The Roundup for April 7-13, 2018 Edition

Love, Locked by Christopher Parsons

In my ongoing efforts to better understand myself, I’ve been listening to some of the early episodes of Gary Dunn’s podcast, Bad With Money. These episodes tend to focus on the narratives around money that have guided how she lives her life, where she learned them from, and how to overcome them, and have entailed conversations between her and her parents, her boyfriend, and with a financial psychologist and her sister.

What she’s learned, and how information is presented, has often resonated with my own experiences growing up in a family that went from middle-class, of upper-lower class, and then has split along a series of different lines as I’ve grown older. A lot of the conversations focus on how what her parents did with money while she was growing up subtly informed how Gaby, herself, has approached money as a result. And it’s gotten me thinking about the money narratives that I learned from my dad (generally really bad) and my mom (not super-terrific).

Of course, listening to some podcasts isn’t going to correct the narratives that have built up in my own head over the past several decades (e.g. debt is normal to have and carry, retirement savings are almost impossible, you should enjoy the benefits of your work now instead of later) but they do help to make explicit some of the challenges I know I need to overcome. Some of the conversations she’s had with her guests have been more or less insightful but, in aggregate, they’re useful because she uses such natural language to approach financial questions and issues that pervade many people’s daily lives. This natural language matters because it makes very clear that the show isn’t about an expert from on high explaining reality but, instead, involves the self-discovery of Gaby (and through her some discovery of the precise questions I need to ask myself). Her narratives and my own are not the same but the questions, on their own, are sufficient to jumpstart internal introspection.

The interviews she conducts are also helpful because so few people talk about financial mindsets in public that it’s hard to hear, let alone understand, the money narratives that different people hold. Through that act of listening I can better identify and situate my own narratives and ascertain what is normal, abnormal, and what needs to be corrected or remain the same. Dunn’s podcast is definitely only an early starting point but, regardless, it’s super helpful for people who don’t want to invest money but, instead, want to invest in themselves and their personal development.


On the same track of ‘podcasts I’ve listened to’ over the course of the past week, Dear Sugars has had a really good (if hard) series of episodes on consent in sexual relationships. The women who are submitting the questions are incredibly brave for presenting their experiences, and the hosts of the show are incredibly kind and nuanced in their analyses of what has taken place in their own pasts and in the lives of their letter writers. I care deeply about ensuring that all relationships — sexual or not — are consensual and these podcasts have given me insights to the challenges facing women that I may never have fully appreciated before listening to this series of episodes.


Insightful Quotation

One of the defining things about the nature of ideas is just how fragile they are: when you’re not sure whether some-thing is going to work, the idea is vulnerable. Part of protecting the idea is to be careful about who you show it to; premature criticism can shut something down that perhaps deserves more of a chance.

Great Photography Shots

I was really impressed by the water-inspired smartphone photos posted to Mobiography.

Untitled‘ by Christine Mignon
Boundaries‘ by Laurence Bouchard
Hardy Falls – Mt Magazine – AR‘ by Becky Foster

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

The Roundup for March 31-April 6, 2018 Edition

Crossed by Christopher Parsons

Photographing something that captures the situation you’re in emotionally and in life, while reflecting something about wherever you are in space, can be a deeply revelatory experience. When I try to take such shots I’m often alone with just some music or podcast and a camera, and exploring areas that are sometimes brand new and other times are well tread shooting grounds. Sometimes I want to get a particular ‘feeling’ — one that, only afterwards, I tend to realize reflects where I was emotionally at the time — and other times I want to deliberately try to shoot for a certain kind of colour, shadow, or pattern. Quite often, it’s only after looking at photos taken during the session that I realize that a certain kind of emotion was really behind my shooting choices.

If I’m being honest, the experiential nature of photography really only hits me as I look through my photos, after taking them, after processing them, and after I set them to display through my TV (my ‘best of’ photos are my Apple TV’s screensaver). I need to see them, repeatedly, in order to appreciate what is in them. Sometimes it’s months before I really realize what was really going on in a given photo. Sometimes, even years later, I may know that particular shots are important to how I was at the time but still can’t quite describe why I know this to be the case. I can (at least somewhat) deconstruct the technical elements of the photos but can’t necessarily also identify the meaning of the photo I took.

At the same time, there are times when society asserts that I “should” want to hunt for photos, but I’m disinterested in doing so because I don’t want to try and capture the emotional or physical space I’m in, in the amber that is a photograph. Sometimes I want to ride out experiences; rather than hold onto them in perfect perpetuity, I want to leave them in the malleable space of human memory with the knowledge that how I remember the past will inevitably change over time as the temporal distance between my current existence and that memory grows and extends. Sometimes I want to experience to grow and contract, through and with me, instead of act as a defined anchor to a given time or place.

It’s that difference — between choosing to hold times in the amber of a photo versus storing it purely in the mind — that I’ve been mulling in my mind for the past little while. Some of the photos I have manage to capture times that are joyous, others melancholy, others full of light and joy, and yet others alienation and loneliness. And I tend to tightly hold onto the meaning of the photographs I’ve taken: I don’t go out of my way to explain my photography to anyone else, nor do I think it’s something that I need to do. Shutter therapy is just that: a kind of physical and intellectual therapy. But there are specific moments that I deliberately keep separate from my camera, and they’re often times wherein people are most likely to entrap time in amber, such as vacation or celebration. But I’ve found myself less and less excited to engage in such photography over the past several months.

I’m not entirely certain why: perhaps the weather has just been so miserable that it’s had an impact on my motivations to shoot. But equally possible it’s because something is changing in how I approach photography itself, at least right now: I don’t want as many amber memories, and instead want to enjoy the development and unfolding of certain memories, and feel more comfortable in the knowledge that the ‘final’ memories I’ll have will be even more subjective than those associated with photographs. Some will even vanish in their entirety. I don’t know why this is my current state of mind but, regardless, it’s an interesting intellectual moment that is prompting reflection on my photography, what drives it, and the relationship between amber memory and living memory.


Notable Quotation

“If you can change one thing about yourself then please be kinder and change how you end things because it matters way more than how you begin them.”

– Sartaj Anand

New Apps and Great App Updates from this Week

  • iOS 11.3 dropped last week and for the entire time I’ve been testing the Notes application pretty regularly to see if it’s stopped freezing, crashing, and otherwise not working properly. It seems to be working once more, which is a huge relief as huge portions of my life are locked up in the application. Not sure what was broken, or how it got fixed, but I’m pretty happy to discover that things are working once more!

Great Photography Shots

Many of the winning shots for the Smithsonian’s 15th Annual photo contest are just spectacular.

Making Incense
© Tran Tuan Viet. All rights reserved
Stairs
© Adam Żądło. All rights reserved.
Pinnacle of Existence
© Oreon Strusinski. All rights reserved.

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

The Roundup for March 24-30, 2018 Edition

From the Deep by Christopher Parsons

This has been a particularly grey week — the weather has been mostly overcast and slightly rainy — and it’s had all the hallmark effects on my mood and attitude as it did when I lived on the west coast of Canada. With hindsight, I can see that some of the depressive funks I fell into while doing my PhD were the result of the weather, combined with diet and work/life imbalance. And when I was on the west coast, I discovered that getting in some significant amount of walking each day was what it took to fight through those funks.

Cue this week, and the solution has been getting into an exercise room and just doing work I didn’t really want to do, but which I intellectually knew would improve my perspective on life as soon as I was done my circuit. Unsurprisingly, each day that I dragged myself to exercise helped to improve my next day. In the UK, this has been taken a step further, and persons who are experiencing seasonal affective disorder, anti-social behaviour, or other mental health challenges are being prescribed exercise, socialization, and related activities that are meant to naturally modify the chemistry of their bodies and brains. No pills or drugs required.

It strikes me that such prescriptions could have a range of positive outcomes. First and foremost, for those who ‘fill’ the scripts, they might derive relief from the symptoms affecting them. That’s a clear win. But, second, it would have the effect of pushing people who might avoid certain kinds of physical activity to be there, with others, and realize that the portrayals of ‘fit’ or ‘active’ people in the movies and television tend to be drastically out of step with reality. I know that in my own case, I had this idealized idea of what people looked like when they exercised, how hard they worked, and so forth. But by going and exercising I’ve improved upon my own sense of my body by, first, doing some exercise but, second, seeing that the persons who are exercising look an awful lot like me.

In other words, developing a pretty regular exercise routine has had the dual effect of improving my mental health by just pushing my body, as well as improving my sense of bodily self-worth by destigmatizing my (pretty normal) body. I imagine that were more and more people gently pushed to get into workout rooms, running groups, or other socialized exercise spaced they, too, would experience that similarly destigmatizing experience.


New Apps and Great App Updates from this Week

Great Photography Shots

Unsurprisingly, I was crazy impressed by several of the images which were submitted to, and won at, the 2018 Sony World Photography Awards.

‘An unexpected meeting’ © Justyna Zdunczyk, Poland, Winner, Open Wildlife and Winner, Poland National Award, 2018 Sony World Photography Awards. I was about to leave the Sequoia National Park when from the corner of my eye I saw a beautiful clearing bathed in A fog. Without thinking too much, I ran with the camera to take some pictures. When I reached the clearing, I heard the crack of broken twigs and I can’t say, that I was not afraid since Sequoia National Park is a home for black bears and people are warned about it at every step. When I turned around, fortunately, there was not any bear, instead, I saw a curious mule deer walking towards me who cheerfully chewed his supper. Soon after other deer joined him and we just stood there together for a while and watched each other. It was one of the most beautiful moments during my trip thru California, this autumn.
‘Early autumn’ © Veselin Atanasov, Winner, Open Landscape & Nature and Winner, Bulgaria National Award, 2018 Sony World Photography Awards. The autumn has begun to decorate with its colors the woods of the Balkans. National Park – Central Balkan, Bulgaria.
‘The man and the mysterious tower’ © Andreas Pohl, Germany, Winner, Open, Architecture (Open competition), 2018 Sony World Photography Awards. Vertical wind tunnel built in the years 1934 to 1936 for aeronautical studies in Berlin-Adlershof. The photo was taken on 9th January 2017 at 4:26 pm when the dusk already set in. I took the photo because I had it in mind for more than 2 years without a chance…cause there is not much snow in Berlin.
‘Hayder museum’ © Abdulla AL-Mushaifri, Winner, Qatar National Award, 2018 Sony World Photography Awards. Hayder Cultural Center, Baku Azerbaijan
‘Gas Station’ © Chul-Ui Song, Winner, South Korea National Award, 2018 Sony World Photography Awards.

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

The Roundup for March 10-23, 2018 Edition

Granada Cathedral by Christopher Parsons

For many years I’ve kept paper records of the things I’ve done in a given week. The rationale for keeping track is that I can be very busy, get a lot of real work done, but quickly forget about it because I routinely task shift between major projects. The result of this shifting is that I often produce thousands of words a week and forget about them once published. Keeping records has helped to ameliorate this forgetfulness problem.

In more recent years, rather than letting my week get filled up with ‘what I’ve done’ I’ve developed lists to try and keep me focused on the most important things. That has worked reasonably well, save that a lot of ‘extras’ get added to my week and then I’d typically just list them down with all of the planned tasks. So it looked like I was getting a lot done but, when I reviewed those lists a few weeks or months later, I couldn’t determine which were intentional versus unintentional tasks. During this period I also started to have a master list of my professional and personal objectives for a given week, and crossed them off as I finished them up. Tasks that didn’t get done tended to be moved to the subsequent week and, at the end of a work week, I’d have a short narrative explanation for what I did, why I did it, and how I felt about my professional and personal life during that period of time. That narrative component was important because it forced me to reflect at the end of the week on how the week had gone: pure lists didn’t compel that kind of introspection and, as such, weren’t as helpful for facilitating my personal development.

This year, things are (again) slightly different. I’ve separated out personal and professional tasks, for one: I continue to maintain a professional notebook but instead of also including a long list of my personal goals for the week, only highlight the top two or three personal items. I also have a section in my professional notebook for ‘extras’, or things which other people place on my schedule and which I accomplish in a given week. This helps me to segregate out how much of my work — and work accomplishments — are ‘mine’ versus belonging to others.

I also now have a pair of ‘personal’ notebooks; one is very tiny and travels everywhere with me. In addition to goal tracking I use it to record highlights from some books I’m reading, record useful quotations, or otherwise collect mental items that I want to retain longer-term. At the end of each week I move the items on the task list into my long-term personal notebook; other items (e.g. quotations, book notes, etc) are moved over when appropriate, such as when I’m done with reading a book for personal development and have concluded taking notes from it. On the Sunday or Monday of each week (i.e. very end of one week or very beginning of the next) I undertake a narrative reflection on how my personal life unfolded.

I’ve found that this system has been helpful for advancing my projects. It means that my work projects are always moving ahead a little each week, or that a single project enjoys a significant advancement if I almost entirely concentrate on it. Because I have a deliberate system planned out I can always find something else ‘productive’ to do if I’m stuck on a task or complete the element of a project I’d assigned myself in a given week. Having a deliberate series of tasks to complete also helps me to say ‘no’ to requests: if it’s important, and will take some time, then it gets moved to next week’s ‘todo’ instead of being taken up right away.1 In tandem with maintaining a deliberate task list I’ve taken to recording monthly highlights: I go through and identify the major victories over a given month (e.g. writing, speaking, planning, etc); this is useful to capture what I’ve been up to in a given month as well as to potentially advocate for pay cheque increases when my contract is renewed.

On the personal side, the system I’ve adopted of establishing weekly goals means I’m genuinely working on my more measurable yearly goals. It also means that I can always identify something ‘productive’ that I can spend time on, rather than just burning away a lot of time playing video games or watching Netflix. That’s not to say that all of my personal time is spent working! Projects I assign myself can range from reading fiction a few times in a given week, working through a backlog of high-quality magazine articles, exercising, or just organizing/cleaning my home. The point is to spend my personal time more deliberately, not to cut myself off from things that bring me joy and pleasure.

So far this system has served me well and keeps me relatively well grounded in my personal and professional life. It’s not as complicated or ornate as some of the task management systems that other people use. It doesn’t entail scheduling each and every second of my day, because I know that such organization systems just won’t work for me. It also means that there remains a lot of ‘gap’ time that’s filled with miscellaneous activities and opportunities, meaning that my life is relatively self-scheduled without being over-scheduled.

What system have you found works best, for you, to advance your professional and personal goals, projects, and objectives?


Quotation of the Week

“I strongly believe that the amount of love and care you put into a project is always apparent. Even if people are not conscious of it, they can sense when you have paid attention to every little detail.”

– Jocelyn K. Glei

Great Photography Shots

I really love these shots that Yuichi Yokota took of Tokyo during snowfalls.

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

Footnotes

  1. I’ve been finding that if you promise you can do something, but only one week later, a lot of the miscellaneous tasks that are really about people just wanting fast work done go away, thus freeing up my schedule. Your mileage may vary.
Image

Volcan Concepción

1/6 Finished by Christopher Parson

We went on the sole most challenging hike of our lives yesterday, summitting Volcán Concepción and coming down again safely. It wasn’t the longest hike we’ve gone on but it was terrifying; at one point I was sure I was about to fall a kilometre to my death, and at another point truly had my nerves act up to the point of near paralysis (not a great thing when 1550 meters up and off-path on a rock face!). I really don’t think I’d do it again, knowing how hard it is, but I’m immensely delighted to have gone up and down without serious incident, entirely because of the epically amazing guide we had to show us the way, provide assistance, and keep us safe.

The Roundup for March 3 – 9, 2018 Edition

Bang!
Bang! by Christopher Parsons

I’ve been on a speaking circuit this week, and so living a quasi-nomadic life. It’s a very strange experience to be shuttled between locations and across vast distances, all with only a modicum of awareness of all the places I’m scheduled to attend, persons I’ll be meeting, and expectations I will have to meet. I don’t mean to say that I don’t know why I’m travelling, or what I’ll be speaking about, but that the aspects of travel itself are often almost entire dealt with by other parties. There is no effort to determine where I need to go: someone will take me to the designated address. I don’t need to find a place to eat: I’ll be taken to where I need to eat. I don’t need to figure out where to sleep: someone else will determine that.

I contrast it with trips I take for personal relaxation and it’s a totally different experience. Tomorrow, as an example, I’ll be landing in a new place where I don’t speak the language and have no read guidance once I’m there. There are a few tent pole events — nature hikes! — but otherwise time will be entirely unoccupied with designated tasks or todos other than exploring. I actually find this kind of travel deeply uncomfortable because it feels so uncontrolled, but every time I learn a great deal more about the world, and how I should readjust my perceptions of that world.

While shuttling between places for conferences and events is intellectually stimulating it doesn’t tend to push me into uncomfortable spaces that facilitate growth. The exact opposite is true of personal travel. I half wonder, though: if I didn’t travel so often for work where things are scheduled and I’m attended to, would I prefer personal travel that had those characteristics? Would visiting resorts have some resonance if I wasn’t functionally visiting them for work on a semi-regular basis?


Great Photography Shots

I really like these simple compositions which were made with smartphones.

Pier‘ by Nikhil Kulkarni
Bird on a cold tin roof!‘ by Jaz Oldham

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

The Roundup for February 17-23, 2018 Edition

Midnight sunrise by Christopher Parsons

I find it really hard to identify the stories in my photographs, prior to actually pushing the shutter button. When I look through, say, my best photos of 2017 I can see which ones have stories embedded within them but it’s a pretty rare thing that I saw, and decided upon, the story before taking the shot. In part, I think that my challenges are linked to only taking my photography more seriously for a relatively short period of time.

But some of the difficulties I’m encountering are also linked with my still learning to take ‘technically’ good photos, after which I think I’ll be more comfortable with more ‘narrative’ style shots. And I want to get better at the latter because I take Martino Pietropoli‘s statement pretty seriously: “Good photos tell stories. Average photos are just beautiful.”

Pietropoli’s article is excellent, insofar as he spends the time to walk through not just the importance of building a story into a photograph but because he also shows examples. In choosing examples he doesn’t merely say ‘here are narrative photos’ but, instead, he spends the time to spell out some of the narratives which might be bundled up in the shots in question. For me, his article was a particularly clear and poignant way of thinking through what stories might be in any given shot, and also as a way to differentiate between what he identifies as narrative versus ‘merely’ beautiful shots.

If I have one critique of the article — and I think it’s pretty minor — it’s that there’s an assumption that someone understands how to take photographs competently, and using this basic competence they can take shots with story. Put another way: I think that a lot of the efforts to create popular stylistic shots are very helpful in teaching people how to use their cameras and lenses, and to think through the importance of framing. Does that mean the people may end up with a series of ‘generic’ skills that many other photographers can roughly approximate or precisely imitate? Absolutely. But just as it’s important to learn how to write the five paragraph essay before breaking into longer-form writing that breaks all the rules of that high school essay format, learning the high-school format in the first place is an important skill that leads to more advanced writing.

I think that spending time looking at Instagram or Flickr or other places which hold ‘beautiful’ images is entirely appropriate for those who are learning to take photographs, and take them seriously. But I also tend to agree with Pietropoli that a photographer must eventually come to a decision: will their photographic style focus principally on technically beautiful shots or, instead, try to engage with the world by evoking emotions and reactions linked to the stories contained in their photos.


New Apps and Great App Updates from this Week

  • Cypher – a puzzle game about the history of cryptography

Great Photography Shots

I was really impressed with a range of the shots which won in the 2017 International Photographer of the Year contest.

Wave Crashers’ by Emily Kaszton. First Place, Nature: Aerial (Professional).
‘Neon Desert’ by Stefano Gardel. International Fine Art Photographer of the Year
‘Battersea’ by Giulio Zanni. Second place, Open Category: Long Exposure (Amateur)
‘Untitled’ by Pedro Diaz Molins. Second place, Fine Art: Photomanipulation (Amateur)
‘Lighting Clothes’ by Ramon Vaquero. Third place, People:Fashion/Beauty (Professional)
‘Desert Essential’ by Giovanni Canclini. First place, Open Category: Open Theme (Amateur)

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week