall into the temptation to find something that they are passionate about and jump into it as quick as they can. There’s no time to dig deep because there is this pressure to be productive with any hobby they take on:

It’s as if you plant a seed, and demand a seedling to give you shade and a harvest without watering it or letting it grow into a tree. Asking too much of your art early on will sap away the joy of it, or worse you’ll become desperate and end up in another kind of trap.

What we need, as Batton said, is permission to have a hobby and enjoy it for the sake of enjoyment and nothing more. Specific knowledge, the key ingredient to your contribution and wealth, is built on following your curiosities.

Victor Frankl says it better than I ever could:

Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

I have a friend who is getting her PhD in literature and any book that she recommends I automatically buy and read. This was one that she recommended and I’ve been savoring every page. I’ve gone through about a third of the book, and already have all this marginalia about how perfect his verb choice is, or how gracefully he explained something so esoteric.

The book is a collection of essays that add up to a memoir of sorts. Chee is gay, and in his words “half White, half Korean, or, to be more specific, Scotch, Irish, Welsh, Korean, Chinese, Mongolian.” This particular essay is called “Girl” and it is set on Halloween night in 1990 where he dresses up in drag for a part that night.

In this moment, the confusion of my whole life has receded. No one will ask me if I am white or Asian. No one will ask me if I am a man or a woman. No one will ask me why I love men. For a moment, I want Fred to stay a man all night. There is nothing brave in this: any man and woman can walk together, in love and unharassed in this country, in this world—and for a moment, I just want to be his overly made-up girlfriend all night. I want him to be my quiet, strong man. I want to hold his hand all night and have it be only that; not political, not dangerous, just that. I want the ancient reassurances legislated for by centuries of mobs.

I am utterly ignorant to what life is like for a biracial, homosexual man growing up in the 80’s and 90’s but this paragraph allowed me a glimpse. It’s so vulnerable, painful, courageous, strong, and brave all at the same time.

This part, I do relate with:

I can’t skip what I need to do to love this face by making it over. I can’t chase after the power I felt that night, the fleeting sense of finally belonging to the status quo, by making myself into something that looks like the something they want. Being real means being at home in this face, just as it is when I wake up.

An Oral History of David Cone’s Perfect Game

I don’t know much about sports, nor do I follow it. I know enough to get by in a conversation, but can’t contribute much if I'm asked “what did you think of the game last night?”

One thing I do know is how improbable it is to pitch a perfect game. Out of the hundreds of thousands of baseball games that have been played, only 23 have been perfect games. A perfect game means no one from the opposing team gets on base. Every fly balls need to be caught, and any ground ball must reach first base before the runner get there. In order for it to be achieved, the whole team has to be in on it.

On July 18, 1999 David Cone, the pitcher for the Yankees, pitched the 14th perfect game. Last month, MLB did an oral history of those that were there that day, commemorating its achievement 20 years ago.

Cone marched up the tunnel toward the clubhouse, making the hard left turn into the vacant restroom. Staring at his weary, sweaty reflection in the mirror, Cone engaged himself in an out-loud conversation.

Cone: It was weird. I'd never done that, and haven't done it since. If you would have seen me doing it, you would have thought, there's something wrong with this guy. It was, "OK, you can do this, three more outs. You've waited your whole career for this." And then the other part starts: "What if you blow it? What if you hang a slider? How are you going to react?"

I was dying. Anxious, anxiety-ridden, insecurity. You'd be surprised. You'd think somebody in that position should be supremely confident. It was a battle.

A perfect game seems similar to Voldemort. You dare not mention the name unless you conjure up all the evil that comes along with it. But as the innings went on and they saw what Cone was doing, there were murmurs; there were people courageous enough to utter, “could this be a perfect game?”

People come up and tell me stories about where they were: "I was on the Jersey Shore with my grandfather, one of the last games we listened to together." That hits home for me, that the moment was much bigger than me throwing a perfect game. It connects the people that shared that moment.

Jeez, talk about art. Talk about a generous contribution. That day, Cone was the wealthiest man in baseball. And because this is 2019, here is a video of all 27 outs that Cone threw that day.

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