Sharpening the mower

As I write, I’m listening to my neighbor who is gas-powered-rotary-mowing the rocks in his yard…

This is a frequent topic on my blog: I have an old-school style, reel mower. It’s a modern mower; light, and maintainable. It has no motor; you push it and the blades spin. (Thus it comes with an unlimited, free gym membership and exercise program.) It really matters that it be kept sharp and correctly adjusted. A reel mower is basically 6, precisely adjustd, helical scissors. If you hit even a single twig or piece of mulch, it matters.

Yesterday I spent an hour sharpening and adjusting the mower. This is also a manual process where I have to take apart the wheel-drive-setup, and put the mower body in a little stand, (which I built years ago.) Then, using a manual hand-crank arm, and lapping compound—think: grey peanut butter with stuff that cuts steel in it—I can adjust and sharpen the mower. Anyway. I spent an hour on it.

Then I went back out into the lawn like a hero… only to discover I had done it wrong and really messed it up. Now it cuts way worse— Actually, now it mostly doesn’t cut, is impossible to push, and I need to redo all my adjusting and sharpening.

So yesterday, precious little lawn go mowed. But holy shit did I get a workout!

Sometimes my posts are metaphors for life about “sharpening the saw.” Not today. No, yesterday I simply messed up the mower and busted my ass to no avail.

Nope. Definitely no life lesson here. Nothing to see here. Move along.

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Urgency

This is a topic I revisit often in my personal reflection. When I write, I sometimes remember to search my own site to see what else I’ve written on the topic at hand. Lose no time, is exactly as useful to me—hint: incredibly—as when I first wrote it.

I find that things go well once I’m heads-down tinkering away on some specific task. I’ve also learned, but relatively recently in my journey if I’m being honest, to enjoy myself at a relaxed pace in the times leading up to important things; that phone call in an hour, the doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning, etc. In those two cases where it quite clearly could, the urgency demon does not actually come knocking on my door.

As you’re expecting, I’m going to say that there is a third case where the urgency demon does show up, bites off my head, and dances on my chest: When I’m thinking. A thought drifts through the living room of my mind; “that’s a good point, I should do such-and-so about that.” Another thought arrives on the stoop and rings the bell; “oh, yeah that’s probably important and if I just nip it in the bud…” And another thought slips in with the second thought when I open the front door; “actually, I busted my ass on that and now I’m stuck waiting on…” Those three thoughts, now in my living room, realize it’s a party, they each message three friends, and nine new thoughts arrive; “I thought I had all this stuff under control [you should see my systems!] how are there a dozen of you partying in my house? …who brought music?!” Another thought streaks through unbidden; “hey wait, I totally know I had that sorted out, and you agreed to wear clothing…” The pizza delivery guy arrives to feed all the thoughts. Ride-shares queue up my block to pick up the drunken revelers barfing on my lawn. The cops do a second slow-roll after the third noise complaint. And how is there a bonfire in the yard?!

I eventually panic, and flee to food or distraction.

It’s not quite splitting; I sometimes do that, but knowing what it is makes it pretty easy to avoid. It’s not quite catastrophizing; again, been there, know what that is. I think it’s simply mental overload—in the sense of physical exhaustion combined with some feedback looping. The sure sign, for me at least, is when everything starts to seem urgent. When everything seems urgent, (and none of the things are actually urgent in the way choking or a heart attack are urgent,) that’s a sure sign to call, “bullshit!” and to walk—not run—to something other than thinking. Rather than wait until I panic and flee to negative distractions, I’m working on throwing my hands up much sooner at that party: “Well, this is clearly going to get out of hand. I’m outta’ here.”

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Been there. Done that.

Which I guess is what the paradox resolves into: a devaluing of superficial pleasures and a greater appreciation for simple, authentic ones. I don’t really enjoy the presents at Christmas anymore, the fireworks at Fourth of July, or even the parties on New Year’s Eve. I’ve seen bigger parties, been to more beautiful places, and already own everything I’ll ever want in this life. But unlike before, I appreciate every day spent with those who mean a lot to me. A quiet beer on a patio. Watching a basketball game together. Going to a birthday party or a barbecue. These are the events I look forward to now and get excited about, days and weeks ahead of time… And that’s probably the way it should be.

~ Mark Manson from, https://markmanson.net/joy-and-meaning

I really have seen bigger parties, been to more beautiful places, and already own everything I’ll ever want in this life.

The comparison I’m making is not with you. The sentence above does not contain the phrase, “than you have.”

The comparison I am making is to this moment… to this experience. There’s a reason I choose to share this moment with you. Not this exact moment as you’re reading; we’re not sharing this moment as you’re reading. I’m taking about moments in real life that we experience together, if any. There’s a reason I’m choosing to experience those moments.

Enough about me. How do you choose— …actually, wait…

Do you choose how to spend your moments?

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That which in old days moved Earth and Heaven

Hilbert had no patience with mathematical lectures which filled the students with facts but did not teach them how to frame a problem and solve it. He often used to tell them that “a perfect formulation of a problem is already half its solution.”

~ Constance Reid, via Paul Graham from, http://www.paulgraham.com/know.html

Today is a three-for-one; two attributions for the quote and a hat tip for my title, which I hope you recognize as being lifted from Ulysses.

I’ve been thinking recently about wisdom. I have countless aphorisms that hint, with a wink, at how it differs from knowledge. I’m certain I don’t know exactly what wisdom is, but I am certain I know what it rhymes with. Today I listened to an entire album, the way the artist hoped I would. Today I provided a bit of help to some people who are starting out in something that I happen to know about. Today I ate peanut butter and jelly using the same spoon in both jars while nibbling at the bread. Today I read journal entries I had written 6, 3 and 1 years ago. Today I spent time with a few people important to me. Today I sat in the sun. Today I played and ran and jumped on some stuff. Today, aside from the people I interacted with, I did not leave, (nor attempt to leave,) my mark in the world.

In a non-judging way, meant only to spur you on, I ask: What did you do today?

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Excellence

… excellence is not a law of physics. Excellence is a moral act.

You create excellence by deciding to do so, nothing more. It doesn’t matter if you went to the wrong school, or were born on the wrong side of the tracks, or working the wrong job.

You go into the situation and you go the extra mile. Your decision. You own it. You own the potential downsides as well.

~ Huch MacLeod from, https://www.gapingvoid.com/blog/2020/02/03/why-excellence-is-a-moral-act/

I have a hard time distinguishing when I’m in the pursuit of excellence from when I’m in the paralysis of perfection. In my mind I can see so many options, permutations and problems, and my thinking wants to race down every path. Which path leads to excellence? Which path leads only to perfection? I spent a lot of time—let’s say the ’90s and ’00s—checking every available path to see where they led.

But I don’t want to do that any more. Here are things I’m doing, and of course I’ll do them with excellence. And over there? Over there are the rest of the paths throughout the entire universe which I’m perfectly fine leaving to others. The universe did just fine before I was here, and it will continue to be fine after.

You know that great Robert Frost poem about two paths diverging in a wood? Turns out that it does not matter which path you choose… until you’ve gone so far down that path that you cannot return and go the other way. Only then have you actually chosen.

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Nobody cares

More specifically it’s, “Nobody cares. Do it yourself.” This is a terrific splash of cold water from Jason Korman, (or maybe it was Hugh Macleod?)

I interpret this not as a pessimistic, “people suck.” But rather, a catalyst to, “simply start.”

Nobody cares in the same way one cares about one’s own projects and ideas. Obviously nobody cares like that! But why do we—ok fine yes I’m projecting my behavior onto you… Why do we look outward for the external validation? Certainly, the real world is the ultimate arbiter of truth. (As opposed to one’s thoughts.) But no amount of external data is going to create or destroy your true passion. If you have a project that you cannot put down because you’re passionate about it to the extent that it consumes your life, then whether or not you have external validation is irrelevant.

Do the thing. Make the art. It doesn’t matter that nobody cares. Do it yourself.

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Lose no time

I suspect some people need to cultivate a sense of urgency to motivate them. I need less motivation. I need less urgency.

I managed to create a life where my perception is that every waking moment I’m either on-task or off. Every waking moment is either doing something that moves me towards my goals, or a moment of relaxation and unwinding—self-care practices so to speak. (Of course, there’s another third of my life when I’m asleep.)

It’s perfectly obvious that there is no such thing as work versus life balance. There’s just life. Some moments I’m doing this thing. Some moments that thing. Some moments resting my eyes. Some moments eating. Some moments interacting with this person. Some moments with that person. Many moments I’m alive.

The only way it would make sense to talk about work versus life… I don’t mean work, defined as when money is changing hands. I mean work as in efforts spent progressing towards a goal. The only way it would make sense to talk about work versus life balance would be if I were two—or more—different people; the work me and the life me. I can readily see how that could be a thing. I can see people who do that, or at least they try to do that. It’s completely obvious when people try to be one person in work contexts and another for themselves. I’m not sure I ever tried to do that. I’m sure that I don’t want to do that.

There’s just me. There’s just life. I need to catch myself making a distinction between work and life. That would be a moment, earlier than where I’m currently trying to solve my problems, where I might have more purchase.

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Sunday, fireside

Learning to create spaces is one of those super-power life skills that they don’t—or at least, they didn’t, I don’t know about now—teach in school. But I’m not sure you could have taught this to me in school. Probably best that they didn’t even try. I had to discover for myself how much it matters to have a space, a context, and a set of expectations in which to do… well… everything that matters.

The things I use to create a space certainly don’t need to be expensive. They do need to be purposeful. My particular chair that I use for reading. My gel pens that have served faithfully for years. (A parade of clones, not one super-pen.) The keyboard and large screen for programming. The physical-paper books I generally prefer.

…and then comes the intention. Why am I reading? Why am I writing? Why am I having this conversation, or that experience?

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Impermanence

I don’t know why we long so for permanence, why the fleeting nature of things so disturbs. With futility, we cling to the old wallet long after it has fallen apart. We visit and revisit the old neighborhood where we grew up, searching for the remembered grove of trees and the little fence. We clutch our old photographs. In our churches and synagogues and mosques, we pray to the everlasting and eternal. Yet, in every nook and cranny, nature screams at the top of her lungs that nothing lasts, that it is all passing away. All that we see around us, including our own bodies, is shifting and evaporating and one day will be gone. Where are the one billion people who lived and breathed in the year 1800, only two short centuries ago?

~ Alan Lightman from, The Accidental Universe

It seems obvious to me that apprehending the impermanence of everything is necessary in order to remain sane. Obviously my entire existence is an immeasurably tiny fraction of an instant. Obviously there is no ultimate “point” to all of this. Obviously there is no one true meaning of life.

It removes a lot of baggage and struggle once you realize that reality is in fact the real situation you are in.

…and then you’re free. Free to create, conjure, combine, laugh, love, learn, run, ramble, perable, talk, commiserate, procreate, invent, integrate, mix, mingle and just generally ENJOY LIVING.

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