Some days. Some weeks. Some months… are doozies. This past week alone, reeling from more news of violence – against one another, against our home planet, against ourselves – there was the awfulness of the loss of Toni Morrison, and of a dear friend’s angelic grandmother, accompanied by a comparatively minuscule but powerfully anxiety-producing flock of stocks that seemed to only go down. Way down. My lizard brain was steeped in fear, circling upon itself, hyper-vigilant and waiting for further attack.
I went to a concert, happily, but it was a school night and so I was thinking of all the other things that needed to get done once the music was over. I am a fan, yet not a very loyal or knowledgeable one, and we were in a formal concert hall that encouraged polite listening, nothing more. For the first part of the performance I was appreciative, in a sort of analytical, far-off way. Then somehow, finally, it all came rushing in. The bass was thumping through our feet and out the tops of our heads, and the band was focused and immensely talented, and the singer was iconic and brave and generous and he was having SO MUCH FUN that we were infected and at long last we all were on our feet, dancing our butts off.
Dear ones, we have buckets of cold water pouring down on us daily. We are often trying to light the fire of our spirits with a single soggy match. So when we feel a little spark, it’s natural that we’d sometimes think, why bother? The next deluge is coming soon. I can take it.
But we are not here only to endure. The rain is coming whether we want it to or not, whether we are ready or not. So when we feel a spark, our job is to not let it fizzle.
We need to fan the flames.
This week, dear friends, let’s not stay seated. Let’s do more than endure.
Let’s dance our butts off.
“Even someone I had despised and dismissed as antiquated and obstinate, when I conversed with him as a companion along some distant road or encountered him in hut overrun with vines, it was like finding a jewel among junk or discovering gold amid mud.”
– Matsuo Basho, 17th C
For so many things we evaluate, the real question is, compared to what? Or, under what conditions? A person losing 20 pounds could be a sign of health or illness. A company growing 10% could be accelerating or decelerating. A conversation that ends in tears could be joyful or sorrowful.
But under that first layer of circumstance, there’s another. It’s not the setting of the thing, it’s the setting of ourselves. A child’s curiosity can be delightful or maddening. A slow walk through the park can be blissful or frustrating. A chance encounter can be an annoyance or a relief.
Dear friends, as we embark on this new day of a new week of a new month, let’s look for the jewels amid the junk.
Let’s find the gold amid the mud.
* This Basho passage is quoted from Knapsack Notebook, which I saw featured in the terrific Lapham’s Quarterly. My dad introduced me to Lapham’s, which takes a big topic each quarter and explores it from across disciplines and across time. It is one of my favorite quirky periodicals.
This week I was part of a panel at the CFA Institute’s annual summer symposium, held at the University of Chicago. It was an honor to be part of the program, of course, but as it landed in the middle of earnings season and a range of other commitments, I was focused on the content and not the context.
Luckily I met up a friend after the seminar who had attended business school at Chicago, and she put things in their proper place. Did I see the long hallway of Nobel Prize winners upstairs? She asked. Yes, yes I had. Did I know who Eugene Fama was? Yes, yes I do. Did I realize Chicago was the home of efficient market theory? Yes, yes of course. I was more and more puzzled as her questions persisted.
Then, like a great trial lawyer, she concluded, so you just gave a talk for the most rigorous credentialing body in your field at the birthplace of efficient market theory, about the importance of environmental, social, and governance considerations and the beyond-utilitarian purpose of investing?
Yes, yes I had.
It is hard to see the water we are swimming in, as David Foster Wallace taught us. Things are so slow to change, and then so fast.
Dear friends, what has already shifted, right beneath our feet?
* With thanks to Kathy and Margo for making this reflection possible!
This week we celebrated the moon landing of 1969, which somehow seems more and more miraculous as time passes. One of the greatest gifts of the space program is the gift of wonder, and the viral spread of wonder from one area to another.
Years ago I had the chance to hear astronaut Pamela Melroy speak about her first space mission. She explained that throughout her scientific training, she’d focused on studying Jupiter, so whenever people asked about her favorite planet, she’d go on and on about the wonders of this distant planet. Then, once she was in orbit, looking back on Earth, she suddenly realized, wait a minute! Jupiter is not my favorite planet — Earth is my favorite planet!
Whether planets or books or jobs or ice creams or people, it’s fun to answer the question, “which is your favorite?” And as we progress through life, it sometimes becomes cooler to pick an unusual favorite, something or someone obscure or quirky or far afield.
Dear friends, as we explore more and more distant realms, let’s not skip over the favorites that are right here with us, accompanying our lives day in and day out, through thick and thin. They might not shine as brightly as the objects in the distance, but these close-by favorites are the most precious of all.
Our first favorites. Our homes.
From old French poets to Mick Jagger, we have a long legacy as humans of wanting more, or different. And we are rarely content, echoing Goldilocks as we spin through life… too hot, too cold, too big, too small. A big part of life is learning how to discern good decisions from bad, but along the way we are taught to judge endlessly, and sometimes harshly. Whether a person or a job or a meal or an investment, we are trained to see the flaws more clearly than the attributes.
Summer in New England is fleeting, and sometimes this seems to add pressure instead of pleasure. Can I see all the friends I want to see this summer? Can I take all the different hiking trails? Can I go to all the concerts, all the picnics? Can I read all the books?
Oh, what awful questions these are! When the question is “all,” the answer is eternally “no.”
This week I made a calendar of the summer, trying to juggle logistics and squeeze all the seasonal things into the little squares. After an hour I was irritated because, of course, all the things did not fit. And I was tired just looking at the jam-packed squares. So I erased and erased, reluctantly, until there was some white space left, the kind of space where there is a day or an hour or even a single moment to take a breath, gaze at a flower, read a poem.
When Goethe said, “Every second is of infinite value,” he did not mean, “…so you should be so busy that you require 3 different calendar apps to keep track of your schedule.” When Franklin said, “Time is money,” he did not mean, “…so be sure to maximize your billable hours.”
There is never enough time, which curiously means, that there is always enough time.
Dear friends, may we invest in this day, knowing it is enough.
* This week’s reflections are dedicated to my grandmother Collins, who would have been 100 years old this weekend. She taught me about devotion and determination and gratitude, and left us with a dozen different recipes for Irish bread, just to keep us all guessing.