This new album, a collection of pianist James Rhodes’s favorites from previous recordings, has been my work soundtrack this week.
I don’t typically work with music on, but this music is perfect company. It’s just the piano. No orchestra. No lyrics. And it’s music from some of the greatest composers ever, performed by a dynamic talent.
Here is Rhodes’s explanation of his song choices for this collection:
“For this compilation (of my personal recordings from the last six years) I wanted to carry on in that vein and so I’ve made it a mix tape—these are the pieces that come up in my head unwarranted at 4am to get me through another rotten night of insomnia. These are the ones that always give me hope and a reason to hang on in there—because if music like this can exist then there is simply no question that the good outweighs the bad. They are my inside tracks.”
This album is a great introduction to Rhodes. If you need some music in your life, give this a chance.
The most important tool everyone needs in their kitchen is a good chef’s knife.
ToolsandToys.net linked to Kenji Lopez-Alt’s review of the Misen knife which is a Kickstarter project. Kenji is the mastermind behind one of the best cooking tips and recipe sites online, SeriousEats.com. Kenji knows kitchen knives, and he raves about this new knife and its remarkable price:
Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to call it: This is the holy grail of inexpensive chef’s knives. Incredible quality and design, high-end materials, perfect balance, and a razor-sharp edge.
Most quality chef’s knives are well over $100. This Kickstarter Misen knife matches up well with high-end knives, but only costs $60.
From Kenji’s review:
That’s an incredible deal. Yes, there are cheaper knives out there, like the Forschner Victorinox Fibrox knives that Cook’s Illustrated flogs so often, but hold these two knives side by side and it makes the Forschner, with its stamped blade, plastic handle, poor balance, and lack of solid riveting, feel like a baby’s toy. I’ve held a lot of knives in my time across all ranges of the price spectrum and I’ve never held a knife that had the type of value this one is offering.
I’ve got that $35 Forschner, and it does a fine enough job. But every time I use it I can tell that it’s a “budget” knife. The metal is flimsy, and it just doesn’t feel solid in my hand.
I’m in on this Kickstarter. Ordered. And the Kickstarter has already met its goal and then some, so this knife will be produced.
If you don’t have a quality chef’s knife, you need one. And for this price and for this quality, you can’t go wrong. There are 16 days left to get in on the Kickstarter project for this excellent knife that will likely be your primary kitchen tool for years to come.
Then go check out Kenji’s knife skill tutorials so you’ll know what your doing.
“Life is neither good nor bad; it is the space for both good and bad.” –Seneca
Life is the canvas. You are the artist.
Life is the blank page. You are the author.
Life is the stage. You get to perform on it.
You create yourself in response to whatever comes.
There is much that you have no control over. Unburden yourself from trying to control what is not yours to control.
But you can craft your response to whatever good or bad presents itself to you in the tiny and vast space of your life.
There was a common theme in two things I read today.
First, I read this Jon Westenberg post on Medium that included a striking insight about work:
“Have you ever watched one of those reality TV singing competitions? You’ve probably seen a hundred young people, eyes shining, clutching microphones and talking about their dreams. They’ll explain that ever since they were kids, they wanted to be singers.
They hardly ever say they wanted to sing. When it comes down to it, half the time it’s because actually singing isn’t the end goal. They want the trappings and lifestyle and the breaks of being a singer.
If the act of singing was really their end goal, they wouldn’t be on a reality TV show. They’d be out there every night singing anywhere they could, writing songs, starting bands, recording music.
The same is true for anything you could make. Do you want to make X, or do you want to be the person who made X? Because if you don’t care about the act of making something, and if you don’t want to get out there every day and try to make something, you might as well quit.
You want people to care?
They should care about your work. Not you.”
And then I read this today at lunch after finally getting started on Anne Lamott’s highly regarded book on writing, Bird By Bird:
“Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”
Find the thing you do for the joy of the thing itself, not for any extrinsic reward attached to the thing. Go in the direction of the things that give you intrinsic rewards.
I keep coming back to this profound, potentially life changing passage from Anthony De Mello’s The Way to Love:
“You must cultivate activities that you love. You must discover work that you do, not for its utility, but for itself. Think of something that you love to do for itself, whether it succeeds or not, whether you are praised for it or not, whether you are loved and rewarded for it or not, whether people know about it and are grateful to you for it or not. How many activities can you count in your life that you engage in simply because they delight you and grip your soul? Find them out, cultivate them, for they are your passport to freedom and to love.”
This advice might not lead you to any paying gigs or a dream career. But you still should find those things that make you come alive without any attachment to external rewards. Even if it’s only a hobby or a side hustle, get busy making something or doing something that is simply a delight to you, where the process is an end in itself—where the journey is the reward.
If you don’t have a direction, a lofty aim, that challenges you and brings out your best, do something about that.
“You’ve lived as a citizen in a great city. Five years or a hundred—what’s the difference? The laws make no distinction.And to be sent away from it, not by a tyrant or a dishonest judge, but by Nature, who first invited you in—why is that so terrible?
Like the impresario ringing down the curtain on an actor:
“But I’ve only gotten through three acts …!”
Yes. This will be a drama in three acts, the length fixed by the power that directed your creation, and now directs your dissolution. Neither was yours to determine.
So make your exit with grace—the same grace shown to you.”
These are the last lines, appropriately, of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, his private journal that has become my most frequently read book.
It’s the book I give away most often now, too. When I give it away I wonder if others will find the delight in it that I do. It was written by a Roman emperor, of all people, and has no plot or narrative arc or even logical connections between paragraphs.
But I’ve received genuinely enthusiastic responses from some who seemed surprised to have been so taken with this ancient and slightly odd book of wisdom.
A young friend recently sent me a photo of her copy of Meditations on the beach with her and let me know she was on her third reading of it in just a couple of months.
Another friend sent me a thank you note that said reading it had been a source of encouragement during a challenging time in her life.
Your mileage may vary. There are portions that read like gibberish. But I regularly come across simply stated but profound insights that connect instantly and shine a light on reality and common sense in ways I’ve rarely seen.
I will continue, for now, to dip into it weekly and start back over at the beginning when I make it to that final line again.
This is my only magazine subscription.
It’s not available in a digital version.
This is it. Paper and ink.
It’s a delight to hold and to look through and to smell.
As powerful as the internet is for the spread of ideas, I’m sure that most of what makes a splash online now won’t have much of a shelf life. Because, well, you can’t put it on a shelf.
My kids won’t grow up with nostalgia for a blog post they read once or keep a favorite old viral video on a loop in their living rooms.
Tangible things will endure, though. Especially beautiful ones that spark joy.
Even this delightful little magazine reminds me of the joy of great things.
I keep fretting over the best way to organize the thousands of digital photos I have.
The solution, though, is to print them, to make the best ones into photo books that will someday grace the shelves of my future grandchildren’s homes.
Things are just things. But there is real beauty in the grace of great things, offscreen, in your hands and literally in your life.
“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” –Alan Watts
Flow with it. Don’t resist.
Be willing to let go of what was for what is and what will be.
Adaptability to change is more powerful than cleverness or strength.
Want a better life?
Be a better person.
Religious violence has a long and terrible history.
From Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari:
“In the 300 years from the crucifixion of Christ to the conversion of Emperor Constantine, polytheistic Roman emperors initiated no more than four general persecutions of Christians. Local administrators and governors incited some anti-Christian violence of their own. Still, if we combine all the victims of all these persecutions, it turns out that in these three centuries, the polytheistic Romans killed no more than a few thousand Christians. In contrast, over the course of the next 1,500 years, Christians slaughtered Christians by the millions to defend slightly different interpretations of the religion of love and compassion.”
And he adds this for perspective:
“On 23 August 1572, French Catholics who stressed the importance of good deeds attacked communities of French Protestants who highlighted God’s love for humankind. In this attack, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, between 5,000 and 10,000 Protestants were slaughtered in less than twenty-four hours. … More Christians were killed by fellow Christians in those twenty-four hours than by the polytheistic Roman Empire throughout its entire existence.”
Harari’s book is an epic survey of the history of humans on earth. It’s filled with sobering details like this along with a hopeful perspective on how far we have come.
Those pictures of the solar system with all the planets lined up in the order of their orbits are nice ways to visualize where things are in general. But they are nowhere close to representing the true scale of the size of the solar system.
Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh made this amazing short film that actually shows the solar system to scale. They had to go to the desert and use seven miles of open land to put the sun and the orbits of the marble-sized earth and the other planets in their proper perspective.
Watching this film is seven minutes well spent. It’s a clever concept very well executed.
And it’s a great reminder of not only just how small we are (that seems to be a theme here) but also how we tend to underestimate the vast amounts of emptiness out there. Only a tiny portion of the universe is tangible.
It’s good to be here.
How wonderful to be anywhere at all.
“The fraction of infinity, of that vast abyss of time, allotted to each of us. Absorbed in an instant into eternity.The fraction of all substance, and all spirit.
The fraction of the whole earth you crawl about on.
Keep all that in mind, and don’t treat anything as important except doing what your nature demands, and accepting what Nature sends you.”
I continue to be drawn to perspectives showing me how small I am, how little I matter in time and space.
Our default state is to think of the universe as our universe. We experience reality, of course, primarily from our first-person vantage point.
But our portion of all that is and was and will be is an infinitesimal fraction. And that delights me and unburdens me and makes trivial all the things we inflate to be “important”.
What’s important is fulfilling your nature, no matter how tiny you may be in the very big picture.
Be excellent. Accept what comes. Do what you can with what you’ve got. Enjoy the life you have in the brief moment you’re here.
Some of the best things I found on the internet this week:
- Top 10 companies winning at remote work culture and their secrets – CloudPeeps Blog – A whole new world or work that doesn’t rely on a 9-to-5 schedule or even a shared work place.
- Anthony Bourdain’s world domination – Men’s Journal – Bourdain travels the world, eats great food, and tells stories with remarkable authenticity. A reminder to heed when you travel: “You never eat on the plane, and you never eat at the hotel.”
- The Dirty Secret of Public Speaking – and What to Do About It – Nick Morgan regularly offers the most effective insight on what makes for a good presentation. This post highlights the reality that most audiences rarely remember much of anything a speaker says. Morgan offers some good tips on overcoming that along with this challenge: “make sure that your speech is about only one idea.” I struggle with this, too often relying on a quantity of ideas in the hope that it will be more likely for everyone in the audience to find something of value.
- How the Rams Built a Laboratory for Millennials – WSJ – In addition to shorter meetings and later wake up calls, this NFL team is adjusting to a different generational mindset by regularly drilling down to one key question, a question everyone should ask no matter your generation:
They also need to know “why” to everything: If you explain a concept to them on the field, they need to know the reason behind it. Millennial players questioning everything is something that’s helped the Rams, the team says, because it forces coaches and executives to examine their own methods (Why are we doing this?).
- Obama comments on free expression in higher education – Vox.com – I’m with the President on this. We need to face opposing opinions regularly, even objectionable, foolish ideas.
“I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. I think you should be able to — anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ‘em. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, ‘You can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.’ That’s not the way we learn either.”
- How to Create a Vision for Your Life – Corbett Barr Good insight on the power of crafting a vision for your life, not just setting goals:
Goals are individual experiences and accomplishments you strive for. A vision is the bigger picture. Your life’s vision defines who you want to be, what you want to be known for and the set of experiences and accomplishments you aim for. Your vision helps define the goals by giving you a framework to evaluate those goals.
Your vision becomes your why.
My friend Emily is a young professional not too far removed from college. She’s living a dream working in New York City.
She was featured in an interview online and had this very thoughtful response, profound even, when asked for her most important advice:
“My biggest piece of advice is to fiercely and tirelessly pay meticulous attention to detail, and specifically the details that no one else thought to or cared to remember. Be that person with the mindset that “no job is too small.” What I have discovered time and time again, is that people trust other people that really care; not just about the beautiful clothes and the red carpets, but the less glamorous details that people steer clear from. Don’t steer clear of those things. Embrace them, run with them, and when that trust is built into a foundation that cannot be torn down by one mistake, those big things suddenly become yours. And these big things you create are so beautifully done because of how much you cared about the little things. And those are going to be your true moments of pride.”
I can’t add to that. So well said. And so true.
Care more than seems reasonable.
Your life is daily improv.
Be willing to trust that you will come up with something worthwhile when your moment comes.
Think of those cliche icebreaker activities where everyone goes around a circle and answers the same question, like “What’s your favorite book?”
The activity is designed to have people get to know each other better. But what really happens?
You’re acting like you’re paying close attention to what everyone is saying, but you’re actually rehearsing in your mind what you will say when it’s your turn.
What if, instead, you emptied your mind and focused completely on the others? When your turn came you would have to trust that something intelligible would come out of you.
In fact, the spontaneous, improvised response is likely to be more effective than the one you would have contrived.
Your life is now. Strengthen your improv muscles by showing up regularly and being as fully present as you can be.
Say “Yes” to whatever circumstances you find yourself facing. Trust that the life you’ve lived has prepared you for this moment.
“My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly, the only thing to do was keep swinging.” —Hank Aaron
Have a bias for action.
Do something rather than nothing.
Even a step in the wrong direction is better than standing still.
You don’t have to feel right to act. Just do what you think is best.
Don’t wait on inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs.
If you’re in a slump, don’t stand at the plate with your bat on your shoulder, hoping for ball four.
And keep swinging.
“Everything you’re trying to reach—by taking the long way round—you could have right now, this moment. If you’d only stop thwarting your own attempts. If you’d only let go of the past, entrust the future to Providence, and guide the present toward reverence and justice.
Reverence: so you’ll accept what you’re allotted. Nature intended it for you, and you for it.
Justice: so that you’ll speak the truth, frankly and without evasions, and act as you should—and as other people deserve.
Don’t let anything deter you: other people’s misbehavior, your own misperceptions, What People Will Say, or the feelings of the body that covers you (let the affected part take care of those). And if, when it’s time to depart, you shunt everything aside except your mind and the divinity within … if it isn’t ceasing to live that you’re afraid of but never beginning to live properly … then you’ll be worthy of the world that made you.
No longer an alien in your own land.
No longer shocked by everyday events—as if they were unheard-of aberrations.
No longer at the mercy of this, or that.”
Accept what is. Resistance is futile.
And have the courage to do the right thing. Always.
So simple. So hard.
This gem of a book never fails to both comfort and challenge.