Here are SIX things I learned, thought were interesting, or found useful.
See The Unique (In)Ability
In March 1986, the neurologist Oliver Sacks received a letter from a Mr. I. Two months earlier, Mr. I was knocked unconscious in a car accident. When he came to, Mr. I saw the world as it looks in black and white movies. Mr. I could not make color—not with his eyes, not in his mind’s eye, not in memory or when dreaming. You are or aren’t born with color-responding cells—to Sacks’ knowledge, no one could or had ever become totally colorblind. The sense of loss would have been felt to some degree by anyone. It was intensely strangled by Mr I. A successful painter, Mr. I before could identify—by the name and number listed in the Pantone hue chart he long referenced when buying paint—the green of a billiards table or the yellow of a mustard. Now, he couldn’t make stop or go of a traffic light. Mr. I’s artistic sensibilities, his creative expression, his identity—his life—hinged on his unique ability to perceive color. That was lost and replaced with a unique inability. In everything and everyone, Mr. I saw a kind of statue of his inability. Chronically seeing what he could no longer see, Mr. I lived mostly in an “almost suicidal depression.” Until he had an experience he’d later credit for his artistic and physical survival. He was driving one morning and over the highway, the sun was rising. It set in motion Mr I’s now-usual attempt to see what he couldn’t see: those glowing reds and oranges and yellows instead were smoldering blacks and grays and whites. What he would do to see the sunrise the way he once had, the way almost everyone does. But then, it happened. For the first time since the accident, Mr. I considered his new and unique
inability. “Had anyone,” he thought, “ever seen a sunrise in this way before?” An exciting thought made increasingly more so by the realization of it’s transferability. Had anyone ever seen anything the way Mr. I could? The “apocalyptic” sunrise catalyzed Mr. I’s first black-and-white painting, Nuclear Sunrise, and his personal and professional resurrections. Now, in everyone and everything, Mr. I saw things no one else could. He saw textures and patterns embedded, and therefore invisible, in color. He saw shades, shapes, and silhouettes with a precision he couldn’t have before conceived. With it no longer cluttered by color, “my vision became that of an eagle—I can see a worm wriggling a block away. The sharpness of focus is incredible…I can read license plates at night from four blocks away.” He came to call his eyesight “privileged” because it allowed, no, forced him to see “a whole new world,” ushering in what became the most productive and celebrated “phase” of his artistic career. I tied Mr. I’s story to the story from last week about Bill Walsh revolutionizing the NFL, which you can read here.
Help People Look Forward To What They Do
World-famous restauranteur Will Guidara was asked about the Gordon Ramsey types of chefs/restauranteurs. The ones who can’t seem to regulate their emotions, who are short-tempered, who seem mean and miserable to work with/for. “Not only in restaurants,” he said, “I can’t imagine it’s productive anywhere. I don’t think it’s possible to be good at what you do unless you’re looking forward to doing it.” Great point, the interviewer responds, flipping tables over and yelling at people and punching walls—the Ramsey types don’t show many hallmark signs of enjoyment, of someone who is loving what they are doing. “No, no,” Guidara clarifies. He wasn’t talking about the Ramsey type. He was talking about everyone in the vicinity of the Ramsey type. “Restaurants, like most businesses, are a team sport. It doesn’t matter whether I love what I do. I’m not the one waiting every table. [My employees] need to love what they do…I need them to wake up and be excited about coming to work. Only then will we be successful. There’s a lot more people coming into our restaurants than I have time to go actually touch every one of those tables. My goal is to inspire people to be as excited as I am about making other people happy. If I can do that well and then give them the tools to do it at the level we want to do it, then I’m succeeding.” It’s like the reverse of what they tell you on planes, Guidara adds, the leader has to help others before they help themselves.
Become Skilled At Nondoing
Robert Pirsig, author ofZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, observed that the oft-asked “what do you do?” or “what are you doing?” condition us to think that unless you up and doing, something is wrong. But anyone who has tried to sit around and do nothing, he says, knows there are as many degrees of difficulty in nondoing as there are in doing. “And to become skilled at nondoing is quite as difficult as becoming skilled at doing. And when you acquire both skills—skills at doing and skills at nondoing—you find that if you’re stuck in traffic, it doesn’t create frustration, you just swing into your nondoing life.” We need both skills, he continues, like plants need both photosynthesis and respiration. “If a plant gets nothing but sunlight, it’s very harmful. It has to have darkness too. In the sunlight, it converts carbon dioxide to oxygen, but in the darkness, it takes the oxygen and converts it back into carbon dioxide. And I think people are like that. You have to have some periods of doing and some periods of nondoing. And when you get both of them in a mixture back and forth, you lead a much fuller life than if you’re always committed to doing…When you don’t do anything, all the garbage in your head that’s accumulated from all the doing starts to come to the surface and float away and your life is purified again, at least your mental life, your psychic life. This is very valuable.”
They’re All Bets
Bill Simmons asked Matt Damon: what’s the most surprised you’ve been that a movie you’ve been in didn’t work? Damon thinks for a few seconds. It’d be impossible to pick one, he then says. The reception is almost always not what he expected. “They’re all bets to a certain degree…I always tell people, ‘you don’t see the movie before you make it.’ You get the ingredients for whatever you’re cooking, you get to see what ingredients you have to work with, and then you, ‘alright, with all these ingredients, we should be able to make something pretty good.’ But some of them just don’t work.” Simmons says it’s like baseball: “You can’t go 4-4 every game. Sometimes you go 2-4 with a home run. Sometimes 3-4. Occasionally, you might go 4-4. And sometimes, you’re gonna go 0-4.”
Be On Route
In the interview appended to his “40 Years of Comedy” HBO special, George Carlin was asked, why do you still do what you do as much as you do? He’d achieved more than he could have dreamed, why not let up or stop altogether? He said that’d be like telling Picasso to put his paint brush down. “I’m an entertainer, first and foremost, but there’s art involved here. And an artist has an obligation to be on route, to be going somewhere. There’s a journey involved here. You don’t know where it is, and that’s the fun. So you’re always going to be seeking and looking and going and trying to challenge yourself. Without sitting around and thinking of that a lot, it drives you and keeps you trying to be fresh, trying to be new, trying to call on yourself, call on yourself a little more, you know?”
No One Got The Instruction Book
In talking about writing, starring in, directing, and producing the show “Dispatches from Elsewhere,” Jason Segel explained a couple things that helped him overcome his longtime struggle with anxiety and imposter syndrome, or as he described it, “the feeling that you were invited by mistake or that you’re a conman.” He quelled some of his anxiety about directing for the first time by telling people he was having anxiety about directing for the first time. “I just owned it, ‘this is my first time directing—if I do anything that bugs you, let me know. It is not intentional, I’m doing this for the first time.’ I had many discussions like that. And that was freeing—you say it out loud, and it breaks the ice.” As for feeling like an imposter—”I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that nobody got the instruction book. Everyone is just doing it. Everyone is just learning as they go, so you can also. I think that the big key to a lack of anxiety is the not pretending that that’s not what’s happening.”