Book Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

The only other Stephen King book I’ve read is On Writing, his excellent guide to writing more crisply. Here are my notes from that book from 13 years ago.

I’ve never read the Stephen King thrillers that have made him famous; I tend not to seek out books or movies (or theme park attractions) that are likely to frighten me.

King’s new-ish novel, 11/22/63, is a thriller of sorts but not of the horror genre. In any case, it’s utterly compelling for most of the 800+ pages. I recommend it, especially to baby boomers who lived through the 60’s or to JFK assassination theorists — conspiracy or otherwise.

It can be easily summarized: A man time travels back to 1963 and attempts to stop the JFK assassination. The plot explores what the world might be like had that seminal event not taken place.

The writing is fluid and often bare. I highlighted only 37 sentences on my Kindle and there aren’t a lot of interstitial thought-bombs. The writing keeps the plot moving along. If there is life wisdom on offer, it comes in sentence fragments or the occasional witty piece of dialogue.

Mainly, you’re tracking plot and you’re learning about what life was like at the time JFK was shot. King conducted an immense amount of research into the actual historical circumstances of the assassination. Much of the novel, apparently, is historically accurate. You really get a flavor for the Texas of that era.

I thought of Russ Roberts and his frequent admonitions about unintended consequences. It turns out that if you time travel back in time to re-write history, you can’t always anticipate how everything will be different afterwards…

The Wisdom of John Donahoe

I interviewed John Donahoe, CEO of ServiceNow, for a Village Global masterclass. Video of our conversation embedded below and linked here. John is one my all-time favorite CEOs, and a real inspiration. We were in a private meditation retreat together and got to know each other well a few years ago. In this conversation, we talk about ServiceNow, leadership, what he learned as CEO of eBay, and from his board service at Nike and other legendary companies.

Impressions of Vietnam and Taiwan

(Hoi An – Photo Source)

I spent Christmas and New Year’s in Vietnam (Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City) and Taiwan (Taipei). Wonderful trip. Here are some impressions:

Vietnam generally:

  • Vietnamese people are obsessed with food. We were told that the average person eats more than three times a day. And in between eating sessions, they discuss past and upcoming meals. A country where the locals are obsessed with food means culinary delights await tourists — so if you visit, prepare to eat your way through the country. Where in Vietnam you’re traveling will bear on your food experience. It turns out that the Vietnamese people are highly regional in their tastes. More than one Vietnamese person said she can’t stand the food in other parts of her country; indeed, she and others bring coolers of food with them when they travel domestically. (I saw several of coolers at the airport in the domestic terminal.)
  • How to tell whether one of the innumerable side-of-the-road food stalls/mini restaurants is a good one? One food tour guide offered this tip: look for dirtied, used up napkins on the ground underneath the tables. Locals will toss their used napkins on the ground, and a surplus of them on the ground indicates that a) there have been many customers at the establishment, b) the cook has been so busy cooking that she hasn’t had time to go pick up all the trash.
  • For large people like myself, eating at the side of the road produced an amusing visual given the chairs seem to be made for kindergartners — they’re truly miniature.
  • The Ken Burns documentary about the Vietnam War — or “The American War” as they know it in Vietnam — is incredibly informative. Haven’t finished the whole thing yet but well worth watching before traveling to Vietnam.
  • Americans who travel to Vietnam tend to have the War as a primary frame of reference. For baby boomers especially, cities like Da Nang recall memories of events from the war. I’d guess that visiting Vietnam is partly an exercise of morbid curiosity for American baby boomers. For me — the war was before my time — Da Nang is simply the airport you fly in to in order to visit Hoi An. By contrast, among many Vietnamese people themselves, the War is mostly old news. Of the 100 million people in the country, ~25% of them are under age 18. There seems to be very much a look-forward mentality among the young.
  • Vietnam is known for being cheap for U.S. dollar holders and we felt that almost every time we tried to spend money. $20 for 90 minute massages. A solid lunch would cost a few bucks. Manicures and pedicures for mere dollars.

Hoi An — A lovely small town on the coast, that’s peaceful and safe and boasts good food and 200+ tailors that make cheap custom clothing.

  • This food tour in Hoi An was excellent.
  • Our guide joked that men in Vietnam are very lazy. She then pointed out that at each cafe, in the middle of the day during the workweek, you’d see dozens of men sitting in the outdoor cafe smoking cigarettes and staring at their phones. It was true. In Vietnam claim about war being reason men flushed from workforce, and then women took over, and stayed in charge of the house.
  • The regional noodle dish (is it a type of pho?) is Cao Lao and it was excellent. The water for car lao comes from a well in the area that’s 1,000 years old. If the water isn’t from that well, it’s not cao lao. Or so the story goes.
  • A few years ago, Anthony Bourdain traveled to Hoi An, ate a Bahn Mi sandwich at a local place, and declared it the best Bahn Mi in Vietnam. Today, that restaurant has a line that circles the block. We didn’t go in but it made me wonder: Is that Bahn mi actually the best? Was Bourdain just in a good mood when he ate it? How many sandwiches did he really try in the country?
  • The old town is lovely if a bit noisy with all the scooters honking, but bike a few blocks outside town, and you’re in the real Hoi An. Bike a little further out and you’re in remote rice paddy fields and corn fields, where chickens run around and stray dogs roam amid the peace and quiet.
  • There are 200+ tailors in Hoi An who make custom fitting clothes for you. It’s the most famous tourist activity in the town and deservedly so. The tailor experience was professional, the clothes cheap but high quality, and of course all custom fitting. I got a suit, a few dress shirts, a blazer, and trousers — all for cheap and all fit to my body.
  • Being in Hoi An for Christmas was kind of funny. The country is 90% Buddhist; no one around us seemed to celebrate Christmas. The hotel informed all guests that there was a “compulsory Christmas Eve dinner” that would cost $110 USD per person (!). At the dinner buffet, there was a huge ice sculpture that spelled the word: “X-Mas”. Tinny Christmas music on the speaker system. And staff kept saying “Merry Tristmas” — I guess because ‘Ch’ is hard to pronounce. Reminded of the podcast episode about the factory in China that manufactures most of the stuff found in American dollar stores, including Santa Claus trinkets. There was a line about one of the workers in the factory, surrounded by Santa Claus figurines seven days a week, marveling at Americans’ obsession with someone who apparently is a kind, portly man.

Ho Chi Minh City – The commercial center of Vietnam in the south.

  • In the relative calm of Hoi An, some other travelers mentioned that HCMC was crazy loud and chaotic given the number of scooters and their penchant for ignoring street lights. “Try crossing the sidewalk and not getting killed by a scooter,” one traveler said. Perhaps because of that expectation-setting, HCMC seemed much more livable than I expected. Yes, there are a thousand scooters a second whizzing by when you try to cross the street, but it’s manageable, especially in the more built up neighborhoods.
  • Pizza in Vietnam? Two foodies recommended 4 P’s Pizza in HCMC. Japanese-inspired pizza where all the cheese — not easily found in Vietnam — is homemade. It was delicious.
  • The food/motorbike tour of the city was a hoot. College kids take you around on scooter (you ride behind them) and you visit all their favorite local haunts. Felt like a very authentic way to see the city through a young person’s eyes, and eat some delicious street food.
  • Preferring more “active” / adventure travel to museums or buses, we did a bike/kayak tour in the Mekong Delta area, biking through the rural backroads, and riding in a boat through the floating markets — it was an awesome way to see this part of Vietnam and get a workout in at the same time. A small highlight: Throughout the day, anytime we passed young kids on bike, they’d yell out “Hello!” while standing on the street watching us. They had a giant grin on their faces — they seemed genuinely fired up to see us westerners in the area.
    • The floating markets are going away. Used to be top tourist attraction of the Mekong Delta — to see the locals buy and sell on the markets. Now it’s just tourists who cruise by with a small number of vendors. As the local roads and other infrastructure have improved, it makes more sense for people to leave their houseboats and sell their goods elsewhere.
  • The War Remnants Museum offered powerful exhibits about the Vietnam War, even if there was a real propaganda dynamic. Exhibits relating to how Agent Orange affects the 4th generation of Vietnamese were particularly moving.
  • In HCMC, there was a general sense of growth and prosperity: people are busy, working, economy growing. A new subway system is on the way. New skyscrapers being built. Lots of potential.
  • Grab (the Uber of SE Asia) was everywhere in Ho Chi Minh city. Dominant. Go-Jek (Uber of Indonesia) has just entered.

Taipei:

  • My one word description of Taipei is “livable.” Efficient public transit, clean streets, good infrastructure, no homeless people, no litter. It’s a very green city. Lots of parks, green public spaces, and a sense of clean freshness everywhere. The national airline is EVA — Evergreen Airlines — perhaps that’s the hint. If I had other work reasons to be there, I’d be delighted by the opportunity to live in Taipei.
  • The city didn’t feel overly crowded. especially when compared to other big first world Asian cities I’ve been in (Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo). Even in relatively busy areas, neither people nor cars made much noise.
  • Eating at the night markets was billed as a primary thing to do. At the Shihlin night market near our hotel — the largest in the city — there were plenty of tasty food stalls. But standing and eating is tricky for me. I prefer to sit and eat over a table with silverware. The night market was a very fun scene but not quite as as extraordinary as it was hyped to be.
  • There were at least five Nike stores in the Ximending shopping neighborhood — all legit stores, not counterfeit. I’ve never seen so many Nike outlets in close proximity to each other. After passing the first three stores, by the fourth time you see one, you break down and enter and buy something.
  • Someone in Vietnam told us that Taiwan is “America China” whereas Hong Kong is “British China.” Sports is one area where this shows up. In Taiwan, baseball and basketball dominate.
  • Taipei doesn’t have blockbuster tourist attractions. We didn’t see very many non-Asian tourists in the city. Taipei seems like a place people love to live in, but it’s not at the top of most Westerners’ travel lists.
  • There’s a strong food culture, with night markets, hole in the wall shops, and high end restaurant offerings. Dumplings, various noodle dishes, stinky tofu, lots of pork. The Taiwanese people are very focused on food, according to our local food guide, and this makes a delightful place to eat as a tourist.
  • The big local news while we were there was President Xi’s speech about Taiwan unification with China. Via the local newspapers, it seems many Taiwanese people remain quite wary of China and are eager — although not especially optimistic about — continued U.S. support.
  • Globalization continues to shrink the differences between countries. For example, Din Tai Fung — the famous dumpling restaurant of Taiwan, which we went to and enjoyed — now has a location in San Jose, CA.
  • Airbnb inventory was limited in Taipei. Those that exist offer odd formulations — e.g. 6 single beds in two bedrooms, or 4 queen beds and one bathroom.
  • National Palace Museum has a nice East Meets West exhibit that showed artifacts exchanged between China and Western explorers and how that exchange deepened an understanding of the other’s culture.
  • We bore witness to the city trash truck pull up playing ice-cream-truck music, and residents hustling out to drop off their trash. Exactly as described in this 99% Invisible episode.
  • Good food tour in Taipei. Walk the streets and eat!
  • Random: I was complimented on my chop stick use multiple times across Vietnam and Taiwan. It happens frequently when I’m in Asia. People in Asia may not realize how much chopstick use there is in the U.S.

Bottom Line: Vietnam and Taipei are lovely places. More broadly, Christmas/New Year’s continues to be a great time to get out of town. The past six years I’ve gone overseas during this time of year. It’s the least disruptive time to travel and be off the grid because so many other people are doing the same. Already thinking about where to go in 12 months…

Book Review: My Struggle – Book 6

I spent hundreds of more pages inhabiting Karl Knausgaard’s mind in My Struggle: Book 6, the finale in the series. I skipped the final two thirds which is made up of musings on literary history and Hitler but I rather enjoyed the first third of musings which focus on how his family and friends react to reading a draft of the manuscripts of the earlier books. If you’ve read the earlier books (as I have), and thus can appreciate the inside baseball meta plot commentary on his other books, it’s worth taking a stab at this one. There were more genuinely funny moments here than in the previous editions.

Below are some choice quotes.

The meaning of life becomes less self-evident as you get older:

All generations live their lives as if they were the first, gathering experiences, progressing onward through the years, and as insights accumulate, meaning diminishes, or if it doesn’t diminish, it at least becomes less self-evident. That’s the way it is.

Karl befriends a neighbor who’s a parent of one of his kids’ friends. Funny anecdote:

We had been given the plate by the same couple when they were moving house and didn’t need it anymore. They had actually helped us a lot. What had we done for them in return? Not much. I always listened patiently to whatever they talked about, asking questions and making an effort to seem interested. I had introduced him to our Sunday football. And I had given him a signed copy of my previous novel inscribed with a dedication. Two days later he told me he had given it to an uncle “who was interested in books.” But it was for you personally, for goodness’ sake! I thought to myself, though I said nothing; if he hadn’t grasped the fact on his own I wouldn’t be able to explain it to him.

It occurred to me when reading this that I don’t often conclude that it’s not worth trying to explain something to someone on the grounds that if they hadn’t grasped it on their own they’d never be able to learn it.

His experience washing the vaginas of his young daughters:

I took three cloths off the pile on the shelf, put soap on them and washed all three of them between their legs. It felt like an assault, that was the thought that came to me every time. Imagine if someone came in and saw what I was doing, what would they think? A perverted father rubbing the crotches of his daughters? It was a thought only a man who had witnessed the incest hysteria of the eighties was capable of thinking, I knew that, but all the same it didn’t help, the feeling was there and couldn’t be ignored, and when they sat down again and I rinsed the cloths, wrung them and hung them over the radiator to dry, I was as relieved as ever that no one had come in and seen me.

Random on fathers:

“Nearly everyone I know has a father who failed them in some way. And everyone tries to compensate for that failure in the way they relate to their own children.”

On ambitious people who are going out to achieve something in the world

“They’re the ones who make something of life, who achieve something in the world rather than just using or enjoying it.”

“But even in those people there’s a sense of restlessness. That’s why they create or act the way they do, because there’s a restlessness inside them, something incomplete. But what they’re aiming for, all the time, is harmony. All through their twenties and thirties and forties. The aim is to be able to sit in a garden and watch the sprinkler watering the lawn, with their children all around them, and to be able to think, right, that’s it, I’m happy now. All human urges are about the urge for harmony.”

This is a very Buddhist idea. The sense that someday, perhaps a day very soon, you’ll be able to kick back, look around, take it all in, and say, “Ahhhhh, this is it. I’m finally happy. I’m finally at peace.” That day will never come so long as it is contingent upon the obtainment of stuff or the organization of external forces, and even if you manage to achieve the inner harmony that gives rise to peace, it is not stable or permanent in any way.

On men’s emotions and intimacy:

Now we connect intimacy and closeness with the truest of feelings. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read people ridiculing men’s ways of dealing with emotions. Slapping each other on the back, that sort of thing. But a woman doesn’t know what it means to get a slap on the back when you’re down in the dumps. Men’s emotions are worth no less, if anyone believes that, just because they’re not expressed the way women’s are. What I’m saying is there are many different kinds of solicitude, and intimacy isn’t necessarily going to be right in itself.

On what friends give you versus what lovers give you — the person you love enables you to live more effortlessly in the present, whereas the friend helps you fully understand yourself and your life:

While meeting Geir [his friend] gave me a viewpoint on myself and a space in which it could be articulated, in other words remoteness, which was invaluable, meeting Linda [his wife] gave me the opposite, in that encounter all remoteness was dissolved, I became closer to her than I had ever been to any other person in my life, and in that closeness there was no use for words, no use for analysis, no use for thoughts, because when all is said and done, which is another way of saying in life, when it presents itself in all its intensity, when you’re there, at the center of it all, with your entire being, the only thing that matters is feeling. Geir gave me the chance to look at life and understand it, Linda gave me the chance to live it. In the first instance I became visible to myself, in the second I vanished. That’s the difference between friendship and love.

What I’ve Been Reading

Books, books, books.

1. Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh. Not that I’m exactly unbiased given the authors and my entangled relationships here, but lots of good insights from Silicon Valley and China on how to build a huge, world-changing company. Reid and Chris worked super hard to distill the complicated and sometimes contradictory lessons of fast scaling companies into a book structure that’s digestable and practical.

2. The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil. Beautifully written memoir about surviving genocide, becoming a refugee, and resettling in the United States. “It’s strange, how you go from being a person who is away from home to a person with no home at all. The place that is supposed to want you has pushed you out. No other place takes you in. You are unwanted, by everyone. You are a refugee.”

4. Dancing with Life: Buddhist Insights for Finding Meaning and Joy in the Face of Suffering by Phillip Moffitt. Phillip led the meditation retreat I went on earlier this year and this book summarizes the Buddha’s wisdoms, and Phillip’s experience with it, clearly and relatively concisely. Phillip was co-owner and editor in chief of Esquire magazine before leaving the material world and pursuing serious meditative and yoga practice. The book is divided into four sections corresponding with each of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths:  1) There is suffering in the world, 2) there are known causes of suffering, 3) there are solutions to the causes of suffering, and  4) there are specific tactics that can be followed to put into practice these solutions.

3. Mastery by George Leonard. During one of my private interview sessions with Phillip Moffitt at the meditation retreat, I wondered aloud whether I had hit a plateau in my meditation practice. Without hesitating, Phillip recommended I read this book from George Leonard, which discusses the issue of plateaus in the journey toward mastery. Some good insights; nothing earth shattering. The premise: “Learning any new skill involves relatively brief spurts of progress, each of which is followed by a slight decline to a plateau somewhat higher in most cases than that which preceded it.”

Where in our upbringing, our schooling, our career are we explicitly taught to value, to enjoy, even to love the plateau, the long stretch of diligent effort with no seeming progress?”

Here’s my previous post on the sorts of skill building that results in quantum leaps versus continual iterations of improvement.

6. Tribe of Mentors and Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. Two gargantuan interview books from Tim; tons of life hack nuggets and solid book and gadget recommendations across the two.

7. Suicide of the West by Jonah Goldberg. I love Jonah’s writing and his speaking (on his podcast and on BloggingHeads.tv). In this book, he makes the following argument: “Capitalism is unnatural. Democracy is unnatural. Human rights are unnatural. The world we live in today is unnatural, and we stumbled into it more or less by accident. The natural state of mankind is grinding poverty punctuated by horrific violence terminating with an early death.” And as such, we should be utterly grateful for what we have, and utterly paranoid about not destroying the golden goose of modern civilization that’s laying such wonderful eggs.

More:

In later chapters, I spell out how liberalism and capitalism created the Miracle and how the United States of America is the fruit of the Miracle. But the key point to understand for the arc of this book is that both are unnatural. The idea that we should presume strangers are not only inherently trustworthy but also have innate dignity and rights does not come naturally to us. We have to be taught that—carefully taught. The free market is even more unnatural, because it doesn’t just encourage us to see strangers to be tolerated; it encourages us to see strangers as customers.

Other random highlights:

One of the most interesting taboos in American life is the taboo against discussing human nature.

Virtue requires denying one’s baser instincts—i.e., human nature—and doing what is right. This is why C. S. Lewis argued that “courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point…”

Hypocrisy is often a terrible failing but it is more often a misunderstood one. Hypocrisy is the act of violating an ideal or principle you admonish others to follow. Too many people believe that hypocrisy is an indictment of the ideal as much as it is the hypocrite. This is folly. A world without hypocrisy is a world without ideals.

Friendships: Frequent Quick Hits vs. Infrequent Deep Dives

Consider the communication pattern between you and two hypothetical friends of yours.

With one, you email, text, and talk at least once a week. You’re continuously in touch. If you live in the same place, you may even see this friend pretty regularly for quick bursts. Maybe you grab coffee before work. Or get lunch in the middle of the workday. If you don’t live in the same place, you’ll hop on the phone for 5-10 min phone calls at least once a week, or sometimes a full hour if the stars align.

With the other friend, you’re not in touch all the time. You occasionally forward articles to each other and sometimes exchange a fun text message, but weeks and months often pass without meaningful interaction. When you do talk to or see the friend, it’s a deep dive. It’s a longer interaction. Maybe you see this friend in person once a year for a full day or even a whole weekend. Maybe you have a 90 min video chat catch-up twice a year.

In the busyness of my adult life, my friends increasingly fall into one of these categories. For example, I’m “in touch” with Chris Yeh on a very regular basis; we’ll talk a couple times a week by phone for 10-15 mins each time. By contrast, my interactions with Brad Feld are less frequent, but when we interact, it’s usually for 36-48 continuous hours in person. Interestingly, the one time I’ve had a very long continuous interaction with Chris was when we spent 24 hours together on the Burning Man playa (and slept in the same car). I learned things about Chris that I had not known, despite 10+ years of being in regular touch! I suspect if I ended up talking to Brad 2-3 times a week, I’d appreciate a different side to him, too.

Both are deep, positive relationships. Both types of friendship can be very rewarding. They’re just different cadence patterns.

Of course, there are downsides to each model of relationship. People whose friendships primarily consist of sporadic deep dives probably feel a higher degree of loneliness day-to-day during dry spells in-between the deep dive nourishment. (If you’re in an intimate romantic relationship, this can be okay because you tend to share minutia/quick hits with your spouse so don’t need to lean on friends as much for this.)

People whose friendships primarily consist of regular quick check-ins and texts and workday lunches probably feel some lack of depth with some of their so-called “close friends.” They realize that after years of “how was your day?” conversations and staying up to speed on the real time relationship drama or work battles that will someday be easily forgotten — they realize that they’ve never explored life’s deeper questions with their friend.

If you’re lucky enough to have a deep dive rhythm with someone, I think it’s comparatively easier to add some more day-to-day flavoring — and then perhaps you have the best of both! I was intrigued by how Gretchen Rubin described her approach on Tim Ferriss’s podcast: Every 4-5 days she sends email updates to her family recounting very minutia, day to day details of her life (“I’m getting my hair colored today”) with the explicit expectation that the update is “boring” and no one is supposed to reply. Its function is to simply keep friends in the loop on day to day happenings, like you would around a water cooler.

Finally, I wonder if women and men trend differently on this topic. The women I know tend to be better than men at staying in regular touch with their female friends. There’s a natural, continuous snacking dynamic between especially younger women I know: group text threads buzz a couple times a week, regular walks around the neighborhood, quick “Love you!” text messages, etc. Many of these women also have plenty of deep dives of course but the regular staying-in-touch with quick hits is what I notice most.

Male friendships can be characterized by months of non-communication, and then punctuated — if they’re lucky, and that’s a big if — by a deep dive. The issue is, men like to talk about the “guy I’d take a bullet for” or the “person I’d go pick up at a 4am” — but the deep dives that create  4am pickups rarely happen, at least in the post college years. Many men are deprived of both continuous quick hits and regular deep dives. White, adult, heterosexual men have the fewest friendships of anybody in America.

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I’m reading Knausgaard’s My Struggle Book 6 right now. Yes, it’s another 1000+ page opus — the final installment — and yes, I’m enjoying almost every page of it. That’s for a different post. Anyway, I recently came upon this paragraph:

When we moved to Malmö I had been afraid Geir and I would lose touch. That’s what distance does; when the time between conversations gets longer, intimacy diminishes, the little things connected to one’s daily life lose their place, it seems odd to talk about a shirt you just bought or to mention you’re thinking of leaving the dishes until morning when you haven’t spoken to a person for two weeks or a month, that absence would seem instead to call for more important topics, and once they begin to determine the conversation there’s no turning back, because then it’s two diplomats exchanging information about their respective realms in a conversation that needs to be started up from scratch, in a sense, every time, which gradually becomes tedious, and eventually it’s easier not to bother phoning at all, in which case it’s even harder the next time, and then suddenly it’s been half a year of silence.

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Some old posts of mine on friendship:

(Thanks to Steve Dodson and Chris Yeh for reading drafts of this post.)

The Wisdom of Eric Schmidt and Tyler Cowen

We are honored to have former Google CEO Eric Schmidt as one of our luminary LPs at Village Global. He recently participated in an event with our founders and Network Leaders in San Francisco. It was a delight to have my old friend Tyler Cowen, interviewer extraordinaire, conduct the chat with Eric. They had a wonderfully stimulating conversation about a range of topics. Perhaps my favorite part was near the end, when Eric and Tyler have a back-and-forth about GDP growth.

Here’s a video of their conversation. Here’s the post on the Village blog about the event. The audio of the conversation will also be published on Tyler’s must-listen podcast, Conversations with Tyler.

The Wisdom of Bob Iger

We’re honored to have Disney CEO Bob Iger as one of our LPs at Village Global. We recently hosted an event with Bob and about 100 of our portfolio companies, Network Leaders, and other friends of the firm at the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel.

Bob was in fine form on stage, and was terrific with a small group of our founders afterwards in a smaller session. As one of the world’s most successful CEOs, and one of the most important people in the entertainment industry, we were thrilled to be able to hear from him up close and personal.

Here are the photos from the event.

One of the more memorable things Bob said at the event was that he’s not “paranoid” about the future. He acknowledged the Andy Grove quip that “only the paranoid survive” but said that this particular framing (paranoia) doesn’t resonate with him. He’s more curious than he is paranoid. He’s relentless about trying to transform an iconic company into a new era. But it’s curiosity and optimism that drives him to do so. It was a refreshing, different sort of view than the common Silicon Valley line. It was a reminder that there are many ways to frame the challenge of disruption and innovation. And there are many ways to be an exceptional leader.

Remaining on Nodding Terms with Chile

Photo I took atop the Costanera Center

In 2010, I lived in Chile for 9 months. It was a memorable time in my life. I lived through one of the country’s worst earthquakes. I went through transitions professionally and romantically. I caught a glimpse at bilingualism in the distance.

There are many countries I have yet to visit, countries still on the bucket list. But I still prioritize visiting Chile to deepen an already deep experience.

In 2012, I returned and wrote a piece titled The Sweep of Nostalgia and quoted Joan Didion’s advice — remain on nodding terms with your past. I still believe in that advice — at least being able to nod at selective elements of your past. Staying in touch with Chile is part of that process.

I visited Chile again a couple weeks ago — a 2018 visit. Returning to a place you once knew well shakes loose old memories, like dusty old photo frames that tumble down off shelves if you open a cabinet door that’s been shut for some time. The memories are not necessarily significant. Random stores. Random streets. Random metro stops. “Oh yeah, that thing” is a routine thought during these occurrences. Not profound. Unless you consider it profound that our brains store a gazillion memories that are not bubbling at the surface and need active prompting to surface — and that is kind of profound if you think about it.

One of the more touching moments on my latest visit happened at my old apartment building. I went back to the building in the Providencia neighborhood. I told the doorman I used to live in the building some years ago, and asked if he’d let me enter to take the elevator to the roof and look out. After a bit of mental jogging, he said, “I remember you!” I stared at him and then remembered him as well. Same guy working the door after all these years. Some things really don’t change very much.

The subway is still excellent (and my transit card from 2010 that I’ve held onto still had value on it!). The andes mountains are still beautiful. The Chilean friends I made all still live in Santiago — no one has moved away.

Of course some things do change in a decade’s time. For example, everyone in Santiago has a smartphone now. I lived there pre-iPhone. Had I an iPhone and data plan in 2009, I would not have gotten lost nearly as often. I wonder how my experience would have been different had I nailed every turn-by-turn…

Mainly, the feeling I get when I think about my time in Chile is about how much time has passed in my life. I’m older now; I look much older in photos today versus my photos from then. So much has happened in my life since then. I do feel a tinge of sadness thinking about it. When I lived in Chile, I was in my early 20’s, living abroad, with so much possibility in front of me. So little constraint. I live a far more constrained life today. All by choice and I’m happy with my choices, but enough years have piled up now where I can look back and draw out multi-year detailed maps for how my life could have gone had I made different choices at different juncture points.

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I should note a few practical things my partner and I did on the most recent trip to Chile. Agua de Ramon park is wonderful and just 20 mins from uptown Santiago. The new Costanera Center tower is cool — the tallest building in Latin America. A sunset drink atop the W Hotel offers remarkable views. And the Ritz Carlton Santiago is a wonderful hotel; the club lounge is very much worth upgrading for — 3 meals a day served there and they’re exceptional. I worked full time from the hotel so it was a good location to do that from.

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I’ll repeat the ending from my previous post on Chile:

Some months ago, I watched saw the beautiful documentary Nostalgia for the Light. It’s about the astronomy done in the Atacama desert in the very north of Chile. Here’s the trailer. The Atacama desert is the driest in the world and the only place on earth with zero humidity year-round. Soon, 95% of the world’s astronomy will be done there. The film juxtaposes the work of scientists in the desert who look to the sky for answers, with old women just miles away who look to the ground for answers, searching for the bones of relatives assassinated by the Pinochet regime and buried in the desert. The film is about the connection between the past and the future, ground and sky. It’s also about memory.

In the film, director and narrator Patricio Guzman says, “Those who have a memory are able to live in the fragile present moment. Those who have none, don’t live anywhere.”

Book Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Mohsin Hamid is one of my favorite writers. Here’s my somewhat detailed review of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Here’s my review of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.

Exit West is his excellent latest novel. It’s about refugees fleeing an unnamed homeland (Syria?) and transporting through different spaces in the quest for safety, eventually ending up in Northern California. The couple, Saeed and Nadia, share an unexpected romantic connection that ultimately weakens over time, with Saeed indulging in nostalgia for the past and his religious roots, and Nadia seeking to break through and embrace a more secular stance toward the world. But before they grow apart, they endure together war and grief and other hardship.

The writing style is calm, sometimes bare. The novel’s opening line gives you a sense of the rhythm of the book: “In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her.”

The theme of refugees struck a chord personally. And even for those of us who stay in the same house our whole life: “We are all migrants through time,” Hamid writes.

Highly recommended. Some highlights from Kindle are pasted below.


…they had gone to his place that night, and she had shuffled off the weight of her virginity with some perplexity but not excessive fuss.

the curfew served to conjure up an effect similar to that of a long-distance relationship, and long-distance relationships are well known for their potential to heighten passion, at least for a while, just as fasting is well known to heighten one’s appreciation for food.

All agreed he was a fine and delicate man, worryingly so, for these were not times for such men.

…but Saeed had wept only once, when he first saw his mother’s corpse and screamed, and Saeed’s father wept only when he was alone in his room, silently, without tears, his body seized as though by a stutter, or a shiver, that would not let go, for his sense of loss was boundless, and his sense of the benevolence of the universe was shaken, and his wife had been his best friend.

…in any case Nadia had taken one look at Saeed’s father and felt him like a father, for he was so gentle, and evoked in her a protective caring, as if for one’s own child, or for a puppy, or for a beautiful memory one knows has already commenced to fade.

Saeed’s father encountered each day objects that had belonged to his wife and so would sweep his consciousness out of the current others referred to as the present, a photograph or an earring or a particular shawl worn on a particular occasion, and Nadia encountered each day objects that took her into Saeed’s past, a book or a music collection or a sticker on the inside of a drawer, and evoked emotions from her own childhood, and jagged musings on the fate of her parents and her sister, and Saeed, for his part, was inhabiting a chamber that had been his only briefly, years ago, when relatives from afar or abroad used to come to visit, and being billeted here again conjured up for him echoes of a better era, and so in these several ways these three people sharing this one apartment splashed and intersected with each other across varied and multiple streams of time.

Saeed was grateful for Nadia’s presence, for the way in which she altered the silences that descended on the apartment, not necessarily filling them with words, but making them less bleak in their muteness.

Nadia had long been, and would afterwards continue to be, more comfortable with all varieties of movement in her life than was Saeed, in whom the impulse of nostalgia was stronger, perhaps because his childhood had been more idyllic, or perhaps because this was simply his temperament.

He did not press the point, but when Nadia brought her face close to his in bed that night, close enough to tickle his lips with her breathing, he was unable to muster the enthusiasm to bridge the tiny distance it would have taken to kiss.

They made their way outside. The sky had begun to change, and was less dark now than indigo, and there were others scattered around, other couples and groups, but mostly solitary figures, unable to sleep, or at least unable to sleep any longer.

Maybe, Saeed thought initially, they feared he might be able to understand them. Later he suspected something else. That they were ashamed, and that they did not yet know that shame, for the displaced, was a common feeling, and that there was, therefore, no particular shame in being ashamed.

They put their lack of conversation down to exhaustion, for by the end of the day they were usually so tired they could barely speak, and phones themselves have the innate power of distancing one from one’s physical surroundings, which accounted for part of it, but Saeed and Nadia no longer touched each other when they lay in bed, not in that way, and not because their curtained-off space in the pavilion

She noticed other women looking at him from time to time, and yet she herself felt strangely unmoved by his handsomeness, as though he were a rock or a house, something she might admire but without any real desire.

It seemed to Nadia that the farther they moved from the city of their birth, through space and through time, the more he sought to strengthen his connection to it, tying ropes to the air of an era that for her was unambiguously gone.

Saeed wanted to feel for Nadia what he had always felt for Nadia, and the potential loss of this feeling left him unmoored, adrift in a world where one could go anywhere but still find nothing.

In Marin, Saeed prayed even more, several times a day, and he prayed fundamentally as a gesture of love for what had gone and would go and could be loved in no other way. When he prayed he touched his parents, who could not otherwise be touched, and he touched a feeling that we are all children who lose our parents, all of us, every man and woman and boy and girl, and we too will all be lost by those who come after us and love us, and this loss unites humanity, unites every human being, the temporary nature of our being-ness, and our shared sorrow, the heartache we each carry and yet too often refuse to acknowledge in one another, and out of this Saeed felt it might be possible, in the face of death, to believe in humanity’s potential for building a better world, and so he prayed as a lament, as a consolation, and as a hope, but he felt that he could not express this to Nadia, that he did not know how to express this to Nadia, this mystery that prayer linked him to, and it was so important to express it…

There was also closeness, for the end of a couple is like a death, and the notion of death, of temporariness, can remind us of the value of things, which it did for Saeed and Nadia, and so even though they spoke less and did less together, they saw each other more, although not more often.

everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same houses our whole lives, because we can’t help it. We are all migrants through time.

In the morning when she woke he was looking at her, and he stroked the hair from her face, as he had not done for months, and he said if anyone should leave the home they had built it was him. But as he said this he felt he was acting, or if not acting then so confused as to be incapable of gauging his own sincerity. He did think that he ought to be the one to go, that he had reparations to make for becoming close to the preacher’s daughter. So it was not his words that felt to him like an act, but rather his stroking of Nadia’s hair, which, it seemed to him in that moment, he might never have permission to stroke again.

…and so they distanced themselves from each other on social networks, and while they wished to look out for each other, and to keep tabs on each other, staying in touch took a toll on them, serving as an unsettling reminder of a life not lived, and also they grew less worried each for the other, less worried that the other would need them to be happy, and eventually a month went by without any contact, and then a year, and then a lifetime.

[Meeting as older adults years after breaking up] Their conversation navigated two lives, with vital details highlighted and excluded, and it was also a dance, for they were former lovers, and they had not wounded each other so deeply as to have lost their ability to find a rhythm together, and they grew younger and more playful as the coffee in their cups diminished, and Nadia said imagine how different life would be if I had agreed to marry you, and Saeed said imagine how different it would be if I had agreed to have sex with you, and Nadia said we were having sex, and Saeed considered and smiled and said yes I suppose we were.