The Delights of Distraction No.78: How we learnt not to sacrifice the present moment

Hello, wonderful you! 

It’s Viv and Ami, co-founders of The Wishing Chair and your weekly curators of stuff we found around the web that we thought you might like to read, watch, listen to or just enjoy. Thanks for being here :) 

Have you ever opened a book, the kind you buy at the corner of red-lights, and wonder why they feel a little off-center; tough to read and not quite finessed? 

It’s because they're knock-offs that have been woefully formatted. Quickly hastened together books on questionable quality paper, where the lines run to the end. The pages don’t have margins. 

Well-designed rooms have margins. When a room doesn’t have margins, it’s like furniture jammed against the walls, art and curtains are too close to the ceiling or floor - it feels claustrophobic and crowded. 

Good conversations have margins. When we’re communicating well, we pause a lot. These pauses tell us that our conversation partner heard what we said and is considering it before sharing their own thoughts.  

Our best days have margins. Great days are peppered with moments in which we can pause to consider what’s next, go outside, say hi to a friend, take a leisurely walk to the market, or just do basic things like eat lunch without a screen or have a long shower without a deadline. 

You can probably feel it when your day is without margins: you forget to take deep breaths. Margins give us the space to breathe - metaphorically and literally. 

Thoreau wrote, “There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work... I love a broad margin to my life.” 

Endless leisure time isn’t in the cards for most of us. But we aren’t talking full days here: we create space for margins at the margins. 

Yes, checking our phones just takes five minutes. Answering that call during your lunch break won’t take much time either. Replying to an email while you’re sharing a drink your partner will “only take a second.” But these moments... these are the margins. They are the margins that give your life texture, flavor, aroma, pleasure, meaning. 

Sure, you could fit more words into your book if it didn’t have margins. But then you couldn’t read the damn book. Take your margins back. They’re yours. 

And now to our favourite links of the week:

To read: An excellent essay, all about Amba, a particular type of mango pickle popular across India but also around the Middle-East – this is the sort of brilliant food writing that is nominally about a specific dish or ingredient but which ends up being about politics and trade and commerce and people and which basically teaches you loads AND makes you hungry.  

Anne Helen Peterson tracks our zeitgeist’s new-found obsession with houseplants and how our hobbies are influenced by the socio-political mores of our times. 

“It makes sense, then, that during the first half of the 20th century — and gradual destruction or loosening of various social hierarchies — that indoor plants fell out of fashion. Empires either ceased to expand or began to retract; “The New Woman” entered in the public sphere in ever-increasing numbers; the Great War and the following Great Depression destabilized the upper echelons of the class hierarchy. The ruptures of society and class led design to Modernism, and its corresponding rejection of the stuffy emotionalism of Victorianism. As Sparke explains, these modernist designers were “driven by a utopian desire to start from scratch, to modernize and democratize their buildings, and to eliminate clutter — which, in their minds, was synonymous with the stuffy world of their childhoods, upward aspiration, conspicuous display, excessive materialism and femininity — they sought to create rationally conceived, minimally furnished inside spaces that were extension of their architectural frames and, ideally, indistinguishable from them.”  

Unlearning perfectionism“There is a common idea that perfectionism is the need for perfect results: the maximum test score, the flawless recital, the unanimous verdict. But this idea misses the deeper reality. More generally, perfectionism is the tendency to stake your identity on achieving fixed outcomes.” “The perfectionist fears setbacks, uncertainty, true knowledge of her strengths and weaknesses, failure that can't be blamed on others, and anything else that threatens her outcomes or her fixed sense of self. She deprives herself of the explosive growth that comes from uncertainty, struggle, and open exploration.” Another ode to embracing this messy, ever-changing, unpredictable, cruel, beautiful, singular life.  

To joy(ish) scroll: This year’s World Nature Photo awards are as astonishing and, er, violent as ever – clicking through will get you pictures including buffalo eyeballs being pecked, and penguins about to be dismembered by hungry seals (the caption on the seal photo reads – “Each time, the seal chased after the penguin again, as if it was enjoying the game. The terrified penguin tried to escape as the game continued. But soon, the end came.” *shudder*). Still, if you don’t mind the death and blood then these are as awe-inspiring as you can imagine, nature at its wildest; amoral and mercenary. There are loads of really cute ones too, like the picture of a small arctic fox struggling through a blizzard, hopefully managing to make its way home to a warm bed and hot chocolate. 

To ponder: We loved this Ted Talk, on the concept of chosen family. As women who have either decided not to get married or have children, we’re strongly aligned with the idea of a more inclusive definition of family, and rights that should be assured for them. 

“The nuclear family has been the basis for our cultural stories and our laws. The majority of us are not in a nuclear family with a spouse and kids. Yet somehow, we treat this majority of people like social failures. What’s worse: our laws treat unmarried people as lesser citizens. Marriage comes with over 1,000 rights and benefits under federal law. These include the ability to get your spouse citizenship, share health insurance, get better tax rates and inherit tax-free at death and more. Part of the winning argument for same-sex marriage was that we shouldn't deprive gay couples of all of these essential benefits. But I ask you, why should anyone be denied benefits because they're in a romantic relationship of which some people disapprove? Or because they're single.?” AMEN! 

To flow: Kaizen Flow is a free web app that combines a standard 25-min Pomodoro timer with Lo-Fi music. Every time you start a timer, this app plays soothing Lo-Fi music in the background to help you transition into a flow state. Bonus feature: This app comes with some beautiful visuals if you want to keep the timer opened on a secondary display.  

To awe: A glorious piece of visual storytelling, all about how trees migrate over time (they do!) – this is so nicely-made, and the combination of imagery, video and text is beautifully-constructed.  

To watch: History of the Earth: Each video on this channel is a chronological exploration of what our planet used to be, the upheavals it witnessed, and the evolution it underwent even before us humans showed up. You’re guaranteed to discover bits of research, discoveries, and stories of individual researchers you don't know about, and the art and language makes it a lyrical meditation, as well as one of the most informative documentary series out there. 

Start here, with the first video, and treat yourself every day to one of the videos on this channel. 

To Lexicon: Bayanihan: (n) Used to refer to a spirit of communal unity and cooperation. Derived from the word “bayan” meaning community, it literally translates to being a “bayan.” The word has astrong connotation derived from the old Filipino tradition of neighbours helping a family relocate by getting enough volunteers to literally carry their whole house to a new location in times of strife. 

To end: 

Attributed to Rumi, translator unknown 

Your task is not to seek for love, 
But merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself 
That you have built against it. 
And finally a quote: Author and activist Helen Keller on the importance of doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way: 

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.” 

And that’s our way to cope with things. The world is crazy, cruel, colossal and confounding. But we’re trying to do what we know how to do: shine our little light over here each week, and hopefully point you in the direction of some good things :)

Viv and Ami

P.S. If you are just joining us you can explore all the previous editions here. If you would like to sign someone up for the newsletter, you can just reply to this email. 

P.S.S. A gift idea we are recommending to everyone these days!

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