Focus on the little things
Alright, maybe I didn’t make any progress on my major ongoing project today, but hey I did manage to make pizza dough, deal with emails, finish a smaller project, start learning something new and vacuum. It all counts. When you’re having an off day, change your frame of reference slightly, and celebrate what you DID do rather than what you did not.
Do something slightly new
Strangely enough, when I’m having off days, I often respond really well to trying something new. Maybe it’s because my daily routine is already fucked up so I might as well go all in. It’s probably not a good idea to start on something really challenging or completely foreign to you, though. If you’re learning to sew when your fingers only know how to type, you’ll be faced with a huge and frustrating learning curve that’s probably best left to when you’re in better humour.
Today I started a new Lynda course which covers the basics of a coding language that I’ve been wanting to learn. It put a little joy and challenge into my day without requiring anything more onerous than watching a video on my laptop, and I feel slightly more inspired than I did at midday.
If you can’t do anything right today, maybe try doing the dishes, or vacuuming. You could probably do either in your sleep if you had to, and the satisfaction of sparkling dishes or a lint-free carpet will word wonders on your psyche.
Chuck in the towel and read a book
Fluffy robe and popcorn optional, but recommended.
I’ve been under a fair bit of stress lately. Nearly a year into self-employment, work has become steadier, sometimes more than steady. Although I love it, I’ve finally come to understand why people yearn to meditate. With my mind racing with mostly unproductive worries and nags, I’ve been thinking that I should try mediation to calm the tumult and find ‘flow’ again.
The problem has been finding a guide to meditation that isn’t complete granola claptrap. I loaded Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now onto my Kindle but gave up almost immediately. His meanings were almost completely opaque to me, and I didn’t have to fortitude to stick through it. So when Dan Harris popped up on The Colbert Report (where he was a more eloquent guest than most on the show) to promote his book 10% Happier, I figured I’d give it a try.
Writing the above paragraphs, I’ve come to appreciate Dan Harris’ book a little bit more. It’s hard to write about mediation without sounding like a complete asshole. Dan gave it a fair shot, and his book was useful, though I never felt entirely compelled by his voice.
Journalist/News Anchor, extrovert, and work-a-holic Dan Harris becomes intrigued by meditation, and seeks to cut through the hippy-dippy bullshit in search of something more practical that he can apply to his daily life. He journeys, he stumbles, but eventually manages to create a mediation practice that fits within, and enhances his life. He says it makes him ‘about 10% happier’.
What I liked
This isn’t a life-hacking book. I was afraid that I was in for another Tim Ferris wank-fest, but I was pleasantly surprised by Harris’ respect for the subject matter. Although Harris doesn’t become a Buddhist, he explores Buddhism, and the role of meditation therein with care, and ultimately decides that while the spiritual aspect of Buddhism isn’t for him, the mechanics of mediation are useful to him. From what I know of Buddhism as a whole, this is absolutely kosher (though correct me if I’m wrong).
I like that Harris clung to his misgivings about Eckhart Tolle (whom he finds a bit too whack-a-doodle) and Deepak Chopra (whom he considers to be insincere), and sought meditation practitioners and teachers whose practise is more deeply rooted in ‘the real world’. In his words:
“After months of swimming against the riptide of bathos and bullshit peddled by the self-help subculture, it was phenomenally refreshing to see the ego depicted with wry wit.”
He frequently mentions that meditation has a terrible marketing issue in that its most vocal advocates are a bit too crunchy and/or otherworldly for the mainstream. He suggests several works for further reading which are rooted in science rather than mysticism, for folks who would prefer to read about meditation from that viewpoint.
I also found the chapter on ‘hiding the zen’ to be useful. Although I’m blogging about it, one’s self-help forays aren’t always what you’d like discussed in the public sphere. It’s nice to be able to slip under the radar as a meditator without showing your ‘woo woo-ness’ in public.
What I didn’t like
I’ll be honest, Harris is not someone I’d like to hang out with. While I enjoyed his journey from bro-ish asshole to a more self-aware being, I couldn’t really relate on a personal level. Honestly, even a redeemed Harris seems like a bit of an asshole to me.
I also wasn’t too interested in the extensive personal narrative. While I appreciate it was important to illustrate his journey, I believe it could have been edited more thoroughly. As a non-USA reader, I had never heard of the guy, and don’t really care about the internal politics of USA news networks.
Moreover, Harris’ writing is serviceable, but his forays into poetic description most often fall flat. Take this one, for example:
“With the Klonopin on board you could have marched an army of crazed chimps armed with nunchucks and ninja stars into my apartment and I would have remained calm.”
His asides often devolve to a Barney Stinson meets College Bro level of sophistication
“The real mindfuck, though, was this: almost as soon as he said something brilliant, he would say something else that was totally ridiculous”
While other paragraphs head almost into (the much maligned) Eckhart Tolle territory — behold:
“Failure to recognize thoughts for what they are — quantum bursts of psychic energy that exist solely in your head — is primordial human error”
Harris is very much an extrovert. Throughout the book I found myself thinking that although I have never really meditated, I have already mastered some of the techniques he mentions. I think it comes down to the fact that I am an introvert and am very comfortable within my own mind — I know how to observe my thoughts and emotions and ‘lean in’ to them, responding rather than reacting. I get the sense that for an extrovert, the inner mind can be a scary and alien landscape, and that a large part of Harris’ journey is simply getting to know his inner mind.
Overall, this book was a useful start for my foray into meditation, though I’ll need to do a lot more reading, I think. This is the book for the everyman, and I’d like to gain a more academic insight.
While the tone was a bit too alpha-male and bro-ish for me, I appreciated the practical look at meditation.
Bonus points for a relatively obscure Simpsons reference.
Simplicity — the one-word answer to many of life’s problems
I’m currently experiencing a bit of internet malaise. Here’s five ways to avoid it.
So, so right. The seven deadly sins of freelancing.
Reuters has done an extensive and intensive investigation into the failed adoptions of US parents. What happens to the unwanted children? This five-part longread is absolutely riveting. Seriously, skip Breaking Bad tonight and read this instead.
14 weird reasons you’re not dead yet. In fact, Slate’s entire series on longevity is pretty damn interesting.
What Is Ugly? A New Exhibit Showcases The Diversity Of The Human Form
I’m somewhat torn between thoroughly researching our trip to Indonesia, or taking the que sera sera approach. I sometimes wonder if I would have enjoyed my time in India more had I been more prepared. Here’s some thoughts on trip planning.
This lady made a Feminist Cards Against Humanity.
Gender equity at Harvard Business School
What have you been reading lately? I’m quite enjoying the sexy decadence of Valley of the Dolls.
Today was a good day. I did some web design at the Newtown Library and went for a wander through the town. I spotted this ‘Before I Die’ installation on Wilson Street, just opposite my much-beloved Moshims. A little further down the road, on the window of a vacant building, I spied some interesting post-its. I love my neighbourhood.
(click to make big)
Feel free to use these photos, just let me know if you do!
Have you seen any interesting street art lately?
I quit biting my nails about 9 weeks ago. I’ve tried many times before and always failed — I’ve painted on the gross-tasting stuff (if you really want to bite you eventually find the taste quite tolerable), I’ve glued on falsies, and I’ve tried growing one nail at a time. FAIL.
This time my method is different — I have committed to keeping my nails clean, filed, and beautifully painted. I’ve started getting into nail art and actually taking care of my nails. So far, I haven’t bitten, and have only been tempted to bite once. I feel like I’m on to a good thing, plus I have a new creative outlet. Nails = tiny canvases we carry with us.
So what have I learned about habit?
1. Have very specific, solid reasons
People have told me that biting my nails is unhealthy, gross, and makes my nails look bad. Fair point. But I was unperturbed. None of points resonated with me — I’m neither germophobe nor hygiene freak, so picking up a few extra germs from my nails was not a huge nor tangible concern of mine. As for my nails looking bad…well, they never looked that bad…that’s just what my nails looked like.
Then I started following the Lacquerista community online. I subscribed to the subreddit (r/redditlaqueristas if you were wondering), trawled through some nail polish blogs and started following nail artists on Pinterest. With my eyes open to the awesome things these lacqueristas were doing, I decided I wanted that too! Awesome, pretty nail art. Maybe it’s not a noble reason, but that’s my reason for quitting and it’s more than good enough for me.
If you’re trying to begin or quit a habit, find yourself some really, oddly-specific, visceral reasons for doing it. If it’s smoking, maybe the possibility of cancer is too ephemeral to consider, while the goal of getting rid of your smoker’s cough might be of more immediate and measurable concern to you.
2. Take the problem and turn it into something beautiful or productive
For me, I’m taking my gross nails and giving them a whole lot of TLC. I’m taking my problem and turning it into a beautiful little project. For some bad habits of mine, I often find that the habit is really just a product of neglect — if I’m not eating well, it means that I’m neglecting my meal planning and not reading enough food blogs or recipe books. If I’m spending a lot of money it means that I haven’t put enough effort into being prepared by making a coffee at home before I leave for the day, or packing snacks in my bag. By injecting a bit of love into these areas, my bad habits go away.
3. Have a contingency plan
Presumably, you are human. I’m a human, too, and therefore sometimes I fail at things. If you consider the possibility of failure, you can plan for it — having a plan in place for potential failure can make failure a lot less stressful, and you’ll be more likely to try again rather than giving up completely.
When it comes to biting my nails, I know there are a few things that will lead to temptation — chipped nail polish, broken nails, or bare nails. So, I try to keep my nails freshly manicured as much as I can. I have a back-up plan, though — if I feel like I’m about to bite, I trim my nails instead which completely removes the temptation.
What are your thoughts on habits? Do you have any tricks for sticking to them?
If you haven’t listened to Nine Inch Nails’ new album Hesitation Marks yet, give it a listen then read Pretty Much Amazing’s review. I absolutely love the album with one notable exception (the single Everything is bizarre in a bad way. Oh Trent).
Amanda Palmer bought her Ninja Parade to Wellington this week, stopping in at Civic Square, the City Library and some spots on Cuba Street.
Choice: Texas | A web-based game in development that hopes to tackle and give context to the abortion issue
30 Things You Should Do Right Now
Rebecca Harrington tries out celebrity diets and writes (hilariously) about them. Apparently, Madonna’s was the hardest.
Every Tech Commercial Ever // see also: Android KitKat takes the piss out of Apple
This biographical piece on Marissa Mayer is LONG but interesting
Ditto this exploration of the life of celebrity elephants in India. While we were in India we met an elephant (her name was Happiness) in some pretty dodgy circumstances, but the treatment of male elephants in Kerala is disgusting.
Heroin.com: Selling junk online | dealers peddle drugs online – how do they do it without getting caught?
Is ‘Pretty’ a set of skills?
Dear Straight People…
Finally — this is beautiful and terrifying
1. Make cheese
2. Try aerial yoga
3. Take the Parliament Tour
4. Get my full driver’s license
5. Walk the Town Belt Southern Walkway
6. Eat a plant-based diet for two weeks
7. Properly research an overseas trip. And go overseas. And enjoy.
8. Learn to use the fancy camera
9. Grow basil (successfully)
10. Run a 5k
11. Give up Facebook
12. Try Mexican corn
13. Visit the Carter Observatory
14. Eat at Floriditas
15. See a film at the NZIFF
16. Do the Wellington Writer’s Walk
17. Have High Tea at Martha’s Pantry
18. Decorate the house
19. Spend more than $100 on a pair of shoes
20. Totally nail water marbling
21. Get a piece of writing published in a local magazine or paper
22. Create a WordPress theme from scratch
23. Make something with silken tofu
24. Watch The New Zealand Wars
Spring weather is beginning to creep into rotation, which means occasional glimpses of gorgeous Wellington sun. This morning I sat working in my desk under our bay window and the sun shone on my back while I sipped coffee and sent emails. It was pretty heavenly. At about 11:30am the sun dipped around the corner of the house and my desk grew cold.
I decided to drive to Lyall Bay for a walk along the beach. It was so beautiful…it only occurred to me when I got there that I should have taken the DSLR. Instead a took some photos on my phone, listened to my audiobook and got some sand in my shoes before returning home for lunch. The beach was empty, just a few kids playing on the jungle gym, and a couple of freelancers taking a mid-morning break like myself.
Did I mention that I adore working for myself?
I confess that, after skimming the preface of How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, I set my Kindle aside, cracked open my laptop and Googled ‘how to read a book key points’.
You see, I’m a lazy reader. I simply have not developed the fortitude to plough through a book that isn’t particularly interesting to me on a very superficial level. If it’s boring, I’m out. If it’s too complex and I can’t speed-read it as I usually do, I’m out. How to Read a Book is one of those books. It is bland and boring, soporific and tedious. Hell, even the book’s Wikipedia page was too long-of-wind for me. Take this for example:
There are three types of knowledge: practical, informational, and comprehensive. He discusses the methods of acquiring knowledge, concluding that practical knowledge, though teachable, cannot be truly mastered without experience; that only informational knowledge can be gained by one whose understanding equals the author’s; that comprehension (insight) is best learned from who first achieved said understanding — an “original communication” [Wikipedia]
I’m not entirely sure how I made it through an academic degree, considering my lazy reading habits. Oh wait–I know. I skimmed, I scanned, I read the introduction, the headings and the conclusions, and I always made sure I had a few morsels to contribute during tutorials. As a whole, I find non-fiction easier to read. Except essays by Griselda Pollock, I’m yet to make head or tail of her work. Blessedly, I know that I am personally not cut out for education beyond my Bachelor’s degree and that’s probably the most demanding reading load that will ever be expected of me. I can now choose to wallow in contemporary literature, essays, pop-science, and science fiction novels of dubious calibre. Hooray.
The thing is, though, I feel a bit of pressure (and maybe it’s imagined but nevertheless it presses me), to fully earn my status as a culturally-aware, educated, middle-class woman by reading books that are…challenging. The Classics, you know, The Great Books. I have read a few (and even liked a few)! But there are still others that I avoid because I know, I just know that I’ll struggle my way through them, probably miss the point and themes and what-have-you, and have nothing interesting to say about them. How embarrassing. It would seem that I am exactly the sort of person who would benefit from reading How to Read a Book. So I decided to read the damn thing–maybe it would do me some good.
After perusing the relevant Wikipedia page, I decided to skip Part I entirely. This is probably not how you’re meant to read a book. But really, the chapter summary made it seem like Some Old Guy ranting about the Shitty State of the Education System. Behold:
He takes time to tell the reader about how he believes that the educational system has failed to teach students the arts of reading well, up to and including undergraduate university-level institutions. He concludes that, due to these shortcomings in formal education, it falls upon the individuals to cultivate these abilities in themselves. Throughout this section, he relates anecdotes and summaries of his experience in education as support for these assertions.
While that’s all very nice, I really don’t care that much. Just tell me how I’m supposed to read the book, please. Alright. Here’s what Wikipedia had to say about Part II:
The first stage of the third level of reading is concerned with understanding the structure and purpose of the book. It begins with determining the basic topic and type of the book being read, so as to better anticipate the contents and comprehend the book from the very beginning.
Ah! Great! I understand this. During teacher training, this was referred to as the top-down approach–mentally gathering information you already know and applying that knowledge to the topic. Great. This chapter concerns non-fiction, though. Look, honestly, non-fiction I’m fine with. I can read non-fiction, extract the themes and discuss them intelligently. I have a piece of paper from Victoria University that endorses this ability. What about fiction? Oh. That’s addressed in Part III.
Part III. The author immediately describes me:
People deceive themselves about their ability to read novels intelligently. From our teaching experience, we know how tongue-tied people become when asked to say what they liked about a novel. That they enjoyed it is perfectly clear to them, but they cannot give much of an account of their enjoyment or tell what the book contained that caused them pleasure.
I flicked through a few pages. What did I learn?
- Read your fiction book quickly, to get a sense of the whole story.
Good. I do this. I read FAST.
- When faced with a metric shit-ton of characters, don’t give up. Try and learn their names and who they are, just like you would when meeting people at a new job.
Okay. Seems sensible. I’ll do it.
And then I gave up reading. I failed to read How to Read a Book, and I don’t think I’ll ever pick it up again. I’d much rather have started a Dickens novel, really. A quick scan of Goodreads shows that I’m not alone. Many others found the book long-winded and not extremely useful, particularly for fiction. Ultimately, the book wasn’t for me, but that doesn’t mean that my quest for a more meaningful reading experience is ended; I still want to learn to read more critically, but I’ll pursue it in my own way. After all, I want to be able to say something intelligent and compelling at my next book club meet-up. I certainly won’t be recommending How to Read a Book, though.
It’s the middle of winter and I’m sick of it. The last few days of sunshine have been a welcome reprieve from the storms and earthquakes of the past few weeks. Still, I’m hankering for summer. I can’t wait to start planting plants and extending my tiny garden beyond a couple of herbs.
I’ve spent my past few weeks busily working and (still) trying to settle in to my new life. It’s amazing, and rewarding, but a little overwhelming at times.
Enough about me, though, here’s some good reads:
D-I-Why? Emily Matchar on the Lure of the “New Domesticity” | More thoughts on this to come, as I’m currently reading her book.
Boy Meets World | A great piece in Salient by Sebastian, a “transmasculine fella, a non-binary swoonprince smashing heteronormativity ”
Why the UK’s anti-porn laws are ridiculous and it matters that they’re overturned
Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death | Dr. Michael Greger looks at the leading causes of death, and how a vegetarian diet can help fight and prevent most of them.
The History of CTRL+ALT+DELETE
I’m not a hero for taking care of my kids (I’m also not babysitting them. I’m their dad.)
The Comment Section for Every Article Ever Written about Intimate Grooming | This is the funniest thing I’ve ever read online.
Comics about Introversion | So, so accurate.
My Gucci Addiction | The author of Friday Night Lights gives a fascinating account of his high-fashion addiction
How to stop being mean | This should be required reading for everyone
Read anything good lately? Do share!