Dec 31, 2012
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A Year of Ideas

This time last year (December 31st, 2011):


Aboard the M/V Ushuaia, eagerly anticipating our first sight of Antarctic land the following morning. Photo courtesy of Mike Beedell/Students on Ice.

Tonight: happily spending the evening with my family, reflecting. Many, many people and places have shaped who I am over the past twelve months, but right now, as we loop back around the sun, I’m thinking about the ideas that shook me. I have always been a reader, but this year I read more nonfiction - both paper books and articles/essays/blog posts online - than ever. This is a list of the best ones I read in 2012, excluding books. I love these pieces. They’re all on this list because I have returned to them over and over on countless lazy Sunday mornings and stressful Monday ones and continue to do so; because I’ve probably copied, by hand, thousands of words worth of quotes from these into notebooks; because they help me live better. I really think they’re worth your time. I wish everyone would read these - and if you do, there is always an open invitation on my end to talk about any of them. In no particular order:

Loving Children: A Design Problem, by David Orr: What would it mean to make a society that did in fact love all of its children? This is the central question of the essay, and I think it could be a guiding light for nearly anyone in any profession aspiring to give back to the world somehow, to make the world better somehow. This is one of the principles that most human beings would probably agree with: creating a world that is safe and nurturing for children. And yet our actions are sometimes shockingly and sadly misaligned.

This is Water, by David Foster Wallace: This is DFW’s commencement address to the 2005 class of Kenyon College. It’s my favourite commencement speech I’ve come across. DFW is concerned with the most basic question we face: how shall we live? This is about empathy, what education is for, what to worship and respect, caring about people, self-awareness, and awareness, period. It’s difficult but important to break out of the “default setting.” I’m always coming back to check myself against this piece; I have read it at least a dozen times and with each reading the speech becomes richer and richer. 

The Busy Trap, Tim Kreider: I got scared when I first read Kreider’s piece, which did the rounds on Twitter and Facebook over the summer. It was this line: “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.” Ouch. Guilty. My stomach twisted when I absorbed that line; did yours?  I have stopped being proud of being busy since reading this.

Busyness ≠ Importance, by Christine Boyle: This was a newsletter issue from the amazing organization Spirited Social Change based in Vancouver, and it’s geared towards anyone who justifies their busyness with the belief that the work that is making them busy is important for the world. And also if you’re like me and your heart aches at broken things and you want to do everything you possibly can to fix them. This piece is not about “work-life balance.” It’s about taking care of yourself (partly in order to better serve the world). See also: A Love Letter to the Overcommitted.

The Disadvantages of an Elite Education, by William Deresiewicz: For the university-bound, especially. I have no better words than the author’s: “[M]ost of [the students] have seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Only a small minority have seen their education as part of a larger intellectual journey, have approached the work of the mind with a pilgrim soul. These few have tended to feel like freaks, not least because they get so little support from the university itself. Places like Yale, as one of them put it to me, are not conducive to searchers. Places like Yale are simply not set up to help students ask the big questions.” Emphasis mine.

A Weakened World Cannot Forgive Us, An Interview with Kathleen Dean Moore, by Derrick Jensen: There is far too much wisdom in here to condense into a line or two. And not just ecological wisdom, but gems spanning philosophy, leading a moral life, connection to place and home, community, love, living deeply, and grace. My introduction to KDM; after reading this, I hunted down much more of her work. If you find yourself hungry for more afterwards, I highly recommend her talk at SFU last March which had me in tears and then this interview with her on the moral urgency of climate change in the Sun Magazine.

I think I might have to do a second post with a few more. For now, from me to you: best wishes for a peaceful, joyful, and inspiring 2013 and a year that is rich and full. Go chasing adventures but be gentle with yourself.

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