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Jet.com with Kumail Nanjiani

Another day, another piece of new work!

I did this with Circus Maximus and Punkle again, but this time—obivously—for Jet.com, a new shopping site launching today.

The video is your basic how-does-this-site-work and what-is-the-purpose-of-an-avocado-slicer and how-is-he-talking-to-himself instructional piece. It’s pretty funny and I think we all did a good job. Good job, us!

Check it out.

Vitamin Water “Keep Your Vits About You”

Here’s some recent work I did with my friends Circus Maximus and Punkle for Vitamin Water UK. It’s got nearly three million views on Youtube so far! Awesome!

I think it came out pretty damn nice. I miss the original cut which had about 2 minutes of the dude smashing the computer, but we all knew it was never going to survive that way. Regardless, I am happy with the result.

Enjoy!

Today is the 10th anniversary of the death of my brother Nick.

I would write something, but I think my sister Elizabeth has already done such a lovely job that I will instead share what she wrote here with you.

I don’t have the right words I need for this so I will borrow some.

“I wish you could have been there for the sun and the rain and the long, hard hills, for the sound of a thousand conversations scattered along the road, for the people laughing and crying and remembering at the end. But, mainly, I wish you could have been there.” – Brian Andreas, Wish List.

Nick, time has betrayed me. Ten years have gone by in a moment and I’m left wondering how I got here.

The first time you were diagnosed, the news came through my mother and father while I sat with all of my siblings in my sister’s room. I was in first grade. A few days earlier, Joe had been sitting on you and punching your back while watching TV. You peed blood. Mom told us that it was because you ate too many red vines and I believed it. For the next week, I cried every time I had to use the bathroom because I was afraid. The truth was that Joe had aggravated a tumor the size of a football in your torso. They gave you a 40% chance of living 6 months and recommended hospice but you decided to fight. Soon your head was bald and we made sure to replace your lost hair with dozens of temporary tattoos. This was against the rules at our Catholic school but they made an exception, letting you be the only kid in third grade who could show off his Beavis & Butthead tattoos. One surgery and several rounds of aggressive chemo later, you were down a kidney but you were given more time.

The second time you were diagnosed, the news came through a phone call before basketball practice. I was a sophomore in high school. For the past few weeks, you’d been having back pain and didn’t know what was causing it. Your hair had been in and out recently as a result of alopecia areata. Though it’s benign, the combination of that with the unexplained pain had us all worried about what was going on below the surface. The truth was that there was a tumor the size of a grapefruit where your kidney had been. They gave you a good prognosis and removed the slow growing tumor a few days later. Soon you were having morning radiation and consistently treating your friends to weekday breakfast because and you knew you could get them an excused tardy. One surgery and several rounds of radiation later, you were given more time.

The third time you were diagnosed, I was in the room with you. I was a junior in high school. For the past few weeks, your back pain had come back and we were all nervous. We were told that we could get test results faster if we went to the ER so we spent a day in the waiting room and were told that the tests suggested that it wasn’t cancer but they would do a full scan to be sure. The truth was that they were wrong. The cancer had changed; it came back aggressive and unrelenting. Dr. Dahl wept as he gave you the news for the third time. I wept in the doctor’s office, and in the car, and when I told my sister what had happened, and every morning when I woke up and, for a moment, forgot what he’d said. A few days later, you and I were alone in your room and you apologized to me for having to have hear the truth of your illness. You were sorry that you didn’t have a chance to sugar coat it, to deliver it more softly, to find a way to make the tumors in your lungs, your hips, and your sinus seem smaller. You were the one who was sick and you were already looking out for the people around you, demonstrating a type of strength that it took me years to fully understand. I told you that I was grateful to have been in the room and that I didn’t want to hide from this. You got ready for your third fight and gave it your all for 9 months. A few surgeries and countless rounds of chemo and radiation later, you weren’t given more time.

The day you died, I was standing at the foot of your hospital bed. I was a junior in high school. For the past few weeks, you’d been getting more sick and we were all broken. You’d had a surgery that didn’t go as planned and we knew we were down to a matter of weeks, if not days. It was a time of learning to put your comfort before our own deep desire to have you with us. We told you we loved you, we told you it was ok for you to go, and we waited. At 10:32am on 6.26.2005, you were gone and we experienced our first day in an incomplete world.

That’s where we’ve been ever since: living in a world where every day feels incomplete. And now it’s been 10 years and I wonder where the time has gone.

So today I can only say thank you and promise that I will keep missing you in every day to come and I will keep trying to make you proud. Nick, thank you for simply being my brother. The boy who told me he could read my palm to see my future house and then spit in my hand to show me where the pool would be. I cried and you told me you’d do it for real this time and then you spit in my hand again. Later, when we grew up and things got hard, thank you for teaching just how deep and complex strength can be. Thank you for teaching me that sometimes the odds are just numbers and that you can always try. Thank you for teaching me how to have a sense of humor even when it all seems pointless. Thank you for everything.

I miss you, brother. I love you.

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Yep.

Meditating on Meditation

I’ve been thinking about meditation a lot, recently. No, that’s not exactly right. What I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is a way to get my emotions under control and to get my flighty, distractible brain to in line. Meditation just seems like the way to do that without any sort of chemical intervention.

Not that I know a whole lot about meditation apart from a few experiences with it growing up. As a teenager in the 1990s in Northern California, it was the sort of thing you couldn’t miss. At least some of your friends’ parents were hippies and that meant home-made fruit roll ups, kitchens filled with weird tea, and people who meditated.

My friend Deegan’s dad Charlie had a little nook set aside in their home for meditation. It was always a curiosity to me. Though I grew up with the children of hippies, my parents could not be further from that archetype. My father is a pretty serious, no nonsense kind of guy, the kind of guy who seems cool or indifferent at first, but isn’t. It just takes a minute—and maybe a couple glasses of wine—to recognize his tells. My mom is a warm lady, a bit of an iconoclast in her own way, and surprisingly irreverent about some things while being firmly set on respect for other things. And my step-dad John is more interested in going for a bike ride to the beach than seeking nirvana through spiritual enlightenment. None of them were the type to set up a meditation nook in our house. We had regular fruit roll ups.

Though it seems like the kind of thing that would be ripe for making fun of, Charlie’s set-up was something my group of friends and I accepted and never thought particularly weird. It stood out to me because it was alien to my home experience, but not so alien that it felt outlandish or deserving of derision. I never spoke to Charlie about it when we went to Deegan’s for whatever reason, but he and his wife Mary still live in that same house and I’d be willing to bet that the meditation nook is still there.

Now, as an adult, living in one of the fastest, loudest, most annoying cities int he world, I think I understand a little better why he had it there. Being a grown-up is hard. It is filled with stresses that you know about and stresses you only find out about as they drop their stinking load on your feet. Add kids and career to that mix and no doubt you’ll take any respite you can. Better than spending all your free time drunk (full disclosure: I am drinking a beer right now) or otherwise medicated. I bet that if I asked Charlie he would say that I was hitting pretty close to home.

I’ve wanted to learn about meditation for a long time, but never sought it out for fear that I would immediately be annoyed by some faux-spiritual nonsense. As soon as someone namaste’d at me, I’d flip them the mental bird, write them off as a waste of time, and close the chapter in that book. But that’s not totally fair. I believe that if I could either get past my knee-jerk reaction to that sort of communing-with-nature, one-spirit-touches-us-all, can-you-feel-the-energy bullshit or find someone who could teach me about meditation without all the new agey trappings that I might really learn a lot of great benefit to me.

You see, I am filled with anger. All the time. I am angry about everything. It is my first and only, my quickest reaction to things. It goes from zero to ten almost immediately and the only thing that keeps me from exploding most of the time is some serious self-control. I can feel the venom welling up in my throat, and I choke it down to maintain the relationships I have with my friends, my coworkers, my clients, and my family. Most of the time, it’s not even that I am particularly anger with any of them, but I react violently and the flames engulf me.

Unfortunately, often the flames are too hot and I get burnt. I have learned in my life not to react immediately when I feel the rage, but to excuse myself and ride out the reaction. Sometimes it takes an hour. Sometimes it takes a whole day. Eventually, I feel less angry and I can rejoin the realm of the living. I wish I had better control over the process so I could shake it off even faster. I find the rage cycle to be terribly distracting and not at all necessary to my life as a professional, a creator, or a husband. Better to have a way to proactively deal with it, than be forced into passiveness as it takes its damn sweet time going away. Everything I understand indicates that meditation would help here. I mean, David Lynch swears by it, right?

When my little brother was dying, I was filled with anxiety that felt like the best time to really take hold and run me through was as I lied down for bed at night. With the lights out and the noise of the day muted, my brain went on waking nightmare joyrides. My heart rate would spike and I would toss and turn for ages, never really falling asleep. The only time I would get any sort of real sleep was when I was so exhausted that no amount of anxiety was going to keep me up anymore and I’d pass out. It was like that for months and months.

Eventually I remembered a technique I would use as a teenager to get to sleep when I was feeling the same sort of anxiety. I would lie in bed, as still as I could, and picture a gray field in my head. That’s it. Gray. Initially I would really have to work to keep all the other stuff out of my perfect gray field, but as the minutes wore on it would become easier and easier and eventually sleep would find me. The trick was incredibly consistent. Stress led to head noise which was blocked out by gray which led to sleep. I put it back to use as Nicky fought his losing battle against cancer and I started sleeping again. Gray wasn’t always enough to overcome that particular anxiety, but it was sufficient most of the time.

In some way, that was, I guess, a crude sort of meditation. Not quite exactly clearing of the brain the way movies make you think all the zen masters do since I had to force grayness into my consciousness, but close enough. Perhaps that’s all meditation is? Turning everything off in some structured way so you can see through the miasma of daily stress and obligation and emotion? I would like that in my life. I need a technique like the gray sleep technique I could use when all I see is red. There is someone out there who knows a lot more about this than I do and I would like to meet them. Or read their book. Or something. I’ve tried reading online, but there is just too much information to parse what is useful and what is gibberish. I’m not entirely sure where to start. Maybe I should set up a nook in my house? But then what?

Activation Energy

I’ve had a post about Activation Energy mulling in my head for a couple weeks. Then I thought, I wonder if I’ve written about Activation Energy before? And guess what?

I have.

In 2008. Six and a half years ago. It’s something like the 20th post on the site—of more than 1200 at this point. I suppose that means the topic bears revisiting?

Activation Energy is a concept I coopted from Chemistry. Coined by Swiss scientist Svante Arrhenius in 1889, it refers to “the minimum energy that must be input to a chemical system with potential reactants to cause a chemical reaction.” In my usage, it refers to the amount of mental energy required to enter the creative state.

For example, how much must I procrastinate before I am filled with fear that I will not be able to meet my deadline? Or, how long does this idea need to gestate before I can execute it properly? Or, what do I need to clear off my plate before I can adequately focus on the task at hand? Creativity is the reactant. Creative work is the chemical reaction. And these efforts are the energy input.

To extend this metaphor further (and forgive me if botch the chemistry a little—I failed that class), chemical reactions produce either an endothermic reaction or an exothermic reaction. That is, reactions that absorb energy (endothermic) or reactions that release energy (exothermic). In Chemistry this is usually expressed as heat. An endothermic reaction is typically a cold reaction, whereas an exothermic reaction is hot.

Sometimes your activation energy is just right and you explode in a wild torrent of output and things are great and everything is amazing. That’s exothermic. Like an explosion.

Other times, it’s not so great. Anyone who has ever struggled on a creative project knows that you can find yourself in the perfect motivated place to do whatever you need to do, but very little comes out of it. It often feels like a failure. That’s endothermic.

Luckily, more times than not, the energy was not wasted. You just gave yourself a little more time to think about what you need to do. It’s all still there, ready to come out the next time in a different way. Sunlight is absorbed by plants allowing them to grow large, which is an endothermic process. Then, the larger plants catch fire and release all that stored up sunlight in a tremendous wildfire. The same is true of our creativity. The only thing that actually gets in its way is not overcoming the activation energy hump.

In my previous post I wrote about myself as a high activation energy sort of person. I don’t think that is totally true. Sometimes getting myself into that perfect state is like pulling teeth and sometimes my activation energy is so high that I will just never get there. But other days, it comes quick and easy.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the better my mood, the higher my activation energy. If I’m feeling super good and in the black on the anger spectrum (more on this in a later post), you’d have to nuke my brain to give me enough activation energy no matter how much I wanted to work. But if I am fuming pissed and stewing and far into the red, well, then all you have to do is get out of my way and I’m cranking through whatever I need to. Go too far, though, and it’s all lost. It’s a delicate balance.

If I’m well rested, nope. If I am too tired, nope. Somewhere in the balance there is a sweet spot where my brain isn’t bouncing around, fresh and rested, or dull and lethargic with exhaustion. Just tired enough not to be a spazz, but not so tired I can’t think.

If I’ve not been working at all, nope. If I’ve been working too much, nope. Again, balance. If I am not working at all, I fall into an inertia hole and I am dull and uncreative, but if I am working too much, all my creative juju is used up by projects at work with little-to-none left for other things.

The real question is, what is the proper life-work-emotional balance to lower your activation energy to a place where getting the reaction going is relatively easy? That balance is, of course, different for each person and for different types of projects.

With work, I need to procrastinate until that moment when not starting means not finishing in time. Up until that point, I’ll dawdle and distract myself, while feeling progressively more guilty and by extension progressively angrier until the equation tips and I blow through whatever work I have to do.

On personal projects, it helps me to be beholden to a partner. Someone expecting something on a deadline will put me into the creativity cycle I referenced in the previous paragraph. If no one is waiting for anything, then I fall into a procrastination spiral that resembles the cycle above but over a much, much longer period of time.

Take this post for example: I started it on the 21st of May. Today is the 10th of June, nearly 3 weeks later. What have I been doing with all that time? Working, mostly, and a bunch of work social stuff, all of which affect the balance. But today I finally reached the place where my activation energy equation worked to my advantage and I’ve written ~750 additional words so far. Not too bad. I can finally stop thinking about this post lingering my drafts, unfinished, and move on to another post I will start and then finish weeks later.

I’ve always been impressed with people who have seemingly low activation energy, the types who can just sit down, get their focus on, and crank through the work. I am definitely not one of those people, but by knowing what affects me and my creative process I can, and to a lesser extent have, learned to manipulate myself into that low activation energy state. In the end, if to lower the barrier to reaction I must do all this additional work and put myself into the perfect life-work-emotional balance, then maybe I am a high activation energy creative person after all. Maybe I was right back in 2008. Funny.

Why not get low in my snatch??

I dread the snatch. I am terrible at it. I am strong enough to get weight over my head, but not flexible enough to land with it low in the squat as you see in the video above. Kendrick makes it look relatively effortless, but I assure you it is not.

It is one of those movements that no matter how much effort I put into it, I can’t seem to make any good progress. Even after all this time, my snatch still sucks. It drives me crazy.

So, when I see snatches coming up at the gym, I make sure to go because of course, right?

Tonight was no different. We did 5×2 overhead squats with a 5 second pause in the bottom and then 5×1 hang snatches. Hang snatches are even more difficult than regular snatches since you have less mechanical advantage to build up speed to get under the bar. One strike against me going into it. To add to it I was feeling tired and draggy and just not great. I was sweating bullets during the warm-up which is never a sign of good things to come. Two strikes.

I grunted through my wobbly sets of overhead squats, maxing out at 95 pounds. That is not the heaviest I’ve ever overhead squatted, but the pause was taking it out on my wrists, so I wasn’t totally unhappy with it. Not great, not terrible. Good skill work.

Then I transitioned over to my hang snatches. I knocked the weight back to 65 stupid pounds again and figured I’d go up from there. For reference, the heaviest snatch I’ve ever managed from the floor was 110 pounds. I was really happy with that. Tonight I nailed the 65. I increased the weight to 75 pounds. The first attempt was ok? Not beautiful. Not solid, but technically ok. I decided to continue at 75 until I nailed it before moving up. Seems pretty sensible to me. The second attempt was better, but still not solid enough for my liking. On the third attempt I failed and dropped the weight on the pads.

The coach came up to me after watching me fail the third attempt and said, “Don’t worry about landing in the bottom of the squat. We’re doing Crossfit, not olympic weightlifting. You’ll never have to do anything more than power snatches in the Open. And let’s be realistic, we’re not going to Regionals or the Games, so don’t worry about it too much.” I responded that it was something that I always struggle with, so I wanted to work on it, but there was no fight behind my statement and I switched over to doing hang power snatches. I immediately worked up another 50 pounds. Nice little confidence booster.

But then I got to thinking about what he said and it occurred to me that his reasoning was total fucking bullshit. I understand that he was trying to get me to see past my momentary failures, to feel some agency in the workout I was doing, but that doesn’t change that his reasoning was flawed. While I agree that I am NEVER going to Regionals or the Games, so the fuck what? I don’t need to be an olympic weightlifter or Crossfit phenom to have the desire to be able to land a snatch in my squat. To be perfectly honest, I don’t give two shits about the Open. It’s a good way to see where I am in the development of my skillset, but that’s it. I care much more about being able to land a snatch in a squat. It doesn’t matter that it serves no practical purpose to my life or future. That is no reason at all not to strive to do something. The reward is in the learning.

Let me repeat that because it is important. The reward is in the learning.

I will never be a concert pianist, but does that mean I don’t want to work on becoming a better piano player? Of fucking course not! Learning to play the piano better is its own reward. I will never be a Michelin star rated chef, but does that mean I don’t want to improve my ability to cook? Of course not! Learning to cook better is its own reward. And, yes, I will never be Rich Froning, but does that mean I shouldn’t continue to try and land my snatch in a squat?

OF FUCKING COURSE NOT! Working on my body and skills and flexibility and strength to get to a point where I can land a decently heavy snatch in a squat is its own reward.

I don’t need to own the world. I just need to feel like I’ve done my best with what I’ve got. And if that means conquering the utterly useless skill of snatching, then that means conquering the utterly useless skill of snatching. Why climb that mountain? Because it’s there.

I’m back from Tulum and here’s what I’ve learned.

Sarah and I recently revisited Tulum, Mexico and, as with any good vacation, I learned a few things. In no particular order, here they are.

It’s probably too dang hot by April. Coming off a particularly nasty New York winter, walking straight out of the plane into 95°F weather was a bit of system shock. There’s a reason our Airbnb hosts kept referring to April as the start of the off-season. It’s because the Yucatan turns into an arid, sweltering hell pit. And that was just in April. I cannot even imagine the place in June. To be fair, if I had been acclimated to the heat before going to Mexico, it probably wouldn’t have been that bad. I mean, what’s a 98°F (Real Feel™ 107) day when you’ve already been sweating through your clothes for six months? Most likely not that bad.

Taqueria El Carbonsito. A perception exists that you can walk into any taco joint in Mexico and order the most delicious tacos of your life. That is patently false. You can no more walk into any Mexican taqueria and have your brains blown out than you can walk into any American burger joint and have the sort of burger that makes your reality quiver. Luckily for you (and us), we are adventurous eaters with a nerdy tendency to keep notes on where we’ve eaten. We spent three nights canvasing the various hole-in-the-wall taco places in Tulum centro and can unequivocally state that Taqueria El Carbonsito is the best. Get the al pastor tacos. You’ll probably need 5 of them, but at 7 MXN a pop, or about 45¢ at the time of this writing, you can probably afford them. Plus, the place is jam packed full of locals and you can’t get a better recommendation than that.

A thousand-piece puzzle is really too much for two people over the course of a week when there is no bad weather. Trust me on this one. We were defeated by the dragon. If you stay at Casa Tuluminus, it’s in the Marlin Room. Go nuts.

Most ceviche pescado is really just fish salsa. I am fine with that since, for the most part, it was delicious fish salsa. I mean, imagine a lime-y pico de gallo with chunks of citrus-cured white fish in it. It’s good. We ate a lot of it with a lot of chips. However, there was one ceviche pescado we had that transcended fish salsa status, but more on that later.

All the beers taste the same. Hot places are not good at beer. If you want interesting, powerful, nuanced beer, you need to go to a place that is cold, or, at least, one that has a cold season. Hot places don’t make the sort of sobriety-punching beer that cold places do because who the hell wants to drink a 9.5% ABV double IPA when it’s 98°F (Real Feel™ 107) out? No one! NO ONE. Mexico is no different. All the beer you can get in all the bars and restaurants and hotels tastes exactly the same, especially once you squeeze a lime into it. And you squeeze a lime into every single one. It could be Tecate, Tecate Light, Sol, XX Lager, Modelo Especial, León, Negra Modelo, Corona, or basically anything else. They’re all interchangeable. If I were forced to pick the one that stood out above all others, it would be Montejo. It is just slightly better than everything else, but in no way so superior that it is worth seeking out when the other options present themselves.

I don’t really like being in boats on the ocean. It scares me. I keep imagining the boat capsizing and all of us being swallowed by the waves and eaten by some colossal squid angry that I ate his cousin Marty for lunch the day prior. It is a thoroughly irrational fear, but one I’ve never had to face since a vast majority of my life’s boat-time has been spent on lakes and rivers. I like lakes and rivers. They are relatively known quantities. But who knows what lurks in the ocean dreaming beneath the waves?

The octopus at Hartwood. I was real hesitant about the Hartwood hype. Who needs to stand in line to get a reservation for a place that doesn’t even have a roof? Seems kind of dumb right? Like, maybe this place is just so hyped because it’s the only half-decent place to eat in the whole area. Or maybe it’s because the chef is another highfalutin Brooklyn chef who’s worked at some prestigious NY restaurants or some bullshit. Or maybe it’s because Eater/Gothamist/The Internet/our peers just love to suck Hartwood’s metaphorical dick.

I was wrong. I was very very wrong. Hartwood was amazing and well worth the hassle of dealing with their unorthodox procedure for securing a table. We ate the best, spiciest, most delicate ceviche of the trip there. We had an incredible, tender piece of pork. And we had another appetizer that I can’t even remember right now, but which I am sure was wonderful. But the real star of the dinner was the octopus, grilled and served on a bed of pickled red onions and potatoes. Get the fuck out it was so good. I wanted to flip the table over. Octopus is a difficult type of meat. Undercooked it’s kind of weird, and overcooked it’s like eating rubber, but when you prepare it to that exact perfect sweet spot it is wonderful. Hartwood’s octopus was almost worth the trip to Mexico alone. Seriously, just pack your bags right now and camp out in front of the restaurant until you get some. It’s totally worth it.

Tulum is not a place to go if you want to party. Sarah and I had no interest in late night parties on either of our trips to Mexico together. We were more than happy to get up early with the sun, spend the day outside, retire when the heat of the day became overbearing, take a nap and chill for a bit, head out for dinner just after sunset, and end up back where we were staying to read or watch a thing or whatever early. Rinse. Repeat. If we’d been looking for the late night Ibiza-like party scene, we’d have been disappointed because it just isn’t there that we saw. Sure, there are bound to be isolated pockets of people going balls out with the fiesta, but they’re neither obvious nor plentiful. If you want that, go somewhere else.

That’s about it for now. I think that is probably plenty. Tulum is nice. You should go there.