Four Redemptive Bits for the Solstice

❄️ A purification. Autonomy. An ancestor. A community. ❄️

Reading Time: 7 minutes

The winter solstice today marks the beginning of a turning. This shortest day of the year sort of lost its significance for me the last decade. Living in Los Angeles, winter wasn’t a thing, both for the weather and for the deep urban immersion. It’s a challenge to attune to the seasons there.

Now that I’m in Colorado, legit winter has descended. The air is thin and brisk. The flourish of colors so resplendent in the other seasons has dwindled to whites, grays, and more or less hickory everywhere. And it’s beautiful. 🏔️

The winter solstice is one of the oldest, most historic holidays. Some historians consider it more than 30,000 years old, dating to before large scale farming began. This day, the solstice, the dawning of a new season, feels deserving of celebration. Particularly given the year we’ve had.

Here’s four redemptive bits to commemorate the solstice.

A Ritual Reading for the Turning of the Season

First, no dedication around solstice feels rich or right without a poem meant as ritual to the turning of the season. Many come to mind. And even though it’s about springtime, this one struck most resonant still.

A Purification
by Wendell Berry

At start of spring I open a trench
in the ground. I put into it
the winter's accumulation of paper,
pages I do not want to read
again, useless words, fragments,
errors. And I put into it
the contents of the outhouse:
light of the sun, growth of the ground,
finished with one of their journeys.
To the sky, to the wind, then,
and to the faithful trees, I confess
my sins: that I have not been happy
enough, considering my good luck;
have listened to too much noise;
have been inattentive to wonders;
have lusted after praise.
And then upon the gathered refuse
of mind and body, I close the trench,
folding shut again the dark,
the deathless earth. Beneath that seal
the old escapes into the new.

Don’t Be a Boss. Don’t Be a Ghost. Be an Ancestor.

Two parenting insights resurfaced for me this week. One is from Nir Eyal, author of the outstanding focus manifesto Indistractible. The other is from Bruce Springsteen.

As with most meaningful parenting advice, the wisdom applies for self-parenting. That’s the practice of developing a mature and caring inner voice that serves to crowd out the inner critic and heal the wounded child within.

Also as with most parenting advice, in a broad stroke it sounds cliché unless it hits at the right moment and in the right cadence. May this hit the right tone at the right time for you.

A child needs a few fundamental things. Aside from the obvious like food, shelter, water, love, and tenderness, children need autonomy.

A random everyday in 2020 with three kids (or one, or none, forfuckssake) can feel like a maelstrom: turbulence, big emotions, competing needs. To get anything done can be a heavy lift on a good day. Similarly, as a creator building out this newsletter, my inner monologue can take on some bite when I’m aiming for a level of productivity that isn’t forthcoming. Or isn’t aligned with reality.

I find myself defaulting to Bossman Barkalot just to get things moving. To my kids and to the inner creative in me, the barking feels awful, and it mostly backfires.

Even with the best of intentions, it’s an assault on their autonomy. As Nir Eyal says:

The more you make decisions with them, as opposed to for them, the more they may be willing to listen to your guidance.

I saw that reminder (recirculated via my Readwise app) and it clicked. It’s clicked before and I’ve forgotten 227 times, but still it bears repeating. Maybe it clicks for you in your (self-)parenting journey:

Autonomy is the fruit of a mature relationship, to other or to self, based in love.

🎸 On an adjacent topic, the actual “Boss” had this incredible Broadway show that came to Netflix. Maybe you’ve heard of it 🧐. In the show Springsteen chimed in with some gold that resonated for me. It’s about the legacy that our parents leave with us and the legacy that we will leave our children.

We are ghosts or we are ancestors in our children’s lives. We either lay our mistakes, our burdens upon them, and we haunt them, or we assist them in laying those old burdens down, and we free them from the chain of our own flawed behavior. And as ancestors, we walk alongside of them, and we assist them in finding their own way, and some transcendence.

As we go into family hibernation time for the quarantining holidays, I’m hoping to refine my approach to my relationships here with my kids, and to the creative fire-bearer in me. These two nuggets of wisdom are precious for that two-fold purpose right now.

And on a more meta-level: a solstice is a ripe time to lay down some meaningful intentions for the longer term. This solstice in particular, after all we’ve been through this year. There’s a palpable gravity to the turning over of time right now.

(h/t Ryan Holliday’s Daily Dad for recirculating this Boss wisdom the other day)

Building Community in the Time of Covid

To put it lightly, this year has been hard for the social animal in me. I’m certain I’m not alone in that feeling. Well, technically, yes, alone having that feeling with most of my friends and extended family far gone, likely sharing that feeling from a distance.

In the year of the quarantine, “community” has been eradicated. And then, by necessity, it has been redefined in surprising, stunning ways.

I joined three unique online communities in the second half of 2020. I share them here to commemorate the incredible talent and generosity of their founders and community members. And to recommend them with utmost confidence to anyone seeking an up-level in insight, accountability, and camaraderie in this virtual terrain.

A special shout out to Dickie Bush and his Ship-30-for-30 community which was geared towards a short-term 30-day mission of publishing daily essays on twitter. Its aim was to ease the perfectionism pitfall inherent to creative pursuits. I published 30 daily short essays as part of the practice.

Each of the other three communities is oriented around a different variant of learning, thought leadership, content creation, and entrepreneurial vigor. I’m in standing O position 👏 to the lot of them.

1️⃣ This newsletter was conceived long ago and marinated for a long time. I was inspired to start actually writing and publishing it at the outset of the first cohort of the On Deck Writers Fellowship in October. It was an eight-week program of high caliber content and community.

The On Deck tagline tells a portion of its mission: “Where top talent goes to explore what's next.” To me, the unwritten, more significant aspect of its mission is the phenomenal community spirit enabling its build-in-public ethos. For writers, founders, investors, and climate tech enthusiasts, this outfit might be the avenue of greatest energy and creativity.

One of my fellow On Deck fellows, Jake Singer, wrote this comprehensive rendering of what On Deck is up to and what its impact might be. They’re worth having on your radar. 🧭

2️⃣ Neuroscientist and writer Anne-Laure Le Cunff created Ness Labs as a hub for her gifted writing on the subject of mindful productivity for creators. It has grown into a growing community of thinkers and writers facilitated by here, co-creating knowledge and meaningful behavior change together. Membership in the Ness Labs community brings with it some fresh perks too, like access to the Collector to Creator course.

She has a real gift for distilling the mental models and cognitive leaps that make life and work flow more effectively. An example from just last week in the above course: in a 20-minute zoom segment, she subverted my lifelong habit of marginally ineffective “note-taking” and elaborated a “note-making” practice that derives orders of magnitude more insight, action, and creativity.

Whereas before I would highlight promiscuously and jot a few notes down, this practice engages a creativity-first function of the mind. The process goes roughly like this:

  1. A certain quote triggers interest and excitement

  2. After marking the quote, go in for a mental walk to process it

  3. Reframe the note into my own words

  4. Let the new idea flourish into a mindscape, follow the latent connections to other bodies of work and insights

  5. Notes made are renderings of that journey

It’s a longer process to be sure, but the value is clear and profound. And the fruits of that journey will no doubt show up in these pages in 2021.

3️⃣ I stumbled upon, written by Dru Riley, not more than two months ago. His gift for distilling an entire ecosystem of innovation into the most clear, potent reporting is incomparable. Whether his subject is “Paid Newsletters” or “Angel Investing” or “Personal Brands,” he digs deep and interviews thought leaders in the respective space. What comes is the most actionable database of insights and resources on the topic. (In fact, as I was just starting to write this paragraph his 45th issue came out on “Paid Communities.”)

I joined the community a week ago. It’s an active group meant for collective insights and accountability. Joining up has been the early holiday gift to myself I most needed.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading.

Happy Solstice everybody. May we each find and source the renewal that most serves our lives and communities today.