A short note from me to you at the start of this New Year: I’m writing this under the bright light of a full moon so as not to disturb my sleeping wife. We’ve been having a lovely holiday in Myanmar since Christmas Eve (check out the photostream here) and have an early morning wake-up tomorrow to watch the sun rise over ruins of an ancient city called Bagan. Not a bad way to start a day, right?

Today, the 4th of January, is Myanmar’s independence day, commemorating when this country (then called ‘Burma’) broke free from Britain. I started this morning riding a shaky electric “E-Bike” along a very sandy, sawtooth-ragged road shoulder. As I wobbled along, the double-tap horns of passing motorbikes and swerving, speeding cars made the traffic feel much more like India than Thailand. I took a deep breath, clinched my jaw, and kept my eyes pointed straight ahead.

We eventually arrived at the nearly 1,000 year old Ananda Pagoda and wandered through the overflowing crowds of a festival which was sort of hybrid between a busy town market and a once-a-year county fair: Human-powered amusement park rides plastered, unaccountably, with the image of Johnny Depp-as-Captain Jack Sparrow, monks of every size, age, and description wandering amidst a backdrop of distorted electronic music playing through overdriven speakers and, everywhere, the smell of unfamiliar foods and spices in the air.

I spent the afternoon back at the hotel, recovering from how I spent my morning.

Bagan is an archeological treasure, the site of thousands of pagodas and religious monuments. Its breadth rivals Angkor Wat. We’ve had a beautiful time so far here in Myanmar and I thought I’d share it with you in case you needed an inspiring place to visit on this Earth or, you know, were wondering why I haven’t answered your email or been fixing AppleScripts inconveniently broken by some new app update.

Looking Ahead

Bagan is now at the center of Myanmar’s nascent rebirth as a tourist destination and, as a place which mixes history with new beginnings, is probably the perfect place to start 2015 and sort through this moment in my life when I feel a strong urge to take stock of where I’ve been – and where I really want to go.

2014 was another peripatetic year: It began in Luang Prabang, Laos and ended with fireworks over Inle Lake, here in Myanmar. In between–Thailand, Hong Kong, the U.S., the U.K., Italy, Switzerland, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, French Polynesia. In each place, Lauren and I found old friends or made new ones.

How lucky is that?

Moving around so much hasn’t made it easy to finish everything I’ve started, but I think – I hope – that all this travel has helped me begin to see myself and the work I want to do more clearly. More and more this year, I found myself thinking about how traditions and technologies can work together to make our lives feel fuller and make our world more humane.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve met so many people who use a pastiche of ideas and tools–old and new–to do their best work and build a future for themselves. It often leaves me feeling more curious than certain about how to get at my own best work… but I suppose that means that I’m exploring in the right places. I have some glimmers of the direction that this is taking me and I’m looking forward to sharing more with you here soon.

For now, I wanted to take this moment to thank you again for all of the kind support you’ve given me in 2014: Your personal notes, mentions, and donations make me feel so very grateful to have an opportunity to share a bit of myself with you.

The more I live, the more I understand what a rare and wonderful privilege this is.

A brief plug for a brief book:

Pico Iyer is one of my favorite essayists on travel and so I was delighted to see him release ‘The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere’.

Despite what the title might lead you to believe, it’s not an anti-travel tract as much as a pitch for how inner-travel can restore value and balance to your life.

Tell me if this description of modern life rings a bell for you, too:

With machines coming to seem part of our nervous systems, while increasing their speed every season, we’ve lost our Sundays, our weekends, our nights off—our holy days, as some would have it; our bosses, junk mailers, our parents can find us wherever we are, at any time of day or night. More and more of us feel like emergency-room physicians, permanently on call, required to heal ourselves but unable to find the prescription for all the clutter on our desk

Iyer later goes on to to explain his inverted reframing of that modern dilemma:

In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.

It is fitting that ‘The Art of Stillness’ is more about the reader taking a journey with Iyer rather than his attempt to reach any particular ideological destination.

I enjoyed the trip and think you might as well.

The one thing technology doesn’t provide us with is a sense of how to make the best use of technology.
Pico Iyer
The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere

Gabe Weatherhead’s Macdrifter just published a short piece called The Annual Internet Service Value Test. In it, Gabe lists his yearly costs of using various internet services like Dropbox and Evernote and then goes through each, line by line, to decide whether or not that service is still of value to him.

Clearly, having a regular accountability process like this is helpful to rein in expenses (especially now that an increasing number of companies are essentially renting us their products instead of selling them 1 ). Subscriptions are a business model which seem to be growing in popularity and one which encourages us to put more of our spending on autopilot, potentially creating a large outlay of unnecessary recurring purchases which we’ve accrued in small, almost imperceptible increments. I don’t see this trend changing anytime soon so, as a sort of financial self-defense practice, I think Gabe’s advice is an especially good idea.

Here’s another: Do the same thing for how you spend your time.

Both time and money are important and finding the right balance between the two can be challenging. For me, at least, it’s always been much easier to change the ways I spend my money than my time and, by extension, easier to commit to projects or “social obligations” than to withdraw from them.

So for each, you might try asking yourself “What is the value in this?” or “Is this duplicating something I’m already getting somewhere else?”. If the answer isn’t clear to you–or if it leaves you feeling a bit phony when you hear yourself justify the expense–perhaps it’s time to hit the “CANCEL” button and get that time back for something more beneficial.

  1. J’accuse, Microsoft and Adobe… []
This is a link post – You can visit the site mentioned by clicking the main link above (or just click here).

I wrote this piece for The Atlantic about Abbey Road Studios and what lessons from its history might still be useful to creative people today.

I’ll reprint the full version here soon but, until then, check it out at the link above.

This is a link post – You can visit the site mentioned by clicking the main link above (or just click here).