Lady Bird: Attention is love

This scene from the movie Lady Bird shows the main character, an angsty teenager eager to get out of high school and get out of town, being called on her supposed disdain for her hometown:

“You clearly love Sacramento.”

“I do?”

“You write about Sacramento so affectionately and with such care.”

“Well, I was just describing it.

“Well, it comes across as love.”

“Sure, I guess I pay attention.”

“Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?”

I need to be intentional about giving my full attention to whom and what I love. Too often I have moved through days on a sort of autopilot, with my attention consumed by distractions and trivialities.

We are surrounded by wonders and trudge on by without notice. An occasional pause for reverent astonishment would be a potent tonic.

And maybe I should take note of what I truly pay attention to consistently and see if there are hidden objects of affection I’ve been oblivious to.

In an increasingly distracted world, paying attention is a powerful gift and the ultimate expression of love.

Conan O’Brien on the delight of eventually being forgotten

Conan O’Brien on being remembered, or not:

I had a great conversation with Albert Brooks once. When I met him for the first time, I was kind of stammering. I said, you make movies, they live on forever. I just do these late-night shows, they get lost, they’re never seen again and who cares? And he looked at me and he said, [Albert Brooks voice] “What are you talking about? None of it matters.” None of it matters? “No, that’s the secret. In 1940, people said Clark Gable is the face of the 20th Century. Who [expletive] thinks about Clark Gable? It doesn’t matter. You’ll be forgotten. I’ll be forgotten. We’ll all be forgotten.” It’s so funny because you’d think that would depress me. I was walking on air after that.

We all want to be something or do something that endures, that leaves a legacy, that outlives our life. But in the big scheme of things, we are a mere blip. We take up very little space, and our lives twinkle in and out of time in a flash. I am one in seven billion. I will be gone and forgotten soon. So will you.

So, the pressure is off. I don’t need to make a dent in the universe in an effort to be remembered. I should take my shot at making a dent, though, simply because it delights me to give it a go. I’m alive and living in a splendid mystery, so why not play the game I’ve been dropped into?

“You are someone amazing. You are nobody special. The challenge is to hold onto both of those truths at the same time.” –Allison Vesterfelt

Comfortably dumb

“It is a far cry from fleeing evil and pain to what the sages say, that among equally good actions the most desirable to do is the one in which there is most trouble.” –Montaigne

“There is most joy in virtue when it’s hardest won.” –Lucan

The hardest thing about doing hard things is in the imagining of how hard it will be before you actually do it. Having done a hard thing, though, is immensely satisfying.

This might be a guide for good decision-making. Considering two options, the one that seems hardest, that elicits more trepidation or resistance, might be the more interesting, more rewarding path.

At the end of a day that’s been especially satisfying for me, it’s usually because I’ve overcome some resistance to do something that required a bit of courage or summoned some effort.

Even barely fulfilling a fraction of my potential is going to mean choosing discomfort regularly. But I know the reward for consistently pivoting toward challenges and away from numbing comfort will be more satisfying than the mindless, empty pleasure of the path of least resistance.

“Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.” –Jerzy Gregorak

Curious idiot

“The secret to being good at anything is to approach it like a curious idiot, rather than a know-it-all genius.” –Mike Monteiro

He who thinks he knows, doesn’t know. He who knows he doesn’t know, knows.

I need to regularly pause and remind myself just how little I know. When inclined to judge or label or assert my clever hot take, I need to stop myself and get curious instead.

When I’ve done a thing countless times and think I’ve got it down, I should check myself and try approaching it with a beginner’s mind.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

“I don’t know” is a surprisingly strong mindset and, as an honest response to a question, a potential launching point to possibilities not yet imagined.

Curious idiot: My aspirational default mode.

Embrace the mess

“Almost everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, scared, and yet designed for joy. Even (or especially) people who seem to have it more or less together are more like the rest of us than you would believe. I try not to compare my insides to their outsides, because this makes me much worse than I already am, and if I get to know them, they turn out to have plenty of irritability and shadow of their own. Besides, those few people who aren’t a mess are probably good for about twenty minutes of dinner conversation. This is good news, that almost everyone is petty, narcissistic, secretly insecure, and in it for themselves, because a few of the funny ones may actually long to be friends with you and me. They can be real with us, the greatest relief. As we develop love, appreciation, and forgiveness for others over time, we may accidentally develop those things toward ourselves, too.” –Anne Lamott


Everyone is completely winging it. I am. You are, too.

That’s either wonderfully reassuring or absolutely terrifying. Or both.

I have often felt I can’t let others know I don’t have things figured out. I don’t want to let anyone down who’s counting on me to be wise or strong. But allowing others to glimpse our own uncertainty and weakness is a gift that enriches both. Vulnerability leads to trust and authentic connection.

I need to embrace the mess and surf the chaos and give grace to everyone, because everyone is a mess just like me.

Back at it

There was a time when I posted something to this site every day. That daily challenge I set for myself added a little tension to each day, but it was also invigorating and rewarding. I would wake up each morning knowing I expected to capture an idea and put it out into the world. I would be on a daily hunt for a spark, for a thought worth exploring and worth sharing.

Some nights I would scramble before I went to bed to post a quote, a photo, a link, anything just to keep the streak going. And I had no shame in doing just barely enough to take credit for writing something every day. Just keep going. Just keep posting. Long streaks of forgettable or cringeworthy posts would be interrupted occasionally by something pretty good, something I was actually proud of. And I wouldn’t have gotten to the few good ones without all the mediocre attempts.

Committing to posting something daily put my antennae up throughout the day in a way that’s been missing since I’ve stopped writing regularly.

What can I ever write, though, that would be of lasting value? Who am I to write with any sense of authority? What do I know anyway? And who even cares? Eventually, those questions derailed me. It was just easier not to make the attempt.

Well, I do know that just the act of writing something down helps me to better understand myself. And writing, as frustratingly difficult as it is, can lead to rare, refreshing moments of clarity and the occasional deep satisfaction of crafting a phrase or illuminating a thought that delights me. Plus, there’s the double bonus of possibly writing something that might be meaningful to someone else, even if only by accident.

How can I know what I think until I see what I say?

The best way to understand something is to try to express it.

I know all this is true, but I have been resisting for years now the hard work and messy self-examination regular writing requires of me.

But I’m going to get back at it, even when—especially when—I just don’t feel like it. (Writing the first sentence is the hardest part. Once I put something down, no matter how embarrassingly bad it is, I tend to keep going. And it tends to get better.) I just know that being intentional about writing regularly has been good for my soul. “Not feeling like it” is a puny excuse that prevents an infinity of possible good things from ever happening.

I’m not promising daily posts. I’m not trying to start a new streak, knowing that the pressure of keeping a streak alive just adds to the resistance to even start. I’ll aim for dailyish.

It’s been too easy to default to consuming rather than creating. But I won’t look back some day and wish that I had scrolled Twitter more often or watched more YouTube videos. But I already regret not writing more. I regret not regularly attempting to make something meaningful or delightful, something that helps me make a little more sense of the world and might help someone else, too.

So, I’ll be back at it. Right here. Dailyish.

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.