Random Notes

The public notebook of writer and essayist Scott Nesbitt

Confession time: I don't read as much as I used to. There are a lot of reasons for that, ones which used to stress me out. Now, not so much.

As I've gotten older (and, I hope, a tiny bit wiser), I've been able to adapt my reading habits to my shrinking amounts of time and energy. While my reading schedule probably isn't optimal (and it's definitely not perfect), it seems to be working.

During the week, I structure my reading around whatever dead time I have during the day. That includes the daily commute and lunch time. As for what I read during that time, it's usually longer-form articles and the various email newsletters I subscribe to — thank goodness for read-it-later apps like wallabag. The former, for the most part, go into my curation project called The Monday Kickoff, so that reading does double duty.

When I get home after however many hours at The Day JobTM, I'm out of consume mode and into create mode. Evenings are when I write. The limited time and energy I have makes me stay away from reading just about anything.

But what about books? Those come on the weekends. I try to read at least two chapters of whatever book I'm digging into Saturday and Sunday; often one chapter on Friday evening.

By doing that, I don't get through many books in a year. At most, maybe 15 or 16. That number depends on the length and depth of the books. Not reading all that many books, especially when you hear about people reading three or four or five times that many in 12 months, doesn't bother me. Reading isn't a race. It isn't about bragging rights. Reading is about enjoyment. It's about learning. It's about challenging yourself with new ideas. You can do that just as well with one book as you can with 10.

The only thing I'm not doing enough of is taking notes about what I'm reading, whether it's an article or a book. Which is strange, seeing as how I have at least one notebook handy at all times. Maybe that's something to work on in 2020.

Someone reading a book, slowly

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Think about the life that you want to lead. Think about how that life is defined. Is it:

One where you're in thrall of your computer, smartphone, and tablet?

One where you rely on gadgets to perform even the simplest of tasks?

One where you feel compelled to be constantly connected?

One that's ruled by assembly line productivity?

One that's governed by seemingly endless to-do lists and checklists?

One in which complexity wins out?

One where stress and anxiety are the norm?

OR is it:

A life that's simple and balanced?

One where you have time to work and play and relax?

One where you can focus on work that matters?

One where your choice of operating system, mobile device, or software doesn't have any bearing on your goals?

One where productivity isn't a race or a contest?

One where you aren't compelled to obsessively and endlessly tweet or check in?

One where you live in the moment instead of logging it?

Which life would you rather lead? And what would you need to do to make that life yours?

There are bands out there that you just can't get into. But every so often, one of those bands puts out a song that hooks you and reels you in.

For me, one of those bands is Hawkwind. One of those songs is “Silver Machine”. A song fronted by Lemmy. Yes, that Lemmy. The one who founded Motörhead.

I admit it: I'm something of a fan of Lemmy. His rendition of “Enter Sandman” still sends chills down my spine that Metallica's original never did. And while Motörhead is probably the tamest metal I listen to, I've always enjoyed his work with that group. Anyway, someone who can put the world parallelogram into a song's lyrics deserves a tip of the hat.

On “Silver Machine”, we get a Lemmy whose voice has yet to be shredded by a constant stream of Marlboros and shots of Jack. We get a Lemmy who's showing that he can carry the weight of a song on the shoulders that support his Rickenbacker bass. We get a Lemmy who sounds like he's having a lot of fun. The he was able to do the vocals in one take is a testament to Lemmy's abilities.

The song itself isn't great. It's good, don't get me wrong, but “Silver Machine” doesn't quite rank up there with the best songs of its era. That said, “Silver Machine” is a good listen. It's joyous. It has a great flow. It's a song that just works. It's a song you can listen to over and over again, and never get bored with it.

A record on a turntable

Photo by Anton Hooijdonk from Pexels

Some interesting posts I've discovered in these parts over the last few days:

Too many people (and one is too many) fear admitting that they don't know something. They fear admitting they're not perfect or on top of everything that they think they should be on top of.

They're afraid to say I don't know.

The problem is that you can't know everything. You're often thrust into new situations at work or into new social circles. You have new ground to tread, new information to assimilate, new ways of doing things to learn, new people to meet.

Those situations are often outside your knowledge or experience. There's no shame, no matter what some people seem to think, in admitting there are gaps in your knowledge.

If you want to grow and to learn, you need to swallow your pride and say I don't know. Say it loudly. Say it clearly. Say it proudly.

To get past your hesitancy, you need to ask yourself What's the worst that can happen? Will someone laugh at you? Will they look down upon you? Will they think you're an ignorant lout? If they do, so what? The problem lies with them, not you.

The positives of saying I don't know outweigh the negatives. If you say I don't know, you'll learn something. You'll grow. That's a great payoff for saying three simple words.

You probably know someone like that. Perhaps even several someones. Someone who believes that they need to be doing something all the time. Someone on the productivity treadmill. Someone who suffers from something I call the idle hands syndrome, as in The Devil makes work for ...

On top of that, I keep hearing people repeat that the brain is a muscle and that it needs to be continually exercised. It's an interest idea, and one that's more or less true. To a point. Any muscle that you exercise needs to rest after it's been exerted. That includes the brain.

You need to go fallow once in a while. Doing that lets your brain cool down, if you will. And, more importantly, it moves much of the processing of thoughts and ideas from the active front of the brain to the back of the brain.

One of my personal heroes is physicist Freeman Dyson. Dyson is a unique character, who's done a lot of interesting work over the decades — ranging from designing an interplanetary spacecraft to doing some groundbreaking mathematical work to coming up with a number of interesting scientific concepts.

But it was a story about a bus ride that Dyson told in the book The Starship and the Canoe that demonstrated the power of going fallow. At the time of the story, Dyson was a graduate student working at Princeton University. He was trying to solve a particularly thorny theoretical problem, but was having no luck. During a school break, he decided to take a cross-country bus trip. During that trip, Dyson was concerned more with the his journey and the ever-changing scenery than with the problem that vexed him. Then, at the end of the trip, guess what happened. The solution that Dyson had been so desperately seeking came to him.

You might not have a eureka moment like Freeman Dyson's, or come up with a solution that will change ... whatever. But by going fallow for a short time, you'll refresh brain. That just might help you see pieces of a problem a bit more clearly. If nothing else, it will help clean the slate and start anew.

Some interesting posts I've discovered in these parts over the last few days:

Over the years, I've developed a particular and peculiar ability. It's one that I didn't set out to develop. It's one which, because of its strength and scope, seems like a bit of a superpower at times.

That ability? To destroy someone's joy for something by expressing a dislike for, a lack of interest in, or a negative opinion towards that something.

When I express an opinion like that, the reactions I get range from How can you not like or appreciate x or You ruined y for me!. Yes, a few people have said that I've ruined something for them. I was surprised by that response, too.

Here's a simple truth: my opinion shouldn't matter to you. No one's opinion should.

That opinion has no power over you. It has no bearing on you, on your life, or on what you like or dislike. My opinion is what I think and feel at a particular point in time. That opinion may change. It may not. But that doesn't matter.

If my opinion offends you, so be it. You need to understand that others have opinions that differ from yours. Once you learn that, you'll become a bit more tolerant. Or, at least, less prone to knee jerk reactions.

If my opinion (or that of someone else) ruins something for you, then the problem is with you and not with me. You need to start taking yourself and what you are interested in a bit less seriously.

Instead of stressing, instead of getting worked up just shunt my opinion (and that of others) to the side. Sit back, relax, and enjoy life. Take a few moments to consider an opinion contrary to your own. Who knows, you might learn something.

Confession time: I'm partial to a certain brand of notebook. I've been using notebooks crafted by that company for a number of years and they've never let me down.

But I also realize that the quality of the notebooks I use doesn't affect the quality of the thoughts and ideas that I jot on their pages. A higher-end notebook doesn't inspire deeper thoughts, more tightly-focused ideas, or anything like that.

In fact, the notebook you pick up as a promo item at a conference or the one from the local drug store is just as good as the more expensive one you might buy at a stationery store.

Case in point: just after Christmas 2019, I found myself in a local branch of Daiso, a chain of Japanese discount stores. As I threaded my way through the store, I found myself in the stationery aisle. And, as you might have guessed, I zoomed in on the pocket notebooks.

Some of those notebooks were $3 (NZD) a pop, so I took a chance and bought three of them. One of those notebooks replaced the one I'd been using in the previous months. Guess what? That cheap, sturdy little notebook is doing its job. And doing it well. Just as well as the pricier notebooks I often use.

It just goes to show you that the quality of a notebook isn't a matter of its cost. That the quality of a notebook isn't wrapped up in the paper or the binding or the materials used in the covers. It definitely doesn't always depend on who makes it.

A good notebook is the one that you find useful. It's the one that doesn't get in your way and lets you record what you need to record without falling apart.

I'd probably just waste it.

Instead, I'm embracing that constraint (and others). That, in turn, makes me focus and actually get stuff done. Maybe not everything I want or even would like to do, but whatever I have to do.

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