Jay Hoffmann

Books, movies, and code

#15: Finding focus in the new year

I’m thinking a lot about focus this week. There’s something about a new year that makes you look forward. I spent the last year trying to clear away time for things that were important to me or to my work: larger projects, time for reading books, for spending time with my family, for writing here and on The History of the Web.

And that was, somewhat to my surprise, pretty successful. At work, I have been spending more time on priorities. In my personal life I’ve been able to find the time I wanted for writing and reading and organizing my thoughts.

Now I’m looking forward with a bit of a question mark. I don’t actually know what my goals are right now. What I’m looking to get out of the next year. I’m ready to try something different. So I did what I usually do. I searched around. It brought me to a new book about mindfulness called Peak Mind by Amishi P. Jha. It seems practical and approachable. Clearing my mind and finding focus? That sounds right up my alley.

I’m looking forward with a flicker of uncertainty. My goals feel a bit hazy and out of focus. But I have settled on one thing—I’m ready to share things up and try something new. I poked around some search engines and checked a few things and stumbled onto at least one intriguing book. It’s called Peak Mind by Amishi P. Jha. It appears to be a practical guide to mindfulness and meditation, a practice I am admittedly a little wary of. Yet, the idea of clearing my mind and focusing better? That sounds like something I could do.

I’ve returned to Steinbeck for the third time in less than a year in his culminating work East of Eden. It is broad—in length and in scope—but maybe its most admirable quality is how much it takes its time. Grapes of Wraith oscillated between its socially charged narrative and didactic monologues injected by Steinbeck himself. So it’s most brilliant moments live in either the world of the story and its dynamics or in Steinbeck’s soliloquies.

East of Eden feels different. As it drifts along, Steinbeck pulls on various threads. Different characters, different locales, and all the contrives of an exciting plot. As you read, however, you realize that Steinbeck is pulling from different POVs which blend together a contradictory worldview both confused and in awe of the march of progress.

And then Steinbeck will do what he does best. Sits himself in the middle of a scenario as a conflict converges and extracts the truth and message in it. East of Eden is fascinating for its thematic density and allegorical connections and autobiographical story. But it’s also sharp and personal and familiar and in the first quarter of the novel, that’s what I’m enjoying the most.

Things I wrote this week:

John O’Donohue on the artifice of beginnings:

When we arrive into the world, we enter this ancient sequence. All our beginnings happen within this continuity. Beginnings often frighten us because they seem like lonely voyages into the unknown. Yet, in truth, no beginning is empty or isolated. We seem to think that beginning is setting out from a lonely point along some line of direction into the unknown. This is not the case. Shelter and energy come alive when a beginning is embraced… We are never as alone in our beginnings as it might seem at the time. A beginning is ultimately an invitation to open toward the gifts and growth that are stored up for us. To refuse to begin can be an act of great self-neglect