The Discipline Of Being Overwhelmed

Beside the road, the grass was parted into a path created by the feet of those who had walked there before me. I didn’t know the destination, but I had time, so I decided to follow the lead of those feet and find out where they were going.

It was a good decision. The path took me over a rise and around a corner, then sloped down gradually with a panoramic view of the ocean in front of me. On the right, the ground sloped down sharply towards a rocky cove where people were swimming. On the left, there was no ground. Only a sheer cliff, and the waves far below.

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The Deceptive Permanence Of Cities

Cities have long lives. Many of the buildings stand basically unchanged as multiple generations of humans pass through their doors. The streets bear the traffic of life down the same old paths, through days and nights and decades, like ever-flowing rivers. It all looks the same, feels the same, year after year. Even the construction is familiar, the same cranes popping up in different places, the same traffic cones and men at work signs slowing down different roads in turn. Yes, some things do change, but the newness wears off quickly as the changes blend into the familiarity around them.  

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The Mind Behind The Art

The mysterious Mona Lisa has been sitting on a secret (with a smile like hers it was obvious, wasn’t it?). But now, with the help of multispectral infrared reflectographic camera technology (whatever that means) researchers can see under her, and what they’ve discovered is that the famous lady actually began as a sketch—and here’s the thing—the original sketch was made somewhere else, because the lines were transferred to Lisa’s now priceless poplar panel by means of a technique known as spolvero. 

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We’ve Inherited More, But That Doesn’t Make Us Better

Humans don’t fly. Every human in the world knew this for most of history—but I’ve flown. I’ve flown many times, over long distances, at heights and speeds that boggle the mind. How did I do it? I have no idea. I know it had something to do with aerodynamics and jet propulsion and lift and thrust and stuff like that, but mostly I just stepped through the door and when I walked out I was on a different continent. In my pocket I carry a small computer, which I know does something with invisible waves and towers and space satellites and stuff like that, but mostly I just know I can talk to my friends and family through it. I turn the key in my car, and I know there are belts and gears and little petrol explosions that push pistons, but mostly I just sit down and push a little pedal with my foot and wish the other cars would get out of my way. In the kitchen I have hot running water and cold food, and I can make the cold food hot in minutes with some kind of micro-radiation cube.

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The Reason For Windows

It’s a good thing I like my house. As Ireland’s third coronavirus lockdown drags on with no end in sight, we’re all getting used to being in our own spaces. One of the reasons I like my house is the windows, especially the ones in the back that let the sun stretch all the way across the floor whenever it takes a fancy. From those same windows, I can watch the songbirds gather at our bird feeder, and I can see the flowers bloom in our little garden. All of these things remind me that the world is bigger than the box I live in.

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The Fisherman’s Advice

Evidently I don’t have a strong stomach, because the last time I went fishing at sea I got sick. I know fishing trips are famous for being exaggerated, but I’ll be honest with you: there was no storm. It was a normal day, with normal waves, and we didn’t even go far out to sea. Still, as the boat continually shifted, my insides rebelled against me in slow motion. It was getting harder and harder to focus on my fishing line or the conversation going on around me. I felt bad. All I wanted was for the floor to stop moving—was that so much to ask? Thankfully, I was with an experienced fisherman who gave me helpful advice: “Look at the shore,” he said, “it will give you a reference point, and help you be able to roll with the waves.” I could tell he knew what he was talking about, because he had no trouble at all moving confidently around the constantly rocking boat.

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Tidings Of Comfort

“I’m just not feeling as festive this year,” said my eleven-year-old son, this morning, Christmas Eve. 

“I know. It’s harder for everyone, I think.” What else could I say? It may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but in 2020, that’s not saying a lot.

Normally at Christmas, when we sing lines like “tidings of comfort and joy” we focus primarily on the “joy.” I do, anyway. I like to think of Christmas as a happy time, a time of celebration and rejoicing. In all my Christmases, I can’t remember ever thinking much at all about the other word: “comfort.” 

Until this year.

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Snapchats, Stories, Fleets, and Glories

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Snapchat is drowning in it. Twitter’s recent addition of “Fleets” to the top of their feed looks like what Instagram, Facebook, and Linkedin call “Stories,” and all of them work off the same principle that launched Snapchat to prominence: impermanence. It can be daunting to think that what goes up online never comes down, and the solution from every social app is now to offer a way to post temporarily. Now you can say what you like and dance how you please, knowing that after 24 hours the evidence will be gone and no one will be able to cancel you for it in twenty years. Usually the strings of temporary stories at the top of my news feeds are filled with simple pictures or short videos of everyday moments like stencilled coffees, beautiful sunsets, and random complaints. Sometimes they are encouraging thoughts or recommendations. Whatever they are, if you don’t look at them in their allotted time, you’ll miss them. 

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If You’re Easy To Please, You’ll Be Pleased More Often

“You’re easy to please” should be a compliment. That’s what I think, even though I know it isn’t used that way. I know the people saying it usually mean that you’re undiscerning, childish, and too quick to give approval where it isn’t warranted. What I want to know is: What are you supposed to be waiting for, before you let yourself be pleased?

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