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Post image for Two Ways to Keep the Fountain Flowing

I’ve been working on an interesting math problem I first pondered as a kid.

One day in the early nineties, my dad heard on the radio that there was a new technology coming called “INTER-NET,” and he struggled to describe it to me.

One thing he said was, “You could type in ‘Michael Jackson jokes’ and see all the Michael Jackson jokes in the world.”

It didn’t occur to me that this INTER-NET wasn’t a physical thing, or that you would have it in your home. I pictured a towering, all-connected computer at the university that people would line up to use.

“And it’s free!” He added.

That part seemed unlikely. I knew that even the lowliest candies cost at least one cent, and this computer with infinite jokes was clearly far more valuable. Even my pre-teen brain recognized there was something unusual about the economics of that.

I wouldn’t have guessed that decades later I’d be fully enmeshed in this futuristic value-distribution system, living on it and for it, supplying it not just with jokes but articles, rants, and some genuine insights, alongside millions of other creators.

Somewhat surprisingly, the internet did turn out to be the fountain of freely available art, entertainment, and information my Dad promised.

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Post image for Five Old School Things To Consider Doing Again

I have a not-so-secret hope that we’re reaching a sort of technology nausea point, when it becomes utterly clear that pre-digital (or at least pre-smartphone) approaches to certain things were better in many ways, and we begin to re-adopt them for that simple reason.

Even in 2010, we were still excited when, while doing something in the old, dependable, manual way, somebody said, “Hey there’s an app for that!” Today, the excitement comes when you realize you can do that thing much easier without trying to bumble through it on your phone.

As we approach the 2020s, I think we’re becoming more aware of what we’ve left behind. But a lot of it is still there if we want it.

Here are some places where I’ve enjoyed returning to the ways of years past.

1. Cooking From a Cookbook

There have always been a few recipes in my rotation that I had to open a cookbook for, and I couldn’t help but notice a hint of relief at that.

What a joy it is, when you’ve got flour everywhere and olive oil on your fingers, to simply glance over to an open book, rather than knuckle-scroll through clunkily-loading ads and long-winded anecdotes about the author’s husband just to check a measurement. You also don’t need to keep touching the recipe every so often to prevent it from disappearing.

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Post image for How to Make Life More Pleasurable

Throughout my grade school years I noticed a pattern: whenever classes started again, sleep became much more enjoyable.

It felt like such a gift to discover, by peeking at my alarm clock, that I had another eighteen sweet minutes of blanket-time before the alarm went. Each one was a treat.

Obviously, sleep became more pleasurable because it became more precious. I was busier and couldn’t overindulge in it as I apparently had during summer holidays.

I also noticed that whenever the English teacher assigned a novel about people living during scarce times, like wars or droughts, my own food tasted better and I found real satisfaction in simple things like potatoes or rice.

History class gave me a similar appreciation for tea and spices, after hearing about how precious and coveted they were in the West. When you have a little more reverence for the experience itself, a pinch of tea or a few ground peppercorns can make you feel rich and fortunate (even if they came from a bin at Bulk Barn). And why shouldn’t they? They still deliver the same pleasure to human taste buds.

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Post image for A Million Nameless Joys Await

I just returned from a 90-minute walk in driving snow. My friend had to pick up something from work near where my PO Box is, and we both like walks in inclement weather, so we made the trek together on foot.

Now that I’m back in the warm, dry interior of my house, I’m enjoying a very cozy, very nostalgic, and very specific combination of sense experiences. Having shed my wet outerwear, and with the heater vents blowing, I’m now warm, dry, and extremely comfortable, but parts of my socks, pant cuffs, and hair are still damp because they’re the only things I’m still wearing that were exposed to the snow.

That particular experience—abundant warmth and dryness with dampness at the fringes, and a well-earned touch of fatigue—is exactly the same feeling I had as a kid every time I came in from playing in the snow. It still summons images of snowball fights, toboggan rides, and the ribbon of exposed grass you make when you roll up a snowman-ball.

If this particular state had a name, it might be Warming Up Having Just Come In From Outside on a Mild Snowy Day. It’s a very specific and familiar joy to those who know it.

It’s making me think of several other familiar yet nameless wintertime experiences, which any Canadian prairie-raised kid would probably know.

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Post image for Cross the Gap Before It Grows

A friend of my Dad’s, a fellow high school teacher, was born just early enough that a particular life goal of his seemed feasible: get to retirement without having to use a computer.

At that time, the early 1990s, I remember people being either computer-literate or computer-averse. You either used these machines freely, or you actively avoided them.

By the information-superhighway years of the late ‘90s, a lot of people were determined to cross that aversion-to-aptitude gap, and finally learn to use the World Wide Web and electronic mail. Being one of that era’s many teenaged “computer people,” I ended up helping dozens of computer-averse adults learn simple operations like word processing, email and web search.

Their body language, at first, was typically very fight-or-flight: back against the chair, hands tucked close, eyes wide. I’m sure some of them really believed the machine could explode if you pressed the wrong button.

But after an antsy first day in the computer chair, a person starts to see what they can do, and also what they can’t do (blow the thing up, delete everything in a keystroke). It was never long before they were emailing, web-surfing, LiveJournaling, and printing recipes, all on their own.

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Post image for No Moment Can Be Saved For Later

Last week I went for my midday walk first thing in the morning, because by noon it was supposed to be hot and muggy.

The feel of that particular morning was so sublime and strange I have nothing but clichés to describe it with. It was the day before school started, and the neighborhood was both supernaturally quiet and uncannily beautiful. The sky was orange and still, and the air was so thick it seemed to filter out traffic noise, leaving a soundtrack of only birds. September-stage trees and gardens glistened in July-like morning heat. Boulevard flowerbeds billowed over the sidewalks.

Aside from the apocalyptic implications of such warmth coming so late in the year, the walk was a unique and remarkable experience, and I know I have absolutely no way of conveying that specialness to you or anyone else.

I did try though. I took a half dozen photos, and a few videos panning over the trees and gardens, hoping to somehow capture I’m not sure what—the sweetness of the air, the alien combination of summer humidity and dry leaves, or whatever unique quality made me want to document it.

Of course, I ended up with nothing but flat photos and videos of trees and sidewalks and flowerbeds that will excite nobody, and which contain not even a speck of the experience I was trying to capture.

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Post image for Feel The Air Fully

The Shingon monks of Japan have a very pragmatic way of encouraging the development of inner calm. They expose themselves to extreme cold, such as by squatting under an icy waterfall, while attempting to remain as present and composed as they might be in a warm, dry meditation hall.

Shinzen Young, my favorite Western meditation teacher, endured a version of this when he trained with the Shingon in the 1970s. Starting on the winter solstice, he spent 100 days in isolation, emerging three times daily to break the ice on a frozen-over cistern and dump several bucketfuls of its water over his head.

Being a California native, he found this task excruciating, but quickly learned the secret to getting through it without abject suffering. Before going to the cistern, he would meditate intently enough that he could be completely present for the experience. If any part of him was unwilling to embrace the full extent of the cold, it went from unpleasant to horrific.

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Post image for Care Deeply, Not Passionately

Sometime around my grade four year—1990 or so—it suddenly became very popular to talk about saving the planet.

I remember an explosion of environment-focused messaging, especially about whales, recycling, and ozone holes. It was on our classroom posters, TV shows, t-shirts, even school supplies.

But it was the tropical rainforest, at least to us fourth-graders, that became the central icon of this abstract thing adults called “the environment.” Saving the world meant saving the rainforest. We drew posters of endangered monkeys and tree frogs, with rhyming slogans at the top.

The energy felt really positive. Even things like shampoo bottles started having rainforest imagery on them, which seemed to be a good thing. Everyone was joining the fight!

What I don’t remember is when that energy went away. I didn’t decide to stop caring, but I guess I did. I don’t think it occurred to me until I saw a gag on the Simpsons, five years later, when Homer referred to “that rainforest scare a few years back.”

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Post image for The Only Dependable Source of Happiness

I once wrote about a peculiar practice I do to help me become a less judgmental person. Whenever I’m out in public and I catch myself judging a stranger—for such offenses as poor sidewalk-sharing, or imprecise parking—I resolve instead to temporarily become their secret ally.

Unbeknownst to the other person, I’ve gone from silently resenting them to silently watching out for them. For the short time we’re in the same vicinity, I’m prepared to leap into action should they need any sort of help. If they appeared to need directions, I’d offer. If their grocery bags were to tear, I’d help collect the rolling fruit.

I’ve almost never had to actually spring into action, aside from helping people reach things in grocery stores, but that’s not the main purpose. Essentially I’m training myself to view others with goodwill, rather than judgment.

And it works. My helping reflex is stronger and my judging reflex is weaker. Becoming a secret ally also makes me feel happier right in that moment.

Part of what’s so empowering about this practice is that it’s totally portable and self-contained. It doesn’t matter what happens, or what the other person does. Simply assuming the role of a helpful person, in any situation, helps me become a more naturally helpful person, and also creates an immediate sense of well-being. It’s like I’m making goodness out of nothing. It almost feels like cheating, like some kind of alchemical secret.

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Post image for Why We Can’t Sit Quietly In A Room Alone

I’ve always liked the Blaise Pascal quote, “I have discovered that all the miseries of men derive from one single fact: that they cannot sit quietly in their own room.”

People interpret this famous pronouncement all sorts of ways, but if you look up the context, it’s clear he’s saying “we prefer the chase over the quarry.” In other words, we live more easily in a state of pursuing future experiences than settling into the experience we’re having.

It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. We’re less likely to be descended from easily-contented hunter-gatherers than from the ones who got antsy if they took too long to go out hunting and gathering again.

You could say that this persistent restlessness is nature’s way of keeping a little fire under our butts—one that makes “elsewhere and later” seem like a more suitable site for happiness than here and now.

This is a delusional belief, however, because once you get to that particular “elsewhere,” it’s already become another “here,” complete with that same fire of discontent under your butt. Another future-based haven soon forms in your mind’s eye, and you’re off trying to make that your new present.

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