Category Archives: endorsements

Fall In

chris-lawton-154388

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash.

I’m writing this on the first day of fall in the Northern Hemisphere.

Depending upon where you are, it might not feel like fall yet. Right now, for instance, it’s 92°F outside where I live. And humid. More summer than fall. Yet, at the same time, school’s back in session, football is being played, and Halloween paraphernalia is appearing in stores.

The leaves on one of the trees outside my window are starting to change color. Some leaves have even started to fall. It’s getting darker earlier and lighter later. And even though it’s still hot out during the day, it’s cooling down more at night.

Change is in the air.

This leads to a question: Should one also change in conjunction with the seasons? By this I mean more than donning a natty scarf when the temperature drops below a certain level—I mean changing things about the way you eat, sleep, live, and work.

Conventional productivity advice doesn’t really take up this question. One of the things, in fact, that irks me about such advice is that it tends to frame things in terms of daily routines, routines that are ostensibly the same regardless of the season. In other words, most productivity advice is seasonless. Here I’m thinking of things like Mason Currey’s engrossing 2013 book Daily Rituals and Tim Ferriss’s more tech bro-y late-2016 knockoff Tools for Titans.

Now, I’m as interested in famous people’s daily routines as anyone. But at the same time, I feel it’s important to resist the tyranny of “the day.”

What do I mean by that?

Well, we live in a world of seasons—and increasingly more variable and violent seasons at that—but productivity advice seems to always think in terms of the day, the week, the year, or five years, never the season, the sun, and the shadow.

In Lewis Mumford’s endlessly-rich 1937 book Technics and Civilization, he explains how the clock altered human relations by organizing everything around twenty-four little hours instead of, say, the rhythm of the seasons.

The consequences of this, Mumford argues, are profound:

When one thinks of the day as an abstract span of time, one does not go to bed with the chickens on a winter’s night: one invents wicks, chimneys, lamps, gaslights, electric lamps, so as to use all the hours belonging to the day. When one thinks of time, not as a sequence of experiences, but as a collection of hours, minutes, and seconds, the habits of adding time and saving time come into existence.

Because of the clock, Mumford continues, “Abstract time became the new medium of existence. Organic functions themselves were regulated by it: one ate, not upon feeling hungry, but when prompted by the clock: one slept, not when one was tired, but when the clock sanctioned it. A generalized time-consciousness accompanied the wider use of clocks: dissociating time from organic sequences….”

Since we all pretty much live according to “clock time” now, the autumnal equinox presents us with an opportunity to cast off our Apple Watches and reflect on some of the benefits of living according to what might be called “seasonal time.” To that end, I encourage you to step out of “clock time” and into “seasonal time.”

This will, no doubt, strike some as unappealing. Many people see nature as something to overcome or counteract, not as something to flow with or submit to. For others, it will be impossible. “Clock time” is simply imposed on them too strongly. But if you can do it, even just a little bit, I strongly recommend it, if only for the perspective it brings.

To quote Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To every thing there is a season.” What if we took that adage seriously, not just by buying pumpkin spice lattes but by doing key things in a more fall-like way? Fall-like might take different forms. The point is to embrace fall in particular and seasonal change in general. I’m definitely not recommending becoming “Mr. Autumn Man”. I’m talking about something else, something deeper.

One example I like is how novelist Lee Child sits down every September and begins work on a new Jack Reacher novel. He finishes up sometime the following spring and then spends the rest of the year doing other stuff—stuff like spending the entire month of August on vacation. (I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty nice.) Note, too, that this routine produces a book a year. (As someone who writes much more slowly, this sounds pretty nice to me as well.) And Child has been doing things this way since the late 1990s. (For more on Child’s process, see Andy Martin’s Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me.)

Fall is a time to write for me as well, but it also means welcoming—rather than fighting against—the shorter days, the football games, the decorative gourds. Productivity writer Nicholas Bate’s seven fall basics are more sleep, more reading, more hiking, more reflection, more soup, more movies, and more night sky. I like those too. The winter will bring with it new things, new adjustments. Hygge not hay rides. Ditto the spring. Come summer, I’ll feel less stress about stopping work early to go to a barbecue or movie because I know, come autumn, I’ll be hunkering down. More and more, I try to live in harmony with the seasons, not the clock. The result has been I’m able to prioritize better.

And yes, fall for me also means some of the stereotypical stuff: apple picking, leafy walks, we’re even trying to go to a corn maze this year.

In sum, as the Earth wobbles around the Sun, don’t be afraid to switch things up. I can’t promise an uptick in productivity, but when you think of things in terms of seasons instead of a single day, the entire year becomes your canvas.

What It’s Like

“A good writer needs to know what it’s like, and ‘it’ can be just about anything. We have far too many writers today who have never ridden a horse, or fired a gun, or sharpened a knife, or fought with their fists, or been shot at. And so on and so on. They are like those professors who get a Ph.D. and a job teaching. Clearly nobody can try everything, but it’s possible to try a lot. I’ve sailed on a small boat, for example.  Also a troopship, and a luxury liner.  I’ve been a waiter, worked in a factory, and flown in a light plane. (No, I was not the pilot, but I wish I had been.)”

Gene Wolfe

Scarecrow Video

This is the video store I went to as a teenager, which, come to think of it, explains a lot about me.

Say No to Troll

Over at Slate, Farhad Manjoo — in between trying on awesome sweatshirtsargues against the reflexive labeling of anything and everything one happens to disagree with as “trolling.” This is something I’ve noticed more and more of recently too. It’s time to squash it. Things have really started to get out of hand. Heck, there’s even a term for people wanting to tar arguments they agree with: “concern trolling.”

But, Manjoo asks, “What if all these people aren’t trolls? What if they’re just, you know, disagreeable or stupid or merely wrong? What if, despite holding opinions that you don’t like, and despite expressing those opinions in a manner that seems a tad impolite, they came by their views honestly?”

He continues: “I think it’s time we took back troll. Let’s reserve the term to refer to people who are being actual nuisances. To apply it to punditry is to dilute it of all meaning — and, in an odd way, it also ascribes unnecessary genius to people who might just be misguided.”

Hear, hear.

Help me, would you?

Final Exam Prank Idea

Via Charles Shields’s And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life comes this great prank idea from Kurt Vonnegut:

He came up with a prank to ridicule his classmates’ angst over grades. Taking a seat for a final exam at midyear in a class he wasn’t registered for, he waited until everyone was deep into the test. Then with a groan of disgust, he ripped the exam to shreds, stalked up the aisle, and tossed the pieces of paper into the astonished instructor’s face, storming out the classroom door. It started a fad among the student body that lasted a few semesters.

It’s getting to be final exam time, and though teacherly propriety prevents me from endorsing this prank outright, I do sort of think it would be cool if it caught on.

Repair Your Own Jeans


The white patch thing is one of Vlieseline’s many iron-on interfacings but I’m not sure which one.  More information — including a link to order a free repair kit — can be found at the Nudie Jeans website.

Jeans, like leaves in the fall, are at their most beautiful just before they disintegrate. This guy’s got the right idea:

Carl Chiara

Buy Good Things. Own Them a Long Time.

Via The New York Times. Hat tip Put This On.