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Random Notes, 2/21/21

I’m almost a decade late to the party—which means I’ll probably be signing up for a Substack newsletter in 2029—but as an experiment I’m posting my product management pieces on Medium. I write about product management and strategy from my background as a project-turned-product manager who writes fiction and has a doctorate in anthropology. Feel free to follow me there, subscribe for notifications, all that stuff.

Further below, recommendations for reading and watching, plus thoughts on maids, the gig economy, board games, deep work, and FOMO, though not all at the same time.

books product management

On Jeff Gothelf’s “Forever Employable.”

Forever Employable: How to Stop Looking for Work and Let Your Next Job Find You.

A book by Jeff Gothelf.

Bookshop link. 

Sometimes my wife and I get into these conversations where I tell her about great advice I received, whether I read it in a book, or heard it from a colleague.

And she would say, “But I told you that before!” Which was sometimes true—I just didn’t recognize it as great advice then.

Sometimes it’s because of the way the advice is presented or framed, whether as a gentle suggestion or a swift kick in the pants.

Sometimes you hear something four or five times but the sixth time’s the charm.

Sometimes you’re just not ready to hear things yet. I’m reminded here of Nick Cave, on songwriting, emphases mine:

“You are not the ‘Great Creator’ of your songs, you are simply their servant, and the songs will come to you when you have adequately prepared yourself to receive them. They are not inside you, unable to get out; rather, they are outside of you, unable to get in.”

Some fortuitous combination allowed Jeff Gothelf’s Forever Employable to get in. Some of it has to do with my own receptivity, after being well-primed by some great managers of mine, and excellent career coaches along the way. But a lot of it has to do with Gothelf’s lucid, pragmatic style, and the way he gives you pointers to put into practice immediately.


On Bernie Sanders’ “Our Revolution.”

In early December of last year my friend Becky took me to a Diesel- and Mrs. Dalloway-sponsored “book talk” at Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley. The occasion happened to be the release of Bernie Sanders’ latest book, Our Revolution, but it was less of a book talk and more of a muted political rally. “I wrote a book,” Senator Sanders said, “but there are a couple of things I want to talk about first,” and he proceeded to discuss just about everything other than the book. I expected as much. He didn’t read from the book at all, and barely mentioned it (though early ticket buyers — thanks Becky! — received signed copies as part of the price of the ticket), and it’s not often that a writer is constantly interrupted by applause, enough so I lost track of the number of times:

“This is not a time to think small.” [applause]

When asked about how he was able to jump up and get back to work after losing the primaries, he responded dryly, “It is appropriate, when you lose, to take a day or two off.” [even louder applause]


Some Notes on Eley Williams’ Attrib. and Other Stories.

I held my breath while I read these stories. Eley Williams’ Attrib. and Other Stories leaves you stunned, or speechless, or rather, stunned into speech. Whatever the inverse or obverse may be — the reading experience fills your head with the wordiness of words, their meanings slipping and skittering off into the corners, and you’re left pondering how the consonants tasted.

Some stories are sketches, with characters turning words over in their heads, gauging their mouthfeel, drawing them out into the light. To me it seems an apt image for what Williams does: promiscuously mixing metaphors, delightfully stress-testing words, to see if they break or bend. Like damming a river to watch it spill and what if it did.

In some pieces the narrative, all paragraphed and indented proper, breaks into line breaks without telegraphing the reader. (Things I prefer neat: bookshelves, whiskey, the border between poetry and prose except for prose poems, which makes no sense but I am irrationally biased that way.)

And yet “Alight at the Next,” to select just one example, is one of my favorites because I read these breakouts into poetry as some sort of controlled irrepressibility, reflecting “the whole cadence of my composed speech set to work in time with the slowing of the Tube train,” as the narrator thinks.

All throughout is a veritable Joycean eruption, one flowing over our own hyperactive modernity: puns, slips of the tongue, hesitations, and an obsessive untrammeling and unbuckling of words and sentences and even (in “The Alphabet”) the letters themselves, their loops and serifs. Even in the more conventional stories, song lyrics derail the trains of thought; hedgehogs float in a backyard pool like punctuation marks.

It all feels messy and a little out of control and you think the writer has lost the plot until you realize you have been glamored by the grammar, fooled by “the tricksiness of language,” as it says on the tin; this is masterful shit, wiry and high-wire, this is serious serious play.


Some Notes on Alan Moore’s “Jerusalem.”

Three-quarters of the way into Alan Moore’s 1,266-page novel Jerusalem, where Moore unveils his Grand Theory of Life, Death, Time, the Universe, and the History of Albion, and I just don’t know what else Moore can do to top this. Moore’s place in the literary canon (notice I didn’t write “graphic novel canon”) is, for me, unassailable, but a book like Watchmen only hints at the sheer intellectual excess and ambition of Jerusalem. From Hell (my favorite), Promethea, and Voice of the Fire, Jerusalem’s clearest predecessor, come the closest.