As this slow-moving tragedy unfolds and we collectively settle into new and temporary rituals, the light is starting to shine through as we find remarkable ways to manage and cope. What’s given me solace is reading about those who’ve been through their own tragedies and writing about anything. While we’re learning how to sit with this discomfort amidst uncertainty, I’ve curated this newsletter with an extra dose of art and poetry around the themes of gratitude, hope and resilience, and added a new section at the very end. And yes, it is May already.
◦ worth sharing
A few beautiful things that caught my eyes and ears this past month:
- Boarded-up storefronts in Vancouver's historic Gastown turned into Murals of Gratitude for frontline workers by local artists.
- A powerful 7min Vimeo mini-doc from the Compassion Prison Project asks prisoners to step inside the circle.
- Mate Act Now is a digital poster project on protesting climate change. New Zealand is rightfully getting a lot of love lately.
- Join Shepard Fairey and other activists for a global open call for art to promote mental health, well-being and social change. 60 submissions will be awarded $1,000. Ends May 8.
- Haircuts, ukuleles, oat milk and bulk ammo are some of the trending COVID-19 search terms.
- Who hasn't done a little doom scroll lately? Tommy Siegel's web comic on IG.
- Duncan Trussell's psychedelic Midnight Gospel on Netflix. Think Joe Rogan podcast meets Adventure Time with waxing philosophic dialog out of a Richard Linklater film (Waking Life, Before Sunrise). The second episode features Anne Lammott.
- Cheer on Netflix – Friday Night Lights for competitive cheerleading, in where else, but Texas. In this new genre where reality TV overlaps with current events, you can now get personalized "mat talk" from Jerry.
- Portland downtempo DJ and producer Emancipator's sixth album Mountain of Memory is out.
- On April 18th, Lady Gaga and friends came together for a virtual concert in support of the WHO. Listen to the official playlist One World: Together at Home.
◦ selected words
To Wonder Rather Than Know
Remember the time when someone would ask a question, but no one knew the answer? And that was OK? Now we too often rush to find an immediate answer. But what if we just sat in wonder? The next time you reach for your phone, I challenge you to ask yourself: "Do I really need to know this, now?".
Austin Kleon (2min read)
Poetry is for Times of Crisis
I was introduced to poetry in high school English class where Mrs. Charleson, a kind yet strict teacher, had us focus more on the form than the content. As we struggled to fit syllables into a 5/7/5 haiku, I look back and to see not just how the message was lost, but how poetry itself was lost to me for years after. "Poetry's job is to try to say what cannot be said." They say there's a poem for every feeling and situation, and it's never been easier to access the words of elders to feel sorrows and elation. Poet Nancy Holmes shares what poetry offers during times of turmoil and suggests seven poems to help cope and hope. That was almost a limerick.
Nancy Holmes, UBC Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies (3min read + poems)
Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure
"If you don't come out of this quarantine with new skills, a side hustle started or more knowledge, you never lacked time, you lacked discipline." Oh, the triggers. You might've seen this gem floating around the quote-o-sphere we call social media. And to be 100% honest, I fell for this shortly after returning from Southeast Asia three weeks ago, loaded with an impossibly long to do list that was only setting myself up for failure and productivity shame. Though well-meaning, the quote ignores the conversation around privilege and misses so much context. This ain't normal, so let's all chill out for a while, eh?
The Chronicle of Higher Education (4min read)
The Point of Making Pointless Things
The simple act of trying a new hobby is suppressed by a society that increasingly places art below other pursuits which have clearer lines to money, fame and success, ideals that are part of what David Brooks calls The First Mountain. Often, we shame ourselves when our results don't meet our expectations or talk ourselves out of it before even putting to pencil to paper. Brené Brown refers to these as FFT's, or Fucking First Times, urging us to give ourselves a break when we're so new to these pursuits. The first time, maybe the first ten or even hundred times, won't be how you expected, but you're not going to be "good" at it at first. Think about the first time you swung a golf club, picked up a ukulele, got on a snowboard or your first relationship. You sucked. OK, maybe you lucked out and scored on the last one, but I invite you to dive a little deeper into that. An ode to making art for yourself, for others, or just for the sake of it.
Print Magazine (2min read)
◦ listen in
Cheryl Strayed's Sugar Calling
The author of the fantastic Tiny Beautiful Things and advice columnist behind Dear Sugar that it's based on, joins the ranks of Brené Brown in launching a new podcast in response to the global pandemic. This interview with writer and generally wise dude Pico Iyer doesn't dwell on the current situation, but instead is a voice of calm and grounding. A personal friend of the Dalai Lama (for real, they hike together every year in Japan), Iyer shares his love of poets Emily Dickinson, Leonard Cohen, and others whom they look towards for sources of wisdom.
Sugar Calling podcast from the New York Times, Apr 15, 2020 (35min podcast)
◦ eat well
Vegan Miso Gravy
During my two weeks of quarantine after returning from Bali, I roasted trays and trays of vegetables and made a tiring amount of buddha bowls, or dragon bowls as they're sometimes called. For a sauce, my go-to is a mix of tahini, lemon and a sweetener, but after four meals of that I was pining for a change. I poked around the fridge and found a container of miso, a Japanese paste of fermented soybeans, salt and koji rice (a fermented culture), and successfully pulled off this miso gravy.
Running on Real Food (vegan)
◦ read slow
Why We Doubt Ourselves
For anyone who's experienced self-doubt when embarking on a new endeavor, you know how easily it can be to fall into the traps of comparison and envy,or getting to a point where you feel stuck without progress. If you're a fan of Tim Urban's blog, Wait But Why, Lawrence Yeo's thoughtful essays accompanied by simple drawings helps shine a light on some of the mental processes that keep us from our full expression. Support his work on Patreon, I did.
More to That by Lawrence Yeo (18min read)
How the Pandemic Will Change Americans Streets – The Atlantic
No one knows how this will play out, though many pundits are trying to guess. What will happen to shopping malls? Which businesses will succeed and which will go under? It doesn't hurt to spend a little time on future-thinking to be better prepared for the new normal as this touches everyone (with hand sanitizer after, of course).
The Atlantic (20min read)
◦ current read
Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
You negotiate all day, whether at work, or at home with your family. Hiring, firing, shopping, making offers, setting house rules with your roommates and deciding how much screen time the kids can have on Sundays. FBI's lead international kidnapping negotiator Chris Voss leads us through the government's own trial and error process to detail the most effective tactics and strategies on becoming a better negotiator. Filled with compelling stories from his work on the front lines, Voss does an expert job of tying these stories while teaching techniques which Nonviolent Communication and emotional intelligence fans will appreciate.
Never Split the Difference – Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It (274p book)
◦ humble thought
"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is a quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow'."
– Mary Anne Radmacher
With no shortage of people sharing how they're coping in this time, how their lives have been affected and what realizations have surfaced with during this period of sudden time abundance and forced isolation, I won't attempt to write another inspiring thought piece or relate it to my personal journey. It's been done by many a better writer who've lived more harrowing ordeals.
Instead, I'll leave you with a list of small actions I've taken that have in some tiny way improved my life and helped me adapt during these times. Many are borrowed over the years from others, and although some are easily implemented, I dislike the term "life hack", as some take more effort as they involve habit formation. I'm a firm believer in taking the time upfront to setup systems so down the road it allows mental space to be freed up and creativity to flow.
In no particular order (and with no affiliate links). Take / remix to your own tune:
- Virtual co-working sessions. If I can just do three solid hours of work (with breaks), it's a success. Use that mute button and a pomodoro timer. I use Be Focused on a Mac.
- Online yoga classes with Fiji McAlpine on DoYogaWithMe. Currently there's a two-month free trial, no credit card ask. The website is old school but the available classes of all lengths and styles are infinitely better than the robotic Down Dog app which I've deleted.
- Plant an herb. Mint is an easy one. Pot it as they will take over. As a city boy, it's fun and connecting to watch food grow.
- Setup a separate email for all your newsletters and signups. Anything that isn't a personal or work email goes to this separate inbox. I use Gmail as my primary but purposely chose Outlook/Hotmail for this second inbox that I tap into intentionally. I purposely move the app icon to my phone's second screen.
- Subscribe to YouTube. I've been watching more tutorials and live concerts lately, so avoiding the ads for $12.99 is so worth it, plus the first month is free and it's just two clicks to cancel. An added perk is that on your mobile, videos can play in the background and can also be saved for offline viewing, like Spotify.
- Handstand training with friends. Though it's the hardest workout I'm doing at the moment, I also look forward to it the most. We meet 2-3X per week on Zoom around the same time, despite being in three different time zones. Accountability + fun.
- Take cold plunges. It was 15° out with a 7°C water today in the Strait of Georgia.
- Since we can't travel, go through old photos from previous trips. We often hop from one adventure to the next, not giving time to revisit all the moments we've already experienced. Then send one photo with a written memory to someone you traveled with.
- Call an old friend you haven't spoken to in a while. It's always harder to be the one to call first, but they'll be glad you did.
- Start a COVID diary and write not just about what is happening, but how you're feeling. These are strange times we'll be talking about decades from now. It may not seem like it now, but remembering how you felt and what norms changed is creating your history that will be appreciated in the future.
- Move. Take breaks. Stretch often. Strengthen your back with Foundation Training's original 12min routine.
- Read a poem or have one read to you. Try the Poetry Foundation's collection of poems on hope and resilience. April was National Poetry Month after all.
- Take a personal development course. Mark Groves offers a free 7-Day Relationships 101, or if you have a committed partner, try the exercises in Sue Johnson's Hold Me Tight.
- No screen time two hours before bed.
- Add a teaspoon of matcha powder to a banana / avocado smoothie.
Atomic Habits author James Clear said every action you take is a vote for type of person you want to become. That's inspired the previous list, and the following new section of the newsletter, a short, take-it-or-leave-it, seemingly insignificant action that I've personally done that has added to my life.
◦ a tiny action
On your next trip grocery run, buy a vegetable that's new to you. Don't overthink it, just pick one. Wait until you get home to find a recipe. If you did this just twice a month, you'd have learned 24 new recipes with 24 new vegetables.
What changes have you made? I'd love to hear them!