On My Mind [April 2020]

An Assortment of Borrowed Ideas.

Fran Lebowitz and Andy Warhol

Last month, I sent out a collection of things I was thinking about in lieu of my usual mini essay. At the time I was too frazzled from an intense spell of travel/life to offer much insightful thinking of my own. This month, I’m mentally frazzled on a whole new level - aren’t we all? - and wary of dispatching week after week of Coronavirus-framed musings (while also finding it challenging to wrap my head around much else).

Turns out, writing is still really hard even when you have ‘so much more time’ to do it. Rather than inflict any muddy thinking on you all, I’m sharing another On My Mind: A selection of things I’ve been reading, watching, listening to, or just musing on in the very surreal past few weeks. Maybe this will become a monthly thing, or maybe it’s just a pandemic thing. Either way, I hope you find something here that brings you levity, food for thought, or even just momentary distraction.

Stay safe,


On My Mind - April 2020

George Orwell - Why I Write

Did you know that ‘essay’ comes from the French word ‘essai’, meaning ‘to try’? Here’s one of the best to ever do it, on why he did.

What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.

Naomi Klein On The Longform Podcast

Related: The incredibly inspiring Naomi Klein speaks on corporate America, climate change, and, of course, Coronavirus.

I have no idea whether we will do this. All I know is there is a slim chance, a very slim chance, that we could make things a lot better than if we do nothing and just let it burn. The stakes of that are so high that I’m not going to spend my time trying to figure out whether our chances are good or not. I’m just gonna try to enlarge those chances.

The Vedic View of Change, via my meditation teacher’s newsletter.

In the Vedic world view, change is not a binary phenomenon. We don't simply have good and bad, positive and negative, black and white. Instead, we recognise change as a process with three aspects playing out at all times. 

Destruction of irrelevancy.

At all times something is being originated.
At all times something is being supported.
At all times something is being dismantled. 

These three components form the basis of any creation cycle. Creation and innovation are followed by some maintenance of a status quo. Then a time comes when the status quo has served its purpose and a new phase of creation is due. For that phase transition to happen, a process of dismantling occurs. That which is no longer worthy of moving into the next creation cycle is removed. Destruction of what has lost its relevance, is a necessary part of any cycle of progressive change.

The destruction operator is part of evolution, present in any living system which is evolving well and fast. It removes anything which has become irrelevant to the next phase. It wasn't always irrelevant, but it has become so. The stepping-stone that supported you to the next stepping-stone got you to where you ended up. We don’t condemn the previous stepping-stone for the vital role it played at a previous stage of our journey. In this way, the destruction operator plays an honorable role in the process of progressive change.

Right now, change is being forced upon humanity — a massive phase transition is underway. Nature is eliminating approaches that don’t work. There are aspects of life that have lost their relevance. The idea that things will “go back to normal" at some point is a mis-read of what’s actually going on. There’s no going back. If we resist this process (individually or collectively) we will only delay the inevitable. Either we move willingly and gracefully, or we oppose and slow down our development.

Fran Lebowitz is Never Leaving New York via The New Yorker

The best quarantine Q&A I’ve read so far.

One thing that’s been going around is this idea that Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” while he was under quarantine for the bubonic plague, as a way of inspiring people to use their time productively. Have you felt any of that pressure?

Other people have tried to put that pressure on me. For instance, I’ve already read and heard this thing about Shakespeare fifty times. I’ve heard it from writers, and I’ve had to point out to them, “You are not Shakespeare.” I am very lazy, and you might think it is very good for lazy people. But it’s enforced, and, if there’s one thing I have always hated, it’s being told what to do.

Fran Lebowitz, A Humorist At Work via Paris Review

Pairs well with…

I used to love to write. As a child I used to write all the time. I loved to write up until the second I got my first professional writing job. It turns out it’s not that I hate to write. I hate, simply, to work. I just hate to work, period. I am profoundly slothful. Practically inert. I have no energy. I never have. I just have no desire to be productive. Now that I realize I don’t hate to write, that I just hate to work, it makes writing easier.


A Few Prompts

- What was an unexpected source of joy or pleasure in the past month?

- What new one thing, big or small, have you learnt about yourself since quarantine began?

- Instead of focusing on all that has been subtracted from your life, ask yourself: What elements will be worth adding back in?