#010 — Each Hand Releases its Own Loop

Hi, hello, how are you? It’s me Adam Wood, writing to you from a corner of Oxford where it’s still too hot for any reasonable person to be comfortable. But hey, the wildflower patch is very much doing its thing, so that’s a positive. This is Tendrils, a newsletter you opted into receiving! You probably had your reasons, and you’re perfectly welcome to unsubscribe at any time, but until then, here are some things I wanted to share with you. This week: a couple of personal notes, and a handful of links.

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That article on Stoic kindness by Maria Popova, which I linked to last week, has stuck with me. In particular, this quote from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations:

Suppose someone standing by a clear, sweet spring were to curse it: it just keeps right on bringing drinkable water bubbling up to the surface.

Popova’s focus here (and Aurelius’s) is on the necessity for kindness, even in the face of adversity. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become increasingly convinced that kindness is indeed the most valuable characteristic one can foster, both in oneself and in others. But, the piece also speaks directly to something broader that I’ve considered a development goal for myself for many years: equanimity.

One of the first concepts from Buddhist thought that I remember encountering was fudōshin, the idea that to approach some things as ‘positive’ and others as ‘negative’, is in-and-of-itself an unskilful practice. By thinking of things in this manner, we are going some way towards pre-determining our response to them. We think hanging out the laundry is boring, and thus prime ourselves to approach the task with the expectation that we will be bored doing it; we would rather be doing something else.

I fail at this all the time. All too easily, I find myself separating my day into ‘things I want to do’ and ‘things I don’t want to do’. Listen to that new record; make a cup of coffee; watch a movie — these are things I naturally approach with a positive mindset. Doing the dishes; cardio workouts; even small things like shaving — I routinely catch myself approaching these tasks with a negative mindset. My unexamined predisposition in these moments is to consider these things ‘obligations’, and thus ‘things I don’t enjoy doing’. That reflexive response, however, sets me up for a negative experience each time.

Equanimity, as I think of it, is the quality of approaching all things with a neutral, open mind. Rather than letting any predisposition colour the experience (one way or the other), being present with whatever activity one is currently engaged in. There is another relevant concept from Buddhism here: shoshin, ‘the beginner’s mind’. This is the idea that it is skilful to approach all tasks with the open mind of a beginner, attentive to nuances and possibilities, rather than the comparatively closed mind of an expert, for whom many things are pre-decided. I might think that, since I have hung out the laundry hundreds of times, I know all there is to know about hanging out laundry. And one thing I know for certain, is that doing so is boring. To approach any task in this frame of mind is to pre-determine that you’re definitely going to have a bad time. There is value in approaching all things, as though you are eager to learn.

I recently made a devil’s bargain with a friend of mine. Whilst I’ve seen both The Godfather (1972) & The Godfather Part II (1974) many times — and love both — I have, on principle, never seen The Godfather Part III (1990). At some point in the dim and distant past, I made a conscious decision to avoid the third film, having heard only negative things about it, and not wanting it to mar my enjoyment of the first two. I’m not entirely sure how this decision came about; it’s not a principle that I follow with anything else really. I’ve seen the Star Wars prequels more times than I care to count, entirely unrestrained by the idea that they could possibly have any impact on how I feel about the original trilogy. The fact that the Jurassic World films have been poor, hasn’t changed my feelings about Jurassic Park (1993) one iota.

Perhaps similarly — I can’t claim to speak for his reasons — this friend has seen the second and third movies in the Matrix franchise only once each, and, despising them, swore to pretend thereafter that they did not exist. I realise that the extent to which I like those Matrix sequels (they’re both ★★★★☆ movies for me), makes me the outlier: they’re generally not well regarded, with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 73 & 35 respectively. (An aside: to me, …Reloaded & …Revolutions (both 2003) are virtually indistinguishable halves of a single film. Something about the fact that the average scores dip so drastically from the first sequel, to the second, reads to me (perhaps uncharitably) like reviewers intentionally marking the third film down in a climate where audience reactions to the second had been largely negative.) When the fourth Matrix movie arrived last year, I loved it, but was unable to persuade my friend of its merits sufficiently that he would revisit the prior films so as best to enjoy …Resurrections (2021).

That is, until he proposed the aforementioned deal: I make my way through the Godfather trilogy, including the never-before-seen Part III; he’ll watch all four Matrix movies. (If you’re wondering about the time commitment here, there’s nothing in it: he’s in for 551 minutes, I’m looking at 547.) I asked, but was denied, the option to watch Coppola’s re-worked (seemingly, significantly better reviewed) version of Part III (aka The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone (2020)). On reflection, I suppose that’s the right way to go: I should see these things as they originally fit together. I’m intrigued by what I might find, though I’m pretty confident my friend is going to have more fun.

• • •

And lo, the time did arrive for bullets, and thus so too the bullets did arrive:

• Following last week’s Chicago-centric personal essay, here’s a strict, indispensable guide on how to make a Chicago-style hotdog (which I have not, but aim to at some point);

• The folks behind the excellent podcast Song Exploder, are doing a mini-series: Book Exploder, hosted by Susan Orlean, w/ guests incl. Min Jin Lee & George Saunders;

• I myself also published another podcast episode1, this time talking about Björk’s 1995 album Post — it reminded me of one of my favourite interview videos, which ends with an excellent piece of advice;

• If you have any questions about shoelaces, I bet you’ll find the answers on Ian’s Shoelace Site, home of the Ian Knot — the fastest way to tie your shoes. (I was linked here by an ardent walker who swears re-lacing his boots made all the difference in the world.)

• Unsurprisingly, Vijay Iyer has good taste in music;

• My own music pick for the week can be nothing other than the astounding new album from Metric: Formentera

That’s it from me this time around. Enjoy the men’s Wimbledon final if that’s your thing, or the Women’s EUROs if you’re following those. Heck, enjoy the sun if you’re one of those people — all are welcome here. I’ll see you back in your inbox soon. Have a good week!


— Adam

  1. Update: the podcast is on hiatus and has been archived  ↩︎