The Delights of Distraction No.70: Practical Wisdom from 2021

This is the last edition of the newsletter for 2021, a year which, much to your relief, we will not summarize. Suffice to say, it’s been an emotional clusterf*$% for some, a trial by dumpster fire for others with some of you sexy phoenixes rising from the ashes, and perhaps for most:  just regular pandemic-induced boilerplate misery, barely managing to keep one’s heads above water, “not waving but drowning.”

As we fold our days into 2022, both of us hope to cuddle with our loved ones, front-load our faces with carbs and learn to live amidst this mist of uncertainty. We hope you do the same, though with impending lockdown protocol, and as semi-introverted, misanthrope-allies, we’re totally on board with you substituting "loved one" with whatever binge-worthy show/ ice cream flavour /pet or creature / vibrator / music playlist strikes your fancy. 

We’re kicking off this issue of the newsletter with some extracts of practical wisdom; sense-making and perspective-shifting nuggets that have guided Viv and Ami through 2021; buoying us along through the struggles of entrepreneurship, loss, friendship, creating art - basically this messy business of living.  

1. Elizabeth Gilbert on writing: how to show up everyday for art, work, or creating something meaningful (even if it’s just a little, old lifestyle store.)

“Every writer starts in the same place on Day One: Super excited, and ready for greatness. On Day Two, every writer looks at what she wrote on Day One and hates herself. What separates working writers from non-working writers is that working writers return to their task on Day Three. What gets you there is not pride but mercy. Show yourself forgiveness for not being good enough. Then keep going.”

2. Mary Oliver on joy: how to open ourselves up to every opportunity to savour it. 

“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it…It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.”

3. James Baldwin from a 1961 radio interview on art, that informs how we decide to  write this newsletter.

“Art has to be a kind of confession. . . . The effort, it seems to me, is: If you can examine and face your life, you can discover the terms with which you are connected to other lives, and they can discover, too, the terms with which they are connected to other people.

This has happened to every one of us, I’m sure. You read something which you thought only happened to you, and you discovered it happened 100 years ago to Dostoevsky. This is a very great liberation for the suffering, struggling person, who always thinks he is alone. That’s why art is important.”

4.Heide Preibe on love, friendship, commitment and bearing witness... and how Viv & Ami have remained Viv & Ami through the years -  through The Wishing Chair and beyond. 

“To love someone long-term is to attend a thousand funerals of the people they used to be. The people they are too exhausted to be any longer. The people they don't recognize inside themselves anymore. The people they grew out of, the people they never ended up growing into. We so badly want the people we love to get their spark back when it burns out; to become speedily found when they are lost.

But it is not our job to hold anyone accountable to the people they used to be.It is our job to travel with them between each version and to honor what emerges along the way. Sometimes it will be an even more luminescent flame. Sometimes it will be a flicker that disappears and temporarily floods the room with a perfect and necessary darkness.” 

5. Adrian Michael, how we stopped “personalizing” most things and how we best protect our hearts:

“on how to not take on their mess.

ask questions.
be a mirror. 

it’s not about you.
it’s not about you.
it’s not about you.”

6. Louise Eldrich on gratitude, a state of attention that shows we understand and are worthy of the intrinsic beauty of life - even in the rain, the mud, the suffering.

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and being alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel.

It is the reason you are here on earth. You have to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes too near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.”

And now back to regular programming - a list of things we loved to read and experience over the last week. 

To Read:

Since 2014 Tom Whitwell has written a yearly piece on his Medium blog called “52 things I learned in 20XX.” We always look forward to it, and each nugget of new information links back to an interesting article at source  - leaving us with 52 sized  rabbit hole ground of great things to read if you’re holed in for NYE.  Here are a sample of some:

  • “Beauty livestreamer Li Jiaqi sold $1.9 billion worth of products in one twelve-hour show on Taobao. That’s slightly less than the total sales from all four Selfridges stores during 2019.
  • “The world’s second most popular electric car (after the Tesla Model 3) is the Wuling HongGuang Mini, which costs $5,000 and outsells vehicles from Renault, Hyundai, VW and Nissan. Also “China opens a giant electric car battery factory every week. In the rest of the world, they open every few months.”
  • “We produce 200x more new computers per second than new human beings. 
  • “The entire global cosmetic Botox industry is supported by an annual production of just a few milligrams of botulism toxin. Pure toxin would cost ~$100 trillion per kilogram.

“A study of 14,000 Australians over 14 years found that neither being promoted nor being fired has any impact on either emotional wellbeing or life satisfaction.”​ This essay from novelist Ann Patchett tugged at our hearts. She undertakes the process of clearing out her stuff, trying to find meaning of the things she chose to keep and trying to decide whether she is strong enough to let some of it go. Is the art of purging things also the art of discovering who you are? Trying on new hats and new jackets and new identities. It’s a meditation on how we like to think our “self” is attached to the things we buy, as though we can consume our way into the person we want to become. (A philosophy that’s pretty much the marketing crux of all lifestyle/luxury brands!) 

And we loved this biting article, railing against the modern cult of relentless positivity and productivity, "one of the many curses of late capitalism". "In its stress-inducing suppression and dangerous infantilism, the almost dogmatic nature of “toxic positivity” inhibits raw human emotion and invalidates the necessary negative feelings we all have in life." A good read and middle finger to all the whatsapp exhortations to “focus on the positive!”

To Watch:

GoPro has released a compilation of some of themost adrenaline-pumping, testosterone-boosting adventure shots taken using its latest cameras, from sunset surfs to mountain ski jumps. A great fix for your couch adventure pangs as 2021 draws to a close.

If David Attenborough was a stoner who was crossed with a coke-head and a writer from Black Adder - he would have made this video on Hummingbirds. It’s created by the True Facts team, and it’s the nature video we all need - do watch, and then binge on the rest of their playlist.

Watch the TimeLapse of the Entire Universe, the video spans all 13.8 billion years of the Universe as we know it - in 10 minutes. Every second in this video equates to 22 million years of the Universe. Stay till the end to see if you can catch the fraction of the second us humans have been around in comparison, for some humbling perspective building. 

To Listen:

It’s the time of the year when many of us get to think about their achievements of the year past and their hopes for the one to come. This conversation between columnist David Brooks and writer, philosopher Leon Kass offers some excellent provocations, covering all the big topics. “Today, we are supercompetent when it comes to efficiency, utility, speed, convenience, and getting ahead in the world; but we are at a loss concerning what it’s all for. This lack of cultural and moral confidence about what makes a life worth living is perhaps the deepest curse of living in our interesting time.”

Love this quirky podcast, Everything is Alive: an unscripted interview show where all the subjects are inanimate objects, whether it’s a bar of soap, a satellite or a grain of sand. Everything stated is true, and goes into some pretty poignant territory on the human condition. 

To Cook:

We haven’t been upto much cooking or baking lately, but came upon these cookies in a recesses of a medieval cookbook article and based on the description, couldn’t resist recommending. They’re called, Cookies of Joy,  “Eat them often. It will calm all bitterness of the heart and mind, open your heart and impaired senses, and make your mind cheerful. It purifies your senses and diminishes all harmful humors in you. It gives good liquid to your blood and makes you strong.”

Yes, we’d like an extra large helping of all that good stuff ; here’s the recipe and a little history.

To Mini Learn:

In this short 4-minute snippet from a longer interview on the Knowledge Project, Esther Perel explains “Why your Partner Criticizes You.” She says behind every criticism is a wish. This does not excuse being critical toward your partner, but keeping this in mind helps perhaps focus on what it is you’re really requesting of your partner and what they might be asking of you.

To Life Hack:

Here is a strategy for controlling whirring negative thought loops and rumination for all you anxiety-ridden mittens. Ethan Kross, experimental psychologist and neuroscientist, recommends “distanced self-talk”   -  talking to yourself as if you were another person. This involves calling yourself by name and using non-first pronouns like “you”. This interview on Nauti.lus goes further into the technique. You can pick a sacred time when you get to ask yourself questions - on the throne, in the shower, in the car - where you can spew out fragmented thinking and work problems out. 

To End:

When This is Over 
by Laura Kelly Fanucci


When this is over,
may we never again
take for granted
A handshake with a stranger
Full shelves at the store
Conversations with neighbors
A crowded theater
Friday night out
The taste of communion
A routine checkup
The school rush each morning
Coffee with a friend
The stadium roaring
Each deep breath
A boring Tuesday
Life itself.
When this ends
may we find
that we have become
more like the people
we wanted to be
we were called to be
we hoped to be
and may we stay
that way — better
for each other
because of the worst.

And that’s a wrap for 2021!

Before we sign off, we’d like to thank all of you for reading and writing in. The last issue about Viv’s father brought in so many heartfelt messages. A reminder on how the connections we yearn for most, are sometimes for someone to reach out, share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. Thank you for keeping him alive in the hearts and minds of people he’s never met. His storytelling abilities were legendary, and he taught us that it’s our stories that survive us, they stay within us always.  

Wishing you all a good measure of peace, light, cuddles and carb comas this week. We’ll see you on the flipside,

Viv & Ami

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