Memorizing Poetry

About three years ago, I read The Great Work of Your Life by Stephen Cope, a read so savory you tend to inhale it in one gulp, but a few words of wisdom have stayed with me, among them, to copy other writers.  Basically, Cope says, if you're wanting to find your own voice, copy someone else's for a while.  Pick a writer you admire and write out their speeches and poems over and over again.  Commit their works to memory.  Eventually, their understanding of the universe, their way of working with language and sentence construction, the rhythm of their prose will inform your own mental patterns down to the cellular level, practically, and you'll be able to build off that foundation with your own style.  I've done that once before- I was so intimidated when I heard a recording of Don Riso and Russ Hudson giving an introductory talk on the Enneagram that I wrote the entire hour-long talk out by hand to get the clarity of their thought process embedded into my brain.  I'm pretty sure modern-day composers would corroborate the idea that playing the works of the great composers like Mozart and Beethoven calibrates an orientation to different styles and structures, helping them write their own unique pieces.

This morning I decided to finally act on this injunction and memorize actual poetry.  The poem I chose isn't a poem at all, but I have a bit of an aversion to the genre, so I just lump all thughtfully-worded literature into one big category.  It's actually an essay by Aldous Huxley that I came across in the dear Maria Popova's popular weekly digest of beautiful images, literature and philosophy, Brain Pickings.  Upon opening it, I fell upon the most irrisistable piece of writing and said to myself, "This is it.  It starts today."

For a couple years now, I've been noticing that my mind doesn't have the same clarity and focus as it did in my twenties.  The combination of stress over the last five years and the fact that I now own a laptop, an ipad, and a cell phone has contributed to a new scattered way of thinking that has me hopping from one task to the next, and clicking from one window to the next without completing anything in one sitting.  My job also has me interrupted every three minutes to the point that lately, I can't sit down and read one full page of a book, let alone an entire paragraph without checking my phone or making muffins because the clanging in my head is so much louder and busier than it used to be. That quality of concentration I had before internet 2.0 (2007-ish) is just gone.  I read differently now; I scan instead of letting myself sink into the experience.  I've had enough, but what can you do?  Do you get rid of your technology?  I've started meditating, I've resisted having my banking apps "remember" my account numbers so I have to practice retrieving them from my memory bank, and the other day, I bought a combination lock for the gym instead of one with a key specifically so I'd have another set of numbers to remember.  My next step is to bring back my old alarm clock instead of using the alarm on my phone.  When I wake up to my cell phone, I inevitably get stuck in reactions of all kinds to my e-mails, the news, and texts that I got (or didn't get) during the night that I lose that precious, ethereal opportunity at the beginning of the day to take the reins in hand and rationally plan my day.

I imagine that not only does the process of memorization improve focus, but I'm sure it also strengthens the hippcampus, the long-term memory processing centre of the brain.  When you create a new neuron connection, you have to maintain it in order to keep it, and the constant repetition of what you've memorized would help the neuron stick around and create connections with other neurons.  When I was at a brain workshop recently, the facilitator asked us to turn to our neighbor and tell them what our most valuable possession was.  Of course a lot of us said our house, our car, or whatever, and he interrupted with, "WRONG!!  It's your BRAIN!"  I was reflecting on that last week as I was driving down Albert Street and I realized it was really true.  Some of us have been blessed with parents who not only activated our brains, but showed us how to do it for ourselves, and we have a certain set of chances at success in life.  Others of us have had to do the activation ourselves because our parents weren't in a position to do so.  The almost incomprehensible mystery of being human is having the capacity to reflect our thoughts back on our own minds and improve how our very brain thinks, all for the cost of the occasional late fee at the library, to quote Will from Good Will Hunting.

Not only would it be good for your brain, but from the few times it's happened to me, it's nice being able to impress people at a dinner party by quoting a famous line or two that contributes in some way to the conversation.  I used to read the Aubrey-Maturin series (off which Russell Crowe's Master and Commander 2003 movie is based), and one observation from pre-modern life struck me: conversation skills are truly an art.  The series is about people riding ships between the old world and the new, and when you're on a ship, you're stuck with the same people every single day, and you have to eat in the same dining room with them three times a day, sometimes for months, and you want to be on a ship with interesting people who can carry a conversation.  The more well-read you are and the better your memory, the more weight you can carry in a conversation to take it on new and interesting turns, acting as a connector between ideas and leveraging them to lead the conversation into stimulating thought-territory.   Having the confidence to guide a conversation is pretty empowering- not to mention pretty important for your career.

Aldous Huxley, British author of  Brave New World  and other works (July 26, 1894 to November 22, 1963). 

Aldous Huxley, British author of Brave New World and other works (July 26, 1894 to November 22, 1963). 

So here we go with the first few lines to Huxley's Music at Night, the title essay in a collection of essays published in 1931, a pristine treatise on the transcendental nature of music to connect people to emotional states in a way that words cannot.

Music at Night

Moonless, this June night is all the more alive with stars.  Its darkness is perfumed with faint gusts from the blossoming lime trees, with the smell of wetted earth and the invisible greenness of the vines.  There is silence, but a silence that breathes with the soft breathing of the sea, and, in the thin shrill noise of a cricket, insistently, incessantly, harps on the fact of its own deep perfection.  Far away, the passage of a train is like a long caress, moving gently, with an inexorable gentleness, across the warm living body of the night.  Music, you say, it would be a good night for music. [...]"

I know someone who grew up in Africa, and he checks his phone so infrequently, and when he does, it's very thoughtfully done.  When I observe him working on a task, I notice a deep quality of concentration and a clarity of focus that I've lost over the last decade- probably most of us Westerners have as technology insinuates its way into our lives.  Here's hoping we can work our way back to that level with a little intention and a little practice.



We Don't Have to Be Afraid of Technology

Advances in technology mean job losses in the 10 of millions in the next 10-15 years.  Robots, smart cars that can drive themselves and other techy solutions mean wage earners are going to have to find ways to reinvent themselves. 

One of Fred Wilson's partners at Union Square Ventures, Albert Wenger, formerly the CEO of before it got sold to Yahoo, gave a TEDx Talk earlier this year on how smart public policy could positively affect how we allow technology to affect the

Worth Staying Up For

I was going to go to bed on time tonight, but I saw a lovely treat in my inbox from Fred Wilson's blog, so I'm staying up to watch that.  Usually I insist on 8 hours of sleep, but when there's an Fireside chat between your two favorite venture capitalists in your inbox, it's okay to only get 7.

But first- what a great day today- I woke up at 5, went to the gym, then went car shopping with my mom.  I'd gotten my car totalled a month ago, and she decided to help me out financially, and we finally hit a jackpot tonight.  My mom is a great stats person, and always makes up Excel spreadsheets for everything, and me, well, I just wanted a new car, so I was motivated to keep us focussed and just keep lining up the next viewing and the next viewing.  It turns out I'm quite comfortable negotiating too.  My birth chart says I'm bad at managing my own money and great at managing others' money, so I was dogged about keeping us under my mom's budget, and voila- LAST car of the day- my mom had a gut feeling about a car, we go to check it out, and this great young lady- a real credit to her parents who clearly raised her to think intelligently about finances- showed us an impeccable car that she took great care of over the years (and barely drove).  We made her a good offer and she accepted.  For two women who - let's talk Enneagram here for a second- who don't do power plays as first recourse- my mom and I were a solid team today and I'm proud of us. 

Now back to Fred Wilson and Jason Calacanis.  Back in 2011 when I left my government job, I became a bit of a tech nerd, I guess- my other passion besides the Enneagram and the Victoria's Secret franchise (I love the VC business, I love all things Victoria Secret, but I want people to know me first and foremost as someone who challenges them to look inward.  When I die, I want the bells to peal "Know yourself.  Know yourself". )

Anyway, in 2011, I developped a love affair with the internet and the people who invest in the technology that make the internet such a great place.  The article I read that got it all started was about a Jason Calacanis presentation to a computer science class at UPenn- I think I've written about it before- STILL the best pitch in my mind for entrepreneurship.  A must watch for all kids contemplating their direction in life after high school or university.  So I started watching Calacanis' TWIST videos, and when I started dating Mr. M, I connected him to this one interview between him and Brad Feld, another great investor in the Venture Capital field.  Which started us both just digging into this really exciting world of tech investments and the VC's who blog about it. 

One power couple we fell in love with was Joanne and Fred Wilson- proud New Yorkers, wife and husband, best friends, really sharp investors, and longtime bloggers who share their perspectives on new developments in technology.  Joanne, Fred, and their buddy Jason all got into the internet in New York in the late 90's when the first browser- Netscape- came out, made some good bets over the years, and have made very good return on their investments in the internet since.  So this fireside chat is Jason and Fred doing a retrospective of the last twenty years of their friendship and their investments- it's mostly about Fred, but you get to know Jason a bit here too.

One day I'm going to write about their Enneagram types.  Jason is a Type 7- probably a social/ sexual/self-preservation, and I'm still undecided about Fred's type- he could be an Eight or a One, but he's got two very important people in his life who are already Eights and Ones, so my back-up is Type Six, but he just doesn't worry enough to be a Type Six.  I just don't have enough information yet.

On the one hand, he could be a self-preservation One because I do see him being a body type, and he's about substance and "here"-ness, (not that that's a word, but his presence has heft to it, as opposed to buzzy and aversive head-space energy, or the ethereal and craving heart-space energy.)  However,  Fred's business partner, Brad, is definitely a Type One, and it would take some very special magic for two Type Ones to work together as effectively as they have over the years.  Fred and Brad definitely complement each other's strengths and weaknesses.

On the other hand, he could be a Type 8, but Joanne, his wife is a type 8.  I have a good mind that she's a social/self-pres Eight w Seven (although she could also be a 7w8), so because they also complement each other really well, it's possible he's also an Eight, but with an instinct stack of self-preservation/sexual or self-preservation/social. 

Fred is confident, has a drive toward "realness" and likes talking straight, getting to the point and cutting through bullshit.  He disdains fluff and goes with his gut- all Eight traits.  Another interesting trait- he and his wife don't invest in public markets because he doesn't like putting his money in with other people; for an Eight with the resources to make his wealth independently, you can see the type's signature survival instinct at play.  And then, some type Eights have this thing where they lower their forehead when they talk to you or pose for pictures, which you can see Fred doing in this interview- they've realized over the years that they come on too strong for some people and to minimize that effect, they unconsciously angle their head down, almost to prevent the intensity of their energy from drilling a hole in the other person.  Eights are intense whatever their instinct stack, and you get a taste of his intensity here, despite it being a laid-back interview.

So it's a really great, insightful chat between two long-time friends.  I hope you enjoy it.

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