I feel more alive inside the imagined grace of a universal elixir. I want to believe something more than I want to know it for sure. I want to feel much more than I can piece together using words.

The Walker: On Losing and Finding Yourself in Modern City

By matthew beaumont

On the relationship between humanity and the modern city.

"It is the lost steps, then, that are not lost. For the modernist of the street, lost steps are, paradoxically, unlost, and only the steps that follow a specific, prescribed trajectory are lost. Those who commute on foot, for instance, marching in the morning from station to office and in the evening from office to station, traace lost steps through the city precisely because such steps do not commute these commuters, in the literal sense of the verb: they do not altogether change or transmute them. They confirm rather than transform these pedestrians' alienated relations to the city."

"Like other Surrealists, and indeed like other modernists of every stripe, Breton believed that the footstep, as Michael Sheringham puts it in a phrase to which I will return, is the 'emblem of the free every day'. The footstep is an opportunity to escape the logic of abstraction, the logic of exchange-value constitutive of those modes of transport with which, in the industrial metropolis, the walker must compete, from automobiles to buses to trains. Every footfall, then, in contrast to the revolution of a set of wheels that travels along roads or tracks, is an adventure."

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Untamed

By Glennon Doyle

"We're like snow globes: We spend all of our time, energy, words, and money creating a flurry, trying not to know, making sure that the snow doesn't settle so we never have to face the fiery truth inside us -- solid and unmoving."

"The boys looked inside themselves. The girls looked outside themselves."

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The Diary of Anais Nin

By Anais Nin

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

“Reality doesn't impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.”

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

"But [Simenon is] not a poet, because a poet transfigures all he touches and he discards the appearance to penetrate beyond, to the essence. Simenon is like a camera, a tape recorder."

"'It is a natural, a common mechanism,' said Dr.Boger. And I understood also how the feeling of disorganization, of inner breakdown was born of the possession and not of the LSD experience. It may have started by my nursing several persons through difficult moments, and nursing was my mother's attribute. Thus we live by a sequence of associations, moods, feelings, which it is constantly necessary to separate from our unpossessed self, a self free of intrusion by others, of amalgamations with others. "

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On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

By Ocean Vuong

"I am writing to reach you - even if each word put down is one word further from where you are."

"When I first started writing, I hated myself for being so uncertain, about images, clauses, ideas, even the pen or journal I used. Everything I wrote began with maybe and perhaps and ended with I think or I believe. But my doubt is everywhere, Ma. Even when I know something to be true as bone I fear the knowledge will dissolve, will not, despite my writing it, stay real."

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The Book of Images

By Rainer Maria Rilke

"Like one who has traveled distant oceans
am I among those who are forever at home.
The crowded days are spread across their tables,
but to me the far-off holds more life.

Behind my face stretches a world
no more lived in, perhaps, than the moon.
But the others leave no feeling alone
and all their words are inhabited.

The things I brought back with me
seem strange here and out of place.
In their own land they moved like animals,
but here they hold their breath in shame."

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Exciting Times

By Naoise Dolan

When I went through the book my old memories flashbacked like a movie in my head. I'm still trying to process my feelings about it when I'm writing. I love the infinitely quotable and fun quips, asides, and observational remarks on Hong Kong life. Though many people might focus on the story itself, I find the book's revelation of social issues in HK and political conflicts even more fascinating.

Exciting Times follows a 22-year-old Irish girl who came to Hong Kong to teach English. She met Julian, a banker, and before long moved in with him but there's no question of a relationship. The two formed a bond of sorts, which sees them occasionally sparring about the fraught history between Britain and Ireland, while for the most part, they seem content with being cynical together. After months, Ava met and ‘fell’ for Edith who, unlike Julian, openly reciprocates her feelings.

Drama asides, the book wildly reveals Hong Kong's pains. From Ava scraping along in her cramped apartment, moving in with Julian who has a way higher financial status, to meeting Edith, a pre-lawyer who has many grievances against mainland China, we see a normal Hong Konger's life unfold through Ava laconic observation - mainly about money, status, class differences, consumerism, and political unrest. I don't like any of the characters, but its fun to read their realistic, ironic conversations.

The city's capitalistic, fast-paced, 'work hard play harder', high on the cult productivity culture is show through the characters' behaviors. Julian, who studied history in Oxford but chose a career in banking because he thinks 'there's no point dwelling on it. I prefer stability.' Edith, who graduated from Cambridge and just started her internship at a HK law firm, doesn't value her job but she did it because she wanted her mom 'to be proud.' In Byung-Chul Han's words, they're thriving to be an 'entrepreneur who is isolated and self-combating and practises auto-exploitation voluntarily.' People in Hong Kong are highly educated, financially capable, but as well emotionally stunted, politically disintegrated and can't see a far future in a city where they ain't likely afford to buy a house. The exploitation expands to all sort of workshop and drinking culture among these highly-performed people - work excessively, drink carelessly, travel compulsively so as to 'never waste a minute in life.' The descriptions of main characters on call 24 hours and working on weekends go throughout the book: "Throughout [the play], Edith tended to her work inbox. She managed this by holding her bag like a lapdog and thumbing away inside it. I wondered if the actors noticed." It might very well due to the fact that financial services and professional services are dominant in Hong Kong employment industries. The four key industries in Hong Kong are Finance, tourism, trading& logistics and professional services, which account to 46.3% of the total employment in 2018. The overload, fast-pace lifestyle of higher income people may largely due to the notorious harsh working environment of traditional industries and fierce academic and professional competitions in their very young age.

The book also spends more time highlighting controversies within the class system and manifesting social class disparity through the characters' relationships and actions. In 2016, the median monthly household income of the top 10% of Hongkongers was around 44 times the bottom 10%. The poorest would have to work 3 years and 8 months on average to earn what the richest make in a month. In 2016, there're 21000 people living in illegally divided up properties, aggravated by the city's sky-high property prices and rents. Ava found herself unable to leave Julian, who let her live in his apartment for free. She said she's obsessed with him, but what makes her unwilling to leave was more the huge financial disparity between them, as she goes "Who would believe me if I said it made no difference whether I lived in his apartment or a dingy Airbnb? Yes, I'd say I am perfectly apathetic as to whether I spend most of my income renting a tiny room with people who hate me. These things are quite subjective. I could have soft towels and five-star dinners, or i could check my window sill every morning to see how many cockroaches died there in the night. You see it's one or the other and there's no accounting for taste."

Hong Kong is also a paradigmatic capital of consumerism. Partly due to its booming tourism industry, the city has the densest and tallest concentration of mall, sandwiched between subways and skycrapers. Survey reveals that Hong Kong ranks one of the top in the world showing a tendency to spend excessively on material goods as well as an unhealthy reliance on shopping. In the book, Ava observed how Edith owns and manages different bags: "Each play she had a different handbag. She managed this by putting the same abundantly pocketed travel case inside them all, so that the outer bag on any given day was just a shell. The designer bags cost thousands of Hong Kong dollars, and the travel case was maybe a hundred, and the latter was where she actually kept her things." Luxury designer brands are symbols of higher social classes, and they're vaguely put into different labels:"The Lane Crawford department store took up the atrium, then Gucci and Chanel (‘tourist-bait,’ Edith said), then Loewe and Max Mara (‘Thinking man’s tourist-bait’), then labels for people who thought they had money but didn’t – your Coaches, your Michael Kors. ‘Imagine wearing Michael Kors on purpose,’ Edith said."

Hong Kong's frustration regarding Beijing's attitude of Hong Kong and the nostalgia for the HK as British colony is shown in many dialogs between Ava and Edith. "She added that many people, her parents included, had a misplaced nostalgia for the British Empire because at least it wasn’t China. ‘Hong Kong is the one place where the late-twentieth-century rebrand has worked,’ she said. We both found it hilarious that Brits thought their international image was one of flaccid tea-loving Hugh Grantish butterfingery. If they’d been a bit more indirect during the Opium Wars, or a bit more self-effacing on Bloody Sunday, then our countries would have been most appreciative." Despite the fact that Hong Kong was suppressed and discriminated during a colonial rule, some people have a romantic view of the period that HK was a fairer place. The cultural and economic differences make Hong Kong fail to identify themselves as one part of China. They're fear of being sabotage their national identity and legacy which is already happening as the communists tightens and secures its control. The failure of the local government to manage their lands to boost new emerging industry sector has sabotaged the young generation from choosing a different career from the current generations. In 1999, Hong Kong government unveiled plans for a technology hub that could be 'critical' to tis transformation into a leading digital city' but sabotaged the plan by eventually selling the land to real estate companies to build more residential houses. Even now, many consider the primary factor of HK's failure to produce tech start-ups is the sky-high land prices.

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Walking

By Henry David Thoreau

"You must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking. When a traveler asked Wordsworth's servant to show him her master's study, she answered, 'here is his library, but his study is out of doors.'"

"I think I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least -- and it is commonly more than that -- sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements." "When sometimes i am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them -- as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon -- i think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago."

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How Should a Person Be?

By Sheila Heti

I like how the book reasons contemporary life in a brilliant, insightful, and unconventional way that we might all have felt, but never put in words. The author's suffering from her continuing failure to work on a play and her intense friendship with painter Margaux runs through the novel. They discuss things seriously, intelligently, but in a fairly secular, superficial level. I sometimes feel like I'm siting right on their table when i read through their conversations.

"How should a person be? For years and years I asked it of everyone I met. I was always watching to see what they were going to do in any situation, so I could do it too. I was always listening to their answers, so if I liked them, I could make them my answers too. I noticed the way people dressed, the way they treated their lovers -- in everyone, there way something to envy. You can admire anyone for being themselves. It's hard not to, when everyone's so good at it. But when you think of them all together like that, how can you choose? How can you say, I'd rather be responsible like misha than irresponsible like Margaux? Responsibility looks so good on Misha, and irresponsibility looks so good on Margaux. How could I know which would look best on me?"


when the author asked her friend why she doesn't go to Yale, cause most good artists went there, the friend said: "No, that's awful -- because there were just many people who could not, and it seemed like it couldn't be the rule that you have to attend Yale. ' In the end,' she said, 'it felt too unfair to even think about it and it just seemed wrong to my morals and my faith in art. I think it would have really hurt me and made me sad. To me, it looked the same as joining a country club that Jews or black people aren't allowed into."

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The Untethered Soul

By Michael Alan Singer

My good friend recommends this book to me - "I got the luck to meet the author in person", she spoke with tremendous excitement and sparkles in her eyes, "and he's endlessly charming, intelligent and kind!"

I was feeling sick and somehow sad so I lay in my bed and finished the book quickly. The book was a pretty easy read with experimental, mystical concepts that many readers might consider as "a fraud" but for me, the placebo effect is a sufficient reason to finish it.

The book discusses the concepts of dual consciousness(not technically but you have a consciousness separate from emotions & sensory systems), top-down generation of perception and the energy patterns. What it says is that all you see and experience in life is a projection from your brain as a prediction machine. Imagine you’re put in a body with sensory input that makes you completely absorbed in it. Your consciousness gets sucked in and no longer knows itself as itself.

"When energy can't come through, it becomes pain, insecurity and obsession. Your mind gets disturbed and it'd talk all the time and drives you crazy. Eventually you’d build up a protective mechanism and you live your whole life around it." However, your consciousness should only witness the mind and be independent of the inner and outer objects. When it’s aware of what’s happening, it regains its own seat of the inner self.

I practiced the way the book said, intentionally observing the emotions and thoughts that come to my body and mind, and "focusing on my conscious being", letting go all my emotions and thoughts. I imagined myself living in a virtual reality, where the body/mind is experiencing sensory input. She's pondering, overactivating her frontal cortex, and she's feeling pain. I tried to isolate myself from it, not to immerse too deep so I can be the 'original self'... but also it doesn't make sense the self could 'think' cause thinking is a function that supported by the biological system so I conclude this is just a fun trick to calm your mind down and don't overthink about the logic behind it.....

For a couple of days after I can feel my emotional stability enhanced. I liked it.

🧠

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The Lonely City

By Olivia Laing

I came across this book at the Chelsea Market in Manhattan in summer 2019. Remember I was in massive loneliness & emptiness, being alone in New York, losing friends after graduation, feeling hopeless about future and going through a breakup.

The book connected me in a very special way, as the author wrote this book to explore "the art of loneliness", when she was living alone in NY after being abruptly left by her partner.

Loneliness could swallow you, but I found that connection in this book, and I was lucky.

Some excerpts I particularly enjoyed from the book:

"I don't believe the cure for loneliness is meeting someone, not necessarily. I think it's about two things: learning how to befriend yourself and understanding that many of the things that seem to afflict us as individuals are in fact a result of larger forces of stigma and exclusion, which can and should be resisted."

"Amidst the glossiness of late capitalism, we are fed the notion that all difficult feelings – depression, anxiety, loneliness, rage – are simply a consequence of unsettled chemistry, a problem to be fixed, rather than a response to structural injustice or, on the other hand, to the native texture of embodiment, of doing time, as David Wojnarowicz memorably put it, in a rented body, with all the attendant grief and frustration that entails."

"It seems funny to think that healing or coming to terms with loneliness and loss, or with the damage accrued in scenes of closeness, the inevitable wounds that occur whenever people become entangled with one another, might take place by means of objects. It seems funny, and yet the more I thought about it the more prevalent it was. People make things – make art or things that are akin to art – as a way of expressing their need for contact, or their fear of it; people make objects as a way of coming to terms with shame, with grief. People make objects to strip themselves down, to survey their scars, and people make objects to resist oppression, to create a space in which they can move freely. Art doesn’t have to have a reparative function, any more than it has a duty to be beautiful or moral. All the same, there is art that gestures towards repair; that, like Wojnarowicz’s stitched loaf of bread, traverses the fragile space between separation and connection."

👓

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How to Change Your Mind

By Michael Pollen

I was fascinated by this book and can't get it off my hands. I love how it gives you general knowledge of psychedelics, the historical and legal background, the neuroscience behind it, and recent research studies. I was extremely tempted to try psychedelics after I read this, and I couldn't stop talking about it with friends and strangers.

About consciousness, one concept the book discussed is the Default Mode Network. The network is still not yet a widely accepted concept in the academic field but it definitely contributes to the illustration of consciousness. According to the book, DMN is the network of brain structures that light up with activity when there are no demands on our attention and when we have no mental task to perform. Being said, DMN is fired up when we are engaged in higher-level "metacognitive process" such as self-reflection and mental constructions. The way LSD works is to reduce the activities in DMN, and theoretically meditation calms down the activities in DMN too, switching the neutral activities from our frontal cortex to the back.

One thing I notice was, as a zero-psychedelic-experience reader I was confused by the way the book demonstrates different drugs. Even though studies have found many psychedelics have similar properties, they could change neuron activities in the brain very differently. The book did not distinguish them well enough I oftentimes cannot associate the context with a specific substance.

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The Rose That Blossom in the Night

By Allie Michelle

I randomly found this poet on Instagram and she's unexpectedly good. I like how soft and beautiful her words are, and they just can touch the softest part of your heart and make you feel so warm and understood. The book is an easy read but very beautifully-written.

I figure there're relatively less poem about current social/environmental issue, so I'd love to share this poem of humanity cause it's so good:

We yearn for connection, yet isolate ourselves.
We seek love, but fear loss.
We dream for someday, instead of trying for today.
We wan't change, but don’t want to change.
We overconsume, then wonder why there’s no space to create.
We love the ocean, yet buy plastic.
We advocate for education, then bury our students in loans.
We want health, but for a price.
We believe in equality, but struggle to bridge the gap of inequality.
We ask for better leaders, but don’t think to lead.
We wish for a better world, but not at the cost of comfort and convenience.
We are walking contradictions.
There’s a disconnect here.
And it’s not any one persons fault.
The world is made up of both beauty and brokenness.
Most of the time,
I believe we have our hearts in the right place.
The problem lays is how overwhelming it all seems,
but change is made up of small moments.
Change happens when we have been hurt,
but choose not to act from our hurt.
Change happens when we see someone who seems upset,
and ask how we can support them.
Change happens when we don’t pretend to have all the answers,
but are willing to ask the uncomfortable questions.
The truth is,
if we knew the whole story behind everyone’s actions,
we would see why they are the way they are.
And it doesn’t excuse it,
but compassion is the birthplace of change.

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Smart People Should Build Things

By Andrew Yang

Yang Gang must read.

Andrew Yang shared how he transformed himself from an intelligent young man with a prestigious, conventional legal career to a business person. Why building things matter and how we can create a society that fosters creation.

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Prosperity without Growth

By Tim Jackson

Interestingly, the book was written in 2008/9 right after the global financial crisis, back then it seems the right time to retrospect the economic and think about a fundamental change. 10+ years after, I read the 2nd edition of this book during the covid19 pandemic, and am thinking about a fundamental change to our social goal and economic goal. Ironically thing didn’t change after the 2008 financial crisis, but what will happen this time?

The book has convincing arguments against eternal economic growth.
- GDP is not a good measure for prosperity. As the service sector continues to grow and even surpass goods production, productivity would inevitably decrease, leading to a lower GDP. As the economic becomes even more prosperous, GDP will become a biased measure for economic development.
- economic growth doesn’t align with social good. “Consumerism entails handing over vast swathes of social life to material expression: a process driven, as we’ve seen, as much by the structural needs of the economy as it is by our own desires and needs, accelerated massively by advertising, marketing and the demand for economic expansion.”
- economic growth itself will not likely lead to higher energy efficiencies and lower emissions.

He thus, calls for redefining prosperity as one that is “possible for human beings to flourish, to achieve greater social cohesion, to find higher levels of wellbeing and yet still to reduce their material impact on the environment.” Poverty, as he quoted from sociologist Peter Townsend, “was never just about the absence of money. People suffer from poverty when they become ‘excluded from ordinary living patterns, customs and activities.”

He rendered approaches for us to achieve such prosperity: Keynesian green spending plans, ecosystem services investment, emphasizing employment in human service sectors, and more equitable sharing of reduced working hours.

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Trip

By Tao Lin

A really well-written book about psychedelics and/or the author's obsession with Terence McKenna(a ethnobotanist and an advocate for the responsible use of psychedelic plants), whom the author describe as a man with a "strange voice" and speaks on "a myriad of what seemed gradually less like disparate interests than one purposed, interconnected, developing 'web' of topics." p.s. McKenna was based in Berkeley!

The first part of the book illustrates Terence McKenna's work in advocating his stories, philosophy, and psychedelics. Some interesting things I noticed:
- Mckenna was "not willing to climb aboard the Buddhist ethic because Buddhism says suffering is inevitable which was not a psychedelic point of view." "Religions that had made meditation the centerpiece of their ontology were nihilistic."
- Mckenna thinks the world was made of language, not planet, or stars or electromagnetic wave packets but language.
- He also thinks the toughest thing to figure out is relationships. he said, in a 1998 talk: "I'm 52, merely -- and I don't feel greatly wiser in this area than I felt at 22."

Then he talked about psychedelics, explained why the drugs are illegal (and why they shouldn't be). He gave us a couple reasons, which I think are insightful and brilliant:
1) In the 20th/21st centuries corporations had increasing influence. "Public owned companies either grow or quickly shrink and vanish. They don't grow to a certain size and begin diverting profits to workers and carefully ensuring they aren't harming the planet, customers, and future. They survive only by constantly growing and so their only choice is to automatically and mindlessly slough off people who aren't helping the stock price significantly increase." The pharmaceutical drug industry, whose 10 largest companies, all publicly owned, would lose probably 10s to 100s of billions of dollars annually if psychedelics became legal, because hundreds of millions of people could then "cheaply and effectively and sustainably, instead of expensively, ineffectively, topically, and fatally, relieve and/or treat depression, anxiety, addiction, pain, inflammation, insomnia, nausea" and more.
2) People think psychedelics are "pointless, frivolous and very dangerous," but McKenna stressed the remarkably benign nature of the substances, sometimes by comparison to alcohol, cigarettes, sugar, caffeine, cocaine. He shared "three tests to apply to a compound that you're thinking of ingesting"--
-- Does it come from a plant or fungus? (they can't produce truly alien compounds)
-- Does it have a history of shamanic usage? (it will have been dropped long ago by human groups who experiment with them if a compound is dangerous)
-- Does it have an affinity to brain chemistry? (if the drug makes u feel lousy that's an insult to the physical brain.)
He said it was "probably okay to go ahead" if a drug passed at least two tests.
3) Psychedelics "dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behavior and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong." They're "catalyst of intellectual dissent," and make people question their behavior, other people's behaviors, and why things are how they are, and they do this while putting one in a state of mind open to change, novelty, and historical revisionism. All these make it difficult for societies to accept them, much less praise them.

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