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Letter sent on May 16, 2016

The Passion Prefecture

I think that seeing and hearing are extremely important; in my view they are what life is; love makes us blind to seeing and hearing. —John Cage

I most certainly do not enjoy working in San Francisco’s financial district, but I enjoy the grandiose displays of startup culture even less—like visiting a newly opened downtown high rise of a tech giant who’s public shares have drooped 50% since the start of the year. I couldn’t help but admire the floor on floor of amenities and the throngs of young people milling about most certainly passionate about their job-perks; the coffee bar and fine dining against a post-modern interior that made Twitter’s office seem quaint. And if I am to read this and every other office party flush with cocktails and tuna tartare, I come away with the impression that passion above all drives innovative work. Really?

Well-fed in Silicon Valley

Work-life balance is nonexistent in Chinese startups.
Meetings are anytime — really. My meeting in Beijing with Hugo Barra, who runs all international expansion for Xiaomi — the cool smartphone maker and highest-valued startup in China, at around $45 billion or so — was scheduled for 11 pm, but got delayed because of other meetings, so it started at midnight. (Hugo had a flight to catch at 6:30 am after that.)
In China, there is a company work culture at startups that’s called 9/9/6. It means that regular work hours for most employees are from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week. If you thought Silicon Valley has intense work hours, think again.

Cyriac takes us through startups in Beijing in what is a stark contrast to the playground culture here that I think it is certainly dawning on startups that $25k worth of employee perks is not only unsustainable but not prognostic of corporate success as was the case with Dropbox.

Life after punk

I wanted to work in something meaningful, so I got a job at my local vet’s. I’ve now been there for 22 years. It’s not pushing bits of paper around. It’s a real job where you can make a difference to how animals are cared for. Punk showed me you could be whatever you wanted to be, and that’s the way I’ve lived my life. I haven’t changed.

I’m a recovering punk emerging from years of basement shows in Michigan into something resembling a profession but it’s nice to read about other more famous punks turn barrister, banker or minister. The running theme seems to be simply wanting to challenge oneself in the same ways that music engenders craftsmanship.

Craftsman Choi

Choi, a deeply tanned 44-year-old who looks permanently, pleasantly stoned, talked about his plans for the future. At times, the conversation, which lasted four hours, veered into the absurd, with Choi asking the agents if they could think of a way that he could reach people on “an MLK or Gandhi or Oprah level,” but for the most part, Choi stayed focused on one goal. He wanted Kogi, the Korean taco brand that has turned him into one of the most well-known chefs in the country, and 3 Worlds Cafe, a health-food restaurant he helped open in the heart of South Central, to kick off a “revolution” in the ways Americans think about poverty, race, and food access. “Food deserts” — communities where healthy food is difficult or impossible to find — “that can’t happen anymore,” Choi told the agents. In the past, Choi has rejected television offers because he thought they would compromise his street cred. On this day, he entertained every hypothetical, including an imagined collaboration with Chipotle and a sponsorship with Target. He even seemed to consider a role inThe Great American Food Truck Race, a show that he had earlier described to me as “the fakest, stupidest show on TV.” The reason for his conversion seemed simple: Choi needed money, and lots of it, if he wanted to keep building affordable, high-quality restaurants in inner cities, and TV was a good way to get paid.

California Sunday does such a great job covering the famous in ways that ground more than aggrandize. This piece on Kogi founder Roy Choi is an example of the slog before success and a reminder that even successful people still regularly inspect their restaurants in a Honda.

Albina and the Dog Men

Hiding a smile under her severe face, Crabby looked over at Albina, certain she’d burst into a crystalline laugh of approval. The little man was offering them exactly what they had been seeking but had no hope of ever finding, convinced they could only locate it in an unreachable future. But perhaps because the day ended so brusquely, devoured in one bite by the full moon, Albina tensed her muscles to the point that her white skin turned garnet red, showed her teeth, as if all of them were canines, and stuck out a hard, black tongue. Leaping like a wild beast, she snatched the hat maker, wrapped him in a rib-smashing embrace, pulled off his clothes, rubbed her body with his as if the poor man were a sponge, and bit him on the left shoulder, pulling off a piece of flesh she swallowed with delight.

Electric Literature has some great novel excerpts, notably this one from Alejandro Jodorowsky who at 86 is still writing, making films and shows no signs of slowing down his cultural production or his assault on our imaginations. These are the ravings of a full realized craftsman.

That’s this week’s letter only a week late but I’ve also been working since 830a so…


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