Current Reads – July

I’m using a planner again!

The COVID hair continues.

Not only that but I’m actually forcing myself to get everything in it done every day before I go to sleep. That’s the part that’s actually difficult. I can write to-do lists all day; there’s no end of plans in the works. So, one of the things I put in my planner every day is to write for ten or fifteen minutes. Once I get that down I might increase it to something more substantial but it’s enough time to feel like I’ve done something. It may translate into more frequent posts.

When I wrote yesterday’s post, I was struck by the idea that if I can’t talk about what my opinions currently are (because I don’t know), I can write about what I’m doing to learn about the topics that interest me!

Thus, here is the first of what I hope to be a monthly series (just shot myself in the foot by writing that) on my current reads. I’ve been interested in politics and economics for the last month or so and my list will reflect that heavily. My apologies to those of you who loathe politics! I’m not completely insane though, so I do have some books I’m reading purely for enjoyment.

One final note: none of the links I provide here are affiliate links. If you choose to purchase these books, I won’t see a cent and I’m okay with that.

The Populist’s Guide to 2020
Krystal Ball & Saagar Enjeti

The Populist's Guide to 2020.

I was introduced to these two through Joe Rogan’s Podcast, which I highly recommend to any and all people. He has a very wide range of guests covering every topic imaginable. There’s something there for everybody. Anyway… Ball and Enjeti are the hosts of a political show called Rising which seeks to be an actually honest place where you get both left-ish and right-ish perspectives on current events. It’s not unbiased- nothing is. It’s more digestible though because they’re not cramming hatred and fear down your throat for an hour.

The book reflects their personal views in that both the liberal and conservative movements in America have completely failed and need to be done away with. I’ve just begun reading it so I’m not going to try to give it more of a synopsis than that. People like Ball and Enjeti are part of the complex system of stimuli that snapped me out of my ultra-left, Trump needs to go to prison haze and let me accept that some1 conservatives are actually human beings that I can have conversations with that don’t end in bloodshed.

Buy the book here.

The Myth of Mental Illness
Thomas Szasz

I believe I’ve written about this book before but I just haven’t been reading that much over the last few months until now. It’s an old book (1974) so some of its ideas may have been updated or outright replaced by newer ideas (although depending on who you ask, some of the newer ideas in psychology are outright bullshit) but, in general, the idea behind it resonated with me.

Szasz basic premise is that psychiatry is far too quick to label every discovered divergence in human behavior to an illness, whether for financial resources that are available to new studies or to reinforce particular ideologies. Homosexuality used to be considered a mental illness and now homophobia is starting to be labeled as a mental illness. Are either of those beliefs true? It’s objectively impossible to know in today’s scientific climate.

I’ve always felt (important to note here that a feeling is different than a belief) that we were far too quick to assign labels to phenomena in an effort to make somebody a victim and thus in a certain class of people to whom no questions can be raised lest you be an oppressor. This book seems to support that feeling but I’ve of course read others such as The Blueprint which tend toward the opposite belief, that everything we do, say, and become is genetic and free will is a comfortable quilt sewn with lies (Sam Harris applauds wildly).

Buy the book here.

The Brothers Karamazov
Fyodor Dostoevsky

After the harrowing journey I undertook while reading Crime & Punishment, one would be justified in asking why the hell I would ever read another Dostoevsky book.

I hear this one is better.

There’s more emotion driving it so far and far less chapters-long wrangling over socialism and capitalism.2 I have a long way to go in this book and to be perfectly honest I only bought it because it’s green and I needed it as a decoration that would fit the color scheme of one of my shelves. Take that, literature!

Buy it here. (not the exact copy I have but I can’t be arsed to search that hard)

And so…

I’ve purchased more books this month but as I’ve yet to actually begin reading them, I’d feel a little pretentious attempting to talk about them. If you have any recommendations, feel free to mention them in the comments below! I’ll read anything once, which I think I’ve made obvious.

1 Don’t get me wrong there are just as many batshit insane Republicans as there are batshit insane Democrats out there.
2 If you’re wondering, I’m an ardent capitalist but I see the value in socialism… I simply think that if you actually propose socialism as a valid framework for economic and social policy, you haven’t had nearly enough experience with other human beings.

The Books of September

Today, a blog I follow called LIFESFINEWHINE posted a list of recent reading and I thought that’s a wonderful idea to get me back into the swing of writing about things that aren’t me.

I read a lot compared to most of the people I meet; around 25 pages a day. 25 pages may not seem like much but between work (two jobs as of today!) and college, it is what it is. I prefer non-fiction but I try to read both fiction and non-fiction at the same time (one book each). I’ve heard from some people that they can’t read more than one book at a time because they start to get confused but I don’t even understand how that’s possible!

September was a light month for me because the last two weeks of it were depressed, but I still got a few good books digested…

Walden by Henry David Thoreau


I read this back in July and loved it so much I went back over my highlighted passages in September. Walden really changed my outlook about a lot of things to do with the outdoors. It got me to start gardening, hiking, and photographing nature a lot more. The book can be dry at times, especially when he’s going over how many beans he grew and how much he sold them for, but overall it is easy to get the sense of awe and excitement that Thoreau had for the natural world through his words.

Crime & Punishment by Fyoder Dostoevsky


The bulk of this was read in August but I finished it in September so I’m counting it! If you’ve been following me for a time, you’ll remember that I hated reading this book. Despite that, the story and characters have stuck with me very vividly. Perhaps the book being such a chore has etched it permanently in my memory. The writing is very dry and conversations turn into chapter-long diatribes which are difficult to follow, but overall the book is a manifesto against atheism and objectivism, albeit a weak one (straw men do not make great arguments but as this is a work of fiction I feel we can forgive Dostoevsky). The lead character, Raskolnikoff, is able to be an atheist on one level but can not reconcile his spiritual torment over what he has done. That’s the bulk of what the book is about. It’s an interesting read, at least, and I think that it is a fairly poignant representation of the illness we feel in our gut when we know we’ve done something abominable.

Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt


Although this book has some exercises for determining what activities are in your “desire zone”, I feel that it falls flat like most business/self-help books do. Chapters and chapters on why you should find your true calling and focus on it without any sort of real advice on how to do that. It’s designed to work alongside the Full Focus Planner which I use religiously, so I was able to glean some insights from it. Overall, though, it’s a lot of fluff and filler just to say “focus on the things you love and say no to the things you don’t love.” Pretty common advice in these sorts of books.

Wow, that’s really all I read in September?! Well, October is already shaping up to be better. I’m half-way through both 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson and Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. I’ll reserve my thoughts on those for the next reading post!

Raskolnikov’s Burden

Just before I left for my forest vacation two weeks ago, I set a goal for myself to read 10 books by the end of 2019. My rationale was at around 200-300 pages per book, I could read between 25-30 pages a day and this goal would be easy to hit. As with any new habit, I left the gate strong! In two weeks I finished Thoreau’s Walden and Machiavelli’s The Prince. I wanted to change it up a bit so, for my third book, I switched to fiction and started reading Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky.

Big mistake! The philosophical-fiction novel is really challenging my reserve. Not only is it much longer than I planned for, my copy clocking in at around 500 pages, but it is dreadfully boring. It took me a full 7-day week to hit page 95. When I read Walden and The Prince, I was excited to sit down with them every evening and learn something new, even if I didn’t agree with them. I dread seeing the “25pp Crime” slot approach on my day planner. Most days this week, I ignored it and went to bed or played around on my phone or computer instead.

So, the question I’m asking myself is should I finish it? It’s definitely considered a classic and my goal is to read as many of the classics as I can. Should I finish reading the book because of this, because I’ve already started it, and to test my willpower? Or should I give in to what every neuron in my brain is telling me and switch to another book? I’m not sure, but I think I would feel like I’ve failed at something if I did that.

Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure isn’t fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Churchill’s mindset suggests that I should continue despite my nerves about it. However, Churchill also said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” I could easily stumble from Crime and Punishment to a book that I enjoy more, right? Ha!

No, I think I will finish the book. When I think about how great I will feel when the last page is turned and I’ve gleaned the message behind all of the insipid writing, I am motivated. Although taxing, I have learned a bit about Dostoevsky’s world through what I’ve read thus far. Raskolnikov is a true misanthrope, the likes of whom I’ve never read before. Chapter two of the first act also contains one of the best portrayals of alcoholism I’ve read yet. For that alone, I recommend at least skimming through the book.

Focus Friday – A Bit Late

I try to get everything posted by 4:00pm EST just to stay consistent but today was BUSY. Not in a bad way by any means, I just couldn’t pull myself out of my work for more than a few minutes until the day was over (I usually write on my lunch break). I still wanted to get it done both to stay consistent with it and because I said I would write three posts by the weekend. Anyway, hope you all had a great week and are looking forward to a restful Saturday and Sunday.

APPS

  • YNAB – You Need a Budget is something that’s been kicking around my financial toolbox on and off for several years. I originally had the desktop version which has since been made obsolete by newer releases. It’s a different take on budgeting than other systems like Mint and Nerdwallet in that you only budget the money that you have currently. There is no projecting into the future. It takes some getting used to but in the long run I do a lot better with this mindset than with trying to budget money I don’t have yet.
  • Duolingo – I’m on a 30 day streak with this app. It all started two years ago when I met a woman from Turkey and decided to impress her by learning her native language. We don’t speak anymore (as drunks often say) but recently I decided that since I’m already fairly deep into the language I might as well finish. Since then I’ve picked up Spanish, German, and French as well just for fun. Surprisingly I’m finding that I’m not getting the languages mixed up and am retaining quite a bit from day to day.

READING

  • Crime Partners by Donald Goines – Donald Goines was one of the bigger black authors of the 20th century who feverishly pumped out novels to support his heroin habit. He was tragically murdered in his 30’s by unknown assailants for unknown reasons. Part of the reason I read is to expose myself to foreign mindsets and ideas. As Goines’ books have influenced generations of black artists I simply had to read him eventually.
  • 50/50 by Dean Karnazes – 50/50 is Karnazes’ recounting of his endeavor to run 50 marathons in 50 days in the early 2000’s (I always feel weird writing that because it kind of still is the early 2000’s). It’s packed full of advice and inspiration for runners, one of which I am hoping to officially become soon. It’s entertaining and informative but I am listening to the audiobook version on Scribd read by Karnazes himself and… let’s just say he probably wouldn’t make it as a voice actor.
  • Life’s too Short to Go Fucking Slow by Susan Lacke – I read this one prior to 50/50 and absolutely loved it. Even cried in a few spots. It recounts the relationship between the author and her mentor (and boss) Dr. Carlos Nunez. She begins as an overweight, chain-smoking, alcoholic and over the course of the book transforms into a triathlete. I instantly related to her backstory although I don’t see myself ever running a triathlon.

MUSIC

  • Praga Khan – Pragamatic (Remastered) – I’ve been on a retro kick lately, listening to music I was into in high school and shortly thereafter. Praga Khan is pure 90’s rave cheese and I love it. My top tracks are Remove the Armor and Injected with a Poison as I’m sure is the same for everyone else who has listened to the album.
  • Clan of Xymox – Clan of Xymox – Late 70’s, early 80’s goth music has always been a favorite of mine. The ancient, garbage sounding synths combined with heavy bass guitar and vocals that sound like I feel just brings me to a great mental place. Clan of Xymox isn’t one of the more famous goth bands but among fans of the genre they are a staple.

No gadgets this week… opted to pay down some of my drunk-days debt instead! I’m going to make more of an effort to stick to the Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule next week. See you then!

Focus Friday numero uno!

Hey everyone!

As I mentioned in my last post I want to get more regular, themed posts going on this site to just practice with that kind of thing. Don’t take anything in here too seriously as it’s just an experiment. Do let me know what you think though!

The idea behind Focus Friday is to post a list of the books, products, movies, music, and on and on that influenced me the most over the last week. I suppose it is common practice to state that I am not affiliated with anything I recommend (I doubt they even know who I am!) and just wanted to let people know what I use to make my days and weeks the best they can be. Since this is my first list it’s going to cover more than just a week… it’ll go back til about mid-November when I would say I started taking life more seriously. Some of the things have already been mentioned in other posts; I just wanted a singular list to collect everything together. So without further ado…

APPS

  1. Down Dog by Yoga Buddhi – I have used about a half dozen yoga apps in the past and this one is sticking. It’s very professionally done and has a wide range of poses so that every session is a little different. You can customize your session from time length to what part of the body you want to work on… I do hamstring opening a lot because I’ve taken up running and it greatly reduces recovery time. In the two weeks I’ve been using it there’s been a noticeable difference in my balance and core strength. I’m able to hold positions far longer than I was initially. As with all high-quality fitness apps there is a subscription cost but to me it’s worth it
  2. Headspace – Headspace is famous… most of you have probably already heard of it. I’ve had an affair with Headspace off and on for several years but this time it’s become a habit. I’ve made meditation a part of my morning routine and have not missed a day for 16 days. Prior to Headspace I was using a free meditation app (the name escapes me) which was okay for getting into the swing of things but wasn’t very consistent and seemed a little too… shall we say metaphysical… for me.
  3. C25K – Better known as Couch to 5K, this is the app that got me started on my training for a 5K in April. I’ve since moved on to a training session that works through my Garmin watch but that doesn’t mean C25K isn’t an awesome app! The basic version (all you need, really) is free with ads. The training plan is very simple and easy for beginners. The first week is 8 splits of 1.5 minutes of walking and 1 minute of jogging. Doable for most people. When I started my Garmin training program and it said to do 3 splits of 7 minute runs I about had a heart attack.
  4. SCRIBD – Scribd changed my life, plain and simple. Not only am I able to listen to audiobooks at work to continue my personal development journey while mindlessly writing appointment letters, it also makes me more productive because I tune out all of the miserable old women I work with, haha. In all seriousness, they have a vast library of both audiobooks and print books (even cookbooks!) for the price of a Netflix subscription. Unlike Audible, your subscription fee includes all of the books; you never have to buy any of them. Audible definitely has a bigger library but there are more books on Scribd than I could ever read / listen to in my lifetime anyway.

READING

  1. The Headspace Guide to Mindfulness and Meditation by Andy Puddicombe – It probably makes sense that I’m reading this at the same time that I’ve begun meditating regularly. It’s of course written by Andy Puddicombe, the voice and mind behind the Headspace app. The book offers insights and tips for incorporating mindfulness into your daily life. The app mentions a few of these, for 30 seconds a day, but the book goes into much greater detail. I’m not sure I’d still be meditating without the tips in this book.
  2. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – This book is an in depth look at the science behind habit which also comes with some practical insights into how we can change our own habits for the better. From alcoholism to shopping at Target, this book has several case studies to give a good, basic understanding of how our brains form habits (and in some cases, how people exploit them).
  3. You are a Badass by Jen Sincero – While reading this I got the distinct impression that it was written for women but everything in it applies to any gender. I started reading this right at the beginning of my whole “reinvention” and it definitely helped propel me to where I am today. Without it, I don’t think I’d have consciously focused on staying positive and optimistic 24/7 as much as I have. Believe me, I have been a hard-core pessimist my whole life and this book changed me.
  4. Unf**k Yourself by Gary John Bishop – I read this at the same time as You are a Badass and although they both have similar end-goals, they are almost diametrically opposed in how they approach them. I think that reading two books with somewhat opposing opinions can be a great way to figure out what you really believe. Unfuck Yourself is more about taking personal ownership of your life and having a sense of responsibility for everything that happens to you whereas Badass is about self love and care. Both are valuable viewpoints and I’ve incorporated a bit of each into my life.

GADGETS AND GIZMOS

  1. Garmin Vivoactive 3 – Thanks to the wonders of the Kohl’s charge card and a generous $50 gift card I got for my birthday in September (and forgot about until December) I finally picked up a Garmin smart watch. These are mainly geared towards running so if you’re looking for something to send texts on and use apps with, stick with the Apple watch (might get one of those too for the non-running hours). I’ve had a Fitbit in the past and the Garmin seems more accurate. The phone app also has customized training programs, one of which I’m using, for running. It does allow you to read texts but you can only reply with yes or no. I’m fine with that as I prefer not to text. It also measures heart rate and stress which I don’t use as much as I could.
  2. Optima Nuforce BE Sport 4 – My favorite purchase of the last year, I FINALLY got some wireless bluetooth headphones. These were rated the best on a few websites I looked on and they didn’t disappoint. They come with several different sizes of earbuds and wings to keep them in place and they don’t even come close to falling out while I’m running. My last pair of headphones were so loose they were a constant distraction. The sound quality is also phenomenal for the price.
  3. Google Pixel 2 – It might be strange to review my smartphone on this list but hey, why not? I’ve actually gotten two phones in the last 6 months. The first was a Samsung Galaxy S9 and boy oh boy was it trash. Not only does it come loaded to the gills with useless bloatware, it never stayed paired to my car stereo, crashed at least once a day, and had a button to bring up Samsung’s garbage personal assistant conveniently (not) located right where your finger would always accidentally push it. The Pixel 2 is better in every possible way. The camera is the best camera I’ve ever owned either on a phone or as a standalone, it comes preloaded with nothing but the essentials, never has trouble pairing with any of my devices, I could go on. This is the best phone I’ve ever owned.

MUSIC

(note: music is a huge passion of mine and as such my tastes are extremely varied. There’s gonna be some weird stuff here from time to time. Just go with it.)

  1. Ghost – Prequelle – I’m an occasional fan of blackmetal and while Ghost is anything but, they have similar sensibilities. I’d call them a satanic Queensryche although the “satanic” bit is mostly tongue-in-cheek. That won’t be much consolation to my devout Christian readers but it is what it is. They have a pretty varied sound, traversing heavy metal to indie / folk rock and a very theatrical sound and look. They’d be a perfect soundtrack to a Rocky Horror Picture Show sequel.
  2. Gunship – Gunship – This isn’t one of my favorite albums but it has two of my favorite songs on it: The Mountain and Tech Noir. Gunship were one of the first in line in the fairly recent 80’s soundtrack revival genre of Synthwave. If you love 80’s synthesizers, Casio drumbeats, and lyrics about the future as we saw it in 1982, Gunship is perfect for you.
  3. Gogol Bordello – Super Taranta! – An oldie but a huge favorite of mine. Every track on this album brings up a memory for me. If you’ve never heard their self-labeled “gypsy punk” before, picture a raucous mix of polka and early punk rock. It truly is one of the greatest sounds on Earth.

I think that’s good enough for my first list! Again these are all provided just as ideas for people looking for recommendations. You might not have a lifestyle anything like mine and thus none of these will apply. In the future I hope to include more variety but I didn’t want to go too long with this one and these are just the things that immediately stick out to me. I promise I don’t only read personal development books. 😉