Stack Up: Meaningful Work, The Zanzibar Chest, Chimney Starters

I’m facing the ultimate old-guy ailment right now: I pulled a muscle, and back pain is all up in this piece. On to the post:

  • I was talking to my brother about the fact that we both have an urge to be able to justify our broader existence as members of the workforce, i.e. we want to connect our work directly to some sort of human effort driving the slow roll of history. I think most people want to feel meaning in their work, but I know that we’re fortunate to even be able to have this discussion, as jobs that simply put food on the family are needed by millions.

    Regardless, my brother is a Navy lieutenant, and tying yourself to history through the military is pretty obvious — and in fact my own plan at 18 was to do just that until the Navy ROTC people saw my eye-exam results and were all “no thanks bro” — but what about me today?

    I used to be in journalism, so that’s the first draft of history and whatnot, but frankly I think my job now is almost more of one where I’ll be chillin’ with my great-grandkids (in the artificially cooled biodome to shield us from the overheated Earth) and they’ll say, “Wow! You were around at the start of the Internet when people were figuring everything out?” Because yeah, that’s me. Think about if you met someone today who had worked in TV in the 1950s — that’d be some shit, and they had a hand in shaping the medium that’s shaped our world today. (For better or worse.) So in the 2070s, that’ll be me.

    Sometimes I miss the media, and most of my cool at-work stories still come from those days, but I realized I like the Internet broadly more than I like journalism specifically. With this digital-strategy thing, I get to do a lot more shaping. So yeah, I’m just a temporary being in a giant cosmos, but at least I have something to do with building what will be an ongoing part of human existence.

  • “The Zanzibar Chest”: Speaking of history-linked careers, I just finished this memoir/historical drama by Aidan Hartley, a war correspondent who worked in Somalia, Serbia and Rwanda right as those three countries were respectively going to terrible fates. Hartley parallels his own experiences with those of both his British colonial-service father and his father’s fellow service friend Peter Davey, who was ultimately murdered while in Yemen and whose diary was in the eponymous chest left by Hartley’s father.

    Overall I enjoyed this book and got a lot of perspective from it, but that came primarily from the portions from Hartley’s own life, which are at turns hilarious, swashbuckling, shocking and horrifying. The book unfortunately slows a bit each time the author jumps to Davey’s story, and I found myself wishing he would stick to the first person. I understand the motivation for tying together the British-side optimism of the colonial days and the miserable legacy that left for the populations living in the post-colonial areas today, but something about the way the two stories were woven together just didn’t do it for me. That said, it’s a great read and a firsthand tour of some of the uglier parts of recent history. I give it four phats out of five:


  • The awesomeness of the chimney starter. Not much more to add – it’s just awesome.
  • I continue to like this image after several months:

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2 Responses to “Stack Up: Meaningful Work, The Zanzibar Chest, Chimney Starters”

  1. Hey Pat,

    your face is swashbuckling.

    Posted by Jimmy Z..No, too obvious. J Zumwalt | August 10th, 2012 at 1:13 pm
  2. That’s a quality attribution.

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