I hope you’re doing well and staying safe. The smoke has mostly cleared up here in the Bay Area. I’m looking forward to taking walks outside again. Lately, my exercise habits have really fallen off, so my walks have become a lifeline for me in terms of staying active. Before the pandemic hit, my exercise of choice was swimming. I really miss it! It was great exercise and incredibly meditative. The minute I’d go underwater, all the sights and sounds of world would disappear. For a few brief moments, I’d be swimming in my own world.
Recently I wrote about identity and authenticity and realized that a major part of my identity — being a South Asian immigrant — has yet to influence my creative work. Since then, I’ve been thinking about another part of me that has been absent from my writing: startup life. I’ve spent the majority of my career building startups. I was a founding engineer of an acquired startup, founder and CTO of a healthcare startup, and am now working part-time at a startup with some of my best friends. Yet in this newsletter, my startup story has been notably absent.
Why hasn’t ‘Startup Salman’ made an appearance in my writing? I think the main reason is that startups defined my entire identity for most of my life. So, with my creative work I wanted to explore everything else besides startups. Perhaps now that the other parts of me have held the creative stage for a while, there’s some room to shift the balance back a bit.
Serendipitously, I ran into some inspiration on how I might connect these seemingly disparate worlds. I first encountered Eliot Peper through his latest novel, Veil. Only after listening to a podcast interview with him did I discover his startup roots. Eliot notes that he harnesses his own startup experiences and channels them into his fictional novels. It’s a compelling template that I’m excited to learn from and experiment with in my own creative journey. I don’t see myself writing a novel anytime soon, but there’s definitely an opportunity to experiment with channeling my startup experiences into fictional short stories and comics.
As artists, we can look at the multitudes within us as a source of paint colors. It’s up to us to see the beauty in each shade, and mix them together to form our own unique palettes. With each brushstroke, we can show the world what we’re made of.
I came upon this essay on creativity by Mary Oliver and it stopped me dead in my tracks. It’s worth reading the essay in full (featured in her collection of essays, Upstream), but here’s the bit that really got me:
It is six A.M., and I am working. I am absentminded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be. The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard. The poem gets written. I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely. It does not include mustard, or teeth. It does not extend to the lost button, or the beans in the pot. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.
There is no other way work of artistic worth can be done. And the occasional success, to the striver, is worth everything. The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.
The creative force within us is powerful yet whimsical. The more we try to schedule it, plan it, control it… the more it escapes our grasp. When inspiration comes calling, we must heed it. As Mary so artfully highlights, there are few regrets greater than missing our own call.
After reminiscing about Tokyo recently, I felt a bit depressed knowing how long it will likely be before I can ever visit there again. I decided that if I can’t travel there with my body, I’ll settle for traveling there with my mind. I started searching for books based in Tokyo. I was drawn to Banana Yoshimoto’s novel Moshi Moshi as it was set in one of my favorite neighborhoods in Tokyo — Shimokitazawa. Once I learned of Yoshimoto’s fame as a world-renowned author, I immediately picked up the book.
I finished it in a few days. The story and character development is gripping and powerful. I definitely found myself raising an eyebrow at many moments in the story — there are some questionable arcs to the storyline. But I believe the unique stories and characters are what makes Yoshimoto’s work so compelling. It’s also worth noting that I read the book’s English translation, which seemed like it could use some improvement. I don’t speak Japanese (yet!) and have not read the original version, but there were some glaring issues which seemed likely to be caused by translation (typos, awkward and clunky phrasing, etc.)
The lack of elegant prose was unfortunate, but somehow the technical quirks fit with the story. Moshi Moshi is about a woman who is grieving the loss of her father, and depicts her wayward journey of recovery as she tries to move on and find peace. Her journey is messy and painful. Life is never perfect. Not everything has a fairy tale ending. Yoshimoto’s story deserves better translation, but the messy medium fit her message.
One of my favorite memories of visiting Shimokitazawa was stopping at a coffee shop called Yeti Roastery. It’s where I met my friend Amit, who served me some delicious Himalayan specialty coffee. He just launched a new location in Setagaya. If you’re ever in Tokyo, be sure to stop by and try their coffee (and say hi to Amit for me!)
Jupiter’s Pull — Really cool animation of how Jupiter protects Earth and other planets from asteroids thanks to its massive gravitational pull. Jupiter, you da real MVP! (By that I of course mean Most Valuable Planet… 😅)
The Origin of Kirby — I’ve been watching High Score, a documentary on Netflix about the history of video games. It’s surprisingly well done, and I really enjoyed every episode. I think you’d enjoy it even if you’re not that into video games. One of the episodes tells the little known origin story of the Nintendo character Kirby, and I just had to share it.
Ed Love — A delightful stroll through the cartoon animation work of Ed Love’s 60+ year career (1910-1996) at Disney, MGM, Lantz and Hanna-Barbera. So many childhood memories watching these growing up!
I’ll leave you with some artwork and poses from the very first Tom & Jerry cartoon aired in 1940 (via @WeirdlandTales):
Until next time,