The task of art

Our vanity, our passions, our spirit of imitation, our abstract intelligence, our habits have long been at work, and it is the task of art to undo this work of theirs, making us travel back in the direction from which we have come to the depths where what has really existed lies unknown within us.

~ Marcel Proust

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Human collaborators

And so we did the math, and it was really at the same time that I had lost [my idea] that she had gotten [her idea]. And we like to think that the idea jumped from my mind to hers during our little kiss that we had when we met. That’s our magical thinking around it. But it’s — there is no explanation for that other than the one that I’ve always abided by, which is that ideas are conscious and living, and they have will, and they have great desire to be made, and they spin through the cosmos, looking for human collaborators.

~ Elizabeth Gilbert from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2022/09/the-muse-strikes-again/

Obviously that’s not how any of it really works. But it is a sublime, inspiring idea! I know that if I focus (or worse, fixate) on where some idea came from it’s easy to lose the delight of the overall thing. This cosmic perspective from Gilbert reminds me to simply take things and run with them. If I can. If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

If I can’t run with it, well, that’s okay too. It is simply okay. But, if I still need some self-convincing, that cosmic perspective gives me the comfort I need to let go.

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Extraneous as passing fiction

After this era of great pilots is gone, as the era of great sea captains has gone — each nudged aside by the march of inventive genius, by steel cogs and copper discs and hair-thin wires on white faces that are dumb, but speak — it will be found, I think, that all the science of flying has been captured in the breadth of an instrument board, but not the religion of it. One day the stars will be as familiar to each man as the landmarks, the curves, and the hills on the road that leads to his door, and one day this will be an airborne life. But by then men will have forgotten how to fly; they will be passengers on machines whose conductors are carefully promoted to familiarity with labelled buttons, and in whose minds the knowledge of the sky and the wind and the way of weather will be extraneous as passing fiction.

~ Beryl Markham from, https://www.themarginalian.org/2022/09/19/beryl-markham-west-with-the-night/

As if there’s anything I could write which would add to that.

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Bitter or better?

The Stoics would agree that the world can be ugly and awful and disappointing. They would just remind us that what we control is what we do about this. We control what difference we try to make. We control whether it makes us bitter or makes us better—whether we complain or just get to work.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/why-i-pick-up-trash-at-the-beach/

My grasp is failing. My ability to keep track of this, and make a plan for organizing that, is waning. Each year I more quickly become frustrated at unforeseen twists and foreseen complexities. Believing I’m successfully juggling just two things, I’m surprised to discover one has already hit the floor. I’ve moved beyond having a to-do list long enough that many items are below the fold; the regularity of adding items near the top means the items below the fold will never get done. Instead, I have multiple systems piled up in sedimentary fashion. Entire segments of my life, which I thought were integral to my identity, have fallen below the fold.

And every day my life gets better. I wish I’d learned the lesson sooner.

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Options

In any situation in life, you only have three options. You always have three options. You can change it, you can accept it, or you can leave it. What is not a good option is to sit around wishing you would change it but not changing it, wishing you would leave it but not leaving it, and not accepting it. It’s that struggle, that aversion, that is responsible for most of our misery.

~ Naval Ravikant

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Overlooked truths

Peoples’ desire to have an opinion far exceeds the number of things that need to be opined on. “I don’t know” is a phrase that should be praised for its honesty, not belittled for its detachment.

~ Morgan Housel from, https://www.collaborativefund.com/blog/overlooked-truths-of-business-and-investing-success/

Collaborative Fund is an investment firm so everything there is about investing. Mostly about investing. Well, actually, it turns out that investing is at its core just people doing stuff for reasons. Posts like this one from Housel read like investment (or “financial”) advice, and their lessons directly generalize. I’ve already mentioned that “I don’t know” is how how I avoid making the mistake of trying to have an opinion about everything. There are several other nuggets in there too.

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Nostalgia

Longing for the past is generally referred to as nostalgia – a gentle, tender feeling that might make these stories seem like nothing more than harmless sentimentality. But it is crucial to distinguish between wistful memories of grandma’s kitchen and belief in a prior state of cultural perfection.

~ Alan Jay Levinovitz from, https://aeon.co/essays/nostalgia-exerts-a-strong-allure-and-extracts-a-steep-price

You may or may not like that particular essay; There are 2,000 others to choose from over on Aeon. I was poking around, found this one, and pinned it for later reading. Figuring out how to pin things for later reading is a huge force multiplier. When I want to read good stuff, I never spend time looking for good stuff. I just go to the pile of good stuff—twitch at the 700+ items, veer back over into “that’s an embarrassment of riches, long live the open Internet—and start reading. Hmmm… nostalgia?

I remember, back in The Day, when I used to really enjoy reading— wait, no. That’s today, and without the 20-minute car ride to the Hall of Books.

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Restraint

Because that’s all that could restrain us (if anything could)—the only thing that could make us want to stay here: The chance to live with those who share our vision. But now? Look how tiring it is—this cacophony we live in. Enough to make you say to death, “Come quickly. Before I start to forget myself, like them.”

~ Marcus Aurelius, 9.3

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Looking at new things

The third reason is that looking at new things, even if they’re just new streetcorners or deer trails, helps me recover a certain uncomplicated way of looking at things that used to be automatic when I was a kid.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2022/05/how-to-get-the-magic-back/

Just as I read this, it occurred to me that a big part of the “magic” of my experience with Art du Déplacement (aka parkour) came from the effect that Cain is describing. I’ve always felt that when I decide to “just go out” and try to train, there was always some component of magic missing. By myself, it always felt simply as if I was slogging away at “exercise.” When I’m invited by others to join them, quite often somewhere I’ve not previously been, there’s a lot of “looking at new things” that happens automatically. Randonautica (click through to Cain’s article) is clearly one way to force that novelty upon oneself.

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Sedimentation and erosion

I have this image of our home as a bunch of related-rates problems: There’s inflow and outflow. Energy: In through my electric meter, out through lighting, waste heat and heating/cooling, water heater, etc.. Climate control: Heat flow in from heating/cooling system, the wood stove, the sun, versus losses through the attic, windows, doors, etc.. Mass: The balance of the rates of the flow of all the stuff.

Ever stop to think of that? Think of your home as a sealed balloon which has two, (or more of course,) doors, (garage doors count,) through which everything passes. Everything—no exceptions—passes in first, and then out second. Everything–every single thing, including the people–is only inside temporarily. The people come and go most frequently, (some pets might exceed some people I suppose,) and some things might remain inside for decades. But still, inside only temporarily.

You know that at some point you, (and everyone else if you share your home,) will go out for the last time. You might carry some things with you on your last exit, or you might arrange for someone else to come in, (and go out and in and out and in and out one last time,) to remove things after you go out for the last time. And of course eventually the entire structure will be removed and certainly at that point, everything you brought in—everything that was temporarily still inside—will go out at that point.

Where does everything you carry in from the market and grocery store go? Where does the furniture go? The books? The nick-naks? The packages and packing material from purchases? The clothes? The postal mail? The firewood you carry in is vastly more massive than the ashes you carry out; where does all that mass go?

Based on how the things around me make me feel, I know I have too much stuff. When I think of our stuff this way—as just a mass of stuff that’s temporarily inside our home—it’s much easier to keep my life under control. Too much stuff? …all I need to do is make sure more goes out than comes in, on average, and the problem will subside.

…and I can have fun with it. If something breaks, is worn out, or I’m done with it, that’s the outbound mass for today! Can I recycle this random thing? Can I FreeCycle this random thing? I no longer feel bad about sending things out, (wether that means landfill, recycle, giveaway, whatever… as appropriate.) Instead, I now find I feel bad about bringing things in. Each time I consider buying something, I think: Do I want to bring that into my life?

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It’s not important

It is difficult to imagine what wonderful changes would occur to human lives if people would stop poisoning themselves with brandy, wine, tobacco and drugs. […] Some people say, “It is not important if you drink or smoke.” If it is of no importance, then why not just stop, if you know that you harm yourself and, with your example, others?

~ Leo Tolstoy

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Our perspectives

The world simply exists as it is—things or events are not good or bad, right or wrong, ugly or beautiful. It is we, with our particular perspectives, who add color to or subtract it from things and people. We focus on either the beautiful Gothic architecture or the annoying tourists.

~ Robert Greene

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Learning to see

Most people to this day think of [the sciences and the arts] as so radically different from each other. But I want to posit a different way to look at it. It comes from what I think is a fundamental misunderstanding of art on the part of most people. Because they think of art as learning to draw or learning a certain kind of self-expression. But in fact, what artists do is they learn to see.

~ Ed Catmull

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Now

What we miss about our own beloved Good Old Days isn’t so much the material things they remind us of—wholesome 1980s sitcoms, or musty thrift-store sweaters—it’s the particular feelings those days gave us, feelings which are now impossible to experience.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2022/03/the-good-old-days-are-happening-now/

Cain rightly goes on to point out, that while we can’t feel those exact feelings again, there’s no reason we can’t—right this very instant—enjoy These Good Days. Ten years from now—presuming, of course—I can look back and think with a chuckle: Remember when I spent a couple years going really deep experimenting with knowledge systems. That was a fun exploration.

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Perspective and awareness

The thing about status dynamics, though, is that they aren’t in one spot. There isn’t a whole world that is being fully and accurately perceived, except for one blank space that’s being glossed over.

~ Duncan Sabien from, https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/7Pq9KwZhG6vejmYpo/the-metaphor-you-want-is-color-blindness-not-blind-spot

This is an interesting unpacking of some metaphors. If one has a blind spot in vision, simply shifting your gaze or moving slightly, will reveal what one is not seeing. This is a key way in which the “blind spot” metaphor is inaccurate and insufficient for systemic differences (in people, culture, society, etc.). The metaphor of red-green color blindness carries more utility because it points out that the things, or the distinctions, which one can’t see are everywhere; they are not literally in one stationary location (the problem is not simply under this X on this map), and no matter what one does—gaze shifting, moving around, thinking a great deal—those invisible thing are not going to appear.

The only way I’ve found to get through such problem is to engage with others whose literal and conceptual perspectives differ from my own. I’ll sum that up as: Discovery.

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Perspective

Age. Age brings perspective in the fine clarity one gets at midnight, on the tracks, looking into the lights of an oncoming train. It dawns on you rather quickly: There’s only so much time left. Only so many star-filled nights, snowfalls… brisk fall afternoons, rainy midsummer days. So how you conduct yourself and do your work matters. How you treat your friends, your family, your lover. On good days, a blessing falls over you. It wraps its arms around you and you’re free and deeply in and of this world. That’s your reward: Being here.

~ Bruce Springsteen

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