Road trip feast

On a family road trip, hungry for a quick dinner, thinking we’re stuck with fast food…

And Google leads us to this gem of a pizza place just off the interstate in Greensboro, NC—Cugino Forno.

According to the menu at least, the wood-fired ovens are made from “the volcanic sand of Mt. Vesuvius”. Pretty authentic, I say.

And it was still fast food. Took only 90 seconds to cook each pizza. Volcanic oven, indeed.

After three weeks of fairly strict low-carb, this was an excellent way to break the string.

To live in the hearts of those we love

Today is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 76. I haven’t been able to celebrate with her in a dozen years. But I haven’t stopped celebrating her.

She was the joy of our whole extended family. The heartbeat, the rock, the radiant smile, the mischievous twinkle, the remarkable kindness.

I’m not one to dwell or cling or feel sorry for myself. Life breaks your heart. If your heart hasn’t been broken yet, you haven’t lived long enough. For me, I prefer to face the heartbreak square on and accept it and use it to appreciate, celebrate even, what I had and will continue to hold dear.

My youngest daughter was born two years after my mom died. She didn’t know her, but she knows about her and refers to her regularly.

We still tell stories of my mom and smile and laugh. I still wear a glimmer of her features on my face and say things in the way she would say them. I aim still to delight her and make her proud.

Those we have loved live on in us.

The epitaph we finally chose for my mom’s grave marker:

TO LIVE IN THE HEARTS

OF THOSE WE LOVE IS

NOT TO DIE

How noble, how excellent to live a life that endures beyond your span, that resonates into generations unborn. A life marked by love ultimately will end up breaking hearts. And enlarging them and fortifying them and comforting them for years to come. A hint of immortality awaits those who live lives of love.

Favorite new thing: AirPods

Last summer I used the Father’s Day gift card I received from my family to buy a pair of Apple’s wireless AirPods.

It was a bit of a splurge, but they weren’t much more expensive than the Jaybird Bluetooth earbuds I had been using previously. And the Jaybirds regularly let me down. The battery life was a mystery, and they would too often lose their connection.

Several months later, the AirPods have become an essential part of my daily carry. The case is brilliant. It keeps the AirPods charged without me having to think about it. I charge the case once, maybe twice a week. The case is a delight in the hand. The size and shape are perfect. Each AirPod clicks into place inside the case with a satisfying magnetic plop. Thanks to the nifty case and no annoying wires, I keep them in my pocket at all times.

I’m no audiophile and don’t use these to listen to music. The audio quality is great for my purposes, though. I really only use these for podcasts, audiobooks, and phone calls. And I usually only use one AirPod at a time while I’m driving or talking on the phone. If I’m out for a walk, I’ll put them both in. But by only typically using one AirPod at a time, I’m effectively doubling the battery life.

The built in mic is impressive. Siri understands me better through AirPods than when I’m just talking to my iPhone.

The only quirk is the fit, or actually my ears. Turns out my left ear has a different shape than my right ear. (That was news to me, too.) The right AirPod fits great. The left one, not so much. It just barely stays in. Since I one-AirPod it regularly, though, it’s not much of a problem. The right one just gets most of the use. I bought some cheap rubber ear hooks to use when I’m exercising with them to make sure that left one stays put.

Since I consume so much information from audiobooks and podcasts, AirPods have been a wonderful addition to my daily routine. A lot of new technology products, especially in somewhat new categories, take a few iterations before hitting their stride. But with AirPods, Apple hit this one out of the park on its first try.

The serendipity of discovery

“I can’t begin to tell you the things I discovered while I was looking for something else.” –Shelby Foote

Same here.

This describes most careers, most love stories and deep friendships, and probably the bulk of the greatest ideas and discoveries. Looking for something else, but found this wonder instead.

It’s such a delight to stumble across possibilities unimagined and unbidden.

But you’ve got to be looking for something. The serendipity of discovery does not happen if you’re not actively searching.

Action is the X factor. You don’t have to be certain of your destination. In fact, you shouldn’t be certain. Just don’t sit there waiting for the wonder to come to you.

When in doubt, simply get moving on the search for something. Anything. Pick a direction and go.

Expanding frontier of ignorance

It’s just up ahead. So close.

My destination. Finally.

I’m there.

But… turns out…

There is no there there.

Only more questions, more unknowns that I didn’t know I didn’t know.

It will always be such.

I’ll never get there.

If I keep at it, the depths of my ignorance will only keep growing.

Questions will multiply. Answers will crumble under me.

If I stand pat, clinging to my fragile answers, the comfort of “certainty” will be merely an illusion.

And I will know it.

The universe is smaller and paler, and seemingly safer, facing away from that confounding frontier.

We humans are here today, though, because our ancestors kept pushing at the horizon and into the unknown.

It’s deep within us to quest and attempt to unravel mysteries and to merely see what’s around the bend.

We will be in peril when we no longer heed the call of the frontier, when we are content with the answers we already have.

We’re in peril now.

Our hope, individually and collectively, is in the embrace of our ignorance and the pursuit of truth no matter where it leads.

“I don’t mind not knowing. It doesn’t scare me.” –Richard Feynman*

*It was Feynman who relished the “expanding frontier of ignorance” in his study of physics. And it was Feynman who delighted in the pleasure of finding things out.

How lucky we are to be alive right now

Look around…

In spite of a steady stream of bad news and foreboding events, there’s not a better time to be alive in human history than right now.

On the whole we are safer, healthier, more educated, more knowledgeable, more prosperous, and more secure than any generation of humans before us.

“But,” you say, “look at all the people saying and doing bad things. Look at all the suffering and injustice in the world. Look at the fragility of our planet.”

Well, go fight for justice. Provide relief where you can to those who are suffering. Protect our planet. Do good and be good and make the world around you a kinder place.

Let the circumstances that challenge us summon the heroic within us.

The century ahead is filled with unprecedented potential for progress and for peril.

The previous century was marked by both the greatest triumphs and the most shameful transgressions and tragedies of human history so far. But where we are today is markedly better than where we were one hundred years ago.

What do the decades ahead hold for us?

Our story is unwritten. We get to decide how we will respond to the obstacles and opportunities rising before us.

But we are more fortunate and more prepared to push humanity forward than any generation that came before.

Be grateful that you are alive right now.

The story of Nike: Phil Knight’s epiphany

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I just finished reading Nike CEO Phil Knight’s memoir, Shoe Dog, which tells the story of the creation of his now iconic company.

Knight’s story is compelling and candid and gratifyingly straightforward. He makes himself vulnerable and doesn’t pretend to be a sage or saint.

I was hooked in the foreword by his telling of an epiphany moment, when in his early twenties out for a run in the woods he decided how he wanted his life to unfold:

 “I had an aching sense that our time is short, shorter than we ever know, short as a morning run, and I wanted mine to be meaningful. And purposeful. And creative. And impor­tant. Above all . . . different.

I wanted to leave a mark on the world.

I wanted to win.

No, that’s not right. I simply didn’t want to lose.

And then it happened. As my young heart began to thump, as my pink lungs expanded like the wings of a bird, as the trees turned to greenish blurs, I saw it all before me, exactly what I wanted my life to be. Play.

Yes, I thought, that’s it. That’s the word. The secret of happiness, I’d always suspected, the essence of beauty or truth, or all we ever need to know of either, lay somewhere in that moment when the ball is in midair, when both boxers sense the approach of the bell, when the runners near the finish line and the crowd rises as one. There’s a kind of exuberant clarity in that pulsing half second before winning and losing are decided. I wanted that, whatever that was, to be my life, my daily life.

…What if there were a way, without being an athlete, to feel what athletes feel? To play all the time, instead of working? Or else to enjoy work so much that it becomes essentially the same thing.”

Lovely, right?

And it’s a great start to the book, propelling the reader into a story that is filled with the kinds of ups and downs you might expect in a career and a company of such magnitude.

The book is devoted mostly to the Nike origin story and the people Knight surrounded himself with in the very beginning in the 1960s and 70s as they created the worldwide juggernaut that Nike eventually became.

Nike came perilously close to not making it out of its infancy. But Knight and his team were resilient and persistent and savvy enough to beat the odds and create a company that resonates beyond even its products.

As business books go, this one is refreshingly readable with some worthwhile insights whether your aim is to be a titan of industry or just the captain of your own fate.

Humans are the worst, and the best

Often, when I hear some terrible story about what someone has done to someone else, I exclaim to my wife, “Humans are the worst!”

And because we are supposed to be a rational, conscious being with a conscience, we really ought to expect better behavior from our fellow homo sapiens.

In the big scheme of things, though, we humans are just toddlers on the world stage.

The dinosaurs ruled the planet for millions of years.

Modern humans have been around a mere 200,000 years, and we’ve been at the top of the food chain for only a very short while.

Our direct ancestors were just another species of animal (of course, we still are merely animals), and not a very imposing or impressive one, for most of our timeline.

We didn’t figure out agriculture until 10,000 years ago.

And science didn’t begin to take hold until just 500 years ago.

Our big brains evolved into this wondrous asset that empowered us to conquer the world and write poetry and experience awe and joy and laughter. It also enabled us to suffer and inflict suffering like no other species on the planet.

Certainly, we’ve come a long way in a relatively short time.

But it has been a short time. We’re new here.

We are only now beginning to find our footing. We will stumble and go backwards here and there and routinely make a mess of things.

But we are not who we used to be. In spite of the headlines, the reality is that humans have never been more at peace with each other than they are now. (That may say more about how primitive and brutal we have been than about how enlightened we have become.)

If we don’t destroy ourselves before we get it together, we surely will eventually get it together.

Here’s hoping the better angels of our nature mature quicker and evolve faster than the parts of us that give our species a bad name.

Humans are the worst, but we have it in us to be the best.

Duality

“You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.” –Jonathan Safran Foer

via Scott McKain

One defines the other. The duality is essential for either to exist.

Hot defines cold. Light needs dark.

Don’t resist what you find bubbling up in your emotions.

Let it be. Observe, acknowledge, be fascinated.

Everything is temporary. Change is the constant.

Michael Pollan and Netflix aim to inspire you to cook more often

Netflix recently released their newest documentary, Cooked. It’s a gorgeously filmed exploration of the impact cooking had on making us human and the perils of abandoning cooking and relying mostly on the packaged food-like substance industry.

The documentary is based on Pollan’s book of the same name.

The film is a delight to the eyes. Gorgeous scenery from around the world provides the backdrop for a clear and compelling case to get back to our primal connection with the food we eat.

As the primary cook for my family I’m in the kitchen almost every day. And it’s a pleasure. It’s one of the few tasks I do every day that is tangible and satisfying in the most visceral way. I make something real that I can smell and taste. And this daily act fuels, and hopefully delights, the people I love most.

I recommend that as often as you can, you should cook your own food.

Watching this new film will inspire you to appreciate your relationship with food and how you prepare it.

“Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.” –Michael Pollan

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Take more time to do better work

The author of Deep Work, Cal Newport, has upped his activity on his blog in the wake of his new book.

Today he shared this quote from a book published by an academic in 1912:

“To save time, take time in large pieces. Do not cut time up into bits…The mind is like a locomotive. It requires time for getting under headway. Under headway it makes its own steam. Progress gives force as force makes progress. Do not slow down as long as you run well and without undue waste. Take advantage of momentum. Prolonged thinking leads to profound thinking.”

I’ve found this to be true for me. I would have a lot more profound thoughts if I more regularly carved out big swaths of time for focused work sessions.

Getting started on doing serious work, work that really matters, can be completely uncomfortable. And then sticking with a hard thing for the first 20-30 minutes takes patience and diligence.

But once the distracted part of your brain gives up and allows your mind to get into a focused flow, the work actually becomes a delight.

The key is having the will to trudge through the initial resistance and overcome the pain and friction required to get into a groove.

Be strong. Be patient.

Your best work is just past that godawful hill you’ve got to climb to get started.

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Showing my work: Boston

I’m giving the keynote speech at a conference for college students Friday night in Boston. 

It’s easy to think of the effort of giving a speech as the 30-60 minutes it takes to stand and deliver the talk. But, for me at least, I spend many hours mulling ideas, putting the structure together, designing slides, and rehearsing.

Here’s my office whiteboard from earlier this week when I was trying to make sense of all the ideas I was considering for this keynote: 

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And here’s a screenshot from today of the slide sorter view in the Keynote app as I neared completion of my slide design:

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I’m not satisfied yet. I’ve rehearsed it out loud twice, and I like where it’s heading. But it hasn’t completely clicked yet. 

I’m afraid I’m trying to include too much, and I’m inclined to cut as much as a third of it when I review it again on the flight up tomorrow. 

This is a lot of effort for 45 minutes in front of an audience, and there are no guarantees my presentation will be well received. 

I do get absorbed in the best way, though, when I plunge into preparing for a new talk.

Much like signing up to run in a race weeks from now focuses your commitment to your fitness, committing to give a speech focuses your mind on ideas. My brain has been in a more aware and alert mode, scanning for relevant information and making connections and discoveries I otherwise would have passed by. 

Regardless of how the actual speech is received by the audience, the time spent in preparation has been a worthwhile commitment of my time and my creative energy. 

Road-trip audiobooks

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This is a good week to load up an audiobook or three for road-tripping.

I just added SPQR and Stumbling on Happiness to my Audible queue.

SPQR is Mary Beard’s new history of ancient Rome, and it’s gotten strong reviews. And I can’t seem to get enough of Roman history.

Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness has been on my wish list for a while.

Audiobooks can pick up the slack when I’m finding it hard to squeeze in all that I want to read.

I also downloaded a couple of favorite audiobooks to listen to again: Tim Kreider’s We Learn Nothing and Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up. Both are excellent, and both are read by the authors. You can’t go wrong with either if you want a good listen.

And I just saw that the whole Harry Potter series is now available on Audible. (It previously had been available only through J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore web site.) This audio series has been acclaimed not just for the phenomenon that Harry Potter is, but for the performance of the narrator, Jim Dale. Maybe this will give my kids a nice change of pace from playing games and watching movies on iPads in the car.

If hours-long books seem daunting, listen to podcasts instead. We are in a golden age of podcasting. There are so many amazing choices. Start with the Overcast podcast app, and use its recommendation feature if you don’t know where to start. Or ask me, and I can send you a long list of great podcasts.

Feed your mind and your imagination as you’re traveling this week. Happy travels. Happy listening.

There is good in everything

“There is good in everything, if only we look for it.” –Laura Ingalls Wilder

via Ryan Holiday

There is good in everything?

You certainly have the choice to find the good in even the worst circumstances.

Don’t resist what is. Love, somehow, even the heartbreak and tragedy that comes your way. Use everything—every setback, every obstacle—to learn and grow and to continually improve.

The element of surprise

Certainty kills the fun. 

Not-knowing provides the necessary tension for drama and suspense and a reason to keep turning the page, to keep leaping into the fray each day. 

Having the answers is boring. 

Having more questions is more fun. 

David Foster Wallace predicts our current reality

Merlin Mann linked to this comment the late author David Foster Wallace made in 1996(!):

“’Cause the technology is just gonna get better and better and it’s gonna get easier and easier and more and more convenient and more and more pleasurable to sit alone with images on a screen given to us by people who do not love us but want our money and that’s fine in low doses but if it’s the basic main staple of your diet you’re gonna die.” –David Foster Wallace

Prescient.

If what you regularly pump into your consciousness is processed pap prodding you to passiveness—numbing, mindless, turn-off-your-brain-and-scroll-Facebook-or-binge-on-Netflix passiveness—you will die indeed.

Not physical death—though sedentary leads to cemetery quicker—but that kind of junk diet for your mind certainly will kill off some of what makes you an authentic, free-range human being.

Your brain needs to be challenged regularly. You need to more regularly inhabit your physical body and be aware that you are alive—right here, right now.

Read something with substance, something challenging. Be with other humans, really with them. Engage in conversations that provoke and cause pause. Make something. Try expressing yourself more often. Do hard things. Take risks. Inhabit your senses more fully and more intentionally. Go primal. Go back to the basics of what shaped us into the incredible creatures we became.

Live while you can.

Weekend reading: Offscreen Magazine, #12

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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.

Worse than Nero

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.