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The Zero-Politics Issue
I'm baaaaaaaaack! [Insert sweet guitar riff]
I could use a break from politics. How about you?
Yeah. So as much as there is to read and learn and watch and think about all things controversial, I figured I’d give you a week’s worth of stuff to distract you from the slow-motion train wreck that is the world.
Oh, and no, it’s not your imagination: there hasn’t been a SARM since March. Which is essentially because I haven’t felt anywhere near startlingly awesome in a long time. But I seem to have turned a corner, so please, hit reply and let me know if you’re happy to see me in your inbox again.
And to all of you who have urged me to get back to writing - especially Ben and Bob - thanks.
1. Wood you?
Random fascinating fact: wood is generally preserved by salt water, and rotted by fresh water. Why? Because most microorganisms that digest wood can't live in salt water.
So when wooden ships suffer from rot and wood deterioration, it's usually not from the sea water leaking in, but from rain! (And from reactions with iron, but that’s a whole other post.) This just really tickles me. A boat is essentially a structure designed to keep the sea out, but in the end it's the water from the sky that does it in. Clearly the universe has a keen sense of humor.
In fact, back when most boats were wood, sailors kept huge cakes of salt down in the bilge so that any freshwater that ended up down there from rain would become salty, keeping most rot-promoting microorganisms at bay.
Ahem. I said at bay.
I learned this from Leo, a young, thoroughly entertaining British crazy person currently rebuilding a more than 100-year-old wooden sailing yacht in a DIY shipyard up in Washington state. He’s been at it for three years now, and you can see his latest weekly progress video here [YouTube, ~35 min watch].
⚠️Warning⚠️ Many have been taken by his charm and masterful craftsmanship, sat down to watch his first video [YouTube, ~4 min watch] to see how it all began, and then weren’t seen for several weeks.
2. Meetings, amirite? 🤷♂️
Life is full of contradictions. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that if there’s a part of life that doesn’t seem like a paradox to you, you just need to think about it a little harder.
Take meetings. Without them, nothing gets done. And yet in them, nothing gets done. SO HOW DO THINGS GET DONE?!!?
Sometimes, the answer is that they don’t, really.
But other times, somebody figures out a hack — a way out of the Möbius strip that is the workday.
Andy Raskin is one such man. His solution: everyone has to write down what they want to say before they say it [Twitter, 2+ min read].
Seems like it might be awkward, but it’s supported by actual research [Fast Company, ~3 minute read] and I’ve used a version of this in the past with great success. And now that Zoom meetings are more common I think it’s the perfect time for this tip. (If you thought you were done with Zoom meetings, I have a disappointing winter to introduce you to.)
3. Goodbye, world-that’s-less-cruel-than-I-thought
There is a community on Reddit called r/AskDocs. There are quite a few medical doctors who hang out there, and they’ll answer questions from people who are confused, frustrated, scared, or having trouble navigating the world of medicine.
This past weekend, a guy who was dying from lung cancer posted, but his post was different from most of what’s on r/AskDocs. It wasn’t a question, or a request for advice. It was just a goodbye.
This man is estranged from his family and had nobody to see or talk to in his final days, mostly because he had driven everyone away. When he first recieved his lung cancer diagnosis, he posted to r/AskDocs for advice, and found some supportive people (doctors and otherwise). Further updates were also positive experiences for him.
So as he was dying on Saturday, he used what was likely his final reserve of energy to write about his life, his mistakes, his outlook, religion, and gratitude.
I am not doing a great job making you want to read it.
Read it anyway. Bring a hanky. [Reddit, ~20 minute read]
Part of why it’s worth 20 minutes of your time is his actual post. But mostly it’s because of the outpouring of love that followed in the comments. It’s heartwarming, breathtaking, and other adjectives that combine a bodily function with a verb.
In the same way that the internet makes it easy for people to be mean because they are anonymous behind their keyboards, the internet also makes it easy for people to be amazing. When you don’t have to worry about whether you’re generally an emotional person, or all the baggage of your complicated relationships with the real people in your life, each interaction is an opportunity to start fresh and just say what you’re feeling.
Lots of people did that, and it was a beautiful thing.
And every time someone else happens upon this post and reads it, a life that was nearly wasted becomes a little bit more valuable.
4. Yin and Yang
What is the best vacation you’ve ever had?
Close your eyes for a moment and take yourself back there. What exactly made it so great?
Chances are that while you may have done something fun, that’s not why it sticks in your mind. You enjoyed it so thoroughly because of what it was not.
To vacate is to leave, and thus on a vacation you go away—somewhere else. On bad vacations, you arrive at your destination to find that you’ve accidentally dragged your life along with you. On great ones, you find yourself floating, buoyant and warm, on a sea of moments that string together into experiences un-anchored in the “real world". Maybe the change of scenery allows your family to enjoy one another for the first time in while, or the spark between you and your partner to reignite. Perhaps you find yourself without a screen in front of you for the first time in a year, or with your phone ringer actually off for a change.
Other names for vacations: escape, get-away, break, time off.
Now think of this: if your day-to-day life wasn’t filled with deadlines, dishes, crises, customers, coworkers, kids, fights, bills, bosses, office politics, actual politics, popularity contests, obligations, disappointment, fatigue, stress, anxiety, traffic, broken promises, broken products, broken hearts, and poor WiFi, could you have enjoyed that vacation as much as you did?
The pain begets the pleasure. The good cannot exist without the bad. Someone younger or more privileged could have gone on the same trip and had the same experiences but failed to enjoy it nearly as much, only because they weren’t holding it up against same life as you.
The ancient Chinese called this phenomenon—the inescapable balance of things—Yin and Yang. Heaven and hell, pleasure and pain, joy and sadness—in every example, the good can only be experienced after getting to know the bad.
If every movie were perfect, none would be worth seeing, because any random old one would be just as enjoyable. So if none are bad, none can be good.
And there is one important and tragic example of this that may not have occurred to you: accomplishment and boredom. Without experiencing boredom, no action feels truly worth doing. Everything must be done, but nothing really feels like a great idea. Those who are never bored are never truly motivated.
Think of boredom as an internal alarm. When it goes off, it is telling us something. It signals the presence of an unfulfilling situation. But it is an alarm equipped with a shock. The negative and aversive experience of boredom motivates us – one might even say, pushes us – to pursue a different situation, one that seems more meaningful or interesting, just as a sharp pain motivates us not to put pins into our bodies.
Boredom is the crucible in which all of humanity’s greatest accomplishments have been born. Einstein was bored at the patent office. Shakespeare was bored in his little English town. We were bored as kids and so went outside to escape and found friends and hobbies and sports. I was bored this morning and so began writing this.
And it’s dying—disappearing from the human experience. In fact, in large part already has.
Of all the destructive and unhealthy things that smartphones have done to us—and there are many—the worst is that it has eliminated boredom from our lives. No moment goes unfilled with a swipe, or a text, or a scroll, or a quick game.
This is not just unfortunate, it is an existential problem for society. That sounds like hyperbole, but I’m not sure. I think if we don’t force ourselves to be bored from time to time, we’ll never fix any of the problems we now face (such as the politics you’re currently avoiding).
Read about The Quiet Alarm [Aeon.co, ~12 minute read] and the nightmare that is life without boredom, and then see how long you can go without looking at your phone.
5. The end.
Correction: The beginning.
See you in a few days, unfortunately most likely with some politics.
Parting shot: this guy is definitely willing to give you a job reference: