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Review of “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work” by Mason Currey

Review of “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work” by Mason Currey

Half instruction manual, half voyeuristic thrill: it’s not very often that I describe books this way, but I think this is a good description of my experience of Mason Currey’s “Daily Rituals.” I read about this book on the Tim Ferris blog, and decided I needed to read it, partly because the book seemed like it might deal with one of the big issues for me in life- how do you have time for creativity and hobbies when you’re earning a living. This seemed like less of an issue prior to having children, but now I really struggle trying to make time for everything I think would help add meaning for life. Little did I know that this book came from the author’s own exploration of the same issues in his own life! The author is a free lance writer, and this book came from his blog.

Studies show that everyone has 24 hours in a day. Ok, just kidding. No one needs a study to remind them that every great mind, from Leonardo Da Vinci to Stephen Hawking had exactly the same amount of time in a day as you and I do. But somehow, they managed to prioritize the things that mattered to them, and achieve great things. How did they do it? I often have my patients make routines- willpower is limited- to help them ensure they take care of important things and priorities in their lives. It turns out lots of famous writers and artists did the same thing.

The book is broken into small chapters, each dedicated to a specific artist. The first, about W. H. Auden, one of my favorite poets, follows the same pattern as all the chapters that follow it- when they woke, what they ate, when they worked, how they lived. I was a little sad to read about Auden’s amphetamine dependence, but a surprising number of artists from this book used amphetamines- I guess it was more common during a certain time.

I think the lessons of this book, namely that there are as many routines as there are artists, and that consistency is important- keep writing! Keep trying!- were ultimately pretty encouraging for me. The other part of the book I liked, which I alluded to already, was the ability to see how someone I admire from the past lived, how their relationships worked, and a recipe for how to create a life of art. I think this book would be great for any artist, or frustrated artist, for inspiration and reassurance.

If I have any squabbles, there are few- the author needed an editor. There were more grammar errors than I expected. At one point, I thought the book was self-published, and was surprised to see that it was not. However, this is a little squabble, and I’m sure most people won’t even notice. The small errors don’t detract from the book at all.

Overall, I really recommend this book!

A Review of Warby Parker: Spoiler, I love them!

A Review of Warby Parker: Spoiler, I love them!

Buying glasses is a pain sometimes. Besides the distraction of a million different pairs of glasses, which a good optometry technician can help narrow down, there are a bunch of choices to make: frames, lens materials, coating, etc. Warby Parker (who didn’t sponsor this post or reimburse me in anyway) can make this a little easier. I’ve recently discovered that my days of contact lenses are probably limited, and I’ve been liking all the hip spectacles I’ve been seeing around town. I decided to expand my eyeglass wardrobe, through both a conventional optician (via Groupon) and Warby Parker.

The process

First, I obtained a new prescription, including pupil distance, from my optometrist, and scanned it into my document manager, keeping the paper version to give to the place I bought glasses.

Process at a conventional optometrist: This took about an hour. I went to the optometrist after buying a Groupon for $75 for a $225 voucher for eyeglasses. The optometry technician tried narrowing down glasses for me, bringing many glasses for me to see. By seeing what I liked, she was able to narrow down my choices, as there were a TON of glasses I did not like (Napolean Dynamite, anyone?). However, I have no idea whether she was “upselling” me glasses by bringing me incredibly expensive glasses or not. What I do know is that the glasses I saw in the end were Oliver Peoples, Fendi, Prada, etc. I picked some glasses out that I liked- Oliver Peoples, in an unusual bold cat-eye style. She computed the price, subtracted the voucher, and voila- “$550.” What?! Add the charge for ordering the glasses, labor, multiple coatings, high density lenses, etc. Plus, to be fair, I ended up with a really nice brand of glasses. However, she seemed perplexed that I did not want all these upgrades, and upon hearing that I was a.) in a hurry to leave since I’d been there 45 minutes already and b.) leaving since I wasn’t spending $550 that day in glasses, some of the things that were necessary were suddenly expendable, and they were able to reduce the glasses to $300. It took a few weeks for the glasses to come in, which seemed like a long time. I had to return to the store, and no adjustments were made at that time, so I could have had them mailed to my house rather than drive out to the optometrist. They didn’t have Oliver Peoples cases by that time, so I ended up with a velvet Tom Ford case. However, I love the glasses, and they are perfect.

Process at Warby Parker: My experience may be slightly different, since we have a physical Warby Parker in our town. Choosing glasses from Warby Parker is pretty easy. I walked into the store in Bethesda, MD, which was pretty crowded with people of all ages and demographics but had nice displays of well-curated eye glasses in their own brand. There were relatively few frames to choose from in comparison to the optometrist, but I really liked the ones I saw. Because they were crowded, there was no one to help me or suggest frames, but I tried several pairs on, which rapidly helped me narrow down the shape I liked. I had also done a little research before going to the store, so I was familiar with many of the styles, though not all of them were available to try on in the store. I found one I liked, went to the counter, where someone was immediately able to help me. He ordered my glasses, the “Upton” in “Sea Smoke Turquoise” on a portable device (I emailed him my prescription), with slightly upgraded high density lenses to make them lighter because I am SO blind I require coke-bottle lenses. The spectacles were $95, including lenses, but the high density lenses were $40 extra, bringing my total to $135. I received the glasses in under a week via mail, in a high quality case (nicer quality than the case from the traditional optometrist), along with a cloth to keep the lenses clean. Also, because of their “buy a pair, give a pair” program, a pair of glasses was given to someone in need. Hurray!

Had I ordered from the website, I could have either chosen a pair directly off the website, or chosen from a selection, of which five would be delivered to my house to try on. I make a choice and return the glasses- they mail me the ones I chose with the correct prescription. Easy!

What I like about Warby Parker…

  1. Well curated, stylish glasses for a reasonable price
  2. No hidden costs -what you see is what you pay!
  3. A pair goes to someone in need!
  4. Convenient
  5. High quality glasses and accessories
  6. Quick, polite service

What I think they could do better…

  1. The quiz to help you determine what glasses might look good on you is a little generic. If you don’t know what kind of glasses look good on your face shape, choosing glasses by whether the spectacles are round, square, rectangular, or cat eye isn’t going to help you. If you’re ordering on line, you’re really relying on their quiz to help you figure out what to order!
  2. All glasses look nice on J. Crew models. Ok, I might be exaggerating here- maybe they’re Gap models. But if the glasses look good on them, I’m SURE they will look perfect on me. Not really. You can see what they look like on customers, I’m assuming, by pressing the “more photos” link at the bottom of the page, but not all glasses have extra photos to look at.
  3. More people to help at the stores? I think the business model is on-line, so I’m guessing the physical locations are more for publicity and concept, but I thought the employees might have suggested frames I wouldn’t ordinarily have tried on.

The Verdict: I love Warby Parker!

I would definitely shop at Warby Parker again- I’m considering a set of translucent rose-colored frames that I think would be perfect for summer. And maybe a set of prescription sunglasses! In fact, they make wearing my glasses much more fun, and I would recommend them to anyone!

Review of “Awakening Your Ikigai: How the Japanese Wake Up to Joy and Purpose Every Day” by Ken Mogi

 

Japan Land ofthe Rising SunReview of “Awakening Your Ikigai: How the Japanese Wake Up to Joy and Purpose Every Day” by Ken Mogi

I’ve been reading a lot about minimalism lately, even if I can’t force myself into owning less books and magazines. A seriously small closet has made me consider every piece of clothing I own, and the Marie Condo movement similarly inspired me. This led me to a book I reviewed earlier about lessons from elderly Japanese adults, available here.”Awakening your Ikigai” by Ken Mogi, which I found while browsing the shelves at my favorite bookstore, Politics and Prose in Washington, DC, seemed like a natural fit for my recent interest. The author is a neuroscientist, who the jacket notes has written many books, most of which do not appear to be available in translation.

My favorite parts of this book.

The book is beautifully designed, in hardback, at a reasonable price. It would be a fantastic gift for someone interested in self-improvement. There were sections I loved- about taiso, the unique form of Japanese exercise; about the concept of starry bowls, and of tradition. The idea of slow, satisfying progress. As an American, I was fascinated by the historical concept of outward luxury and ostentation being harmful for a cohesive society. Having luxury in the lining of clothing rather than outside is a really interesting concept. I think a lot of people are starting to be less interested in items that have giant brand name logos all over them, but the thought that this started hundreds of years ago for different reasons is intriguing to me.

Not my favorite parts.

I felt like sometimes it was unclear where the author was going in each chapter. Each chapter was a like individual jewels, but without any unifying idea to hold the chapter together. The concept for Ikigai is that there are five essential parts (pillars):

  1. Starting small,
  2. releasing yourself (accept who you are),
  3. harmony and sustainability;
  4. The joy of little things;
  5. being in the here and now.

I think it probably would have been natural to develop each pillar in a chapter, but instead, they were often mixed throughout chapters.

The verdict: read it or not?

I think the book is worth reading, with some patience for the idea that it is sometimes challenging to follow the author. There are concepts here that I haven’t seen in any other books, and I think the book could be a good springboard for studying Japanese culture in more depth.

How to Read More Books

How to Read More Books

I often have people ask me how I manage to read so many books with a full-time psychiatry job, writing, teaching, and a family with small children. Last year, I read over 80 books, a combination of nonfiction and fiction (mostly mysteries). The most likely answer is that I do less of other things- I watch only a little television on the weekends (O, “Game of Thrones,” why do you make me wait until 2019?), and reading is really a way of life for me. I learn new things from reading, keep myself cognitively sharp, and in the case of fiction, gain insight into the thoughts and feelings of others. Reading is a valuable use of my time, but also helps me slow down and relax.

In terms of book consumption, fiction is different than non-fiction.

I read fiction mostly on a Kindle or in the Kindle app on my iPad. I get a lot of books from the library, because it’s easiest. I think there are a fair number of people who don’t know that you can register for a library card at your local library, and use it to sign up for their e-library. You visit the virtual library, check out a book, which is delivered instantly to your Kindle. After two weeks is up, the book disappears. The benefits are clear- mostly instant access, free books, and very portable. One downside is that if you reserve several books with a waiting list, and they all “drop” at once, you have some fast reading to do. Or sacrifice the book you weren’t as interested in. The other issue has more to do with the length of time it takes to read certain books- I take longer to read non-fiction, so I never pick up non-fiction by the library via Kindle. Also, Umberto Eco is out for me- his books take me longer than two weeks to read! Books with pictures are not as good in Kindle but generally ok on iPad. I also don’t read poetry on a kindle- sometimes the formatting doesn’t translate very well.

If you’re going to read electronic books from the library, you’ll also need an Overdrive or Libby account (free) and a PDF reader. Though less common, there are some books only available by Overdrive and PDF. Libby is the new version of Overdrive if you’ve not seen it. I don’t think it’s a huge improvement, and I’d rather use my Kindle account if possible, since I share library books with other family members. There are other types of readers, too- Nook, Kobo, etc. You can also get a fair number of books through sites like Project Gutenberg.

I want my own non-fiction books, in paper.

I like to mark up non-fiction books, and take notes. I tend to buy these in paperback, unless it’s a monumentally sized book, in which case it may be easier to have in electronic format. I only buy cookbooks in paper format now- the electronic format was not as pleasurable to flip through.

I listen to audiobooks on the train and bus, and on the exercise bicycle in the morning.

I just started this- I used to be a podcast listener- but I get through about an extra book a week this way. You can also borrow these from the library!

I read in small pockets of time.

I always have a book with me, so I don’t miss little bits of time. I read during breakfast (I know- not very mindful), at lunch if I am not having lunch with a friend, and before bed. I read when my kids are reading, or if they’re watching cartoons- they regard reading as something that everyone does at this point.

I don’t have a formal speed reading regimen.

I’ve been reading every day since I learned to read. I’m at this point, a pretty fast reader. But I don’t have never taken a speed reading class- to me this seems like making the point of reading to consume more, but to me, reading is an activity to be savored. Life is already too fast as it is. Why speed up reading?

Calm app review: worth the money?

Calm app review: worth the money?

I have been a dedicated Headspace user, and in an effort to let some of the many subscriptions I have run out, I started using the Insight Timer app, which I still highly recommend [here]. However, Groupon had a discount on the Calm app, and I took the opportunity to try it out for a year at a much reduced cost. I was particularly interested in Calm since it was named App of the year by the App Store in 2017, and has such good reviews.

The good….

Like Headspace, Calm has many different series of meditation classes, each building on the last. There is a good selection, from beginning meditation with several levels of guidance, to anxiety, sleep, relationships, self-care, etc. There’s a body scan version of meditation, for fans of Andy on Headspace. There’s an “insight of the day” which I particularly like.

Like the Insight Timer app, there is relaxing music, with the purpose of helping you sleep, focus, or simply unwind with nature sounds. The music is a little repetitive, and many consist of short loops of music played over and over for 30 minutes or so. Still, some of it is nice to focus on other tasks with, since the music is so simple- it isn’t distracting.

The masterclasses are new for the app, which mostly seem like well-researched options. In particular, the “Rethinking Depression” masterclass has classes on exercise in depression, sunlight, nutrition, social connection, sleep, and negative thoughts, all of which have basis in the scientific literature. I haven’t listened to the entire group of sessions, so I can’t speak about every claim that the instructor makes, however. There’s also Masterclasses on rest, breaking bad habits, and social media/screen addiction. My only quibble is that there is officially no official “screen addiction” diagnosis, but I understand what the instructor is getting at.

The interface is easy to use, engaging, and as advertised, calming. I have had no crashes or bugs. It keeps track of how long you’ve been meditating daily, and can write to Apple Health. It also keeps track of streaks, to help motivate you into meditating more often!

The not-as-good…

Calm works best on a subscription and it’s not cheap. In fact, $59.99 per year seems like a lot to me, though you can get it for $12.99 per month and $299.99 lifetime. Groupon had a sale, and I think it was $39 for a year, which was worth trying for me. Another negative: I haven’t seen a ton of updates and new features since I bought the premium app, other than a few Masterclasses, which I discussed above.

Each meditation ends with some nice quote, which I love, and supposedly you can share it on Facebook or Twitter, but that has never actually shown up as a quote on my Facebook feed, which is a bummer.

Features that the Jury is still out on…

Calm is one of the only apps (maybe the only app) that has a bedtime story function. There are a variety of stories, mostly excerpts of classics. The narrators are of varying qualities and I found some quite monotone. There’s a kids’ bedtime story function, and some of those stories can be found in the regular adult bedtime stories. I tried a variety of the stories with my children who fight sleep as if it is the enemy, and though they LOVE to be read to, they were thoroughly unimpressed by the stories.

I discussed the music above- it can occasionally be repetitive but is overall nice. I particularly liked the nature sounds. However, the music on Insight Timer, which is free with some non-essential paid functions, is more interesting, and mostly not loop generated.

Will I renew next year?

I’m uncertain. I will probably wait to see if there are any great features I can’t live with out, and then consider either Stop, Breath and Think plus the Insight Timer for music, or just stick with the Insight Timer altogether.

There are a TON of new meditation apps since I last reviewed them- which ones do you like? Let me know in the comments below!

Choosing paper for your fancy new fountain pen

Choosing paper for your fancy new fountain pen

I’ve written before about fountain pens here. Once you’ve caught the fountain pen bug, it’s hard to go back to ordinary pens. The variety of ink colors, textures, and even scents; the ease of writing; the pleasure of the pens themselves- all of these things are why I’ve used fountain pens for more than a decade. However, using a fountain pen will be an optimal experience only if you use the right paper. A visit to a fountain pen store, or a website like Goulet Pens, my personal favorite, will reveal a somewhat bewildering range of choices.

What are you looking for in a paper? Let me help you decide.

There are a lot of factors involved in choosing the perfect paper. If you really catch the bug, you’ll probably end up with a lot of different kinds of paper! To start, though, I think it’s useful to consider a few questions:

  1. What are you using the paper for? If it’s a journal, you’ll probably want to consider a bound book of some sort. Are you taking notes for studying? You might be more flexible and a letter sized pad, spiral notebook or loose leaf paper might work better. Are you writing letters? Then you might want stationery.
  2. Are you left or right handed? Left-handed people CAN use fountain pens- I am left handed and almost never smear ink. However, there are things to think about if you’re left handed. Some notebooks are designed to be used from back to front, avoiding the spiral where your hand should go. Some papers are faster drying, and therefore might be better for left handed writers since they may smear less (though I write from below, and never really smear ink).
  3. What size paper do you want to work with? Many of the better quality papers use the European style numbering- A4, B5, etc.
  4. When you write, do you prefer blank, lined, graph or dotted paper? There’s even paper ruled to help you with handwriting (french ruled).

My recommendations.

My absolute favorites, in hardcover:

  1. The Rhodia Web notebook– a hardback that comes in several colors, with the smoothest, nicest paper ever. It has a paper pocket for small papers in the back, and an elastic band to keep it closed. Ink dries a little more slowly on this paper. Ink does not bleed through these pages! Comes in blank, lined and dotted varieties.
  2. The Leuchturm 1917: a hardback that comes in a ton of colors, and has an optional pen loop you can buy for a few dollars more (which could actually stick to any of these notebooks). It has nicely numbered pages, which many notebooks do not, and an index at the beginning. It closes with elastic as well. The paper dries faster, so is theoretically nicer for left handed people, but I am not as fond of the paper as I find some inks bleed through. Comes in blank, lined, dot grid, and graph. This is the journal of choice for the Bullet Journal.
  3. Shinola journals: Similar to the Rhodia, but with bookcloth covers instead, and a little harder to find. This is a brand from Detroit that has been re-vamped recently, and I am impressed.

Paperback journal favorites:

  1. Apica A4 journals:I actually think this is the best paper on the market. It is very smooth, no bleed through and a pleasure to write on. This is a bound paperback journal, and I like to write in these when I’m taking reading notes. It comes in a lot of other sizes, too.
  2. Shinola journals: these come in all different sizes and colors, but in paperback bookcloth instead of hardback, as above.
  3. Rhodia: Rhodia comes in every shape and size. You can get spiral bound, reverse bound, and stapled composition book sizes. I use the composition book sizes if I want something light to carry with me.
  4. Field notes: small, fits in your pocket, nice paper. Basic. I carry these around for random thoughts.
  5. Traveler’s notebook: a piece of leather that holds one or many small paper notebooks with a piece of elastic. There are planners, credit card holders, plane ticket holders, etc, as well as notebooks. I carry these when I’m, well, traveling. Cool in an Indiana-Jones kind of way.

Favorite letter writing paper:

  1. Rhodia A5 pads: smooth, plain, white paper. A very basic, inexpensive pad of paper that shows off ink nicely.
  2. Tomoe River: thin, dries VERY slowly, but shows ink with shimmer nicely.
  3. G. Lalo: beautiful, thick paper in several colors- perfect for a love letter or something weighty, like a condolence letter.

Another great way to try notebooks is with a variety pack. Companies like Goulet pens have reasonably priced variety packs that let you try several kinds of small notebooks to see what you like. I hope you explore writing by hand soon. Please let me know below if you have any favorites!

The Hybrid planner: What if digital and paper are both the answer?

The Hybrid planner: What if digital and paper are both the answer?

I am dedicated and steadfast in many areas of my life, except dark chocolate versus milk chocolate, tea versus coffee, and probably most costly, digital planning versus paper planning. I can see the value of both, and at certain times of my life, I really need one over the other. When I am managing multiple priorities, none of which I can really let go with good conscience(patient care, kids, spouse, etc), digital tends to work better for me, because I don’t have time to write and re-write things. However, it is clearly better for retention of material and prioritizing to use a paper planner -what better way to decide that something is important than to be willing to re-write it? Also, paper is a much more efficient way of gathering data- you can open your Field Notes notebook and jot something down much faster than you can unlock your phone, choose an appropriate app, and start typing.

For a long time, I switched back and forth between paper and digital. I think I’ve tried them all- Filofax, Franklin Covey, Circa from Levenger, various bound planners, the Midori Traveller’s Notebook…and in the digital world, I’ve used Outlook, iCal, Fantastical, Calendars 5, BusyCal, Informant, Sunrise, etc.

I’ve come to the conclusion that some form of written calendar AND digital calendar work best for me right now, at least until I find a good way to remind myself to look at my digital planner and task manager a few times a day.

My current method.

After using both Fantastical and Reedle’s Calendars 5, I have decided that I like Calendars 5 a little bit better on my iPhone and iPad. I already have Fantastical on my Mac, so I’ve been using that when I am using my laptop. Fantastical and Calendars 5 both have natural language event entry- “dinner with Sarah at 8 pm on Thursday” as opposed to tapping tiny drop down boxes to achieve the same thing. I haven’t noticed much difference between the two, and I like Calendars’ format better. Also, both have integration with my email app, Airmail, which is also important. I’m using a task manager -more about this in a different blog entry regularly. The paper part changes for me, and is less consequential since it is just a daily (or weekly, depending on my mood) reference while I’m at my desk working. I write down just that day’s (or week’s) events, and the big three things I need to do that day. I use it to write down incidental notes during my workday as well. Right now, I’m using a weekly Circa planner, but sometimes I use a daily planner sheet from Circa, or whatever strikes my fancy. I’m eyeing one of the on-sale Economist planners right now, partly to get my hands on the enhanced content (“How to write a CV,” anyone?). I’ve also used index cards to record this information- I even made my own version of a planner page on an index card, which are particularly nice to keep track of habits and expenditures.

There’s a hybrid for everyone!

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs, and listen to podcasts on my commute, and have heard of many different kinds of hybrid systems along the way. There are a few all-in-one systems. A few of these are Moleskine’s smart writing system and the Slice planner. I haven’t tried either of these, partly because I’m too cheap to pay $179 for just the Moleskine pen, and although I know some people love the circular timeline of the Slice planner, I just do not think that way. I would miss appointments all the time. I read reviews about these two systems, and they are somewhat mixed, but I’d be interested to hear what anyone with first-hand experience thinks.

There are also other kinds of smart pens, which generally require some kind of specific dotted paper, which our occupational therapists at work like for patients who have traumatic brain injury. I’m unsure if these are helpful or not since I haven’t seen anyone use them consistently. Other options could be a PDF planner in a program like Goodnote, with an Apple pencil on an iPad pro (or the new iPad that apparently uses the Apple Pencil).

Another configuration could be like Michael Hyatt uses: a digital calendar and task manager, with his own daily Free to Focus planner for daily essential information, which also helps with setting and achieving goals (see my previous Day One post). Something simpler, but also great is the “Medium method:” a digital planner and task manager, with a notebook that each day, has a post-it flagging the day with events and the top three important tasks on it. The page is used to write any notes or thoughts that need to be captured, and the post-it can move from a desk sized notebook, to a portable, Field Notes type journal if needed. Key to this method is sitting down at the end of the day, and transferring the notes that need to be in digital format: calendars, important notes (could go in Evernote, DayOne or One Note), and tasks.

Another option I can think of, if you’re at your computer all day would be a dedicated Trello board- each morning in a review of your task cards, you can add cards with times for appointments and meetings in a “Today” list. I’ve tried this out, and think it is great for when I am sitting at my desk, but not as favorable for when I am wandering the wards, visiting patients with residents much of the day. I think the Kanban method (post-it lists) via Trello works much better with more screen acreage than I get from an iPhone or even iPad.

How do you choose a method with so many choices?

I think the first thing to consider is how you personally have learned best in the past. Are you a kinesthetic, hands-on learner? You probably need some kind of written journal. What do you need in terms of portability? Are you at your desk all the time? You could probably use a desktop version of a digital planner or a large desk sized planner. I use public transportation, and for me, something light and portable is important. What do you want to record? Are you making a record of your days for posterity, with decoration? You might want paper, then. Do you use Mac at home, and a PC at work? Perhaps you will need to consider if your digital app comes in both a PC and a Mac version, or at least a web-based version. Do you need help sticking to your goals? Consider a method like Michael Hyatt, or one like mine, where the goal planning is done in DayOne, with an electronic component and a daily paper reminder system. Are you a little bit fickle like I am? A method like mine could be good, where the paper version can be whatever you want, since you’re not planning ahead at all on the paper, so there’s little commitment in terms of the paper version. Another nice option for the fickle planner geek could be the Traveler’s journal where you can swap out whatever planner, lined journal, blank book, etc, that you want, and it’s ultra portable. You could use a Filofax, and print out your own pages every week that suit that week’s fancy from Philofaxy for free.

I hope this has been a great introduction to the Hybrid planner. I would love to hear if anyone is doing something different that I haven’t heard of, in the comments below!