I Have a Dream

I have a dream.  I have a dream that one day all people in America will be rich.  Not just the top 10%, but everyone.  The way I see it, “America’s Decline” largely owes to two predominant driving factors:

  1. Structurally: The economy truly is not working for everyone.
  2. Culturally: Generally speaking, with each subsequent generation, we’re overall growing weaker.

To the first point:  As I’ve ranted on before, over half of all Americans aren’t even invested in the stock market.  Thus, this has given rise to the “Shareholder Class.”  (I didn’t invent that term; can’t remember exactly where I initially read it, but it’s accurate.)  AOC made waves last week by ragging on DIA and SPY’s recent record gains.  I’m no AOC fan, but on this point she’s entirely correct.  Until all Americans participate significantly in the stock market, we will never have broad-based wealth for all.  Platforms like Robinhood are a good start.  But we need to further democratize accessibility to the equity markets and do everything we can to maximize broad-based market participation.  When Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple does well– everyone should do well. When Tesla changes the world with EVs, everyone should benefit.

To the second point:  I want America to be a country that lasts a thousand centuries.  I wish for our nation to surpass the heights of the Roman Empire.  It’s true we are a country with great promise and potential.  And we’ve had auspicious beginnings, not to mention we are geographically blessed.  Two oceans isolate us from much of the rest of the world and its challenges/problems.  And from sea to shining sea, we’ve literally got everything it takes –the natural resources, the ingenuity, drive, creativity, and persistence of our people– to be great.

But like all great civilizations, a great danger looms.  Not of a foreign nation-state nuking us or threatening our way of life.  No, external threats which are easily visible are easily identified.  Faced with external danger, America has never wavered; that is not our greatest fear.

No, our greatest threat —like all great civilizations that reached for the heavens; the Persians, Romans, Mongols— America’s greatest enemy is from within. It’s us.  It is complacency.  It’s from our own people tearing ourselves apart.  It’s from growing soft and spoiled while the rest of the world grows strong.

Here’s a historical tidbit I tell often (that trended as a meme back in 2018):  In 1944, 18-year old American men stormed the beaches of Normandy, climbing out of Higgins boats onto Utah and Omaha, under relentless hail of German machine gun fire.  Our bravest and greatest generation defended the free world from the Third Reich.  When everything was on the line, Americans, the best of a generation, rose to the occasion and defended our liberty and democracy against the Nazi regime.

Fast forward to recent years.  Nowadays, what occupies the public discourse of our 18-year-olds?  Safe spaces in universities.  Eating Tide Pods and vaping.  Fear of being “triggered.”  Endless debates over transgender restrooms.

We can do better, America.  As the popular African saying goes:  “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”

Process + Motivation

After I met Bagel, it was definitely like finding another gear.  I keep a few photos of us on my desk.  And it always helps when I’m in my weaker moments, when it’s late at night and I’m feeling tired, sick, or frustrated, I’ll look over at us to remind me that we’re worth it.  And so I’ll write another few hundred words or two.  Granted, they’re not always the best words of the day, but the point is that, for me at least, external motivation has made all the difference.  I do consider myself a pretty disciplined, determined person.  But, man, writing a novel is a whole other beast.  It’s mostly the incredibly distant time horizon that makes the project so difficult.  I mean, when you’re a student, you kinda get used to cramming the night before in the library or pulling the all-nighter to finish the paper, right?  And even when I was working at the bank, we were still delivering software projects in well-defined two/four/six-week sprints.  There was constant feedback every step of the way, your team that you were meeting daily with to make any course corrections necessary, and a consistent sense of progress.  Even if it wasn’t always exact, there was still (usually) a forward sense of momentum and progress.

But writing is a multi-month (maybe even multi-year?) process? This is a campaign of an entirely different stripe. And it’s one without as finely defined, well-understood goals and milestones. For every successful Normandy invasion, you may also get a Waterloo or a Gettysburg. Sometimes you spend years building the Atlantic Wall or Maginot Line and it, well, just doesn’t quite do what you expected.

Additionally, with novel-writing, the formative initial “requirements gathering phase” is a little different.  There’s a discovery process that’s actually more like the beginning of a data science project or trying to QED a math proof; initially you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for.  But you have some ideas of what might work.  And so you poke around to see if any of your pet theories have legs.  And then the entire project starts to (slowly) crystallize and firm up and you mold the beast as best as you can.

Obviously, along the way there’ll be dead-ends.  And there’ll be days when you take one step forward but two steps backwards.  But if you just keep laboring away, every day in the salt mines, it will slowly start to come together.  I can’t remember who said this but I remember once hearing on a Fresh Air podcast an interview with a famous writer and she painted the analogy:  “It’s like driving up a foggy, pitch-black mountain.  Your head-beams only allow you to see a few meters ahead of you at any given time.  But it’s enough.  Slowly, but surely, you’ll make it to the top.  That’s what writing a book is like.”

Or, similarly apropos, writing’s a lot like having faith:  “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”  –Martin Luther King Jr.