I love reading. If you know me, you know that I am one of those people who believes that one of the cornerstones of every home – my interior design strategy, if you’d like to get fancy about it all – ought to involve bookshelves and of course, books. In fact, the bookshelves are negotiable, because you can get creative about using other “stuff” to function as “holders and presenters” of books.
I am not one of those people who believe in buying books for decoration alone, however. Books are meant to be read, discussed, given away after several glasses of wine and a passionate discussion about the theme covered in a beloved text, re-read and referred to when the main memory fails and only a waft of recollection remains, along with a clear visual of the design of the book cover, if not the title of the book itself.
I tell you this as a precursor to how I stumble across quotes. In books. And the quote that quite literally stopped me in my tracks on Saturday and that may change my life if it keeps weaseling its way into my brain is this:
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” ― Socrates
One minute I was thoroughly enjoying Michael Finkel’s tale of Christopher Knight’s 20+ years living alone in the woods in his book, “The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit “, and then I was pondering the barrenness of a busy life.
Barrenness. Busy, Life.
Powerful words. And ones that I instantly knew to be true. I can say this as someone who seems to have created an extraordinarily busy life.
I am constantly coming up with new ideas and instead of letting them be, I turn them into projects, push them into the world, force them to live and breathe, and sometimes they survive long enough to continue without me when I abandon them for the next interesting idea. I run four very different “businesses” (all under my name, but all carefully branded with vastly different audiences and offerings) in Austria alone, another in the UK, and a dormant company in South Africa. I organize several events every week to bring people together or to market new projects. I volunteer. I have a couple of retained projects that take up time. I write a few blogs, am learning (endlessly learning) three instruments, speak to my sister every day, deal with family dramas in South Africa and Austria, and have a variety of other hobbies like gardening and sauce-making and sewing that get whatever attention I have at the time.
Oh. And I’m married. To the most amazing and infinitely tolerant man. Who ought to have been at the top of the list with the tag “spending time with my husband”, but who instead seems to appear at the end of this long list of busy “things to do” that I have created for myself. Priorities, right?
The question is: is the busy-ness fulfilling?
Well, that was the question I asked myself.
Sometimes it’s nice to be busy. It’s a bit of a status symbol in today’s busy world. It gives me options –if I don’t like A, not to worry because I can fall back on B or C, and if it all goes to hell in a handcart, that’s okay because I can find ways to be busy again.
In reality, though, as soon as I saw the word “barren” in the same sentence as “busy life”, my tired brain did a little leap.
Because in reality, being busy doesn’t make me happy, although it’s stimulating and exciting and energizing.
Given the choice of being busy or…
…sitting beside the river with a book, my sun hat and a cup of tea, watching the people go by, either alone or with my husband, sharing a bit of eye contact and dipping into my book or exchanging a sentence or two…
Well. I’d choose the latter. Every single time.
Given the choice of trying to market and manage 5-6 businesses, multiple projects and life or…
…choosing only one business, one side project, one hobby and giving them each attention but not so much attention that I spend my waking hours making lists of things to do…
Well, I’d choose the latter, if only I was brave enough to whittle things down.
Becoming aware of the barrenness of a busy life
Perhaps this quote is the much-needed kick-up-the-backside that I’ve needed.
For years I’ve talked about focus, and when my dad died, I decided that I would streamline my life, my work, my plans. This lasted for about two months where I evaluated all my interests in a semi-crisis state! And even more recently, I was thinking about this in terms of social media accounts – what right-minded individual needs 20+ social media accounts that they seldom use?!
Coming across the wise words of Socrates has certainly made me think, but this time, I have decided to act. I’m working on a plan. I hope to update you soon.
In the meanwhile
How’s your life looking? Barren and busy? Just full enough to be fulfilled?
I hope it’s the latter. And if not, I hope that this quote gets you thinking, too.
Here are some of the articles that have interested me in the last week around the web. Like most people, I read hundreds, if not thousands, of articles most weeks, partly for personal reasons and partly because I do a lot of research for my various businesses and projects. These are the ones that stuck in my head and that I think might be worth reading again.
Reading up on the Irish Abortion Referendum
In May, The Republic of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to overturn the abortion ban by 66.4% to 33.6%.
It takes more than pro-choice laws to end deaths from unsafe abortions by Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng
South Africa legalised abortion in 1997. Yet so few clinics offer them that women still risk their lives by turning to illegal means
Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids review
It’s a hard-knock life – why make it worse by having kids?
Reading up on sustainability and plastic
‘Plastic is not cool’ – is fashion finally cleaning up its act? By Kate Finnigan
As World Oceans Day approaches, Net-a-Porter’s Lucy Yeomans is leading the way in tackling fashion’s addiction to the ‘plastic drug’. But there’s a long way to go https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2018/jun/07/plastic-is-not-cool-is-fashion-finally-cleaning-up-its-act
Marks and Spencer “Acting on Plastic”
H&M 2015 Sustainability Report
Ikea commits to phase out single-use plastic products by 2020 by Sarah Butler
Global retailer with 363 stores says it wants to help customers live more sustainably
Climate Change Is a Challenge For Sustainable Development by Rachel Kyte, Gaidar Forum
Whilst toying with the idea of calling myself a “communication polymath” as opposed to “someone who works in lots of areas of communication”
How To Be a Polymath by Steven Mazie
Are you a Lonely Generalist ? Maybe You’re a Polymath in Disguise? By Alex Dunsdon
In Defense of Polymaths by Kyle Wiens
Whilst thinking about weight, losing it, and how to not look fat in photos
27 Photos Of My Fat Face That Prove Camera Angle Is Everything by Marie Southard Ospina
Zen, and the Art of Zero-Carb Living
Reading and related to reading
Hansberry was the first black female author to have a play performed on Broadway. Her best known work, the play A Raisin in the Sun, highlights the lives of Black Americans living under racial segregation in Chicago.
Dante and The Divine Comedy: He took us on a tour of Hell
Dante’s vision of the Afterlife in The Divine Comedy influenced the Renaissance, the Reformation and helped give us the modern world, writes Christian Blauvelt.
The 100 world-shaping stories: who voted?
Read each individual Top 5 list from the 108 critics, scholars and journalists from 38 countries who voted in BBC Culture’s Stories that Shaped the World poll.
Creating a WordPress Information Evening presentation
44 Amazing WordPress Statistics and Facts
The Digital (Gender) Divide: Women Are More Likely Than Men to Have a Blog (and a Facebook Profile)
Gender & Race
A Black Graduate Student at Yale Says a White Student Called Police on Her for Napping in a Common Room During an All-Nighter
Is the term ‘mansplaining’ sexist? You asked Google – here’s the answer by Erynn Brook
Combining Simplicity and Complexity
Huge debate: Prolog or Prologue?
«Grimmsalabim» von Elfie Riegler
Grimm und Salabim bedeuten: «verzauberte Märchen». Frech und frei werden alte Bekanntschaften aus den Grimm-Märchen in neue Allianzen verstrickt. Da rivalisieren zum Beispiel Schneewittchen und das Rotkäppchen im märchenhaften Dialog um einen extravaganten Liebhaber.
Myths and legends of Switzerland
Warum Storytelling nichts mit Rotkäppchen zu tun hat by Michael Schär
Piqued my interest
The language at the end of the earth
Easter Island’s dramatic history is echoed in the local Rapa Nui tongue. Today, the language is severely endangered, but determined islanders refuse to let it disappear.
SA rapidly becoming rehab haven
South Africa is fast gaining a reputation for world-class drug and substance rehabilitation, with scores of foreign addicts jetting in to face their demons at private treatment centres, at a fraction of what it would cost them abroad.
Sleep Radio: New Zealand station that wants listeners to switch off by Charles Anderson
Insomniacs across the world give the nod to John Watson, who has ambient music producers queueing up to feature on his channel
Why our facial expressions don’t reflect our feelings
For centuries, we’ve believed that facial expressions mirror our innermost emotions. But recent research has found that may be far from the truth.
Why predicting suicide is a difficult and complex challenge by Joseph Franklin
Sautéed Whole Trout with Sage and White Wine
Video: If you want fulfilment in life, watch this by Gaur Gopal Das
Have you ever heard of Lorraine Hansberry? No? Me neither, until earlier today.
I was listening to one of my current favourite narrators, Adjoa Andoh, read “The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter’s Memoir” by Aminatta Forna. The book is not what I was expecting when I clicked “buy”: admittedly, I purchased it not because of the author, but because of the narrator, and although it’s non-fiction, I’ve enjoyed it.
Aside from gaining a better understanding of Sierra Leone’s history from the perspective of the author, today I learned that Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was the first black female author to have a play performed on Broadway. On March 11, 1959, her play “A Raisin in the Sun” appeared on stage, and at the time became that youngest American playwright (at 29) and only the fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play.
Forna included a quote from the book in “The Devil That Danced on the Water”, and it struck a chord with me.
“It isn’t a circle—it is simply a long line—as in geometry, you know, one that reaches into infinity. And because we cannot see the end—we also cannot see how it changes. And it is very odd that those who see the changes—who dream, who will not give up—are called idealists…and those who see only the circle we call them the “realists”!”
— Asagai to Beneatha, Act III. In Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun. With an introduction by Robert Nemiroff. NY: Vintage, 2004.
Asagai says this Beneatha after she loses faith in the idea of progress (in the context of the book). She says:
“And where does it end?
An end to misery! To stupidity! Don’t you see there isn’t any real progress, Asagai, there is only one large circle that we march in, around and around, each of us with our own little picture in front of us – our own little mirage that we think is the future.”
— Beneatha to Asagai, Act III. In Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun. With an introduction by Robert Nemiroff. NY: Vintage, 2004.
There are certainly days where I think that there’s no point. There is no point in talking about gender equality, or social justice, or trying to make racists see that we’re all just human, or in contemplating the world in which we live and trying to make it a little better through whatever means I have, because ultimately humans are stupid. We seem unable to learn lessons from our all-too-bloody history. In spite of our clever scientists and extraordinary body of learning, the masses – regardless of colour and often regardless of wealth and education – remain ignorant. As a species, we do seem to go around in circles, going down the path of peace and progress, then regressing into a period of war and regression.
But now, when that depressing cloud of negativity hovers, I can simply think of Asagai’s quote, and in particular, this:
“And because we cannot see the end—we also cannot see how it changes.”
I feel reassured that, although we can’t see the end, it’s still worth doing what seems to be the right thing for “people and planet”, even if on the surface, it doesn’t seem to make a difference.
Here’s to being an idealist.
And yes, I’ve now bought the play and look forward to reading it tonight in bed!
Although I swore off news for a month, I only lasted 14 days. The good news is that not much in the world has changed, and that I have more time, so I can easily make another attempt starting tomorrow. But that’s another story.
The featured item on the BCC’s website today was:
Trade tariffs: Chorus of condemnation intensifies
Massive US tariffs have come into force as condemnation of the Trump administration’s move intensifies.
I read the article and whilst shaking my head at Trump, it occurred to me that perhaps there is an upside to his import penalties. As a fan of transition and of the lovely Rob Hopkins, I am continually taking steps to live a more sustainable life. I am not perfect, it has to be said, but the journey of a lifetime starts with one step and all that, and one of my steps is to not only grow more of my own produce and to reduce my consumption, but also to do what I can to buy products produced or made locally, and failing that, to purchase products from local stores.
We buy vast quantities of “stuff” from US-owned online store like Amazon and E-bay. We use services provided by US companies, like hosting providers and domain companies and payment processors (like PayPal, for example). And with Trump’s tariffs in mind, my intention to buy “local” has been intensified.
Obviously what I contribute to the US economy is peanuts, but I think that I’ll take those peanuts and invest them nearer to home. It’s a bit of a pain, it has to be said – you must know what it’s like transferring 50 websites to a new server, for example. It’s also more expensive. It’s often significantly cheaper to purchase something in the US and have it shipped to Europe than it is to simply buy it in Austria where I live. And sadly, I have to say that it also means opting for poorer service in many cases: I can’t speak for everywhere, but the concept of good service hasn’t really arrived in my part of Austria as far as I can see – often I feel as if I have to apologise for purchasing something or asking for a drink.
But that’s okay. Perhaps I don’t need all the stuff I buy from the US. Perhaps I need to review the services that I use and see if I really need them. If I have to pay more, the upside is that if something goes wrong, I can just pop into the local store and sort it out. And as for poor service in Austria (yet another story and one of my pet irritations here in Innsbruck)… well, maybe I’ll create a course or a seminar. Whether I can live without the instant gratification of buying Kindle books or my beloved Audible remains to be seen.
As I said, it’s a journey and I can only take one step at a time.
Not just “not buying from the US”
Before anyone shakes a finger at me and asks “Why punish the US for their idiot president”, let me say that I plan to extend my grand plans to cover the globe.
I’ll have “circles” of “localness” – I’m usually based in Innsbruck, so for food I want to buy products within a 20km radius. For art and crafts, perhaps I’ll cast my net wider and extend it to 100km or 500km or only to products that are made in a certain radius but sold locally so that I don’t have to travel to far to buy them. I bought a new laptop and camera this year and a new phone in 2016 so I’m in good shape on that front for the next 5+ years, but if my laptop dies, I’ll have to extend my circle because computers have components made in loads of different places and I can’t work without one.
When I home in South Africa, the same would apply – circles.
I haven’t quite worked out the details, but in principle, “Made in Austria” followed by “Made in Neighbouring Countries” followed by “Made in Europe” will be my mantra. “Based in Austria” might also need to be on there, because international businesses with a local presence hire local people who contribute to the local economy and community, and that’s important, too, regardless of whether the company is owned locally or not.
My first step: tomorrow, a trip to Hall to the farmer’s market to see what local produce, beer and crafts are on offer.
And after that? well, I’ll keep you posted.
One of my little challenges in life is juggling all the ideas I have in the air, and part of that means managing all the social media accounts that I set up for all the ideas that I turn into projects or businesses.
Yes, this is a “first world problem”. A “nice-to-have” problem because I can spend a few minutes of my day thinking about this instead of worrying about how to feed myself or my family or how to overcome a devastating disease.
That said, it is a little problem for me. All my accounts for my personal-and-freelance persona, my three business areas, my curated blog, my Innsbruck project and two other networking projects is currently sitting at… Wait for it… 32. That’s right. I have 32 social media accounts for various activities. Who on earth can manage this many accounts? Or create relevant content for this many channels?
Perhaps more to the point is this: who really WANTS to feel the weight of all of these channels lying dormant?
On the one hand, I think that perhaps everything should simply live under my personal social media presences. On the other, I have deliberately created individual brands for three businesses that I run, so brand visibility is useful in these cases. And for the projects that I organise, I don’t necessarily want to be the focus of each project and so it makes sense to keep these separate.
Which is how I’ve ended up with 32 accounts.
The task for today: take a look at all of the channels I’ve created and get rid of any that aren’t useful.