Home for the holidays and reading like books are Bacardi and I’m out to trash myself into a starry oblivion for Christmas. I’ve got three books going in parallel, I’ll chug one down for hours, come up for air sputtering and then switch to another book for a different flavor, a taste of a different world, one must have variety you understand? Still, even two books is unsatisfactory, for a shot of inspiration, I must have a third book, and I am reading for balance, for love, for madness, and then, that too becomes too much, and I am sprawled on the floor looking hazily at the ceiling as the faint echoes of words drift through my head—a break before I begin the cycle again.
1. Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer
Despite the good amount of time I spend plotting to escape cube-land, there’s a little owlet in me who wears a pant-suit, totes a leather briefcase and dreams of boardroom meetings.
Former consultant and current Stanford MBA professor, Jeffrey Pfeffer, knows the boardrooms backwards and forwards. Power—an examination of power within organizations, what it is, who has it, and how to get it—is the fruit of decades of observation within corporations and MBA classrooms.
Apparently, knowing the boardroom backwards and forwards turns you into Machiavelli. The biggest mistake you can make, Pfeffer says, is to assume the world is fair. It’s not.
But that’s okay, because Pfeffer is here to make the world fair. Intelligence, he says, doesn’t do much except give you an ego. With a bit of practice and a lot of hard work, anyone can acquire power.
And that’s where Pfeffer has me hook line and sinker despite his Machiavellian tendencies. Pfeffer brings it all back to the basics. Do good work. Be nice to people. Stick up for yourself. Be confident. Ultimately, how you make people feel is just as important as performing well.
Reading Power sets off an adrenaline rush like no other. I started Power the first night I got home and I wanted to jump back on a plane so I could get back to work and test out a dozen game plans for stepping it up at work. That, ladies and gentleman, is inspirational at its best.
Pfeffer infuses his book with an addictive fast pace can-do energy that promises to make any dream attainable. Yet, post-reading Power I’m drained. Pfeffer insists the world is a competitive alpha male environment with clear-cut haves and have-nots and anyone who believes otherwise is fooling themselves. There isn’t room for other perspectives, I am a little nervous because while there is a business owlet in me, there are half a dozen other owlets, wanna be poet owlets, madcap owlets, sleepy owlets who want nothing more than to sit in a warm room watching snowflakes drift in the wind.
Rot! Pfeffer would say. It doesn’t matter whether if you like someone or if you can identify with them, what matters if what you can learn from them.
I suggest reading his book in the same spirit.
2. Death in Venice and Other Stories by Thomas Mann
The first time I heard of Thomas Mann. I assumed he was a philosopher in the style of Nietzsche. I had no idea who Nietzsche was, so I assumed both of them were pompous old men who sat in bars eating fat sausages and puffing on round cigars. I decided I was best off avoiding both of them.
Mann, it turns out is German-Brazilian, prone to crushing on pretty young boys. The joy of reading Mann is that he knows the most wonderful people. In his head, I mean, I don’t know if he knew them in real life. His stories are filled with strange and twisted men and women (well, okay, mostly strange and twisted men) who are beautiful in their twistedness. There is Tobias Mindernickel, sad and haggard, who is chased by children and sups on sorrow, Detlev Spinnell who is a perfect humbug of a writer, and yet falls to his knees when he hears passion raging on a piano, and awkward and tortured Tonio Kroger who writes because he loves and loves and loves yet again.
Where did Mann meet these people? How did he come up with them? Mann would smile secretly and say this is the privilege of true artists. While Pfeffer says the business world is open to anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort, it is not so with Mann and art. Mann believes all artists are born with sacred mark on their forehead which sets them apart from the rest of the world for life. This is Mann’s artist, and at some level, Mann’s description of himself:
He worked, not like someone working in order to live, but like someone who, because he places no value on himself as a living person, wants only to work, someone who seeks recognition solely as a creative artist and otherwise goes around grey and anonymous, akin to an actor without make-up, who is nothing so long as he has nothing to act out. He worked in silence, isolated, invisible and contemptuous of those insignificant rivals for whom talent is a social ornament, who, whether rich or poor, whether they went about wild and disheveled or in monogrammed-tie luxury, were basically concerned with living happy, loveable, bohemian lives, not seeing that good work only arises under the strain of a miserable life, that he who lives cannot work, and that only after having undergone death can one completely become a creator.
On most days I suspect I am a charlatan, this wanting to write business is a light fancy that is doomed to plague me every now and then like a case of arthritis that flares up every now and then, but this passage officially confirmed my charlatan status.
I am fat with happiness, at loath to trade in the easiness of my life for ‘undergoing death to become a creator.’ In fact, I found that whole passage so traumatizing, after copying it out, I stopped writing and played Spider Solitaire for a good half hour.
Traumatizing, I say, but with great envy. Perhaps if I chucked my cellphone out the window, retired to an isolated cave in Northern Alaska equipped with nothing more than a pen and paper…?
No. It will not happen. Once I finish writing I will call a friend, make plans for tomorrow, and I will be very very happy. I will not write, but then, very seldomly am I moved to write.
Perhaps it is this guilt that makes me want to say rather meanly, Mann might have been an even greater artist if he wasn’t so hung up on his own artistry.
3. The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky
If Pfeffer is the democratic MBA professor who is hounding you to do a better job, and Mann is the elitist artist who frowns at you for being too bourgeois to appreciate art (unwise Mann! Do not intimidate your audience!) Hafiz is God’s messenger.
Reading Hafiz is like having God reaching out of the sky to hold your hand and smile down at you, saying, it’s alright, darling, I love you.
I write this as a committed atheist who has no conception of God and a severe dislike of religious sentimentalism. The man was a Persian, a Sufi mystic who died in 1390. He should be completely inaccessible.
His poems dance on the page.
His poems dance on the page.
Pay attention. This is Hafiz:
Root of all these
One thing: love.
But a love so deep and sweet
It needed to express itself
With scents, sounds, colors
That never before
Hafiz is funny. Did you know that? You can write love songs to God, they can strike a chord with atheists, and you can do this while being hilarious. That’s what it means to love other people, to see them as a reflection of God.
A royal temple has been built
In a scared forest
On the exact spot
Where for thousands of years
Great lions have loved to piss
God does not like this:
His cherished beasts
No longer have the ability to leave
Their holy scent in the jungle
Near a favorite resting spot of God’s
Daniel Ladinsky wept as he translated Hafiz, and it shows, each line of poetry is infused with intimacy and tenderness. Sometimes Ladinsky gets carried away and adds a few touches of modernity that are jarring:
Let’s turn loose our golden falcons
So that they can meet in the sky
Where our spirits belong—
Necking like two
Falcons to necking? But Ladinsky must be forgiven because he brought Hafiz out of the grave and across the ocean to us.
Read Hafiz, read him when people have been shouting at you, read him when you have been throwing yourself against the bitter brick walls of expectations and are bruised and battered beyond repair, read him when you want to laugh, when you want to feel that all is right in the world, because all is right in the world, Hafiz will make it so.
Poor Thomas Mann. Poor Jeffrey Pfeffer. They know nothing of joy.
|Entrepreneur? Artist? Whirling Dervish? Bum? Bum.|