Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa (Kindle)

Musashi is one of those books that’s comes super highly recommended by loads of people*. It’s also been a while since I’ve read any fiction. This book details the fictional life story of one Miyamoto Musashi, a real life figure in Feudal Japan (about whom not very much is known, so the author, Eiji Yoshikawa, made some stuff up)

*the ubiquitous ‘they’ who know ‘stuff’.

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It’s a super intimidating, hefty, tome of a book that could kill someone if you accidentally dropped it down a stairwell. Which has always put me off in the past…. for some reason I imagined a ‘Lord of the Rings’ type epic in both girth and complexity. Who has the time for that anymore? (which is why I read while on holiday)

Once you start however, you soon realize it’s super easy reading. Whoever translated it from the original Japanese either did a phenomenal job or really dumbed it down for the Gaijin.

Japanese names are also relatively sparse, so it’s not like reading the History of the Peloponnesian war (my go to book on complexity) where five pages in you’re thinking ‘who the fuck are all these people?’ (seriously you need a glossary and map to remember whose who and where’s where).

In Mushasi its easy to remember the main characters. Actually to be completely fair besides Musashi everyone else in this book feels relatively one dimensional. Musashi is the only character that’s really given any depth. Even though, trekking the length and breadth of Japan he keeps bumping into the same people. (Weird)

What I really like about this story is the progression. Miyamoto Musashi isn’t actually (re)born until about 100 pages in. Musashi actually starts out as Shinmen Takezō. Which I wish someone had told me… because initially I was super confused. (Wait… who the fuck is this Takezō fellow and why does the book seem to be about him?)

Anyways, Takezō is a jerk, albeit an injured, dying jerk, after taking part in the battle of Sekigahara. After healing up (and killing some dudes) he is lives as a ‘misunderstood wild man’ in the hills around his hometown (because everyone there hates him). Eventually he is ‘captured’ by a monk who strings him up in a cryptomeria* tree for several days.

*I googled what a cryptomeria tree was. Which is the reason it stuck with me.

While tied to this tree he has this cathartic experience where he decides he actually doesn’t want to die and if given the opportunity he will try to lead a better life.

He gets cut down by his (former) friends fiancé and then goes off to try rescue his sister, whom the local samurai were using as bait to lure him down from the mountains. Anyways. The local daimyo who is friends with the aforementioned monk ‘incarcerates’ Takezō for his crimes. He spends three years locked in a tower reading books. (I can think of worse)

On his release he decides that he going to study the way of the sword, and takes on the Chinese pronunciation of the characters that make up his name (I think that’s right) as a symbol of his rebirth. And so Miyamoto Musashi is born and the book begins.

So… probably nothing like the real story of Mushasi.

I read the book of five rings ages ago. Authored by the actual Miyamoto Musashi. It’s a book about… a personal philosophy, kinda. Although I can’t remember anything definitive about it. For some reason Sun Tzu resonated much more deeply with me. Likely because of its bite sized chunks of wisdom. (Also why Derek Sivers Anything you want and Rework by Jason Fried and David Hannson are some of my favorite books)

The book of five rings offers very little insight into Musashi’s actual life. But strangely I don’t begrudge Eiji Yoshikawa for making this story up to fill in a biographical blank. It’s really good. Boringly I now join the chorus of voices who recommend Musashi as one of those have to read books. It’s a good tale, of someone looking for meaning, while chopping up and disemboweling people along the way. What’s not to like…

In fact I’m feeling inspired to go outside and brush up on my twin-bokken style right now…. If I hadn’t torn the cuticle off my index finger I mean. Its debilitatingly sore. Also… I am currently bokken-less And also eating a pancake. So… not a good time for me.

Rage!

I don’t get incensed by a lot of things. Okay… I don’t get VERY incensed by a lot of things. But this sign outside the only decent coffee place in town makes me want to put a Molotov cocktail through your window!

Burn it down! Burn it ALL down.

8:30 and you’re still not open! I curse you Daily coffee!

More holiday stuff

I imagined my holidays going differently. Not that I’m complaining. I just imagined I’d have all this time to sit and do nothing. Maybe watch some cricket. The almost two year old obliterated that notion fairly early on with her tempest motion and general sense of defiance.

She’s having her afternoon nap. Which means I can read, blog and affect a supine position not unlike Homer Simpson for somewhere between 30 minutes and two hours. (Depending on the fickle nature of the sleep gods)

I’m attempting to multitask. (Blog and listen to music) I retrieved my Apple headphones from the washing machine earlier… amazingly they still work, I’m listening to ‘And justice for all’. How very old school. (Incidentally I got my wife the James Hetfield autobiography for Christmas)

Earlier I tried to swim in my rock pool. But it was an hour before high tide and the waves were coming in over the sea wall and churning up the water. Visibility was zero and I was getting smashed about, so after five minutes I called it quits.

We’ve done some touristy stuff the last couple of days.

Went to go visit the Penguins.

And we’ve been to the aquarium

Which the ‘hurricane’ loved. Eventually had to drag her out while she clawed at the linoleum with her fingernails. Okay, it wasn’t quite that bad… but I saw some big heavy set interventionist types getting ready to tackle me because it looked like I was kidnapping this little blonde girl. Nothing like wrestling your child in public. (I briefly considered pulling guard)

Then we drank wine (and ate a metric-fuck-tonne of cheese) at Peter Falke’s wine farm. The sock guy. It’s very pretty there.

Wine farms aren’t really my thing, but I really enjoyed it. (Possibly because I was drunk tipsy) Bought some Sauvignon Blanc to take home. I’m usually quite dismissive of white wine. But this was really good.

The last couple of days will hopefully be spent in relative seclusion and away from people. The aquarium especially stoked my misanthropy to dangerously high levels. Need to come back down to a gentle simmer before engaging with the proletariat again.

Ikigai – the Japanese secret to a long and happy life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles (Kindle)

I was super excited to get stuck into this book. The authors reference Victor Frankls logotherapy (of which I am a huge fan) early on which really got my juices flowing. I imaged this fusion treat combining Japanese flavored ‘stoicism’ and the Viennese psychology, expertly crafted with skill and precision and then nearly wrapped in nori.

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So imagine how disappointing it was to get stale, conveyor belt wisdom instead.

Ikigai starts off really strong, but by page fifty I let out a long exasperated sigh. The only reason I finished this book was because it was so short. To be fair I skipped through all the yoga/Tai chi/breathing stuff (with illustrations) and only half heartedly perused the Okinawan diet chapter. I feel the authors were just padding out the last half of the book because they’d run out of things to say. None of that is strictly Ikigai anyway.

Stack this on top of your Marie Kondo and donate them both.

This book is largely a missed opportunity to do something profoundly cool. Instead it’s literary clickbait meant to sucker you in with promise and gives you very little in return.

The Wikipedia articles on Ikigai, Victor Frankl, logo-therapy and wabi sabi are much better than the book.

Future note to self don’t read books recommended by magazines. (I feel I should have known this already)

Oh well.

More holidayness

For Christmas I ate my body weight in roast lamb and homemade custard ice cream. Then went for a swim in my freezing cold rock pool with my brother-in-law.

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The tiny blob on the left is me.

Was struggling to dive below two meters without a weight belt (considering how much food I’d eaten I should have theoretically sunk  quicker than the Lusitania)

Still, I managed to salvage some sea urchin shells off the bottom.

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I actually got eight. But broke two before I got home.

The first time did any free diving (in an abandoned water filled open cast mine) my instructor asked me how long I could hold my breath for. ‘Thirty seconds maybe’ I mumbled. He proceeded to prove me wrong by getting me in a headlock holding me underwater for more than a minute before my body started going limp.

Shallow water blackout kills free divers. His approach to teaching free diving was that you should learn this immediately through experience. This formative engagement was meant to demonstrate that you can push past your limitations… my take away was more that you pass out before you start taking on water. Which was both comforting and traumatic.

I like free diving in warm water where I can see coral and brightly colored fish. Eerie Kelp forests and dark murky water scares the hell out of me. Mostly because I’m scared of sharks. And leviathans. And kraken. And drowning. And accidentally getting shot by my dive buddy. I’m also claustrophobic which is kinda limiting.

Still… I like the concept. And so I try an attempt the ‘lite’ version of free diving whenever possible.

Otherwise I’ve just been relaxing.

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The view from my kitchen window.

Didn’t beach run. Will try again tomorrow. The soft sand murdered me. I feel like a noob. So I’ve been consulting a tide chart to make sure I have compact sand to jog on before I commit myself again. There is one particular muscle in each of my calves that clearly doesn’t get used when you road run. Definitely know all about it now.

Been reading on and off, alternating between Musashi (which I’m quite enjoying even if it is a 1000 page tome) and Ikigai (which so far feels like a mash up ‘Japanese’ stoicism and Victor Frankl Logotherapy). I like it!

I must admit generally I’m feeling quite good. I clearly needed a holiday and some separation from my other life. It’s given me something to think about.

 

 

Holiday stuff

So as it turns out I have LTE pretty much everywhere I go here. Progress I guess. (No uber eats yet though)

I didn’t set my alarm, but I was awake and making a ruckus before 5am. My wife was trying to sleep in and suggested I go take my vociferous self somewhere else.

So I chalked up my first run of the holidays. It was high tide so finding decent terra firma underfoot was tough. I’d forgotten how tiring barefoot beach running was.

Ran in one direction for 20 minutes until my calves started protesting and then turned around and ran back. Just over 5km in total.

Got chased by a vicious Pomeranian called Poppy who tried to ankle gouge me. But besides the questionable canis lupus familiaris and its elderly patron, the beach was spooky and deserted.

After breakfast I did laps in a rock pool. It’s at the base of a steep cliff and the stairs down are off the beaten track so not a lot of people know about it. Today we were the only ones. Its probably the size of an Olympic swimming pool ranging in depth from a couple of inches around the innermost edge to about three meters at its lowest point at the sea wall. I have to equalize to touch the bottom.

Shark cage diving is a big thing near here so they chum the water which means there are a lot of Great whites around, which makes me weary of open water swimming. Also in the next bay over the Great whites are world renowned for their breaching and airborne acrobatics. Which makes me even wearier. I’m not particularly brave when it comes to sharks.

ALSO… look what I found while rummaging around the old homestead.

to be combined later with this…

Exciting stuff.

Holiday-ness.

I’m leaving on jet-plane. Heading off to the Atlantic ocean for nine days, to a place where if you hold you cellphone up in the air at just the right angle, while balancing on one leg… you might… get signal. Then again you might not.

I have plans.

I plan on not wearing shoes (other than flip-flops). I plan to live in board-shorts and let my junk hang free. I plan on running (barefoot) on the beach and swimming in the ocean. I plan on eating prawns straight off the grill and drinking at least half a bottle of red wine* per day. I plan on kicking back on a reclining chair and catching up on my reading. But beyond that… I have no plans.

*possibly chased with a muscat or a Speyside and some non-tobacco plant variant.

In so far as I have these modest goals I am planning on taking almost nothing with me. No shoes. No socks. No button up shirts. No jeans. No Macbook.

I have made some allowances for technology in so far as I’m taking my iPad (Kindle app) with my digital library, although I may take some real books along too (if I have space in my backpack). I’m also taking some standard Apple headphones along for the ride. Oh and my phone, which will be able to take pictures… but not much else.

For the Yuletide feast I am cooking a leg of lamb in a Moroccan style with thyme and apricots. I find traditional Christmas faire to be quite grim and heavy. Unless there’s 30 inches of snow outside and you plan on hibernating afterwards.

I hope you have an awesome time, whatever it is that you’re up to. Be good.

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Peace out.

Collecting the set

Ow. My aching asshole.

Which, as opening lines go, occupies the same dubious realm as clickbait. However, my discomfort does not stem from any Leviticus censored activity, but rather from something more mundane. And self inflicted.

I uncoupled my mountain bike from its wall mount, scrubbed it down (it was still dirty and muddy from the last time I’d used it) [BAD MOUNTAIN BIKE OWNER] and then took it for a short 10mi* sojourn along the river to the farmers market and back.

*For some reason my apple watch measures my runs in km, but my bike rides in miles. A problem likely solvable through Google. But it doesn’t worry me, I am multi-mensurational.  (Which I initially wrote as menstruation…al which is a entirely different form of cycle) Joey takes a moment to laugh at his own joke 

At 6pm last night I took my bike out on the road. But came back after a brief and harrowing 5mi. Motor vehicle traffic was heavy and I wasn’t having a good time dodging cars and trying not to die. I’ve always been in awe of NYC bike commuters and couriers who manage to circumnavigate their way through traffic without injury or fatality. That sort of effortless motion is NOT me. In fact after my display (or rather lack thereof) of technical proficiency I’ve decided that perhaps I should rather stick to lonely, off-road trails where the chances of impacting a BMW at speed are less likely.

Today, I’m a bit saddle sore. I haven’t used my bike in about a year. Work, child rearing… insert other vaguely lame excuses here.

This sudden burst of activity all started last week… Wednesday (I think). When my Fitbit Surge decided to go spastic. I tried hard rebooting it (several times) but it just wouldn’t unfuck itself. I’ve been a long and loyal Fitbitter… since way back, when the only feature on an otherwise black piece of malleable plastic was five tiny blue lights. Unfortunately Fitbits  super unhelpful technical support riled me up to such a degree that I tramped off to the istore in a huff to go buy an Apple watch in protest of their indifference.

My wife convinced me to try her Apple watch for a week first, before committing myself to an Apple. Which is probably a good thing since initially I hated it. The app was stupid and felt super basic somehow when compared to Fitbits really stellar and much prettier app. And the battery life on the Apple was rubbish. And because it had to charge it didn’t measure my sleep patterns… and… it had an activity ring for standing up (really?)… and… it wanted me to take time out to breathe deeply…

Generally I was just immensely hostile to the whole process. But now I hated Fitbit… so I was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard-place. For about a half a day I went on this ‘I-don’t-need-to-empirically-track-all-the-things-I-do’ crusade. But it turns out I do. I REALLY do. In fact I started to feel anxious when staring down the barrel of a data-less, unmeasured future.

So I gritted my teeth and struggled through my first world problem. And then, weirdly, the Apple watch started growing on me. Am I really so shallow that I can be so easily swayed and entertained by completing little activity circles and getting little green activity dots?

Turns out… I am.

Also the achievements on the Apple watch are lame. And fugly. (Can’t remember if I mentioned that in my previous tirade of anti) But… as it turns out I am super susceptible to incredibly stupid achievement trophies. If you’re ever wondering what sort of moron would be motivated by these stupid awards… the answer, is me.

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You mean I get a play-play, pretend, little colored token for completing an eight day moving streak? I am there… like a bear. In fact, I am almost embarrassed by this sort of behaviour…. if it weren’t for my 200% calorie badge which I can now laude over people. I’m not entirely sure WHICH people exactly, but that seems like a problem for another blog post.

And so, because my Apple watch would give me a trophy for going on a bike ride… I went on a bike ride. And that is the long winded, round about story on why my ass is sore. Fucken Steve Jobs.

I also blame boy-scouts. And playstation. So Baden Powell and Ken Kutaragi. Since we’re blaming founders. Fuck you guys.

An ode to Bjorn

Things I know (or believe to be true about Scandinavians)

1. They wear knitted sweaters and at one point they either played bass in a Heavy-metal band or they aspired to.

2. In the unlikely event that you are murdered in Denmark, Sweden or Norway your bloated, waterlogged corpse will be dragged out of a half frozen lake…

3. … your murder will then be investigated (and solved) by a deeply flawed detective with some sort of substance abuse issue (usually alcohol).

4. They have a fascinating political system. Which is either Utopian and aspirant (if you’re human) or a dystopian hell (if you’re American)

5. Their religion is free love, modular furniture and meatballs.

6. At some point everyone has chugged beer out of a cheap plastic Viking helmet. And then potentially chased it with aquavit. (And then thrown up on the train home)

Basically what’s not to like? Unless they’re attacking your monastery and dragging your prized possessions back towards their longships I mean.

I generally don’t like book reviews, reading lists or book blogs (Including my my own). Its generally too much blah, blah, blah and you find yourself having to go through it with a machete (and/or flamethrower) to discover anything of real value.

Broadly speaking I follow about two… and a half reading lists with any real sense of gusto and enthusiasm.

The half belongs to Ryan Holiday who manages to churn through books at an unprecedented rate. While our Venn diagrams overlap somewhat, especially on strategy and stoicism, I’ve REALLY struggled through some of his recommends. Possibly because I am really stupid.

Persons however, that I have come to trust are…

Derek Sivers. Who is awesome. If he likes a book, I will generally read it.

And Poor Bjorns Notes to Self (the website) or Poor Bjorns Notes to Self (on instagram) 

Whom I found quite randomly and now heartily recommend.

His tag line is the fantastic, Read Books – Conduct Experiments – Grow, which echoes my own modus operandi and approach to life. So in this, we are simpatico and I feel inclined to draw attention to his journey.

He also has a sense of humor, which I find refreshing.

Check him out.