Kate Bowler on Her Cancer Diagnosis and Her Faith | Time

How did you change as a parent?

I became less invested in milestones and also those lovely hallucinations we have, when our kids are going to become astrophysicists. I also decided that my job is not to try to make the world safe. I think I thought you just create a beautiful, Instagram-y bubble for your kid, and then that’s parenting. And then I realized that I was going to be the worst thing that happened to him if it went badly. I couldn’t live with that. I decided that my new parenting philosophy is that I can’t protect him from the pain of the world, but I can show him that there is truth and beauty in the midst of it. And if I can make him that person, then I have won as a parent.

We attended Kate Bowler’s reading at the Regulator Bookshop for her new memoir, Everything Happens For A Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved). She was smart, funny, down-to-earth, and probably the best pal one could imagine having. Her Fresh Air interview is worth a listen. 

The following paragraph from her Duke Divinity School bio tells you more:

In 2015, she was unexpectedly diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at age 35. In her viral New York Times op-ed, she writes about the irony of being an expert in health, wealth and happiness while being ill. Her subsequent memoir, Everything Happens for a Reason (and other lies I’ve loved) (Random House, 2018)tells the story of her struggle to understand the personal and intellectual dimensions of the American belief that all tragedies are tests of character.

Getting Things Done For Lent

If you search this blog, you'll find UK time management coach and author Mark Forster's name pop up quite a bit. I've been a student, devotee, and practitioner of most every to-do list or task management book, app, or program going. Of course, not much got done as I kept changing systems but that is beside the point. It's my intellectual hobby and I enjoy it.

(Also -- maybe my work is so boring and unimportant that I need new methods to keep myself interested? Discuss.)

But once I found Mark's work, my desire to explore or try other systems -- even other ways of thinking about time management -- faded. His ideas on many issues related to the field are so deep, simple, and profound that I have basically stopped my search for other methods and other teachers. 

Last year, Mark challenged his forum denizens to stick to a single system for a specific time period. For the time period, he chose events off the liturgical calendar. Thus, we had Lenten and Eastertide challenges. So in addition to learning a little more about these events, we also learned the ins and outs of our chosen systems by sticking with them for 40 or so days and reporting back on our results.

For this year's Lenten Challenge (Feb 14-Mar 29), I'll use Mark's most recent system, FFVP, at my workplace. At home, where things are more relaxed and I don't typically face deadline urgencies, I keep a long list of items in a Moleskine cahiers and use one of Mark's "no-list" methods.

[In looking at last year's posts on Mark's forum, I saw that in 2017 I also gave up podcast-listening for Lent! Sounds like a good idea. I'll start tomorrow. Thank you, past-Mike!]


Brad Pilon: Getting Shredded

Brad Pilon writes about the goal some men have of being "shredded": getting their body fat to such a low percentage that you can see their six-pack abs. 

Pilon advises remaining aware of how pleasant or not the journey is to your destination. He is not saying, "Don't get ripped." Sure, by all means, if that's what you want to do, go for it. But enjoy it. Don't forget all the other things that go into making a good life. 

As Pilon concludes:

You absolutely can get ultra-shredded, but please be aware of the time, effort, and energy it will take, and always remember that the results are not, and never will be permanent...

With whom you eat will always be more important than what was eaten.


Pinkcast 2.14. This is the best time of day to exercise | Daniel H. Pink

For a few years, I used to do a dumbbell routine in the mornings, rising at about 530 or 6am to do so. I still find the mornings the best time to do a short yoga or bodyweight/calisthenics routine.

Since I've been working out with kettlebells, I have taken to exercising after work -- usually around 6 or 630pm -- specifically, as Dan Pink mentions here, to avoid injury. A too-vigorous kettlebell routine in the morning, particularly ballistic exercises like swings, is an invitation to injury when my body is not fully warmed-up.

Also, when I did a group kettlebell class at 6:30am a few years ago, I found that I could not concentrate or focus at work for the rest of the day. I could only sit and stare at my computer screen. An afternoon/early evening workout feels good and helps me feel nicely exhausted when it's bedtime.


Maxims and Mottoes

Indecision causes suffering. A line my first coach used a lot and that explains a lot of suffering I see in myself and others. I also used this to diagnose character motivations when I was in a fiction-writing group. 

Another of his maxims: Why are you making it so hard? Said to myself whenever I poke my head up out of the gopher hole after several hours spent trying to figure something out. Taking a little walk, taking a break, getting some perspective – they all give me time to pause and reflect rather than overthink.

And this is one I’ve heard recently: Leave yourself alone!: stop beating yourself up , harassing yourself, etc. You’re fine as you are.


Liz and I are sitting in a church, in the front row of the wooden pews. There is a brick wall about six feet in front of us. The walls to the left and right feel close. There are many pews behind us, full of churchgoers.

I can't say whether there is a preacher or choir, but certainly everyone is sitting there to attend services.

Liz and I are both reading big newspapers. I think we're dressed in going-to-church garb, but our faces are buried in our newspapers.

An African-American gentleman dressed in a suit stands beside me. I look up at him and try to open my eyes but can't; it's the way you try to open your eyes when you know you're asleep, you use all your strength to open your eyes, but the lids will not open.

I see a dime and penny on the floor. I pick them up and give them to him with a smile. He smiles, takes them, and walks away.

What are we to make of this? Unknown, Keptin. If everything I see in a dream is a symbol from my imagination, and stands in for me in some way, then I'd say I'm in a spiritual place but cannot see it because I'm paying too much attention to worldly things.


Two fortunes from last night's Neo-China takeout:

Storms make oaks take deeper root.

Spectacular accomplishment is never preceded by less than spectacular preparation.

Both very apropos considering my (and everyone's) job situation at the moment. 

I wonder: How do young oaks prepare for storms?

Austin Kleon: Feeling blocked? Play with blocks!

One of my Friday joys is writer and artist Austin Kleon's newsletter of 10 items he thinks worth sharing. They are sometimes links to his blog (his daily blogging inspired me to start my own daily blogging experiment) or to other items that caught his attention.

His February 6 blog post (click this post's title to go to it) was about using blocks to break through creative blocks and also -- more interestingly -- the history of children's building blocks. I have the feeling this is one of those blog posts that started from a little insight, reminded him of something he read, sent him off to do more research, and then, finding too much good information and too many connections, a nice long post birthed itself into the world.

The anecdote about Lawrence Weschler reminded me of an acting lesson I saw taught by local director Jeff Storer. It was a talky scene between Biff and Happy in their bedroom. The scene was rather lifeless till Jeff had Biff bounce a little ball between himself and Happy as they talked. The scene instantly came to life: the actors' bodies relaxed, the dialogue sounded more natural. 

There is definitely something about absent-minded fiddling about -- sorting books on a shelf, cleaning a room, making cookies -- that helpfully distracts a busy mind. 

Leon Redbone

I first became acquainted with Mr. Redbone, not through his Saturday Night Live appearance, but when I was caught by the cover of his Double Time album at Reader's Corner in Raleigh, NC. 

I bought the album, liked his sound, and sought out more of his odd blend of old-time Americana parlor songs smattered with long-ago standards of jazz, blues, country, and TIn Pan Alley. And some of the oddest, laziest scat-singing that is not quite singing nor quite scatting.

I was fortunate to see him live on several occasions and his persona onstage was pretty much what one expected from hearing his drawling baritone voice: laid-back to the point of drowsiness, yet capable of playing hot guitar like nobody's business.

That memory is why I was surprised by a video from the Talkin' Blues podcast where Leon talks in a very normal, reasonable tone of voice about...what, I could not really articulate for you. Something about how music captures you, both as musician and listener? Anyway, it ends with Leon entertaining a small live audience, sitting on a chair, riffing, and adding some new flourishes to a song he's played a bazillion times over the last 40 years. He is a master of his craft.

That clip, I think, comes from a documentary said to be in production about this mystery man. The promo video for the documentary has some warm reminiscences from people who saw Leon emerge from Toronto, of all places, in the mid to late '60s. He was a mystery then, and remains a bit of one today.

The video below (from Austin City Limits) is the Leon I remember best, in his youthful prime, with his late-70s sound of a small combo: clarinet, tuba, guitar, maybe a muted trumpet.

Another reason I like this video is that it's a transfer from someone's home VHS recording. Those snowy bands at the top and bottom of the picture, caused by some poor VCR head tracking, are the visual equivalent of the pops and crackles of old 78s which Mr. Redbone must have heard as a young man, building his repertoire. Shades from the past.


Fast Company: "This Is What It’s Like To Not Own A Smartphone In 2018"

Kathleen Davis' "think piece" -- you can read it in under four minutes -- briskly surveys the reasons she and her husband continue to use their flip phones. Ten years ago, the story's angle would have been the exact opposite.

She recaps the familiar arguments -- the smartphone as fidget and distraction device -- and writes about their desire as parents to model for their son relationships with each other rather than with their phones.

At a restaurant one night, I saw a little girl trying to talk to her father, while he hunched over his smartphone, flicking his finger across the screen. She finally sat back, sighed, and resigned herself to the situation. I still feel a mix of sadness and anger when I call up that image in my head.

I had a professor at UNC's School of LIbrary and Information Science who matter-of-factly stated he did not and would not have a smartphone. Liz and I for years eschewed smartphones, sticking with Tracfone through many different dumb phone models -- phones that at one time were, I'm sure, reviewed and touted in the tech press. I think we were more afraid about signing up for one of those expensive contracts we'd heard about than we were about the technology.

I would sometimes make a weak joke when I brought out my little LG 441g flip phone. The people I was with would more often than not respond that they wish they only had a flip phone, which always surprised me. I thought people loved their smartphones. Instead, people felt tethered to these expensive little blocks of glass and aluminum, and their phone contracts, and the notifications, &tc.

My little LG had a lot going for it: cheap, pretty indestructible, a battery I could easily afford and replace, and all it could do really well was make a phone call.

But for both Liz and me, the attractions and convenience of smartphones became too hard to ignore. Simply having a more reliable phone that could reliably reach a cell tower was a big upgrade. I was tired of trying to call or message Liz and being in a spot where the LG could not get a signal. (Probably more Tracfone's fault than the phone's, to be fair.) 

And there are certain conveniences of the modern world -- airplane passes, online maps, text messaging -- for which a smartphone is simply the best tool. Does the smartphone encourage distraction and bad behavior? If you're already prone to distraction and bad behavior, then yes. Using the phone for short-term mood repair is not a life-affirming thing, but then neither was using food or TV 10 years ago to relieve boredom and avoid discomfort.

Yes, I have given up privacy for convenience. Tonight, I drove to a professional meeting at a location new to the group. It was dark and raining and near the end of the rush hour. I had printed out the directions but it was not clear to me exactly where to turn off. When I walked out of the building, I realized I'd left the directions on my desk.

No matter. On my iPhone SE, I looked up the email containing the address. I copied and pasted the address into Waze. I kept my eyes on the road and not on the phone as Waze told me where to turn and when to look out for possible road trouble. After the meeting, I texted Liz I was coming home and listened to a podcast.

For me, that kind of convenience makes my life much easier. That's what it's like for me to own a smartphone in 2018.