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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.

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#23)

Some profound advice on the meaning of life: I’ve read and re-read and shared Hunter S. Thompson’s Letter on Finding Your Purpose and Living a Meaningful Life a bunch over the past week. It’s worth reading the whole thing (not long), but here’s the main message:

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).
 
In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life— the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Filing that away in the stuff I want to tell my kids folder…

Book I started reading: Picked up Keep Going by Austin Kleon by chance at a bookstore last week and it’s a potent little book. Here’s my favorite pic so far that about sums it up:

Speaking of keeping going and of finding a chosen way of life: Check out To Spain… and …then to France. This is my idea of a good trip and one I hope to emulate.

From https://mostlydrawing.com/2019/05/04/to-spain/
From https://mostlydrawing.com/2019/05/10/and-then-to-france/

Favorite book excerpt:

In the end it all comes down to this: you have a choice (or more accurately a rolling tangle of choices) between giving your work your best shot and risking that it will not make you happy, or not giving it your best shot — and thereby guaranteeing that it will not make you happy. It becomes a choice between certainty and uncertainty. And curiously, uncertainty is the comforting choice.

From Art & Fear by David Bayles, Ted Orland

New music for work: The artist djblesOne and his Soundcloud and Bboys Bboy Forever (on Spotify). It’s all break beat mixes, all flying jump kick-type energy, and it’s super conducive to getting shit done.

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#16)

  • A quote I shared: “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy we sow anonymous benefits upon the world.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Some new music for work: “I have lots of ideas, how do I pick the best one? Execute on as many as possible, the right one idea will pick you.” I heard this on Choose Yourself by Star Slinger. I don’t know if this is his originally, but based on all the advice in this song (including many I recognize from other sources) I’m guessing it’s not. Regardless, a lot of the bits in this track have stuck with me. His instrumental albums are right my alley for music to have on when I’m working. If you’re interested, I recommend starting with Volume 1.
  • A great essay on the future: I picked up a (physical!) copy of Wired before a flight last week as I had heard about Kevin Kelly’s Mirrorworld essay. It was a really fun read. Wired has been putting out so much good content recently that I thought about subscribing, just because I felt like I should support it, but their site wouldn’t do anything when I tried to give them money and support has been horrendous. I tried!
  • My new afternoon snack: Last week I spotted a tub of overnight oats with coldbrew, cacao and dates in an airport grab-and-go market. I make overnight oats frequently but had never thought of combining my afternoon caffeine needs with this snack! It’s now in my fridge as a regular go-to. Here’s a rough guideline for making (you can experiment freely and not go wrong): mix 1 cup oats, 1/2 cup almond, coconut or other nut milk, 1/2 cup cold brew (change the ratio of liquid according to your caffeine needs), 1 cup gluten-free rolled oats, a tablespoon of cacao, and finely chopped dates. Let sit overnight. I like to also add some combination of walnuts, granola, or fresh fruit in the morning when I grab a bit to take to work.
  • Something new to play when I don’t know what to play: KEXP listener’s favorite songs of all time was published as part of their spring fundraising drive. It’s one of those lists I put on when I’m hanging out with the kids or friends and/or not really sure what to go for. Listening to it inevitably leads to something great. Here’s a playlist with the top part of the list, it’s 600 songs deep so I’ll keep adding to it.