Categories
blogging Life Music Personal development Philosophy

Getting through

During lockdown I have taken the opportunity to give my small (but now a little more perfectly formed, I hope) corner of the internet a makeover after, it must be admitted, a period of inattention.

Instead of launching straight into business matters, and in particular in view of the title of the previous post in this blog (very much pre-COVID19), I wanted to give a shout out to a few publications/resources that I’ve found helpful in getting through these strange times, and are also interesting and enjoyable in their own right. In no particular order:

Newsletters

Laura Olin

Laura Olin is a ‘digital strategist with sisu’. No, I didn’t know either, but now I wish I was Finnish, although there’s no strict necessity to be Finnish in order to join her in acting with determination, even in the face of seemingly impossible odds. [See what I’m ranting on about at https://www.lauraolin.com/]

But anyway, Laura Olin compiles a weekly email of ‘lovely and/or meaningful things’. The ‘things’ are not on any specific topic or agenda, but there’s always something to be interested in, to be surprised about; something to spark and encourage your creative energy.

Gretchen Rubin

I think she’s the most interesting and insightful person writing on happiness. Each week (amongst much else) she has a different interviewee responding to the same ten or so questions about happiness, habits and relationships. Last week the interviewee was author, blogger and speaker Jen Hatmaker [https://jenhatmaker.com] who spoke vividly about the importance of connectedness to us as humans – something we have all been missing in these days of social distancing.

In my latest book Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire, I was surprised to discover how not just important but crucial connected relationships are to our well-being. It is the single factor that overrides virtually every other marker of health. It alone has the power to meet all three basic human needs outlined in Self-Determination Theory, it is the strongest predictor of physical health and lifespan, and it is permanently linked to our levels of resiliency, optimism, and productivity. In other words, the lonelier we are, the worse we are doing in every facet of life, and the more connected we are, the better we are doing in every facet of life. Connection and belonging matter almost more than anything else we put our hands to.

Read more at https://gretchenrubin.com/

And I can’t leave newsletters without mentioning writer and artist (or, artist and writer) Austin Kleon. He is a brilliant curator who always has interesting things to say and draw your attention to in art, writing music and more. You can read more and subscribe here.

Podcasts

I’m a recent convert to Podcasts, but I’m really loving and highly recommended these:

How To Fail with Elizabeth Day

A blog about failure… or rather, getting through failure to the other side. Coming to terms with the things that haven’t gone right, in business or life or both (after all, work is part of life, which is why I don’t really go for the ‘work/life balance’ shtick; but that’s another story), because to ‘learn how to fail is to learn how to succeed.’

Whether one totally buys into this overall proposition or not, Elizabeth Day is an excellent interviewer and is able to attract a lot of very interesting interviewees.

During the lockdown there have been three special editions interviews with Mo Gawdat (author of Solve for Happy, Alain de Botton (of the School of Life and much else), and also now one with fashion designer Henry Holland. All are thought-provoking and offer a lot of helpful advice and insight. And are often very moving. For me, the standout (both original interview and recent coronavirus special) is Alain de Botton.

FT Culture Call

Lively and engaging chat and interviews between two engaging FT’ers in London and New York about culture high and low – a redundant distinction, thankfully, but just to indicate we’re not simply talking opera and classics here.

In a recent episode Lilah, in New York, interviewed chef Samin Nosrat, author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. You don’t need to have heard of Samin Nosrat or be interested in food to find this a fascinating listen.

Find out more here: ft.com/culture-call

Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs

Finally, for a bit of fun and escape, Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs is hard to beat. These two are fun, sassy and, as with all the best conversations (or criticism for that matter), it doesn’t really matter whether you know or care much about the particular song or artist they’re talking about. Still less whether you agree with them. I can even just about forgive them for not including Tom Waits in their episode talking about songs called ‘Hold On’. His is head and shoulders above any they chose. But no matter.

What they have to say is always entertaining and perceptive. The recent episode on Nelly Furtado is a good case in point, the conversation ranging far and wide, from reflections on the emotional power of music to a certain nostalgia for the days when you had to actually leave the house to get your hands on a new album. It’s a joy, and a regular fix for me while walking the dog.

Categories
Books Life Personal development

I’m so glad I didn’t die…

‘I’m so glad I didn’t die on the various occasions I have earnestly wished I might, for I would have missed a lot of lovely weather.’

Elizabeth von Arnim, in a letter.

[#quoteFriday]

Born Mary Annette Beauchamp in Sydney, Australia on 31 August 1866, the prolific and, in her day, hugely successful author ‘Elizabeth’ von Arnim lived a remarkable life that, just for starters, included performing Bach and Liszt on the organ at Bayreuth for Cosima Wagner (Liszt’s daughter) and marrying into the Prussian aristocracy.

Rain or shine, enjoy the weather. And read more about Elizabeth von Arnim.

She is this month’s ‘Author of the Month’ at the LRB Bookshop (from whom I learned of this quote).

Categories
Life Personal development technical writing

Documentation, Disrupted

Just came across this great presentation by Google tech writer Riona MacNamara at WriteTheDocs recent Portland conference (May 19, 2015).

The subject area is technical documentation, and is very interesting on that score. But it’s about so much more – most importantly, what you can achieve by being audacious (but not reckless), focused (but open and generous), and unafraid.

I love the subtle qualifications that make all the difference – audacious, but not reckless, for example. Though note that there is no qualification for unafraid: you’ve just got to be unafraid (or, maybe as likely, feel the fear – and do it anyway. There’s also a lot of good stuff on happiness, work and making a difference.

Now looking at ways to get to the WriteTheDocs conference in Prague.

Anyway, enjoy – and one thought to take away:

“Authority and influence don’t derive from your resumé, but from action and impact.” Riona MacNamara

Categories
Life Personal development

Handshake addendum

Whilst on the subject (of handshakes), remarks by Professor Peter Piot on Desert Island Discs this morning made fascinating – and poignant – listening.

He is Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and an expert on HIV and Ebola.

On a recent trip to Sierra Leone he noticed that the local people have developed new conventions for greeting – the ‘Ebola shake’ – in order to avoid the touching of hands which, in the presence of Ebola, can be deadly.

Men are greeting each other by touching elbows; Women, a touch on the dress.

He emphasised what a significant change this was in a culture where “touch is huge” and making a physical connection when you greet someone is deeply rooted.

It will be interesting to see if this marks a permanent change or whether, after the epidemic, people return to shaking hands.

You can listen to the clip here, and the entire programme here.

And incidentally (I’m just discovering this subject is huge!), listen to how campaigner and supreme networker Julia Cleverdon’s “fingers itch every time I arrive at a gathering” here.

Need carefully crafted content for your business? Please contact me now

Categories
Books Personal development Philosophy Uncategorized

Ripeness is all

I’ve been reading Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native for a walk I’m leading. The strange thing about Hardy is that you seem to feel the need to offer an excuse as to why you’re reading him, or maybe that’s just me. But anyway –

Clym Yeobright (the ‘Native’) has recently returned to Egdon Heath, where he was born, and has just told some of the local inhabitants, denizens of the heath as he was, that he plans to remain close to the heath and open a school. Whilst they say nothing, they are clearly taken aback; Why would someone who had escaped the heath and become a diamond-seller in Paris choose to return to this poor, backwater of a place – a place that everyone else dreams of leaving?

Thorncombe-3-web

The answer is that Clym has become an idealist.

Yeobright loved his kind. He had a conviction that the want of most men was knowledge of a sort which brings wisdom rather than affluence.

However, because of his studious time in Paris, he was far in advance of his erstwhile fellow inhabitants of the heath – ‘the rural world was not ripe for him.’

‘A man should be only partially before his time: to be completely in the vanguard in aspirations is fatal to fame [ … ] Successful propagandists have succeeded because the doctrine they bring into form is that which their listeners have for some time felt without being able to shape.’

Doesn’t this just perfectly describe Steve Jobs, by the way, and in particular the iPad? Just enough ahead of the game, and able to fulfil aspirations that people were only dimly aware that they had.

But, unlike Jobs – at least in his speeches – Hardy is scornful of idealism:

‘Was Yeobright’s mind well-proportioned? No. A well-proportioned mind is one which shows no particular bias … It would never would have allowed Yeobright to do such a ridiculous thing as throw up his business [he was a diamond seller in Paris] to benefit his fellow-creatures.’

Yeobright dares to dream – and is punished for it.

By this time in his life Hardy had endured scorn and rejection himself – in people’s low expectations of the kind of job he might aspire to, and in the way his (now) in-laws had looked down upon him as the suitor of their daughter. Despite winning the woman and succeeding in the career he had set his hopes on – to be a writer – he allowed these early slights to colour his whole outlook.

Incidentally, not wholly unlike Picasso who, as John Richardson recounts in his biography of the artist, never forgave the lack of interest from dealers during his early years in Paris. But I digress.

Hardy damns Clym’s idealism, and throughout his novels those who aspire to escape the position into which they are born tend to pay a heavy price. Just think of Jude. And Clym.

I wonder if the reason Hardy feels so unfashionable right now is that in contradiction to today’s (welcome) mantra of ‘Yes you can!,’ Hardy seems intent on saying ‘No, you can’t’ and insisting on the insignificance of the individual. Despite the fact that he made it all the way to the top.

He is buried in Westminster Abbey – except for his heart. That’s back home in Dorset, in Stinsford churchyard, close to his birthplace. And the heath.

Categories
Books Life Personal development Philosophy

Carpe Diem – Proust on fishing

water-birch

There’s no irony (is there?) that a novel the length of ‘In Search of Lost Time’ is in fact about seizing the moment – or rather, trying to understand / appreciate / experience the full depth of every moment.

In this it is closer to the more accurate rendition of the phrase ‘carpe diem’ as ‘enjoy the day, pluck the day when it is ripe.’ (thank you, phrases.org.uk).

Here he is on catching the fleeting glance of a stranger through the window of a carriage travelling in the opposite direction:

… as soon as her individuality, a soul still vague, a will unknown to me, presented a tiny picture of itself, enormously reduced but complete, in the depths of her indifferent eyes, at once, by a mysterious response of the pollen ready in me for the pistils that should receive it, I felt surging through me the embryo, equally vague, equally minute, of the desire not to let this girl pass without forcing her mind to become aware of my person, without preventing her desires from wandering to someone else, without insinuating myself into her dreams and taking possession of her heart. Meanwhile our carriage had moved on; the pretty girl was already behind us; and as she had—of me—none of those notions which constitute a person in one’s mind, her eyes, which had barely seen me, had forgotten me already.

For Proust, every day is ripe for the picking; it is only habit and familiarity (and laziness) that dulls our vivid experience of every moment.

In the first place, the impossibility of stopping when we meet a woman, the risk of not meeting her again another day, give her at once the same charm as a place derives from the illness or poverty that prevents us from visiting it, or the lustreless days which remain to us to live from the battle in which we shall doubtless fall. So that, if there were no such thing as habit, life must appear delightful to those of us who are continually under the threat of death—that is to say, to all mankind.

And to fully appreciate every moment, it’s no good standing back, on the sidelines:

in the state of mind in which we “observe” we are a long way below the level to which we rise when we create.

To truly catch the fleeting moment we need to engage our imagination:

We need, between us and the fish which, if we saw it for the first time cooked and served on a table, would not appear worth the endless shifts and wiles required to catch it, the intervention, during our afternoons with the rod, of the rippling eddy to whose surface come flashing, without our quite knowing what we intend to do with them, the bright gleam of flesh, the hint of a form, in the fluidity of a transparent and mobile azure.

Proust on fishing! Who knew?! It certainly slipped by me first time around. But caught this time. All of which is to say, in a roundabout way, that after a break I’m just limbering up for Volume III: The Guermantes Way.

Categories
Books Life Personal development

Starting Over

The ability to start over, forgive (oneself and/or others) and move on: isn’t this at the heart of personal success, as well as the ongoing success/prosperity of nations?

An aside in Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, which I’ve just begun and is every bit as engrossing and electrifyingly well written as its predecessor, Wolf Hall, suddenly brought this to my mind. Cromwell, he, reflecting:

 A generation on, lapses must be forgiven, reputations remade, otherwise England cannot go forward, she will keep spiralling backwards into the dirty past.

Forget the past and you cannot learn from it, live in the past and you stagnate. Or, in terms of nationhood, the murderous stupidity of Pol Pot’s year zero or the disastrous consequences of the Kanun, the Law of Lek (Book 10, ch. 3) and the blood feud that can engulf families (even blight whole districts) for generations. This is the subject of Ismail Kadare’s excellent novel Broken Spring.

He not busy being born is busy dyin’ as Bob Dylan once wrote: well, it’s alright Ma, (I’m only bleeding). By coincidence, while writing this, the latest email from Chris Guillebeau (The Art of Non-Conformity) just dropped into my inbox, on ‘Destiny, Influence, and the Impossibility of Being Self-Taught, which ends:

The point is that we all learn from one another every day. You can learn to improve yourself, or to advance in a discipline. You can also pass on your knowledge and influence to others…

Things that seem small at first will come along and affect the remainder of our lives. Is it due to fate, chance, or destiny?

Sometimes it’s hard to say for sure. And does it really matter? Either way, lives are changed, and the next step is up to you.

Categories
Life Personal development Uncategorized

Realism and disappointment

On the art of non-conformity facebook page a few days ago: ‘Every time someone tells you to “be realistic” they are asking you to compromise your ideals.’

The election results for the Liberal Democrats were as ‘disappointing’ as Nick Clegg described them as, after all the speculation the election landscape remains a two horse race with the electorate declining to signal decisively in favour of electoral reform.

Why did the Lib Dems fail to translate breakthrough in the opinion polls into breakthrough in the real poll? I think their campaign ran out of steam after the second week. Putting on my amateur psychologist hat, the reason for that, I think, was because Clegg was determined to remain ‘realistic’ in expectations – prompted partly, I suspect, by fear of having the equivalent of David Steel’s ‘Go back to your constituencies and prepare for government’ clip following him around for the rest of his life. But this time was different and he should have grasped the nettle, particularly after the second debate, and concentrated on what he and the LibDems would want to do, in terms of policy and action, not simply repeating the (negative) formula ‘we’re not the other two’.

The difficulty is to know when a bit of realism might be a good idea – and when not.

Incidentally, my take on Tony Blair and the Iraq war – history had a similar role to play: the fear of repeating Chamberlain’s ‘here is the paper’ mistake (combined with the desire to emulate Thatcher and the Falklands). Hopefully the fear of repeating Blair’s mistake (combined with lack of funds) may rein in enthusiasm for new foreign adventures for a while.

Congratulations, incidentally, to Harvey Taylor for a consistently positive contribution to the election, as an Independent candidate in Bournemouth West.

Categories
Books Business development Personal development

Cities of the mind

The Invisible City of Musistella/Invisible Cities)Second View, originally uploaded by magic fly paula.

The inter-city train that Harvey (Taylor of HBT) set in motion in his incisive and characteristically exuberant presentation at the recent Shires BusinessXchange meeting has been running around my mind ever since and prompting searching questions –

Have I got the balance between Domesti and Auda right; Am I in Nebulo, when I should be in Specifi; And what about the balance between Complexi and Simpli (and here he gave us a wonderful quote from Einstein ‘Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler’); Most important of all, am I living in Authenti…?

And thinking about Harvey’s cities got me thinking about, and then re-reading, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, that extraordinary book of imagined cities, of states of mind and experience, of dreams and desire, of images and ideas. The world, parsed through an infinite series of possibilities.

Take the ‘grey stone metropolis’ of Fedora, for example, in the centre of which ‘stands a metal building with a crystal globe in every room.’ ..

These are the forms the city could have taken if, for one reason or another, it had not become what we see today. In every age someone, looking at Fedora as it was, imagined a way of making it the ideal city, but while he constructed his miniature model, Fedora was already no longer the same as before, and what had until yesterday a possible future became only a toy in a glass globe.

On the map of your empire, O Great Khan, there must be room both for the big, stone Fedora and the little Fedoras in glass globes. Not because they are all equally real, but because all are only assumptions. The one contains what is accepted as necessary when it is not yet so; the others, what is imagined as possible and, a moment later, is possible no longer.

[Cities & Desire 4, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, translated from the Italian from William Weaver, Picador]

And then I found this series of ravishing images, inspired by Invisible Cities. The image for Zora is above:

Zora’s secret lies in the way your gaze runs over patterns following one another as in a musical score where not a note can be altered or displaced.

See the whole set, by magic fly paula, here.

If you ask an inhabitant of Zenobia to describe his vision of a happy life, it is always a city like Zenobia that he imagines, with its pilings and its suspended stairways, a Zenobia perhaps quite different, a-flutter with banners and ribbons, but always derived by combining elements of that first model.