Thank You, SNL
“The reader must come armed, in a serious state of intellectual readiness. This is not easy because he comes to the text alone. In reading, one's responses are isolated, one's intellect thrown back on its own resources. To be confronted by the cold abstractions of printed sentences is to look upon language bare, without the assistance of either beauty or community. Thus, reading is by its nature a serious business. It is also, of course, an essentially rational activity.” ― Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
Alexa and I moved into a new apartment on December 1st, 2017. We opened Movement Brooklyn three days later. To say it was a hectic week doesn't do it justice. The new apartment is less than a block from the gym. We felt the move was necessary as I'd be doing all the teaching and would be in and out throughout the day. However, we didn't plan to move so close to the opening date of the gym. Originally we'd decided to find something nearby a month or two after opening. However, we came across the "dream apartment" just a of couple weeks before December and could not let it slip away. Between teaching and managing the gym, and with all of our money spent on the facility and moving, we were left with a couple unfinished projects in the apartment. The big one was the living room with beautiful, original 1890's moldings and a marble fireplace mantle. We decided we'd eventually get a couch and coffee table, and keep the room TV-less. For almost a year the room sat barren, except for an old couch for a room 1/3 the size, and it was never used.
In October 2018 a location scout for Satruday Night Live knocked on the door at Movement Brooklyn. He explained he needed a gym for a sketch they'd be shooting the following morning, and that Seth Meyers, that week's host, would be in the scene. After a little back and forth we agreed to make it work. Conveniently, for the use of the space, we'd be getting paid almost exactly the amount of money we needed to purchase the couch and coffee table we'd wanted, but couldn't yet afford. The shoot was an easy, fun, and short experience. I taught Seth how to swing a kettlebell, and they were in and out of the gym before breakfast. The sketch was funny and Movement Brooklyn had its guest appearance on SNL.
The SNL couch and coffee table arrived two months later. The first night we had the new set-up was the first night we didn't watch TV before going to bed. As I said we decided not to have a TV in this room, but we wanted to spend time in the beautiful room on the cozy couch. So, for the first handful of nights with the SNL couch we read magazines and played chess (poorly). During Christmas break, en route to Alexa's folk's house, I purchased a book at Grand Central. Other than holiday activities, I spent my time in front of the fireplace reading. After I finished that book, I went to the bookstore in Alexa's hometown and purchased another. When we arrived back in Brooklyn I decided I enjoyed reading during the holidays so much that I would commit to doing it every night before bed, on the SNL couch, for one year. I had no idea what this would lead to, it just felt right at that moment.
I should note that over the years I read books off and on. The peak was when I was regularly commuting on the subway. However, no more than a handful of books a year, and with no specific interests. In the more recent years, there was virtually no reading. And, I will admit I read nothing in college, and CliffNotes-ed my way through high school.
In the beginning, I didn't know what to read. After the first couple of books I got through, I found myself digging around Amazon to see what was popular and similar to what I'd already read. As an avid documentary watcher, I leaned into non-fiction. Krakauer is where I began. After I got through every book he'd written, I was lost. I spent the next bit of time on some New York Times bestsellers; Educated, Born a Crime, and Sapiens. Then I was lost again.
In my notes from Movement Camp (an annual, week long, event hosted by Ido Portal) I had scribbled the titles of a couple of books that one of the teachers, Dudi Malka, had suggested. The top of the list was Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. After this book, I never dug around on Amazon or NYT bestseller lists again. This read lead to conversations, which lead to other books, which mentioned books, which mentioned authors, which lead to conversations, and etc. Before I knew it I had a stack of books I planned to read on the SNL coffee table, and a list of books to get to later on a notepad. I found myself ensnared by books on philosophy, psychology, and science. The journey lead me to Finite and Infinite Games, a number of works by Alan Watts, and a love for both Zen in the Art of Archery and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Thinking, Fast and Slow left me pondering decision making, The Denial of Death opened my mind to human "immortality projects", and I found myself lost and confused, frequently, as I struggled through I Am a Strange Loop. Night after night after night I was on the SNL couch with a book in hand before going to bed. Eventually I didn't want to only read an hour before bed, so I also read on the subway en route to BJJ training and while I sat at the gym waiting to teach evening classes.
The sudden influx of information and insight caused me to feel emotional at times. I once said to Alexa, "I don't understand how I've lived this much of life knowing so little." Somewhere along the way I found myself tabbing pages and taking notes. Not for any specific reason, but just because I thought something important or interesting was said. Suddenly I was scribbling notes on post-its and in notebooks. There were a mountain of connections to movement and teaching; ideas such as artless art, wu-wei, and infinite players. Many ideas snuck their way into my approach at Movement Brooklyn. In the last few months I felt so inspired by the books I've read, and their connections to my life experiences, that I started writing. With that, this blog was brought to life.
Today I finished my 40th book. It has been one year since the trek began. My excitement for knowledge and information deepens. The stack of books on the SNL coffee table, and list of "to-reads", continues to grow. As someone who grew up in Lake Tahoe with a passion for skiing, I can compare reading something that hits me to the rush of making first tracks on a powder day.
The most powerful part of this experience has to do with my friend Ruhbin Mehta. We both moved to New York in 2005 to pursue careers in stand-up comedy. We met at an open mic in the village, and were connected at the hip not long after that. To say we were opposites is an understatement. We couldn't have been more different; a true odd couple. Ruhbin was gentle, deeply caring, highly educated, and well read. I was younger, attention seeking, a college drop-out, and not-read. Whenever I describe him to others I never leave out that he always had a book, a newspaper, or both with him. He could find a way to connect and have a conversation with anyone he met because of all he'd read. I admired this quality in him, and aspired for it.
While we wandered the streets, killing time between open mics, we'd sometimes stop at sidewalk book vendors or kick back in the free seating at Barnes & Noble. It seemed like he'd read everything. He would tell me which authors and books he liked and which he didn't care for. I'd pick one up here and there. With all the commuting on the subway, I had a couple year period with consistent reading, but still nothing focussed or serious. It was simply my attempt to be "well read" and more like Ruhbin.
In August of 2015 Ruhbin lost a long fought battle with depression and insomnia. His death is, by far, the most painful experience of my life. As I mourned, I reflected on the qualities that made him so special, and hoped I could embody some of these qualities to honor him. I'm grateful to be a few steps closer to fulfilling one. I have lifetimes to go to catch up with the number of books he consumed, but am excited to be headed in that direction. Ruhbin use to tell me he kept a list of every book he'd ever read so that one day, when he had a house, he could purchase all of them for a library. So, I keep my list and make an effort to own as many of my reads as possible, and someday I'd like to have a library with everything I've read on the shelves.
For all of this, thank you, SNL.