now, here, this

In his last newsletter, Patrick Rhone showed us where his cracks are. Patrick is someone I've followed and for some time now and you get to know someone through their words. Reading these particular words demonstrated the weight of his current challenges but also his grace and humanity. Thankfully, this particular struggle concluded as well as it could have.

As his writing often does, the closing of the newsletter caught my attention:

“Well, they are the gateways, Dad. You know when I sleep I sometimes travel to other galaxies, right? Well, I lay these out on the bedside table before bed so I have a map to find my way back.”

[His daughter, Zani] proceeded to lay them out and tell me about the various places and planets they represented. She then removed one from her thumb and handed it to me.

“This one doesn’t have a place attached to it. It represented nowhere. But I want you to have it because you’re now here.”

It was not until the middle of the long drive home that I realized that a space is the only difference between nowhere and now here. It’s a koan — a Buddhist riddle meant to transmit a lesson. Nowhere is where all things begin and where all shall return. Now/Here is the space in between — the present moment.

When I read Zani's koan, I immediately thought of this snippet of conversation between Krista Tippet and Father Greg Boyle. In particular, his translation of the Desert Father's mantra "today" to "Now, here, this."

Here's the full context:

FR. BOYLE: And that was sort of my experience when I went through leukemia and greatly liberating. But because I’ve had to bury so many kids, 183 kids — and kids I loved and kids I knew and killed by kids I loved. I mean, boy, if death is the worst thing that can happen to you, brace yourself because you will be toppled. And the trick is not to be toppled. The trick is to compile a list of all of the fates that are worse than death, but also compile the list of all the things so numerous to list, all the things that are more powerful than death. You know, that’s what Jesus did. Jesus sort of put death in its place.

MS. TIPPETT: Was it after your diagnosis that you discovered the story about the desert fathers and mothers, the one word they meditated on was…

FR. BOYLE: Oh, God.

MS. TIPPETT: I read that a couple of days ago as I was getting ready for this and it’s been so helpful for me.

FR. BOYLE: Yeah. Whenever the desert fathers and mothers would get absolutely despondent and didn’t know how they were going to put one foot in front of the next, they had this mantra. And the mantra wasn’t “God” and the word wasn’t “Jesus.” But the word was “today.” That’s sort of the key. There’s a play off-Broadway right now called “Now. Here. This.” It’s “Now,” period, Here,” H-E-R-E, period, “This.” And that’s kind of my — that’s become my mantra. Lately, I’m big on mantras. So when I’m walking or before a kid comes into my office, I always say, “Now. Here. This, Now. Here. This.” So that I’ll be present and right here to the person in front of me.

I've never really been big on mantras, but this one has stuck with me. I kept it in deep focus during a silent retreat last year and was rewarded deeply by it. I hope that it might be something there for you, too.

a little relief, a little humanity

I'm relieved that Alabama elected Doug Jones to the Senate. Though he didn't run a particularly inspiring campaign, his politics weren't bad, and significantly to the left of many milquetoast Democrats (in Alabama, no less!). Perhaps we should discount this electoral win given the truly abysmal candidate he ran against, but I also think we should take victories where we can get them.

The commentariat will dissect what this means for national politics in the coming days and weeks. It's tough to extrapolate too much here, so instead I wanted to share a little bit of humanity that I stumbled upon last night.

Nathan Mathis is a local peanut farmer in Alabama. He went to a Roy Moore rally to stand up against the candidates homophobic and hurtful rhetoric (and his hypocrisy).

Watch him make a heartfelt case against Moore in this video. His daughter, who was gay, took her own life in 1995. As a letter to a local paper details, the loss seems to have profoundly changed the man. You can read a little bit more about him here. People can change; sometimes it just takes a lot to move them.

Today, we can celebrate a little bit of relief and a little bit of humanity. Let's keep working from that place and keep building, pang'ono, pang'ono.

if you can bike, bike

One of the things that I'm most grateful for is that I can bike to work. This might seem a little bit of an exaggeration. Let me explain.

During the second and third years of law school, I commuted down to Stanford from San Francisco. Though I had some control over my schedule and could keep odd hours that would avoid traffic, I still often found myself stuck in a long haul to and from home. Still, I wouldn't change a thing about where I lived those two years: I was within walking distance from my family's Full House situation (for years now, my sister, brother-in-law, their boy, my mom, my dad, and my brother have lived in a home together), surrounded by good food, and within a block of Golden Gate Park.

Now, my work's office is on the Berkeley Marina and it takes about 15 to 20 minutes to bike there. It's getting a little cold in the mornings and a little dark on the way home, but I love my commute. I pass by quiet neighborhoods, office buildings, a post office, train tracks, through a park by the water, over a bridge, and along the bay. For those precious minutes, I'm in my body, in the world.

I also appreciate that the trip can take either about 15 or 20 minutes, depending on how hard I hustle. Derek Sivers wrote a great post about biking how you can relax for the same result. I think he's on to something here. Five minutes won't make a difference and can make the ride a whole lot more enjoyable.

But, I think he's also missing a piece: sometimes we should push ourselves closer to 15, our heart racing, the wind rushing around us, and pay attention to how our body responds and remind ourselves of our capacity.

All this is to say, if you can bike, bike.

something to root for

I saw Aladdin the musical yesterday. It was tons of fun. This morning I asked myself, "What did I like about it?"

Aladdin is an old story, but it's an old story that works. I suspect that one of the reasons the story has survived through the ages, adapting for different mediums like books, movies, and musicals, is because it gives you someone (Aladdin) and something (love) to root for.

This is dead simple, I know. But the dead simple can be deadly effective. A few weeks ago I talked about the value of asking yourself, "Does it haunt?" Obviously, not everything you do should have the consequence of haunting. Maybe another question to ask, when appropriate, is "Does it give you something to root for?"

In ways small and large, stories are vehicles for change. We tell stories in our work: what our company means, what future we see, how our mission matters, and so on. Are we giving the world something to root for in these stories?

get pulled in

Asha and I have been watching Community. I've seen it before, but it's the first time for her.

One thing I love about the show is that it really rewards viewers who allow themselves to get pulled it. The series has a number of episodes that are a little bit silly: a stop motion animated Christmas episode, a bottle episode that knows it's a bottle episode, a paintball shootout with a post-apocalyptic feel, and so on.

It's easy to start watching these episodes and pull back. What's made watching the show with Asha so fun is that we do just the opposite: submit to the story and the fun that comes along with it. The more you let yourself inhabit the universe, the more enjoyable it is.

Go on, let go, and get pulled in.

the origins of the attention war

Remember that off-hand reference to "a short phone call with my dad" where I helped him "think through a valuable piece he's working on"?

Well, that piece is out today in Quartz here.

The article identifies how some early national security funding was crucial to the early development of Google and Silicon Valley. It's a smart, well-researched piece that concludes in this way:

[T]he collaboration between the intelligence community and big, commercial science and tech companies has been wildly successful. When national security agencies need to identify and track people and groups, they know where to turn – and do so frequently. That was the goal in the beginning. It has succeeded perhaps more than anyone could have imagined at the time.

Earlier this week, I wrote about why I think the "attention war" is a better framework than the "attention economy."

As the Quartz piece demonstrates, the origin of Silicon Valley (and, as a result, the actors in our attention war), is intricately connected to our war machinery by way of the mass surveillance state. As a result, I'm doubling down on this idea of the attention war.

fell the false prophets

I take my political commitments seriously. That means that I have to take the people who support an opposing political vision seriously.

For reasons now confusing to me, Ben Shapiro is set forth as an example of a sharp political mind. He's a conservative figure who opposed Trump and who many consider a representative voice of the right. A recent New York Times piece speaks of his prowess as a debater and communicator.

I've never considered him a serious thinker. He comes across as the worst iteration of a smug gunner in a law school. Which is why I so was heartened by the thorough excavation of his nonsense in this article. Rather than pull out some quotes, I really do recommend you read the whole thing. It will expose you to a number of conservative ideas and strategies (and their vacuousness).

I bring up Ben Shapiro not to just dismiss Ben Shapiro, though I think we should do that. It's important that when someone is raised up as a serious thinker, we actually consider their thinking and examine it rigorously. I believe that it's clear that Ben Shapiro has been weighed and found wanting. We should fell other false prophets when we see them, too.

the attention war

We hear a lot about the attention economy these days. The basic idea: our attention is a scarce resource and various actors are all competing for it in the marketplace.

This push and pull of attention sits well inside the metaphor of an economy, but I've been wondering lately if war fits the landscape better.

First, thinking about the competition for our attention through the lenses of economics can obfuscate the harms perpetrated and the manipulative tactics used by the actors who want our attention. If it's just a marketplace of attention, then all they're doing is vying for your share. The reality is much more odious.

Second, viewing the landscape as one of war instills the right mindset for those caught in the crossfire. Invading forces want to not just have our share of attention, they want to own it. The war of attention is a battle over resources: who gets to dominate, where and when.

We have to defend our territory (our attention) appropriately.

I may explore this topic more in future posts, but what I'm left with this line of thought: Now that I know that I'm in a war, what should change? Where have I lost ground? What tactics does the enemy use? How can I respond appropriately? Can we win?

take the time to unsubscribe

Tell me if this hasn't happened to you before: You open your email inbox and see an email from a company you don't want to hear from or a newsletter that you never read and then you quickly delete the message. Days, weeks, or months pass and then the sender pops up again in your inbox. You again delete. The cycle continues.

Sometimes I forget that I can unsubscribe right there and be done with it forever.

Pay attention to when you're annoyed: you might just find that the time is ripe to unsubscribe.

what's next?

With Michael Flynn's guilty plea, some say that impeachment is now more likely. Though the odds are long, this seems about right.

Let's assume that Mueller's investigation either leads to impeachment or sinks Trump's 2020 campaign. What's next?

Who is next from might be President Pence, right? We should shudder at that thought, too. It's true that the absence of Trump in the White House would be a good thing for the country. However, we can't forget that run-of-the-mill Republicanism is dangerous in its own banality.

The first time I started paying attention to politics was during George W. Bush's presidency. At the time, I was mostly against things: against the Iraq the Patriot Act, against stem cell research prohibitions, etc. I didn't have a coherent political vision for the future that I wanted. (To be fair to myself, I was young.) I saw the same thing happen with people who were against Obama.

Now, I worry that we are so strongly identified with being against Trump that we're losing out on an opportunity to politic by clear contrasts. It's not that we shouldn't vehemently oppose the bad ideas and behavior of the Trump era. It's that it's not enough. Asking ourselves "What's next?" is good for the country. It's also good politics.

So, what's next?