Language is magic. We encode wisdom, invent worlds, share our dreams and weave spells with language. Need help finding the right words to capture an idea or a feeling? I love explaining, translating, editing, naming, phrasing and wordsmithing. Read on for more on language, and then get in touch if you’d like to find your magic words!
I made a series of t-shirts last fall to experiment with some design ideas and share some of my personal messages. I’m happy to say that I got a really positive reaction to a bunch of them – and so this February I decided to produce a second series. I showed up here in Mexico City on my way back from Oaxaca and I was surprised and delighted to see that my friends Florian and Nicky were in town. Thx Instagram! We met up for dinner and Florian had the good sense to wear the NATIVE shirt that I gave him when we met in Brazil in November – and so we got to capture a side-by-side of the two versions! I’m wearing NATIVE #2 on the left and he’s wearing NATIVE #1 on the right. Stay tuned for more designs from series 2!
One Day in September
I jumped in the water
I swam in a circle
not a small circle!
I fought the current
something that might seem like a battle
but I held the water’s hand
and it pulled me
I pulled myself
I felt free
not for the first time
for the first time
I felt strong
not for the first time
for the first time
I was not afraid
swimmers and surfers don’t talk about sharks
the water of the Pacific is not cold
I swim in my own skin
I embraced the open water
I took in the view of the sky
and the taste of the salt
I rounded the corner
Alcatraz to my right
the Gate in my sight
I went with the tide
and flew with my friends
back inside the arms of the pier
a little safer
but again the current challenged my strength
I had been in the water now
for more than an hour
my right foot was numb
and yet my arms felt long
things always get harder for me when the end is in sight
at a mile and a half I had to pull hard
the tide rushed out through the pilings behind me
the remarkable thing is that I would say that I struggled
but it wasn’t a fight
it was hard
but I loved it
I felt awake and alive
long and lean
warm and wise
once we finished our swim I walked slowly inside
I sat in the sauna for what seemed like an hour
my brain slowly reconnecting
to my body as it thawed
I reflected on a decision I had made only just a week before
to not wait and test the water before jumping in
to not feed my fear by feeling the cold
before feeling the cold
I had said to my self: no hesitation
at the water’s edge
my dad told me not long ago that “I’ve had it easy”
I’m sure that’s his own trip
although it’s true that many things have come easily
I always thought I was just good at… everything
or some kind of genius
and so he’s right in a way
it’s hard to seek challenge
one day in September
I learned something more about what I’ve long said
that I’ve believed it, and felt it, but I didn’t quite know why
This ancient phrase – a real occult classic – is attributed to the “Emerald Tablet“, a bit of lost (or invented) arcana that was of great interest to an eclectic series of early alchemists, philosophers and scientists including Aleister Crowley and Issac Newton, who produced the canonical English translation. AASB succinctly encapsulates the idea that “man is the counterpart of God on earth; as God is man’s counterpart in heaven” – and since God and man are one and of each other’s invention, then so are the real and the imagined.
To me this phrase is a more elegant way of saying “everything is connected” (Barry Commoner), and a reminder that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (Arthur C. Clarke).
Listen closely to the ether of which we are made.
This is not a plea, or permission, for indulgence. While I do enjoy a bit of deluxe now and then, simple things usually do just fine. It’s better to have fewer things, especially since you pay rent on everything you own.
I’m talking about a different kind of upgrade. If something is not running smoothly in your life or your business, it’s time to fix it. The great thing is, you’re not just fixing something, you’re getting an upgrade!
This maxim came to me as I was working to make my business more profitable and ultimately set it up to be attractive to a potential buyer. I was frustrated by many things in those days: accounting, payroll, taxes, insurance, cash flow, the web site, managing offices and staff overseas – the list goes on. I would feel myself spinning in circles as I thought of all the things that needed taking care of, and often I couldn’t bring myself to deal with any of them because the whole situation was such a mess. I was discouraged and disoriented.
Then one day my bookkeeper quit. At first I thought: great, now I have to go out and find another bookkeeper, and it’s not easy finding someone who will work cheaply for a small business. It’s not glamorous work, and I wanted to pay as little as possible.
But then a proverbial lightbulb went off: this wasn’t a problem, it was an opportunity. I had the opportunity to find a real bookkeeper, someone who would provide better service, produce better financial reports, and make my business more professional. And that was exactly what I needed! The next day I called three firms, chose one, and never looked back on that decision. My bookkeeping went from being a headache to a smoothly-running system, and I was able to turn my attention to the next squeaky wheel – and the next upgrade!
I like being informed but not perfectly informed.
These days it’s very easy to get nearly perfect information. Google Maps is comprehensive and up-to-the-minute. TripAdvisor covers the planet, as does AirBnb and Uber. If you’re just about anywhere you can buy a local SIM card, turn on cellular roaming, and never get lost or have a bad meal.
It’s no accident that some of my best travel experiences have been guided by crappy, out of date maps. I do read guidebooks and use all the online services, but I also like to leave something out. Read up, and then leave the data at home. Ask around. See what you can figure out from something in another language. Turn left three times. Have fun!
Words wear out. Linguists know this, but we lose track.
Some words are just junk to begin with, empty euphemisms that we hide behind. Would a writer ever refer to anything she was proud of having written as “content”. Seriously? No way. I wrote it, it’s writing, it’s a story, it’s an essay, it’s – at least – a post. “Content” is what you fill a box with, when you don’t care what it’s filled with. So, no, I don’t create
content. If you want content, get some sawdust.
One of my personal maxims is Turn Left Three Times.
Tom Stoppard wrote eloquently about this in his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead:
“A man breaking his journey between one place and another at a third place of no name, character, population or significance, sees a unicorn cross his path and disappear. That in itself is startling, but there are precedents for mystical encounters of various kinds, or to be less extreme, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy; until — “My God,” says a second man, “I must be dreaming, I thought I saw a unicorn.” At which point, a dimension is added that makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be. A third witness, you understand, adds no further dimension but only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and the more witnesses there are the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomes until it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience… “Look, look!” recites the crowd. “A horse with an arrow in its forehead! It must have been mistaken for a deer.”
While I could just be guilty of avoiding the hedonic treadmill, or having a novelty bias, I think it’s true that too many people observing something extraordinary makes it ordinary. If a place is popular, unfortunately it’s probably also over-run and commercialized. And I don’t really like crowds.
I met someone at random the other night at The Interval (an awesome place, by the way!) and he told me about a project that a certain Very Large web company is getting underway down at Moffett Field. He was starting to explain how the project was organized and funded within the company and I said that it sounded like they had been “zoned into it”, meaning of course that the company had agreed to do X in exchange for the city allowing them to do Y, as related to how the land was zoned from a planning and developing point of view. So, they didn’t volunteer to do it, they got zoned into it.