November

I moved into the dorms at Pitzer College in late August, 1997. Pitzer is part of The Claremont Colleges, which are close to a collection of neighborhoods called The Village, a small commercial area full of small restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops. My first visit to The Village was on September 1, 1997; I know that because I can still remember parking my car on the street and immediately being approached by some teenage boys who asked me if I could buy them cigarettes.

I was about to turn them down when I realized that

“Yes. Yes, I can,” I said.

It was my birthday. I was 18, with all of the rights and responsibilities that come from being an adult.

I took their money and went into a corner shop, bought a pack of cigarettes, handed it to them out on the sidewalk, then kept walking, feeling the sudden distance from my old, underage life – a life which had seemed important but which, it turned out, had actually been minor, minor in every sense of the word, and back to which I would never, could never, go. My chest puffed. That clerk in the shop, who asked for my ID? He couldn’t stop me, not legally, anyway, and no clerk could ever stop me, ever again; I was bigger and more important than I had ever been in my life.

I checked my bank balance at the Washington Mutual, then stopped at the record store – Rhino Records? Was that what it was called? – and walked down the street, looking into the shops, looking for other opportunities to assert my newfound age.

Tucked back a bit from the street was the Bamboo Tea House. It was a dark space that always reminded me of the shop in Needful Things – you would certainly miss it if you were walking quickly, but if you were browsing, you would notice something in the corner, tucked away, and wander over to see what it was, and suddenly be drawn in through the heavy door, the bell tinkling delicately above. In my memory, Mrs. Lee, the owner, never turned the lights on, and the shop space was about the size of a large bathroom, full of natural materials – ceramics, wood, metal, tea. The entire right wall had shelves of large metal canisters, with handwritten labels, organized by genre – black tea, green tea, oolong, white, flavored, herbal, specialty. It was easier to flip through the tea menu and ask her to pull down a tin than to scan the rows looking for something. That first time I went in, I found out that she had tea from Mauritius; I got two ounces, which she measured out carefully and put in a silver heat-sealed bag, while I told her that my father had grown up there and she asked questions about their methods of infusing vanilla into the leaves (which I luckily knew about). Then, as a birthday to myself, I got a box of Japanese incense, giant sticks in an orange box, and a ceramic incense holder, and a tea strainer, and when I returned to my dorm room I put everything on the windowsill next to my desktop computer, impressed at my good fortune and superior taste at such a young, yet still advanced, age.

I started making regular trips to the shop – maybe once a month – and got to know her, got to know the shop, and drank all of the tea samples she gave me. The next year, I moved into a different dorm and a suite, with other roommates – Fran Tsvilik, Brita Resenheim, and Hema Subramanian, on one side, and Hayden Hamilton and Alex Clark on my side. Hayden was the chair of the Student Senate, Alex was vice-chair, and I was secretary, and Fran, Brita and Hema were all chairs of various committees. I was supposed to have a roommate, Kris; he was the product of military school in New Mexico, spoke incredibly deliberately, was careful and considerate and precise, ironed all of his clothes including his underwear, and was one of the more interesting people I had ever met for his lack of affectation. However, he reminded me of the Hemingway line:

“The Purple Land’ is a very sinister book if read too late in life…For a man to take it at thirty-four as a guide-book to what life holds is about as safe as it would be for a man of the same age to enter Wall Street direct from a French convent, equipped with a complete set of the more practical Alger books.”

With his strict upbringing, Kris had come to Pitzer, which prided itself on a clothing-optional campus and a welcoming attitude to recreational drugs. He started smoking weed, and then, that summer, got into other things; at some point, a leprochaun started coming to visit him each night, sat at the foot of his bed, and told him what was going to happen the next day. He decided not to return to Pitzer in the autumn, and to stay in the sanatorium for a bit longer, so another guy, David, moved in. He lasted a week – every morning at 6 a.m., my girlfriend at the time, who was studying in France, would call first thing to talk, and I would tell him to get out of the room while I spoke to her; it was the days of landlines and actual corded phones, and I had nowhere else to go. He got sick of it and moved out, so I had a double to myself.

Anyway, Alex liked tea, too, and in the first or second week we went to the tea shop together. Mrs. Lee mentioned that she had tried over the years to get someone at the colleges to start a tea club, but nobody had ever taken her up on it. Alex and I listened politely, and on the drive back, we talked about how funny it would be to start a tea club. We got back to our suite, and kept talking about it. That night, or maybe the next, he came into my room. He had bright blue eyes, and when he was smiling, it was really his eyes which did the work – his corners of his mouth barely moved to betray his feelings. Now, though, his eyes were radiant.

“The PTA,” he said, throwing his hands out to the side as if he was pitching a circus.

“What?”

“The PTA. The Pitzer Tea Association. We call it the PTA, we get to be co-chairs of the PTA, and we put it on our resumes, and everyone will look at it and ask us how we got to be co-chairs of the PTA at such a young age, and we can make job interviews really awkward.”

He went into marketing.

We knew that we could get up to $500 from the Student Senate without needing a vote; that was what the Senate would give to any new club just for starting up. To get funding, the founders of the new club just needed to tell the President of the Senate that they were forming, ask for the money, and then go spend it. Practically, we could have just shouted at Hayden that we were starting a club and wanted the money, and he could have said “OK!” But we wanted to do it in a grand way, so we presented a funding request to the Senate (I am sure it was irreverant and absurd, but I have no record of it now), got it approved, and then went to Mrs. Lee and bought her most expensive tea and incense, and then got bags and bags of ginger snaps from Trader Joe’s. We made signs advertising “Tea at Three!!!” with Microsoft clipart, made-up quotes, false endorsements, and occasionally offensive slogans; soon after, the Dean of Students published a new policy forcing all club advertisements to be cleared by someone in the student center and get all fliers stamped by some official in order to be posted. In response, we got a stamp. Not got the fliers stamped – we got one of the stamps, and just stamped whatever we wanted to put up as if it was approved. Then, we used the student organization copier, for free, and spent hours putting fliers up around campus every week for tea parties.

And they were a hit. Alex and I became the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, running around serving gallons of tea, introducing people, and learning to host. We went to the tea shop once a week in his cream-colored Lexus, which had the first leather seats I ever sat in; we would pick out three teas, go back to the college, brew it in pitchers and strain out the leaves through a Swiss Gold infuser into thermoses, then light incense and put ginger snaps out. Any leftover tea was divided between us. Professor Barry Sanders came every week, and would smile from behind his round little glasses and talk with whoever was near; the Dean of Students would come, and suddenly he was not an administrator but an awkward nerd, trying to fit in. Women from Scripps would come to just be around men; I like to think we sparked at least a few relationships across the campuses. Sometime in the spring semester, we found out that we had blown through the $500 we were allocated, and applied for another $500; the Senate, on its own initiative, increased the allocation to $1,000, and someone went on the record to say it was the most effective use of Senate funds that year (and as secretary, I made sure it got in the record). On a camups where students went through annual hunger strikes for worker rights, and flew around the world for international human rights monitoring work, we somehow won community service awards, and got in the local paper after a reporter came to one of the parties.

A few years later, when Alex was leaving Pitzer, we were talking, and we both said it was the most rewarding activity we engaged in – and both of us served as President of the Student Senate, and were in charge of the Harvard Model United Nations team, and in plenty of other organizations. In thinking about it, I think it was rewarding because we had the opportunity to give completely to our community, to make people laugh, to bring people together around an activity and have their walls naturally fall down. Everyone was welcome, even the people we didn’t like, and people came because it was so silly, and it was so silly because we didn’t take it seriously at all; we were ourselves, so they could be themselves.

The PTA was a massive part of my life and education, and one of the things I am most proud of having started.

I have been thinking of that recently, as we are looking at schools here for Danial and Nick. All of the schools have actual PTAs, run by actual adults, and they have fundraisers and charity drives and tea parties, and every time I hear about parent involvement from another headmaster, I wonder how fun it would be to join it, to chair it, to get involved, and I sometimes – not in these headmaster meetings, but afterwards, alone in my room – I cry, just because I am so grateful for the unique education that I received at Pitzer, for learning in the classroom, and for taking that love of learning throughout my life to today, and for the fact that two kids could propose starting a tea club, and then get $1,500 in a year to buy tea and be rewarded in so many ways for their efforts. I want to ask: can these PTAs do the same? Do they have dedicated budgets to buy tea? Ginger Snaps? Shoyeido Japanese incense – the expensive ones, $30 a box, with the 15″ long sticks? How far can they push their scope? How agile are they, leadership-wise? How much community can they build? Because community has made my life rich, wealthy; the opportunity to bring people into a space, suspend their reservations, push them into other people, and watch connections form, and that was at the heart of the PTA, of Pitzer, and why I am so grateful to it for my education.

I have also been thinking of Alex recently, because I owe him a call. He left me a voice message a while ago, and…I never responded. He is in Los Angeles now, is the head of some big company, and I am not sure what to say to him, what we share in common. What do you say to someone you have not spoken to in twenty years? Is it the same as with Ryan, where I love the guy, but don’t know him? I think if they were sitting one table over from me in a diner, I wouldn’t look twice, wouldn’t recognize them. But still, I am writing Ryan a letter…and in December, I am going to call Alex, because I love him, too, and I am so grateful to him for him being him.

I once tried to read a biography of Porfirio Rubirosa; there was a description of his apartment in Paris, which apparently smelled like leather and tobacco. I always wondered what combination of life choices, circumstances, experiences, and activities could lead to a room smelling like leather and tobacco – and what leather and tobacco, together, actually smelled like. And then, in November, I found out.

I received my first large order of leather in a giant package from DHL – belt straps, a shoulder hide, and various tools and rivets and buckles and dyes, which I opened immediately, the smell pushing into the room and taking over. Instantly remembering Rubirosa, I opened a cookie tin that I store cigars in and inhaled both together, deeply. I think for Rubirosa, he was probably surrounded by well-used polo saddles and was smoking cigars, and the lifestyle resulted in the odor, but even if my version is different, I can recommend it highly.

Then I started making belts. It is absurdly easy to make a belt. Why don’t more people make their own belts? Most belts are crappy, and in the USA, at least, some big name brand companies get away with gluing leather strips on what is effectively cardboard that falls apart after two weeks. I propose that we, the general public, do not make our own belts because of a general lack of knowledge, of clear steps to follow. As a public service, then, here are the 38 steps I used, and use, to make a belt.

  1. Order an x-acto knife, a hammer, a rivet smashing tool, a ruler that has centimeters, and a set of leather hole punches of varying sizes.
  2. Also order leather straps for belts – I use Le Prevo, in Newcastle, because they made a custom briefcase that I got for an absolute steal on ebay, and they then made a custom strap for it; their website, however, is from 1995, so just be warned. Also, get button rivets, a leather awl, buckles, and dye. Anticipating that these may turn into the Christmas gifts for the year, and you might get obsessed with making belts, order, like, enough for 15 belts.
  3. Think: “I just spent £250 on tools and leather, and all I want to do is make a belt for myself…and everyone I know.”
  4. After you receive the package and rip it open an inhale deeply, take a belt strap and cut it square at one end with the x-acto knife. Then, use a pen to make marks one, four, nine, and ten centimeters from the end.
  5. Set up your hammering station, which, for these purposes, can be a hardback copy of Keith Richards’ autobiography placed indelicately on the ground, because Keith Richards was born to be hammered.
  6. Find the dots you drew on the leather, and try to make holes at those dots by pounding at them with the hole-making tools that you got.
  7. Realize that you can’t use the tools, probably because this book really kind of sucks. Think of other books that might be better – Team of Rivals? The Black Swan? Taleb would surely appreciate his books being used as hammer-blow absorbers – after all, he has an MBA.
  8. Buy a different, cheaper leather hole punch on Amazon that looks like a paper hole punch, but which is specifically made for leather.
  9. Wait a day for it to arrive.
  10. Pick up the package from the Amazon locker. Carry it home and unwrap it, and start practicing on random pieces of cardboard before thinking, “how much damage can I really do?”
  11. Fold the leather strap at the ten-centimeter mark, then use the new punch to make holes through the leather at each other that you drew. When you unfold the leather, you should have six holes (think of it like folding a piece of paper over, then cutting pieces out so it makes a snowflake when unfolded, except you are just making holes).
  12. Admire your work. All those holes, no pounding.
  13. Between the middle two dots (now eight and twelve centimeters from the end), draw lines from the outer part of one circle to the corresponding outer part of the other, so you end up with an elongated oval that is four centimeters long. This will be the slot that the belt prong pokes through.
  14. Use the x-acto knife to cut along these lines; at the end, you should end up with a slot that is exactly as wide as the holes.
  15. Watch a YouTube video on hammering the rivets in.
  16. Put the rivets in so that the buttons snap together when folded over.
  17. Hammer them in using the tools you got. Question repeatedly whether you are doing it right, but then, like magic, they suddenly won’t come out, and you think, “Hey, that…that worked!”
  18. Cut a strip of leather from a spare piece that is 1/3″ wide and .5″ longer than twice the width of the belt. If the belt is 1.5″ wide, you want to have a strip that is 1/3″ wide and 3.5″ long.
  19. Watch a YouTube video on dying the leather. This should take less than three minutes.
  20. Dye all the leather.
  21. Watch a YouTube video on sewing leather with an awl. This may take up to ten minutes if you get distracted by a toddler crying, but really, it should take about 90 seconds.
  22. Sew the strip of leather into a loop using the awl, being careful not to pierce your fingers.
  23. Put the buckle into place so that the prong is threaded through the slot, then put the loop between the rivets.
  24. Fold.
  25. Press the buttons into place.
  26. Place it around your waist, and note where you want the hole to be so it fits.
  27. Realize that leather stretches over time, and you will need to make it a bit shorter, artificially, until it stretches into place.
  28. Use the hole punch to make punch holes for the prong, making the hole that initially fits be the last one on the belt, so that when the leather stretches, and you have to switch holes, it means that the belt fits better, closer to the center hole. In other words, at first, it should seem like it is actually small for you; eventually, though, it will fit perfectly.
  29. Order a set of metal leather stamps – all the letters and numbers – from ebay.
  30. Pound your initials somewhere into the leather, with a “1” to show it was the first belt you made.
  31. If you have a son that is three, almost four, and is interested in hammering things, then start at step 11 and do this again, but make a belt that is small enough for him to use. Make sure that when it fits, it is now on the absolute smallest hole, so that as he grows, he can simply start using the bigger holes, and this belt could last him for maybe ten years.
  32. Remember when your mother used to make you things to wear, and how embarrassed you were about it, and think: this is going to be his trauma, this belt right here, and one day, he will be talking to Nicholas, probably over beers, probably with dates, and they will say, “Remember when dad made those fucking belts? That was SO WEIRD. Like, what the fuck was he thinking? We would appreciate his handicraft? Hey dad, why didn’t you just buy belts at a store LIKE EVERY OTHER PARENT OF OUR FRIENDS???” and the dates will marvel at how strange the Samtoy Boys’ upbringing was, how much they suffered, and will both resolve to be extra nice to these poor unfortunate souls.
  33. Ask him what color he wants, and dye the belt that color – in this case, Walnut Brown.
  34. Get the leather stamps out, and ask Daniel to get his little wooden fake construction hammer from his little toolbox, and put the stamps in place, and have him do the initial stamping: DCS.
  35. Finish the stamping with a few more solid whacks from a metal hammer so that the letters get embossed into place.
  36. Ask him to raise his arms, and then put it around his waist and cinch it up.
  37. Ask him if he likes it, and look closely at his little hands, holding the leather so carefully, as if it was a bird’s egg.
  38. Watch as he runs off to show his mommy his new belt.

There. No more excuses.

Books from November:

  1. The Art of Learning – I have been thinking a lot about how I am going about learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and how the process I use seems a bit…inefficient, in a lot of ways. Surely there is a way to learn more effectively, faster? So I picked this up again, and, for the most part, it was OK. However, it is much more of a memoir than a how-to, and I ended up feeling like I could have spent my time better with another learning book.
  2. Getting to Neutral – Preston recommended this to me; again, rather than a how-to, it was more a book about his cancer, the famous athletes he knew, and his divorce. I am going to read his first book at some point, as that seems to be more focused on actually getting to neutral.
  3. Peak Performance – really good takeaways, for sports and for life.
  4. How Good Do You Want To Be? – I have been interested in Nick Saban and his Process for years, and saw this at a deeply reduced price, so grabbed it. It was full of trite aphorisms and stories about his coaching, with little about the famous Process. I was also disappointed in some of the clear inaccuracies – for example, he repeatedly insists that the Tom Cruise movie “The Last Samurai” was about a man who goes and lives with the Samurai in China. He didn’t write China just once – he kept referring to it. There were a few other things that I thought, “Surely he knows that that isn’t true? Or at least his proof-reader would have known?” Anyway, I am sure he is an amazing coach, but this was a terrible book.
  5. Mastering Pizza – OH MY GOD. I got this for £4 at a thrift store, and it has already been well worth the investment. My pizza game is soaring. Daniel is even impressed. What an amazing book!
  6. Drunk Tank Pink: The Subconscious Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave – this has been on my list for a while, simply for the rave reviews he gets; it was very oversold, but had some good information in it. Takeaways: good names are good, pay attention to the environments you are in and the people who you spend time with.
  7. The Mom Test – By far the shortest book I read this month, and by far the most useful.

One of the things that I have seen sink startups repeatedly is the Steve Jobs “never give up, always trust your instinct” approach to ideas, where a founder thinks, “there is this really big problem, X, and I convinced investors that the solution is this app, Y, and I now need to convince the marketplace that Y solves X, and they should pay me lots of money.” The thing is, X may not be a problem, and Y may not be the solution, but the founder goes at it hard, pours lots of time and money in, and, when they fail, they end up blaming the marketplace, not themselves or their processes.

At the same time, I have been on dozens of calls with other product people or designers where they say, “Here is this idea we had; we love it; we think it is amazing; what do you think?” Every time I hear that, I know the call is going to fail, no matter how subtly or overtly I try to steer it to talking about the customer or their feedback. Once, I was on a call where I said, “Customer, what do you think of this?” and the designer responded, “Well, I think it is amazing.” I grimaced, because the damage had been done – the customer couldn’t have said it sucked, because she knew she was talking about the designer’s baby, and anything other than full-throated endorsement would have been tantamount to murder.

And I have seen so many summaries of feedback sessions: “They love the new designs! They love the new features!”

The Mom Test does an excellent job explaining why all of these are terrible, and what to do instead.

I had a chance to use it on Friday, and it blew my mind. I have been working for the last two months on a new idea: I want, or wanted, to create a marketplace to match student artists with interior designers who need art. I thought: “Interior Designers need to fill spaces on walls, they have to match customer tastes, and they are playing with other peoples’ money!” It made so much sense to me and to people who I described the idea to. Then, I had a chance to talk to an interior designer. She started out saying how interested she was in hearing my idea…but I deflected, and said I would be happy to do so, but I needed to understand her and her processes more. So for 45 minutes, she told me about her work and life – what her client consultations are like, how they choose her as an interior designer, the relationships she builds, and, eventually, the different requests for art that she receives. At the end, it was 100% clear that my idea was just that: an idea, with no founding in reality.

I am 99% sure I could have got funding for this; plenty worse ideas have been heavily funded and backed by prominent VCs. I could have built something and put it out to the market to compete with Saatchi Art, or Degree Art, or any other art site. I could have pressed to find a market with interior designers. I could have celebrated a few sales. But I would have failed.

I know there are lessons in failure, in losing, but there are also advantages to choosing a better fight to engage in. In this case, The Mom Test showed me that I didn’t need to go through heartache in order to learn – I should just be more of a predator and pick my fight wisely, where I had a good chance to win. This book is worth far more than its weight in gold, and I will be using its lessons heavily as I try to figure out a new market to pursue.

On Thanksgiving morning, I was making breakfast, and Daniel came timidly into the kitchen and asked me for my hands to dance. The dance turned out to be us jumping up and down as fast as we could. The music turned out to be him shouting “Whoomp! There it is!” over and over again.

It made me think of all of the instances where kids say something potentially embarrassing in public; I am sure it happens to every family, and parents are horrified to a greater or lesser extent. But it got me thinking: what if it could be somewhat controlled? Like last month, when he was with his babysitter in the park, singing, “The KKK took my baby away! They took her away! Away from me-eeee!” What do I want him to say that would make me proud, even if Alice was mortified?

The lyrics he has shouted out randomly so far:

  1. “We rally ’round the family with a pocket full of shells.”
  2. “I wish I was a little bit taller.”
  3. “I put my hand upon your hip; when I dip you dip we dip.”
  4. “What they want, I don’t know; they’re all revved up and ready to go.”
  5. “Woop Woop – that’s the sound of the police”
  6. “Hello. My name in Elder Price. And I would like to share with you the most amazing book.”
  7. “Buenos Dias!”
  8. “Hey, Ho, Let’s go, Shoot him in the back now.”
  9. “I am one of those melodramatic fools.”
  10. “It won’t cost much – JUST YOUR VOICE.”
  11. “Upside down and inside out – it’s like a freight train!”
  12. “Never trust a big butt and a smile.”
  13. “Moses supposes his toeses are roses, but Moses supposes eroneously!”

And yet to come:

  1. “Who you trying to get crazy with, ése? Don’t you know I’m loco?”
  2. “I love it when you call me big pop-pa.”
  3. “And even as a crack fiend, momma, you always was a black queen, momma.”
  4. And so many more.

He has started talking about all of his friends at nursery – asking us if we know Oliver, or Eilidh, mentioning who uses a toilet instead of diapers, and who can eat dairy, and who likes trains. He really seems to be settling in better, to the point where he just wants to go see people and talk to them when he arrives, instead of crying and holding on to us when we drop him off. For a while, I had this little feeling in my head that I needed to remember these names and try to put faces to them, to figure out ways to encourage these relationships, but I didn’t know how. One day, he was telling me about some other kid, and I had a vivid memory of reading the first chapter of The Little Prince when I was 19; my first girlfriend had given it to me, and I dutifully read it, maybe at the same time I was starting the PTA. I can almost see the paper, my young fingers holding the page back as I looked at what seemed to be a floppy hat, trying to understand the mystery of it, caught up in the liminal space between youth and age, trying to keep seeing the elephant. There was something that I promised myself back then: that, should I ever have kids, I would remember to ask them the important questions about their friends.

So sitting on the living room floor, hearing Daniel talking about Oliver, I watched him, and searched in my memory for what mattered, what might matter to Daniel.

Does Oliver like trees?

Does he like trucks? Diggers? Trains?

What games do you two play?

What makes him laugh?

What is his favorite song?

I stopped there, because…well, Daniel didn’t know any of these things about Oliver. It turns out that kids his age often look at older kids – Oliver is four, almost five – and imagine that the older kid is a “friend.” They don’t talk, they don’t play, but the younger one idolizes the older one – there is another kid at nursery who is two and does the same thing to Daniel, following him around and watching him. None of them really have a solid concept of “friendship” like older kids or adults have; Daniel and Oliver are not actually friends, and Daniel doesn’t know anything about Oliver’s preferences, likes, dislikes, or really anything other than that he can use a potty. But when he starts having friends, real friends, I am going to have a list of good questions as long as both my arms to show him that I care, and I remember.

At the beginning of the month, Nick got his first tooth poking through, and we got to start calling him Nicky the Tooth. Unlike Daniel, whose second tooth took forever, Nick’s popped through maybe a week or two later, so his nickname was dropped. His smiles, though, just keep getting bigger and happier; he loves looking at everything, he can look forever at something, especially if it is Daniel or Alice.

His baby charisma is growing, too. I wore him in a baby sling while Alice and Daniel went to some music event, and we walked around the old town and the Royal Mile together. We ended up standing outside of the theater for maybe 30 minutes, just watching people, and…they watched him. They stopped, and stared, and stopped their friends and pointed. At first I was worried that Nick was choking on something, but nobody came up to warn me, and Nick was breathing fine; they were just looking at his face, at him looking out, and maybe him smiling.

And one of the great joys now is this trick we are working on, are developing. Nick will be in the sling, and I will be doing stuff – washing dishes, kneading bread, whatever. I will lean over and kiss him on the cheek, and he will just close his eyes and go to sleep. It isn’t gradual – the kiss seems to be a trigger and he just passes out. It is one of my favorite things to do, because my interpretation of it is that he is happy and feels safe, and my expression of love is just what he needs to relax completely.

And my last baby: business. After reading The Mom Test, and interviewing an interior designer, I realized that my initial market was not appropriate. I…went into a funk about it, honestly – months of work, all for nothing. I realized that talking to people early would give me the information I needed, and that I would be able to learn so much more by reaching out, so I posted on facebook to see if anyone might introduce me to another interior designer who might help.

Thom responded, and I called him, and suddenly my idea is not only alive, but could solve some massive problems for a growing market in the UK. Like, problems on the order of millions of pounds every year, in a market too new to have anyone really recognizing that these problems could be solved. THAT is getting me up every morning at 5 a.m.

One morning, I remembered an old poster I had seen, propaganda from World War Two: Deserve Victory. I am not sure why I thought of this, but I meditated on it for a while. It strikes me as such a perfect motto: deserving victory implies that you have worked hard, that if you win, you won’t ever think of it as just a matter of luck or chance or fate, that if you fail, you know that you did everything possible to win, and that victory should be yours. Actually, if you don’t win, but you deserved to, you know in your heart that it was something else other than your own effort.

That, in my mind, is a good way to live.

And then this came in from James Clear:

“There is one month left in the year. Most people are ready to coast to the finish line, but one good month can make the whole year feel like a success.

What can you do in the next 30 days to build momentum and finish the year on a high note?”

I have yet to answer that fully, but…every day, more, more to deserve victory.

Addendum: while I was re-reading this before posting it, Alice came by. She had a Fortnum tea tin for Ceylon tea, but it had green tea in it; was it okay if she got rid of the tea to use the tin for something else, or did I want it? I remembered something that Mrs. Lee once said: all tea can be considered good, and there is no “bad” tea, just tea that you don’t particularly like. I never thought of that as a key part of a tea philosophy until now. Anyway, I smelled the tea, and clarified something: the tin said “Ceylon” but it was Japanese? I smelled toasted rice. She said yes, and I said I wanted to keep it.

I keep thinking about how luxury happens. So much of luxury these days seems attached to consumption, dependent on new ownership; what if luxury was actually taste, discernment, experience? I sometimes think that this is what flâneurs have that defines their title – the time and the resources to appreciate time and resources. And I type this burning Shoyeido Morning Zen incense, the one in the orange box, smoking up from a small jar of ash, while I look out over the brown winter of a sleeping Calton Hill, and think about whether I want some Sencha tea, or perhaps a pourover. I am surrounded by books, and Daniel and Alice are watching the washing machine go around and counting down the minutes as it updates – it has gone from eight to six minutes, now five, and I appreciate everything, absolutely everything.

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One comment

  1. There is so much here that I love. The belts. The PTA. The Mom test. Daniel and Nick. Sigh. And most of all, your spirit, which is always curious, always watchful, profoundly empathetic and deserving of victory. Good luck with Thom! Much love, Tom

    Liked by 1 person

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