Artbitrary Stupid Goal is excellent. I bought it having seen that it's one of Austin Kleon's book club picks and I devoured it, both amused and aghast at the stories Tamara Shopsin tells. Shopsin’s book is one of the few I’ve read recently in which the writer does not use reading as the gateway to self-actualization. Shopsin didn’t need books when she had all of life to study as it crossed the threshold of her parents' restaurant.
The memoir follows the thread of her father’s passions: crosswords, gumball machines, the Store, Willy, food, the family, defying authority. And of course following the thread of his passions is how Kenny Shopsin built his life and is the basis for his Arbitrary Stupid Goal (ABS) philosophy, summed up by him in this excellent New Yorker article: “Pick an arbitrary, stupid goal, become totally involved in it, and pursue it with vigor, and what happens to you in that pursuit is your life.”
(Shopsin’s ABS is similar to Jean Shinoda Bolen’s summing up of Carlos Castenada’s advice (already quoted by me here): “There are many paths to choose from, and none of them go anywhere. Yet you must carefully choose which path you will take. If you choose a path with heart, it may be difficult, but there is joy along this path, and as you travel, you grow and become one with it. If you choose a path out of fear, anxiety travels with you, and no matter how much power, prestige and possessions you acquire, you will be diminished by it.”)
Shopsin also opened my eyes to the possibility that some people can thrive (???) in an environment that my midwestern maternal sensibilities reject as unwholesome. The New York City Shopsin describes is chaotic, rife with predation, and teeming with weirdness (funny and interesting) and people “you kept at arms’ length,” (like Cap’n Jack the pedophile). The irascibility and junkyard dog aggressiveness inspired and required by this environment are wholly unrestful to me. I went to New York City once for the day and had difficulty falling asleep that night because the stream of humanity that I encountered walking down the streets was walking through my mind still, uncomfortably jostling my hypnagogia. And yet the Shopsin family seemed to thrive - the children tumble through childhood at The Store, where “we step barefoot on tables and take naps in vinyl booths. Charlie, Danny, and Zach, my three brothers, spin on stools and crawl on the floor.”
What I find most challenging and mind-expanding is Kenny Shopsin’s pathological nonconformity. (Did he have out-of-bounds planets? Uranus conjunct his Sun? Lots of Aquarius energy?)
I have picked up for the umpteenth time Attracting Perfect Customers. I keep hoping it will guide me toward success and I suppose it’s working if I define success as finding my way to work I love rather than earning lots of money and having an easy answer to “So, what do you do?” Hall and Brogniez’s premise is that you can have a successful business by defining the customers who are perfect for you based on your core values and the work you find most fulfilling. Once you’ve established your values and desires, you stand firm in them and perfect customers will find you. Less than perfect customers can be identified by their desire for you to be something different. Resist the urge to cater to their demands.
This is Kenny Shopsin’s entire approach to running The Store. Tamara Shopsin writes
“After you found The Store, you had to obey the rules - rules that were not posted on a sign. Some were common sense: no outside beverages, everyone has to eat. Some were common sense to my dad: no copying the order next to you, don’t ask for the best thing on the menu, no parties larger than four, no allergies, no assholes. It was a test. You passed or were kicked out. Cheating was allowed - if your friends gave you the answers, that was cool. Next, scan the giant menu to find your perfect match of a dish. Careful: if my dad is in earshot you can’t ask what is in the dish. So it was a triumph to eat at Shopsin’s. For the people that were right, it lived up to the obstacles. If you were wrong it likely sucked, even if you got through the gauntlet.”
I don’t think one has to be quite as abrasive as Kenny Shopsin seems to have been at times, but defending your right to create the kind of business that you actually enjoy running does require a strong dose of faith and a commitment to not pleasing everyone. And it worked for Kenny Shopsin. Helen Rosner, in The New Yorker article, writes, "... tourists and gawkers would show up in droves. Kenny presided with only the barest patience..."