Reassurance

When I ask for advice, often what I’m really looking for is reassurance.

But the work I’m most proud of requires taking real risks with no possible guarantee of success, so seeking reassurance that things will turn out okay is a trap.

Trust yourself. Trust the process.

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Complement with Most successful people have no idea what made them successful, How to do interesting work, and Be bold.

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Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He sends a monthly newsletter documenting his journey as a reader and writer, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.

Narrative daisy-chains

We all know that stories sometimes go viral, apotheosizing into memes. But much more interesting than a single story propagating itself through retelling is when stories inspire the telling of other stories in a cascading cultural daisy-chain.

What anecdote can you share with a friend that inspires them to share an anecdote of their own, deepening your mutual understanding? What might inspire them to share their story with others in a way that inspires those others to open up in turn, each a domino falling across an expanding web of conversations that stitch humanity yet more tightly together?

Stories can reproduce themselves through repetition, but a certain kind of story unlocks the hearts of those who hear it so that they pay it forward by giving of themselves.

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Complement with Stories are bicycles, Chapter 0, and A pop band that talks about complicated emotions.

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Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He sends a monthly newsletter documenting his journey as a reader and writer, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.

Be bold

Be bold. Many eschew grand ambitions for fear of falling short, so the higher you aim, the thinner the competition. Plus, because nothing is truly easy, you might as well attempt something truly hard. Who knows? You might even succeed, surprising everyone, yourself most of all.

Because so few people are willing to risk boldness, being bold makes you a leader by default. Some will see their feelings articulated in your vision and join up. Others will see their fears reflected in your vision and cry foul. Whether they opt in or out, you are defining the terms of engagement and inviting them to clarify their thinking.

If you're going to boldly go where no one has gone before, do so with clear eyes. Otherwise you might go boldly off a cliff or into a brick wall. Don't cling to obsolete points of view. Boldness requires flexibility. If you discover new evidence that changes your mind, admit you were wrong and set a new course.

Life is so damn short that living boldly seems an apt way to honor the fleeting gift of existence. If you're not going to be yourself, who else are you going to be? Be yourself, be bold, or die trying.

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Complement with How to make sense of complex ideasCultivating a sense of presence, and Quantity is a route to quality, not its opposite.

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Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He sends a monthly newsletter documenting his journey as a reader and writer, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.

The Path

The girl entered the Dark Forest.

Leaves whispered. Shadows swirled. Bright eyes gleamed. Mud sucked at her boots. She evaded the bandits, won over the fairies, escaped the quicksand, emasculated the creepy lumberjack, survived the poison thorns, defeated the monsters, fed wild carrots to the unicorn, slipped away from the strangling vines, and outsmarted the witch.

The woman emerged from the Dark Forest.

She dropped her pack, salved her blisters, ate an apple with a hunk of cheese and a chocolate bar, drank from the brook, and sighed.

Ahead was the Open Steppe, the Rushing River, the Endless Desert, the Stormy Sea, the Bottomless Cave, the Highest Mountain, the Brilliant Stars—worlds pressing up against worlds forever in all directions, thick with promise and peril, almost but never quite overwhelming, a summons and an apology and a challenge.

She smiled and hefted her pack.

There was only the path.

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I wrote this little story as a birthday gift for my wife, Andrea Castillo, who sends the incomparable Seasonal newsletter that explores the California food system, one fruit or vegetable at a time.

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Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He sends a monthly newsletter documenting his journey as a reader and writer, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.

How to do interesting work

If you want to do interesting work, a great starting point is to work on things you find interesting. Instead of trying to optimize for what you think others are likely to find interesting—chasing the market is a Sisyphean task—just keep digging deeper into what you find interesting.

That way, making your work interesting to others is simply a matter of sharing your enthusiasm. I took a geology class my freshman year of college. It’s easy to imagine how boring a class about rocks could be. But my professor loved rocks. She had contributed to the discovery of plate tectonics. She took us up into the mountains and showed us how you could decode geological layers laid bare by erosion to reveal the violence and wonder of how the Earth took shape. She could forge a path through the entire universe starting from a single grain of sand. Another professor could have taught the same curriculum to no effect. My professor’s love for the material brought it to life. She used her enthusiasm to ignite our curiosity.

But working on things you find interesting is not sufficient to make your work interesting to other people. We’ve all been bored to death by experts who speak in impenetrable acronyms or super-fans who get lost in their own rabbit holes. Their individual interest in the material may be genuine, but it isn’t contagious because they lack empathy. You (probably) wouldn’t tell a dirty joke to your grandmother in the same way you’d tell it to your best friend. Empathy is meeting people where they are so you can take them someplace new. That’s why rock stars shout out the name of the city they happen to be performing in. Despite her academic fame and scientific expertise, my geology professor didn’t get stuck in solipsistic obsession. Instead, she used her enthusiasm as a tool to inspire her students, to pry open new worlds for us. As a result, we found her work tremendously interesting.

So doing interesting work doesn’t require guessing what others might like or a benevolent hiring manager offering you your dream job. Doing interesting work requires working on things you find interesting, and then cultivating sufficient empathy to find effective ways to share your enthusiasm with the right people. Empathy is the catalyst that makes curiosity contagious. You’ll know you’re doing it right when the people you seek to reach find your work at least as interesting as you do.

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Complement with Quantity is a route to quality, not its opposite, Lasting value, and Creativity is a choice.

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Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He sends a monthly newsletter documenting his journey as a reader and writer, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.

A pop band that talks about complicated emotions

"At the heart of Sylvan Esso is this really fun argument —Nick wants things to sound unsettling, but I want you to take your shirt off and dance," says Amelia Meath of the band she cofounded in 2012 that now boasts two million monthly listeners on Spotify. "We're trying to make pop songs that aren't on the radio, because they're too weird. It's a pop band, but we're talking about complicated emotions."

Not only does this pithy description perfectly capture Sylvan Esso's wonderfully distinctive music, it subverts the false distinction between "high" and "low" art —adjectives that themselves reveal an underlying bias.

Many literary novelists eschew genre-fiction labels or the idea that their book might be read to ease the discomfort of a long flight, rather than to delve into life's grand questions. Conversely, many mystery, romance, and science-fiction writers view literary fiction as unreadably pretentious and boring. As an author, my goal has always been to bridge that gap. I seek to write thrillers that make you think and leave you changed.

That's why I love Sylvan Esso's mission so much: They make music that you actually want to listen to and that challenges you at the same time. You don't have to choose between fun and depth.

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Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He sends a monthly newsletter documenting his journey as a reader and writer, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.

Silence

Turn it off.

The feed was the information infrastructure that empowered nearly every human activity and on which nearly every human activity relied. A talisman that lent mere mortals the power of demigods. Doctors used it for diagnosis. Brokers used it to place bets. Physicists used it to explore the mysteries of quantum entanglement. Farmers used it to grow food. Kindergarteners used it to learn the alphabet. The feed was power, water, transportation, communication, entertainment, public services, relationships, industry, media, government, security, finance, and education. Without it the churning torrent of human civilization would cease. The feed was lightning captured in grains of sand, a miracle of science, engineering, and culture that wove the entire world into a single digital tapestry of unparalleled beauty and complexity.

Efficacy bred dependency. Turning it off was madness.

The lights in the conference room went dark. The gentle background hum of the building's internal processes died. Diana's files vanished from the shared feed. No, not just her files. The feed itself was gone. It was as if Diana had just stepped through the red satin curtains, Nell's sure grip leading her into the exotic feedlessness of Analog.

But this wasn't Analog. This was Commonwealth headquarters, the nerve center of the feed. Just a moment before, Diana had been a key node in the deluge of global attention, and now she was standing in the middle of an empty stadium, her teammates vanished, the crowd abruptly absent, the cameras off, nothing but the frantic beating of her terrified heart and a distant ball rolling to a stop in the grass. The millions of voices that were her constant companion, always there, murmuring just below the threshold of hearing, had been silenced. The humble drinking cup that she constantly dipped into the font of all human knowledge had been slapped away. Her access to the vast prosthetic mind whose presence she had long since taken for granted had been severed.

The lights in every window in every skyscraper around them shut off, rippling out across the city, the state, the country, the world, as feed-enabled electric grids failed. Every car in sight, from the streets of downtown to the Bay Bridge, froze as if captured in a still photograph. The container ships and yachts plying the bay coasted to a stop, their bow waves dissipating and their wakes catching up to make them bob where they sat marooned on the open water.

The ominous swarm of drones and helicopters converging on them came to a halt in midair and then descended to land on the nearest patch of clear ground they could find per their emergency backup protocols. The convoy of trucks died along with all the civilian cars, their lights going dark and their sirens quiet.

Diana imagined transoceanic flights automatically detouring to make emergency landings, surgeons whose equipment failed mid-craniotomy, soap operas dissolving in the midst of transcendent plot twists, control panels winking out before terrified astronauts, newsrooms descending into an unprecedented hush, nuclear power plants shutting down, a vocal track evaporating to reveal a pop star was lip-synching to a packed arena, a trail map fading from an endurance runner's vision, ovens shutting off before the lasagna was ready, students cursing as their research papers melted away, Wall Street's algorithmic ballet extinguished right in front of traders' eyes, a hidden sniper pulling the trigger to no effect, factories grinding to a halt, pumps ceasing to push wastewater through treatment facilities, and tourists at the Louvre being thrown into utter darkness. The world was a windup toy that had unexpectedly exhausted its clockwork motor.

The feed was gone.

Silence reigned.

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An excerpt from Borderless.

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Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He sends a monthly newsletter documenting his journey as a reader and writer, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.