John McPhee

I could barely get through Coming Into the Country, John McPhee’s nonfiction book about Alaska, so packed was it with vivid descriptions. I felt like I was consuming lush poetry, compressed experience, and I could only handle small amounts, three pages or so, at a time. I brought this as a complaint to my friend Andrew Alexander. He said something along the lines of, “Isn’t that what writing is supposed to be like?” I had to agree, and reluctantly noticed the pettiness of my complaint.

Recently, I came across an article to McPhee linked by Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Workweek:

Writing with the Master – The Magic of John McPhee

The parts of the article that stood out for me:

John McPhee’s class was pass-fail. I’m increasingly anti-grading, so this resonated with me. Grading seems like it can put the emphasis on ranking you relative to your classmates, which is not the point of school. The point of school is to challenge you and help you learn and grow. Far from being less rigorous, McPhee’s class seemed more rigorous — he provided feedback that was succinct, often biting — “Sober up.” was a comment Tim Ferriss said he received — and other times celebratory.

I intend to make updates to this post as I continue researching.

For now, here are some more links upon links within articles:


How’s Your Heart Doing Today?

I hope that no matter whether your heart is aching, or joyful, you take the time to feel it and know that it’s okay to feel it because you are a human being.

In this culture, one of the first questions we ask each other is, “So, what do you do?” Yet, the heart is what really connects us. Certainly the heart and what you do are linked. However your heart is in this moment, it’s okay, let it be that way.

If you care about doing your job well, that’s a good sign. Remember that you may still do good work even when your heart is aching (although it might feel much easier when you’re joyful).

Respect. By showing dignity and respect for yourself, you respect and credit other people within the same profession by association. I hope that whatever occupation you are in at this moment — be it a custodian, a student, a waiter, a farmer, a fisherman, a musician, a carpenter, a CEO, or whatever helps put food on your table — you cultivate respect for yourself.

If you are a teacher or an artist, it is especially important to respect yourself. Teachers and artists are not usually as highly paid as doctors and lawyers, but they perform two extremely important roles in our society: to train the next generation and to help us see the world in new ways.

(January 5, 2016 revision: Actually, it seems that I missed the point. No matter what you do, it seems that self-respect is what enables and allows full respect for others — their time, their right to happiness, their full development as a human being. So, no matter what you do, self-respect is especially important. You are a person, too. How would you have others treat themselves? And be sure to see Maria Popova’s article on love.)

Sometimes, your self-esteem takes a blow. It can happen unexpectedly. A breakup, a social humiliation, an unfair comparison, an insult, a misunderstanding. What can you do? Take a walk or do something with or for a friend. Throw your shoulders back, stand up tall, take responsibility for your actions and decisions. By having dignity and self-respect, we engage with and lift up those around us in mutual respect. Also, you may not realize how many people you are linked to and who look up to you.

Take care of yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your heart is important. Talking face to face with a friend is important. As you grow in habits of respect for yourself, your own needs for leisure time and connection, you naturally grow in respect and care for others. Also, never forget to dance, and realize what a speck you are in the grand scheme of things, and that it’s okay to shake your body and be absurd and laugh about it, too. Remember we are human beings, not human doings (Claros).

Thanks Omid Safi for the inspiration with the wonderful article, “The Disease of Being Busy.”