After discovering the world of custom screensavers I couldn’t find anything motivating enough, so I made my own.
Someone famous (Samuel Johnson? Aristotle?) said that in writing (and here I paraphrase because I’m too lazy to hunt for hours for the exact quotation), “Something should be revealed and something should be concealed.” For any writing students out there, that means that in those short essays for your high school or college classes, don’t list in the introduction every point you plan to develop.
Oliver Burkeman writes about a woman who actually visits all of her Facebook friends to see if they’re really friends. She’s writing a book about the experience, of course. It’s one of those stunt ideas that will become a book whose message we will skim, we will blog and tweet about it for a week, we will stroke our chins thoughtfully, and then we will toss the book into the pile going to the library’s book sale.
Burkeman uses her story as a lens to explore the popular research on social ties, friendships offline and on-, and the idea of “decluttering” your life by letting go of the “friends” we accumulate as easily as we accumulate books, shoes, knick-knacks, and other physical clutter. How many friends can you really manage? How can you measure the quality of a friendship, either online or offline?
“Friend clutter”, likewise, accumulates because it’s effortless to accumulate it: before the internet, the only bonds you’d retain were the ones you actively cultivated, by travel or letter-writing or phone calls, or those with the handful of people you saw every day. Friend clutter exerts a similar psychological pull. The difference … comes with the decluttering part: exercise bikes and PlayStations don’t get offended when you get rid of them. People do. So we let the clutter accumulate.
I’ve written before about the idea that electronic connections keep relationships going that, under ordinary circumstances, we would probably slough off. (Keeping in mind, of course, that sometimes I am the person who someone sloughs off.)
That said, I do have certain rules when I “friend” someone:
Were I to start a business on the side, I’d re-examine my relationship with these services. But for now, this is a picture of how I manage my online relationships.
I don’t unfriend or unfollow many people because I believe that I’m careful about who I let in to my life. I try to keep a certain number of people who I can stay in touch with fairly regularly and whose company I would enjoy. I try to have lunch or a meal or a coffee with local friends fairly regularly; it’s important to me that I see my local friends face to face. I don’t put such things on a calendar or anything; the prompt for these get-togethers is usually, “Hm, haven’t heard from X in a while. Wonder how they’re doing?”
I send distant friends birthday cards and letters a couple of times a year, sometimes longish emails, rarely longish phone calls. I and most of my friends are at stages in our lives where we’re superbusy with families, careers, etc. and so staying in touch takes conscious effort. We all know this, so once-in-a-while updates are OK with me.
I can’t remember where I got this quote, but I remember saying it at my 50th birthday party: “Whoever dies with the most friends, wins.” I said it to a roomful of friends on a warm September night who chose to spend their Saturday evening celebrating with me and it was one of the happiest moments of my adult life.
Dear Ones, it’s beautifully simple. Surrender. Go with the flow. Spend time doing what brings you joy. Focus on what you want more of. Love. Practice gratitude. Humans love to make things more complicated than they need to be. If you simply focus on those basic aspects, you will be living the life of your dreams in record time. ~Archangel Gabriel
At a recent mastermind meeting, my fellow blogger Mike Uhl asked what I felt about having crossed the halfway point of writing 50 M-F blog posts. Did I feel great about accomplishing that milestone? Was I having fun doing this thing? I’ve always had a tough time with “fun.”
I was once asked years ago what I did for fun, and I really had no answer. I don’t think I’m a drudge or mechanical person, but this was a question I never thought to ask myself. There are many things I enjoy – reading, comics, museums, eating out, sitting on the back porch during a thunderstorm – but “fun” is a different type of word that suggests abandonment of self, losing oneself in an exciting activity. I’ve always thought or believed that people were referring to roller coasters or white-water rafting or some other intensely physical activity when they referred to fun. It was just something I never really noticed in myself.
(Perhaps my life has been lived minimizing pain rather than maximizing pleasure? Discuss.)
So, let’s overthink about this. I like the idea of breaking “fun” into “fun-fun” and “serious fun.” This paper defines serious fun as “play with a purpose.”
Serious fun goes beyond the apathy of strict order and the over-excitement of chaos to generate an ordered chaos that permits freedom within structure and fun within limits.
Fun-fun has no purpose beyond itself. Which is great. We need this. For me, that can be laughing till I hurt at a Flying Karamazov Brothers show or, from my distant past, performing in a play. The most fun I ever have, I think, is talking to friends, losing myself in conversation and connection with other people. My 50th birthday party last year was one of the peaks of 2011 and I enjoyed every minute of it – the anticipation, the singing, and the remembering it later.
And while I enjoy watching a movie or TV show or most performances, I don’t call that fun-fun. My years as a theater and movie reviewer, and as someone who enjoys thinking about writing fiction, have enforced a habit of judging, balancing, guessing where the narrative or performance is going, and then evaluating its execution. It keeps direct experience at an arm’s length.
When I think about how I spend my time, I lean more toward “serious fun.” I enjoy losing myself in an activity, but I want that activity to have a result. I can happily lose myself in emptying my bookshelves and then putting all the books back in some new ordering scheme. I can rename a folder full of PDFs so they sort just as I want, and time flies. I can also easily lose myself in writing, whether it’s fiction or a blog post, and enjoy seeing what I produced.
I can’t say that I have fun-fun writing these blog posts; there’s no sense of physical abandon to the writing (more like stiffness and eyestrain).
But I have serious fun. I enjoy finding something out and sharing it on my blog. I enjoy taking an inchoate idea and surprising myself by shaping it into something like a mini-essay. I enjoy documenting the Byzantine curlicues of my baroque thought processes, though I am often dismayed at how complicated I make my life. I like documenting my little habits and routines; each post becomes a message in a bottle that I will look at years from now and go, “Huh. I forgot all about that.”
Has anyone ever figured out that 90% of the posts on this site are actually (notes|pep talks|reminders) to myself? I sometimes think not. The site definitely makes more sense once you get this.
I enjoy losing myself in the activity of writing, in creating this object. The fun at the start of the writing, which is playing with the idea and being surprised at the words it collects around itself, eventually gives way to the more serious business of making this machine work. From the first paragraph, the reader enters a contraption from which the only escape should be the last paragraph.
The crafting of that machine, the polishing and fixing – it takes focus and time. Even for short posts, I think about placement, context, wording, sentence rhythms, etc. What I hope is that, after I hit Publish, I can feel good about the time and energy I spent. The result of my efforts can be several hundred words of adamantine prose and unblockable metaphors, plus a feeling – a satisfied feeling – that my time was well-spent.
When I look at the calendar to the left of the post and see another day in bold italics – signifying a new post – I am pleased with myself for sticking to the plan.
When I peruse the finished object later in my feed reader, I hope to lose myself again in what I created – this time, as a reader.
When I scan my ideas and drafts for the next post, I start feeling that little tingle of excitement – what will I write next? What do I want to share? How long do I want it to be? What’s interesting to me today? What idea has been ripening for a while and is ready to fall?
That moment just before I decide – like the moment the curtain goes up just before the show begins – is probably the most fun moment of all.
Of the 52 Killer Tricks for Your Kindle, some are useful only for the first 3 series (#’s 2, 3, 5, 6), others for Fire only (#8), others are so arcane and specialized as to be almost nonsensical (#’s 9, 15), some are DIY and may require more nerve than even I have (#’s 1, 14, 26, 42), some are only tangentially related to the Kindle (#’s 16, 30, 36) and on and on. So right away, you can simply skim this list and reduce it to something more manageable. Is it possible that your humble correspondent may have a few tricks that didn’t make it to the list? Verily, I saith unto you: Yes.
As I’m using a Kindle Touch, some of the “killer tricks” (which I daresay would reveal themselves with a skim of the manual) don’t apply. Some of the tricks reveal themselves with a simple read of the manual: keep the wi-fi turned off to save your battery, email PDFs to yourself, play MP3s, and so on. And I have, of course, already thoroughly documented my screensaver workflow.
There were a few things the original article missed, so allow me to add to the conversation.
For public domain books in Kindle format (#3), I’d also recommend Project Gutenberg, which offer Kindle versions of its texts in .mobi format. You can download the Magic Catalog (.mobi file) and get a list of all the books and texts they offer. Click on a book title and it’s downloaded to your Kindle in the background.
Even better: use your Kindle’s browser to navigate to m.gutenberg.org, where you can have a more interactive experience searching for and downloading ebooks.
Another neat way to get Kindle-formatted public domain books is to navigate to this page on the MobileRead forums site and search the page for “MobileRead’s Download Guide.” Download that file and transfer it to your Kindle (or download it directly from the MobileRead page), wait a bit while the Kindle indexes it, and then you have a file containing a list and descriptions of 11,000+ books formatted by MobileRead members; click on a link to download the book in the background (wi-fi has to be on, of course). The file is updated daily. There’s overlap between the MobileRead and Gutenberg lists, sure, but it’s fun to compare them and see what they offer. I use both and sometimes just have fun browsing the lists.
I also like the Delphi Classics site, mainly for just knowing that it’s possible to download the complete works of most any “classics” author.
Bookmark the software update page and set yourself a reminder to check it monthly or whenever is convenient. You won’t get any notice from Amazon that updates are waiting for you.
One of Kindle’s features is that you can highlight passages from any book or article you’re reading and it’s saved in a file called clippings.txt. Findings lets you upload your clippings.txt file so others can read what you’ve highlighted, and you can read what other Kindle owners found worth noting. It started as a Kindle-only hangout, but they’ve since rolled out bookmarklets and such so that you can highlight anything you see on the web and have it posted.
The clippings.txt file contains the contents of all the highlighted passages from everything I’ve read on the Kindle. So it includes tips and tricks, quotes I want to remember, procedures, beautifully written passages, etc.
You can open and browse the file from the Kindle home screen and it’s easy enough to copy the file to my MacBook and open it up in a text editor, but it looks ugly and there is no easy way to browse the collection. So a lot of what I’ve highlighted is trapped in a file that is difficult to navigate, read, and use.
The amazing and free Clippings Converter site will transform the clippings.txt file into more attractively formatted Word, PDF, or (my favorite) Excel files. It provides a much better and easier method to process and re-use this text in other ways.
The 52 tricks site convinced me to download Calibre (#16) and give it a try, and I’d not heard of the KIF project (#40) that lets you play old Infocom games on the Kindle, nor did I know of the justification hack (#44). Off now to do some minor-league hacking…
This is why the potential is always there for me to get nothing done. Here are some of the top links that caught my eye from today's Arts & Letters Daily and Marginal Revolution sites. I could have spent a happy hour reading all of them, but I decided to confine them to my Readability queue instead. I may actually get around to reading these items in the next few months. We'll see if they're as interesting to me then as they are today.
For many years, I’ve taken shameful (or shameless) advantage of Top Shelf’s annual $3 web sale of comics and graphic novels from their catalog. Not everything is $3, of course – but a large number of selected items from their catalog are remarkably discounted, with some inventory they’ve never been able to shift cut down to $1.
But I caught myself. I didn’t feel that little thrizzle I used to feel when anticipating the comics I wanted to buy. Sad to say, I felt a little hollow in there. I also felt a little sad knowing I didn’t really need any of them.
Beyond the financial calculation, I’d also computed the space, time, and interest calculations. Space: I’m already maxed out on my bookshelf space and have dozens of great comics and graphic novels I haven’t processed yet. Time: I’ve had some of those books for literally years, yet I haven’t read them. So what makes me think that I would treat new books brought into the fold any differently? Interest: I’m certainly curious about these books, but the visceral interest just isn’t there. I’m simply more interested in other things now.
I think the time for profligate reading is behind me. At least for now. I feel more drive and interest in solidifying my career (as a contractor, I always work on shaky ground), spending more time with family and friends, and generally being more active. In some ways, I’m reading as much as ever, but the time I can devote to reading is shrinking and I am finding it easier to shrug off some items that I previously considered necessities.
Getting out of one’s comfort zone by trying some new behavior or activity is the modern panacea for self-improvement. I’ve certainly adopted it in the last few years by taking on leadership roles, trying new activities, and taking on bigger responsibilities – all while feeling anxious and ill-prepared. Moving out of my comfort zone by doing these new things stretched me and expanded my sense of what I could do. I’m glad I did them.
A slightly different aspect of expanding the comfort zone is not doing things that previously brought pleasure. Addicts of all stripes know that abstaining is an active struggle; it’s the struggle that moves you out of the comfort zone.
My struggle this year in deciding what comics to buy at the Top Shelf sale turned into a non-struggle. I found it sad, necessary, and surprisingly easy to set aside my desire for a yearly jolt of color and novelty. I wondered what I would replace that activity with. Which is when I started writing this post.
Treat your ears right. Listen to this hypnotic piece from composer Mara Gibson.
Mara held an annual recital for her students at the back of Boyce Piano Emporium on 15-501. I didn't realize up till then that she mostly taught elementary- up to high school-age kids, who sat at the front of the room, with about 7 or 8 of her adult students sitting behind them (along with all the parents). After the last little person played his song, Mara called my name and I could hear the titters and amused murmurs from the audience as I lumbered up to the piano to announce my recital piece.
"Hi," I said, "my name is Mike Brown and I started taking lessons with Mara about eight months ago. I'll be playing three short pieces by Dmitry Kabalevsky. And," I paused, looking around the room at the kids and parents, "I believe I'm the first person playing today who is over 6 feet tall." That got a nice laugh and Liz said later it definitely broke the tension.
Many parents came up afterward to congratulate me and expressed their wonder and admiration at my performing a recital piece in front of a room full of people. I thanked them and then waved my hand at the kids -- who had just done the same thing that I did. The parents seemed to think that performing was something children naturally did, whereas putting oneself in a position where one could fail (or succeed!) publicly was something they couldn't conceive of an adult doing.
Mara eventually left Duke with her husband, the artist Brett Reif, to finish her PhD. Since 2004, she has been on the faculty of the Conservatory of Music and Dance, University of Missouri-Kansas City. She leads the life of a busy artist, academic, and mother and I'm so happy to see her making so many big contributions to her art and her community.
Mara has also started selling some of her compositions digitally: Canopy and the hypnotic Map of Rain Hitting Water (embedded below). You can listen to the full pieces and then purchase and download them to your computer. It is so cool to have a Mara Gibson playlist on my iPod!