Henry Miller: ‘Let us do our best, even if it gets us nowhere.’

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“Let us do our best, even if it gets us nowhere.”

Henry Miller

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The paradox of proximity

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So close yet so far.  It appears that the closer we are to something: the gym, the pool, a loved one even, we are less likely to invest the time with them.

We avoid what’s closest to us because proximity obviates the need for effort. When it’s too easy, we have a propensity to get stuck in inertia.

Why do anything?

Procrastination is the purest form of idleness. Convenience is a lazy compromise. We need to get off our ass and jump into the world, especially when it matters.

Mental orbit

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We are distractible, drawn away from our mental orbit into the wrath of flying tweets and other snackable debris.

We need reminders to sustain our attention: sticky notes, to-do lists, meditations, and positive mantras. As Simon Critchley writes in his 2015 Memory Theatre novel:

Memory is repetition. Sure. But it is repetition with a difference. It is not recitation. It is repetition that creates a felt variation in the way things appear. Repetition is what makes possible novelty. This is what Mark E. Smith meant. Memory needs to be imagintion. (Location 684)

There’s no sticktoitiveness without a magnetic force staged to prompt us along. We must surround ourselves with priorities and push.

26 letters, 26 doubts

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Photo by Wells Baum

Do we really need a plan A or plan B when there are so many other letters left in the alphabet to try out?

It doesn’t matter how many times it takes you. 26 letters, 26 doubts.

From petty arguments to politics, do we really need to be right all the time?

Rightness is a quirk in human development. Our view isn’t valid until we can suspend judgment and try to entertain another person’s thought.


Yet there is one trait that we all share: the ability to keep learning. Self-improvement is the indispensable tool outlined in Carol Dweck’s study on work performance at Stanford:

The primary takeaway from Dweck’s research is that we should never stop learning. The moment we think that we are who we are is the moment we give away our unrealized potential. The act of learning is every bit as important as what you learn. Believing that you can improve yourself and do things in the future that are beyond your current possibilities is exciting and fulfilling.

Permanency begets stagnancy, just as ignorance blindsides us down the road. Nothing is duller than a linear path to completion. Given the plasticity of a human mind, strengthening our ability to deal with uncertainty is priceless.

Not so fast 💨

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We consume, drop, and run, looking forward to the next piece of music, article, or person to date.

We say we want to be successful, but we’re not willing to put in the work nor take responsibility for any hiccups along the way.

We want everything yesterday without spending the time to chew on our experiences to-date.


We can’t afford to live up to somebody else’s imposed ambitions, that which undermines the sum total of our experience.

We can’t skip any steps, go zero to 100 miles per hour and intend to remember the journey along the way.

There are no shortcuts. There’s only patience, learning from our mistakes, and the accumulation of small victories to celebrate along the way.

To continue rushing into the future is madness! The tortoise gets there just the same.

gif by Miguel Porlan

Writing by walking

41NKNoExnqL“With writing as with walking you often find that you’re not heading exactly where you thought you wanted to go. There’ll be missteps and stumbles, journeys into dead ends, the reluctant retracing of your steps. And you have to tell yourself that’s just fine, that it’s a necessary, and not wholly unenjoyable, part of the process. It’s an exploration,” writes Geoff Nicholson in his book The Lost Art of Walking.

Writing, like walking, is getting lost but at the same time, trusting that wherever the pen and feet go as you ramble and amble around will be met with strange discoveries.

As Rebecca Solnit writes in Wanderlust: A History of Walking, “Language is like a road; it cannot be perceived all at once because it unfolds in time, whether heard or read.”

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Jim Carrey: I Need color

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What does making art tell us about ourselves?

For actor Jim Carrey, making art was a vocation that chose him. One New York winter, he felt compelled to bring color to his life, so he painted it out. As he puts it in the video, “artists make models of their inner life.”

For Carrey, art has become a form of catharsis. He also delves into sculpture, learning about himself through clay molding.

Whether it’s in the studio or on stage, creative diversions seem to be a form of self-healing for Jim Carrey. Perhaps it is the playful state of mind is what puts us at peace.  Uniqueness can be our moral compass.

“People that are different have a shot at being original.”

The internet could save your life

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The internet could save your life because it allows you to skip the process of being picked. Anyone can be an author, musician, photographer without waiting to partner up with a label or a distributor.

Standing out in a sea of DIY artists is the real challenge. Ryan Holiday argues that most people should not publish a book. But why not?

The internet encourages possibility and weirdness.

Your work, even if you’re a so-called ‘amafessional,’ is doing nothing to get in the way of die-hard professionals who make a living off their art. Just because your creations don’t belong in the Louvre shouldn’t hold you back from showing others what you made. The market generally favors the marketing budgets anyway.

Mediocrity never hurt anybody. If you really want to go pro, you’ll spend the extra time to improve and seek the feedback that makes you better. Everything good comes from practice, trial and error, allowing your creativity to pour and shimmer.

Remember, Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime, and to his brother. With a leap of faith, casual work can turn into your most important work and stand the test of time.

6 tips for a healthy life

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105-year-old Japanese doctor Shigeaki Hinohara shared his six tips for a healthy life before he passed away in July.

‘6 tips for a healthy life’ (in summary):

  1. Retire late (very late)

  2. Watch your weight

  3. Have fun

  4. Share what you know

  5. Don’t worry about material possessions

  6. Take the stairs

In other words, keep your brain active and the curiosity engine running, don’t eat crap or in excess, relax and let go, educate and inspire, try to be minimalist, and move around often.

The mind is the kite and the heart is the string. The body and mind work in symphony. Practice what you preach.

Working against attention residue

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Going to work to answer emails won’t make you a better emailer, just as another five minutes on Twitter won’t improve your social networking game. Email, Twitter, and incoming messages drain our cognitive fitness.

Continuous partial attention fragments our mind and impedes deep thought, which is at the core of doing meaningful work.

How are we alive if all we do is process tasks?

Digital knowledge work seems to be typing into little boxes all day. We confuse distraction with busyness.

If we are the CEO of us, perhaps we need better focus engines to keep our eyes on the donut and not the donut hole.

Listen to You 2.0: The Value Of ‘Deep Work’ In An Age Of Distraction

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The value of making up stuff

Art is what we do with our extra time. It is more leisure than life. “Art is everything you don’t have to do,” as Brian Eno put it.

The starving artist is compelled to have a day job. We can’t make art without the backbone of cash. 

However, the cashless value of writing a poem, painting a picture, or photographing the trees could save your life. 

It is in making up stuff we find meaning. The canvass enhances our lives, inspires us to express ourselves. That freedom can be liberating. 

Writes Louis Menand in his latest New Yorker piece entitled Can Poetry Change Your Life?

“But I got the same painful pleasure out of writing prose that I did out of writing poetry—the pleasure of trying to put the right words in the right order. And I took away from my experience with poetry something else. I understood that the reason people write poems is the reason people write. They have something to say.”

Art translates life. It takes us places. We need stories and memes in order to keep the everyday exciting. 

Collaborate, have tea more often

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A corollary of learning from other fields is collaboration; what you don’t have you can at least partially borrow. As Oppenheimer used to say about afternoon tea when he was director of the Institute for Advanced Study, “Tea is where we explain to each other what we don’t understand”. Chemists and scientists in general need to have tea more often.

Read What is chemical intuition?

If not now, when?

Why does a clarity of vision come at the end of our lives, twelve weeks before our deathbed?

Doing what you’re told is the most common regret of the dying.

“I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Death compels us to prioritize the things we care about: our true self, family and friends, a real passion, whatever we hold dear to our heart.

The real message is to avoid wasting time. To express ourselves fully, to drive ourselves of bed to get things done, turning authenticity and courage into action.