synthetic authentic

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Thing.  At. A. Time.

Kids.  Trite as it may sound, that’s generally the way to get things done, however big the task.  I know from experience that it can be paralyzing when faced with a huge job. Where to begin?  How to get through it? Will it ever end?

It’s May 2018 and I am just coming to the end of a downsizing project that involves opening up 1,600 boxes of personal belongings.  Personal effects which had been accumulated over the course of a sixty year marriage, many of which had not seen the light of day for decades.  Their owners had put them away, hoping to get to them soon.

However big the project, just start somewhere.  As you persevere you will find a way through the task.  You will build momentum that will carry you through to the end.  What starts out like a confusing jumble will gradually clarify. And before you know it, you will be at the end, marveling at the truth of my opening statement.  One. Thing. At. A. Time.



If you’re not proud of it, don’t serve it.

If you can’t do a good job, don’t take it on.

If it’s going to distract you from the work that truly matters, pass.

If you don’t know why they want you to do this, ask.

If you need to hide it from your mom, reconsider.

If it benefits you but not the people you care about, decline.

If you’re going along with the crowd, that’s not enough.

If it creates a habit that costs you in the long run, don’t start.

If it doesn’t move you forward, hesitate then walk away.

The short run always seems urgent, and a moment where compromise feels appropriate. But in the long run, it’s the good ‘no’s that we remember.

On the other hand, there’s an imperative to say “yes.” Say yes and build something that matters.

by Seth Godin

Important advice, but included here for my remembrance.  My kids haven’t inherited my chronic amiabilitis.  They already know how to say no.

Thanks to my friend Tim who shared this with me.


“I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at three miles an hour.  If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or of thoughtfulness.”

I have always “felt” this to be true, but I have had neither the wisdom nor the eloquence to put it into words.  It makes sense to me that living, working, and making decisions at light-speed comes at a cost.  Only time will tell at what cost.


Wanderlust – A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit


Some T-I-C* notes on writing a “How To” Blog Post about creative endeavours.

  • Just get started.  What are you waiting for?  “Today IS the first day of the rest of your life!”
  • You have an audience of one, so take risks – only you will know how badly you suck.
  • Eschew the Web – FaceBook “Likes” are for losers.
  • Failure is your friend.  It’s your best teacher, and it’s kinda free – embrace it.
  • Finish what you started even if it is crap – there is always benefit in finishing, even if it’s to prove that you’re not a quitter.
  • Seek instruction and heed your teacher’s advice.  But beware free advice – it’s usually worth less than you paid for it.
  • Practice.  Everyday.  But only if it’s helping you improve and not because of some rule about 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.  That’s a feel-good myth.
  • Having a curated body of work can be satisfying, but it can also be stultifying.  A dozen sketches is a project.  5,000 is a legacy.  Be scared.
  • Don’t do it for the money.  Because although you think it’s “art” no one else will.  And even if they think it is, they won’t pay you for it.
  • There’s no such thing as “original” – everything is derivative.  A few years ago Solomon said: “There’s nothing new under the sun” and he was right.
  • Remember, in the final analysis no one cares.  And neither should you.  Much.
  • Finally, know when to stop.  No one likes to hear you bitching about your hobby.  When your friends stop going out for coffee with you, even when it’s your turn to pay, it’s a sure sign that it’s time to try something else.  
*T-I-C = Tongue in Cheek

Landscapes (2)

“I travelled to Normandy and to Brittany.  I took pictures of Paris and I understood that I wasn’t interested in just any landscape, that in fact I was incapable of photographing the ‘beautiful’ French countryside.  It was only in Lorraine, where the new steelworks had greatly transformed the region, that I really started taking photographs.  I realized that it was precisely with this kind of landscape, transformed by contemporary men, that I felt a true affinity.”

Josef Koudelka

That’s my kind of photographer.


Every now and again I catch myself playing the “what if” game – you know, the one where you picture your younger self, living your boring, pedestrian life as the kid that no one noticed because you were so chronically and genetically uncool, untalented, and unremarkable so as to be invisible.  Then one day you turn up at school having won the Wimbledon Singles Boys Junior Championship.  Overnight, you go from bullied to fêted, zero to hero.

I recently heard Bradley Wiggins speak about his life on a BBC Radio 4 interview*.  For the uninitiated, Wiggins is a celebrated British cyclist, 2012 Tour de France champion, holder of seven Olympic medals, and six time gold medallist at the Track World Championships.  On hearing that he was on the 2013 New Years Honours list for services to cycling, he is reported to have said:

“I’ve won a bike race, you know, and I feel a little bit inferior to everyone.  I was just talking to some of the other people getting stuff, and asking them what they’ve been honoured for, and they are historic things, ground-breaking science or whatever.”

What?  Tour de France?  Four Olympic Gold Medals?  Six World Championship Gold Medals?  I’d call that an achievement worth celebration.  That he has achieved all of this without cheating (in a sport marred by high profile cheaters), while being a great ambassador for the sport in Britain and an inspiration to a whole generation of young athletes, should surely qualify him for the knighthood.

Wiggins sees it quite differently.  Asked about his achievements, he speaks about his wife and two children and keeping a marriage of 13 years.  Asked about how he felt winning the Tour de France, he spoke about his gratefulness to his supporters, and how he felt compelled to turn away from the dignitaries on the podium at the Champs-Élysées to face his British fans who had travelled all the way to Paris to see him win.

One more anecdote from the Tour de France to cement in your minds the kind of man we are dealing with.  I quote from Wiggins’ Wikipedia page:

During stage fourteen, a mountain stage, a spectator threw carpet tacks onto the narrow road at the top of the Mur de Péguère climb. Several riders suffered punctures, including Evans, the defending champion, who lost approximately two minutes while his team repaired his bicycle. Wiggins and his fellow members of Team Sky emerged without a puncture. Believing that a puncture resulting from an unfortunate incident should not determine the fate of a competitor, Wiggins then had his team-mates and the rest of the peloton slow down to allow Evans and other affected cyclists to catch up.  It was perceived as a generous act of sportsmanship and Wiggins was called “Le Gentleman” as a result.

My interest in humility has recently been stirred by my son’s curious response to success.  If you don’t already know, you need to know that I hold my children in high esteem.  They certainly did not inherit their father’s skill at mediocrity.  However, gifted as he is, my fifteen year old hates being called out for excellence.  He resents being praised for doing good work.  And he particularly despises being asked to play the piano “because you play so well.”  In the interest of family harmony, we have had to coach doting grandparents and unctuous uncles to refrain from public praise.

Wiggins seems to have taken a similar approach to success.  As a child he worked hard to fly under the radar so as not to be picked out by his teachers.  When asked by his teachers after winning a race at the Junior Track Championships why he had never said anything about his racing, he said “I didn’t feel the need to”.  He was happiest to be left alone to do his thing and not to stand out.  In fact, his invisibility caused other competitors to underestimate him.  After winning the Tour de France, many of his peers said that they remembered him as a bit of a clown and karaoke king, but “they never expected him to win the Tour”.

Maybe my son is on to something.

* Desert Island Discs – Sir Bradley Wiggins, 10th May, 2015






“Landscape is still often understood as a noun connoting fixity, scenery, an immobile painterly decorum.  I prefer to think of the word as a noun containing a hidden verb: landscape scapes, it is dynamic and commotion causing, it sculpts and shapes us not only over the courses of our lives but also instant by instant, incident by incident.  I prefer to take “landscape” as a collective term for the temperature and pressure of the air, the fall of light and its rebounds, the textures and surfaces of rock, soil and building, the sounds (cricket screech, bird cry, wind through trees), the scents (pine resin, hot stone, crushed thyme) and the uncountable other transitory phenomena and atmospheres that together comprise the  presence of a particular place at a particular moment.”

Robert Macfarlane – The Old Ways, A Journey on Foot


Trike“For you, everything has to be either black or white” was how a recent tangle with my volatile 15 year old ended.  That got my attention.  I was saved from having to wonder exactly what he meant when he yelled from another room, “You never see any grey”.

Just so that we are clear, he wasn’t literally challenging my ability to discern grey.  He was referring to what he perceived to be my habit of distilling every argument down to a choice between two outcomes.  Right or wrong.  On or off.  Black or white.  While I wouldn’t freely admit to that tendency, it’s true that I am distressed by ambiguity, discombobulated by choice, and distracted by crowds.  I’m happier when I can make a shortlist.  I’m happiest when there’s an obvious choice.

Perhaps there’s a connection between this tendency and my preference for photos that tend towards deep contrast, strong blacks and white whites.  The raw images that pop out of my scanner depress me with a sea of grey.  Perhaps it’s because I’m not happy until the shadows are dark enough to offer a place to hide.

As to my teenager, at least he didn’t call me colourless.