IMYS #22 - Doing Nothing At All

Finding the peace and joy in rest and repose

I take a lot of magazine subscriptions. Some are informative. Some are entertainment. Most are somewhere in between. It seems like an old-fashioned affectation in the same way that I still drive to a bookstore and buy a book off a shelf. Sure, I like to read with ink on paper, that’s part of it. But, the larger part is that a magazine is like a little portable time machine. Hear me out.

Books get heavy. But, a magazine is light. It’s flexible. You can roll it up, fold it back, tear out some pages. You can take a magazine anywhere you like. So, it’s easy to always have at hand. This portability is key if you need to escape at a moment’s notice.

Magazine articles are short. Certainly shorter than a novel. Sometimes, they get long if you are reading Harper’s or the New Yorker. But, generally, you can knock one out in less than 15 minutes. Given the breadth of topics possible, imagine being transported to another time and place for 15 minutes no matter where you are.

Now, we have a thing that costs a few dollars, can take us anywhere our minds want to go at any time we want to go there. We can carry it with us and if we lose it, it’s OK. We can use it to swat a fly, sweep up some crumbs, or as a coaster. We can give it to someone or we can tear out the pages and just give them that since we aren’t done reading that article about salmon farms. Hurray for the magazine.

I know what you’re all thinking. “I just read those same articles on my phone or my iPad.” Sure, you could but here’s the coup de grace: a magazine demands nothing of your attention but the article you are reading. It won’t buzz or flash or popup or ring. It won’t get a little red dot with a number in it reminding you of work. It won’t run out of batteries. It won’t make you insane.

Take a subscription to a magazine and find the joy in that periodic piece of mail that enlightens, entertains, and connects.

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Dinner is Ready

By Ella Olsson from Stockholm, Sweden - Farm Vegetables, CC BY 2.0

All of our harvest seasons have ended. The land is spinning down into its quiet rest for winter. Yet, we still need all the bounty the land provides. We still have to eat. I love to eat. Emergence Magazine’s new issue is all about food. They’ve included one of my favorite bits of writing about eating and that’s Wendell Berry’s “The Pleasures of Eating.” We’ve talked about Wendell here before. If you aren’t familiar with his writing, this is a great introduction. As Alice Waters points out in her introduction, the connection he makes between the land, the farmer, and ultimately, the eater is powerful. I also appreciate the recognition that we can take pleasure from this. So much of our food culture now is guilt. Guilt about sugar, or gluten, or carbs, or meat, or whatever. Berry is tackling some of the same challenges but he’s reframing not as guilt or sin to be avoided or absolved but as actions we can take and through that effort find joy.

Read Berry's "The Pleasures of Eating"

Rest, Relax, Repose

By Ввласенко - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

I’m a daydreamer. I often find myself staring out the window that sits just behind my desk. I sometimes chide myself on being distracted or unfocused. But, this article from Aeon would rather I consider these moments of being idle as necessary and valuable. I get it. There’s nothing I like more than to walk outside and spend 10 minutes just sitting in the grass in front of my house. I’m sure my neighbors are wondering what I’m doing. The answer is nothing. I’m doing exactly nothing. I’m reminded of the question I always got about long-distance running, “What do you think about for hours?” On my best days, I thought about nothing. My head was as clear as it could be. Sure, physically, I was active, but mentally, I was inert. There’s a great sense of release in that.

Read about being lazy

Embrace the Id

If the song wasn’t compelling enough, the video for The Front Bottoms (best name ever?) song, “Vacation Town,” captures the battle we all fight with ourselves. Just how much of this shit will we put up with until we just do the things we love and let the rest sort themselves out? As the winter bears down, I want to escape to escape to my own vacation town surrounded by books, good food, good music, and good friends.

Listen to "Vacation Town"

Staring Into the Abyss

By Sebastian Dooris, CC0

Catherine Ingram is a spiritual teacher, writer, and journalist who examines issues of consciousness and activism. It makes sense that she’d be in tune with our current climate crisis. In many ways, the crisis extends from our disconnect with the shared consciousness which unites all living things. Not only have we severed that connection but we seem to actively fight its attempts at a new embrace. It does feel like an onrushing disaster. In this long meditation, Ingram provides some framing for the worst-case scenario as it might play out for us: extinction. It’s clear-eyed and sobering and somehow finds its way to hopefulness. The ideas reach far and wide but center on our capacity for creation and love. It can’t be all bad if we have those two things in hand.

Read Ingram on Facing Extinction

Lovable Loser

Full Disclosure: This American Aquarium song is full of talk-singing. I know that’s a real challenge for many folks. Still, the lyrics here are wry and maybe sardonic. It’s a loser’s lament that ends with the acceptance that we make our own way in the world. It’s catchy and self-effacing with a nice little banjo lick. The best line, “We love you and we know that you tried.” Oof.

Listen to "Losing Side of 25"

Hot or Not

By Anthony Quintano from Honolulu, HI, United States - Mark Zuckerberg F8 2018 Keynote, CC BY 2.0

I sometimes play a thought experiment game with friends. Name three human inventions that will likely destroy our species. Some people want to go with nuclear fission. It’s a little too easy. I’ve always chosen the combustion engine first. So many horrible things in our world descend from the ability to get goods and people from one place to another cheaply and easily. And, yeah, massive carbon emissions. Recently, I’ve wondered if Facebook might not be climbing up my list. It seems I’m not alone as Ol’ Zuckerberg was pelted with tough questions in a Congressional hearing this week. In some ways, this kind of attention is a self-perpetuating disaster. Every mention maybe draws another user even when that mention is about false advertising, financial malfeasance, horrible working conditions, or other detestable practices. The company continues to exist because people continue to use it and they continue to make money. If you don’t like how Facebook does what it does, just stop using it. It is not required for survival.

Read about Zuckerberg's hearing

To the Blitz Cave

By Andrew Gray - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

It’s likely well-known that during the Blitz of London in World War II, underground Tube stations were refitted for use as offices, bunkers, and safe refuges from the German planes buzzing above. This piece in Lapham’s Quarterly indicates how much of this was planned far earlier than I would have expected. It’s interesting that years before the war began, as early as 1929, planners were identifying these underground warrens and putting together a network of them to use should the be needed. Of course, they were needed. I’m struck especially that London had been bombed during the First World War and so some of those people knew the fear and disruption that kind of attack could bring about. I suppose none of them believed it had been the “war to end all wars.”

Read about London's underground bunkers

R.E.M. Song of the Week

The band has always had a penchant for covering music that they like. In the case of “Crazy” off the Dead Letter Office compilation, they covered another Athens-based band, Pylon. To my ears, this cover is fairly straight and true to the original but it softens some of the angularity and anxiety in the original in favor of a more loping feel. It’s a great song by a great band covered by an equally great band. Can’t miss.

Listen to "Crazy"


Have a great weekend and seek a bit of discomfort.

Your guide,

Alex

Chicago River

By Alex Ezell