Sometimes, you come across the right art / essay / information at the exact right time. Whether due to serendipity or some greater cosmic force, the subject matter or its conclusion seems almost preternaturally tailored to you and your current situation, and provides some nugget of wisdom that guides your path forward. And no, I’m not talking about horoscopes.
I first came across Frank Chimero’s blog via two released released (and hugely popular) posts: A Modest Guide to Productivity and MVP Soundsystem, a guide to listening to music in our age of plenty. Both articles immediately resonated with me, as they presented methods for managing our relationship to technology in a way that works for you, as opposed to letting yourself be driven by technology and its designs on your time and attention (increasingly a popular topic, though ironically mostly in online circles.)
As much as I’m generally drawn to articles that offer methods or systems for greater organization / clarity / space for reflection, his posts and the advice therein seemed genuine and uniquely human, based on his own experience and shared in an attempted to help others, rather than as a ploy to increase email subscribers or shill a book or course.
My favorite tip, from the Modest Guide:
Get enthusiasm on the cheap by buying a fancy wooden pencil to write everything down. A $3 pencil is now more exciting than a $2,000 computer. Many people will do the most mundane work just to feel a good tool fly.
I’ve since taken this advice to hard, though my apartment is now strewn with more $10 notebooks and $3 pencils/pens than I’d care to admit.
After reading these posts, I made a mental note to check out Frank’s blog and work in general, as he is a designer in “real life.” Last week, I finally visited the archive of his blog, and pulled out several non-design-related posts to read. Three posts in particular have stuck with me, and are the Best Thing I Read This Week™ (yes, I know I’m stretching the concept a bit – it’s my blog and I can do what I want!)
Jettison the Rest (October 2014) deals with the taking on of obligations, and the need to consiously pit those committments against your own desires, facing headfirst “the whiplash of modern life, to automatic and unchecked desire, to the anxiety created by spinelessness.”
I oftentimes feel this spinelessness after a long session of email digestion and response, where at the end I feel no closer to my initial intentions than when I started, yet find myself when reduced mental capacity as a result.
As Chimero counsels, himself inspired by Joan Didion’s 1961 essay on self-respect, “It’s best to identify and do what you’re required and able, then jettison the rest.”
I Can’t Read Walden (August 2014) follows my recent capsule review of reading Walden, where I contemplated what motivated Thoreau to write a treatise on his retreat from the modern world as a 30-year-old.
Chimero, who admits to not making it much further than 15 pages into Walden but successfully imagines its contents and conclusion, ponders Thoreau’s decision to leave behind to “noise” (both literal and figurative) of modern society and dissatisfaction of adulthood.
Chimero sees himself in Thoreau’s Walden, “reflected 150 years in the past, still just as foolish and making the same mistakes I make today.” However, Chimero openly questions Thoreau’s decision to flee from obligations and seek refuge in nature and his own mind:
Did escaping modern life leave you feeling curiously trapped? Were you running away or running towards? And, most importantly, were you ever able to reconcile the tension between enjoying the world and trying to set it straight? I want to ask because Thoreau ostracized himself, and seclusion, for some, can be just as addicting as any drug. It’s a defacto solution that feeds the problem which requires itself as a solution.
As someone who has taken the active step of moving continents, not necessarily beset by the same immediate struggles but certainly wary of the constant revolutions of modern life, this line of questioning opened me up to questioning my own desires of retreat, whether, as Chimero asks, “those fussy middle parts between the mind and nature (family, your relations, workplace, city, nation, society, etc.) weren’t a crutch, but the third leg of a stool?”
Lastly, This One’s For Me (March 2014) is a reflection on the eve of his thirtieth birthday. In this post, Chimero takes stock of the various personas we assign ourselves as our identities become more congealed as working adults, and the associated traps that break the illusion of those “perfect personas,” including fear, judgement, and pressure – all enemies of modern life (and especially public life, online.)
The essay is incredibly personal, as it touches on his experience returning to work and the world after the traumatic and unimaginably difficult experience of losing both of his parents, months apart.
At the risk of merely repackinging his powerful words, I’ll just post them here below:
Two terrible years taught me the most important lesson about life I’ve ever learned on my own: you only become bulletproof when you refuse to disguise your injuries. This ends the show and deflates any notion that you have your shit together all the time. The wounds are a gift: with the mask gone, you get to be a person again. You learn how to accept help, and better yet, how to better give it.
Suddenly, all the stakes become much lower. Life is somehow more precious and less. You are a monkey in pants, after all. So what? There’s no need to be loud and stupid and desperate, because the desire that made you behave that way was so convoluted to start. What could those desires be for, and what would you ever do if they were fulfilled? You don’t know. But you shouldn’t feel bad for not knowing or for thinking such silly things. You’re just a monkey, kid, so cut yourself some slack.