Categories
Art

The side of the mountain

Here is some inspiration for a little morning brush pen drawing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this metaphor of the side of the mountain versus the top over the past week.

“Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.” (Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

This book was not the easiest read, but it keeps coming back to mind for me. I think I could re-read it another two or three times and still find new things within.

Another excerpt in the same categorey and from the same book that gets to the point more succinctly:

“The past cannot remember the past. The future can’t generate the future. The cutting edge of this instant right here and now is always nothing less than the totality of everything there is.” (Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

Finally, the only recording I’ve re-listened a number of times on the subject of recognizing that the most important thing is right now:

Categories
Art Kids Parenting

Four little fires

I like to think of art projects like little fires. First you gather your wood (the materials), you built it (get everything set-up) and then you light it. When inspiration strikes, you get burning.

I love the process of gathering the materials from the store (art, craft, book, hardware, etc) and have them all ready, meaning out and in view, so we can work when the mood strikes. Until I have a dedicated studio space this means transforming our dining table over the weekend, but here’s proof that it’s worth it: four projects done over the past four roughly four weeks that just sort of happened because the fire was ready to be lit.


The mini-zine

I got this idea from Austin Kleon. I never knew how to fold and tear a piece of paper like this until now, and it’s a little detail that makes it super easy to transform any piece of paper into a mini-zine. No idea where the story came from either.


Mixing by hand

Me: “Sam you want to do some painting?”
Sam: “Yes daddy!”
Slide out some large sheets of card stock. Squeeze tubes of different color paints on. Watch him mix. Repeat!


The paper laptop

Vivian created this paper model of a laptop complete with fold out keyboard, sitckers on the case, kick stand, and laptop sleeve with handles. It’s just like what her parents use, and she even drew a browser on the screen showing “Google: Unicorns” on it with the search result.

No one helped her, no one even knew she was working on it. We were just going about doing chores while she was busy doing something at the dining-table-turned-studio.


The box critters

Kav made these with the kids, starting with some cutouts from a magazine and expanding into homemade hands and eyes and tails of all sorts. Reusing materials from around the house is a bonus, as it the fact that this art gets named and played with after. This genre of art project (box critter-making?) is an underrated wellspring that we’ll be sure to tap into more often.


I love art projects. Keep burning those fires!

Categories
What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#62)

Visited another new place in Scotland and spent much of the week there:

Islay and Jura are two isles (islands) off the west coast of Scotland known for being remote, sparsely populated, wild, beautiful and full of some of the best whisky in the world. My Dad and I ventured out to find all of this to be very true indeed.


Favorite new music: The latest from Makaya McCraven, We’re New Again: A Reimagining has been a great companion to lunches and sketching.

The Chicago drummer and producer transforms Gil-Scott Heron’s final album into a masterpiece of dirty blues, spiritual jazz, and deep yearning.

https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/gil-scott-heron-makaya-mccraven-were-new-again-a-reimagining-by-makaya-mccraven/


Quote that made me think:

Don’t allow your rituals to become ruts.

Todd Henry

George Leonard and The Power of the Mind: this reference came up from a previous book note, and I read the Esquire article that provided the seed for his later book, Mastery.

This frontier thinking has venerable roots, especially in the Eastern martial arts, all of which share a common faith in an energy source called ki in Japanese, ch’i in Chinese, pneuma in Greek, and prana in Sanskrit. In the ancient tradition, ki is the fundamental energy of the universe that connects and relates all things. By controlling the flow of this energy in one’s own body or projecting it toward external objects, the martial artist can supposedly achieve extraordinary powers. Legends abound of masters who can stop an opponent in his tracks from halfway across the room or even throw him head over heels. Karate practitioners generally claim that ki, even more than muscular strength, makes it possible for them to break bbards or concrete blocks.

Thus far, ki has proved difficult to measure, and skeptics tend to attribute its powers to suggestion, a sort of dynamic placebo effect. To the pragmatist, this distinction is unimportant. As a practitioner of aikido, an art in which ki plays an especially important role, I’ve generally found a strong correlation between my perception of personal ki and the power of my techniques. The idea of ki can offer the untrained person an effective way of gaining a sensation of increased energy along with relaxation, especially during times of fatigue and stress. Here’s an exercise designed to demonstrate the power that can come from visualizing ki.

https://classic.esquire.com/article/1988/5/1/the-power-of-the-mind

I didn’t know much about George Leonard and his book prior, but based on a brief scan of notes from James Clear’s blog, I plan to pick it up.


Sir William Osler and the power of work: Osler was one of the most important figures in the founding of modern medicine, and said the following in one of his books:

Let each hour of the day have its allotted duty, and cultivate that power of concentration which grows with its exercise, so that the attention neither flags nor wavers, but settles with bull-dog tenacity on the subject before you. Constant repetition makes a good habit fit easily in your mind, and by the end of the session you may have gained that most precious of all knowledge—the power of work.

From Cal Newport:

We don’t teach this any more.

Modern educational institutions care a lot about content: what theories we teach, what ideas students are exposed to, what skills they come away knowing. But we rarely address the more general question of how one transforms their mind into a tool well-honed for elite-level cognitive work.


Book excerpt that I loved:

Although the strategy of gaining happiness by working to get whatever it is we find ourselves wanting is obvious and has been used by most people throughout recorded history and across cultures, it has an important defect, as thoughtful people throughout recorded history and across cultures have realized: For each desire we fulfill in accordance with this strategy, a new desire will pop into our head to take its place. This means that no matter how hard we work to satisfy our desires, we will be no closer to satisfaction than if we had fulfilled none of them. We will, in other words, remain dissatisfied.” (William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life)


How to be perfect: A poem by Ron Padgett that’s got some brilliant advice and a subtle power. I’m adding it to my regular re-read list. Here’s just a small sampling (it’s much longer):

Look at that bird over there.

After dinner, wash the dishes.

Calm down.

Visit foreign countries, except those whose inhabitants have expressed a desire to kill you.

Don’t expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want to.

Meditate on the spiritual. Then go a little further, if you feel like it.

What is out (in) there?

HT to Austin Kleon

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57243/how-to-be-perfect


What made me grateful last week:

  • Re-discovering cribbage and playing cards. Can’t think of a better way to end a day.
  • Working from home meant more time with my Dad during his visit.
  • Doing blind self-portraits with Vivian:

Lastly, check out what we’re up to now.

Categories
Moving to Scotland Travel

Notes from Islay and Jura

Took a trip over to Islay and Jura with my Dad last week for a few days, which was a fittings cap for his trip here during the month of February. Here are some notes and pics.

  • Islay and Jura are isles (islands) off the west coast of Scotland known for the number of distilleries (9-10 depending on how you count) within relatively small distance between each. Because of their location, they take some time to get to, but the driving is great from Glasgow through the Trossacks National Park and the along the lochs, both for scenery and for the fun of the winding road. It’s approximately 2.5 hours to the remote ferry terminal of Kennacraig and another 2 hour ferry ride to Islay.
  • We stayed in Port Ellen, on the south-end of the island, at the Trout Fly Guest House, which served a great breakfast and was an ideal location for hitting the whisky trail.
  • The whisky trail (aka the three distilleries walk) starts in Port Ellen and connects Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg distilleries with an excellent walking trail that totals about 4 miles total. This was the first days excursion, hitting all three with walking in between tastings was perfect for evening things out for a day of drinking. The weather was cold but our bellies warm. Nae bother as they say.
  • The second days excursions were more adventurous, as we set off to go to the isle of Jura and the Jura distillery. This meant getting on a tiny ferry that fit about four cars which somehow they managed to get six on at times. Oh, and you had to back onto it, which made things much more interesting. Glad I didn’t have any whisky beforehand!
  • The Jura ferry was unexpectedly closed for the morning, which only meant we had time to visit another remote distillery, Bunnahabhain, located at the end of a 4 mile single track road just north of the ferry terminal. This was the best tasting we had by far (generous drams doesn’t begin to describe the size of the pours) and we got to see some highland cows on the way, bonus!
  • Our nights were spent retiring to the local (only) hotel bar for a couple of beers and a big dinner, before heading back to the guest house to play cribbage, sample more of the whisky we obtained during the day, and listen to music (The Essential Merle Haggard, Best Tracks from Tarantino Films, Dave Brubeck Timeout).
  • I had a basic enough understanding of whisky, and specifically scotch whisky, before the trip but had never tasted as many of such caliber and variation and am still very much a beginner in this world of spirits. In order to understand the drink you have to, well, drink it. Let’s just say I have more work to do.
  • I did learn quite a bit of random facts about whisky throughout the trip:
  • Peated water is also a source of the smoky flavor in whisky, particularly in Laphroaig. Dad grabbed some water from a stream on Islay in a bottle and you could taste the peat in it when we got home.
  • Peat, the source of smoke in Islay whisky and fuel for homes as well, is just earth cut into bricks. A soft earth fossil fuel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peat
  • Whisky is only considered whisky after it’s been aged for 3 years and one day, the one extra day being added to account for the leap year that happens every 4 years (side note: this may or may not be true based on some brief looking online ¯\(ツ)/¯).
  • Whisky is aged in all kinds of barrels, but most common is bourbon barrels of American white oak that are shipped over, sometimes whole, sometime in pieces to be reassembled by a cooper. The other most common is sherry. The barrels are recharred/recharged after use, and can only be re-used 6-7 times max, typically more like 3-4 (in the case of Bunnahabhain).
  • Sherry barrels are very popular for maturing and finishing whisky and since sherry is no longer a popular drink, these casks are becoming increasingly expensive and will be harder to come by as time goes on. The link between sherry and whisky goes back a long time, with sherry being made in Spain in British colonies and imported to great Britain.
  • The bottle date of a whisky matters, but it’s generally not listed. The bottling of an 18 year old scotch will vary over time as the barrels (and other factors) change.

Map of some of the main destinations we visited on our way to and from Islay and Jura. (Glasgow on the right, Islay and Jura on your far left)

Categories
What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#61)

Favorite quote from the week:

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.”

Mark Twain

We all get started by pretending:

Aside from the huge smiles that we all get and how much fun it is to play with Sam and his helmet, it’s gotten me thinking about the connection between the playing dress-up and pretending to be something versus actually being it. What’s the difference? We all start as pretenders and we all feel like fakes at first. What you wear (and how it fits) can make you feel invincible or invisible. You have to start somewhere.


More from An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth:

I loved this book. I read it awhile ago and think about it often, so seeing Chris Hadfield’s mental models in space come up last week again was a welcome site:

At NASA, we’re not just expected to respond positively to criticism, but to go one step further and draw attention to our own missteps and miscalculations. It’s not easy for hyper-competitive people to talk openly about screw-ups that make them look foolish or incompetent. Management has to create a climate where owning up to mistakes is permissible and colleagues have to agree, collectively, to cut each other some slack.” (friction and viscosity)

That is something I’ve been thinking about a lot as a way to be better at my work. The other is the following, which I feel like I’ve been doing a good job of:

The best way to contribute to a brand-new environment is not by trying to prove what a wonderful addition you are. It’s by trying to have a neutral impact, to observe and learn from those who are already there, and to pitch in with grunt work wherever possible.

Over the years, I’ve realized that in any new situation, whether it involves an elevator or a rocket ship, you will almost certainly be viewed in one of three ways. As a minus one: actively harmful, someone who creates problems. Or as a zero: your impact is neutral and doesn’t tip the balance one way or the other. Or you’ll be seen as a plus one: someone who actively adds value.”


Universities are adopting the subscription model:

Makes a lot of sense, sign me up!

In 2020, academic institutions will start to offer lifelong admittance, paid for on a subscription basis. Rather than simply provide students with an on-ramp to a career and the occasional professional pitstop, universities will find ways to build ongoing relationships with workers.

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/university-lifelong-learning


The Blue Bananna is:

WHAT!?!?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Banana


The joys of sitting in a pub on your own:

100% agree. I love time alone in the pub and/or brewery.


The difference between Great Britain, the United Kingdom and England:

Short view and taught me a few things I hadn’t realized.


How the internet is changing chess:

“It’s OK if you make mistakes,” she said. “Just move on in and have some fun with it.” And that’s a feeling that isn’t confined to the new guard. Finegold said he’s looking forward to where streaming is going. “Chess could be fun, too,” Finegold said. “It doesn’t have to be super serious all the time.”

https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/video-games/fast-loose-culture-esports-upending-once-staid-world-chess-n1137111


New music I’ve been listening to in the office:

Yppah – Sunset in the Deep End


Something I’m grateful for this week:

  • The fact that Vivi is still into silly little toys, pretending to be a cheetah, and reading children’s books below her age and reading level
  • Art projects. Sometimes it’s best to just make a mess.

Lastly, check out what we’re up to now.