Themes From the Past Year
Eight lessons and 28 book recommendations
A year ago this week, my family and I moved back to NYC.
The previous five years we were on the West Coast in nature and with family, disappearing from the world.
This year was our return. It ended up being one of the best years of our lives.
When I reflect on the year, there are a few themes that stand out. Those, as well as some book and music recommendations, are collected below.
West Coast vibes
I was anxious about leaving Vancouver for NYC.
My last experience in NYC was as a CEO with a crazy schedule that burned me out. What I loved about the West Coast was how easy it was to disappear. I could vanish and no one would know or care. After so much professional responsibility, disappearing fed me creatively and personally. Projects and dimensions of my life flourished from the space.
I worried that moving back to NYC would suck me back into past experiences and cost me my freedom. This worry wasn't unfounded. There are fewer hours in a day in NYC compared to a place like Vancouver. Still, this past year I managed to maintain my freedom. I didn’t make a big deal out of being back. I didn't build up a big social calendar. I protected my time and right to disappear. My schedule was more like an artist’s than a CEO’s. I plan to keep this up.
Home in motion
We moved to NYC without a place to live. This year my wife, seven-year-old, and I resided in 11 different Airbnbs and hotels while looking for a home. We lived out of our suitcases and treated the time as a weird in-between that may never happen again. It was an adventure that showed us what home really means — being together, whatever the situation.
Do less to do bigger
This year I had a simple but all encompassing set of focuses: myself, my family, Metalabel, friends, and writing projects. Looking back, I realize each of those focuses got all of my attention because it didn’t go somewhere else. I wrote way fewer newsletters (sorry/not sorry). I didn’t attend any conferences or do any public speaking. I didn’t respond to requests for advice. My energy was 100% focused on my priorities. I felt the benefits.
Growing and appreciating with Metalabel
Metalabel is the most fun I’ve had on a project. I love my collaborators. I love how we work together. I love what we make together. I also love the way the project allows me to see how I've grown since Kickstarter. I can feel my growth on a daily basis. How an earlier me might have reacted to a situation compared to the person I am today. I didn't expect to be founding another project like this one, nor did I desire to. The Metalabel experience continues to be a gift.
Climbing out of the rabbit hole
The past two years I spent a lot of time exploring the blockchain world. Midway through the year I made a choice to make crypto a minor rather than a major in terms of my attention. I wrote about this decision in a private Google Doc circulated with others in the space. I’m still interested in and excited by blockchains, but it's been a relief to separate my and Metalabel’s future from the prospects of a specific technology/industry.
People I love flourishing
Both my wife and son hugely flourished this year in their own ways. Witnessing them, supporting them, coaching them, knowing their journey is part of my journey, continues to be the best feeling. I also watched some of my closest friends reach dizzying heights in terms of influence and responsibility. There’s a deep satisfaction that comes with seeing people you love do well.
Seeing (almost) everyone I love at least once
I managed to see almost every key person from every era of my life this year IRL. This is something I’m going to make an annual priority moving forward.
Learning to love myself
This was the most important lesson of the year.
Over the past two years my wife has become dear friends with an 87-year-old painter named Paul Waters. Paulie is a remarkable human being with an unbelievable life story who's become a member of our family. The biggest reason we moved back to NYC was so my wife could be closer to him.
Paulie showed my wife (and she me) what it means to love yourself. At 87, he's the happiest he's ever been. Each decade of his life has been better than the one before. Why? Because he's learned the importance of loving himself.
The only way to be happy, he reminds us, is to love yourself. Another person's love can't make you happy. Material things can't make you happy. Awards can't make you happy. The only path to joy is to love yourself.
After hearing it so many times from both Paulie and my wife this year, it finally started to sink in. I began to understand what that really means and what it feels like. That knowledge, still nascent, has brought me more of an inner calm and light. I became less interested in looking to the world as a way of understanding myself, and spent much more time appreciating and understanding what's within.
My friends noticed. "You seem so happy," I heard more than one say. They thought it was me moving back to NYC — which is part of it — but even bigger is the inner love I'm finally learning to give and accept.
Books I enjoyed this year:
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
Theodore Rex by Edmond Morris
Colonel Roosevelt by Edmond Morris
The Age of Revolution by Eric Hobsbawm
Ten Days That Shook the World by John Reed
Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union by Vladislav M Zubok
Napoleon — A Life by Andrew Roberts
I started the Teddy Roosevelt series by Edmund Morris after we moved back to NYC. I’d read “The Bully Pulpit” about Teddy before, but thinking of him as a NYC kid and thinking about my own child now growing up here, I wanted to go deeper. The three books are deeply satisfying. The man led an incredible life and was as principled as they come, but he didn’t handle his last chapters as well as he could. Because of it, his reputation diminished. There’s a lesson in here about the dangers of peaking early. Highly recommended.
“The Age of Revolution” by Eric Hobsbawm (and his wider “Age of” series) is an excellent overview of the political reality we now take for granted. This book covers the century (1780-1880) during which almost every country in the world went through a major revolution, largely inspired by the French. Fascinating to see the immensity of these changes presented comparatively across cultures and regions.
Hobsbawm inspired me to want to go deeper into more revolutions. I read a Napoleon biography and a first-hand account of the 1917 Russian Revolution called “Ten Days That Shook the World.” (Scene that stands out: Trotsky accusing the moderate reformers of being too weak. He tells them something he learned in artillery (paraphrasing): “Never aim for the edges. If you aim for the edges, it's hard to strike a hit. Always aim for the center. If you aim for the center, you’ll always hit something, even if you miss.”)
I also read “Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union” by Vladislav Zubok, which I found incredibly interesting. I followed the collapse of the Soviet Union closely as it happened from an American point of view, but to read about it from a Russian perspective was to see Gorbechev as less a noble revolutionary and more a bumbling reformer who accidentally weakened his country from within beyond repair.
Watching the Twitter/X saga unfold while reading this book made me realize how empires often end by inept “reformers” getting into power and making a mess of things. The collapse of Twitter is to the internet what the collapse of the Soviet Union was to the globe in the late '80s/early '90s. It was unquestionably one of the most positive events of the year for my own mental health (and a lot of people's mental health) in 2023, even as it represents a wider “enshittification” of the web.
Trust by Herman Diaz
1984 by George Orwell
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Ulysses by James Joyce (in progress)
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
The Three Body Problem series by Cixin Liu
"Trust" by Herman Diaz was the best book I read. The story of a rich NYC financier during the run up to the Great Depression, it's imaginatively written and perfectly constructed. So good.
I re-read both "Brave New World" and "1984" (it had been since high school), and couldn’t stop thinking about how Huxley wrote “Brave New World” in the California desert while watching a Utopian commune disintegrate (as written about by Mike Davis in the last chapter of “City of Quartz”).
Started "Ulysses" during vacation because why not? Amazing read that requires meditation-like levels of concentration to follow. Thoroughly enjoyable. Got a third through and got distracted, but still gonna finish it (he tells himself…).
The fantasy/sci-fi books are all re-reads and research for different projects. All so satisfying.
The Undiscovered Self by Carl Jung
The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber
The Utopia of Rules by David Graeber
Always enjoy Jung, whose writing can be so conversational (this book was just okay, though). The breadth and depth of Joseph Campbell’s research are astounding. Jung and Campbell together are a powerful pairing in the worlds of myth and dreams. I admire David Graeber’s temerity to dream and imagine bigger than the rest of us.
Organic Music Societies by Lawrence Krumpf
Things Become Other Things by Craig Mod
A Year With Swollen Appendices by Brian Eno
Everything Is a Self Portrait by Francis Kanai and Malaya Malandro
Corporate Rock Sucks: The SST Records Story by Jim Ruland
This Book is Broken by Stuart Berman
“Organic Music Societies” is a biography and creative catalogue for the musicians and artists Don and Moki Cherry, whose music and performances are some of my favorite music in the world (and what I listened to more than anything this year). The book has lots of pictures and wonderful details about their work. Highly recommended. Also highly recommended: “Things Become Other Things,” an exceptional photography and writing book from Craig Mod.
Don Cherry's post-1968 catalogue
Pharaoh Sanders, "Pharaoh" box set
Time Wharp, "Spiro World"
Beach House, "Become EP"
Phillip Glass, "Glassworks"
Miles Davis, "Live - Evil"
Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru, "Jerusalem"
The Phillip Glass Ensemble, "Glassworks" live at Roulette in NYC
Pharaoh Sanders tribute show at National Sawdust in NYC
Courtney Barnett live at National Sawdust in NYC
George Coleman live at Small's Cafe in NYC
Moormother live at Lincoln Center in NYC
Ten years ago the music part of this post would have been the longest part. These days I'm fully into my weird jazz dad era, staying heads down while listening to skronky, unconventional music and enjoying it deeply.
I listened to Don Cherry more than anyone else this year — especially anything live from the early '70s, when his organic experiments were in full bloom. A close second is the double-pairing of Pharaoh Sanders' "Pharaoh" record (with its gorgeous "Harvest Time") and the live Miles Davis record "Live - Evil," both of which were constant companions.
In terms of new music, the only things that got my full, repeated attention were the new Beach House EP (so great) and the Time Wharp record, which is a delight. Here's a short playlist of some of my most-listened to songs.
This past year was the happiest of my life. It felt like the culmination of all my learnings and experiences actualized into an existence that more truly reflects who I am and wish to be. I enter the new year with no big goals or resolutions beyond continuing on this path, and gratitude for having found it. In this new year, I wish the same for all of you.
Peace and love my friends.