Here’s what’s worth reading from the last two weeks: the not-so overnight success of “The War of Art”, paring down your life, occupation and self-identify, and the problems with terms like “Man Up”. Our long read ties into a new PBS documentary on the American circus, and the digs include microphotography, a color guide from 1921, a recent concert and a School of Life video, and we close out this issue with a distracting habit I’m working on changing.
◦ selected words
The Artist’s Journey in the Real World
Before writing The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield worked as a taxi driver, in advertising and as a screenwriter. In the twenty-one years it took him to write the book, he continued to write books that never sold. Pressfield’s frank recollection of the obstacles and dead-ends that would culminate in his classic book on creativity is an example of persistence and of “overnight success”.
StevenPressfield.com (2min read)
Paring Down Your Life
A new word entered my vocabulary this year — over-scheduled. It crept in like the clutter that accumulates the longer you stay in one place, fed by a “not-enough” culture and expedited by the ease of online shopping, where the latest gadgets and home decorations are only a click and a day away. Having co-started Vancouver’s minimalists meetup #YVRmins, I’m feeling like an imposter with the amount of stuff I have and appointments on my calendar. It’s these distractions and over commitments leading to a feeling that you’re always behind. A reminder to cultivate mindfully, remove, simplify, and focus.
ZenHabits.net by Leo Babauta (5min read)
It’s OK to Be a Writer and a ____
As I find the time to prepare this newsletter roughly every two weeks (I’m letting go of the “every Tuesday” arbitrary stupid goal), I’m keenly aware of spreading myself thin. I’ve always been a generalist, but I also see the value of a singular focus. In an environment where you can reinvent yourself overnight and learn guitar by watching YouTube videos, it can be overwhelming to have so much choice, but at the same time I am supremely gratitude for the world my parents helped build for me to have these luxuries. With the passing days that feel too short and an organizational culture that has rewarded specialization, where is the room for creative pursuits? A deeply affecting essay by a college president and poet on identity in a world that aligns your job title with the self.
themillions.com (5min read)
For the Love of Maps
To get children interesting in taking better care of the world, they must fall in love with it first. Writer and artist Austin Kleon shares his favorite maps, and how the power of drawings with words evokes different meanings and metaphors on life.
AustinKleon.com (5min read)
The Dutch Reach: A No-Tech Way to Save Bicyclists’ Lives
A 2015 study by the City of Vancouver identified doorings as the most common type of cycling collision. As more bikes take to the roadways, start practicing this brilliantly simple technique when opening your car door.
The New York Times (6min read)
◦ listen in
How “Manning Up” Restricts Us All
The poignant 2015 documentary, The Mask You Live In, unveiled the culture-conditioning boys are unwillingly raised with and constantly reinforced through adulthood (and is also the most clever movie title). NPR’s podcast “on revealing the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, shape our choices and direct our relationships” takes on this timely subject.
NPR’s Hidden Brain (42min podcast) / The Mask You Live In (3min Trailer on YouTube)
◦ eat well
Refrigerator Pickled Beets
From the founder of the SimplyRecipes.com, a family recipe that “pickles” the beets by boiling or roasting, then using apple cider vinegar. I made it for the first time last week in Portland, and it got the friend approval. A new staple for my easy potluck toolkit.
◦ read slow
The American Circus in All Its Glory
When you hear the word “circus”, which of your senses peaked? What images, sounds and smells do you think of? Is it the buzz of a modern circus with death-defying feats by high-flying acrobats, or is it the wonder of circus’ of the past with elephants and tigers and all things of its eccentricities? The magazine for the National Endowment for the Humanities returns to the heyday of the big top where personalities like Barnum & Bailey and the Ringling Brothers shaped the center ring with the backdrop of a country experiencing rapid industrialization. Written in conjunction with PBS’ four-hour documentary, American Experience (Part 1 and Part 2, U.S. IP required), relive the moments that drew ordinary townspeople to the exotic curiosities and impossible acts of the traveling circus.
Humanities Fall 2018 Vol 39 Issue 4 (10min read)
◦ current read
When it comes up in conversation that I’m learning Spanish, people are quick to offer advice usually consisting solely of “have you used Duolingo?”. I’ve been learning Spanish on-and-off for eight years, tried Pimsleur, Rocket and Rosetta Stone. It wasn’t until the month I read Gabriel Werner’s Fluent Forever and went to Benny Lewis’ language hacking workshop did it become clear that I needed to stop over analyzing like adults do, lose the crutches, and start speaking. It’s not enough to have all the tools like the flash cards and gamified apps, nothing replaces necessity and all the discomfort that comes along with. I still reference Wyner’s book as I am about to pursue the next chapter in my language learning journey. He’s also created the most crowd-funded learning app and uses proven methods like spaced repetition and a very specific flash card method that really works.
Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner (326p book) / Fluent-Forever.com
◦ dig this
What I’m digging lately:
- A Classic Color Guidebook – A beautiful re-creation of Werner’s 1921 Nomenclature of Colors.
- Playing it Cool – The School of Life asks, should we play it cool when we meet someone? Loving the terms “strong vulnerability” and “manic dependence”. (YouTube 5min)
- Nikon Small World 2018 Winners – Striking images from the 44th annual awards celebrating photomicrography. The winners include fern spores, a spittlebug, peacock feather and a human tear.
- The Tale of Two Time Covers: 1993, 2018 – Two Time Magazine covers, 25 years apart, capturing the decline of a nation.
- Gregory Alan Isakov – The South African indie folk singer brings a fuller sound to his 7th album, Evening Machines. The concert last week at the Commodore was incredible. Caves and Dark, Dark, Dark are my choices so far. (Spotify / iTunes)
◦ humble thought
“Sometimes I think there are only two instructions we need to follow to develop and deepen our spiritual life: slow down and let go.”
― Oriah Mountain Dreamer, The Dance: Moving To the Rhythms of Your True Self
Last night I had an excellent conversation with a close acquaintance, as I’ve started to call them — people you’ve seen a handful of times in your life but immediately you feel an openness and trust to open a line of communication typically reserved for your closest friends, which they could be if time, circumstance and place would align. We are both on the brink of major life changes, and we both appreciated each other’s ability to listen in an objective, non-judgmental way, where neither had any stake in each other.
We shared our goodbye hugs twice, because once wasn’t enough, knowing we likely wouldn’t meet again until summer. As I hopped in my car to drive home on an oddly warm October night, I instinctively plugged in the aux cable to my phone and queued up a podcast. A few minutes in, my mind wandered back to the conversation and to the new ideas and reflections it sparked. When my awareness circled back to the podcast, I felt the resistance to keep listening as it seemed “easier” to shut off my thoughts. That’s when I realized this is a habit I want to change.
This automatic response manifests itself often, creeping into my day-to-day, with the distractions facilitated by the ease of technology. Here’s what I’m going to do for myself, and if you already do this, great! Stop reading.
But if you’re like me, then the next time you have a glimpse of inspiration, an idea, deep thought, or realization, take a moment and consciously pause before one of these actions interrupts your chain of thought:
- Checking the phone
- Putting on headphones
- Turning on the TV / Netflix
- Browsing the web
- Reaching for a book
- Preparing food
Instead, sit with the thoughts. Explore from different angles. It might not turn out to be more than a fleeting idea, but it also might be something big, but you’ll never know it if you reach for the remote before you’ve let the characters develop. A life as an endless series of trailers lacks the depth and fullness that makes it worth living.
That’s how the idea for this essay came about, and I doubt I would’ve been able to remember it if I didn’t turn off that podcast as I drove. Maybe your memory works better than mine, but I know a call for pause and reflection feels right to me in this moment.