The Bite in the Apple: A Memoir of My Life with Steve Jobs – An intimate look at the life of Steve Jobs by Chrisann Brennan, the mother of his first child providing rare insight into Jobs’s formative, lesser-known years…
I just wrote this. It wasn’t a part of my talk. And I want to say that I know a lot of people have profound feelings about Steve Jobs. He was a gem and a rare one. And I want to ask you to please only take what’s of value of my talk today and let the rest go. This is such a new world to me.
So many people have so many thoughts. There are so many angles of perception on him. But today, I’m simply talking about my perceptions. And I hope you’ll feel it’s a valuable contribution in total.
I also want to say that I don’t really know the technical world that you guys live in. I don’t know what he created. So this is a new experience for me. And please forgive me for my naivete at certain points. So I’ll begin.
Today, I wanted to talk about creativity and initiative, first mine in writing my book and then Steve’s in creativity as I perceived it. And thirdly, about Creativity, with a capital C, into the future.
Because whether we’re talking about children, new technology, the arts, companies, countries, or the whole world, now more than ever we need to be more conscious in our creating. We’re all so creative that I think we need a metalevel of considerations, councils even, to figure out where we’re going and what we want our outcomes to be.
Here I am at Google, and you have the unofficial byline of “don’t be evil.” And this is what I’m talking about, except more of it, a long list of ethical considerations that people can cross-check because everything is affected by our creating.
Before I start diving into my story, I want you to know that I’m predominantly right brained. I wrote this book cinemagraphically because I’m first and foremost an artist. And the practices of filming help me bridge my experience as a painter into writing. I think in a combination of images, symbols, metaphors, and words. In fact, I don’t even think there’s a big difference between symbols, images, metaphors, and words because they’re as much an energetic fact as this podium is for me. Mainly, I think in terms of energetics.
And I see energy and I have found visualization to be a force for actualization. This is one of my most recent paintings. It was commissioned. And yet when I paint for someone else, I also paint for myself. The painting lay the ground for my book. This was my version of an outline. I didn’t know what it fully meant until I was well into the writing. In fact, I’m still discovering what it means.
I think the future is about left and right brain integration too. It’s the evolutionary next step for people everywhere. And it’s, of course, already started. If I have time, which I don’t think I will, I’ll do a quick decode on the painting at the end of the talk.
And if I don’t, I’ll post the image and a decode on my book’s website, thebiteintheapple.com, by the end of February.
So there were three things that I decided I would never do in this life. I had enough self-knowledge by the time I was 35 years old to know what I wasn’t interested or good at. One was study of history. I’d gotten crippling migraines, at least once a week, in my US history classes when I was young. I wasn’t interested in so much focus on men’s wars, politics, and treaties.
Number two is that I would never play the drums because my sense of rhythm was so reliably wonky.
Number three is that I’d never write a book, since writing was not my strength and because I knew it was way too much information to organize and be accountable to.
Yet here I’ve written a book, and its own history, and it was in part due to the rhythms in the language that I became interested in the craft of writing for its own sake. I’d written a couple of good papers in art college. But prior to writing this book, that was my only experience of real concentrated writing. Writing is traumatic and stressful for me. I love the ideas, but they seem to bottleneck if I have to sequence them on a page.
Yet I decided I had to write this book myself because the process of writing was the only way I could drop down into a depth of memory and manage my own message.
I started in 2006. And it took me over six years of full-time work to complete. Now I tell myself pay attention to what I would never do, because writing this book has been one of the most important things I’ve ever done.
I also want to emphasize that if I can write this book, I’m really sure almost anybody can do anything. Over the years, a few people had suggested I write my story. Yet many more warned me off of it, even going so far to suggest that I didn’t have the right to speak about my life or my history since it involved Steve Jobs. And I think many people were assuming the worst and implying that it was bad form for a woman to speak about the personal life of a man who was a public figure. But I did not write this as a tell-all.
Instead, I felt my story was important, one, because I knew Steve before it all happened and also because we came of age together in a certain way. Two, because I witnessed firsthand Steve’s changes as Apple began. And three, because we co-parented the child through all the years. Also four, I have a universal message and there’s a universal message in my book.
Steve and I met when we were 17. And I was his first love and I’m the mother of his first child and my only child. We knew, loved, and admired each other. And when things got difficult between us as Apple took off, I witnessed his incremental changes from sweet, mystic, poet, super-bright, goofy guy into a ruthless, stunningly successful business tycoon. In the end, it is precisely because of my direct experience with him that I feel I have important contributions to make on the body of knowledge with him.
And the other thing is I never intended to pull him from hero status. I know so many people love him. And it would’ve been a balanced approach. I was always more interested in the human side of him.
Did I understand everything that happened with Steve Jobs? Absolutely not. But I still think I have an unusual vantage point of some things that I think are unique and will be valued, may be valued, will be valued. So much seems to hang on my memory, my integrity, and my insight.
In 2006, I became sick and it lasted for years. I had one of those undiagnosable illnesses that probably came from a combination of exhaustion, mold in the apartment I was living in, and too much exposure to fumes from painting. With a compromised immune system, I got one terrible illness after another and had to spend a lot of time doing nothing. Bored and languishing, I slowed way, way down and became willing to consider and then to decide to write my story.
So with nothing else to occupy my time and in the most tremulous, naive, childish first steps that I began by writing a list of chapters and some good ideas in a cafe in Tiburon, California. To say I was reluctant to be public about Steve and my long history is an understatement. It’s nuanced and a difficult story. And it was hard to sort through.
Also I didn’t want to relive the pain. Of course, Steve didn’t want me to write it and this was hard on me too, mainly because it put pressure on our daughter, who was going back and forth between our two households. Additionally, for years I absolutely questioned daily if I had what it took to write this book. And I put it down a couple of times, only to return to it with just greater commitment.
One because the ideas were so rich, that they just seem too important, and also too interesting to drop. And two, because there was this exquisite sense of the pause in the writing process that I loved. The mounting silence of the years coming up to the tipping point and then their remarkable fall into words.
I worked on the first 100 pages for two years, trying to figure out how to weave all the complexity into something readable. I worked seven days a week, about two to three hours a day, which took pretty much all the energy I had.
When I started to get physically better, I committed to five hours a day, seven days a week. A huge turning point came for me three years into the project when a colleague took my first 70 pages and turned them into discrete, coherent chapters. Once I understood how to make a chapter, I completed the next 19 chapters in the second three years.
My daily experience was that I would wake up early every morning and begin with the inspiration, working out all kinds of ideas. And yet no matter what, by the end of every day I was purely mortified by what I had written. This is a strange and strained history. The subject was over the top and I was deeply concerned about how it would affect our daughter’s life.
Also I felt that my story is, was a part of the collective unconscious and I feared no one wanted to hear from me. Add to this the fact that I didn’t know the writing conventions for start talking about such a dicey subject, the personal and impersonal. I don’t read that much. I had little experience in communicating about such difficulty in a balanced, truthful, and intelligent way.
Five years into my project, I was still fretting and I told a friend I needed a Ph.D. to write this book. And she said, well, Steve didn’t have a Ph.D. to do what he did. So get over it. Keep going.
People have assumed I kept a journal because the detail in the book is so clear and descriptive. But I didn’t have a journal. I’m just extremely observant and I seem to track detail through all my senses. Plus, this history had somehow stayed in something like a morphic field around me through the years because I assume it was waiting and pressing on me to understand what had happened.
As I said, the process of writing was interesting to me. And there were times that things that seemed insignificant buzzed at me to explore more deeply. And when I followed them, they opened up my awareness into new connections and new revelations. Other times after getting the best sentences down I could, I had to double and triple check for the truth.
In going back and forth between the descriptions and the truth, further detail would emerge. I found — I also found that using word combinations of opposite meaning helped me grasp in language the startling extremes that were the hallmarks of Steve’s personality and charisma after Apple started.
All in all, the craft of writing itself distracted me from the pain, even as I granulated down into it. I have a type of dyslexia, some kind of dyslexia. And being that that was the case, I really could not have written this book with a pencil or even a typewriter. I don’t think sequentially. Much of the material was so upsetting. And yet with a computer, it was all made easier, as I was able to move clusters of ideas around it big swaths to work out right connection points, that opened up more insight and balance.
The plasticity that the writing with the computer provided me was like painting and it allowed for layering. And so it made it possible for me to handle the many years, while still having fun exploring the intricacies of ideas I was trying to access, layer, and get across.
Then after a while, something unexpected started happening, which never would have occurred if I had been so focused on getting it right– if I hadn’t been so focused. As I relived the scenes in order to write them, I became more of a witness to it all and started picking up new levels of detail that I had missed when I had been so young, living through it.
Plus the more attention I brought to the history, the more I saw and the more I felt that I was changing the history inside myself. Consciousness changes everything. For so long, I had met Steve’s ideas of things define my reality. And he had become defensive, and fast, and intelligent, and somewhat disconnected from his heart as he grew into Apple. Out of this, he sometimes projected the worst stuff on me, faster than I could process through it.
Yet as I slowed down and focused on my experience, I realize that things were not as he had so deftly chalked them up to be. In a certain way, I had been buried by Steve, the Zen master, and the Apple– or the machine behind Apple. But when I stepped back into the history to quietly tell myself my story as I experienced it, the “her” story of it all, it was like waking up.
Spin is a powerful thing. Interpretation is a powerful thing. But the truth is more powerful within your own context. A single voice does make a difference. We don’t necessarily hear ourselves when others won’t hear us. But in writing, I finally heard myself.
I also discovered that forgiveness is a process and a very long haul, but a worthy one. A line from an ancient Hindu text had replayed in my mind for years. It was a basic principle of creativity, karmic law, and life. And it said, one must rise by that by which one falls.
And here I found that by doing the work of writing, I was able to climb up and out of my tremendous self-loss into a lighter, truer being. Throughout the writing, as a discipline, I cross-checked some of the more complicated memories with people who were also there at certain points in the history and I got confirmations. They had understood things as I had, which was a great relief.
This, in addition to 10 years of visionary painting, the six years of writing, and I not only recovered my story, I used the whole experience to understand the history through a wisdom and compassion trajectory. So that in essence, the book provided me the rare opportunity to review my life and take time to work it out and update it an ethical framework for my 50-year-old self.
In the second 2/3 of the book, as I lived how bad things had been, I found that I was traversing what was for me how realms of such destitute feelings, that the only way I remember true loveliness was the little birds 8singing outside my windows in the morning. The work was really dramatic and extreme. But on the other hand, the terribleness had an upside. It enlivened my sense of determination. Diving into the dark and surfacing is the artistic process. And I’m no stranger to that.
I just had never done it in words before and never on the same subject for so long. Long story short, I dug my heels in and decided I was going to get my book written or die doing it. It was a messy process getting into the do or die part, but eventually I realized that what I was really saying was the opposite. I was going to get the book written and live more fully as a result of it.
Some people mistakenly think I’m obsessed and fascinated by Steve Jobs. But this is not accurate. I was obsessed by getting at the truth and fascinated by my revelations. It felt wonderful to speak, and be funny, and open my heart, and tell the truth. It felt to me like I was driving a little car over hill and dale, looking out the windows and reflecting on the views. I wanted to know why he had been so cruel after we had been so deeply in love. I just kept staying with the question until I got the bigger answers.
I also wanted to put it in its place and move on. I did become more interested and appreciative of Steve’s history, but it was only after I had renewed my perceptions of myself. As I mentioned before, I’d been concerned all along that my writing this book would be hard on our daughter. And the way that worked is that the more I wrote, the more I felt it was going to be a bigger problem for her and the world if the world didn’t have her mother’s story and if I didn’t become strong and clear enough to tell it.
I think that what failed in Steve Jobs is as important as what succeeded. Both aspects should be studied, partly because he’s so remarkable. Well, because he’s so remarkable. Also I know that a woman’s inner story may seem far less exciting as a man’s worldly story. In fact, for women it may be that the inner story of a woman is more interesting than a man’s worldly story.
But beyond all this, I want my great-great-grandchildren, should I be lucky enough to have them, know what a bit of their grandmother’s life and times, as well as your grandfather’s. I think it will be healthy and happy for them because against all this dull expectations, I feel Steve and I were equals. He simply had more power because the laws favor men and money over women and children at this time. I hope you don’t mind me being a little political.
The other thing that truly inspired me to write is that in many ways my story is an all too familiar one. Many women have had their own experience with brilliant men. And truthfully, it’s not just women who are suffering from the situation. Obviously, it’s a destructive context for all of us. The world is dealing with a huge power imbalance, Wall Street, corporate heads, news corporations, that sort of confuse and drain people in their personal power, at least that’s the apparent reality.
So then I’d like to see a genius bar working to fix the brokenness at this level. Maybe we could call it the ethics bar. Eventually, I started to figure out that I could access the highest integrity inside myself by steering my writing between truth and kindness. If I could not say what had to be said is kindness, then I kept working to understand more deeply.
If I could not tell the truth because it was too terrible, then I kept looking for ways to say things with more breath and allowance. The extremes of negative and positive relationship in the adult Steve Jobs and Chrisann Brennan were and still are too problematic to be public about. And sometimes I was thinking all the way through the book about Jung’s “Red Book,” the one he locked up for 70 years because he didn’t think people were ready to take in the contents. And I completely understand his impulse to hold back.
Steve expanded the spectrum in ways that went beyond the range of humanness. And I mean that in both the good and the difficult way. And I finally figured out I could approach the story if I stayed in the middle. Then I could express enough truth and that likely some readers were even going to be able to sense the shapes of the things I couldn’t say.
Another exercise I put myself through was to pose the question, if everything is love, if this whole universe is love, which is what the mystics support, and I am willing to believe, how do I understand love in the context of what happened between Steve and me? Love is law and law is based on love.
What happened was lawless. Yet, I didn’t want to make Steve look like a spot monster that was too big for me to handle. And I didn’t want to make myself into a tiny speck of a victim that couldn’t deal with it. That would have been way too easy. I wanted to transcend the polarization and the lawlessness. I wanted to find my power in the center of it all. I wanted a kind of equanimity, a true equanimity. I think that Steve was a remarkable empath, who became a colossal bully. I’m sorry for those of you who love him. I think he was a liar, a bully, a trickster, a thief. And I think he was a sociopath.
Yet, he was also an honest, remarkable, mystic, creator, genius, visionary, who wanted to see people freed up through the tools he made. What a cluster.
Another creative principle I found in another Hindu text says, divided into two parts I create. At first, I felt blimied and even lazy to parse through the polar opposites, his polar opposites. But then I became very interested in understanding the differences between Steve’s light and dark sides because why else should I write this book? The independent spirit in me always got around to the same conclusion. I choose to be bigger than the cruelty and the indifference. I am going to tell the truth and I’m going to trust that I have the tools to do it without doing harm.