I live in Silicon Valley. The land of opportunity, innovation and sometimes larger-than-life characters. Enter Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs was indeed larger-than-life and then some.
It’s been over two years since he left us, but every time I read something about Steve Jobs, I am still intrigued. I read a new story here, pick up a new anecdote there and so forth. Over the years, I’ve read several books and articles about Steve Jobs, know those who were in his inner circle, and in fact, Steve and my orbits collided briefly in a chance meeting several years ago.
Society likes to compartmentalize Steve Jobs into either a “genius” or “not a great human being”. Even Walter Isaacson’s biography, Steve Jobs, tended to romanticize Steve Jobs somewhat.
Now, Chrisann Brennan’s The Bite In The Apple: A Memoir of My Life with Steve Jobs, has offered me a completely new take – a peek into what it was like with Steve Jobs in the early years.
The first time I had read anything by Brennan was an essay accompanying a tribute article in a Rolling Stone magazine that was running various stories and tributes on Jobs. Then, like many, I was interested when news broke that she was writing a memoir about her life with Jobs. What would the book be about? Consensus was that the memoir, by Jobs’ first girlfriend and mother of his first child, was going to be a harsh narrative by a scorned woman on what Jobs was really like. By now, you’ve heard the story countless times – boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy gets girl pregnant, boy dumps girl, boy denies paternity, only to do the right thing years later. And, let’s be honest, for the most part, the mainstream media hasn’t been kind to Brennan over the years. Prior to Brennan’s book, we were provided with a different narrative, either by Jobs himself or by those who wanted to spin the narrative into a more convenient one – that of an ex-lover turned vengeful, unstable hanger-on. On the contrary, what I found was a courageous woman on an odyssey, equipped with her spirituality and creativity, to find meaning in her relationship with Steve Jobs, and what it meant for her own life.
I wanted to know more so I set out on an odyssey of my own to meet Brennan and get a glimpse of what her life has been like, with Jobs in and out of it.
Brennan noted that she started writing the book in 2006 and had the majority of her book completed prior to Jobs’ death in 2011. Then, she shopped the book around and even had friends help promote it, but the publishing offers just weren’t coming in. It wasn’t until a chance meeting with a San Francisco publisher who gave her a list of agent names that she reached out to and found an agent. The agent wrote a proposal, shopped it around and connected Brennan with the only publisher interested in publishing the book, St. Martin’s Press. When I asked her why she didn’t think more publishers wanted to publish the book, she said, “many wanted more reportage about Steve and some just felt uncomfortable.”
Talk to just about any writer today and they say writing a book is like a form of therapy. Brennan’s experience was more of a revelatory one. She noted that when she told the truth, more memories were revealed and the words came to her, or as she explained, “the vibration of the truth brings in the words”. She also realized her version of events and Jobs’ version of events weren’t aligned and discovered that she accepted his version of events as truth. Slowing down, she found where Jobs skipped over important details, which possibly was his response to create a narrative that was easier for him to accept, but his interpretation was not a true and honest depiction of the facts.
Brennan knew early on that Jobs was destined for greatness and writes “I was drawn to him immediately…I knew he was a genius when I first saw him because his eyes shone with brilliant, complicated cartwheels of light.” She also wrote “in those days, I considered Steve a guide for me because I saw an intellectual honesty in him.” She remarked to me that Jobs was like “flashes of light (think of the flashbulbs of those old cameras of the 50’s going off) – he would say something shocking, then he would say something profound, like an enlightened being would say.” As an example, she said that Jobs told her he would be a multi-millionaire, be famous and “lose his humanity in the business world”. She saw this first hand because as Apple grew, so did Jobs’ thirst for power and sense of self-entitlement. And, his treatment of her turned mean, almost to the point of bordering on the sociopathic, as Brennan writes, “…I increasingly experienced what it felt like to have him turn against me. And so was at this time that I began to perceive that awesome and awful could be but a hair’s breadth apart.”
Even though Brennan had to navigate through these tumultuous flips between kindness and cruelty from Jobs, she offered me an explanation – she thought the imbalance in Jobs was due to the shock of his being adopted, which made him insecure and unbalanced, so he compensated to regain his balance through controlling his environment and gaining power by manipulating circumstances and using people’s insecurities against them to keep them off balance. Therefore, the more out of balance they were, the more in balance he was. She writes, “I didn’t know how to hold my own with him because he didn’t play fair. He just played to win – and win at any cost”.
While we do know that Jobs originally denied paternity of their daughter, and he then accepted her as his daughter and had a better relationship with her over the years, the story didn’t have to play out that way. Even Jobs, by his own admission, wished he had handled things differently.
What I especially admire about Brennan’s book is that she doesn’t excuse the past because the past is truth, she strives to explain it and find its meaning for her, and then she moves on with grace. Today, Brennan focuses on her art – she is an artist whose paintings are commissioned by organizations and individuals. Her work involves looking into people’s energy and painting what she sees. She paints to create potential futures, like blue prints for consciousness. This is her version of perceiving the future. Jobs was incredibly good at perceiving the future. At the end of the interview, I asked Brennan what she thought she admired most in Jobs, she said, “it was his intuition, I was floored by his capacity for it and how it was so integrated in all that he did”. We finished with her noting that her job with the book was “to show up the best I can and tell the truth while being kind.” And, to that end, she was successful.