Alan Watts – Music and Life. (via somewhere on Twitter months and months ago)
There are really only two responses if you want to feel like you’re well-read, or well-versed in music, or whatever the case may be: culling and surrender.
Culling is the choosing you do for yourself. It’s the sorting of what’s worth your time and what’s not worth your time. It’s saying, “I deem Keeping Up With The Kardashians a poor use of my time, and therefore, I choose not to watch it.” It’s saying, “I read the last Jonathan Franzen book and fell asleep six times, so I’m not going to read this one.”
Surrender, on the other hand, is the realization that you do not have time for everything that would be worth the time you invested in it if you had the time, and that this fact doesn’t have to threaten your sense that you are well-read. Surrender is the moment when you say, “I bet every single one of those 1,000 books I’m supposed to read before I die is very, very good, but I cannot read them all, and they will have to go on the list of things I didn’t get to.”
Everything you’ve ever wanted and then obtained, except maybe for the very latest thing, is probably not providing any great satisfaction at this moment.
The farther your plan deviates from established “best practices” (i.e. how the people who actually achieve your goal tend to do it), the more likely it is that you don’t actually intend to do it.
I was having trouble sleeping a couple nights ago, so I read some Kay Ryan poems to settle my brain a bit.
This one helped:
“When not telling feels like ‘hiding,’ it’s time to tell. There’s your opener, too. ‘I should have said this sooner.’”
Carolyn Hax. As it is in relationships, so it is on the web.
A question I like to ask when I travel: “What would I be like if I grew up here?”
This year was terrible in many ways but really really wonderful in many others. Some good stuff…
In July I spent a few weeks in Sweden, most of it hiking. A couple cold, soggy, windy days were terrible, but I can laugh about them now. And some of those days were right up there with the best days of my life, period. One of them was so especially grand that I still haven’t quite yet found the words, and may never, and maybe I shouldn’t.
Other travel highlights: a trip to see friends get married in Maryland; a workation to Chicago to spend time with the best team on the planet; and a visit to New Orleans to celebrate my grandfather’s birthday. Along with his travel and stay in Georgia for a few months, I got to spend more time with him than I had in decades. I don’t take it for granted.
I mastered sleep. Oh my lord has this been huge. My family spent the previous two Christmases at the beach. Both times, I ended up sleeping 10, 12, 14 hours a night… and napping in the afternoons.
After a few days like that, I felt like I was seeing in color again.
The freshness didn’t last after the first awakening – I spent a year squandering it – but the second time around I realized it was dumb to let myself spend months decaying into zombie mode. I just can’t thrive on 6-7 hours a night; I’m more of a 9er. A regular, earlier bedtime has cost me a few dozen late-night movies, but it’s been so, so, so worth it.
I started making collages every now and then. I tried it on impulse because I had some magazines and scissors nearby, and it was instantly therapeutic.
I found a meditation routine and got into a groove with it, and fell out and found it again, and again, etc.. I eat veggies every day (pretty much, mostly, I try?). I don’t do as many straight-up workouts as I used to, but the average day is more active.
I biked more in 2017 than any year since I was a kid. I barely drove at all (yaaassssss), outside of trips to my parents’ house or out for a hike.
Aside from the Sweden trip, I had a lovely day knocking out a 35K at Cloudland Canyon for my 35th birthday. And on a lark one Saturday I walked 20-something urban miles from my house in downtown Atlanta to the summit of Stone Mountain. Really glad I did it, and I will never do it again.
I put in a bunch of miles at my favorite state park once or twice a month.
I read a bunch of good books (8 them by John Mcphee 😎). Here’s the best of my reading year, with the top 5 distinguished with a *:
- Assembling California 😎
- Black Flags: The Rise of Isis *
- The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream *
- Death: A Graveside Companion
- How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds
- Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI *
- Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath
- Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data
- The Odyssey (trans. Emily Wilson)
- On Trails: An Exploration
- A Philosophy of Walking *
- The Pine Barrens 😎
- Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games
- The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
- The Survival of the Bark Canoe 😎
- Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals *
- What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen
(On a related note, I’m in the market for more fiction…)
I didn’t see any movies released in 2017, which was fun for a few months… and then didn’t feel any particular way for the bulk of the year… and then felt deeply miserable for the last few weeks. But for the last few days it’s been nice to salivate and plan what I want to catch up on. Instead of trying to keep up with whatever happened to be new, I saw a lot of great old stuff and re-watched a lot of things I love.
The best of the new-to-me for 2017:
- 10 Cloverfield Lane
- 20th Century Women
- Allied *
- American Honey *
- Children of Heaven
- End of Watch *
- Frankenstein *
- In the Bedroom
- The Invitation
- Love & Friendship
- Punch-Drunk Love
- Shaun of the Dead
- Stagecoach *
- The Village
I perfected a bunch of small things. And I still feel really smug about these dumb little tweaks and upgrades to stuff that doesn’t matter very much but still makes a difference. I got a trim wallet and a fresh key fob and new keyrings that better fit my ideal pocket situation. I switched over to wireless earbuds and thin linen bath towels. I got new pens and longer Lightning cables and made fine-tuned some hiking gear. I donated a bunch of clothes, and standardized much of the rest (blue oxford-collar button-downs, grey sweatshirts, grey t-shirts, and jeans, or GTFO).
I finally took care of a bunch of tedious finance/household administration that I’d been putting off for, uh, years. I asked people where to spend more on charity, did it, and it felt wonderful.
Afters years of being inactive, I deleted my Facebook account and never looked back.
I let my 8-year-old Tumblr drift into dormancy, ported the posts over here, and decommissioned it entirely.
I let this blog lie fallow. And I started it again. ❤️
If you’re 30% through your life, you’re likely 90% through your best relationships. Some really great visuals in this one – how many books you might read, how many times you might go swimming – and then it comes to this:
I’ve been thinking about my parents, who are in their mid-60s. During my first 18 years, I spent some time with my parents during at least 90% of my days. But since heading off to college and then later moving out of Boston, I’ve probably seen them an average of only five times a year each, for an average of maybe two days each time. 10 days a year. About 3% of the days I spent with them each year of my childhood. Being in their mid-60s, let’s continue to be super optimistic and say I’m one of the incredibly lucky people to have both parents alive into my 60s. That would give us about 30 more years of coexistence. If the 10 days a year thing holds, that’s 300 days left to hang with mom and dad. Less time than I spent with them in any one of my 18 childhood years.
I see life as like being attacked by a bear. You can run, you can pretend to be dead, or you can make yourself bigger.
Classic Hax. You have to be pretty open-minded and self-aware to be able to sympathize with those who appear to be (and may objectively be) more fortunate than you are.
Or she’s genuinely unhappy. It can, of course, happen amid gaudy equity, lovely kids, an attentive spouse, a flexible career, stable finances and ambitious travel; just because these have societal value doesn’t mean they’re valuable to her.
And just because the decisions were “very-thought-out” doesn’t mean they were the right ones for her. If a person’s baseline understanding of herself is a degree or two off, then her choices can lead her, over the years, hundreds of miles off-course.
Advice columns for men, however, seem not to have made the leap from proscriptive notions of rectitude to the smart-older-sister vibe of advice for women. In GQ and Esquire and even Maxim, which are full of Q&A-format advice for readers, situations are often posed in a joking tone and answered as if the writer were the dude from the Dos Equis commercials and the ultimate ethical standard is masculinity rather than humanity. “How to be a man” literature is the new conduct literature: it’s not that men haven’t cared about ideals of masculinity before now, but the idea verges on obsession these days, cf. everything from Shia LaBoeuf’s resignation note to the fact that someone greenlit How to Be a Gentleman. It’s a whole genre and evidently a popular one—but, while advice columns are the delicious and healthy snack of things to devour on the Internet, it matters for men and women alike that advice columns for men evolve, not by abandoning their gentlemanly tone but by choosing the right questions to answer.
That’s one reason why I read waaaaay more of Carolyn Hax than anything in men’s magazines.
Recently I’ve been thinking that when you’re younger, you need to say yes to everything; then, when you’re older, you need to learn how to say no to everything. I don’t mean younger in age, but as a step in your profession.
I particularly hate that phrase about women “wanting to have it all.” Because that’s not about women, it’s about humans. The humans want to have it all! Blame the fucking humans who situated themselves halfway between the beasts and the gods and then discovered it was an uneasy place to be.
There’s only one viable time management approach left (and even that’s only really an option for the better-off). Step one: identify what seem to be, right now, the most meaningful ways to spend your life. Step two: schedule time for those things. There is no step three.
In light of all our focus on “progress,” it’s easy to forget that you can turn around from traveling in a wrong direction, and return to the place where things last felt right—whether that’s for something as trivial as what I’m trying to do with my goofy website, or as monumental as restructuring your identity, ambition, and emotional furnishings to match the last time you felt like yourself. You can go back. Sometimes that’s progress.