Letter of Recommendation: Washing Dishes – The New York Times

“…a life under constant threat of novelty isn’t a life; it’s exhaustion.

Washing dishes by hand, I give myself the chance to remember that this is wrong — that most of life is ordinary; that ordinary isn’t the enemy but instead something nourishing and unavoidable, the bedrock upon which the rest of experience ebbs and flows. Embrace this — the warm water, the pruned hands, the prismatic gleam of the bubbles and the steady passage from dish to dish to dish — and feel, however briefly, the breath of actual time, a reality that lies dormant and plausible under all the clutter we pile on top of it. A bird makes its indecipherable call to another bird, a song from a passing car warps in the Doppler effect and I’m reminded, if only for a moment, that I need a lot less than I think I do and that I don’t have to leave my kitchen to get it.”

—Mike Powell, “Letter of Recommendation: Washing Dishes.” The New York Times. June 4, 2019.

Sea Change, Rich & Strange

“Nothing of him that doth fade / but doth suffer a sea-change / Into something rich and strange.”

—Percy Shelley, The Tempest

Sea change, rich and strange. Swim in strange waters. Armed with beauty and circus, wage war on the monotony of life.

Designate time for what matters, and be a connoisseur of the free use of time. Live without dead time and without hindrance. Delight in life; give pleasure.

Choose again; begin again. Move and the way will open. Find your own happiness and paths to adventure. Follow the accident; fear the set plan.

Decide your own life. Don’t let another person run or rule you. Don’t run or rule others. Don’t go through life wanting to be liked.

How alive are you willing to be? What is the price of life? You must make your own determination and enforce it.

Hard times and oppression develop psychic muscles. Safety leads to stagnation.

Enlightenment consists in correctly grasping our essential needs. Wisdom values puzzles over facts. Avoid learning too many lessons. Pick up the battle and make it a better world, just where you are.

The One Year Rule

If you want your life to change, wait a year. It’ll change. Of course, it may not be for the better.

A study in 2008 found that happiness tends to follow a U-shaped curve, where the lowest level of happiness occurs somewhere around age 46. Yet, there are confounding factors. A death of a spouse, child or close family member, divorce/marital separation, imprisonment, personal injury or illness, or loss of meaningful work can all contribute to shifting our nadir of happiness into a different period. But, knowing that the 40s can be a difficult time, on average, and that life tends to improve after can be a helpful thing to know. It can be a source of hope.

Nothing is sure in this life but change. Are things difficult for you? All you need to do is wait. It’ll change.


The Temple of LiLoLa

From Catholicism, I learned the value of ritual, religious practice and the power of story to shape our understanding of the world. Years after hearing a homily from one Sunday, I still think of the need to leave a series of empty tombs. The resurrection applies not to some afterlife, it applies to this one, where we have to awaken new life within us, walk away from the old and to write new chapters to our stories.

From Quakerism, I learned of the testimonies I remember as PIES, i.e., peace, integrity, equality and simplicity. The need to be still and listen to the man of the heart and mind, which Quakers call the “Light Within”. This Light is in every sentient being. Knowing this we are called to peace, to follow the voice of our own hearts and to know others are following theirs. Simplicity is to cut through the desire for material things, which can cut us off from this voice within. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.

From Buddhism, I learned that the world is full of dissatisfaction. We assert ourselves against the world in ego delusion. We are dissatisfied, because we do not have what we want or are afraid to lose what we have. The living world is always changing and the best life is to live in each moment, experiencing it all without forming attachments to things as they are, things as they will be or to possessions, no matter how trivial.

When you ask, “What God do you worship?” Is there any better response than, “Life, love and laughter.” The Temple of LiLoLa is in our hearts. It is up to us to throw the doors open.

Change Your Perspective: Goals & Time Frames

[Roughly paraphrasing because I don’t have the book in front of me] take your ten year life plan and ask, Why can’t I do this in six months? -Peter Thiel

Tim Ferris, “Tools for Titans.” New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

The point of the exercise of imagining a time frame twenty times shorter is to see if you aren’t imposing artificial constraints on yourself. And why stop there? Also, why not go the other direction?

Imagine you had a ten year life plan and two hundred years to implement it. Or, what about a single day? Approaching a problem with incredibly short or long time frames eventually collapses into the fact that not all limits are artificially created by our sense of the possible and sometimes having more time increases our creative potential rather than just having the rate of work expand to fill the allotted time.

In the real world, there are always limits. We just rarely have an accurate sense of those limits and are really good at claiming something is impossible. The former U.S. Navy Seal David Goggins describes it as the 40% rule, i.e., when you think you have reached your physical limit, you have only tapped 40% of your physical potential. It’s seems likely true of our assessment of the possible for everything.

We live in a culture that values productivity, “Getting Things Done,” “time management” and so forth. When asked what we want, we respond like Samuel Gompers, we want, “More.” But, we rarely think about the costs in terms of time.

A Wait But Why article by Tim Urban that gives a graphic representation of a ninety year life in different units of time: years, months, and weeks gives us a useful reference point. It helps you look at what you have done, what you plan to do, and the time you have and then ask the very important question: “Are you making the most of your weeks?” Peter Drucker famously said: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

Appropriately given how we just started 2019, Tim Urban invites us to narrow down our scope and look to the week rather than the six month, year or ten year plan. Adopt new week’s resolutions and choose smaller, incremental goals. Evolution requires iteration. Increase the rate of iteration, and you will often increase the rate of evolution. But, if you keep doing the same things you aren’t evolving, you’re in stasis.

So, by all means, ask yourself if the major project you plan on working on for the next ten years can be done in six months. But, also ask yourself whether, in the context of a ninety year life span, it should be done at all or whether it might be worth narrowing down your scope to a more manageable week and smaller goals. A lot can be done in a week, and we can often string weeks together to make something more interesting than a top down plan concocted years ago by our former selves.

How to Make Friends as an Adult

“1) Don’t be chill when it comes to making friends. Tell people you like or respect or value that they’re great and you want to hang out with them. If they signal that they’re not interested, that’s fine — but don’t miss the opportunity to get to know someone wonderful just because you don’t want to appear overly eager.

2) Be personal. Talk about your real problems, and ask people about theirs. Invite someone into your home instead of going to a bar or coffee shop. Give thoughtful gifts. A big part of friendship is understanding someone for who they are and having them understand you for who you are, and that’s not possible without some degree of vulnerability.

3) Get comfortable saying no to people you don’t want to prioritize. That sounds harsh, but in the end, it will save your time and effort and theirs. It’s not a kindness to “perform” friendship without genuine support and commitment, and both of you have limited time to spend. Instead of saying you’ll grab lunch and then canceling yet again, you can just part ways and make friends who are better suited to each of you.

4) Remember to reciprocate. If your friend is always the initiator, invite them to do something with you. If you do have to cancel on someone — sometimes circumstances happen — you should be the one to make a plan for the future. And then make sure that it happens.

5) Show up for people who matter to you. Sometimes that means your physical presence; sometimes that just means your emotional support. There will always be reasons to not be there, but if you keep choosing other commitments over a friendship, that’s a signal to that person. Friendships aren’t static. They require work from both people.

—Jackie Luo. “If you’re wondering why you’ve lost friends in adulthood, this is probably why.” Vox. August 16, 2018.