Spent New Year’s Day on the rocks at Enchanted Rock State Park. Climbing outside is a lot tougher than I expected and it made me realize just how much having a big cushy mat under you gives you confidence in a climbing gym.
I think this is true for a lot of things. A safety net of any kind can give you the peace of mind to try something that’s a bit beyond your reach or skill level.
For a long time I thought New Year’s Resolutions were a bit silly and generally a recipe for disappointment. I do still believe that you don’t need a new year to give you the permission to make a change to your life, however there is something special about the changing of the calendar that does lend some momentum. For New Year’s Resolutions, I tend to focus more on building systems to get to my resolution or goal. As James Clear points out, “You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.” Building new habits or routines is critical to keeping your resolution, but if you’re attempting to build a brand new set of routines—maybe based on the morning of the hottest new thought leader—you must remember The Morning Routines We Idolize Are Often From People Divorced From Reality, or to paraphrase Patrick Rothfuss, be careful comparing someone’s on stage with your backstage. With this in mind, focus on being kind to yourself as you build your new habits, routines, or systems to live up to those New Year’s Resolutions. A single day failure in your system does not lead to a failed year or resolution if you pick back up again tomorrow. Put simply: be kind, keep going.
If you’re looking to add a new skill or interest in the new year, might I recommend keeping them hobbies, not side hustles. Cultivating an entirely unrelated hobby is a great way to nourish your mind, relax, and learn, but modern competition culture, it’s easy to get caught in the trap that you need to monetize your hobby or be the best at it right away.
I am often asked by friends and fans why I don’t compete in races or triathlons. My answer is that I’m not trying to “win” my hobby. If I’m being honest, I’m really not even interested in getting much better at them, my goal is mainly to just do more of them…The only purpose is the process. It’s so easy to forget that.
Having wide-ranging hobbies exposes you to new ideas and perspectives, to the adjacent possible in you interests and fields of work, which can help you in all areas of your life. Should you be resolved to make a bigger change professionally or along the lines of your vocation, I’ve been turning over lots of highlights from the essay The Bus Ticket Theory of Genius which pairs nicely with this note—from the previous cited McHale—that Good Things Are Hard and Have High Failure Rates, We Should Still Try. No matter what you’ve resolved to do in the new year I would love to talk with you about what you’re trying to accomplish and noodle on any systems that might help you get there. Best of luck!
I’ve been thinking a lot about how the internet I want to be part of is focused more in small spaces—like Micro.blog—and I think Yap is an interesting idea in a similar vein. Slack, while wonderful for instantaneous communication is a river of chat that quickly bogs down and becomes ineffective when treated as a knowledge source or repository. Chat is—or in my mind, should be—ephemeral and Yap helps make that possible in a world where so much is archived for seemingly little reason.
I will endeavor to take joy in having this chance—the chance to be tested in the name of values I hold dear. In the end, Your Honor, the more frightening my future, the broader the smile with which I look at it.
— Yegor Zhukov
A powerful sentiment from a Russian college student on trial for “extremism” from the full translation of his closing statement.
In one of the newsletters I receive to help fill my collection with internet ephemera, and help me make Bird Mail for y’all, I came across an article about where we focus our curiosity. Why aren’t we curious about the things we want to be curious about? is a question I ask myself a lot. I have explored the rabbit holes of the internet in search of the mundane and the trivial. I fall victim to the idea that though this knowledge is technically useless to me now it might be valuable to me next week or month—so I might as well read these three tabs, and watch a youtube video about it now, right? I explore many things that don’t teach me things of value, I just think I should know them, but I don’t know why.
Instagram is a sinkhole for this kind of junk food information, Tumblr used to be, and way back when I first had reliable access to a browser of my own it was StumbleUpon that stole hours and hours of my nights taking me all over the internet. They all fed my brain an endless supply of novel and mostly trivial information. I would squirrel things away in bookmarks, Pinboard, Pocket, or Instapaper thinking it would be valuable to know or come back to as reference material. Except I rarely comeback. There is too much new.
I seem to always be adding to my collection, but reviewing far less frequently. There are some things that I come back to monthly or yearly, information that becomes knowledge because of its longer term value instead of its short-term dopamine hit from learning something new. I try to include those in Bird Mail when/where they make sense. Though I will not stop looking for more information, more of that internet ephemera, that I so enjoy collection, I am now thinking more about where it comes from and its long-term value. I’m not sure if that means shifting focus to longer-form writing, or somewhere else. I’ll let you know as I figure it out.
Alison Pollack’s Fungi
In lieu of NaNoWriMo, CJ Chilvers committed to writing about one subject, anxiety, every single day of November. I have always kept a journal in some form or fashion. Though there may be a break of days or months between entries, I have always kept a log of thoughts and goings-on in my life. Often journals are started to document legacy—a behavior I’m guilty of too—but Chilvers recommends that you journal for what’s now. Twenty-two years sketchbook/journals by Christopher Butler are worth diving into. I love his collages and it is interesting to see how they change as his work and life change. If you need a journal for the new year, I cannot recommend this one, with its perfectly thin paper and Japanese details, enough. If you prefer something slightly more…mechanical, why not one of these beauties? Sadly, I think all of them are missing a this odd character ‘⋮’.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Der Spiegel interviewed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and I thoroughly enjoyed it. > Freedom of speech includes the freedom to be contradicted. I encourage everyone to express his or her opinion, but you must endure having it called into question. Sometimes, there may even be a so-called “shitstorm.” I’ve experienced this too. It is all part of democracy. I hope it’s okay I’ve included her in my tiny ümail.
I have been traveling by plane more frequently—mostly for work—and though I lack the modern luxury of bluetooth headphones—I’ll keep my big studio grade monitors, thank you—I came across this nifty little adapter that will make airplane-movie-watching (with a friend!) much easier.
Of late, I’ve been thinking a lot about tipping—when to tip, or not tip, how much work must be done to warrant a tip, how much is expected versus correct. I’ve come to the conclusion that American tipping makes no sense. When tips were introduced to Uber and Lyft a part of me felt compelled to tip my drivers when the service was at least average. Now, I’m not so sure that’s the right thing to do. Especially since an average Uber ride seems to be questionably safe driving and sexist comments about women, I feel far less inclined to tip. I’ve been left wondering, why does tipping still exist?
There is no fifth link this week. There are a lot of things to read above, but I wanted to use this space to say thank you. It is a privilege to be given this little space in your email inbox every few weeks. I have such a good time writing Bird Mail for you and getting to share all the internet ephemera that I have collected. I hope y’all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
There is a lot to be said for taking the time to get physically in sync with your partner paddling a tandem kayak after a little row—ahem, quarrel. Kayaking in the sunset was actually the best use of our time and money, despite my original stubborn position.
Something to believe in:
Writing things down isn't just about keeping a record; it's about a deeper level of clarity that the finer articulation releases.
Nicholas Bate's Jagged Thoughts for Jagged Times always delivers.
Social networks have amplified this desire, at the same time they simplified the execution. Now you can waste time and dignity instead of money. Who can you tear down? How much time can you waste? What’s it worth to you to have more followers than the others?
It’s a lousy game, because if you lose, you lose, and if you win, you also lose.
The only way to do well is to refuse to play.
Earning trust outperforms earning envy.
— Seth Godin - The never-ending rachet of conspicuous consumption
Emphasis on the last line is my own, and it is what has me thinking the most. Where do you earn trust on the internet? Social media seems like the defacto place to do it, but the benefits seem less and less as time goes on.
With all the noise on the internet, how can you be found, or heard, so that people can start trusting you?
Last year I devoured the Neapolitan Novels of Elena Ferrante and in her New York Times op-ed likens the power of storytelling to political power. I think she’s absolutely right, the world needs more women, with more power, telling more stories.
A completely new outlook is required. The challenge for now and the foreseeable future is to extract ourselves from what men have engineered: a planet long on the edge of catastrophe.
But how? Maybe now is the moment to bet on a female vision of power — one constructed and imposed with the force of our achievements in every field. For now our exceptionalism is the exceptionalism of minorities.
Living in Oklahoma it was virtually impossible not to know the name Joe Exotic. The bleached mullet, flamboyant outfits, and big cats were hard to miss on the local news or billboards between OKC and Dallas. There were girls in my high school who had birthday parties at the animal park so they could get photos with big cat cubs. He was an Oklahoma fixture that I chalked up to Oklahoma being a strange place, but I never expected to read a story quite this bonkers.
It’s been a few years since I owned a video game console, and almost fifteen years since my last handheld console—unless you count my iPhone, which does have some of my favorite games ever on it (Alto’s Odyssey, Threes, and Monument Valley if you’re wondering). The upcoming Playdate from Panic definitely has my attention. If they have game designers like Zach Gage (maker of great puzzle games like Flipflop Solitaire, Really Bad Chess, and Typeshift) making games for it, it’s going to be a fun little device.
I know Danny MacAskill was in a recent Bird Mail, but he keeps doing cool things with a bike…and a kid in a trailer.
”I decided to try to pull the birds from the sky”
Stephen Gill’s photographs—they’re his in that he set up the scene, though he never once clicked the shutter himself—and Karl One Knausgaard’s words brought birds down to Earth. In 1502, Leonardo da Vinci figured out how to draw what the birds see.
I first learned about Christo and Jeanne-Claude in a college aesthetics class where we discussed the ways their work took familiar structures—trees, bridges, famous buildings—and forced the viewer to look at the form of the thing and nothing more. Next year, Christo is wrapping the Arc de Triomphe, a dream he and his late wife, Jeanne-Claude, had almost 60 years ago. Christo and Jeanne-Claude were on my mind after stumbling upon a small installation built into a ten inch wide wall at The Menil Collection in Houston.
The song from Wintergatan’s original marble machine gets stuck in my head more often than I’d like to admit so I was a little sad to hear that they dismantled it ten months after this video came out. I’m thrilled to see it’s still turning and the progress they’ve made turning it into an incredible hand-crank drum machine.
When I was a kid, there was nothing I loved more than building with LEGO. It’s been a long time since I’ve played with them, but this new Stranger Things LEGO set definitely has my attention. I particularly enjoyed this period-appropriate interview with the set designer.
Reader Mike sent @boschbot my way and reminded me how much I enjoy the bonkers art of Hieronymus Bosch. Each hour there’s a new snippet of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. Many of the characters wouldn’t look too out of place in the world of Stranger Things, despite being separated by more than 500 years.
If you have something you think I should add to my collection of internet ephemera, write me by replying to this email.
I’m sorry if this gets to you a little later than last week’s but I'm working from work today.
I traveled to Cleveland for work last week and could not stop thinking about these videos that are ten years old, but sadly, still relevant. I was hoping to find a lively city, but even the people I met that lived there didn’t seem to like Cleveland much.
“No MBA graduate wants to come work in Cleveland out of school. I want some sexy technology, like a VR office called ‘The Engine Room’ that will make them want to work here.”
— Customer explaining his vision for a Minority Report-style market research software that's never going to be built.
I don’t know what will pull Cleveland from its slump, but maybe a visual refresh like the city of Oslo could help. From the letterhead to the logo, the typography to trash trucks, Oslo has a gorgeous new visual identity that honors its past and looks to a more inclusive future. New colors and signage won’t fix Cleveland, but they certainly can’t hurt.
The first time I confronted Michael Wolf’s Architecture of Density I struggled to make sense of the wide cityscapes without a single sliver of sky. The images are dense—in living quarters and in message. The viewer is left feeling both anonymous and voyeuristic, staring into the tightly packed windows with thousands of lives hidden behind them. Wolf took art photography into large and small spaces and showed the world the humanity that live there. The Guardian has an excellent obituary for the late artist who died last week at the age of 64.
If you have to do any public speaking or presentations any time soon, you might want to take some notes from this thought leader.
I would love to hear from you if you enjoyed any of these links, or if you have something you think I should add to my collection, feel free to reply to this email!
I grew up in West Texas in the 90s and early 2000s where, depending on the day of the week, the most popular things were church, George Bush, and high school football. My mom didn’t really dress like the other women of Midland on a day-to-day basis. She’s always been more of a practical dresser. Overalls, hiking boots, this one flannel shirt I swear is in every vacation photo album since I was born. Function almost always wins out over form—though that’s not to say she doesn’t look adorable. In a small town, my mom’s style showed me how much people judge you based on your clothes at a young age.
We would go to the mall, to Dillard’s or JC Penny’s, and the staff in dresses, shoes, or cosmetics wouldn’t speak to us. My mom wasn’t dressed shabbily, she was in her usual jeans or overalls (bibs, we called them), hiking boots or sneakers, and a small backpack as a purse instead of the typical Coach bag I saw my friends mom’s carrying. I watched employees turn and walk away from my mom, assuming she couldn’t afford whatever we were looking at. They were wrong. But what my mom was wearing shouldn’t have mattered. I remember realizing as it happened, and feeling so hurt for her. No customer, no person, should have been treated that way, least of all my mom.
It stuck with me. Every day, we are judged based on the clothes we wear, even when we don’t want it, even when people are wrong. At some time or another, it’s easier to wear a costume. Sometimes we have to, other times it's a choice.
I spent the last two years of high school in a private school I didn’t fit into wearing polo shirts and button-fronts from EXPRESS—the nicest clothes I’d ever owned save my three-piece debate tournament suits— and still feeling out of place next to kids in Burberry and Brooks Brothers. My early twenties were filled with blazers and dress shoes so I could go into any restaurant or bar and not get too much side-eye for drinking gin and tonics with a book and a notebook (I’ve always been weird 🤷♂️). Knowing that if I dressed a certain way I’d be given better service or not looked at with suspicion, I wore costumes so I would be treated the same as the people around me. It was frustrating, and sometimes, exhausting.
Don’t get me wrong, it is fun to wear a costume—a suit and tie on New Year’s, seersucker and suede wingtips for a Derby Party, fake blood and lots of eye makeup on Halloween—and be judged on the quality of its execution. It’s also easy to forget that our everyday clothes tell the world something about us too. What we are trying to say and what people read aren’t always the same. Judgments by The Cut (which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite places online) brings together assumptions and truths about the costumes we wear and the people beneath them. For a while they were spoiling the surprise in the headline, but now, I think they’ve got it right.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a collector. Rocks, stamps, squished pennies, Field Notes, and fountain pens all nicely curated. But my biggest collection of all doesn’t exist in the real world. It’s made of internet ephemera.
- anything short-lived or ephemeral; transitory
- items designed to be useful or important for only a short time.
Much of what you find in Bird Mail may be of fleeting interest to you; something you glance at, skim, or even skip. That’s okay. Some links you may read and absorb and come back to again and again. Each missive will include one of my “comebacks”, something important I revisit often. You may or may not have to guess which link is a comeback.
Each issue will be on my website, along with more of my findings , so you don’t have to dig through your email if you do want to find something again.
With that little explanation out of the way, welcome to Bird Mail: 000.
Women’s bike races in the 1890s sound like a blast. I had no idea there was so much fanfare and excitement, or that an amateur seamstress became the pride of American cycling. I’m looking forward to reading the bigger book about Tillie and other pioneers of women’s cycling. If any cycling kit maker can create a “Thistle Team” long-sleeve turtleneck jersey, I’m buying it in a heartbeat.
2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Bauhaus movement that continues to influence design today. 99Designs had a bunch of designers use Bauhaus principles to redesign modern logos and the results are fantastic. I never expected to like the Walmart logo, and yet… If you want just a little more Bauhaus, check out the Google Doodle.
Eighteen years ago I joined in as “the wave” went around Safeco Field in Seattle three, four, five times. Ichiro was at the plate. This 27 year old ‘Rookie’ had been playing professional baseball in Japan for almost as many years as I had been alive, but this was his first year in the US. Everyone in that stadium knew we were watching someone special. I dutifully kept score the whole game and saved that scorebook, along with the baseball cards I bought that day. I’m not sure they’ll ever be worth much, but they mean a lot to me. Every time I pack and unpack them I am reminded of the feeling of watching someone so gifted at their craft. Ichiro played his whole career with a finesse unlike any other. Now, at 45, Ichiro has retired from professional baseball.
It’s hard to believe I’ve been watching this video of Danny MacAskill for ten years. It is definitely showing its age in terms of video quality—and just how far action cameras have come since—but I watch it a few times a year, almost always following it with this.
I have a confession. I didn’t own my first pair of Joran 1s until I was 27. I still don’t have any Air Max. But I’m kind of a sneaker head. I will never wait in line for hours, or buy sneakers to flip them. I don’t even really have a collection. Sneaker culture, however, fascinates me. Being late to the game I was surprised to learn, many think that it is dying. I’m not entirely convinced that it is dying so much as changing with the times, though the trend of PreachersNSneakers doesn’t really help the cause.
I would love to hear from you if you enjoyed any of these links, or if you have something you think I should add to my collection, feel free to reply to this email!
Thank you for giving me a small space of your email inbox, it is an honor to be here.
One of my favorite writers on the internet, Craig Mod, has a new project that I’m following. In short, over the course of a month, Craig is walking across Japan and distilling each day’s walk into a single image that he’s sending out via SMS to anyone who signs up. You may reply to the images, but he won’t see them until the end when the responses will be collected, paired with the day's image, and made into a book. The longer explanation is here, I’ll wait.
The missives began arriving Monday morning and they’re delightful. Though the communication is one-way I feel an odd sense of connection to everyone else getting each snippet of Craig’s journey. Not one of us—and it does feel like an us—know who is reading, where anyone else is, or how many we number. We are all part of this little publishing experiment in a tiny corner of the internet, and I couldn’t be more excited.
If you’re interested in Japan, walking, or publishing on the internet, you’re welcome to walk along with us by texting “walk” to the following number: +1-424-543-0510. I’ll include Craig’s disclaimer that “Your number will be used for this experiment and this experiment only. You can opt-out at any time by texting “stop” to the system.”
Between the World and Me is an incredible book. It is hard to say I loved it, because it is hard to come to terms with the content—the Dream, the America I am part of—that is not flattering or picturesque. But I feel that Between the World and Me is a book that must not just be read, but one that must be talked about. Looking back at what I’ve read this year I have no doubt this is the most important, and affecting, book.
Between the World and Me is hard—in the uncomfortable way—to talk about. In 152 poignant pages I was faced repeatedly with an American reality I either chose to believe did not exist or had no knowledge of. I’m not sure which is worse. I relish being exposed to writers, genres, and histories I know nothing about, but this stung with the feeling that while Black history is not my history, American history is. The two are so intertwined, as Coates lays out. I barely know the half of it. Fortunately, through his retelling of his own learnings he provides more source material to a history told by black voices. It is a history I look forward to exploring.
The most crushing lesson Coates is passing on to his son is the need to protect the black body from so many pieces of The Dream that can take it away. From the home to the street to the school to the police to a justice system that feels—or is—biased against the black body, Coates has learned the hard way to always be vigilant to protect his body. Violence, or threat of violence, is a way of life. At any moment his body could be taken by force. As hard as he has worked to protect his son from these truths, he knows they are lessons his son must learn to stay safe in this world.
I cannot fathom the position Coates is in. The fear—for his body, the bodies of his loved ones, the bodies of his people—is almost all consuming. He has spent years asking questions, researching theories as to why, and still he has no real answer. For his son to grow up knowing less of the fear is wonderful, but as Coates points out, The Dream and the American justice system that protect it are not interested in the elevation of the black body.
Between the World and Me brought me face to face with an American reality that, though I did not know it existed, I feel somehow complicit in. I have been presented with an American history and identity that I know so little of, with thinkers and writers that tell a different history—and more painful history—than the one I learned in school. To not share this book feels irresponsible. The subject is tender and charged with emotion, but it must be talked about. I fear that until more people who call themselves white come to face the reality Coates presents, there will always be a divide.
Amazon: Between the World and Me
If you look at rejection as a mark of failure—which it often isn’t—you might see the disappointment and failure you feel is based entirely on the expectations—however unreasonable—you set for yourself, and not those of others.
Choose Yourself by James Altucher is sinking in.
In no particular order: