What it’s like to have a trust fund, solutions to repair a racial divide in a North American Asian community, a photographer goes missing in China, and the financial reality of a musician in 2018 are some of the best reads from the past month. The podcast and book recommendations feature Anand Girardharas, challenging the “win-win” and “let’s make an app to fix the world” misguided philanthropic visions of the new corporate. Finally, my gift to you is a free vegan cookbook from a popular vegan blogger, and an update on the status of this newsletter.
◦ selected words
Richmond, BC, home of the Vancouver International Airport, is a city of immigrants, and some are struggling with the growing cultural divides this presents. The majority of residents in this city are of Asian heritage, with the most recent census finding 54% are of Chinese origin, up from 34% in 1996 and 40% in 2001. This shift has prompted citizens to voice their concerns over changes their unhappy with in their community, amplified recently in an article in the National Post, a piece that leaves the reader with a feeling of helplessness rather than offering solutions. Instead of engaging in a race-fueled shouting match, this opinion piece offers suggestions on how citizens can shape their community, advice that could apply to cities around the world.
Richmond News (7min read)
71% of American students graduate with student loan debt. A four-year English program at Yale including room and board costs $180,000US. While there’s a growing need for diversity in the arts, how can one consciously advise a student from a low-income family to pursue the liberal arts? A writer from the Midwest gives a candid look into his financial setup, detailing how his strategically priced regular trust fund payouts affect his decisions and purchases.
Vox (12min read)
While leading a weeklong workshop in Western China, Internationally acclaimed photographer Lu Guang went missing. Guang, living in New York with his wife and son, was last seen being detained by Chinese government security services known to be in the area for a self-described anti-terrorism campaign targeting the Uighur ethnic group. His moving documentary-style work focuses on AIDS, environmental destruction, pollution and poverty in China, using photography as a “small voice” to help change the world.
The New York Times (3min read)
Ever wonder what having a hit song (in Canada) translates to in the pocket book? Singer-songwriter Danny Michel’s Facebook post hit a nerve as shares the data behind his earnings from one song that’s ranked in CBC Radio’s Top 20 for ten weeks. A rare look inside the music industry and the hustle it takes to make a living in this age of streaming music.
Danny Michel’s Public Facebook Post (5min read)
The dramatic shift in retail doesn’t end with Amazon’s dominance and the closing of brick and mortar shops. When big-box stores close down, massive buildings in key locations become unused, affecting surrounding communities with their derelict remains. However, a research and development studio in Los Angeles sees possibility amidst the ruins. Their answer is “Re-Habit”, a project converting abandoned stores into community centers with multi-use space for housing, job training and public gardens, all centered around a community-supported thrift boutique.
Web Urbanist (2min read)
◦ listen in
“The winners of our age must be challenged to do more good, but never, ever tell them to do less harm.” An insufficient one line summary of a powerful, scathing speech journalist Anand Girardharas unexpectedly delivered to an audience at the Aspen Conference, a TED-style gathering of “thought leaders and global elites”,(who, to their credit, published the talk on their YouTube channel). Accusing the attendees of perpetuating the same problems they were trying to solve, Anand’s premise is when the market is our only language, “win-win” solutions disguised as philanthropy are a symptom of extreme capitalism that only works to give back, but only if it serves them. When wealth fills the void of community responsibility and the market is our only language, are corporations changing the world, or only consolidating their own power? Listen in to this engaging conversation as Krista Tippett interviews Girardharas after the release of his newest book, Winner Takes All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.
On Being with Krista Tippett (51min podcast)
◦ eat well
100% free, no email ask, no upsell. 101 pages containing 20 simple plant-based dinners prepared in less than half an hour from respected writer, simplicity blogger, vegan and father, Leo Babauta. Check out his blog, Zen Habits, with fantastic essays written long before minimalism came into the public eye.
Leo Babauta of Zen Habits (101 page PDF)
◦ read slow
This past October, 2,000 spiritual seekers shelled out $995US for a ticket to Wellspring, a festival of the “world’s leading innovators, teachers and socially-conscious companies”, a culmination of the hundreds of music-and-yoga festivals the Brooklyn-based company has held worldwide under their Wanderlust banner. Protected from the desert in the Palm Springs Convention Center, festival-goers were offered over 200 workshops advertising transformational experiences to go with an overwhelming amount of elixirs, superfoods and other packaged wellness products, often sold within earshot of speakers speaking about consumerism and looking within. The centerpiece was Russell Brand, the British actor-comedian turned voice of reason, having lived experience of addictions while using his fame to eloquently slam the establishment at every chance. His podcast has resonated with a new generation of connected, new age devotees, attracted by his honest, self-aware, truth-telling style that holds little back, because he has little to lose. Raising questions on the commodification of connection and the monetization of wellness, a reporter from The Atlantic takes a critical eye on a growing movement.
The Atlantic (18min read)
◦ current read
It’s rare that a speaker will step onto one of the biggest stages and call out some of the most beloved conference talk circuit stars. Brene Brown, Simon Sinek and Amy Cuddy are spared no sympathy by journalist Anand Girardharas, criticizing their roles while condemning extreme capitalism and exposing the intentions of corporate philanthropy. Krista Tippett’s interview (recommended in this issue’s Listen In) led me to this book released this past August, an impressive book that takes on a “MarketWorld” that is eager to give back, but only when they’re not asked to take less. Girardharas argues we are at a time ripe for transformational reform, not incremental change. This book might be that catalyst for a larger, long-needed social movement.
Winner Takes All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Girardharas (288p book)
◦ dig this
What I’m digging lately:
- The Most Eye-Catching Magazine Covers of 2018 – It’s almost year end, which means a flurry of “best of” lists. This compelling list is from AIGA, the professional associate for design.
- Canada’s Invests in Vegan – The Canadian Government commits $150M to plant-based proteins.
- Plastic-Free Supermarket Zones Open – A store in north London is the U.K.’s first, with the goal of being virtually plastic-free within 3 years. (2min video)
- Payless Opens a Fake Luxury Store – The ubiquitous shoe retailer opens “Palessi”, a pop-up shop in Santa Monica, inviting influencers to pay what they wanted. Could be the best ad campaign of the year.
- Bali’s Magical Bamboo Homes – Awe-inspiring designs from one of Earth’s strongest materials.
- Allan Rayman – Harry Hard-On – The third album from the enigmatic singer-songwriter living in Toronto mixes R&B, grunge and jazz with his compelling, raw voice. (Spotify / iTunes / YouTube)
◦ humble thought
“I think it’s about where ideas come from, they come from day dreaming, from drifting, that moment when you’re just sitting there. The trouble with these days is that it’s really hard to get bored. I have 2.4 million people on Twitter who will entertain me at any moment… it’s really hard to get bored. I’m much better at putting my phone away, going for boring walks, actually trying to find the space to get bored in. That’s what I’ve started saying to people who say ‘I want to be a writer’, I say ‘great, get bored.'”
– Neil Gaiman via Cal Newport’s blog
It’s been a year and a half since I wrote the first issue of Align Center. This is issue forty-one, an issue I’ve had 80% complete for three weeks but have struggled to finish. I’m writing this on a plane back to Vancouver for a short Christmas visit, and I love this time in the air because it often coincides with a shift or life event, and the lack of distractions allows me to reflect.
I had a feeling why I wasn’t motivated to finish this issue, but this forced time to reflect time made it much clearer – I’m going to take a step back from this newsletter. Each issue takes four to six hours to produce, not including reading time. And although I enjoy creating it and the self-imposed two-week deadline was working for a while, it started to cause me stress and I increasingly found myself reading to write, instead of reading for knowledge and the pure joy of it.
I started this newsletter for a several reasons. Reading is a solitary experience, so on the one side, I wanted to share interesting stories that cross my path with the larger goal of stimulating conversations, all the while highlighting the good in the world, often pieces that are longer than easily digestable snippets that aren’t “up worthy” and take time to appreciate.
On the other side, I wanted to be a better reader. Often I’d finish article, think “that was nice”, tell one or two friends that week, forget it, and then on to the next article. It was a black hole of consumption that reminded me of this hilarious two-minute Portlandia clip.
This newsletter acts not only as a reading journal, but also a platform that pushes me to read more actively. I’ve been deliberately sharing less on social media, because for me, the time I put in is disproportional to the benefits, and the slowness of the newsletter medium fits well with this intentional non-practice.
Lastly (the third side?), the sections “Eat Slow” and “Read Slow” have kept me accountable to learn a new recipe and read a new book every two weeks. After a year, that’s twenty-six new recipes and books! That’s powerful stuff to have in your toolbelt, but also a LOT of reading. It’s doable at 25 pages a day, you’d have 350 pages read every two weeks. But add in time reading articles, and this quickly becomes I difficult benchmark.
And this all worked for a while, but what’s changed is I’ve realized my body and soul don’t enjoy screen time like they used to. In fact, my body actively rejects it, with slumping shoulders, back soreness and tight hamstrings telling me to move. Now that I’m teaching a regular AcroYoga class, returned to a regular yoga practice, taking Spanish lessons, learning to surf, picking up the ukulele (again), taking workshops, working on my consulting business and strengthening relationships, it leaves little time to stare at the black mirror. I’m also looking to make room for mentorship and community involvement. Reading 45min New Yorker articles every week isn’t conducive to these activities.
To be clear, Align Center is not dead, but I won’t be subjecting myself to the arbitrary every-other-Tuesday schedule. Instead, I’ll write when I have something to share, which may be every two weeks, but maybe three or more.
One interesting thing I didn’t expect when starting this project is when I have conversations with friends who are also readers of this newsletter, they often comment that their favorite part is this Now section. Yes, these little public updates that are sometimes self-indulgent, possibly preachy, that can be the most difficult to write, and always the scariest to share. I thank you for reading this far, and for your continued support.
And I can’t send this issue one week before Christmas without one holiday-themed post, but this one’s worth it. The eloquent crew over at The School of Life, dedicated with the large task of upping the emotional intelligence of the world, wrote this wonderful piece, How to Choose a Good Present.
I wish you a happy holidays full of family, friends, good food and drink, conversation, re-energizing rest and all else that fills your heart and soul. Until the next issue, whenever that will be!