Afición

Aficion means passion. An aficionado is one who is passionate about the bull-fights. All the good bull-fighters stayed at Montoya’s hotel; that is, those with afición stayed there. The commercial bull-fighters stayed once, perhaps, and then did not come back. The good ones came each year. In Montoya’s room were their photographs. The photographs were dedicated to Juanito Montoya or to his sister. The photographs of bull-fighters Montoya had really believed in were framed. Photographs of bull-fighters who had been without aficion Montoya kept in a drawer of his desk. They often had the most flattering inscriptions. But they did not mean anything. One day Montoya took them all out and dropped them in the waste-basket. He did not want them around.

We often talked about bulls and bull-fighters. I had stopped at the Montoya for several years. We never talked for very long at a time. It was simply the pleasure of discovering what we each felt. Men would come in from distant towns and before they left Pamplona stop and talk for a few minutes with Montoya about bulls. These men were aficionados. Those who were aficionados could always get rooms even when the hotel was full. Montoya introduced me to some of them. They were always very polite at first, and it amused them very much that I should be an American. Somehow it was taken for granted that an American could not have afición. He might simulate it or confuse it with excitement, but he could not really have it. **When they saw that I had afición, and there was no password, no set questions that could bring it out, rather it was a sort of oral spiritual examination with the questions always a little on the defensive and never apparent,**

Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises  (p. 115)

This may surprise you, but I’m not particularly into bullfighting.  Even so, I like Hemingway’s description of afición.

There are topics, ideas, and activities that I hold dear. I think the things – ideas, activities, whatever – that a person really associates with, really feels, make up who they are.

Sometimes, when you’re talking with someone about something close to you, something important to you, it’s apparent that they get it too.  And it’s meaningful – it’s meaningful because as Hemingway says, there’s “No password, not set of questions that could bring it out”.  It can’t be faked.  And it’s not about talent, or fame, or money.  A person could be the best in the world at something, or know the most about a topic, and still not really get it.  Not have afición.

So, you know, figure out where your afición lies.  It’s probably not bullfighting.

Chasing the Wind

We never heard the starter gun, but we were in a new race.  One where the finish line was headed right for us.

ALS has always terrified me.  But as I watch this, and listen to the way he talks about how it affected his dad, it just reinforces the idea that the finish line is headed for us regardless.  It came a little earlier than expected for his dad (in a particularly tortuous way), but nobody is guaranteed the 20 or 30 years he missed.

Plus, you know, beautiful cinematography, windsurfing (apparently I want to be a windsurfer), and motorcycles in the desert.  These people know how to get me.

Bonus quote, from the description:

The proper function of man is to live, not exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them, I shall use my time.

Jack London

 

Passion

In the past fifteen years, the only time I didn’t look at my bank account every day was when I was doing something I was passionate about.

Altucher, James | Choose Yourself (p. 130)

Everything seems really important.  Your job, your bank account, your house, your car, your clothes.  Your TV.  The shows you watch on your TV.  Your furniture.

I walk around my suburban neighborhood in the summer, and it’s all pristine yards.  Green grass, well trimmed.  Well maintained landscaping.  To be clear, this includes my house.  And I walk around, and I can’t help but wonder:  Do we all care this much about our lawns?  Is this really important enough to justify the amount of time and money spent?

I think most people don’t actually care about these things, at all – or, put more honestly, I don’t think I care about these things at all, in spite of the fact that they feel important to me.  You probably have a different set of things that feel important but you don’t care about, which overlaps to some degree with mine.

I have an actual list titled “things I don’t care about”, which includes the things above.  Making that list is difficult, because if you want it to be meaningful, you have to be really painfully honest about it.  And maybe I want to be the kind of person who doesn’t care about how my yard looks, but I do.  I actually love yardwork.  That’s ok.  Making a conscious decision, giving it some actual thought is what is valuable.

Here’s what I find more interesting, day to day: the amount of time and effort I spend thinking about or working on the things that are on my “things I don’t care about” list is directly related to how excited I am about whatever else I’m doing in my life.  I’m spending a lot of time thinking about how justifiable it would be to buy a new car?  Perusing luxury home listings and thinking about how to get rich?  Probably a good indicator that I don’t really care about what I’m doing with the rest of my day.

” … for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

Jobs, Steve | Stanford Commencement Speech, 2005

 

Kilian

When you try to climb a mountain to prove how big you are, you almost never make it. And even if you do it’s a hollow victory. In order to sustain the victory you have to prove yourself again and again in some other way, and again and again and again, driven forever to fill a false image, haunted by the fear that the image is not true and someone will find out. That’s never the way.

Pirsig, Robert M. | Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Every time Kilian Jornet pops up in a video, I’m entertained by him.  In today’s sampling, he attempts the Seven Summits of Romsdalen in Norway, a 77km route, in a single day, using only skis and feet as transport.  but my favorite part is (spoiler) when he fails – conditions aren’t quite right, and he can’t make it in a day.   He admits it, maybe he’s a little defeated, but it’s ok.  It’s a huge day just the same, and he’s expended a huge amount of effort.  And the cameraman asks him “What now?” and he replies

Kilian: Shower… Eat… And then just, I don’t know like, just to plan for tomorrow, ah?

Cameraman: (laughing) Are you serious?

The best part is that he’s completely oblivious to how nuts everyone else thinks this is.  It’s not nuts to him because it’s who he is.  To take the ZAMM quote literally, he wasn’t climbing the mountain to prove who he is, he was climbing the mountain _because_of who he is.  He had a goal, it was hard, he couldn’t reach it – but the point was not really the goal, the point was a fun day in the mountains, and tomorrow is no different.

Siddhartha’s Many Deaths

Now he saw it and saw that the secret voice had been right, that no teacher would ever have been able to bring about his salvation. Therefore, he had to go out into the world, lose himself to lust and power, to woman and money, had to become a merchant, a dice-gambler, a drinker, and a greedy person, until the priest and Samana in him was dead. Therefore, he had to continue bearing these ugly years, bearing the disgust, the teachings, the pointlessness of a dreary and wasted life up to the end, up to bitter despair, until Siddhartha the lustful, Siddhartha the greedy could also die. He had died, a new Siddhartha had woken up from the sleep.

Hesse, Hermann | Siddhartha  (p. 46)

 

Siddhartha is a great book.  It’s not that long, it’s not a particularly difficult read, and it’s got a lot of interesting ideas (especially if, like me, you’re not particularly familiar with eastern philosophy).

There’s so much going going on in this quote, but I’ll just focus on one thing:  Siddhartha gives himself completely to whatever phase of life he’s in.  This idea is probably one of the things that had me thinking about consistency in opinion yesterday.  In the book, Siddhartha has a friend from youth, Govinda, who leaves him and becomes a follower of Buddha, where he stays for the rest of his life.  Govinda seems to lead a fulfilling life, and it’s one in which he really doesn’t have to change  who he is.  He makes a decision and he sticks with it for the rest of his life.  Which is great, and interesting, but, I think, not nearly interesting as how Siddhartha lived.

Siddhartha commits completely to whatever phase of his life he’s in.  When he’s an ascetic, he’s a committed ascetic. When he’s a merchant, he becomes wealthy and successful.  Siddhartha is unwilling to accept teachings without experiencing them firsthand for himself –  He accepts that he’ll change throughout his life, and that to find his path, to continue moving forward, he has to be different people, and then let those people die.

Siddhartha learned through living.

Fiber

 “None of them would ever volunteer to go get his legs shot off in the jungle, just to piss off his old man. They lack a certain fiber. They are lifeless and beaten down.”

Stephenson, Neal. Snow Crash (p. 170).

To me, strangely, this quote goes hand in hand with the “Into the Wild” quote from the other day.  Sure, that one was an actual quote, from an actual person (who was a little crazy), with some serious actual followthrough, and this one comes from a fictional mobster to a teenage girl in a post apocalyptic, virtual reality obsessed wasteland – but they share something important.

There’s something beautiful about reckless defiance mixed with conviction.  For McCandless, it was about rebelling against society and social mores.  For Uncle Enzo (who is speaking in this quote), it was about rebelling against his father.  Both took risks that were likely pointless, and incredibly dangerous.  But the value wasn’t in the specific rebellious act – Uncle Enzo didn’t make a significant difference in (fictional) Vietnam, and we all still measure our self worth in new cars in spite of the fact that McCandless died for his choices – the value was in their willingness to rebel, their willingness to accept hardship (or death) for something they cared about regardless of what the thing they cared about was.

I’ve tried several times, unsuccessfully, to write a conclusion to that – to wrap this up in what it means to me, what this class of person is.  Should they be looked up to?  Scorned? Ignored?  I don’t know.  Having convictions and being willing to make real sacrifices for those convictions – regardless of what they are, or if they’re broadly considered valuable or foolhardy – there’s something to that.  As uncle Enzo says, it “gives a person a certain fiber”.  I like the sound of that.

I’m sure I’ll write more about this topic, I don’t seem to be able to stay away from it.

Advice from the Young and Dead

So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.

Jon Krakauer | Into the Wild (p. 58)

It’s worth noting, before getting too carried away with what a glorious quote this is, that it’s not actually Jon Krakauer speaking, but Christopher McCandless.  The same Christopher McCandless who chose the name Alexander Supertramp, and, depending on who you ask, either arrogantly set out into a harsh Alaskan wilderness inexperienced and unprepared, or courageously threw off the shackles of modern society for a grand, romantic adventure to find something deeper and more fulfilling than the life of security, conformity, and conservatism he railed against.

Further clouding the value of this quote – he was 24 at the time he wrote it.  How much deep, life changing advice are you willing to take from your closest 24 year old?

Finally, he died for it.  The sentiment in this quote literally lead to his demise.

So on it’s face, there’s a lot going against it.  And in spite of all that, I’ll be honest:  I don’t care.  If I knew a 24 year old who called himself “Alexander Supertramp”, hitchhiked around the country taking odd jobs and convincing anyone he talked to that modern life was of questionable value before taking off with meager supplies and questionable training to survive an Alaskan winter (we’ll ignore the bit where he dies, because lets be real: poisoned by wild potato seeds?  That’s just a bad draw.), I’d listen to anything he wanted to talk about.

None of my ramblings thus far have even addressed the content of the quote.  There’s a lot going on here, and I’ve now tired myself out just discussing the context for it.  So I’ll just let it soak.  Drink it in.