Per My Last E-mail #16
Hi Friends 👋,
Happy Monday! After a week off from Per My Last E-mail, I am back and writing you from beautiful Kyoto, Japan.
I have been in Japan for four days and am in love with the country already. The food is as-delicious-as-advertised, the architecture is a compelling blend of very old and very new, and despite its density, a sense of calm and peacefulness permeates.
In just four days, I have had the best sushi, ramen, and tempura of my life, walked through Tokyo for miles, run through beautiful parks, meditated at the Meiji Shrine, took a bullet train ride that puts Amtrak to shame (which is easy), took subway rides that put the MTA to shame (which is easy), read Haruki Murakami in a coffee shop, gone to a baseball game where fans play brass instruments and celebrate home runs with umbrellas, watched an Eagles game at 2am, fed monkeys, and found my favorite neighborhood (Nakameguro) and book store (Tsutaya Books). I have one more night in Kyoto, after which I head to Hakone for one day, Tokyo for one final day, and then back home. We will definitely be back to explore more.
I expected to come here and write a lot, but there has just been too much to see to sit inside for too long. Once you’re through the tourist checklist, though, I can see how this would be a great place to focus.
The founders of Notion - the software I’m writing this draft on right now - did just that. They actually moved to Kyoto when their startup was on the brink of failure to hunker down, focus, and re-build their product from the ground up. It worked. They raised money at an $800 million valuation in July, and their product is one of the most popular in the startup world. Their story of coming back from the brink in Kyoto is worth reading.
Links & Listens
Two weeks’ worth of content means that this links & listens is one of the most quality-dense yet. And it’s all links, no listens; I’ve been trying to avoid podcasts in Japan so I can take in the sounds of the neighborhoods as I walk around. But there will be a first - a show recommendation 🦹🏻♂️
🗽 Lost and Found by Colson Whitehead in The New York Times
(Photo from Ray on the Roof party at our first apartment in NYC, 235 E. 13th #6L)
Being away from home always makes me appreciate New York even more, so I was in exactly the right headspace to read Lost and Found when it arrived in my inbox via Polina Marinova’s excellent newsletter, The Profile, yesterday.
In November 2001, less than two months after the September 11th attacks, Colson Whitehead wrote a love letter to New York City. Colson writes about living and growing in New York City, and marking the passage of time with the evolution of the buildings and businesses that you walk past every day. Reading it made me all sorts of nostalgic, thinking back on the 10 years in New York, how much has changed, how many great things have happened, and how important the city has become to me.
“Somewhere in that glorious mess was the address on a piece of paper, your first home here.” As I was looking for a picture to post, I realized that when I lost one iPhone or another, I lost my photos from 2009-2013, my first at 235 E 13th Street, my first address on a piece of paper in NYC. It was hard to tell then that I was creating a home here then, or that time would pass so quickly, or that I should back up those photos because one day I would really want to look at them again. New York gave me new friends, new experiences, jobs, the feeling that I could make it anywhere, and Puja. Colson’s article is a poignant reminder to appreciate all of it as you live it, because at some point, you look up, and you’re no longer the new kid in town.
“Naturally we will cast a wary eye toward the new kids on the block, but let’s be patient and not judge too quickly. We were new here, too, once.”
📊 Positional Scarcity by Alex Danco
Danco is one of my favorite writers on the internet, and this piece is a good example of why that is. He piggybacked off of a tweet (below) by Basecamp CEO, Jason Fried, calling out Google for forcing companies to pay to rank 1st on their own name to write about the power of three different types of scarcity, and their five Venn-overlaps, in a world of increasing abundance.
His thinking overlaps with something I’m writing about for an upcoming essay - The Online-Offline Equilibrium. Namely, physical space is so important for companies and communities because it is so scarce. Porsche can produce more Porsches, Rolex can make more Rolexes, but there is only one retail space possible at a particular Soho address. That retail space is the ultimate rivalrous good. That’s why we’re seeing startup credit card company, Brex, open a restaurant in San Francisco, fractional car ownership company Rally Road open a showroom in Soho, and countless Digitally Native Vertical Brands open retail locations in trendy neighborhoods. In a world in which it’s easier than ever to launch a company and build a product, retail space leverages Legitimacy and Proximity to stand out from the crowd.
🎧 Y2k-20 Will Come in 3rd Place by @hipcityreg
Gen Z might disagree about the importance of physical spaces, and my thinking that they’re going to make a resurgence might just be proof that I’m getting old. In this piece, @hipcityreg, the founder of an avatar-based social network launching in 2020, makes the argument for voice-based-digital-third-spaces. I’m not convinced - this University of Haifa study shows that lack of eye-contact is the chief contributor to people being rude to each other online - but the read is interesting and it’s important to know how the Youngs are thinking about the world.
🧠 The Story of Us by Tim Urban in Wait But Why
You have probably read Tim Urban’s Wait But Why before (if you haven’t, grab a pot of coffee, take the week off, and go through the archive). The Story of Us is his most ambitious project since at least his Elon Musk series. He has been working on it for three years. He’s currently an intro + three essays in to explaining why we are the way we are using his signature combination of new concepts and stick figures. Urban is better than anyone at making complex ideas approachable - jump down the rabbit hole with him.
🦹🏻♂️The Boys on Amazon Prime 📺
With Amazon, Netflix, and even Apple now competing with HBO, Showtime, and the networks, we are living in a golden age of TV. In my eyes, Amazon has lagged, but their newest show, The Boys, is one of my favorites from the past couple of years. The show is about regular people fighting back against a group of superheroes slash reality TV stars controlled by an evil corporation, and it’s as creative, funny, gory, irreverent, and gripping as anything that’s come out recently. Chances are you have an Amazon Prime account (over 50% of American households do), so take advantage and watch The Boys.
🏈 Bonus: What’s Up Philly? by Miles Sanders in The Players’ Tribune
Football is back! And with the Eagles’ come-from-behind victory yesterday, it’s time to celebrate by introducing their rookie running back, Miles Sanders. Sanders came a holding penalty away from scoring a touchdown in his NFL debut yesterday.
I love these Players’ Tribune articles - the publication, which is based in the Starrett-Lehigh building in New York where Breather has a couple of spaces, gives players a platform and a voice and lets them tell their own stories in their own words. “Boobie,” a Pennsylvania native who is clearly excited to be playing in his home state, seems like he’ll fit in nicely in the City of Brotherly Love.
What I’m Reading
The Slack Book Club is live! 35 people have joined, and we are reading and discussing Dignity by Chris Arnade. We’ll be reading the book through mid-September, so there’s still time to join the conversation if you’re interested in discussing life in back row America.
Since I’m in Japan, I’ve also jumped back into Haruki Murakami to get ready. Over the past four days, I read A Wild Sheep Chase and its sequel, Dance Dance Dance, back-to-back. I really can’t recommend Murakami highly enough, and A Wild Sheep Chase, followed by Dance Dance Dance, is a great place to start. The characters are compelling, the story is structured in typical Murakami fashion, and it has just enough magical realism to be exciting without scaring off first-time readers.
Three things coming next:
An essay on the Online-Offline Equilibrium
An essay on Re-Igniting America’s Imagination (this one has proven to be more challenging than expected!)
Debate Club is happening on September 25th! Topics and teams go out on the 11th. I can’t wait to see how this goes.
As always, if you know anyone who would enjoy Per My Last E-mail, please share the subscribe link.
Thanks for reading,