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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
What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#55)

Two book excerpts I’ve been thinking about:

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets… it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.” (Cal Newport, Deep Work)

Very apt for the holidays this week and next.

“I happen to be in a very tough business where there are no alibis. It is good or it is bad and the thousand reasons that interfere with a book being as good as possible are no excuses if it is not. You have to make it good and a man is a fool if he adds or takes hindrance after hindrance after hindrance to being a writer when that is what he cares about. Taking refuge in domestic successes, being good to your broke friends etc. is merely a form of quitting.” (Larry W. Phillips, Ernest Hemingway on Writing)

Those are some tough words and also got me thinking about this post on how Tyler Cowen practices to be better at his work. To extreme for me but I agree that you have to practice deliberately anything you want to be better at.


New music is such a great gift: The KEXP DJs top albums of the year, along with the listeners top 99.3 albums, offers an annual avalanche of good tunes that carries me into the next year on a high. Here are some new albums I have discovered already from these lists:

The Black Tones – Cobain & Cornbread – blues mixed with hard/grunge rock

Preservation Hall Jazz Band – A Tuba to Cuba – upbeat latin-inspired jazz

Nicola Cruz – Siku – instrumental album with a tribal, ancient feel

Rudy Willingham – Dunk Reactions – really fresh mix of instrumental beats and samples


My favorite music of 2019: This year was full of change, here is the music that kept me company throughout.


A beautiful poem and thoughts on marriage: From Margaret Atwood on Marriage, really liked this poem and lots more in the link.

HABITATION by Margaret Atwood

Marriage is not

a house or even a tent
it is before that, and colder:
the edge of the forest, the edge

of the desert

the unpainted stairs

at the back where we squat

outside, eating popcorn
the edge of the receding glacier
where painfully and with wonder

at having survived even

this far
we are learning to make fire


Common sense that’s often ignored: The seven sins of meetings with remote participants


The crazy surveilled reality we now live in: One Nation Tracked is a fantastic exploration of the tracking devices we all carry with us each day.

Within America’s own representative democracy, citizens would surely rise up in outrage if the government attempted to mandate that every person above the age of 12 carry a tracking device that revealed their location 24 hours a day. Yet, in the decade since Apple’s App Store was created, Americans have, app by app, consented to just such a system run by private companies. Now, as the decade ends, tens of millions of Americans, including many children, find themselves carrying spies in their pockets during the day and leaving them beside their beds at night — even though the corporations that control their data are far less accountable than the government would be.


The dark world of online murder markets: Click Here to Kill. Woah, great read.


Quote for the new year:

No matter how big and tough a problem may be, get rid of confusion by taking one little step toward solution. Do something.

George F. Nordenholt

Free tools for images and illustrations for your site, docs, presentations, and more:


This is the last post of the year for me and I’m going to explore a new destination, read a bit, and play. See you next year!

In the meantime, check out what we’re up to now.