My summer reading

This summer I started reading again. I spent a lot of time with audiobooks as my underscore. Here is a list of what I read, mostly for myself to keep track of:

Gone Girl – this was by recommendation of my girlfriend. Gillian Flynn is her favorite writer, and Gone Girl is her favorite book. I think it might be the only fiction I read this summer. I highly recommend it.

Capitalist Realism – I found this in the bibliography for a YouTube video (or multiple) by Zero Books (and I have the sneaking feeling that it’s been referenced by ContraPoints or Philosophy Tube). This book was my intro to Mark Fisher’s writing (RIP). It is absolutely essential reading for today’s disillusioned youth.

Atomic Habits – This was another recommendation I found from YouTube. James Clear writes about the building blocks of maintaining healthy habits. Out of the books listed here, I think that this one has had the largest influence on my life since reading. Since reading, I picked up learning Spanish again, started running, started going on hikes, started writing more regularly, and started meditating more regularly. I will likely listen to this book multiple times over.

Digital MinimalismDigital Minimalism was the first of two Cal Newport books I spent time with this summer. This was recommended in multiple YouTube videos that I watched on the subject (see a pattern here?). It inspired me to delve deep into my digital life and habits, organizing my digital environment to be better suited to aiding my personal growth.

Meet the Frugalwoods Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living is an eye-opening book by Elizabeth Thames over at frugalwoods.com (an amazing website I highly recommend you check out if you are interested in simple living, sustainability, and/or early retirement). I listened to this on a road trip, and played at a 1.5-1.8 speed, this book flies by quite fast.

Sense and Sensibility – Admittedly, I haven’t yet finished this book. Jane Austen is not my cup of tea. But my school’s theatre department is putting on a production of Kate Hamill’s adaptation of this book, and so I figured I needed to give it a listen. I was just recently cast as Edward, which I’m very excited about. As I have a long weekend before we begin rehearsals this coming Tuesday, I’ll likely be spending a long time with this book. I think it’s a good story, and I find the relationship between Elinor and Marianne to be especially beautiful and profound. I just really, really don’t like Jane Austen’s style, nor do I like anything about the “rich folks of yesteryear”.

How to Become a Straight-A Student – This is the second of Cal Newport’s books which I have looked into this summer. This was another book I did not finish, but I got pretty far through. It has already had practical application in my life – in my study habits and my organizational habits – in this first week back to school. I feel more on top of my game than I have in any of my previous years.

Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari’s bestseller Sapiens is an absolute must-read and my most recent obsession. Harari thinks of the world and of humanity in very big ways which I haven’t been exposed to.

How Music Works – Since I love David Byrne, I wanted to check out this book. I heard about this book through a recent recommendation by my high school’s creative writing teacher. I liked this book a lot, and would most definitely recommend it to any musician or anyone else within the music business.

The Art of Living – This is another book that I haven’t finished. This book is a relaxed read, and I’ve heard many people credit Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing with changing their lives. So, I decided to give it a go. I have yet to be disappointed. This is a beautiful, feel-good, soul food kind of read.

How to Invent Everything – I have been listening to this book when I go on hikes. It really is just a list of everything you’d need to know how to invent were you to get trapped in some ancient times. Another book that looks broadly at mankind’s development, and it pair quite nicely with Sapiens.

Kill All Normies – This is an excellent read about toxic internet cultures and about the radicalization of young people (especially young white cisgender men) which has led to countless acts of violence and terrorism in developed countries. In the wake of the manifestos of some of the killers (most notably being the Christchurch shooter this March), this book is a great way to understand the effect that the internet has on people.

Educated – This memoir of a young woman, Tara Westover, growing up and away from a hyper-conservative, patriarchal, tiny family in Idaho is potent and beautiful, and a very notable exhibit of just how privileged us US college students are to be here. I was recommended this one by my English professor for recommending this read to us a few months ago.

There’s not a book on here I wouldn’t recommend. If I didn’t like the book, I didn’t mention it. I’ll probably check back in in a few months with my fall reading, which will largely be textbooks, but I’ll try to avoid the boring stuff.

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My bucket list, Atomic Habits, and method acting

I recently made myself a kind of “definitive” bucket list – meaning a list that is tangible, I can look at anytime, and is not just a collection of vague ideas in my head. I was thinking very about the very big picture of my life when I decided I would make a list of all the things I want to accomplish. Some goals.

Only a few days later, I started listening to an audio version of James Clear’s Atomic Habits, in which Clear argues (and I paraphrase): having goals is nothing compared to having systems of good habits, because it is those systems which will help achieve those goals. He alludes that developing systems of good habits is similar to a science experiment performed on an ice cube, in which the experimenter raises the temperature one degree every day, starting from 0 degrees Fahrenheit. There seems to be no progress made for a whole month, but then the day comes when the temperature is raised to 32 degrees, and the ice cube melts completely.

I hope to build up these small, “atomic” sized habits for myself. As I internalize the message found Clear’s book, there is a profoundly positive impact on my behavior. My bucket list consists of things like “Write a book”, and “Run a marathon”, “Get a bachelor’s degree”, and “Learn fluent Spanish”, “Record an album”, and “Visit every continent”. Clear asserts that one’s identity shapes their behavior, and vice versa, in a feedback loop. He gives the example of someone who lost a lot of weight simply by asking herself frequently throughout her day, “would a healthy person do this?”. By identifying as a healthy person, one begins to act as a healthy person does: thus, they become that healthy person.

In a TED talk on method acting and identity, Canadian actor Greg Bryk encourages us to ask ourselves “Who do I want to be?” – a more artistically open question compared to the more critical “Who am I?”. Bryk professes that the action of asking who we want to be sparks a movement forward in us. He discusses this feeling he felt between productions of being lost between the characters he played – one instance in particular was when the Canadian TV series Bitten ended. Jeremy Danvers, Bryk’s character in the show, served as a kind of role model for Bryk’s own actions and habits. Danvers had his own unique qualities as a character, which Bryk strove to emulate. After a while of feeling lost, Bryk realized that there was no reason why he shouldn’t be able to write his own character, his own version of Greg, and become that “character”, just how he wanted to be.Write the part, and then act like the method actor, and become it.”

Clear’s Atomic Habits serves for me as a kind of system to become who I want to be. In the same vein, creating systems of habits for myself will aid me in becoming a better actor: just as Bryk mentored at-risk teens in acting (to make himself into a mentor, like Danvers), I too can create new habits which will aid me in becoming the characters I play, and becoming the me that I want to be.

So, if my lifelong goals are to run a marathon, record an album, write a book, get my degree, learn Spanish, travel to every continent, and so on, then I have to think of myself as becoming all of these things. I am a runner, I am a musician, I am a writer, I am an academic, I am studious, and I am a traveler. Ultimately, these identities are defined by the actions that make up their namesakes. If I were to profile me I want to be, then this person will have all of these attributes and more. A bucket list is, quite simply, the person one aspires to be. Their habits are their formula for becoming that person.

Becoming the me that I want to be orders me to ask myself “Is this what the Ideal Cooper™ would do?”, in just the same vein as the person in Clear’s example, who asks herself, “Is this what a healthy person would do?” Whenever I make a decision, I have to ask myself, “Does this get me further to embodying who I want to be?”. Who I want to be may be Cooper, or it may be a part that I am playing in my next play. Whether I have work as an actor or not, I will always have one part that I will always be able to play: myself. So I may well be the best I can be at playing me before my time is out.

I think that the act of writing this piece helps me fuse these two seemingly separate areas of my life – acting and self-improvement. I see self-improvement as a means to achieving a better acting, and acting as a means to achieving further self-improvement. My identity as an actor shapes my behavior as an improving person, and vice-versa. If you are looking for a truly special, helpful, healing book, or if you’re just looking for a good book on productivity and self-improvement, I highly recommend Atomic Habits.

Last week’s listens

I drafted this post, but never posted it. Here are some albums I listened to between May 30th and June 6th, 2019, and some thoughts:

Yume Bitsu – s/t is an excellent post-rock album. I much prefer it to their more psychedelic release The Golden Vessyl of Sound. It’s definitely more straightforward. The guitar tones are simply beautiful here, and the album doesn’t demand your full attention, which I like. I like an album that can be played in the background.

Kishi Bashi – Omoiyari

Vulfpeck – Hill Climber (repeat) This album is chock-full of good songs, but what sets this album apart, alongside Mr Finish Line, is that it feels like less of a playlist of random songs, like The Beautiful Game and Thrill of the Arts, which makes for a much more pleasant listening experience. Unfortunately, though, their album-creating woes aren’t entirely behind them, as Katzman only fronts the first half of the album. I can see the critique some might make of the album that it is lopsided. Personally, I enjoyed the way it flowed, but I’m positive that the album will divide critics in that regard. Alongside this album structuring, Vulfpeck’s sounds are changing as they dip their toes into the realm of some jazzier textures. Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Theo Katzman takes on the role of frontman for a large part of this album, and it’s clear that his vision is steering the ship. You can hear more overlap between this release and Katzman’s solo release Hard Work than in previous Vulf records, and I personally quite enjoy the direction he’s taking the band in. I am excited for their next release.

Marty Robbins – Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs Wow. Just, wow. I wish I had heard this one earlier. This is a must-listen. Robbins’ voice is excellent – and the cover and title really do speak for the album. I hope to own this one on vinyl soon.

Bob Andy – Bob Andy’s Song Book

Xiu Xiu – Girl with Basket of Fruit I sat and listened to this one back-to-back with the Avey Tare album below and I thought it was absolutely lovely. This is my favorite Xiu Xiu listen so far, though I haven’t listened to them for a few years (except listening to Forget one time), so this album makes me want to listen back to their older work.

Avey Tare – Cows on Hourglass Pond This was my introduction to Avey Tare outside of maybe a scattered song in a playlist and AnCo. I absolutely loved the atmosphere here. I’m excited to delve into their discography.

Elliott Smith – XO (repeat)

Denzel Curry – ZUU I definitely didn’t like this nearly as much as last year’s Ta13oo, but Curry’s delivery here remains strong as usual. I didn’t care for this album too much. It’s definitely not a great follow up to the beautiful, more conceptual Ta13oo. I’m still quite excited to see what Curry does next.

Morrissey – Morning Starship Given that this is an album of covers, I think that it is a good album. It definitely did little to excite me, beyond the knowledge that Moz collaborated with Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste on the title track.

Nick Drake – Pink Moon (repeat) I played this album twice in one day, one on a drive across town, and the other on the drive back – I had no idea of the shortness of this album until now. Nick Drake expertly crafts 11 songs in the span of under 30 minutes. My personal favorite

Stevie Wonder – Innervisions (repeat)

Brian Eno – Apollo (repeat) This is a great quiet-yet-beautiful album, to be expected from Eno.

Laraaji – Ambient 3: Day Of Radiance I discovered Laraaji not from this album, despite my prior exposure to Brian Eno’s other ambient work, but from a recent Tiny Desk Concert from NPR’s YouTube channel. I wanted to listen to one of Eno’s ambient albums that I hadn’t heard, and I knew I hadn’t heard the 3rd – so I went and searched Brian Eno on my Spotify, and this album wasn’t under his name. So, I searched the album, and lo and behold there’s Laraaji’s name in front of me. “Hey,” I thought, “that’s the guy from that awesome Tiny Desk.” I had been drawn to both Laraaji and Eno from different places, and I had no idea that the gift of their collaboration would be right in front of me.

Beast Coast – Escape From New York

Electric Wizard – Dopethrone (repeat) This album is a great stoner metal album I always find myself drawn back to. Another must-listen.

July 3, 2019

I’m taking a moment to reflect.

The last month has been an upward trend as far as my moods. Especially the last 2 weeks, in which I finished my summer semester courses and celebrated my girlfriend’s birthday. The feeling that washed over me for the few days after taking my finals was a kind of calm that I keep living for. I feel free, light, and more active.

Exactly a week ago Jess turned 18, and I took her to an aquarium where she got to meet a sloth, aptly named Flash. I’d never seen such pure, unadulterated happiness on her face before. Then we went to the Pie Pizzeria where I got to have my favorite pizza, their buffalo chicken ranch pizza, and Jess got to hang out with her family and open gifts. She got lots of good gifts, and is probably getting a new fancy phone on top of all of that, as well as the jacket and tarot cards I ordered for her (the latter of which her mom also got her, oops.).

Last Saturday Jess and I went with our friends to her family’s cabin in Scare Canyon to celebrate her birthday. It was far away from the city and off the grid, and I felt more alive than I’ve felt in a long time. We ate food, hiked, shot pool, played cards, looked at the stars, and generally just had a good time together. I got maybe four hours of sleep before waking up pretty quickly to breakfast the next morning (a cream cheese bagel and far too much bacon, courtesy of John), then shortly after that I got a ride from Patrick to the gate where my car was parked. Then I took Gabe back to Jess’s, and I actually felt like he was happy to talk to me, which is good. I always have nervous that he doesn’t like being around me.

The day carried on like a normal Sunday after that – I taught guitar lessons to 2 kids, Mya and TJ, then went to hang out with my mom. The majority of that time was spent napping, but neither of us minded. I went back to my dad’s that night and got Minecraft again, a decision which I do not at all regret. That game is a comfy game.

Jess and I had a great Monday as well – we went to see our friend Rick, who’s in town from New York, for lunch at Noodles & Company. After that we went to hang out with Gabe and our friend Liggera, who also just came back from New York and a semester at Carnegie-Mellon, at Waffle Love, a local waffle restaurant. We went back home and had a bit of a personal breakthrough, which was a really great feeling. Then I took her to rehearsal, then picked her up, got Menchie’s fro-yo and we went home.

Then yesterday, Jess and I hung out more, went on another date, this time to Lucky Slice, where I got the monthly slice (interesting: had zucchini and chickpeas). Then Jess went to her rehearsal and I went to visit our friends. Alek was even there, and he usually doesn’t hang out with many people at all. I’m glad he was there. We all played games – Cranium, which my team won; Codenames, a Disney game; Genesis and I started a Minecraft world on the Xbox; and she, Wyatt, Alek and I even played an ultra-late-night game of Uno. Carson and Sydney also made brisket and mashed potatoes and gravy, and god damn was that an amazing meal. That was one of the best meals I have had in my life, it was quite memorable. I definitely was feeling it after. While we ate, we went around and all said the best and worst parts of our days, and I loved it. I’m glad we all hung out, because Wyatt apparently broke up with his Floridian girlfriend he met on the internet, so he was a sad e-boy. We got to cheer him up though.

I am just happy right now. Life is good. I understand that Jess leaves for California in around 40 days, and I’m really not looking forward to it. I am scared at how fast it will fly, and I don’t know what I am going to do in the time she leaves and the time after. But I will worry about that when I get there. Right now, I am living in the moment, and the moment is happy.

This website, and repeating myself

The following is half disclaimer, half ramble:

More likely than not, I will repeat myself a lot on this website. I have a lot of words in my head. I just want to put the words somewhere that isn’t my head. My intention in creating this website is to give myself a catch-all container in which I can place the words that I have in my head.

I think about some things often. Sometimes the amount of thinking I do gets me to some semblance of an idea – an idea that I want to hold on to. An idea I want to develop upon. The problem is that having ideas and not having a place to externalize said ideas leads to bad times. I enter an undesirable headspace when I have ideas bottled up for too long – it’s as if the ideas begin to rot inside my head until they bear no resemblance to what they once were. If I have a place with which to put my ideas in when they come to me, I will likely not run the risk of this “idea rot”, and I won’t be in this bad headspace. Hence the creation of this website. This website will hold the ideas and keep them from rotting.

I often will stumble across new ideas about the ideas I already have. Perhaps I will come back to something I said previously on the website and look at it to compare to my new idea. My ideas will often be new ways of expressing an idea I have already expressed previously. So, more likely than not, I will repeat myself a lot on this website.

So, if you’re reading this, bear with me. I’m 18 years old, and I have a long road of thinking ahead of me. I will probably contradict myself. I will probably not even see the contradictions. I will probably post the same thing twice. And more likely than not, I will repeat myself a lot on this website.

suddenly anything is possible again.

I had been slowly reading Mark Fisher’s book Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? over the last few weeks and I finished it today. The book affected me, deeply affected me. Mark evidently had quite the flair for uncovering the parasitic nature of capitalism, and for showing the connection between the political and the psychological. The knowledge of his passing in 2017 brought a cold sting to the book’s hopeful end. Here, I want to lean into this sense of tragedy, and I invite anyone who may be reading this to join me.

Like Mark, I struggle mental illness. At my young age of 18, it feels that the smarter I get, the more discontent with the world I become, and often the more despondent. Learning is a growing pain which doesn’t stop. Mark in his book very eloquently laid out much of how the capitalist system creates mental illness. Somehow, the acquisition of the knowledge I get from reading his book and others brings about some kind of feel-good chemicals in the brain. It feels as if I am getting somewhere in my understanding of the world. I inch ever closer to Truth. However, I am afraid of how tired learning makes me, and I am afraid of how much more tired it might make me in the future. As I read the closing of the book, I could feel the furnace behind my eyes roaring. I see that this capitalist realism Mark describes is in itself a tragedy. Mark’s death was the hemorrhaging that defines capitalist realism. Though he took his own life, Mark finished his book with these hopeful words:

“The long, dark night of the end of history has to be grasped as an enormous opportunity. The very oppressive pervasiveness of capitalist realism means that even glimmers of alternative political and economic possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect. The tiniest event can tear a hole in the grey curtain of reaction which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism. From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible again.”

Suddenly anything is possible again. These words are seared into the backs of my eyelids. Reading this was an unforgettable experience. This close was a cathartic experience, not simply reading words on a page. It was a release for all the tragedy that the book displays – even though this tragedy persists, practically unchanged, today.

At time of reading the book, I’ve also entrenched myself in Hadestown, which recently began its run on Broadway. Hadestown tells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice – another tragedy – and of Hades and Persephone. In an interview, when asked about the ending of the show’s positive energy, Amber Gray, who plays Persephone, explains the political heartbeat of the show, and of her own life:

“I’ve been in a political activist group for 15 years – the goal is never that you’re gonna succeed, even in your generation – the goal is just nudging the needle so that the next Orpheus who goes down, like, maybe won’t turn around. And probably, you’re gonna have, like, 20 who do for a while, you know? It’s just about making the possibility be there, which is quite hopeful. The possibility is more than you had before. So, yeah, I do think it ends on a very positive note, but activism is not fun work. It’s thankless.”

My goal is not to show who Mark was, but who Mark is today, to me, now. All I know of him at this moment in time is his book and his Wikipedia bio. I do not know his story, only the story which I piece together from glimpses of him – and I cannot stress this enough. I understand that his life chronology was not “wrote a book then killed himself” – rather, the point I’m trying to make is that I can see the direct line that stems from what Mark says in the book up to his last moments. The tragedy is that the hopeful and powerful close of the book could not stand up to the pain Mark must have been living in. Writing a book like Capitalist Realism must be a Hurculean task of self-excavation. The brutality, the emotional rawness of the piece can come only from a diligent, tireless self-searching, an exhumation of the deepest pits of one’s psyche. Based only off of this surface-level knowledge of Mark, I am struck by how his book and the story of his death help me see more clearly my own purpose in life, how I (again) grow closer to Truth. The truth to which I feel closer today is this: I am seeing the power that my craft can have on the minds of the world.

Mark is like an Orpheus to me – like Orpheus, he had this profoundly positive, lifting effect on people’s lives as k-punk and as Mark (and, apparently, as part of a techno group, which I think is fucking awesome); furthermore, he braved the depths of illness and hopelessness to bring thoughtful dialogues to people. Orpheus had his own craft, much like Mark and like me: to write songs. Orpheus hopes that his song, his “masterpiece” will bring change, just as I hope my various efforts will bring change, and just as Mark hoped for his. I think the nature of anyone who goes to see Hadestown is to make connections – between themselves and characters, between the people around them and characters. That is the purpose of theatre, to make people connect and think about their lives. Mark a light in many lives over the last 20 years, and the influence of his writing has reached many bright minds, and for this reason, I feel he is like an Orpheus to many. He shared his thoughts, and people heard them, and people felt he understood them. It is not unlike many people’s experience with religion – many read their holy books and feel understood. I’m not equating Mark to any kind of deity, not any more than any other person – I am equating the power of reading, of learning, of knowledge, to the quasi-religious fever of feeling known. Feeling familiarized. This was the effect Mark seemed to have had on people. Like Orpheus, Mark inspired people find optimism and hope in darkness. And like Orpheus, Mark peered back into the darkness on a hopeful ascent, and thus was the tragedy.

For an interview in Slate Magazine, director Rachel Chavkin explains the “medicinal” quality of the show. “Tragedy,” she says, “prompts release”:

“We warn you. We warn you while the trombone is doing its joyful thing. It’s a tragedy, but it ends not there but on the beginning of another cycle, and particularly the promise that spring will come again. It’s through the cycle of new lovers meeting and falling in love for the first time that this old couple, Hades and Persephone, find resurrection and that the world itself is ready for this resurrection every year. Despite the fact that Hadestown is this incredibly tragic tale, there is this incredible amount of hope and celebration in the face of tragedy. And I think that actually, ultimately, makes the celebration all that much more potent.”

In Hadestown, just as in Capitalist Realism, you are made very aware that, “It’s a sad song, it’s a sad tale, it’s a tragedy.” To be clear, I did not write this to mourn Mark, but rather, I wrote this to celebrate him, and to celebrate the life we live in, as complicated and tragic as it may be. “It’s a sad song, but we sing it anyway.” The title of Mark’s book poses the question – is there no alternative to this world we live in? Hadestown answers by saying that right now, there isn’t one. But, as Amber said, the power of it is that it calls you to be someone who tries – like Orpheus, or like Mark – to do what feels impossible; and though you may fail, though you may turn around, if you persist in the face of it, you may be the Orpheus who makes it out – and suddenly anything is possible again.