Angela Natividad's Live & Uncensored!

09 July 2015

Inklust #19: Gives and Tells

There were a few stipulations she had written into his standard contract that Mark had balked at: lemon rounds, not wedges; hypoallergenic makeup; fair-trade green tea. These, she explained, were gives—items that he was not to insist upon, which lack of insistence would make him seem like a much more reasonable person than his contract made him out to be.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, David Shafer

Here's a neat story: Van Halen was renowned for having a stringent, vaguely insane and crazy-detailed contract, one of whose stipulations included the demand that the band be provided with a bowl of M&Ms with the brown ones picked out. If a single brown M&M was found, Van Halen could cancel the concert at the full expense of the promoter—right then and there.

This is usually told as an anecdote to illustrate how debauched and ridiculous rock-stardom had become. But there was actually a really good reason the clause existed.

Van Halen's concerts included some of the most complex and advanced pyrotechnics of any show at that time. A successful show required a number of safety precautions and precise technical measures.

If the band found brown M&Ms in the bowl, chances were high that the contract hadn't been read. It significantly increased the likelihood of an onstage accident or technical failure.

The brown M&Ms weren't a give; they were a tell.


What is "Inklust"? Boy am I glad you asked. Here's the manifesto: part I and part II.

Today I left a book on the métro.

Even after six years in France, it's hard to shake off the metrics that used to drive me: Start a company. Get rich in five years. Vacations waste time. Weigh every moment against your net worth.

A good friend who's enjoyed more success than I have, lived longer than I have, and is now fighting a much tougher battle than I am, recently told me that money, power and stuff make no difference in the scheme of things. What he cares about now is leaving ripples of happiness among the people he loves—making a difference to them.

And it isn't just an insular thing. Even in his work, he seeks to be a force for good.

I was moved by this. But knowing he's fundamentally right is insufficient to unteach years of conditioning.

I try to be a force for good in my work: To lift people up, share credit, see opportunities to help. But today I thought, What if every day I did a small, enriching thing? Something that improves the lot of a stranger and doesn't just improve my work environment or fuel my socnets?

So today I left a book on the train. I read it, I liked it, and I happened to be carrying it with me. It seems small and insignificant but I'm weird about books; I have always needed to own them. I like touching the spines on my shelf. They benchmark my life. They're my great treasures.

One less thing for me, one more enriching thing for somebody else. It's a baby step. But it's a reminder of how little I need and how much I can give. Doing it once is insufficient; it's one of those things worth relearning every day.

I think that's what makes us better—the act of taking a lesson and manifesting it physically, as often as possible, until it simply becomes nature: A thing that ripples into everything we do. To change, it's important to undo even the small things that make us who we've been. It's only old skin.

My hope is that with time and the aggregation of these small acts, my metrics will change. My vision of success will change. And I'll no longer feel the compulsion to gauge how well I'm doing by how much of anything I have—not money or posterity or the capacity to disrupt. It will have been enough to be a force for good—to have been curious, to have learnt about other people and enriched the place where I was, and to have passed those pieces along.

I'm just a word in a very small chapter in the very short story of humanity—a story the universe, in its vastness and indifference, will not even realise occurred. Life is an accident that will end in a flutter.

It's enough to have been here.