Click here to subscribe.
Click here to subscribe.
A while back, I bought a cheap Gosky spotting scope with a smartphone adapter that let me take photos with my old iPhone SE. I keep it on the desk in my studio pointed at the box, but up until a week or so ago, I had to go out there to take photos manually or run the phone’s timelapse function.
— Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) February 1, 2023
It occurred to me what I really needed was a 24/7 stream of the box. That led me to AlfredCamera, an iOS app that turns your old iPhone into a security camera. It’s a little buggy, and the image quality isn’t the best, but having 24/7 coverage with motion sensing and a low-light filter and the ability to play back footage has meant that I’ve gotten to witness all sorts of owl behavior I wouldn’t get to see otherwise.
The most adorable moments are when they’re perched in the box side-by-side, getting ready for their night of murder. Watching them try to squeeze into the opening is a great source of comedy:
Watching these two try to share the box at night is quite the comedy
— Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) January 31, 2023
As for whether they stick around or not, we’ll just have to see.
If they do stick around, they often mate by the end of the month. Mama will lay eggs in March, at which point Papa will move about 14-20 feet away from the box to keep an eye on things. Once the owlets hatch, Papa will move closer, about 7-10 feet away, and in June the owlets will fledge.
Today’s newsletter is about the shortest month and what to do with it.
“My reading life had become a grim slog,” he writes. “My TBR pile — ever higher, ever teetering, ever chastising — had become my enemy and jailer, not my conspirator and friend.”
(Unfortunately, I can relate!)
To spice things up, Adam set himself new goals: “Browse more. Purchase impulsively. Let books surprise me. Give myself a chance to stumble on something revelatory.”
He sprinkled some tips amongst his list of recent shelf discoveries:
Lesson 1: A.B.B. Always. Be. Browsing.
Lesson 2: Books make the best souvenirs.
Lesson 3: When critical consensus and your personal proclivities align, act.
Lesson 4, 5, 6: Very short books are a great way to leaven your reading routine and let you take risks you might not otherwise take. Also, trust staff picks. Also, if you set a reading goal, cheat with abandon.
You can read more over at Substack.
I love this idea of reading recklessly. I can point to two things have helped me: Kindle sample chapters and weekly visits to the library.
Here is a slide from my friend Bill Keaggy’s TEDx talk, “How to Find Attention, Mindfulness, and Creativity in the Ordinary.”
After going through some of his own creative work — I highly recommend his books 50 Sad Chairs and Milk, Eggs, Vodka — and the work of others, Bill suggests a very simple 30-minute workout for everyone:
Walk around. Pay attention. Take pictures.
Bill says there’s two ways to pay attention while you’re walking:
I recommend watching the whole talk:
I was struck by how much Bill’s talk aligns with the work of another friend of mine, Rob Walker. Not just the stuff in Rob’s book, The Art of Noticing and excellent newsletter of the same name, but also his work with Joshua Glenn on Significant Objects, and most recently, Lost Objects.
When Bill talks about his photos of sad chairs, he says, “Chairs are just chairs. They’re not very moving… So you need to add a layer of story. And just a little is enough.”
This is almost exactly the way the Objects projects operate — by adding a “layer of story” to objects, we give them significance, maybe even value, and we cause people to pay attention to them.
(I’m sometimes shocked when friends of mine aren’t friends with each other, as if the connection between them — my brain — is somehow actually real and in the world.)
Bill’s talk also made me think about the different ways we can pull meaning out of our collections of images, including at least:
Bill and I actually got to have lunch yesterday and instead of shopping or going to a museum, we took a nice 30-minute stroll down the Shoal Creek Book Walk and east across the hike and bike trail back to his hotel. It was a convivial echo of Wednesday evening when I took the same walk solo to clear my mind (and avoid rush hour traffic) before meeting John Hendrickson at the same hotel.
While I am writing about my friends, let me share something my friend Marty Butler shared with me on one of our recent bike rides.
This is what Luigi Ferrucci, the scientific director at the National Institute on Aging, suggests for achieving longevity:
“Just walking outside,” makes an enormous difference, Ferrucci said.
“If I had a jewel to give to people who want to live long and well, I would tell them to get up early in the morning and go out,” Ferrucci said. “That is really the best gift that you can give yourself if you want to achieve longevity.”
“Get out now!” Pay attention. Take pictures.
Filed under: walking
Here’s one of my favorite pages from Steal Like an Artist:
I think it’s good to have a lot of projects going at once so you can bounce between them. When you get sick of one project, move over to another, and when you’re sick of that one, move back to the project you’ve left. Practice productive procrastination.
My friend Clive Thompson recently wrote about his own adventures with the method in “How To Practice Productive Procrastination.”
He quotes Saul Griffith:
I gave up on trying to do exactly what I was meant to be doing in favor of always doing something. Frankly, I’m not sure we’re designed to focus on only one thing for eight or ten hours in a row. I’ve always found that it’s useful to have something else to be doing when you’re too burnt out to face the next thing on your list. That way, flipping back and forth between the two projects prevents focus fatigue.
Griffith makes sure that the side projects he’s working on are geared towards helping him learn something new. Clive explains:
The trick is to procrastinate with one of his learning projects — not by zoning out on Netflix. As [Griffith] writes: “The most important thing is to make sure your other project isn’t ‘browsing on YouTube’ or ‘catching up on Facebook.’ Make it a project that forces you to learn, because you want to.”
One purpose of good writing is to make you not take the things in your life for granted. Two of my favorite writers have recently written about fireplaces.
I love looking at a fire. If there’s a TV on in a bar, I’ve noticed, and there almost always is, the movement pulls your eye to it, no matter how boring what’s on is. A fire is the same, but a fire is never boring. It’s mysterious that it isn’t. Or maybe it’s not mysterious. It’s this miracle life-giving thing you can build in your house, the same thing cave people built in their caves.
Alan Jacobs wrote about the fireplace as a focusing point in a home: “Focus is a Latin word that means hearth — the fireplace that was both literally and metaphorically the center of the Roman household.”
The novelist Kim Stanley Robinson often says that our evolutionary descent predisposes us to be fond of certain actions, like throwing objects at other objects and sitting around a fire telling tales. The latter impulse, he believes, draws us to the movie theater, where we gather in the darkness facing a bright light and enjoy stories — but while that provides a certain form (or simulacrum) of communal connection, it’s the television that becomes the replacement for the family hearth….
When I decided to put our TV over the fireplace, I didn’t realize the symbolic heft of my decision. But one evening, when I mused that it would be easier to show a fireplace video from YouTube than actually build a fire, all the ironies suddenly came home to me.
While I love our pizza and a movie Friday night ritual in front of the TV, there is nothing like a good, real fire.
January has been full of cold(er) weather and grandparent visits, and one of my very favorite parts of each visit was building a fire and sitting around it.
As Elisa writes, it is never boring. It somehow brings out the best I everyone. One night my 10-year-old and spent a whole hour carefully rolling up newspaper into long tubes and throwing them on the fire and watching them burn.
One time when we were sitting around a campfire out in west Texas with the clear star-filled sky above us, Jules, then five years old, exclaimed, “It looks like the fire is trying to tell us a story!”
Whether you tell stories around it or not, every fire is a kind of story — there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end.
At the beginning: the anticipation, the starting, the possibility. (See: Nicholson Baker’s A Box of Matches, about a man who starts a fire every morning and sits and thinks.)
In the middle: the excitement of the crack and whip of the flames.
At the end: I love how fire gets really good when the logs burn up and the flames die down and what’s left is the hot coals, perfect for s’mores. (In his book In Praise of Shadows, Jun’ichiro Tanizaki writes, “Without the red glow of the coals, the whole mood of winter is lost and with it the pleasure of family gatherings round the fire.”)
We love fire and we love using fire as a metaphor. (Most recently: Fire of Love.)
We speak of “the fire inside.” I have had trouble focusing lately, and it occurs to me just now, at this very moment, that maybe the reason I haven’t been able to focus is that I don’t have a fire inside.
Sometimes a fire is forced on us from the outside, as with a housefire or a wildfire. (In the writer’s life: a personal tragedy or triumph, a chance encounter, or merely the need for sustenance will light a fire under one’s ass, so to speak.)
But more often than not, our fires inside have to be built. They have to be started, and fed, and maintained.
And you can’t just dump wood in a big pile and expect it to burn. You have to be mindful of the structure of the pieces, to give them proper space and air.
Perhaps, instead of worrying about focusing, I need to worry about building a good fire.
I suspect if the fire is there, the focus will come.
NYTimes writer Shannon Hall on “How to Watch the ‘Green Comet’ in Night Skies”:
Comets are clumps of dust and frozen gases, sometimes described by astronomers as “dirty snowballs.” Most are believed to originate from the distant, icy reaches of the solar system where gravitational agitations sometimes push them toward the sun — an interaction that transforms them into gorgeous cosmic objects.
When they leave their deep freeze, the heat from the sun erodes their surfaces, and they start spewing gases and dust until they host a glowing core, known as the coma, and a flamelike tail that can stretch for millions of miles.
“They’re alive,” Laurence O’Rourke, an astronomer with the European Space Agency, said. “When they’re far from the sun, they’re sleeping, and when they get close to the sun, they wake up.”
Emphasis mine. (Thanks to Meg for this.)
Filed under: astronomy
When you’re biking you have to look out for a thing called “target fixation”:
Target fixation is an attentional phenomenon observed in humans in which an individual becomes so focused on an observed object (be it a target or hazard) that they inadvertently increase their risk of colliding with the object. It is associated with scenarios in which the operator is in control of a high-speed vehicle or other mode of transportation, such as fighter pilots, race-car drivers, paragliders, and motorcyclists. In such cases, the observer may fixate so intently on the target that they steer in the direction of their gaze, which is often the ultimate cause of a collision.
Sometimes when I’m reading I’ll make a cluster map in the endpapers. This is my map in the back of John Hendrickson’s memoir, Life on Delay: Making Peace With A Stutter. It’s not necessarily a map of the book, but a map of the relation of the book to my own interests.
A last-minute souvenir: On her way out of town, my mom sent me this photo of my interview in Austin Monthly from the Bookpeople newsstand at the Austin Airport.
This site participates in the Amazon Affiliates program, the proceeds of which keep it free for anyone to read.