Chop wood, carry water

There is a well-known trumpet player named Rick Braun. Although a few years younger, he was born in the same city and went to the same high school as my dad. And if my memory serves, they were in high school at the same time and at least knew of each other. My dad played the trumpet in high school, even performing in a band. Many year ago, my dad saw Braun somewhere—a concert I think—and had a chance to speak with him. The story goes that my dad said something complimentary about Braun’s ability and talent. (Yes, this is all hearsay.) Braun’s reply? “What a lot of people mistake for talent is simply a lot of hard work.”

At Time in the nineteen-fifties, the entry-level job for writers was a column called Miscellany. Filled with one-sentence oddities culled from newspapers and the wire services, Miscellany ran down its third of a page like a ladder, each wee story with its own title—traditionally, and almost invariably, a pun. Writers did not long endure there, and were not meant to, but just after I showed up a hiring freeze shut the door behind me, and I wrote Miscellany for a year and a half. That came to roughly a thousand one-sentence stories, a thousand puns.

~ John McPhee from,

John McPhee is a stellar writer. He’s written a lot and, okay, sure, I get that. There are greatest-of-all-time musicians I’ve heard of who still do scales daily 30 years on. And McPhee wrote a thousand puns(!), a thousand titles, and a thousand one-sentence stories cut-down from larger stories. (And go read McPhee’s article right now, about omission.) And now here’s Braun’s comment. Frankly, I’ve heard this sentiment countless times in countless variations: The path to mastery? Chop wood, carry water.

The thing I’m not certain of though, from my dad’s story, is whether the takeaway for him was, “Oh cool, Braun’s just a regular guy who worked really hard!” or “Fudge, I shoulda’ stuck with the trumpet!”


What would it take?

A little more than a decade ago I rediscovered my need for play. A few years ago I started working on my writing as a direct application of filtering and improving my thinking. All of that was built upon a lot of reading—a reimmersion of myself into reading as it were. *sigh* There’s still, a bit more reading to do.

Before he became unresponsive and refused to speak even to his family or friends, [John] von Neumann was asked what it would take for a computer, or some other mechanical entity, to begin to think and behave like a human being.

He took a very long time before answering, in a voice that was no louder than a whisper.

He said that it would have to grow, not be built.

He said that it would have to understand language, to read, to write, to speak.

And he said that it would have to play, like a child.

~ Benjamín Labatut from,

Grow, read, write, speak, play… There’s an immense variety of human beings resulting from that. There’d be an immense variety of those other beings too. Good!


Intentional – with Chris Garay

Intentional – with Chris Garay

Chris Garay joins Craig to discuss balancing varied practices, and how much discipline is actually required for intentional growth.

The conversation revolves around their shared interest in fitness, as they discuss aspects of physical training, the significance of community in fitness spaces, and the challenges of prioritizing various physical practices effectively.

When we show up, we know that [we’re trying] to get better at something via practicing intentionally. But yeah, if it’s not fun, you’re probably not going to stick around and keep going. And that even— honestly, goes back to the discipline [and] willpower. If you constantly have to overcome something just to to start, then you probably won’t start. So if it’s enjoyable and there’s momentum there, that can be very helpful over time.

~ Chris Garay 30:47

Chris and Craig emphasize the need for a balance between discipline and enjoyment in fitness routines. They explore the concept of a gym as a community space, highlighting the value of shared language and camaraderie in training environments. Additionally, they value trying diverse physical practices, but acknowledge the challenge of balancing multiple interests without compromising progress in any one discipline.


Importance of Intentional Practice: the significance of intentional, deep practice in fitness, aiming for progress through focused training rather than scattered efforts across multiple disciplines.

Balancing Discipline and Enjoyment: the necessity of finding a balance between discipline and fun in fitness routines, acknowledging that enjoyable practices lead to more consistent adherence.

Community in Fitness Spaces: the value of a fitness community, where shared language and camaraderie create an environment fostering encouragement, motivation, and a sense of belonging.

Challenges of Multidisciplinary Training: Exploring diverse physical practices poses the challenge of balancing interests while maintaining progress in each discipline, acknowledging the limitations of time and resources for comprehensive development.

Practical Decision-Making: the importance of decisive choices in allocating time and resources, acknowledging that saying no to certain pursuits is crucial for effective focus and progress in chosen areas.

Resources — Chris Garay’s gym in Washington, DC.

@chrisgaray87 — Chris on Instagram.

(Written with help from Chat-GPT.)

Everything combines

Everything we experience, do, say and think combines with everything. It’s not strictly fractal because it’s not necessarily self-similar. It’s a rolling boil of randomness within which we find meaning. The meaning isn’t everywhere in there. It’s a precious discovery and in searching for it, we develop a scarcity mindset. We build up skills and heuristics for finding and keeping (learning, remembering) that meaning. Things get simplified so we can hold on to them.

In each case it’s easy to underestimate risk—or at least to be surprised at what happens—because the initial ingredients seem harmless. The idea that two innocent small things can combine to form one big dangerous thing isn’t intuitive.

The same things happens with personality traits.

~ Morgan Housel from,

The very powers which enable us to interact with the world and to grapple—with varying degrees of effectiveness—with our own minds, are the ones which cause us to err. Everything combines and we’re always gauging the size of the effects of each combination. How do we keep errors from creeping into our mindset and world view? Or rather, knowing that they are continuously creeping in, how do we attempt to weed them out? Self-reflection.


Serious idleness

It seems I run from idleness. I’m fond of saying I should come with a warning—the kind one finds on the back of the driver’s-side sun-visor in a car: “Does not idle well.” It takes concerted effort for me to idle, and yet I cannot discern what it is that makes me run from idleness. But this guy? He seems to have gone all in…

‘Most of the time I don’t do anything. I am the idlest man in Paris … the only one who does less than I do is a whore without clients.’

Cioran may have been joking, but his idleness was serious business. It was an arduous lifetime project, into which he put his best efforts and which he served with complete dedication.

~ Costica Bradatan from,

Honestly? My first thought was how does such a person support themselves? (They don’t. Others do.) After dialing down my snark, I was left noticing that there’s a sharp polarization to elevate idleness to a virtue, or to revile it as glorified laziness. Nonetheless, I must admit that to be idle requires me to first say ‘no’ to many ideas, things and opportunities. So maybe that’s the key: To be self-aware enough to thread my way between those two poles?


I appreciate your time and attention

There are countless instances where I’m reminded that “tomorrow” is not a given. I pay attention to those, and do my best to do it now. To say— Thank you. I appreciate you. I appreciate what you did there. I appreciate you’re taking the time to… You get the gist.

For me, I’ve tried to take from this experience a relatively simple lesson: I tell people how I feel about them when I have the chance.

~ Ryan Holiday from,

Memento mori.



Just as I have my own role to play, so does time. And time does its job much more faithfully, much more accurately, than I ever do. Ever since time began (when was that, I wonder?), it’s been moving ever forward without a moment’s rest. And one of the privileges given to those who’ve avoided dying young is the blessed right to grow old. The honor of physical decline is waiting, and you have to get used to that reality.

~ Haruki Murakami


Because I want to

I value writing because it forces me to winnow my thinking. (And I hear you snarking: If this is the winnowed thinking…) I appreciate that writing begs me to review and rethink. I appreciate that writing slows me down and that hand writing is glacial in pace.

Likewise, they say, handwriting is going the way of the dodo. I don’t think that’s precisely true—it sounds like one of those lazy assumptions about technology, that it exists to flatten, to eliminate anything that brings a tactile, objective permanence. It may be, rather, that the objective has changed. Now we handwrite because we want to, not because we have to.

~ Neil Serven from,

It feels odd to me that “handwriting” is mostly just a noun. Maybe I’m lost in pedantry here, but I’m intrigued by the interplay and overlap of the following simple sentences and fragments, and their multiple meanings. I write. My writing. My handwriting. My hand writing.


But can you actually see anything?

I love metaphors about hills and valleys. If it’s an uphill struggle, imagine the view. Hills and valleys is a great metaphor for the concept of a local maximum: It’s visually clear (standing atop a hill) and mathematically clear (at a local maximum) that it is “down” in every direction. But only a special sort of hilltop is actually interesting. A hilltop that is really large becomes a flat tabletop. And a hilltop socked in with fog is easily mistaken for not a hilltop. Only hilltops which are pointy enough, and from which we can see other things, are interesting.

[…] our economy—resource allocation based on employment […]—is a local maximum and we cannot expect to arrive at a good outcome without activism.


But, unless we automate a lot more, we the species will never have enough wealth to offer a decent basic income, and everyone will continue to waste half their lives at work.

~ Gavin Leech from,

Is it clear that every direction is “down”? Can we see anything else; if we can’t see anything else we can’t be sure this is a local maximum. How can we explore “down” in some of the directions… when we’re talking about global scale culture and human lives?


Mindset – with Rodrigo Pimentel

Mindset – with Rodrigo Pimentel

Rodrigo Pimentel discusses his catastrophic stroke, and his journey back from the near-death experience.

This is what’s happening— there’s no point in being angry or being bitter. […] and the only thing I can do about it— or rather, in many ways, I can’t do anything about it right now. What I can do is not panic. And not get bitter. All of that will only make me stop… it will only make it worse. This came sort of naturally. I think this is the mindset that I had, this sense— this is what’s happening. This kept coming back to me over and over and over. ~Rodrigo Pimentel 19:59

Rodrigo Pimentel recounts his stroke experience, reflecting on the unexpectedness and uncertainty that characterized his recovery. He emphasizes the importance of acceptance, revealing how his introspective nature, cultivated through parkour, long-distance running, and meditation, aided his coping mechanism. His ability to embrace introspection, facilitated his acceptance of help and changed his perspective on independence. Throughout the conversation, Rodrigo shares insights on handling adversity, and appreciating the current moment.

All of man’s problems arise from not being able to sit quietly, alone in a room ~Blaise Pascal

The discussion touches on the introspective nature of parkour and long-distance running, highlighting how these activities provide opportunities for profound self-reflection. Additionally, Rodrigo emphasizes the significance of facing pain with curiosity rather than avoidance, shedding light on his approach to overcoming challenges and embracing acceptance in the face of uncertainty.

So in the end, if you look at the big picture, it’s a big basket of the things I want to do, and it’s all in there together, and I’ll shake it somehow, and my week will come out. All this to say […] in the end, I’d describe my practice as ‘bit of everything’.” ~Rodrigo Pimentel 34:16


Embracing Acceptance Amid Uncertainty: Rodrigo emphasizes the necessity of accepting circumstances, particularly during his stroke recovery, where uncertainty loomed large. He found solace in acknowledging and adapting to the unknown, recognizing the importance of this mindset in handling unforeseen challenges.

Introspection Through Athletic Pursuits: His engagement in activities like parkour, long-distance running, and meditation facilitated an introspective mindset. These pursuits prompted deep self-reflection, fostering a capacity to delve into his thoughts and emotions, proving invaluable during his recovery.

Navigating Pain and Challenges: Rodrigo’s approach to pain—advocating facing it with curiosity rather than attempting to distract from it. This perspective, learned through running and parkour, allowed him to explore pain and challenges with an inquisitive mindset, a strategy that proved beneficial in overcoming adversities.

Appreciating Independence and Accepting Help: His stroke altered his perspective on independence, leading to a newfound acceptance of help. Despite his inclination to assist others more than seeking aid himself, Rodrigo adapted to accepting assistance graciously during his recovery.


Rodrigo Pimentel’s @hashtagfeet on Instagram.

Haruki Murakami’s, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

(Written with help from Chat-GPT.)

The core group

Some assembly required. It’s always written on the package as a sort of warning: This thing looks fun… see the photo on the box? …well it it’s not going to be like that… until you put some effort in. Is there an adjective-form of that phrase?

I am conservative about varying the membership of meetings or groups because each person gained or lost resets the entire group’s confidence that they are on the same page. Attendance matters a great deal for the same reason. Other attendees can come and go but there must be some core group that identifies as such and shows up consistently.

~ Andrew Bosworth from,

It turns out that everything is always some-assembly-required. Anything that isn’t some-assembly-required is of little value (and probably of no value.) Some-assembly-required implies the result is more than the simple sum of the parts.

Life gets interesting—deeply enjoyable and fulfilling—when I can find a some-assembly-required group of people. The question I continue to have, each time I imagine a potential group, is: Can people simply assemble into a group? …or must there be something around which they assemble?



I recently cracked open Listening: Interviews, 1970-1989 by Jonathan Cott. The Introduction alone knocked one of my socks off; I leapt out of my reading chair to search the Internet hoping the Introduction might be published publicly so I could share it. Alas, instead I found this:

There ought to be a word in English that describes the nearly uncontrollable urge to leap out of a reading chair, race to find a friend, and press the book you are reading urgently into their hands. When they politely agree to take a look, you say no, no, you have to read this right now. Let me hold your coffee.

~ W. Scott Olsen from,

Which—thank you W. Scott Olsen!—is an altogether different thing, which knocked my other sock off. I took a few moments to noodle it and didn’t have any good ideas. Then I asked Chat-GPT (v4 if you’re keeping score)…

Make up a new english word which describes the nearly uncontrollable urge to leap out of a reading chair, race to find a friend, and press the book you are reading urgently into their hands. When they politely agree to take a look, you say no, no, you have to read this right now while I hold your coffee.

How about “bibliofervor”? It combines “biblio,” relating to books or reading, with “fervor,” conveying intense passion or enthusiasm. This word captures the strong, almost irresistible impulse to share a captivating book with a friend, urging them to read it immediately, even going as far as offering to hold their coffee just so they can dive into the story right away. It’s that delightful moment when a book is so enthralling that you can’t help but share it with someone else in real-time.

Oi! That is a superlative answer. NEW WORD: Bibliofervor :)