Special No More

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“Morning or night, Friday or Sunday, made no difference, everything was the same: the gnawing, excruciating, incessant pain; that awareness of life irrevocably passing but not yet gone; that dreadful, loathsome death, the only reality, relentlessly closing in on him; and that same endless lie. What did days, weeks, or hours matter?”  ― Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych

This is going to be one of those really personal, navel-gazing posts that I do from time to time. People seem to respond well to these, although I doubt it’s particularly wise from a business perspective to engage in such spleen-venting. After all, someone considering an annual subscription to Slope Plus might have second thoughts if they truly knew what I thought about day and night, so it would behove me, I think, to keep lying to you and pretend things are just peachy, even though they aren’t. (I will also note, early on, that I toned this post WAY down, since it was much, much darker before I sanitized it).

Another reason I hesitate on doing any posts besides those yammering on about stock charts is that I’d rather not give my detractors any pleasure in my own pain. I am an opinionated person, and the world hates – – absolutely hates – – a bear. You would never do what I do if you knew. I like to imagine myself spiritually lofty enough to love my enemies, but the sad truth is that I’d probably prefer that they be tortured to death. You would too, I imagine, had you been in my shoes for a little while.

Beyond this, I have selfish reasons for doing such a post, as it offers me some kind of brief therapeutic relief, perhaps in the form of some pretended commiseration with my invisible readers and erstwhile friends. Personally, I get quite uncomfortable when someone recognizes me in public and tells me they read my work. I’ve constructed this nanometric universe with the belief that there’s no one actually looking, which is rather liberating.

What compels this post in particular are thoughts banging around my poisoned brain about how radically the world has changed since I applied to college. This is on my mind, as my firstborn child is approaching the stage where the entire world stops and parents absolutely kill themselves to get their kid into some elite school, because we all know life isn’t worth living unless you go to Harvard or Stanford. I personally don’t think is worth living even if you DO get to go to such a place, but I don’t want to challenge mass delusions.

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To finally come to the point, when I applied to college, I was special. And by special, I don’t mean Special Olympics special, which is kind of where I’m at right now. I’m talking about wow-that-guy-is-cool special.

But the thing is, it was easy to be special in those days, given the right circumstances. My grades weren’t that great – – kind of B+ to A- territory. My test scores were OK, but nothing remarkable. I went to a public high school and didn’t really participate in anything. I didn’t do any sports. No clubs to speak of. In fact, I didn’t attend a single athletic event at any time during my entire school career.

So, umm, what was so special? Well, mainly that I was into computers, I had written over a dozen books about them, and I had a little software company. In those days, such a thing was fairly unusual, and it caught the interest of national magazines, international news programs, newspapers – – you name it. Without even trying, I got publicity all over the world, and I was assigned all kinds of flattering adjectives.

In retrospect, I actually wasn’t particularly special at all. I was just ambitious and resourceful. I still am. Well, resourceful at least. But for a brief while, someone like me stood out, so elite colleges, including Princeton, practically begged me to join them. I turned them down, though. That was probably a monumental mistake – – certainly a life-changing one – – but I also realize going to Princeton isn’t a panacea. A classmate of mine went there…….probably the smartest, best-looking chap in school……..and he wound up hanging himself within a year.

His surname, believe it or not, was Lynch. I can still see his face clearly.

Suffice it to say, a person like me with the same qualifications applying to college these days would be lucky to get into even a state university. There’s no way in hell a Princeton would accept me. There are families in China that have offered upwards of $3 million to Harvard for their brat to get accepted. Acceptance rates have gone from 12% down to just over 4%.

So why the change? Three things leap to mind:

  • Population Doubling – my world was 4 billion people. Now, God help us, it’s approaching 8 billion. Because we all know what we really, really needed here on Earth was another four billion goddamned humans.
  • Globalization -in my day, the United States was pretty much “earth”. India and China now constitute a massive part of applications into colleges. Every time I go to the Stanford campus, it is absolutely SWARMING with middle-aged Chinese parents, gawking around the campus, hoping their brat gets to go there. It’s incredible. Literally tour buses full of them.
  • Technology Ubiquitous – in the early 1980s, being into computers was still kind of a “hobbyist” thing. Now I’m getting to the point where I detest technology, because it has completely taken over our lives and our souls. Anyway, no one cares if you can program computers or write about them anymore.

Of course, another big element in my life which has led to my present ordinariness has been the process of aging. Being resourceful and inventive at 14 is cool and enticing. Doing it decades later – – no one gives a crap, nor should they. So another quote springs to mind:

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I have no illusions at all about recapturing those times. Some folks – – you know one of them, so I won’t name names – – are able to make so much money that they can create entire organizations for no real purpose except to provide a never-ending source of fuel for their narcissistic personality disorder. Thus, one can reach their deathbed with their illusions of specialness fully intact. I have no such reprieve. I simply grind through each day.

Slope has, though, in a very real sense, saved my life. As I’ve said so many times, the only pleasure left for me is an outlet for whatever modest creativity I have, and the solace that I’m giving some people a place to congregate. It means more to me than you know. So with my incessant encouragement to use the stuff I’m cranking out, you should know it’s coming from a place with a desire to give and, to my shame, a desperate desire to still have a space carved out in this world which hasn’t been trodden down by the well-worn paths of every other soul.

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