My friend Noel and anticipating 2020
For six weeks while writing the book, I worked from the home of an 89-year-old woman named Noel Osheroff.
I first met Noel after being invited to speak at an event held in her house last fall. Afterwards, Noel very graciously invited me to write there. I accepted.
Noel’s house was built in 1934 by famed architect RM Schindler. Her parents commissioned the house, and Noel grew up in it. After not living in it for sixty years, Noel returned to it last year to restore it. Here's a picture of the house I took one afternoon.
For November and December, Noel and I were unlikely coworkers. While I wrote in the back bedroom (the far left in the picture above), Noel worked on the house.
By "worked on the house," I don’t mean Noel rearranged pictures or bossed people around. I mean I watched Noel expertly take an electric sander to a door frame while on a ladder. One day she took apart every chair in the house, re-stained them, and put them all back together again. She drove her Chevy pick-up to get supplies at the store. All of this by herself and all of it at 89-years-old. Watching Noel was like watching a superhero in real life.
The first day I worked at Noel’s she said to me: “I’m ignoring you because I think that’s what you want me to do.” I thanked her for her thoughtfulness. She was right.
But talking to Noel was fun, and we’d chat once a day. I enjoyed sharing what I was thinking and looked forward to her perspective.
One day she pointed out that when she was born, there were 3.5 times fewer people in the world than there are today. We have the same amount of land and 3.5 times more people. Why doesn’t anyone else see how this is at the center of our challenges? she wondered.
The stillness of working at Noel’s helped me complete the last stretch of the book. Two weeks ago I sent a finished manuscript to my editor. Though we still have edits to go, I hit my deadline. The feeling was even better than I imagined.
Last Friday I stopped by Noel’s to return my house key and to share a gift: the first print-out of the manuscript. I thanked her again and again. She told me I was good for her ego. Afterwards we took a selfie.
Noel’s work on the house has finished too. It's back to its original condition, and Noel is renting it out.* As for Noel, she’s onto the next project: hand-restoring the house in Venice where she raised her family. There’s always more work to do.
*If you’re interested in staying at Noel's, reply to this message and I can put you in touch. Here’s a paywalled Monocle article from last year about Noel and the house.
In two previous emails I’ve declared my belief that Trump is likely to be reelected. Even with his historically poor approval ratings. Even if he’s impeached.
Some of the first polls about 2020 show his strength. Polling that came out last week shows that against the leading Democratic front-runners, Trump is neck and neck or a slight favorite. And if Starbucks ex-CEO Howard Schultz continues with his campaign, they show Trump winning against everyone except Joe Biden, who beats Trump in every poll.
Trump is the favorite heading into next year’s election. Especially when you factor in the advantage enjoyed by incumbents, and the fact that Republicans have won 40% of Presidential elections this century while losing the popular vote. For a Democratic Presidential candidate to win, their margin of victory has to exceed the impact of the Electoral College. Like passing a bill in Congress these days, somehow having a majority of votes is no longer enough.
Who will Democratic voters nominate to run against Trump? Recent history would suggest a woman. In Democratic primaries for the 2018 elections where a woman ran, the woman prevailed 71% of the time. (For the smaller number of Republican women who ran in primaries, 35% of them won.) Democratic voters were excited to vote for women, and they'll continue to be. This bodes well for Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand, who are among the front-runners in the Democratic field.
The big question is which of them — or if any of them — can beat Trump.
Democratic voters will probably want a candidate who can out-Trump Trump. Someone who can be an even louder voice. Who can take up just as much space. We forget it now because she lost, but this is what Hillary did. She dominated the debates. Her social media was pointed. She was just as much an alpha as Trump in many Trump-ian ways. And we know how that turned out.
The difference in 2020 needs to be starker. It needs to be someone whose very presence signifies the rottenness at the core of the other side. It needs to be a significant difference on the level of values, not who can deliver the biggest punch.
One long-shot candidate I’m excited about: Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Buttigeig is a gay former Marine who fought in Afghanistan, and a small city mayor. I recommend watching his appearance on the talk show The View last week. As gigantic an underdog as he would be, this is someone I could imagine standing next to Donald Trump and clearly signaling a vast difference in values, temperament, and readiness to lead.
If I were managing the campaign of Trump’s opposition — whoever that may be — I’d portray Trump as the corrupt King Donald. A man who embodies the exact values and ideals that America forcibly declared its independence from at its start. A modern King George III.
We’d run ads showing Trump in an 18th century powdered wig. The campaign’s spokespeople would be America’s Founding Fathers. Its slogans would be their past quotes warning against tyrants and greedy kings. A rotating cast of famous actors would portray Jefferson, Paine, Washington, Hamilton and others in 30 second spots that felt somewhere between KFC ads and an episode of Drunk History. The Founding Fathers would be swooping in like a Colonial-era Justice League to defend the Republic.
Would that be enough? Would that move the needle? With four more years of destruction to our institutions, environment, and social fabric at stake, no idea should be off the table.
Brexit Pt 2
In my last email, I wrote that Brexit was "not a bad idea." I noted the possible long-term upsides and acknowledged the viewpoint behind the decision.
Left unstated was that this position is based on an extraordinarily pessimistic view of the world. To justify raising the draw bridges, you'd need to see the world as a pre-zombie apocalypse where the mayhem is about to begin so we might as well start it ourselves. This is a dire way of seeing the world, and no way to run society or live life. Ideas like these manifest the realities they claim that they want to stop.
I couldn’t see the world more differently. So I want to clarify: Brexit is not a bad idea, it's a terrible idea. It’s a waste of time. It’s not solving a problem, it’s creating a problem that's getting worse by the day. I recommend this extremely insightful talk by the former UK representative to the EU on just how bad it all really is.
But I also try not to reject new ideas out of hand. I believe there are often benefits in going the other way, in straying from the pack. There are opportunities for learning and growth in everything. Those words on Brexit came from that spirit, not as an endorsement. I regret writing so flippantly about something so grave.
The video for the Strokes’ “Last Nite" is perfect drunken innocence. Performing live on an Ed Sullivan-type TV show set, the Strokes are tight, careless, and cool. And tender. I love the sibling-like way Julian Casablancas throws his shoulder into his bandmates. Craziest of all? This video is almost twenty years old.
This essay by Mike Pace in The Creative Independent called "I am not the next big thing: on creativity and aging" is thoughtful, wise, and will help you love yourself more. I felt the same about this TCI interview with DJ Juan Mendez on taking care of yourself while having a job surrounded by partying.
As is typical, I leave you with a mix. One of my favorite musicians is named Bill Callahan. I made a mix of his best work that I’ve shared with friends over the years, and I've recreated it on Spotify since he was recently added to streaming services. Check out my Rough guide to Bill Callahan and stay warm out there.
Peace and love,