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Letter sent on Jan 30, 2016

Friendship theory: looking back at January, 2016.

There’s a question I ask myself, at least once or twice a year, that makes me pause and reflect: when something big, good, and exciting happens in my life, who do I want to tell, immediately?

The first obvious answer to that question is my wife; she’s the first person I want to tell about everything, no matter how trivial. I often bombard her multiple times a day with messages about little things I see, do, hear, and read. She, with her unending patience, never complains about my propensity to want to share everything, all the time.

Apart from her, the answer changes regularly. People come in and out of life, and even for those who remain, the intensity with which we communicate fluctuates depending on time and place and context. It’s a question worth revisiting regularly, just to see how life, and relationships, change over time.

Liz Danzico recently shared a passage from Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things:

No matter who you are, you need two kinds of friends in your life. The first kind is one you can call when something good happens, and you need someone who will be excited for you. Not a fake excitement veiling envy, but a real excitement. You need someone who will actually be more excited for you than he would be if it had happened to him. The second kind of friend is somebody you can call when things go horribly wrong — when your life is on the line and you only have one phone call. Who is it going to be?

The first question is an easy one, a question that most of us probably think about fairly often. The second one, the question of who to call when things go completely wrong, is a harder one to answer.

Perhaps it’s my reluctance to ask for help, in general, that makes it difficult for me to answer that last question. When things go wrong, my first instinct is to tell nobody until I make things right. This is unhealthy behaviour, I’ll quickly acknowledge, but it has been my modus operandus for most of my life.

My goal for this weekend is to reflect upon that last question. Apart from my wife — I share everything with her, so she is the obvious answer — who are the people I lean on when things aren’t going my way? Who would be, if I allowed myself to ask for help? Who is that second kind of friend for me?

Who are those two kinds of friends, for you?

I picked my word of the year.

The word is “small” — here’s why I chose it, and how it’s going to shape the year ahead.

I read three books in January, and reviewed each one:

Here’s a list of my favourite diversions—a selection of essays, articles, and blog posts that inspired me this month:

Lost Soles
“I used to worry that I bared my feelings too readily, too voluminously; more recently, when I’m thinking about them at all, I worry that I don’t show them nearly enough.” I have read this sentence over and over. It repeats itself in my mind.

On Writing and Restaurant Labor
The problem with the farm-to-table movement is that it is actually a farm-to-kitchen narrative; in most writing about food, service, and the people who perform this service, is ignored.

Going global
In a high school economics class, the teacher once used the Gujarati Ismailis (a community to which I belong) as an example of an “ethnic group that has abnormally strong business success.” This piece in The Economist looks at the conditions that may have led to this economic success among Gujaratis across the diaspora.

Jury Duty
This recount of the inherent problems of jury duty is reflective of the inherent problems of our entire criminal justice system: race, class, and culture play a larger role in incarceration decisions than they should.

C.S. Lewis’ Greatest Fiction: Convincing American Kids That They Would Like Turkish Delight
Count me among the few people in North America that actually likes Turkish Delight. I once brought home a box of it from a trip to Istanbul, and had many people declining when I tried to give some as gifts.

Thanks, Sounds Good, I Love You
“Thanks, sounds good, I love you: it might be that our culture is glutted with gratitude, approval, and love, and that our e-mail responses reflect this. But at the heart of this apparent abundance of amity and tenderness, I suspect, is something more slippery.”

Learning to Deal With the Impostor Syndrome
I’m on the cusp of some big changes in life, and those changes will require me to show, once again, that I’m good at what I do. Sometimes, this is difficult; even though I know I am competent, I struggle with impostor syndrome regularly.

Finding Raffi
I may be the only person who did not grow up with Raffi music, but I’ve discovered him recently through his active advocacy on Twitter. He has some strong opinions, and he’s not afraid to share them, either online or through his music.

In your 30s, you’ll discover happiness is just persistence and sheer will
One of the many lessons I’ve learned over the past few years is that instead of striving for happiness, I should just strive to be me; being okay with who I am and where I am is the best indicator of happiness in my life.

The cathartic gift of Inside Out
Pixar has a knack for making films that are both entertaining and poignant at the same time. It’s no surprise that Inside Out (my favorite movie of 2015) is not just a fun, joyful movie, but also a wonderful look at sadness, depression, and the role our emotions play in our lives.

In Defense of Being Average
There comes a point in your life when you realize that you’re not going to be the best at everything you do. Once you stop comparing yourself to the best, you can start striving to be your best; that’s a much more healthy and happy place upon which to build a life.

How to Tell If a Canadian is Mad At You
“They are behaving towards you exactly as they always have, yet you somehow feel strangely guilty.” We are a polite, passive-aggressive bunch, aren’t we?

An Economist’s Guide to Tidying Your Apartment
Everyone I know has been telling me about Marie Kondo’s method of de-cluttering, but what really sold me was this piece on how most of what Kondo actually espouses is really just a good understanding of behavioral economics.

Why the Post Office Makes America Great
If there’s one part of public policy that fascinates me most, it’s policy around public infrastructure. Zeynep Tufekci reminds us, here, that we’re lucky to have such robust infrastructure (libraries, post offices) that spur innovation; we shouldn’t take it for granted.

The Baudy, Electric
So many of our metaphors for sex and drugs are tied intrinsically to the way we light up and heat ourselves: fire, flame, turn-on, turn-off, spark. The evolution of such a metaphorical relationship is fascinating.

The List
Ashley brings up something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently: what are my hobbies? Sure, there are many things I love to do, but do I do any of them in a conscious, concerted manner? I’ll probably write something about this soon.

What Your Town Can Learn From America’s Most Walkable Suburb
I lived in Arlington, Virginia just as it was coming into its own as a walkable suburb, and purposely chose to live there instead of in the District because of its close, community feel. Every weekend, I’d walk to the farmer’s market at Courthouse to buy groceries, pop into the bakery on my way home, and see many smiling faces and friends (and dogs!) along the way. It was a shining example of how wonderful a pedestrian-friendly suburb could be.

Banking time
I came to the realization very quickly that in my current state in life, time is often harder to come by than money. Even with that realization, I haven’t done enough to really take stock and use my time with intention. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate how I bank my time, just like how I bank my money.

The Best Rapper Alive, Every Year Since 1979
Sure, there’s a lot to argue about on this list, but it is well-written, well-researched, and a wonderful look back in time (basically, throughout my entire life) at the music genre that has acted as the soundtrack for most of my life.

How Famous Paintings Got Their (Wrong) Names
Fascinating to see the role that printmaking had on giving names to artwork. Only once art could be reproduced and sold to the masses did it necessitate a label.

The Parking Letters
One Valentine’s Day a few years ago, I wrote a hundred anonymous love notes and left them on car windshields. I hope they brought more of a smile than some of the other letters left on windshields do.

A message from Stewart Butterfield to Slack employees
It’s important for our business leaders to acknowledge the struggle for civil rights in our respective countries, and to remind ourselves that the struggle is still not over. I commend Stewart for his strong words and leadership.

Stanford Will Now Be Free To All Students From Families That Earn Less Than $125,000 Per Year
Student debt is going to be one of the biggest causes of economic difficulty for many people (us included) in the years to come. This step by Stanford is incredibly important.

3 ways you can use social media to expand your worldview
One of the best parts of living in a hyper-connected world is the ability to connect to people who have different viewpoints and perspectives. It’s easy to get caught in our own echo-chambers; I’m glad technology helps me challenge my own worldview.

Of Salty Reviews and Silent Chefs
Why is it so easy to say bad things about other people, especially people at the top of their craft, online? Why does nobody come to the rescue of the favorite; what is the appeal of the underdog?

I’m the most magnanimous motherfucker you know
As a man with brown skin and a beard who used to depend on air travel for work, this piece on “flying while brown” by Anil Dash is poignant but also hard to read.

A Story of a Fuck Off Fund
A heartbreaking story and a sobering reminder that sometimes the path to leave from bad situations isn’t as clear and easy as we think it may be.

The Law Everyone Should Hate
I just had a long conversation at work about the Paperwork Reduction Act, and how its inspiration has found its ways into the directives and policies of other governments; how can policy reform fix government in the internet age?

Collaborative Overload
Collaboration is a sexy word in our workplaces, much to the detriment of important, solitary work. I’m a huge fan of working with people, but understand that it’s possible to suffer collaboration exhaustion and get nothing done, too.

Peak City
I don’t know much about market urbanism, but after reading this, I’m really intrigued by how we can effectively use the market to shape our urban lives.

The EU Is on the Verge of Collapse
In a conversation last week, as a joke, I postulated that the European Union will be dead by 2025. This interview with George Soros says that I might be too optimistic, and that the collapse could come even sooner than that.

Barely Represented
As someone currently working on new methods of public engagement around policy and legislation, this comic about the silencing of voices of sex workers in sex work legislation is poignant.

On wine. A Tragedy.
The current wine industry focuses too much on encouraging people to find a good wine or the right one, and not on just enjoying whatever they like to drink.

The Hustle Is Real
Being a Knicks fan has often been an exercise in frustration, but this season, there’s a new optimism behind the team. They are still a middling, somewhat incompetent team, but they’ve got hustle; this article shows that in basketball, like in literature and life, hustle can be the start of something good.

The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems
The problem with so many development and humanitarian projects these days is that they assume that other people’s problems are easy to solve. Complexity is a hard notion to grasp; we need better education around complexity in our school systems if we are to truly solve big problems.

Getting older does not suck
I am, by no means, considered old, but as I’ve been aging, I’ve realized that there is a certain freedom and calmness that comes with age that I wasn’t able to fully grasp in my youth. I’m excited for growing older in the years ahead.

America’s dangerous “self-made” mythology: Why our ideas about upward mobility are seriously misinformed
The idea that everyone can start at the bottom and make it to the top with just some hard work is greatly flawed. Social mobility moves both ways, and in most cases, doesn’t move at all. We need to rethink our social services to reflect that reality.

Detroit State of Mind
I have only been to Detroit a handful of times in the past few years, but every time that I have, I have the overwhelming urge to move there, to create a life there, and help the city rebuild to the potential that it has. Seems like I’m not the only one.

Letter of Recommendation: Sick Days
“Sick in bed is a time to let all the thoughts of the last few months, all your experiences and memories, float up in your head, up near the ceiling, which is wobbling with fever. It is a time to take stock of your life.” Amen.

You can find more of my writing, essays, and list of favorite articles at flashing palely in the margins, and more fun things that catch my interest at squandrous.com. If you’d like to get in touch, find me on Twitter at @vasta.

Until next time — à bientôt!

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