Categories
Technology

Tools of the moment

It’s been a minute since the last time I took stock of my notetaking/productivity apps, so here’s where I stand currently:

  • I still use paper. The reporter’s notebook I got last Christmas is good for my occasional work-based bullet journaling.
  • Feedly has been my RSS reader of choice for years now. To further declutter my email inbox, I also use Feedly to follow many email newsletters (shout-out to Substack and Buttondown for their RSS-friendly design; boooooo Mailchimp).
  • I went deeper into WorkFlowy, which has remained delightfully clean and minimalist even while adding a bunch of new features. I transferred my Book Notes & Quotes there, along with old conference session notes and other reference things that fit as bulleted lists.
  • Once I realized my files were awkwardly split between Google Drive and Dropbox, I decided to commit more fully to the former and put the latter on ice. Once essential, Dropbox now seems superfluous.
  • I stopped using Simplenote because other tools filled its role, and Apple Reminders because its syncing sucks.
  • I started paying for 50GB of iCloud last year before I upgraded to a new iPhone, mostly for photo backup.
  • I use the Office 365 suite for work. It’s fine.
  • My calendar situation remains annoyingly bifurcated between Google for personal and Outlook for work. The only place all my events appear together seamlessly is in the iOS Calendar app, which isn’t ideal.

See my other “of the moment” series.

Categories
Design

The art of ‘90s photo envelopes

While going through my library’s bevy of old staff and event photos, I encountered lots of what used to be commonplace but are now practically ancient artifacts: photo envelopes. Most of them were from the 1990s and early 2000s, which you can probably guess from the designs.

(See also: groovy ’70s library brochures.)

Categories
Typewriters

A friendly birthday typewriter

This cross-stitch was a belated birthday gift from my mom, who said she used the color of my Olympia SM7 as inspiration. As I don’t have a display room or even nook for my typewriters, I’m not sure where to put it yet. But it’ll brighten up whichever wall it lands on.

Categories
Film

Top 5 autumn movies

I have a pretty good handle on my Christmas/winter movie canon. But fall? Not so much. That’s what inspired me to consider the movies I return to during autumn, or seek out when I want that Mr. Autumn Man feeling on screen regardless of the season.

To qualify, they have to take place primarily within, embody the spirit of, and have the look and feel of autumn. So my beloved Little Women (both the 1994 and 2019 renditions) don’t quite make the cut given their year-round plots. Nor do other movies that are widely considered fall movies but I either haven’t seen (Hocus Pocus, Practical Magic) or care enough about (When Harry Met Sally).

Here, listed alphabetically, is what I landed on, along with some of their appealingly autumnal attributes.

Coco

Dia de Los Muertos. The spookiness. The cemetery.

Knives Out

The foliage. The sweaters and coats. The gothic architecture.

October Sky

The title of the movie. The overcast. The mournful spirit. The gorgeous music. The light jackets and flannel. (This is really #1.)

Remember the Titans

The nighttime football. The new-school-year vibes.

The Village

The cloaks. The chilly nights. The aphyllus trees. The forest walks.

Categories
Books Life

Four Thousand Weeks in the Midnight Library

Matt Haig’s novel The Midnight Library asks: What if you could explore every what-if of your life, specifically those that turned into regrets? How many of your other lives would actually turn out better than your real one?

It’s an intriguing philosophical question that quickly turns personal for the book’s protagonist, Nora Seed, who comes to learn that each book in the titular library—rendered as a kind of metaphysical manifestation of purgatory—represents one of the infinite versions of her life.

Adventures in space-time

The idea of exploring what-ifs through magical realism or sci-fi isn’t new. It’s the narrative foundation of some of my favorite films (It’s A Wonderful Life, Back to the Future trilogy) and other intriguing cinematic counterfactuals (The Man in the High Castle, The Last Temptation of Christ, About Time).

But rather than focusing on (as Doc Brown would call it) one specific temporal junction point in the entire space-time continuum—what if George Bailey had never lived, what if Biff stole the Almanac, what if the Nazis won—The Midnight Library extends its ambit to the many sliding-doors moments in a single life.

Nora is given countless opportunities to choose and experience parallel lives where none of her regrets came to pass. “I stayed with that ex-boyfriend” and “I didn’t give up swimming” and “I pursued my dream of becoming a glaciologist” all get a spin. But none of these supposedly ideal realities live up to her expectations.

While she’s able to shorten her list of regrets—an immensely valuable gift in itself—her pursuit of happiness doesn’t solve the deeper existential crisis that plagues all of us at some point: per Mary Oliver, what will you do with your one wild and precious life?

4,000 Weeks

That question infuses another of my recent reads: Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman, an approachably philosophical exploration of the wily, incorrigible thing called time and our dysfunctional relationship with it.

I have an extensive list of quotes from the book that make for good ponderin’, but there are three specific ones that would fit right into The Midnight Library. (Synchroncity knows no bounds, temporal or otherwise.)

First, a reality check:

The world has an effectively infinite number of experiences to offer, so getting a handful of them under your belt brings you no closer to a sense of having feasted on life’s possibilities.

Therefore, Burkeman writes, you have to make choices:

Once you truly understand that you’re guaranteed to miss out on almost every experience the world has to offer, the fact that there are so many you still haven’t experienced stops feeling like a problem. Instead, you get to focus on fully enjoying the tiny slice of experiences you actually do have time for—and the freer you are to choose, in each moment, what counts the most.

And once you do that:

If you can hold your attention, however briefly or occasionally, on the sheer astonishingness of being, and on what a small amount of that being you get—you may experience a palpable shift in how it feels to be here, right now, alive in the flow of time.

That “astonishingness” of being alive in the flow of time doesn’t arrive on command. You have to reorient your mind and your attention to create the conditions that allow for it to reveal itself.

In The Midnight Library, that process looks like an anguished young woman replacing her perceived unworthiness with gratitude for mere existence. (Just like George Bailey.)

In Four Thousand Weeks, that looks like embracing temporal limitations rather than resenting them.

And in my life, that looks like treating the things I love—my wife and son and family and friends and typewriter collection and bike rides and movie nights and library books—as the temporary gifts they are, for however long I live.

Categories
Books Life

Learning fictions

I’ve been on a fiction reading tear recently. In the last fortnight I’ve finished The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All by Josh Ritter, and The Midnight Library by Matt Haig—all with a mix of print and audiobook. I just started The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller on audiobook and am hopeful about it.

In the midst of this streak I texted my buddies that I was resolving to read more fiction.

“It’s an ongoing struggle,” I wrote, “to come to terms with the fact that I won’t be able to learn everything I want to learn via nonfiction books, so I might as well start to nourish other parts of my consciousness too.”

My friend Steve replied: “I feel like I learn a lot about the world from nonfiction, and I learn a lot about myself (and my relationship to others) from fiction.”

Couldn’t be truer. And when I said I typically tilt much farther toward the world, he replied: “While vast, it is sometimes less daunting.” Compared, that is, to ourselves.

Wendell Berry:

Fantasy is of the solitary self, and it cannot lead us away from ourselves. It is by imagination that we cross over the difference between ourselves and other beings and thus learn compassion, forbearance, mercy, forgiveness, sympathy, and love—the virtues without which neither we nor the world can live.

Angus Fletcher:

Whatever the power of truth may be, literature’s own special power has always lain in fiction, that wonder we construct.

Categories
Etc.

Quotes of the moment

An ongoing series

“Memory comes in to fill the spaces of whatever isn’t there. … Memory has a way of growing things, of improving them. The hardships get harder, the good times get better, and the whole damn arc of a life takes on a mystic glow that only memory can give it.” – Josh Ritter, The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All

“The hardest thing of all to see is what is really there.” – J.A. Baker, The Peregrine

“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” – Paul Batalden

“From the first human handprint on a cave wall, we’re part of something continuous. We don’t really die.” – The Dig

“Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.” – Justice Robert Jackson

“There’s an eternity behind us and there’s an eternity ahead. This little speck right here at the center, that’s our lives.” – The Good Lord Bird (TV show)

“Help people to trust the compass, not the map.” – Susan David

Categories
Photography

Recent Views

More photography here and on my Instagram.

Visited my alma mater for a meetup with friends and snagged this view, one I beheld many times as an undergrad:

Walkin’ in the rain:

Waiting for the darkness to descend on a Michigan beach ahead of the Independence Day fireworks (where I was stargazing with WALL-E):

Always a delight seeing my (and my son’s) favorite band, The Okee Dokee Brothers:

Anticipation in grandma’s backyard:

His first official haircut:

Bright spots during an evening concert in the park:

Came upon this leaf hitching a ride to work with me one morning:

Bummin’ around Boystown:

Categories
Film

Marvel-less

As the capstone of an 11-year cinematic journey through the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Endgame was so thoroughly conclusive and satisfying that it has made me consider giving up on the MCU.

Seriously, how can you top this:

I’m sure someone can “well, actually” me about other even more epic crossover events in the comics or whatever. But I’m not a comics person. I have no connection to the Marvel universe beyond the films themselves.

And I’ve been a big fan of them! I wrote a positive review of Iron Man for my college newspaper at the time and have engaged with the MCU ever since. That’s probably why life as a casual fan post-Endgame has been a bit bewildering.

My only foray has been WandaVision. We signed up for a year of Disney+ back in March 2020, pretty much right after COVID-19 lockdown started, so we had it for just enough time to watch that show—but none of the subsequent ones—before our subscription expired.

I didn’t resubscribe mostly because Disney’s megathread on Twitter back in December announcing the next few years’ worth of movies and shows coming to theaters and Disney+ broke my brain a little bit. The prospect of the MCU metastasizing even further beyond its already expansive ambit forced me to consider how much time and energy the next phase is worth. (Or is it phases? I don’t know phases.)

The bottom line is: I’m OK with skipping whatever is on Disney+ (that’s what Wikipedia summaries are for) and I’m still open to seeing (some of) the forthcoming movies, though the threshold for seeing them in theaters versus waiting until they’re on DVD/Blu-ray will be high. I’ll let critical acclaim and my personal interest sort that out on an individual basis.

In the meantime, I look back on the journey to Endgame fondly. It remains a monumental achievement, and one I’ll treasure revisiting one day with Mr. 2 Years Old.

Categories
Typewriters

French Dispatch from a Remington Portable 3

Finally took some time to clean up this 1931 Remington Portable 3 with Mr. 2 Years Old, who understandably couldn’t keep his hands off of it. Aside from a faded ribbon, some dried chunks of rubber rattling around inside, and tons of dust bunnies (the compressed air can was a big hit), it’s working fine.

I got it over two years ago from my mother-in-law, who had gotten it for free from someone in her book club. It’s now the oldest typewriter in my collection by almost a decade.

Though it was made in the United States, the keyboard contains French diacritics, most notably the accent (`), cedilla (ç), circumflex (ˆ), and diaeresis (¨). The combination of the latter two on one typebar makes for a rather expressive key top:

The other notable feature (at least for my collection) is that the machine is attached to the base of the carrying case:

The rest of the case pops on and off fairly easily, and contains a little compartment presumably for storing supplies or secret dossiers.

Though I’m looking to slim down my collection, I think I’ll hold onto this one. It’s a fun typer and very solid for a portable. Vive la dactylographiée!