Back in the Game

Alright, I’m coming back to this blog after a few months’ hiatus. The reason for the layoff is that I’ve been swamped: I moved to a new city (San Francisco) and started a new job at a hedge fund.

So far, so good – I like living in San Francisco because of the great weather, interesting city activities, plethora of people I already know and the ability to hop out of the city for an outdoor activity. Already, I’ve been down in Big Sur, up in Napa, biked to Sausalito, hiked around Stowe Lake, etc. I’m also living with one of my best friends from college which is a big plus.

One caveat that I have to add in coming back to this blog though is that its focus has to change. For confidentiality reasons, I can no longer jot down thoughts about specific investment situations. Instead, newer posts will be much more journal-like… maybe I’ve read an interesting article/book and want to react… or maybe I want to codify some piece of wisdom that I’ve learned through work or from other people… or maybe I pull out an old memory from my past…that type of stuff.

As a first offering, I post to you an article I read about Peyton Manning. I really like it. It kinda hits on the paradoxical relationship between the imagination and creativity and beauty underpinning a dream and the mechanistic, depressing day-to-day grind of actually achieving that dream. Thinking about the broader scope of my life fills me with joy and wonder but I also understand that viewed from outside my own mind, little about my day to day experience must seem beautiful or imaginative.

“Partly I am fascinated by the problem of Manning’s inner life because he’s the precise opposite of the athletes I normally root for. I want madmen and poets and visionaries; he plays with no romance and no flair and with a degree of hyper-preparedness that seems to rule out inspiration. All those days spent watching game film, those hours contemplating seam routes!

I’d like to believe that the compulsive pursuit of perfection puts him in contact with something we would find beautiful if we could see it, a plane of lunar understanding similar to how Roger Federer must see tennis — all the physics legible, all the angles converging. That his devotion to ascetic efficiency (that’s the word most often applied to his game, “efficient”), his winnowing down of everything superfluous, lets him simultaneously play football and see it from above.

The depressing alternative is that his brain is simply a list of scenarios, a database of bubble screens and zone blitzes and drag routes that he can search as needed. As though there were nothing more to the game than its specifics; as though he’d spent his whole life becoming the instruction manual to some giant machine that no one else could find, much less operate.

I keep thinking about old astronauts. I mean the early-space-program guys, the 1960s-Apollo-program guys, the all-American nerds with rectangular haircuts. What a supremely weird group of normal people. You can get a quick sense of that from Apollo 13 if you’ve seen it, all those home-life scenes set in the America of cookie-cutter ranch houses and Radio Flyer wagons and Jell-O salads. Those guys were practicing weightlessness by day and then going home to drink a beer and mow the lawn and probably watch Archie Manning play football on TV. You think of transcendence in that era as coming strictly through the counterculture, but this was a group of straight-up Eisenhower-legacy Air Force vets literally working to leave the Earth.

And their imaginations were on fire with it, as how could they not be, but day to day it was mostly a matter of technical detail — getting the math right, testing every last ball bearing in the engine. They were engineers, not poets, at least right up to the moment when they actually found themselves in space.

Maybe this is the way to think about Peyton Manning — that without challenging convention or wasting time thinking about aesthetics, he’s devoted to something in its own way extreme and spectacular; that he’s constantly testing ball bearings as a means of orchestrating his own weird escape. Isn’t there something a little science-fictiony about him? I can imagine him on the cover of some ’50s atomic-age pulp, Amazing Stories or Astounding Science Fiction. I can imagine him sitting in an office thinking about radio waves. I can imagine that what goes on inside his head is a terrible fear of dying in a fireball combined with a consuming longing to blast off.”

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