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December 2011 Archives

Reading Steve Jobs: Reflections

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During breaks between my work, I've been reading Walter Isaacson's biography, Steve Jobs, and am surprised that I cannot put it down.  It reminds me of Carolyn See's memoir, Dreaming: Hard Luck and Good Times in America despite the difference in genre (one is a biography and See's book is memoir).  Yet both capture not only a life.  Both deftly capture the vastly multilayered complexity of lives which are affecting and affected by their specific moment in history. Regarding See-- some of the years she recorded in this memoir were years I knew her.  I was her student in the late 1970s and was deeply influenced by her inspirational and motivated courses which were not just about writing, but about life. In See's class, there was an expectation of being at "attention"-- an attention to all cultural, political, environmental events surrounding our moment in writing. And these she records in her book along with the very personal struggles in her family.  She was also demanding like Jobs was demanding.  She would tell us to write 40 pages in two days.  And when we'd meet, bleary-eyed but awake enough to be excited about our 40 pages, she would kick the trash can around the room and direct us to throw away the 30 pages from the 40. "You have to distill the best out of those 40 pages.  The rest is just shit."  Jobs said the same thing.  In fact, when I think about Carolyn See's memoir title-- one could think about Steve Jobs.  There he was, an abandoned infant (hard luck) who ends up being adopted but lives the rest of his life struggling with this primary event of abandonment.  As well there is the issue of diet and health.  

And this is what has not been thoroughly discussed regarding Jobs' biography:  the psychological and the constitution (or physical wellness) of this man's life.  Yes he was very difficult to work with-- an abusive, demanding, selfish brilliant man who had temper tantrums, crying fits, and was a manic workaholic who demanded the same work ethic from his staff. His eating habits were erratic: one week he would fast, another week he was a vegan, and yet the next, Jobs would be binging on a fruit-only diet. The doctor, more than once in the biography, notes his yellow skin (due to eating an overwhelming amount of carrots). While I read these sections, I kept thinking about how I would have wanted a map of his glucose counts during these years in which he was obviously overworking his pancreas.  This is what is of interest to me: how a brilliant man can function when his body is so badly unaligned and/or physically unbalanced.  Fasting, fruit binges, overeating on carrots may have been touted as healthy, but these particular diets burden the pancreas, exhaust the pancreas, negatively affect the pancreas which is the workhorse for one's endocrine system.  An imbalance of the endocrine system can make one look like a bad drunk (yet cognizant and functioning) with a nasty temper. And this is what Jobs exhibits quite often. I find this fascinating.  

This is not to say that Job's dietary habits directly link to cancer.  Pancreatic cancer is caused by a number of factors still not completely understood.  Some of the causes have been traced to inherited gene mutations, smoking, age, race, and gender.  However, Diabetes can be a symptom of this kind of cancer and Diabetes type II increases the chance of a cancer diagnosis. 

But despite Jobs' passionate attention to detail, to research-- he never really took the time to investigate his health apart from seeing fruit diets and fasting as somehow connected to an eclectic buddhist/new age-type, zen existence (whatever that meant for Jobs-- it was never clear).  The word eclectic is important here because in college, he refused to follow a curriculum that would allow for in-depth knowledge of one certain area (which a "major" would offer).  Instead, he took classes from various areas of study that seemed interesting to him.  The positive outcome is that the Macintosh computer evolved in part from his eclectic education.  Regarding his diet and physical wellbeing-- that did not fare so well.

This book is a fascinating journey of an individual's health.  No one has been talking about this.