Not satisfied

Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only they truly live. Not satisfied to merely keep good watch over their own days, they annex every age to their own. All the harvest of the past is added to their store. Only an ingrate would fail to see that these great architects of venerable thoughts were born for us and have designed a way of life for us.

~ Seneca

That quote opens Holiday’s, The Daily Stoic, which I have been circling through for a few years. Fortunately, I didn’t try to study Philosophy too early in life; it took me a couple decades once I started trying to improve myself for me to be ready to really listen. I hope you are far ahead of me.

In recent months I’ve been spending more time reading. The more I read, the more quotes I find to share, and the quote backlog is currently at level, “ridiculous.” I was scheduling quotes for publication in December of 2022 and finally decided I better schedule them more frequently. I have so many quotes that earlier this year I kicked off a podcast with daily quotes; search for “Little Box of Quotes” wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Tell me if this sounds crazy

All of our books have a small dot on their spine.

It’s one thing to try to keep your books physically under control. It’s another task for Sisyphus to keep track of your books in general. Here’s how I do it:

  • Create a free account over on LibraryThing. Set up three collections: One for the books currently in our possession; “Library.” A second for books we’d love to have join us; “Wishlist.” A third for books that have passed through; “Previous.”
  • Get some small stickers, (1/4″ round ChromaLabels work great,) and some sticky notes.
  • Add each book to your “Library” collection in LT and put a sticky note inside the cover marked “LT”. I also track digital books, so I tag all the books in LT with “physical” or “digital”. Then put a dot on the spine so you don’t have open the book to check if there’s a sticky note inside.
  • Why both? Some books can’t accept the spine sticker, and sometimes the dot falls off. So the sticky inside the cover is the definitive mark that a book is in LT.
  • New book arrives? Add it to LT’s “Library” collection, tagged as “physical”, insert sticky note in the front, and add a dot to spine.
  • Book leaving my possession? Remove the dot and sticky note, and shift the book to the “Previous” collection in LT.

As you come across books you might want to read, add them to your Wishlist collection in LT. My Wishlist contains hundreds of books. (That’s not a brag, that’s a confession.) LT has a notes field and I often leave a clue about where/why I’m adding the book. When I later—having forgotten all about that book—go into LT to add it, only to discover it’s already there… “Hmmm, that’s twice now I’ve ‘discovered’ this book. Maybe I should read this book sooner than ‘some day’?” Such books I then tag, “priority.” I’ve about ~20 books tagged priority at the moment.

Yet another reason this is useful is that you can search via the LT website, or the mobile app, to see if you have/have-had any book. You can even wander through a bookstore, and know that your Wishlist is always in your pocket.

Does that sound crazy? Dammnit, that does sound crazy now that I typed it all out.

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Blindingly obvious

A few weeks ago I had a rapid sequence of ideas related to reading books. All of these are blindingly obvious in hindsight:

One can gang books together when reading. Grab Aurelius’s Meditations, Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning, Seneca’s Letters, and Epictetus’s Discourses, Handbook and Fragments—and read a little from each of them in each sitting. Or grab the Constitution of the United States, The Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers, and Stevens’s Six Amendments. (What “gang” of books springs to mind for you?)

One is permitted to place multiple bookmarks in the same book. Yes I’ve long advocated adding sticky notes to mark various things in a book as I go along. But the idea of reading in multiple places simultaneously in the same book hadn’t really occurred to me.

One can make their own bookmarks from 1/4″ satin ribbon! I have all sorts of bookmarks; things which slide onto the edge like a paper-clip, printed cards (“Remain calm. I’m the Doctor.” for example) with the usual string or ribbon from the end, 3×5 cards stuffed in randomly, and large sticky notes. But it’s way cooler to cut a length of ribbon and drape it through the book… just like really cool and expensive books which arrive with a bookmark sewn into their binding.

If you’re cutting ribbon to make bookmarks, you can easily attach it into the book just like the fancy books’ marks. Cut it long enough to: lay one end between the last two pages of the book, tight in against the binding, with the end near the top of the page, and the ribbon laying down the page. Flip a few pages on top of it to hold it in place, and lay the ribbon back up across the entire book again tight in against the binding. Now you have a bookmark that feels like it’s sewn into the binding when you grab the lower portion sticking out of the book as your mark.

My final thought in that recent cascade was of course: Okay, wow, I really have a book problem.

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Frog or bird?

He described himself as a frog not a bird, as he enjoyed jumping from pool to pool, studying their details deeply in the mud. The bird’s-eye perspective was not for him, and he had a lifelong suspicion of grand unified theories.

~ Robbert Dijkgraaf from, https://www.quantamagazine.org/remembering-the-unstoppable-freeman-dyson-20200413/

Freeman Dyson’s, Frogs and Birds is also worth a read.

There is such an insanely huge amount of things I want to read. Web pages, PDF files, ePub documents in Kindle and Nook, and of course stacks of physical books. I read a lot, but of course I’ll barely scratch the surface of just the things I’ve actively decided I want to read. Fortunately, I’m no longer reading to reach a goal, or to finish.

My mind is but a tiny eddy of order, maintained every so briefly within the grand arc of time.

…and what fun it is to go frolicking through the works of mankind, sharing the occasional bit here with you!

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Honing your craft

We’ve created this fantasy world where everyone is just 30 days of courage boosting exercises and life hacks away from living an amazing life.

But when you study people like Martin, who really do live remarkable lives, you almost always encounter stretches of years and years dedicated to honing craft.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2012/01/29/closing-your-interests-opens-more-interesting-opportunities-the-power-of-diligence-in-creating-a-remarkable-life/

This is the eternal challenge of seeing the forest through the trees; of maintaining perspective.

I’m constantly reminded of the scenes in the Hobbit where they are trying to walk through 250 miles of a forest named, Mirkwood. “Do not leave the path,” is the only guidance they are given. After what seems like endless daily struggles, they eventually dispatch a party member to climb a singularly large tree to the uppermost branches. Unfortunately, even from that lofty perch all that could be seen was more forest forever and ever in every direction. In fact, they were in a low lying area, reasonably close to the forest edge. Crushed by the misleading perspective, their journey takes a turn for the worse.

I have so many projects where I start into the forest with the best intentions. I steel myself with, “I know this is going to turn into a slog at some point, and I’m going to remember why I went into the forest to give me the strength to carry on!” Yeah, that never works out. If the project is actually worth doing, then the forest is necessarily crushingly vast and the journey through must eventually become hopeless. Of course it’s hard; that’s what makes it worth it.

The secret? You have to love living in the forest, just for the sake of living in the forest. Then every morning is an adventure. Sure, some days are going to suck, but every morning will begin a new day of opportunity.

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Stop drifting

Stop drifting. You’re not going to re-read your Brief Comments, your Deeds of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, the commonplace books you saved for your old age. Sprint for the finish. Write off your hopes, and if your well-being matters to you, be your own savior while you can.

~ Marcus Aurelius from, Meditations 3.14

Normally I would simply let a quote from Aurelius stand on its own. If you’re not familiar with Meditations—Aurelius didn’t choose that title for what he wrote, it was added to his work much later—it was a collection of writings he meant only for himself; this is the emperor of the Roman empire remonstrating himself.

Here’s a second helping of remonstration: Explore. Dream. Discover.

I write this blog for myself. (And no, I’m not laboring under the delusion that I’m creating a work for the ages like Aurelius’s, Meditations.) But I am simply pleased if you, Dear Reader, find my ramblings interesting. I am genuinely delighted if anything I write stimulates your thinking. I am downright ecstatic if any of my questions catalyze your changing the course of your life.

Do you read regularly, and what have you chosen to read with the aim of changing the course of your life?

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It’s really good to be really bad

This is an idea I’ve come across repeatedly during the research I’ve conducted for my various books. There’s something incredibly valuable in the deeply frustrating yet rewarding pursuit of mastering something hard.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2020/03/29/the-deep-benefits-of-learning-hard-things/

This idea comes up all over the place, and for good reason. Nearly 3,000 years ago, people like Marcus Aurelius where writing things about the absolute necessity of continual self-study and self-improvement. Books such as G Leonard’s, Mastery and countless bits on the Internet about self-improvement. My personal, direct efforts applied to myself—find some idea, reflect on it, then figure out how (if! of course) to apply it to myself… My efforts remain ongoing.

( I need a special character, or something, that I can put before these questions, to make it clear that I mean this entirely in a non-judgemental way– I only intend to spur your thinking… )

What are you up to?

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To choose one’s attitude

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

~ Viktor Frankl, from Man’s Search for Meaning

Time management

As addicting as it is, desire is the enemy to proper time management. Poor sleeping habits, unhealthy lifestyle choices, and just plain dissatisfaction are all byproducts of a poorly managed life.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://dailystoic.com/5-stoic-lessons-on-time-management/

Time management is the only thing—the only major skill critical for leading a good life… Time management is the only thing which no one ever attempted to teach me explicitly. Everything else was covered to some degree: science, religion, morality, philosophy, work ethic, hygiene, sexuality, language, geography, personal finance, and more, depending on how you want to subdivide all the stuff in my head.

Time management isn’t the most critical thing to know. Language and critical thinking are the top two, because with those two and sufficient time you can bootstrap everything else. However, things would be far better for everyone, if the third item on the list of must-have skills to be Human was a basic grasp of Time Management.

For me, I was trying to fix my sleep when it became obvious that I needed to arrange my day around sleeping. That lead immediately to an entirely new need for time management. “I need to be at work by 8,” is not Time Management (with capitals.) I then took a circuitous route discovering the needs and methods of Time Management.

But where do I wish I had actually started? That’s an excellent question. Right around 18 years old, I wish someone had handed me a copy of this tiny book: How to Live on 24 Hours a Day by A Bennet.

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Single-serving sized visits with books

Imagine you have a book problem. (Don’t judge me, please.) You’ve read countless books. You’ve given away countless books in an attempt to get the foundation of your house to stop settling to one side. You’ve gone through your to-read book shelves and culled as many as you can bear over to the normal shelves, resigned to being okay with never reading them.

…and you still have hundreds of books that you really want to read.

There are two common ways that people recommend reading books: One-at-a-time, (whether thoroughly and carefully cover-to-cover or by breezing through them more quickly,) and multiple-at-a-time. In both ways however, you intend to pick some book and to completely, (whatever that means to you,) read the book.

I want to explain a third way: Single-serving sized visits.

Begin by allocating a set amount of time. Something like 45 minutes seems to work well for me, but it can be any amount that you can do in one sitting. Extra bonus points if you can make this a recurring thing you do regularly.

You will need post-it notes and a writing instrument. You will not need a bookmark.

You’re going to pay a short visit, (say 45 minutes,) to your book collection by picking one book. Take the book (and your post-its and your writing instrument) and head for your reading spot. (You do have a designated reading spot, right? :)

Spend 45 minutes reading the book however you wish. Skim it. Read the prologue. Dig deep into chapter 4. Start reading at page 88. Turn it upside down and read it [upside down] backwards. Whatever. If you really don’t like the book, you can walk out on the date and put the book on your read pile.

As you read it insert post-its…

  1. …on the upper edge of pages whenever you find a reference to any other book. It doesn’t have to be a book you have, or have read, or even want to read. Just start leaving “top” post-its referring to books. Write the name, (and author, etc., as much or as little as you like—”I have this”, “I want this book”, whatever) on each note.
  2. …on the outer edge of pages whenever you find something interesting. A quote, an idea, killer prose, whatever. Write a note explaining the reason you like what you’re noting, maybe try to position the post-it, and include a little arrow that points to the part—Or just a blank post-it, and write directly in your book if that’s your style.

After the allotted time, your visit is over. Put the book back, either in the to-read area, or maybe in the read-these area. (If you bother to distinguish.)

Over time, you will slowly get to know more and more of your books. You won’t feel like you need to read the books—you already know you can’t possibly finish them all. At least this way you’re going to have hundreds of great little visits with these ideas you’ve collected.

Over time, you’ll find more and more top post-its as you build mental links to other books. You’ll find all those side post-its marking ideas you like. You can also pick up a book and see what you think of it— I’ve never touched this book. [It has no post-its.] I clearly love this book. [It furry with notes.] When you want to recommend a book, you are likely to have post-its that have the good bits you’ll want them to see first. The top post-its are going to suggest other books in your collection you might want to visit next.

…and on and on.

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