Authenticity in exhaustion

ross-edgley-strongman-swimming

When do you feel like your most genuine self?

During moments of praise or celebration? After achieving a victory, beating a fierce opponent? In the wake of reaching a long-standing goal? While experiencing an insight or stumbling upon a link between seemingly unconnected events?

Or, do you feel most authentic when you have reached your limits — when you have nothing else to give?

The man pictured above may be uniquely qualified to provide an answer, one that could reveal a fundamental (yet often ignored) truth about the human experience. And his answer might change the way you think about the relationship between the intelligence of your mind, and the wisdom of your body.

More than three weeks ago I listened to podcast host Rich Roll’s interview with former water polo player Ross Edgley (above), a 33-year-old British phenom known for extra-ordinary athletic feats. For example, he has…

  • run a marathon while towing a Mini Cooper
  • rope-climbed the equivalent of Mount Everest in 24 hours
  • swum 100 kilometers in the Caribbean while dragging a 100-pound tree stump

P90207843_highRes_ross-edgley-marathon.jpg

Google his name, and you’ll find more photographic evidence. The man’s accomplishments are incredible. And as you can see, he looks like a cross between a Navy SEAL and a magazine cover model.

But you would never assume Edgley’s unfathomable physical determination and athletic prowess by listening to his cheerful banter, which features a disarming English accent. His laugh-punctuated delivery and self-deprecating humor make him sound like a twenty-something sociology major living on his own for the first time in a London flat.

During Edgley’s conversation with Rich Roll, the Brit recounts his experience swimming around mainland England — a distance of over 3,200 kilometers (more than 1,700 miles) — in 157 days. During the nearly six-month journey, he never once stepped foot onto land. The closest he got to terra firma was the boat he slept on for six hours at a stretch before he got back out into the Atlantic’s frigid waters. This incomparable event was known as the Great British Swim.

tp-graphic-Swimmer-map

Rich Roll’s full podcast interview is available at “Ross Edgley is the Real Aquaman — Lessons in Fortitude From (Arguably) the Fittest Man Alive.” Even if you are not into swimming or endurance sports, what Edgley accomplished — and the struggles he faced while doing so — will blow your mind. He voluntarily subjected himself to unbelievable hardships, and he shares the insights he gleaned from those obstacles in his conversation.

Perhaps the most powerful remark from the cheerfully-boyish Englishman is the one that Rich Roll, who is himself an ultra-endurance triathlete and former Stanford swimmer, featured in the podcast’s promotional image:

RossEdgley_408_quote_640X360

This is the line that — more than three weeks after listening to the full two-hour conversation — continues to reverberate in my head.

“You find the most honest version of yourself in complete exhaustion.” 

Every time I consider these words I acknowledge the wisdom that they contain. As more and more of us are spending our days seated at the office, riding elevators instead of taking the stairs, and stopping the car at the mailbox rather than walking to the curb, true physical exhaustion is almost never encountered.

Yes, many of us do work ourselves into stupors while leaning toward computer monitors for hours on end. And many of us do run ourselves ragged chauffeuring the kids to six different after-school activities every week. And many of us do frantically tackle every imaginable task in order to climb one rung higher on the corporate or organizational ladder. In these efforts, however, we become weary out of wear.

What about exhaustion caused by physical exertion for the sake of exercise? Or transportation (e.g. walking or bicycling)? Or gardening? Or the sheer joy of movement found in climbing a tree, navigating a playground, or scrambling up a steep hillside to catch a sunset? 

img_2091

Far too few of us experience the pleasurable fatigue of a body testing its limits, however modest those current limits might be.  

I don’t believe that a person needs to resemble Ross Edgley to benefit from the clarity of mind, sharpness of focus, and renewal of the spirit that complete exhaustion can yield. As a recreational runner — and a very slow one, at that — I regularly shuffle through one-hour workouts and feel physically depleted. But I also feel remarkably calm, centered, and capable. My senses of sight, touch, and smell become acutely sharp, and I am aware of subtle shifts in wind speed, humidity, and temperature.

Somewhere along my normal route, which features a long stretch of rail-to-trail hard-pack, my mind releases the worries that were churning when I laced up my running shoes. I’ll likely return to those stresses later, but during the slow cool-down walk to my apartment door I revel in the steady insistence of my breath and the reassuring prominence of my heartbeat. My limbs are tired, but also fluid and responsive.

The moments when I feel the most authentic — the most me — occur when I am physically spent. And maybe that is where we all can find our truest selves.

You don’t need to be Ross Edgley to do this, however.

  • Rather than tow a Mini Cooper through a marathon, what if you briskly towed your kids in a wagon for 26.2 minutes?
  • Rather than rope-climb the equivalent of Mount Everest, what if you climbed the stairs to your office every day next week?
  • Rather than swim 100 kilometers while dragging a tree stump, what if you swam several lengths of the local pool while pulling your doubts through the water?

In these efforts that exhaust the body, you just might find who you really are.

Instead of working yourself under, what if you worked your body out?

swimming

For more about Rich Roll (pictured below), please see these blog posts:

rich roll

Note — The image of the map of the Great British Swim and the photographs of Ross Edgley were obtained from redbull.com. The only exception is the one of Edgley towing the Mini Cooper, which was located on the website of Littlegate Publishing. The publicity image for Edgley’s appearance on the Rich Roll Podcast (RRP) and the photo of Rich Roll were obtained from richroll.com. The photograph of the sunset was taken in Longmont, Colorado by the author of this blog post.

Guest Spotlight — AC’s Medici Lion Journal

adrianacashwell

This gorgeous tooled-leather journal belongs to Adriana Cashwell, a former Michigan resident who now lives in Richmond, VA, where she studied psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. She received this notebook from a family member when she was a student at Lake Orion High School, but has not begun using it until now. Why? She explains that, “I’ve always found it too beautiful to write in if I wasn’t going to be serious about it.” I can relate, as I have received several journals over the years that seemed too ornamental for regular use.

Fortunately, Adriana has started journaling again, citing the fact that she has “always considered writing as a part of [her] soul.” And she maintains “hopes of getting her thoughts out of [her] head and onto paper, where they feel a little less threatening and make more sense.” Again, I can fully understand; writing helps me to re-consider the perplexing thoughts — and difficult decisions — that I ruminate about.

To make the transfer process as smooth as possible, Adriana relies on Pilot’s G2 Gel Ink pens. Most often she uses the fine-point variety, but recently she has been reaching for an extra-fine pen that has found its way into her arsenal. The G2, which is available in a striking range of colors, is a favorite of mine. I explain why on ink + sky‘s Materials page.

prod_2011198012

Adriana’s journal was imported to the U.S. by Fiorentina, a distributor of stationery and gifts from across the Atlantic. One of its primary sources of leather goods is Italy, but it also gathers high-quality writing-related products from artisans in many European countries. If you are looking for its products locally, one of the best bets is Barnes & Noble. And online, check out BarnesAndNoble.com. Please be aware that Fiorentina’s website loads very slowly.

logo

fiorentinalionbn

Although the 9″ x 7″ Medici Lions Italian Leather Journal seems expensive at $39.95, it features refillable pages; therefore, you can use it for years because its recycled leather exterior is rugged and wear-resistant. Simply insert a new pad of paper when you finish the current one!

img_4675

Here is an image displaying the perimeter’s woven binding as well as the tooled leather interior of the front cover. Notice how the first page of the inner paper tablet inserts into the inside cover’s vertical leather “pocket,” which holds it securely.

img_4674

The lion is a common symbol of nobility in heraldry, a word that refers to the art and science of armorial bearings (or the armory). The most well-known segment of heraldry encompasses the coat of arms. For hundreds of years, lions have been used in countless coats of arms of different families, countries, and nations. The lions featured in coats of arms — as well as on actual armor and weaponry — are presented in different positions or attitudes. The Wikipedia.org page for “Lion (heraldry)” features a fascinating chart that outlines the most common lion attitudes.

The attitude of the lion on Adriana’s journal is known as rampant. Why? The Lion is standing erect, and its forepaws are raised. It is ready for battle.

img_4673

As a companion image, consider this photograph of an amazing 800-year-old shield that belonged to Konrad von Thüringen (ca. 1201-1240). Its lion also stands in the rampant attitude (but faces the opposite direction):

1280px-schild_konradvonthüringen_marburg

Finally, what does the word Medici mean?

Medici is the name of a family from Italy that was very influential in the financial sector. The Medici Bank was founded in Florence in 1397, but the family did not achieve its greatest social, political, artistic, and economic power until the early 15th century. An incredible resource for learning more about this legendary family — and its many noteworthy members — is The Medici Archive Project.

In 2016, Netflix released an original 8-part series entitled Medici: Masters of Florence. It carries an IMDB rating of 7.9/10. Actor Richard Madden (seen below) plays the role of Cosimo de Medici, the young heir to his murdered father’s banking fortune. A second season of the historical drama ran in the fall of 2018.

mv5bmgu0m2q0ymutntc5ys00ngi4ltkyywqtzwi3mjiznwfmzjmwxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynju3njezmji@._v1_uy1200_cr109,0,630,1200_al_

Note — The image of the Fiorentina logo was obtained from Fiorentinaltd.com. The image of the Medici Lion journal found beneath the logo was located on BarnesAndNoble.com. The close-up shots of the notebook were taken by the author of this blog post. The image of the Pilot Pens was borrowed from Walmart.com. The publicity image of Netflix’s Medici series was located on IMDB.com.

ink + sky is now on Facebook

Facebook-Logo

Screen Shot 2019-01-01 at 3.33.21 PM

Today ink sky made its first Facebook post, an invitation to visitors to begin keeping a journal in 2019. Because FB does not permit the use of plus signs, the page is listed as “ink and sky.” The text and image of that post read as follows:

Join me. Go beyond a resolution, and start a journal in 2019. Just five minutes at a time will change your awareness, outlook, and self-concept. Trust me. I’ve been doing it for twenty-eight years. Click here to see my New Year’s journal: https://inkandsky.com/2018/…/30/new-years-adventure-journal/

If you start a journal in 2019, please send me a photo of your notebook and I will feature it on my website as a separate post. Think of it as an affirmation of your resolve.

IMG_4531

To see the first notebook that was featured in ink + skys new Guest Spotlight series of visitors’ journals, please click on Guest Spotlight — KP’s Lemon Journal.

rawpixel-603026-unsplash

In the fall of 2018, ink + sky began sharing its photographs on Instagram. To view its first published image — a sunrise over Square Lake in Orion, MI — please see the blog post entitled The antidote to gray.

Note — The image of the lemons pictured above, which was obtained from Unsplash.com, was taken by a photographer who identifies as rawpixel.

Suicide, and the inadequacy of language

Jessica Starr FOX 2 Head Shot_1507301412025_4298884_ver1.0_640_360

The following was originally shared as a Facebook post on Sunday, December 16, 2018.


As a long-time Michigan resident, I am deeply saddened by the loss of Jessica Starr. As an English teacher, I am also remorseful for the seeming inadequacy of language to address the manner of her passing: suicide. This limitation is very troubling.

The word suicide can strike such fear, grief, and discomfort in us that we do not even want to *consider* discussing the concept of taking one’s own life – and, nearly as important, the painful circumstances that precede that dire decision. Few words carry such terrible weight.

I am not a psychologist, nor a physician. But as a human being, I believe that greater awareness about suicide needs to be spread. That understanding begins with conversations — ones that necessitate vulnerability. Therefore, they are not easy. So too often, I fear, they are avoided in favor of less-sensitive topics.

Since learning of Ms. Starr’s passing Thursday morning, I have been wondering if I should say anything about her loss. In the wake of such a tragedy, demonstrating respect and remembrance are essential. As the days have passed and I have read stories about her life, my resolve to express “something” has built. That something is this post.

Our current language around suicide is insufficient; the dialogue is often too infrequent, and too clinical. A change is needed. If you are a Lake Orion resident, and you feel similarly, please feel free to reach out to me – or to share any comments and/or ideas below. I want to get a conversation started. Thank you.

Respectfully,
Brian

Postscript — If my words have caused any unintended offense and/or exceeded my good judgment, then I humbly apologize. They are meant to, in some small way, honor Jessica Starr’s life and legacy.


Note – The image featured above is the official headshot of Jessica Starr (1983-2018), and I obtained it from her bio on the Fox 2 Detroit website.

“Let’s Make it Count” Journal

IMG_3593

This is the second installment of a four-part series about The Fantastic Four, a set of custom journals that were created by two of my sophomores several years ago. (The first part can be found here.) The composition book pictured above features a cover with the ransom-note-style title “Let’s Make It Count.” This was the phrase that I spoke aloud to my Honors English students seconds before we embarked on our daily five-minute free-writes at the start of class.

My reason for using this slogan is that I wanted to remind my students that they had a choice during each of our quiet writing sessions: they could exert minimal effort and scribble nonsense on the page, or they could focus their minds and attention and compose meaningful content until the timer beeped. I have no idea if my daily assertion actually worked, but I kept repeating let’s make it count like a mantra just in case.

Here is my first entry (followed by a transcription, below):

IMG_3597

2-13-15     Beginning a new notebook today.

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” – William Shakespeare*

So I am entertaining the idea of a library science degree, and a possible future career as a library employee. Does it feel right? I’ll have to consider it. I don’t want to jump at it, but I believe that exploring the option is part of building the bridge.* Add [sic.] blocks to that bridge is very important, even though I don’t know exactly where it is going. The end-point is yet-to-be determined. I’ll have to maintain the faith that simply stepping out and moving forward is the right thing to do. I know I can explore and find something more suitable. I’ll keep placing blocks together to lengthen the bridge. Wise #### philosophy.


* – This quotation is from Measure for Measure (Act 1, Scene IV), which was written between 1603 and 1604. These lines are spoken by the character Lucio, a fussy young nobleman, during his conversation with Isabella, who is the sister of the play’s protagonist, Claudio.

* – “Building the bridge” is a concept/motto that I adopted in late-2014 or early-2015. It represents the fact that I was (and am) trying to envision a new professional path — one different than my role as a classroom teacher. To help me focus on the possibility of a career shift, I created the following sign using a piece of copyrighted artwork and a bold, blocky typeface. For three years the sign hung first on a bulletin board in my apartment and then on the corner of my bathroom mirror. It provided a daily reminder of what I was attempting to do. I am the kind of person who benefits from visual reinforcement.

IMG_4170

The composition book’s back cover is pictured below. The bottom-right corner features several images that deserve explanation.

IMG_3596

Owls are one of my favorite animals, which Meagan and Kathryn — my two students and the notebook’s designers — knew. Although my classroom features no images of the nocturnal hunters, students’ questions had somehow led to an awareness that I was fond of the silent, mysterious, head-swiveling predators.

At least four days a week I wore a tie at school, so that explains the partially rolled neckwear. I love ties. (Coincidentally, I also love short sentences.) The frequency and variety of my ties prompted students to sometimes ask how many I owned, a question that I found odd but welcome. They were curious, and I was happy to satisfy their desire by speculating about how many dozen were hanging in my closet. On a few occasions I even brought several shoeboxes of my ties (carefully rolled) into my classroom to let my sophomores see that I was speaking the truth. I owned many.

Sandwiched between the owls is a small photo of a blonde-haired woman adjacent to her cursive signature. This is Nancy Gibbs (b. 1960), an American journalist who became the first female managing editor of TIME magazine in 2013. She occupied that role until 2017. Now she serves as the visiting Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice of Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University. (That is a wonderfully alliterative job title, by the way.) Gibbs remains TIME’s Editor at Large.

nancy-gibbs-time

For writers of any background and skill level, Gibbs’ work stands as an incomparable example of how to meld meaningful content, an approachable style, and a deeply-sensitive understanding of the power of narrative. For years I photocopied Gibbs’ one-page editorials that were featured at the conclusion of nearly every issue of TIME.

These short pieces served as models for my students as they studied the craft of rhetoric — and the ways that they too could influence audiences with their developing skills. We emulated Gibbs’ simple yet powerful techniques, because her articles made frequent and precise use of similes and metaphors, semicolons and dashes, alliteration and parallel structure, and sentences both long and short. She is a master of prose, and perhaps her greatest strength is making complex subjects understandable for general readership.

One of Gibbs’ most famous articles accompanied the sobering cover photo of TIME’s infamous Sept. 14, 2001 black-bordered issue. Even years after the horror of that event, her report on this history-changing moment represents one of the most profoundly-moving pieces of journalism that I have ever encountered.

blackbordercover

Note – The images of Ms. Gibbs and TIME’s Sept. 14, 2001 cover were obtained from TIME.com.

Succeed by defying conventions

wn16_wnycstudios_freakonomics-rev3

On November 28, Freakonomics Radio released its 359th episode, “Should America Be Run by…Trader Joe’s?” Hosted by astute journalist and author Stephen Dubner, the 47-minute radio show (and podcast) explores the unanticipated success of perhaps the most non-traditional grocer in the current marketplace: the quirky, island-themed Trader Joe’s.

Even if you do not have a location near you — or if you do, but are not a frequent customer — great insight can be gleaned from this podcast. Why? The episode dives into the reasons why defying conventions can yield unexpected success, especially at a time when it seems that the default narratives for advancement have been so carefully refined that challenging their veracity seems not only foolish, but heretical.

However, by veering from the status quo, Trader Joe’s has become America’s most successful grocery chain as measured by sales-per-square-foot. Its revenue in this regard is far greater than industry titans like Kroger, Albertsons, and Publix. Trader Joe’s generates even more revenue — again, based on sales-per-square-foot — than Whole Foods, whose stores tend to be found in the nation’s most wealthy communities.

Trader Joe's Opens Its First Store In New York City

If you have never been to a Trader Joe’s, you may be wondering exactly how it defies the traditional narrative of business success. Well, here is a glimpse at its peculiarities, which Stephen Dubner — and guests like the remarkable Columbia Business School economist Sheena Iyengar* — explore in this episode:

  • TJ’s does not use social media.
  • TJ’s does not employ traditional advertising like billboards or weekly circulars.
  • TJ’s does not accept coupons.
  • TJ’s does not distribute loyalty cards that track customers’ purchases.
  • TJ’s does not have sales.
  • TJ’s does not feature self-check aisles.
  • TJ’s does not offer home delivery.
  • TJ’s does not contain 20,000+ products like most grocery stores.
  • TJ’s does not rely on name brands. In fact, it carries very few.

How can a company like Trader Joe’s succeed when it does not utilize the cutting-edge, data-driven strategies that most business experts would say are necessary? You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out! Just click: “Should America Be Run…by Trader Joe’s?”

But here is the short answer: Trader Joe’s proudly does things its own way, without apology. It privileges people over profits, simplicity over complexity, and language and narrative over data and demographics. Consequently, its loyal shoppers love the experience that they have in its stores, and savor the unique products — from healthy to indulgent — that they find there. Thus they keep coming back.

Full disclosure: I visit Trader Joe’s semi-regularly, but I am not a purist. The narrow aisles of my local store are often crowded, and the checkout lanes seem oddly-designed and not (in my opinion) customer-friendly. Yet I still love this podcast episode because I admire companies like Trader Joe’s that defy conventions, follow their own guiding principles, and — as a result — achieve unexpected success. We need more risk-takers who are willing to challenge norms, whether those established practices dominate behavior in the business world, in our schools, or in our neighborhoods.

Shameless endorsement of all things Freakonomics: I am a committed follower of Freakonomics, both the podcast and the series of books penned by Dubner and his collaborator, University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt. For several years I have listened to their weekly audio productions, which help me — a former high-school English teacher — better understand topics ranging from entrepreneurs and marketing, to decision-making and leadership, to sports and public policy. But perhaps most importantly, Freakonomics’ media has taught me why asking questions is an essential yet often underrated practice, both in business and in a broader whole-life context.

screen-shot-2018-12-02-at-10-15-36-am.png

– Widely recognized as one of the nation’s foremost experts on decision making, Sheena Iyengar is amazing. She is a professor at the Columbia Business School, and her research has yielded incredible insights into how humans make choices. Moreover, her voice is captivating and articulate; and her outlooks on business and life are shrewd, witty, and wise. Oh — and Ms. Iyengar has spent her life defying conventions. How? She is blind. See for yourself, in her popular 2010 TED talk, “The Art of Choosing.”

SheenaTED

Note – The images featured above were obtained from WNYC Studios (which produces a host of award-winning programs including Freakonomics Radio), TED.com, and the Freakonomics website.