Issue № 62

Chop wood, carry water

There is a well-known trumpet player named Rick Braun. Although a few years younger, he was born in the same city and went to the same high school as my dad. And if my memory serves, they were in high school at the same time and at least knew of each other. My dad played the trumpet in high school, even performing in a band. Many year ago, my dad saw Braun somewhere—a concert I think—and had a chance to speak with him. The story goes that my dad said something complimentary about Braun’s ability and talent. (Yes, this is all hearsay.) Braun’s reply? “What a lot of people mistake for talent is simply a lot of hard work.”

At Time in the nineteen-fifties, the entry-level job for writers was a column called Miscellany. Filled with one-sentence oddities culled from newspapers and the wire services, Miscellany ran down its third of a page like a ladder, each wee story with its own title—traditionally, and almost invariably, a pun. Writers did not long endure there, and were not meant to, but just after I showed up a hiring freeze shut the door behind me, and I wrote Miscellany for a year and a half. That came to roughly a thousand one-sentence stories, a thousand puns.

~ John McPhee from,

John McPhee is a stellar writer. He’s written a lot and, okay, sure, I get that. There are greatest-of-all-time musicians I’ve heard of who still do scales daily 30 years on. And McPhee wrote a thousand puns(!), a thousand titles, and a thousand one-sentence stories cut-down from larger stories. (And go read McPhee’s article right now, about omission.) And now here’s Braun’s comment. Frankly, I’ve heard this sentiment countless times in countless variations: The path to mastery? Chop wood, carry water.

The thing I’m not certain of though, from my dad’s story, is whether the takeaway for him was, “Oh cool, Braun’s just a regular guy who worked really hard!” or “Fudge, I shoulda’ stuck with the trumpet!”

Learn something

No day in which you learn something is a complete loss.

~ David Eddings

What would it take?

A little more than a decade ago I rediscovered my need for play. A few years ago I started working on my writing as a direct application of filtering and improving my thinking. All of that was built upon a lot of reading—a reimmersion of myself into reading as it were. *sigh* There’s still, a bit more reading to do.

Before he became unresponsive and refused to speak even to his family or friends, [John] von Neumann was asked what it would take for a computer, or some other mechanical entity, to begin to think and behave like a human being.

He took a very long time before answering, in a voice that was no louder than a whisper.

He said that it would have to grow, not be built.

He said that it would have to understand language, to read, to write, to speak.

And he said that it would have to play, like a child.

~ Benjamín Labatut from,

Grow, read, write, speak, play… There’s an immense variety of human beings resulting from that. There’d be an immense variety of those other beings too. Good!


The most sincere compliment we can pay is attention.

~ Walter Anderson

Everything combines

Everything we experience, do, say and think combines with everything. It’s not strictly fractal because it’s not necessarily self-similar. It’s a rolling boil of randomness within which we find meaning. The meaning isn’t everywhere in there. It’s a precious discovery and in searching for it, we develop a scarcity mindset. We build up skills and heuristics for finding and keeping (learning, remembering) that meaning. Things get simplified so we can hold on to them.

In each case it’s easy to underestimate risk—or at least to be surprised at what happens—because the initial ingredients seem harmless. The idea that two innocent small things can combine to form one big dangerous thing isn’t intuitive.

The same things happens with personality traits.

~ Morgan Housel from,

The very powers which enable us to interact with the world and to grapple—with varying degrees of effectiveness—with our own minds, are the ones which cause us to err. Everything combines and we’re always gauging the size of the effects of each combination. How do we keep errors from creeping into our mindset and world view? Or rather, knowing that they are continuously creeping in, how do we attempt to weed them out? Self-reflection.


Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.

~ Fred Rogers

Serious idleness

It seems I run from idleness. I’m fond of saying I should come with a warning—the kind one finds on the back of the driver’s-side sun-visor in a car: “Does not idle well.” It takes concerted effort for me to idle, and yet I cannot discern what it is that makes me run from idleness. But this guy? He seems to have gone all in…

‘Most of the time I don’t do anything. I am the idlest man in Paris … the only one who does less than I do is a whore without clients.’

Cioran may have been joking, but his idleness was serious business. It was an arduous lifetime project, into which he put his best efforts and which he served with complete dedication.

~ Costica Bradatan from,

Honestly? My first thought was how does such a person support themselves? (They don’t. Others do.) After dialing down my snark, I was left noticing that there’s a sharp polarization to elevate idleness to a virtue, or to revile it as glorified laziness. Nonetheless, I must admit that to be idle requires me to first say ‘no’ to many ideas, things and opportunities. So maybe that’s the key: To be self-aware enough to thread my way between those two poles?

Until next time, thanks for reading.



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