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Notes on Quotes
36 minutes | Jun 14, 2020
#19 Tech Writer Joanne McNeil, Author of Lurking
Joanne McNeil is a tech writer and the author of Lurking: How a Person Became a User. She was the inaugural winner of the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation's Arts Writing Award for an emerging writer. Jason Kehe of Wired wrote that McNeil “manages a sensitive sharpness to which more tech critics should aspire.” This print interview has been edited and condensed. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other platforms. This episode is part of Notes on Quotes, an interview series in which Stephen Harrison chats with interesting people about a quote that’s meaningful to them.
28 minutes | May 17, 2020
#18 Solo Traveler & Digital Nomad Larissa Bodniowycz
Welcome to Notes on Quotes, an interview series in which Stephen Harrison chats with interesting people about a quote that’s meaningful to them. Larissa Bodniowycz is a solo traveler and digital nomad who authors the blog Sort of Legal. She works remotely as an attorney for her clients as she travels the United States and internationally. Larissa describes herself as “the queen of half-eaten granola bars who loves to hike, trail run, and travel solo.” This print interview has been edited and condensed. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other platforms. Stephen Harrison: So what quote are we chatting about today? Larissa Bodniowycz: It is a Lemony Snicket quote, which is the pen name for Daniel Handler. The quote is, “At times, the world may seem an unfriendly and sinister place. But believe that there is much more good in it than bad. All you have to do is look hard enough, and what may seem to be a series of unfortunate events may in fact be the first steps of a journey.” I’m interviewing you during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re sheltering in place, and there is a lot of fear about how we’re going to flatten the curve. Does this quote help frame how you think about this situation? Yes, it absolutely does. I think of other experience I’ve been through in my life, like how I graduated law school in 2009, when the economy crashed. People were getting job offers pulled left and right. I did not have a job. It was very uncertain. And this period—although it’s a very different scenario—it brings me back to that. In retrospect, what happened then influenced what happened later, and it was a huge growing period. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t suck at the time. My view is that you can have an unfortunate event, but good things can come from that or after that. Even though, given the chance, I wouldn’t choose to graduate in a down economy, and I, of course, wouldn’t choose for this pandemic to happen. You describe yourself as a digital nomad, a remote attorney, and a solo traveler. Can you tell us a little about that life? I identify as a remote attorney. Initially the remote work was part-time, and for the past six years it has been full-time. As a remote attorney, I’m on my computer a lot. I do contract work for other attorneys where I help them with complex cases. I work with small businesses on their legal issues. Then when I’m not working, everything I do is sort of the exact opposite! I’m on trails and go hiking. Over the past three to four years, I’ve written about my travels and take photos on my blog and Instagram. This is my recreation/side hustle. At the moment, I’m traveling full-time. So, I’m doing this from a lot of different places. You mentioned the Great Recession. Was that “a series of unfortunate events” that had a big effect on your life? Ooh, such a good question. Graduating law school in a down economy was this career/life crisis all at the same time. In retrospect—and I’m a little over ten years out—that was an unfortunate event. I wouldn’t choose it. This older attorney one time she said to me, “Oh, I wish that I graduated when you did because it teaches you to be resilient and to hustle.” The experience helped me learn those things, but I still wouldn’t wish for it to happen to me. It did help me develop those qualities, and it ultimately resulted in me becoming a digital nomad, and running my own small law firm. It helped me find my place, and to realize that travel is a huge part of my life. What that looks like could change. Hopefully it won’t always be solo travel. Maybe it’s travel with family, but even then, I think I would do my own solo travel. Optimistically, I hope that this current series of unfortunate events [the pandemic], could in fact be the start of a different journey that I don’t know about yet. The language of the quote says “Sometimes the world seems like a dark and sinister place.” Are you ever scared when you’re traveling solo? Yes, absolutely. Sometimes I’m a scaredy-cat. Right now, I’m staying at a cute, Craftsman style Airbnb in a nice area of Colorado Springs. But there have been a few nights where I still wake up in the middle of the night nervous. I did vanlifing for a few months in my CRV. That put me in the middle, literally, of the woods in the national forests, and you don’t know what’s around, and I’ve never been in that much darkness overnight. We don’t realize, always, how much of an impact even smaller city lights can have. Sure, I get scared in those situations. And I think some of that leads to growth. It’s exposure therapy. I go through that period of fear, and the next day, I’m a little less nervous, and then I’m a little less nervous. Another realization I had was that rather than going to a paid campsite in a national forest, it can feel better to just find a spot that’s not a paid campsite. You might think it’s creepier, at first, but in some ways, it’s less likely that something is going to happen. Very few people are going to accidentally wander upon you in that random location. What’s the scariest place you’ve been to while traveling solo? There’s a difference between objectively scary and subjectively scary. In June of last year, I came back to my car after hiking for the day outside of Seattle, and my car window had been smashed in. I had been sleeping in my car for quite a few days before that. That situation wasn’t objectively scary, but I would say that period was subjectively the scariest because it rattles you. It feels like someone has broken into your home. You almost start literally shaking, because it’s unexpected, and feels invasive. As a solo traveler, do you have any tips on being comfortable spending time alone. A lot of us are getting more alone time during shelter-in-place. I travel way more alone than I do with people. While traveling alone, I’ve hit lonely periods—that just happens. Usually I try to reframe my mind and think This is a learning experience. I’m growing here, even if I don’t believe it at the time. Before the pandemic, I could find an event to go to, like a running group. I could go sit at a bar on a Monday and order dinner and not even a drink. Nowadays, it’s been a trial and error process of interacting with people virtually, mostly over Zoom, though that can be exhausting if overdone. I find myself doing a lot of work over the computer throughout the day. But for me, there is something about not being on screen, and having tasks that don’t take so much brain power, that help me to feel less tired and more upbeat. Is this desire to travel something you’ve always had? I was not really a traveler before law school, or for two to three years after. I flew maybe once a year on average, which meant there were some years when I didn’t fly at all. A friend from Austin invited me on a trip to Colorado. And I was reluctant, because I still didn’t travel much at the time, but for once I just impulsively said “yes” and felt great about it. That’s when I saw the Colorado mountains for the first time, and the Colorado mountains are just jaw-dropping. I can’t think of a better phrase to describe that. But it was really the first time experiencing that. And I thought, wow, I was really happy and really felt like my best self when I was doing that. I was more open talking to people, and I was more direct. The more trips on I go on, the more confident I am to do more trips, and I realize more. I travel full-time actually, and I have no home base. I go to new places, and it excites me, and it makes me feel like my best self. Is it scary not having a home base? I moved every few years growing up, and I think that helped. For me, I would say probably the first two weeks of not having a home base are the hardest. Even the first few days are exponentially harder than the subsequent twelve days. What helps me in the moment is trusting the decision I made, which was that I felt like I had a big adventure in me. For whatever ups and downs this period of my life has had, it has certainly been an adventure. I’ve lived in my car. I’m now in Colorado Springs by myself during this stay-at-home order and international pandemic. The quote again is, “At times, the world may seem an unfriendly and sinister place, but I believe that there is much more good in it than bad. All you have to do is look hard enough, and what might seem to be a series of unfortunate events may in fact be the first steps of a journey.” Do you agree that there is more good in the world than bad? I do. I get cranky, like everyone else. Like I don’t always feel the goodness. But other days, I feel the good deeply. I will have all of these small interactions with people who are on the trail, and at those times, it’s easy to feel good in the world. I’ve traveled to some more impoverished places, and I did a house-build in Mexico—I don’t want to glorify those situations at all because I think it would be much better for those people to be out of poverty or to live in other circumstances. But I think what you see is that people are very different, but people are ultimately people. There is a lot of good, and a lot of people trying to be there for each other. Further reading The Notes on Quotes Series Mr. Money Mustache Shares a Quote Anxiety Expert Kathleen Smith (Author of Everything Isn’t Terrible) Get the Notes in your inbox
28 minutes | May 4, 2020
#17 Prosecutor and Candidate Rich Finneran
Rich Finneran is a former federal prosecutor based in St. Louis who is running for Attorney General in Missouri. During his time as a federal prosecutor, Finneran handled two of the largest financial fraud cases ever prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Missouri. He was also a constitutional and appellate law instructor at Washington University School of Law. So what quote are we chatting about today? I've selected a quote from the Bible. Ecclesiastes, chapter 9, verse 11, “I returned and saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill, but time and chance happen to them all.” The is the first quote from scripture that we’ve had on the series. Out of all the verses in the Bible, why did you pick this one? I’ll tell you, it’s a hard thing to come up with one quote to select! But ultimately, I picked this one because it captures something about my view of the world, as well my thinking on personal and political issues. The way you see understand your circumstances and other people’s circumstances is inevitably going to have an effect on what sort of policies you think you should have in place in government. I appreciate this quote for what it says about how often there are things that may happen to us that are not our fault, or not things that we have direct control over. We’re painfully aware of that right now with the coronavirus—there’s a lot that we are dealing with that is outside our control. That undergirds why I believe in having policies that help to protect vulnerable people, that help to open up the doors of opportunity to people who may come from underprivileged backgrounds. That’s why I believe it’s important that we adopt criminal justice measures that don’t just punish and incarcerate people, but also work to adapt our systems in order to prevent crime from happening in the future. All of this probably comes from my belief that, while we do our best in the world to be the best people that we can, often there are things that will happen either around us or to us that are outside our control. We should have a society that tries to nonetheless make the world as fair and just for people as it can. I’m thinking of the last line: “time and chance happen to us all.” Are your views on fate informed by this quote? That’s what really draws me to this quote: the idea that we can all strive to live our best lives and be the best at whatever our passions might be, but at the end of the day, not everything is in our control. And that’s true no matter how much we might wish it to be the case. That has a lot of personal meaning for me. I’ve been a very hard-working person in my life, and I’ve strived to achieve a lot of things, but I’ve also been plagued by personal setbacks. When I was a 16-year-old teenager, I lost my mother to breast cancer. And when I was a 21-year-old in law school, I lost my father to kidney cancer. I’m sorry to hear about your parents. That must have been hard in high school, especially. I have a vivid recollection of the day after my mother had passed away. I was sitting with my father and sister in our dining room. I’m a 16-year-old boy, and my sister at the time is 14. Neither of us at that moment had the tools to process or deal with what we’re about to do. What my father said to us was, “The last thing your mother would want is for this to become an excuse that would set you back in school or the great path that you’ve been on throughout your life.” And I remember at the time, just sort of seizing on to that. I was a person who was brought up in a family that emphasized hard work and doing well in high school. I had sort of spent my life believing that if I worked as hard as I could, and did whatever my parents asked, that would lead to a great life. And while I think that actually turns out to have been true, there’s also a lot of aspects of life that are out of your control. In my case, the loss of my parents drove that firmly home for me. It gave me I think more of a sense that there are times in people’s lives where they’re not responsible for their own circumstances, and we all need to find ways to lift each other up. It also helped me learn to separate the things that you do have control over, while at the same time understanding that there are some things that you’ll never be able to control. You know, the current coronavirus crisis—I think this makes this more evident than ever. There’s something that is so much bigger than any of us, and we don’t have any power to control, and we’re having to find ways to support each other and protect the vulnerable. Should tragedy and bad circumstances be considered by our judicial system? That’s a great question, and it’s something that I’ve thought a lot about. I spent seven years in St. Louis where I prosecuted some of the largest white-collar fraud cases in the history of our state, involving insurance fraud and a Ponzi scheme. One thing I learned pretty quickly is that when a crime occurs, it’s a real tragedy for everybody involved. We think about the immediate victims in the case, who in the cases I prosecuted, lost their livelihoods, lost their savings. But then there’s also the tragedy of what it means to the defendant, who will generally serve a prison sentence. And for the defendant’s family. There are really no winners when it comes to a criminal case. I think that has shaped my thinking around criminal justice in terms of what we can do to prevent crime from happening so we can stop the tragedies from occurring as opposed to simply punishing the wrongs after the fact. It’s also caused me to think about what we can do to reintegrate people into society after they’ve served their sentences, so that we don’t find ourselves in a situation where we are creating more crime and wrongdoing by failing to address the underlying things that drive people to a life of crime in the first place. This quote made me think about meritocracy. Because the quote says the swiftest person doesn’t always win the race, and yet they often do. The strongest person often wins the battle. Does our society place too much emphasis on merit? There are obviously certain occupations where we want the most talented person to be doing the job. We want the best pilots flying our planes. We want the best doctors taking care of us. All of that is very reasonable. At the same time, I think we have to realize that we don’t all come into life with equal chances and we don’t all have the same support structures and opportunities presented to us that enable us to be the most successful we can be. That’s one reason why I think it’s so important that we have a vigorous and strong educational system that helps to life people who may not have the best circumstances in their own home lives or economic lives. That way we give them the opportunity we all want to have—to become the swiftest, the strongest, the smartest, the most understanding people we can be. Further reading The Notes on Quotes Series Mr. Money Mustache Shares a Quote Anxiety Expert Kathleen Smith (Author of Everything Isn’t Terrible) Get the Notes in your inbox
40 minutes | Apr 20, 2020
#16 Elegance Expert Devoreaux Walton
Devoreaux Walton is an author, confidence coach, and YouTube personality who serves as the CEO and Founder at The Modern Lady, a lifestyle company that teaches women worldwide how to elevate their lives with elegance and poise. Her book Je Ne Sais Quoi offers tips on style, grooming, etiquette, and attitude. New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Scott wrote, “In a world where etiquette and manners seem to have gone extinct, Devoreaux Walton’s voice is sorely needed.” Stephen Harrison: So what quote are we chatting about today? Devoreaux Walton: Today’s quote is from the famous Maya Angelou. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Such a good quote! Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She wrote seven autobiographical novels, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. You mentioned before the interview that Angelou is a hero of yours? Absolutely. I learned her works in middle school and high school English class. I participated in a pageant when I was younger, and for the pageant portion, I acted out one of her most famous poems “Phenomenal Woman.” I love how inspiriting Maya Angelou was. Her work doesn’t speak to just one particular era or decade. It really transcends the boundary of time. You’re an elegance expert and confidence coach. How did your past experiences lead you to that profession? Several years ago in 2014, I got to a point in my life where I felt stuck in a rut. I was just extremely unhappy in my career, in my personal life, in my social life. I felt like I had no sense of style or presence or gracefulness at all. But I had this idea of the woman I wanted to be. I just had this vision for myself to be polished and poised. And that was not where I was at that particular time! [laugh] I started to make investments in myself through resources, reading books, hiring life coaches, going to therapy, exercising, getting a personal trainer, and sitting down to have some deep time for reflection. I asked myself some tough questions in terms of what I wanted my future to look like, and who I wanted to be, and how I wanted to carry myself. I spent the time doing the work to peel back the layers—the baggage, frustration, and fear. I decided to put that to the side, to live in courage and confidence. Once I was able to transform, I started to share who I was, once I was on the other side: I was this stylish and charismatic person. I loved being charming and meeting new people. I started a blog as an expression to share my wardrobe and my personal style. That evolved into sharing those ideas for other women to help make transformations in their lives. The quote is, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Can you think of an experience where you learned to do better? I was in an agency environment in my career in 2014 and 2015. At the time, I didn’t really know how to conduct a meeting properly and efficiently. I wasn’t necessarily being professional in terms of the small nuances that make a world of difference: the emails, the setup for the actual meetings, and the agenda. After getting some feedback from one of my team leads, I started leaning into the area where I knew I had a weakness at that particular time. Instead of thinking about it as a weakness, I thought of it as an area for improvement. The impact of developing those soft skills was that instead of pitching to ten clients, and maybe only getting one new contract, we would pitch ten clients and get nine out of ten. And that’s just one small example of the benefits of etiquette and being able to carry yourself with a strong social presence. How do you go about helping your clients with a transformation? I know part of it has to do with wardrobe. And Maya Angelou was not only a Civil Rights leader and author, but a fashion leader during the 50’s and 60’s. I think that most women come to me, and, eight times out of ten, they’re going to say, “My wardrobe is a disaster. Help me hit the reset button.” And my response every time is, “We will get to your wardrobe, but we’ve gotta start with the mindset first.” What I do, I call confidence coaching. But it really is an intersection of life coaching, personal styling, and charm school. Essentially, instead of working on just one area, just your wardrobe, or just your mindset, or just your social presence, I work on everything with my clients because I find that these women need it. It starts with being able to master the mindset, thoughts, the anxiety, the fears, the negative emotions, and really being able to reposition and be very intentional in the actions and the thoughts that we are taking. That creates the foundation for this confident life. The second layer after we’ve done a lot of the internal work is working on the external. That’s the wardrobe phase. I want to make sure that every woman is able to define the type of perception that others will have of her. If I want people to know me as being bold and courageous, that’s a different perception from being quirky or artistic or creative. But first I want to make sure we’re clear on defining that personality so that we can build an ideal wardrobe for their specific needs. A lot of women that just get dressed up, and wear an outfit to impress other people, but they don’t even feel good in what they’re wearing—there’s a huge disconnect. In that situation, you’re lacking confidence. It’s important to have that level authenticity with what you’re wearing because it certainly changes how you feel. Most of the women that come to me define themselves as introverts. So they are not comfortable in social situations. In fact, they typically avoid them. They can do it personally, and get by. But professionally, you have to be assertive at some level in order to be really successful, regardless of what industry you’re in. By leaning into these communication strategies and principles, you can walk into an event where you may not know anyone. Instead of being frightened or feeling uncomfortable, you’re at ease enough to enjoy the moments. You can make connections at those events that can open up doors of opportunity. There was a fashion psychology study done back in the 1960s, 1970s. A gentleman that was wearing a business suit. Before the crossing signal came on, he crossed the street, and several people followed him. The same men changed into a different outfit—the kind that an interior or home painter would wear, with paint stains, and overalls, and grungy dirty work boots. This time the he crossed the street before the crossing signal came on and nobody followed him. I imagine there are some people who think that thinking a lot about etiquette, elegance, and how you dress is a very old-fashioned concept. What would you say to someone who thinks that this mode of thinking is out-of-date? I love that thought, because it challenges the value of what I do! But what I find when people don’t pay attention to the little details like how they’re looking and how they’re showing up—it shows. People will pick up on that lack of confidence. We are definitely seeing a decline in the quality of interactions in person. [Note: This was recorded before the COVID-19 pandemic.] It will definitely be interesting to see what the world looks like 20 to 40 years from now, whether or not etiquette will be implemented further or whether we’ll have no sense of protocol at all. At the same time, I think that some timeless life principles like respect, kindness, and courtesy—they’re never going to go away. There’s nobody in the world that feels good being disrespectful. But it feels good doing random acts of kindness, like holding the door for someone with lots of bags. That is something that is probably never going to go away. Do you think that society will continue to get more casual, or will it become more formal? I think about the rise of the tech industry 20, 30 years ago and how casual things have become. People can work from home. Or if they go into the office, they can wear flip-flops, shorts, and tank-tops. Our modern culture is so very casual and that has carried over into every protocol of style and dress. In the short-term, I think that things will continue to be more casual. People are sharing intimate and casual details of their life on social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. But at some point in the next 50 years or less, my hypothesis is that style will shift back into being more conservative. Because at some point, things are going to get so out of control that we’re gonna have to bring back structure and rules. Guidelines and structure around how we are conducting business and living life. You mentioned Instagram. What tips do you think Maya Angelou might have about the presentation of self on a platform like Instagram? That’s a great question. It’s easy for us to “shoot from the hip” when we post something online. On social media you can hide behind a screen. But another favorite quote from Maya Angelou is “people will forget what you’ve said […] but they will never forget the way you made them feel.” What’s critical for someone who wants to be classy or elegant is to be very intentional. You can’t just sit idly and let any thought cross your mind. You have to be intentional so that it’s positive, inspiring, encouraging, motivational, helping you drive to where you’re wanting to be. I think that would be my number one tip for anyone wanting to be classy on social media: to be very purposeful and intentional about it. Think about people who have this sense of elegance—Princess Diana, Maya Angelou, Audrey Hepburn, and First Lady Michelle Obama. There are so many women that have been some really amazing, inspirational examples that show us the way. And it’s always a choice. The quote again is,
30 minutes | Apr 13, 2020
#15 Anxiety Expert Kathleen Smith, Author of Everything Isn’t Terrible
Welcome to Notes on Quotes, an interview in series in which Stephen Harrison chats with interesting people about a quote that’s meaningful to them. Dr. Kathleen Smith, Ph.D., LPC is a therapist and the author of the book Everything Isn’t Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxieties, and Finally Calm Down. Her mental health writing provides smart, practical tools to help in these anxiety-ridden times. Smith writes a free anxiety newsletter, The Anxious Overachiever, which Slate’s Shannon Palus described as “hanging out with a friend who cares about your problems too.” This print interview has been condensed and edited. Stephen Harrison: So what quote are we chatting about today? Kathleen Smith: My quote is from Viktor Frankl, who was a psychiatrist and a Holocaust survivor. He wrote a book that is still very popular today called Man’s Search for Meaning. And the quote is: “Live as if you were living already for the second time, and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now.” What a great quote! Frankl’s book is one of my favorites. How about for you? Yes, and it’s one that I always recommend to my therapy clients if they don’t have any particular agenda because it really sparks and promotes so much thinking about meaning in their day-to-day lives. It’s a wonderful little short book to read if you want to think about what motivates you and how you interact with other people. Why does this quote resonate with you? I think it really sums up the work that I try and do with people as a therapist, and the work I’m always trying to do on myself! [laugh] The idea is to know yourself so well that you can predict your autopilot, and how that autopilot can switch on during challenging situations if you’re not paying attention. To understand what we’re programmed to do to keep things calm and coast through challenges, and to consider whether or not we really should do that in any given situation. Or whether we want to be a better, different version of ourselves instead. Frankl says live this life “as if you were living for the second time.” This reminded me of a concept from your book—taking the astronaut’s view of life. Can you describe that idea? Usually in our relationships, we tend to stay focused on seeing things from our perspective. We love to paint other people as villains or heroes or different characters in our story, right? So, taking the astronaut’s view involves sort of hovering above yourself and everyone else, and seeing how we affect each other, especially when we’re anxious. It’s trying to see the system at work, and how we are constantly reacting to other people’s reactions. Instead of feeding on the same dynamics that you always engage in, you’re able to ask yourself “Is there a different path here? Is there a different choice in how I respond to this annoying person, or this really difficult problem?” Being curious like that puts you in a different place because you’re not just running on autopilot. Speaking of curiosity, you often tell your clients that you’re “curious” about how they’re going to solve different problems. Curiosity puts the focus on the other person’s capability, right? I’m not lending any of my own thinking in that moment. I’m focusing the resources that are within you [the client] as you navigate this challenge. Keep in mind: As a therapist, I only have access to very little information. I usually only have one or two people’s perspectives. I don’t have the lifetime of experiences dealing with the situation that they do. The arrogance of me thinking that my advice is going to solve a problem is usually not very helpful. But if I’m calm and curious, and just generally interested in how a person is going to navigate their life, I think that is contagious. It helps the client start to get interested in the problem versus just being anxious or afraid of it. Frankl suggests that we live as if we were living “for the second time.” I imagine that if we were living for the second time, we might be more thoughtful or meditative. But I wonder whether it’s something in our evolutionary development that makes us so nervous in these situations. In the book, I talk about the part of the brain that’s uniquely human versus the lizard brain—the lizard brain just wants to “flight or fight” in a given situation. But an important point is that our lizard brain is really useful, right? We wouldn’t have evolved these very quick responses to stress if they didn’t work really well a lot of the time. That is, we do have these quick, adaptive responses for a reason. But sometimes the lizard brain gets in the way of a different response. Sometimes if you have more time, you can think about what you want to do before that automatic lizard action comes in. You mention that those autopilot responses often arise when we’re with our families. Why is it so difficult to manage our emotions in a family environment? The boundaries between yourself and other people in your family are so thin. It’s harder to decipher our feelings from our family’s feelings. Imagine in your mind this overlapping Venn diagram of humans. To me it’s a lifelong goal—to be part of your family but also a person who thinks and chooses for yourself. As you mentioned up top, Frankl was writing about his experience in the Holocaust in a concentration camp, which was of course this tragic and terrifying world. Yes, and Frankl found that the people who were focused and thoughtful about how they were going to respond to these almost impossible challenges in front of them seemed to do better. That’s useful for all of us to think about—how do you stay focused on yourself and how you want to respond to a situation, versus trying to control others or trying to prevent the situation from happening to begin with. Preventing the situation may well be impossible, in which case that “I” focus is really important. Like you, I’m a big fan of Frankl’s book. But I always like to challenge these quotes if I can, so in that spirit: Frankl says to live as if we’re living “for the second time.” Wouldn’t one downside of this retrospective view be that we would be overly cautious? Would our lives be lacking spontaneity? I’m not sure if this is what Frankl had in mind, but this is how I’ve taken the quote—We are actually living out things not only for the second time, but a ninety-ninth time, or the thousandth time, especially when it comes to our relationships. That’s because most of our relationship challenges are similar to what we’ve experienced in the past. We have the privilege of saying “OK, this is my three thousandth phone call with my mother where she asks me if I’ve graduated yet.” So this is my three thousdandth opportunity to think about whether I want to [A] snap at her. or [B] be honest and thoughtful in my response. Do I want to live in this Groundhog Day scenario of acting the same way every time I’m anxious? Or can I flip the switch a little bit? So, no, I don’t think of the Frankl quote in terms of being cautious. I think of it as recognizing that most challenges are similar to experiences that you’ve been up against in the past. One really cool thing about this perspective is that you can fail a whole bunch of times—then get yet another round and see if you can do something differently. I love that interpretation of the quote, and this idea of thinking more thoughtfully in a repeatedly anxious situation. You mention in your book that you have named your anxiety “Karl.” Why was it helpful to give your anxiety a name? I think naming it made me take it a little less seriously, and allowed me to laugh at it a little bit. Anxious thoughts tend to make the stakes seem very high. But if you put another name or another face to your anxiety, you can see the ridiculousness—and the irrationality—of it. If I’m thinking in a room of people, Everyone here finds you really annoying, Kathleen. I can flip that and say, Karl thinks that everyone finds you really annoying, Kathleen. With that reframing, I can see that Karl is annoying and a bit of a jerk. Go away, Karl! One of the themes of your book is the role of maturity. My read of the Frankl’s quote is that we would want to live our life “for the second time” with more maturity. Do you think that we place enough emphasis as a society on maturity? Maturity is not a sexy word. Nobody comes into therapy saying, “I want to be more mature.” Being happier, having better relationships—those things all sound much more appealing than maturity. We love to think that our partners are less mature than we are, but we tend to end up with someone who’s about the same level of maturity as us. The idea is that our relationships are reciprocal. For example, if I love to take over and over-function for people, I might fit with somebody who likes to let me do that. The great thing about maturity is that it helps you think more clearly in challenging situations. It enriches your relationships because you’re not so allergic to everybody else’s anxiety. And you can accomplish goals and play the “long game” more effectively because you’re focused on being the person you need to be.
52 minutes | Apr 6, 2020
#14 Svend Brinkmann, Author of Stand Firm
Svend Brinkmann was living a quiet life as a professor of psychology in Denmark when one of his nonfiction books became a surprise bestseller. Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze argues against trendy self-help psychology that emphasizes self-esteem and personal growth. Brinkmann also wrote Standpoints: 10 Old Ideas in a New World, which features quotes from key figures ranging from Aristotle to Hannah Arendt. His latest book is The Joy of Missing Out, which the Financial Times described as “designed to liberate us from over-stimulated modern lives through the old fashioned ideas of restraint and moderation." This print interview has been edited, condensed, and annotated. Stephen Harrison: So what quote are we chatting about today? Svend Brinkmann: I’ve chosen a quote by Søren Kierkegaard, who was a Dane like myself. The quote is very short but also quite complex, so we need to unpack it. It goes like this: “The self is a relation that relates to itself.” That’s the short version that’s actually part of a much longer context. You include both this short version and the long version in your book Standpoints. Can you tell us a bit about the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard? He lived in the mid-19th century, the so-called Golden Age of Denmark. And he’s considered the grandfather of existentialism, this idea that we are free in our lives and we live with death, finitude, as our existential horizon, and [therefore] we should live in an authentic way and try to take responsibility for our lives. Later existentialists were typically atheists, like Jean-Paul Sartre in France in the 20th century. But Kierkegaard was a Christian thinker. He developed a complex philosophy. Complex is the sense that he wrote through pseudonyms. So he would take different existential positions on life’s issues: an aesthetic position, an ethical position, and a religious position, for example. It’s very much up to the reader to figure out for oneself the question of “How am I going to live my life?” Kierkegaard never really provides definite answers, but instead poses questions and challenges the reader to think for one’s self. I think that’s common for philosophers, posing questions without answers. That’s true! I would add that although I called him the grandfather of existentialism, I think that needs to be explained, because he was not an existentialist like Sartre or Camus. They saw human beings as completely free. Sartre famously said that existence precedes essence, and this means there is no essence in our humanity or anything that defines us. And Kierkegard would not have agreed with that. He would say there is much that defines me that I haven’t chosen myself. For example: I live in a certain place at a certain time. I’m faced with lots of challenges and demands in my life that I cannot turn my back on. But what I can choose is how to face reality. I cannot define myself but I can choose to choose myself, if you will. The quote is “The self is a relation that relates to itself.” I wondered about the translation of the word “relation” from the original by Kierkegaard. In Danish, we actually do have a word, relation which is equivalent of course to relation. But that’s not the word that Kierkegaard was using. The word in Danish is forhold. I think that adds an important dimension to what he was trying to say. Relation is a neutral concept. We can talk about a relation between apples and pears—it’s just a neutral connection between things. But forhold denotes something more active. It’s more like a task. You have to relate to yourself. That’s important because Kierkegaard is trying to say that being a self is not simply something that happens. It’s a process, yes, but it’s a process in which you are actively engaged as a self. It’s a task. It’s a job. It’s something that is demanded of you. It’s not a passive relation. It’s an active way of forming a relationship, you could say, to the relation itself. I was a bit surprised that you picked this quote because a lot of your work criticizes the self-help movement. And yet you picked a quote that’s about the self! How is the version of the self that is described in the quote different? That’s a very good question. It’s true that I've been very critical of the way that the self functions in modern society. We are supposed to realize our inner true selves, be the best version of ourselves, and engage in constant self-development. So we talk a lot about the self. We put “self” before almost any positive word and it becomes even more positive. One should have self-esteem. I see this as a symptom of a narcisstic culture in which we relate in a way to ourselves all the time and are told to do so. What about Kierkegaard? He also talks about relating to “the self.” But I think his approach to the self is different. In a way it’s an impersonal self. When he says that the self is a relation that relates to itself, he doesn't talk about a private self; he talks about the common human capacity for self-reflection, which is a good thing. For Kierkegaard, the self is a process. It’s in a way a conversation one has with oneself. And this process, this reflection, this conversation can only be had because there are other people in the world and in my life who have taught me how to do this. I first relate to other people. As a small child, I don’t have a self in the Kierkegaardian sense. I relate to the world. I have needs. But I don’t reflect on my needs. I only do that later, once I have acquired this capacity for self-reflection which I do by relating to others. According to this perspective, the self in Kierkegaard’s sense is not an inner private realm of thoughts and emotions. It’s a process that enables us to reach outwards to other people, to the world. I think this way of thinking may function as an important correction to this whole culture of narcissism where everybody wants to improve on themselves. That’s not at all the point when Kierkegaard talks about the self. The point for him is something more common and shared among human beings. And I think we need to hear this message today. Would people be happier today if they tried to think about the self in the Kierkegaardian sense? Yeah. The sad story today is that whenever people are unhappy, they are told that they just need to be themselves. And we don’t know what it means to be oneself. In my view, it would be much better to tell people to be human. Just aim for what is shared among us. If you’re going to a job interview, and are quite nervous, then your parents or your friends will tell you: “It’s alright. Just be yourself.” But that’s actually the most difficult thing you can do! I don’t think happiness is found within some mysterious realm of an inner private life. I think happiness is found by connecting with the world, connecting with other people, doing meaningful things. Kierkegaard’s conception of the self as a shared conversation might enable us to realize that. Can you expand on that idea of a shared conversation? This is how self-reflection emerges in our lives. The individual reflective self is a secondary product that comes after the way we relate socially to and with others. First, we have interpersonal conversations, and secondly, we internalize that to form a self of our own. I believe this immensely important today in an individualist culture where people think of themselves as little gods who can choose and who believe “happiness is a choice.” Those words are quoted all of the time. But I would say that it would be better if we understood that we are utterly dependent on others, and that our self is only there because of others—that we owe everything in our lives to the relationships that enable us to be our selves. This would give us an outlook of the world that is both truer and also give us a deeper sense of happiness—of belonging to the world. You’re a professor of psychology, but you have degrees in both psychology and philosophy. Do we need to incorporate more concepts from philosophy into modern psychology? Absolutely. For me this is essential. We have, as I see it, a psychologized culture. We use psychology for so many purposes in schools, workplaces, and our private lives. Psychology is of course a legitimate science. It does provide certain tools with which we can improve ourselves, live better lives, and possibly attain some level of happiness. But the problem with psychology, just as any other science, is that it easily forgets values—you know, the whole ethical, normative realm. And we need philosophy and philosophers to remind us of that and find the limits of psychology. Because there are so many questions that psychology cannot answer. Questions about existence, ethics, aesthetics, and politics are still very important—possibly the most important ones in our lives. And I fear that psychology has colonized our self-understanding. It has taught us to think of ourselves as creatures with these inner selves that we should realize or optimize. That’s a very questionable image of human beings, and I think we need a philosophical critique of the popular psychological conception. Philosophy has rarely provided answers. We have sciences to give us answers. But we need philosophy to raise questions, and that means raising questions in response to answers from psychology. Psychology is a young science. It only began in the late 19th century as an empirical investigation of how the mind works. Since then it has grown enormously and influenced how we think about the world in good ways—and in bad. I’m really skeptical about the way that ethics, politics, and so on have been psychologized. For someone new to Kierkegaard, would you have any recommendations on what books to start with. Maybe a simple primer or introductory text? I just admit that I have mainly read Kierk
36 minutes | Mar 30, 2020
#13 Thom Wall, Professional Juggler & Cirque du Soleil Alum, Shares a Quote
Thom Wall is a professional juggler and variety entertainer who toured with Cirque du Soleil for five years. He’s also the author of the book Juggling: From Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Thom has performed in 12 countries and on four continents, including a run of his solo show on juggling at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Robert Vezina, Artistic Director of Cirque du Soleil described Thom as “a remarkably consistent performer… [h]e has my highest recommendation.” This article has been edited, condensed, and annotated. Stephen Harrison: So what quote are we chatting about today? Thom Wall: It’s from this woman named Bronwyn Sims. She’s a circus performer who is an acrobat, choreographer, and actor. She said, “Don’t show more. Hide less.” Did Bronwyn Sims tell you this quote in person? Yes. She was teaching at Celebration Barn Theater, which is this phenomenal physical theater school in South Paris, Maine. Absolutely middle of nowhere, but it’s beautiful. Why is this quote meaningful to you? When you think of a juggler, you probably think about somebody on a unicycle juggling three torches, wearing a felt hat, and giving these schlocky looks to the audience—you know, pandering. This specific idea of exaggerating your emotions by contorting your face is called mugging—a term that Tony Montanaro, a very famous mime, used to use. But that’s not an honest thing. If you’re walking down the street and you see somebody smiling to themselves, you think, Oh, that person’s happy. You don’t need them to be jumping up and down, showing all of their teeth. I’ve found that your genuine emotional state is more likely to come through when you’re just trying to be as in the moment as you can, hiding as little as you can, without showing anything more than you absolutely have to. Did you befriend other performers while you were working in the circus? I actually learned this sense of minimalism from this friend of mine, an amazing Ukrainian clown named Misha Usov. We were doing ten shows a week at the time, and we were going out for pre-show animation, which is when clowns and a juggler like me try to get people amped up before the show. And I said, “Misha, you seem really tired. Are you ready to go knock ‘em dead?” I was trying to fire him up. Misha looked at me with this deadpan face (he’s a very deadpan person) and he said, “Thom, I feel 10%, so I give 100% of my 10%.” It’s the same idea as the quote: don’t show more, hide less. As long as you approach the audience with this pure and honest form of who you are and how you are feeling at the moment, you can establish rapport very quickly. Whereas, if you ham it up, that’s going to feel disingenuous to most people. On this subject of hiding and illusions: you make the point in your book that juggling has historically been associated with magic tricks. Is there still a connection between juggling and magic? That depends. The historical association has more to do with linguistics and etymology and the changing scope of the word “to juggle.” The first instance of “to juggle” in English was a 1200s copy of Piers Plowman. The line was “I can neither jape nor juggle.” Which is funny, because it means the first mention of juggling is about not juggling! But in those times, juggling basically meant entertaining, and a juggler was a generic entertainer. It could be an animal trainer, or sleight of hand, or a musician or a comedian. It was a very broad category. Then in 1897, there was an article written about Paul Cinquevalli. He is what we would today consider a juggler. He did toss juggling, a lot of balancing, and strongman feats like catching a cannonball on the edge of a plate. And in that article, that was the first instance of the word “juggling” being used to represent a feat of skill done through practice. It wasn’t until about 1947 that juggling and magic really became distinct. This group of toss jugglers that were part of the American Brotherhood of Magicians got fed up with the sleight of hand and stage illusion, so they branched off and created their own organization. They founded the IJA—the International Jugglers’ Association—a brotherhood of professionals that helped each other and fostered a community. And that’s the community that I grew up in. There are obviously a limited number of spots in Cirque du Soleil. Are you ever competitive with other jugglers? That’s a really tough question to answer. In a production show like Soleil, there are a ton of acrobatic positions, but there’s usually only ever one spot for a juggler. So oftentimes as a professional juggler, it’s somewhat lonely in terms of camaraderie. I mean, Stephen, do you really want to watch two juggling acts in a show? You can be honest! At very least, the producers don’t think the audience wants two juggling acts. So is there competition in terms of trying to get work? Like, sure. But I would say that it’s really no more competitive than any other career path. You respect the people that have been putting in the work and that are going for the same jobs that you are. The circus is a meritocracy because the more work you put into it, the better you get. And actually, when you compare juggling to the rest of the circus, jugglers and variety act performers tend to look out for each other more than other disciplines simply because, historically, jugglers have always been the underdog. I've been very fortunate that the juggling community as a whole has been more supportive than competitive throughout my entire career. You and I actually went to college together at Washington University in St. Louis, though we didn’t know each other that well. WashU has a reputation for academic rigor and I wondered: did your parents or anyone else ever discourage you when you graduated college and decided to juggle for a career? Not really from my parents. The decision came from different places. You and I both graduated in 2009, during the Recession, and I had a degree in Germanic languages in literature, which is not always the best idea, especially in that economy. I applied to basically any job that would hire me, and nobody ever called me back. But throughout my whole time in high school and undergrad, I had been juggling just as a hobby. And it turned out that my most marketable skill coming out of college was that I was a pretty solid juggler! I got a job teaching juggling to teenagers at a YMCA summer camp in Colorado. I lived in an apartment with all of these Burlesque dancers and sideshow performers. I was doing some street performances out on Pearl Street in Boulder. For a while I was eating Chef Boyardee ravioli and living out of my car, but at the same time I was really focused. So, I would say that juggling after college was partly just pragmatic, though I don’t know that anyone else would say that. I think that period helped me realize that this art was something valuable to me. The fact that I was willing to make those sacrifices to pursue it helped me recognize that maybe this is something that I would genuinely enjoy doing as a career for a long time. When I read reviews of your juggling, people often say that you are remarkably consistent. You don’t often make mistakes. I’ve been thinking about that with this interview series, when I make flubs asking questions or in a podcast. What tips do you have to avoid making mistakes in a live performance? Embracing them. Embracing the mistakes. There is this discipline of theater called devised theater where you basically create a bunch of stuff and apply meaning to it later. A lot of Soleil shows are built through devised theater. One thing they talk about in devised theater—and also in improv comedy—is this idea of the offer. Take the mistake as an offer. People think of mistakes as something that’s fully rendered in the world, and there is no way to possibly recover from it. They think, Oh man, I totally screwed up. I’m sorry, everybody. But if you instead think about ways that you can turn those moments into something that’s enjoyable or funny—a willingness to laugh at yourself—then it becomes a way to establish rapport with people. So rather than taking it as a failure and getting mad, you figure out some way to slingshot it around the moon and turn it into something that adds value. I had this contract in southern New Hampshire recently with a company called Opera North. There were six circus artists in this beautiful tent accompanied by something like 70 members of the symphony and opera singers. The audience was—I might get flack for saying this this—but they were very sophisticated, very refined, and definitely on the older side. Like a sea of gray hair. I was juggling seven balls, and I started collecting them for the big catch at the end—one, two, three, four, five, six—and then number seven, it hits my arm, and it bounces out! And I try to catch it with my other hand, and it bounces again. It’s this super dramatic moment where I just can’t catch the stupid ball! Eventually, the loose ball falls of the stage and it’s right there, right at the feet of these patrons. I look at it, and I look out at the audience, and I notice that one of the doors to the tent is open. One of the tent flaps is open. So I just grab the ball and throw it as hard and as far as I can out of the tent! And it gets this really beautiful response from this stuffy opera crowd. They were not expecting somebody that was juggling so marvelously to have this disrespect for this object that he was just caressing. For me to throw it away. A lot of performers, a lot of jugglers, would have picked up that last ball, ball seven, and done their clean collect, and moved onto the next thing. But a performance should never be about showing an audience that you are better at it than them. It should be about sharing your love of a skill with other people. Of
41 minutes | Mar 23, 2020
#12 Wine Expert Elizabeth Schneider Shares a Quote
After Elizabeth Schneider started her high-tech job in Boston, she realized that she was much more passionate about her hobby: wine. Now based in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, Schneider is a Certified Sommelier who hosts the popular podcast Wine for Normal People and book of the same name. Her mission is to bring the love of wine to normal people, without pretense or snobbery. Wine critic Natalie MacLean described Schneider’s way of conceptualizing wine as “practical, yet so memorable.” This print interview has been edited, condensed, and annotated. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and other platforms. Stephen Harrison: So what quote will we be chatting about today? Elizabeth Schneider: It’s an unlikely one. I know you were very surprised by my choice! “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence.” – Albert Einstein I was surprised that a wine expert would go with Einstein. Why does this quote resonate with you? My entire reason for being in the wine world, and everything that I do, is on this premise of curiosity, of continuing to probe, of asking questions, maybe sometimes stirring the pot… That means constantly being unsettled with the information and knowledge that I have, and keeping going. You need to keep going because wine is endless, and it changes every year. I like the second sentence of the quote—“Curiosity has its own reason for existence.” and I wanted to get your take on it. A lot of people say, “Why are you asking all of these questions? Why do you have to worry about that. It is what it is.” But very bright people say, “No, it’s not okay to just sit on that [what you know already].” If you’re not curious, then you will not continue to achieve. In Einstein’s case, he may have reflected on his contributions to physics while continuing to ask, What else is there? It’s incredibly important for anyone who teaches a subject to not sit out on that curiosity. You must keep on going down the rabbit holes. I wanted to ask you a little bit about your background. You grew up in Long Island and went to a liberal arts university in the Northeast, and then you got your MBA. How did your sense of curiosity draw you into this wine world and what you're doing now? First of all, my father is a professor. You should know that. He is academically inclined, constantly pushing, and asking questions. And he instilled in me this sense that it’s not enough to just go to school. You have to continue your quest and your path. I was a government major at Wesleyan, that small liberal arts school, studying international politics. When I first started taking wine classes in Boston, I realized this was a subject where you could always learn more: you could learn about wine history, wine agricultural, wine politics. It was a cross-section of all of these things that I had studied, all in one subject. After business school, I worked for a giant winery. And one sad realization I had was that the large wineries don’t have that sense of curiosity and questioning. Large wineries focus on making money doing the same thing in the same ways. That’s unfortunate. You mentioned that you view wine as a wide area of study. That’s interesting to me because I would have expected it to be more niche. Oh, it’s so much broader than most people think. Take Champagne. How did champagne come to be? Read up on the Champagne Riots, where people were killing each other in the street over economics and politics. And to use a more modern-day example, champagne is very much affected by climate change. What are they doing? They’re breeding new grapes. So, yes, of course wine is a very broad area to learn about with many intersecting issues. I’ve heard before that when it comes to wine, you should just drink what you like. But you don’t subscribe to that philosophy. Why is that? It all goes back to the quote. If you decide you like Carbernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley and keep drinking that, then what’s that going to do for you? What else could you learn? You could taste Bourdeaux, or Cabernet from Australia, and learn what makes each place so very different and interesting. It doesn’t make sense to me when people decide they like something and dig in to that only. That’s not how you evolve your interest or your hobby. Could it be that people are curious about wine but they are held back for economic reasons? It’s expensive to travel internationally, for example. I think it’s less about the costs of actual physical travel—I’m a subscriber to armchair traveling, personally. I’m certainly on a budget, and I spend between 15 and 25 dollars on a bottle, and for that amount, I’m drinking fantastic wines. Especially in the United States and the U.K., we are in the best time for wine that we’ve ever been in because there’s so much competition and you can drink wines from all over the world at affordable prices. So my feeling is that wine people are more likely to be barriers to entry than the economics. Nobody in the wine shop is friendly enough to tell you that Bordeaux is [a mix of] Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. They’ve made an environment where it’s very uncomfortable to ask questions. And that doesn’t make people feel great about learning wine. But is the wine culture changing to be less pretentious? It was. I started writing about wine and podcasting over ten years ago at a time when blogs were huge. And a lot of people were using blogs to make wine accessible, and it looked like we had turned a corner. Until blogs died, so there was that. Then this whole certification craze started. It started with this cult little movie SOMM. And we’ve now entered this weird world where certified sommeliers are rewarded for being snotty and elitist. Wine people have created this idea that you deserve more respect if you have more letters after you name. There are still wine communicators like me who are trying to help people feel good about wine. But overall the wine world has swung back around to being more snobby. I’m glad you mentioned the wine certification craze because it connects to the quote. Einstein says, “Curiosity has its own reason for existence.” But it sounds to me that some people are trying to use the sommelier-certification as a means to an end rather than valuing the learning as an end in itself. You totally get it. We see this, by the way, not just in wine but in many things. With respect to the sommelier exam in particular—these guys are just learning the exam! They are not actually learning the wine. It’s like the SAT, and we can all probably agree that the SAT is the opposite of curiosity. The other thing about these certifications is that they never recertify you. There are people who took the certification back in 1995 when there were many, many fewer regions. And the pass rate today it’s much lower, around three to seven percent. To me, the lack of recertification means the sommelier exam is not so much a professional certification as a club. To be safe, maybe we should shift from wine politics to science. If you’re a casual wine drinker, what are the benefits of understanding the science behind wine production? You mention malolactic fermentation in your book. So the reason to know about something like malolactic fermentation is that if you like it, it will make a wine creamy and soft. In some cases, especially in Chardonnay, it will make the wine buttery. It might make it taste like buttered popcorn, really full and rich and thick. Oak is enormously important in both reds and whites because how the grape reacts with oak will ultimately determine the flavor of the wine. In the new world, wine makers call oak the “spice rack” of the winemaker. And if the oak barrel is toasted, it will have that burnt flavor, like a piece of toast. This is technical and dorky, but it matters for the taste. You also write about this French concept of “terroir” and why it’s so controversial. So terroir is a complicated topic Focusing on the actual physical sciences: The concept of terroir is there’s the seen and the unseen. First the seen: You have a vineyard, and that vineyard is unlike any other place on earth, because no other place can take that same space. What happens on that plot of land? Is it morning sun or afternoon sun? Is the soil right? Is there rain? How much rain? All of these things will play into how a grape grows. And then there’s the unseen part of terroir. Two things play a part in that. One is culture, and the winemaking methods over the course of many centuries in Europe. The “hand of man” is part of terroir. And there’s also something which we have yet to understand about how microbes in the vineyard work. We have yet to understand what can make a wine taste minerally. But it’s undeniable that some wines have a sense of place, and that’s what we mean when we say terroir. The Einstein quote is about the importance of questioning. Terroir seems to be this big open question in the wine world, and you seem fine with that. I want it to remain an open question, actually! Once you get into wine, you realize that there’s all this magic that goes on in the vineyard. When you talk to winemakers, they’ll tell you that that wine is expressing things in a certain way. A lot of times they don’t really care why; they’re just excited about it! That’s part of the mystery of wine. I’m sure some people are probing into it, but that could take away some of the beauty from this beverage that’s been around for 8,000 years. For so long, people have found a kind of magic in a glass of wine. Who would want to take that magic away? I guess some people do. I don’t want to take that away.
30 minutes | Mar 2, 2020
#11 "Emoji King" Jeremy Burge Shares a Quote
Jeremy Burge is the Founder and Chief Emoji Officer of Emojipedia, the online encyclopedia of emojis. He’s also the creator of World Emoji Day and Vice-Chair of the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee, the panel which regularly reviews proposals for new emoji. Radio National in Australia has described Jeremy as the “Emoji King.” This print interview has been edited, condensed, and annotated. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and other platforms. Stephen Harrison: So what quote are we chatting about today? Jeremy Burge: It’s a quote from Steve Jobs: “Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer—that the designers are handed a box and told ‘Make it look good.’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” That quote comes from an interview Steve Jobs gave the New York Times in 2003. I’m curious: out of all the quotes you could have selected, why did you pick this one? It did feel a bit trite selecting a quote from Steve Jobs. Coming from the technology world, it seemed like an overused choice. But this quote is important to me because it encapsulates my theory of product design and what ultimately makes a product work well. There are a few ways to define design, and often the people who work in “design” at companies in fact work in graphic design. Product design, however, is about making decisions about what the product is in the first place, what features to include, and who’s going to use it. And if you look at design from the product perspective, then the designer is really the fundamental decisionmaker. In the quote, Jobs suggests that designers are brought too late into the creative process, and that this is a huge mistake. That is absolutely the case for most companies. The poor designers are handed—well, this turd—and then they’re asked to polish it. But it’s not that simple. What needed to happen was for someone to make a better decision several months or even years ago in order to make the product work. You began your career in consulting before founding Emojipedia. What was it that made you want to break out on your own? I was advising companies on how to build things, and for the most part, they didn’t listen! Every company wanted to grow their social media presence. I’d tell them to make it interesting—to put up photos of what’s happening and interesting news stories. But all my clients did was put up blah-blah content that nobody wants to read, boring stuff about so-and-so being appointed to a new position. So it was a frustrating experience where I was literally getting paid to tell my clients “put up interesting things online,” and none of them did it. I was working on Emojipedia in my spare time, and I think it was almost to prove my point: “Hey, look how easy it is to write interesting things online.” And the project could have been a big failure, but it turned out people liked it. Today the site gets 30 million page views per month. It turns out that when you find something the whole world uses and wants to know about, and then you write about it, then you can make something successful. But was there something that resonated with you personally about emojis? I’ve always been fascinated with niche topics. For example, I had a site about Byrd the bailiff on the program Judge Judy, who hardly speaks but occasionally makes quips on the show. And I had a site that looked at all those old widgets on Mac. Don’t get me wrong: all of these earlier projects were incredibly unpopular! Emojipedia was the first time that this theme of hyper-documentation became commercially successful. Would it be impolite to ask how Emojipedia makes money? I know Wikipedia is a nonprofit, just for comparison. The articles on Emojipedia about different emojis display ads. That’s because Emojipedia is a publisher. People say publishing is in trouble, and I can see why. Online ads don’t make much money per ad clicked or viewed. But we’re a small company. I’m the only full-time employee, and everyone else only works part-time. I’ve gone to companies based on the same publishing business model, except that they have 50 or 100 employees, and I think Well, unfortunately, that’s not sustainable. My view is that it’s possible to be successful writing content for the internet, but only if you keep costs down and don’t get ahead of yourself. What were some of the design principles you considered when you put together Emojipedia? Honestly, I think the idea was to get the content out there first. You’ll notice that a lot of popular websites are ugly, and people don’t seem to care. Wikipedia, one of the most popular websites in the world, is pretty ugly. Google was ugly to begin with and is still really bare-bones. Reddit is also quite ugly. When it comes to content on the web, people just want to get to it. And that actually goes with the Steve Jobs quote. The product has to work. I don’t want people to comment on how nice or clever Emojipedia looks. I just want them to think it’s the simplest website in the world. Steve Jobs had a reputation for being brilliant, but not the nicest person to work with. Whereas, you have the reputation of being a very friendly, easy-going guy. And you selected the title Chief Emoji Officer instead of CEO. It would be ridiculous to be in charge of a company and not think of it as slightly amusing. Yes, I take it seriously, in the sense that we’re committed to documenting and archiving accurate information about emojis. But I think there’s a bit too much self-importance in the tech sector sometime. And I don’t want to be seen as showing off my position. Because in reality, I’m a guy who runs a company about emojis. So why not make it a bit of fun?
19 minutes | Feb 24, 2020
#10 The Big Disruption Author Jessica Powell Shares a Quote
Jessica Powell is the former vice president of communications for Google and served on the company’s management team. She’s the co-founder and CEO of a music software startup, and her short fiction, humor and op-eds have appeared in the New York Times, TIME, Medium, and other publications. Her novel The Big Disruption is “a totally fictional but essentially true Silicon Valley story.” Technology journalist Kara Swisher said Powell is “an insider who has come outside, an insightful chronicler of the ridonkulous foibles of the digital overlords and a deft teller of tales.” This print interview has been edited, condensed, and annotated. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and other platforms.
36 minutes | Feb 17, 2020
#9: Wikipedia's Top Editor Steven Pruitt Shares His Motivational Quote
Steven Pruitt is the most prolific contributor to the English language version of Wikipedia with more than 3 million edits to the online encyclopedia to his credit. According to the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, out of the encyclopedia’s more than 5.9 million pages, Pruitt has edited a staggering one-third. He’s been profiled by Time, the Washington Post Magazine, and CBS, and has become a popular internet meme. Pruitt’s fellow Wikipedia volunteer Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight said of him, “Steven is not only a ‘super star’ Wikipedian but a really nice guy; kind and an interesting conversationalist.”
52 minutes | Feb 10, 2020
#8: Ari Ezra Waldman, Law Professor and Privacy Advocate, Shares a Quote
Ari Ezra Waldman is a Professor of Law at New York Law School and is currently the Microsoft Visiting Professor of Information Technology Policy at Princeton University. He received his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard, and his masters and Ph.D. in Sociology from Columbia University. Waldman’s research focuses on privacy, technology design, online speech, and marginalized communities. He’s the author of author of Privacy as Trust, which UC Boulder professor Scott Skinner-Thompson described as “a must read for anyone interested in saving privacy in the digital age.” More at: notesonquotes.com Instagram: @notesonquotes Facebook.com/notesonquotes Twitter: @noteson_on_quotes
29 minutes | Feb 3, 2020
#7 Philosopher Barry Lam Shares a Quote
Barry Lam earned his PhD in philosophy from Princeton University, and is now a philosophy professor at Vassar College in New York. He’s also the executive producer and host of the Slate podcast Hi-Phi Nation, a philosophy podcast that turns stories into ideas. The Guardian described Barry’s podcast as “varied, moving and thought-provoking.” More at: notesonquotes.com Instagram: @notesonquotes Facebook.com/notesonquotes Twitter: @noteson_on_quotes
58 minutes | Jan 27, 2020
#6 International Performer Eliotte Nicole Shares a Quote
Eliotte Nicole is a singer, dancer, and choreographer who has performed for seven years as a vocalist in Taylor Swift’s band. She has also performed as part of the Grammy’s, the MTV Music Awards, The X-Factor, and with Cher on Ellen. Eliotte is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and Reagan High School in San Antonio. Her high school Dance and Drill Director Valeria Sisson described Eliotte as a “sweet, humble, down-to-earth, just brilliant person.” More at: notesonquotes.com Instagram: @notesonquotes Facebook.com/notesonquotes Twitter: @noteson_on_quotes
41 minutes | Jan 20, 2020
#5 Mr. Money Mustache Shares a Quote
Welcome to Notes on Quotes, an interview series in which Stephen Harrison chats with interesting people about a quote that’s meaningful to them. Pete Adeney is a popular financial independence guru and the author of the Mr. Money Mustache blog, which has received millions of unique visitors. At age 30, Pete retired from his comfortable middle-class job as an engineer and set off with his family to live a life free from work. His blog provides practical financial advice on resisting consumerism and investing for the long term. Over the years, Mr. Money Mustache has developed a loyal following of thousands of fans who call themselves Mustachians. Pete lives in Longmont, Colorado, and has been profiled by Vox, the Chicago Tribune, and The New Yorker magazine, which noted that the central principle of his writing is “financial freedom through badassity.” More at: notesonquotes.com Instagram: @notesonquotes Facebook.com/notesonquotes Twitter: @noteson_on_quotes
26 minutes | Jan 13, 2020
#4 Public Radio Host Krys Boyd Shares a Quote
Welcome to Notes on Quotes, an interview series in which Stephen Harrison chats with interesting people about a quote that’s meaningful to them. Krys Boyd is the host and managing editor of KERA’s Think, a national radio program that airs in markets across the country and is a top-rated podcast on Apple podcasts. Over the past fifteen years, Krys has interviewed hundreds of guests on Think, including the actor Bryan Cranston, public radio host Diane Rehm, the author Malcolm Gladwell, and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Think is known for its thought-provoking, in-depth conversations and genuine respect for ideas. D Magazine journalist Tim Rogers said that Boyd “politely dominates Texas public radio.”
41 minutes | Jan 6, 2020
#3 David Epstein, NY Times Bestselling Author of Range, Shares a Quote
Welcome to Notes on Quotes, an interview series in which Stephen Harrison chats with notable people about a quote that’s meaningful to them. David Epstein is the author of two New York Times bestselling books—The Sports Gene in 2013, and his most recent work, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. David was previously a science and investigative reporter at ProPublica. Before that, he was a senior writer at Sports Illustrated. He has master’s degrees in both environmental science and journalism, and his TED Talk about innovation or the lack thereof in sports has been viewed more than seven million times. Malcolm Gladwell said, “For reasons I cannot explain, David Epstein manages to make me thoroughly enjoy the experience of being told that everything I thought about a subject was wrong.” Print versions of the interviews: notesonquotes.com Instagram: @notesonquotes Facebook.com/notesonquotes Medium.com/notesonquotes Follow Stephen Harrison on Twitter and Instagram.
39 minutes | Jan 6, 2020
#2 Former Presidential Climate Adviser Bina Venkataraman Shares a Quote
Welcome to Notes on Quotes, a podcast and article series in which Stephen Harrison chats with interesting people about a quote that’s meaningful to them. Bina Venkataraman served as senior advisor for climate change innovation in the Obama White House and as director of Global Policy Initiatives at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. She’s the author of The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Restless Age, which describes the strategies and science behind planning for a better future. Bina grew up in a small town in Ohio, and has worked in India, Alaska, Cuba, Mexico, Vietnam, and Guatemala. Ariana Huffington described her book as “wise, eye-opening, and hopeful.” Print versions of the interviews: notesonquotes.com Instagram: @notesonquotes Facebook.com/notesonquotes Medium.com/notesonquotes Follow Stephen Harrison on Twitter and Instagram.
31 minutes | Jan 6, 2020
#1 Postmodern Jukebox Founder Scott Bradlee Shares a Quote
Welcome to Notes on Quotes, an interview series in which Stephen Harrison chats with interesting people about a quote that’s meaningful to them. Scott Bradlee is the founder of Postmodern Jukebox, also known as PMJ, a musical collective that is known for producing viral videos covering pop songs in unexpected genres. Examples include vintage covers of Radiohead’s “Creep” and a 1920s Gatsby style rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Since 2013, Bradlee’s PMJ performances have received over 1.2 billion YouTube views and 4 million YouTube subscribers. Before Bradlee’s career took off with PMJ, he was a struggling musician in New York with a passion for jazz, ragtime, and doo-wop styles. Today PMJ has toured 6 continents and performs in excess of 300 shows per year. Bradlee authored the 2018 memoir Outside the Jukebox: How I Turned My Vintage Music Obsession into My Dream Gig which Broadway legend Kristin Chenoweth described as “Candid, hilarious, and wildly fun” and it’s “the book I wish I’d had when I was getting my start in theatre.”
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