A HOLIDAY GIFT FOR YOU
I wanted to give you all a meaningful holiday gift. This is difficult during normal times, and even more difficult during the pandemic.
I’ve always admired people who can give holiday gifts that are truly unique. I’m inspired by some of the great holiday gifts of the past, like those Thomas Heatherwick’s Christmas Cards or Improv Everywhere’s Holiday Videos. There’s also Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night holiday gift where he included the names of the backstage cast on the show.
But alas, I’m not a designer or a YouTube creator. I’m a writer but I’m not Aaron Sorkin. So this is my holiday gift to you.
THE VALUE OF DOING HARD THINGS
We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.
– John F. Kennedy Moon Speech – Rice Stadium”. NASA. September 12, 1962.
Before the pandemic, if I told you that you didn’t have to travel to work and could avoid all of the annoying parties you didn’t want to go to, you might have thought you were getting a good deal.
However, if I’ve learned anything over the past couple of years it’s that there’s a real value in doing things that are hard. Getting dressed up and going to the office puts me in a better headspace to work. Making a trip across the country for a wedding or bar mitzvah means that I’m investing in that experience and therefore getting a better payoff. In short, I get out what I put in.
This year, there’s a wonderful discomfort in New York during the holidays. The streets are clogged and you can’t get into the popular restaurants without reserving a month in advance. But while these things are annoying, it reminds me that the city is coming back to life. And that if I want to live in the greatest city in the world, I need to accept that many other people want to come here as well.
ON HAPPINESS AND MEANING
There’s something transcendent about a person who gets to live forever by writing the final chapter of their life. Randy Pausch did this in The Last Lecture, one of the best lectures ever given, where he gave a 90-minute lecture summarizing his life right before he died.
Jonathan Larson managed to do this with Tick, Tick, Boom, collaborating on his autobiography even though he died in 1996. Tick, Tick, Boom is about Larson’s battle against time. As he was turning 30, he was worried that the professional writer in him was going to die—that, in his words, he was going to “stop being a writer who waits tables and become a waiter with a hobby.” But then the real-life story of Jonathan Larson took a tragic turn. A few years later, his musical Rent would become a huge success, but Larson wouldn’t see that success. He died of an aortic aneurism the day before previews started. Rent inspired an entire generation of creators on Broadway who were never able to collaborate with him. Lin Manuel Miranda, the creator of Hamilton, and one of Larson’s biggest fans made his directorial debut with the movie version of Tick Tick Boom saying, “If they only let me make one movie, I’m glad it was this one.”
And don’t feel you can only love only big “important” things. Take a look at this serious review of a timeless children’s book, How a Book About Grover Revealed to Me the Wide World of Literature. Also, it’s hard to appreciate how good a truly great meal is unless you’ve never had one before. Here’s one of the best food reviews ever: I’m common as muck and spent £150 in a Michelin-star restaurant to see if it was worth it.
And I’ve also got some of my favorite inspirations from previous years here.
- Podcast: Dolly Parton’s America
- Class: Yale’s Happiness Class, the most popular class ever given at the University.
- Another Musical: Come From Away on Apple TV+. A Broadway play about the 6,000 transatlantic passengers who landed in Gander, Newfoundland when US Airspace closed on September 11, 2001.
- Other: Ze Frank does amazing and inspirational work on the internet. He also has some inspirational songs for when you need help chilling out (video), to stop being scared (video), appreciating others, and getting over rejection.
USING ANALOG DEVICES TO HACK THE DIGITAL WORLD
For many years I’ve been looking for technologies and techniques to better manage my life and escape from the many digital distractions I face each day. My favorite techniques used to be Getting Things Done and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In my New Years’ Email from 2017, I wrote about some ways people can use technology to disconnect.
While there are many cool new tools to make life simpler, technology can only take us so far. I think Dave Pell had it right when he said relying on technology to solve your technology problems is like using heroin to kick your methadone habit. I could buy a bucolic vacation home, a fancy VR headset, or an expensive “soundscape” machine. But I’ve found that simple analog tools work great. A cheap pair of earplugs and an eyemask can do wonders when I’m looking for a quiet nap on a Saturday afternoon.
My favorite analog tool is the Bullet Journal. I’ve been using the Bullet Journal for the last year. It’s a simple way to transform my notebook into a journal, a task manager, and a self-improvement tool. While you can use any notebook, I use the Bullet Journal notebook and the companion app. Here are some of the things I like best about The Bullet Journal:
- Decluttering My Mind. Like Getting Things Done, it takes things out of my head and puts them on paper. Putting these things all out on a piece of paper makes it easier for me to see what’s on my mind and understand what I need to do. Sitting down and having a ritual to stop, think, and plan at regular points helps me clear out my mind and separate planning from doing. It lets me see what’s most important, where I can focus my time, and where I can improve.
- The Beauty of Analog. Digital planning tools are helpful but they can be too helpful. They let me have an infinitely long list of things to do but that’s often overwhelming. Putting my Bullet Journal items on paper means that each day, month, week, and year is its own thing. As part of the Bullet Journal process, I review and prioritize things at a regular cadence. Because I need to rewrite things that I want to move forward, things naturally fall off the list.
- Open Source. Getting started with a Bullet Journal just takes a fresh notebook. I got started with some quick YouTube videos and learned a lot more from the book/audiobook. Then I modified it to suit my day, using it to log my day, set goals, take notes, track improvements, and whatever else I need.
Great humor is about taking a look at the world and saying “Why are things this way? and “What can we do to make them better?” It’s about doing it in a clever and thoughtful rebellious way rather than a full-on attack. Even when kings wielded absolute power, they had the licensed fool or court jester to provide them with the truth in a humorous way. There are some wonderful ways that humor has been used to show the differences in American life like Dave Chapelle’s Chip and Dave and Chris Rock’s Who Wants to Change Places?
I never thought someone could take over a country through humor, but that’s what Volodymr Zelinsky, the President of Ukraine did. Before becoming President, Zelensky starred in the television show Servant of the People where he played a schoolteacher who became the unlikely president of Ukraine. It’s in Russian with English subtitles on Netflix but you can watch this clip dubbed in English. In the New Yorker, Zelensky says, “I started out making fun of politicians, parodying them, and, in doing so, showing what kind of Ukraine I would like to see.”
Zelensky knows that politicians are really just actors playing for the cameras but he wonders why they aren’t better actors. He says, “I look at things like a producer. I would often watch a scene on the monitor, and the director and I would yell, ‘Stop, no more, this is unwatchable! No one will believe this.'”If politicians are actors, why don’t they create an inspiring epic? That’s what he has done.
Zelensky is currently playing the role of valiant president of Ukraine, inspiring his people to fight in the most important war of our time. The Russians planned for him to leave the country soon after the initial invasion. He surprised them, and the rest of the world, by staying in Kyiv, in green camouflage and leading the resistance. This is our hero comedian. Plus, he’s Jewish. For a more serious take on Zelensky, check out: An Unlikely Hero (Nytimes), Volodymyr Zelenskyy, explained in 8 moments (especially his speech to the European Parliament where the translator is holding back tears).
And now, on the lighter side, some very funny things this year:
- On a much simpler and coarse note, my kids are very excited about rude tongue twisters.
- In the car, we’ve been listening to Cabin Pressure, a radio show starring Benedict Cumberbatch before he was famous. It was written by John Finnemore who has a smart and witty variety show called John Finnemore’s Souvenir Program. There are some amazing bits like The Intervention of Winnie the Pooh and The Three Little Pigs. You can also download Cabin Pressure and Souvenir Program at archive.org for free. It’s “adult” humor in the best sense of the word, and my kids love it.
- I like the TV show Reboot a lot. Not only does it have Rachel Bloom from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Paul Reiser, But there’s the always wonderful Keegan Michael Key and a surprisingly good Johnny Knoxville from Jackass.
- What would it be like if Jews were the religious majority? What would it sound like when people talked about the holidays?
- A few weeks ago, the super powerful Artificial Intelligence engine ChatGPT came out. ChatGPT will have a conversation with you and generate new and often interesting text based on a prompt. It can pull together ideas in ways that are often very funny. For example, it can write a Seinfeld script about Bubble sort and a technical discussion written by a guy obsessed with pumpkins. Here are some more examples from The Atlantic, but my favorite example is below.
ChatGPT WRITES A LETTER FROM SANTA
Prompt: Write a letter to my daughter, Sally, from Santa Claus telling her that he isn’t real and that we make up these stories out of love.
I hope this letter finds you well. I know you are excited about Christmas and I am too! But I have a secret to tell you. I know that you have always believed in me, Santa Claus, and the magic of Christmas. Today I have to tell you that I am not real, but a character that your parents have told you stories about out of love.
As you grow older and become more curious about the world around you, you may start to question the existence of Santa Claus and other magical beings. So it’s important to me that you know that I’m not a real person who lives at the North Pole and delivers presents to good boys and girls on Christmas Eve.
Your parents have told you the stories about me and my elves to bring joy and magic into your childhood. They wanted to believe in the spirit and magic of the holiday season.
I want you to know that the love that your parents have for you is real. They have created special memories and traditions to make your childhood special. But the real magic of Christmas is not in the gifts or the stories, it is in the love and warmth that we share with each other. The love that your family has for you is real and true, and that is what truly makes the holiday season special.
As you continue to grow and learn, remember to always believe in the magic of love and kindness. And always remember that even though I’m not a real person, the spirit of Santa Claus lives on in the hearts of those that believe in the holiday season.
BOTTOM OF THE POST: FUN STUFF
- In the department of “OMG, I can’t believe that’s real” check out How KFC became a Christmas Tradition in Japan.
- For those of you that are skeptical about Web3, and who isn’t after the FTX collapse, take a look at Web3 s Going Great Just Great.
- I’m not sure I agree with all of these books, but banning most of these books is exactly the wrong way to go. The list of 50 most banned books is a great list to investigate, read, and discuss.
- Airlines use call signs when referring to their flights with air traffic control rather than the name of the airline. The coolest name, Speedbird, is used by British Airways as in “Speedbird Concord 1 coming in for a landing.”
- After starting a JP Morgan Chase I visited the JP Morgan Library. It’s a wonderful museum of JP Morgan’s old books, his old house, and his old office. The office is of particular note because he used to lock in all the bankers to avoid the panic of 1907. You can also buy a tin of tea based on the tea that JP Morgan drank.