like really good cucumbers

#56 – How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton

there’s an artist by the name of  jean-baptiste chardin who drew mainly ordinary things and ordinary people.

“He liked to depict bowls of fruit, jugs, coffeepots, loaves of bread, knives, glasses of wine, and slabs of meat. He liked painting kitchen utensils, not just pretty chocolate jars but saltcellars and strainers. When it came to people, Chardin’s figures were rarely doing anything heroic: one was reading a book, another was building a house of cards, a woman had just come home from the market with a couple of loaves of bread, and a mother was showing her daughter some mistakes she had made in her needlework.”

and yet his paintings were “extraordinarily beguiling and evocative”.

too often, we pay close attention to the extraordinary and the spectacular while neglecting the ordinary and the mundane.

but the mundane can be extraordinarily beautiful.

how do we capture this beauty?

1) acknowledge beauty in normal, ordinary things

“When Proust urges us to evaluate the world properly, he repeatedly reminds us of the value of modest scenes.”

the value of modest scenes.

2) slow down

“It might be a Proustian slogan: n’allez pas trop vite (don’t go too fast)And an advantage of not going by too fast is that the world has a chance of becoming more interesting in the process.”

don’t go too fast.

3) take a second look because we failed to look properly before

“The happiness that may emerge from taking a second look is central to Proust’s therapeutic conception. It reveals the extent to which our dissatisfactions may be the result of failing to look properly at our lives rather than the result of anything inherently deficient about them.”

taking a second look.

there is nothing wrong with our lives. we just did not look properly.

4) allow artists to help us see

“Why don’t we appreciate things more fully? The problem goes beyond inattention or laziness. It may also stem from insufficient exposure to images of beauty, which are close enough to our own world in order to guide and inspire us.”

when my friend sunny told me about haruki murakami, i decided i had to read him.

my first book was the wind-up bird chronicle and this was how it started:

When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along to an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.

i don’t listen to opera or cook pasta but to this day, these 3 lines resonate with me, in a way i cannot explain.

murakami’s novels celebrate the mundane: reading, listening to music, drinking, sitting quietly in a bar, taking a train to nowhere.

when we do these activities, we may not feel it’s anything special. but in the hands of a good artist, they can be deep and meaningful.

like really good cucumbers.

“Fresh, simple, smells like life. Really good cucumbers. A far more sensible food than kiwifruit.” – Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami

Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

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give fewer f*cks

#55 – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

dear kafka,

this is one of those books i wish i read when i was younger, which is perfect for you – the toughest 15 year old boy in the world.

some great words here:

“This book will not teach you how to gain or achieve, but rather how to lose and let go. It will teach you to take inventory of your life and scrub out all but the most important items. It will teach you to close your eyes and trust that you can fall backwards and still be okay. It will teach you to give fewer fucks. It will teach you to not try.”

it’s the perfect companion guide to marie kondo’s the life changing magic of tidying up, but instead of your house, you are decluttering your life.

throwing out stuff that you no longer use and no longer love.

this book has personality, i.e. the word “fuck” is used many times. i love this word and use it often, especially when i’m not angry. the book reminds us that life is short, the world is superficial and full of suffering, therefore live wisely.

here are some ideas i found helpful.

Give fewer fucks.

We have limited time and resources. There are a lot of things seeking our time and attention. Many of these things are stupid. We should not give a fuck about these things.

Instead… we should give a fuck about things that matter.

Here is what I give a fuck about:

good books, writing, mom, milou the dog, a few friends, japan.

Here is what i should not give a fuck about:

arguing about politics, social media, complaining or gossiping about colleagues, things i cannot control.

Don’t try.

Don’t try to hide your weaknesses – be honest with yourself and others. Being open about your weaknesses is a sign of strength.

Don’t try to be positive and happy all the time – “Wanting positive experience is a negative experience; accepting negative experience is a positive experience. It’s what the philosopher Alan Watts used to refer to as “the backwards law”—the idea that the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place.”

We are average at most things.

“Most of us are pretty average at most things we do. Even if you’re exceptional at one thing, chances are you’re average or below average at most other things. That’s just the nature of life. To become truly great at something, you have to dedicate shit-tons of time and energy to it. And because we all have limited time and energy, few of us ever become truly exceptional at more than one thing, if anything at all.”

Give yourself permission to be average at most things. Then find one or two things to be exceptional in.

Or you can like Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, combine different skills to offer something unique.

Scott Adams:

“One strategy for getting ahead is being incredibly good at a particular skill; you need to be world-class to stand out for that skill. In my case, I layered fairly average skills together until the combination became special. If you put me in a room with 20 people, I’m not going to be the funniest or the best artist, writer, or business person. Because I have all of these things in sufficient (but not world-class) quantity, it was the combination that made them successful.”

Accepting the bland and mundane truths of life.

“The ticket to emotional health, like that to physical health, comes from eating your veggies—that is, accepting the bland and mundane truths of life: truths such as “Your actions actually don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things” and “The vast majority of your life will be boring and not noteworthy, and that’s okay.” This vegetable course will taste bad at first. Very bad. You will avoid accepting it.”

I like and agree with those two truths above and will add the following:

I will not be famous and that’s okay.

I will not be rich and that’s okay.

I will not be missed when I die and that’s okay.

I am not world class at anything and that’s okay.

I am average and that’s okay.

Some people will think I am a failure and that’s okay.

I have many weaknesses, including laziness, hypocrisy, inconsistency, being judgmental, quick to anger. I will respond to these weaknesses in two ways: say sorry more often and accept myself.

“But depth is where the gold is buried.”

I don’t need more in my life. I don’t need a new job, a new book, a new camera, a new wardrobe (some might disagree with me on this one. ok, many).

I’m “blessed” to have so much. So much.

Dig deeper.

Depth is rewarding.

Fuck yourself.

“Buddhism argues that your idea of who “you” are is an arbitrary mental construction and that you should let go of the idea that “you” exist at all; that the arbitrary metrics by which you define yourself actually trap you, and thus you’re better off letting go of everything. In a sense, you could say that Buddhism encourages you to not give a fuck.”

How you define yourself can actually trap you. If you think of yourself as a guru, you will find it hard to learn from others. If you think you are smart, it will be hard to admit to ignorance.

“My recommendation: don’t be special; don’t be unique. Redefine your metrics in mundane and broad ways. Choose to measure yourself not as a rising star or an undiscovered genius. Choose to measure yourself not as some horrible victim or dismal failure. Instead, measure yourself by more mundane identities: a student, a partner, a friend, a creator.”

“The narrower and rarer the identity you choose for yourself, the more everything will seem to threaten you. For that reason, define yourself in the simplest and most ordinary ways possible.”

a Zen Master once received a rude letter.

this was his response:

“At the end of your letter you say, “Go fuck yourself.” These are wonderful words that you have given me, and I thank you very much. If you attain enlightenment, I will give them back to you.”

Fuck myself.

Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

My previous newsletters are here:

Subscribe to my newsletter.

this is an important book that must be read (part 4)

#54 – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

500 million humans in 1500 vs. 7 billion now.

“But the single most remarkable and defining moment of the past 500 years came at 05:29:45 on 16 July 1945. At that precise second, American scientists detonated the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo, New Mexico. From that point onward, humankind had the capability not only to change the course of history, but to end it.”

“modern science differs from all previous traditions of knowledge in three critical ways:

a. The willingness to admit ignorance. Modern science is based on the Latin injunction ignoramus – ‘we do not know’. It assumes that we don’t know everything. Even more critically, it accepts that the things that we think we know could be proven wrong as we gain more knowledge. No concept, idea or theory is sacred and beyond challenge.”

b. The centrality of observation and mathematics. Having admitted ignorance, modern science aims to obtain new knowledge. It does so by gathering observations and then using mathematical tools to connect these observations into comprehensive theories.”

c. The acquisition of new powers. Modern science is not content with creating theories. It uses these theories in order to acquire new powers, and in particular to develop new technologies.” Continue reading “this is an important book that must be read (part 4)”

the call to be defiant

Howard Zinn:

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

we lack imagination

Chinua Achebe:

Seeing the world from the position of the weak person is a great education. We lack imagination. If we had enough imagination to put ourselves in the shoes of the person we oppress, things would begin to happen. So it is important that we develop the ability to listen to the weak.

there is no one way to anything

Chinua Achebe:

There is no one way to anything. The Ibo people who made that proverb (“Wherever something stands, something else will stand beside it”) are very insistent on this — there is no absolute anything. They are against excess — their world is a world of dualities… If there is one God, fine. There will be others as well. If there is one point of view, fine. There will be a second point of view.

this is an important book that must be read (part 3)

#53 – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

i love how culture is described as “artificial instincts” – “Myths and fictions accustomed people, nearly from the moment of birth, to think in certain ways, to behave in accordance with certain standards, to want certain things, and to observe certain rules. They thereby created artificial instincts that enabled millions of strangers to cooperate effectively. This network of artificial instincts is called culture’.”

culture is not permanent. it changes.

“Unlike the laws of physics, which are free of inconsistencies, every man-made order is packed with internal contradictions. Cultures are constantly trying to reconcile these contradictions, and this process fuels change.”

example of this contradiction – equality and individual freedom as fundamental values. if a society wants to guarantee equality, it will have to take away the freedoms of the rich.

“Such contradictions are an inseparable part of every human culture. In fact, they are culture’s engines, responsible for the creativity and dynamism of our species.” Continue reading “this is an important book that must be read (part 3)”