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May 2022

Post image for How to Get the Magic Back

Each weekend of the summer I try to take a long bike ride to some part of the city I’ve never been to.

I do this for three reasons. It’s several hours of exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise. It also gets me out doing and seeing things, which makes me feel like I’ve used the day well.

The third reason is that looking at new things, even if they’re just new streetcorners or deer trails, helps me recover a certain uncomplicated way of looking at things that used to be automatic when I was a kid.

To select a destination, I use an obscure app called Randonautica, which creates an X-marker somewhere on a map of the city. The app’s “About” section says it chooses this location through “theoretical mind-matter interaction paired with quantum entropy to test the strange entanglement of consciousness with observable reality.” It says the app’s users, when they arrive at their prescribed locations, often find “serendipitous experiences that seemingly align with their thoughts.”

I assume this is tongue-in-cheek nonsense and that the co-ordinates are random. However, the place it tells you to go is indeed a real corner of the physical world. When you arrive at the spot, it never looks how you might have pictured it, and usually you witness something there that seems oddly significant.

The first time it sent me to a creekside clearing, where I saw a strange black glob in the water that turned out to be a mass of tadpoles. Another time it sent me to a gravel back lane near where I used to live, at a spot where someone had written “DAD!” on the fence in some kind of white resin. Another day it took me to a book-exchange box containing only children’s books and Stephen King’s Tommyknockers.

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Post image for Cynicism is Boring

After being ousted from the Tonight Show, Conan O’Brien gave a moving farewell speech that culminated in a specific request to his fans: please don’t be cynical. He said cynicism is his least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere.

I remember liking that he said that, given how much grief his fans were giving Jay Leno over their very public time slot conflict. At the time I was 29 years old and approaching the peak of my own cynicism. Since then I’ve gradually adopted a more generous view of human beings. This is not because I’ve become a particularly more generous person, but rather because a cynical view of our species no longer strikes me as accurate.

I now think humans are mostly good, despite how reflexively we tend to disparage our own species. For example, when Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins died suddenly on tour in Colombia last month, I came across this very normal and predictable tweet:

The first order of business when a bereaved family asks for privacy is of course to release a toxicology report. What a society.”

It’s not important that this thought came from local Winnipeg punk legends Propagandhi, because anyone could have said it, including me. But it is a perfect example of the common fallacy that humans can be fairly summarized as a mean and selfish lot.

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