Monday Musings (Travel, Sketching, Ireland, London, Olympics)

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Hi friends,

Greetings from London!

In a thirst for inspiration, I’m sending this Musings from the British Museum, just a few feet away from the Rosetta Stone.

Today, I’m doing a “Day in the Life” video shoot with a YouTuber named Ali Abdaal, whose videographer is following us around. Tomorrow, we’re making a video about how to build an online audience. In it, Ali and I are going to discuss the upcoming Write of Passage cohort, where he’ll be participating as a student.

If you’re interested in hearing more about the cohort, click here.

I spent last week in Ireland, which is the theme of today’s Musings. I visited Dublin, Galway, Limerick, and the Cliffs of Moher in the west of Ireland. More than ever, I believe that if you have the right tour guide and are open to new experiences, travel is one of the best ways to learn.

Here’s what I want to share this week:

  1. The Algorithmic Trap: While traveling, it’s easy to default to what the algorithms recommend. But doing so will lead you to crowded and generic experiences. Try to orient yourself towards quality experiences that are de-correlated from what the algorithms recommend. You can read my essay here. You might also enjoy Jason Kottke’s take on my idea too.
  2. 2021 Annual Review: This is my first time publishing a video version of my Annual Review. Most of my videos are scripted and highly edited, but this one is raw and off-the-cuff. Thus, I explored a number of ideas that I didn’t get to in the written review.

Coolest Things I Learned This Week

How I Learn While Traveling

  1. Note Tab in Phone: Create a note tab in your phone when you land. Capture small 3-5 word notes throughout the day. You don’t need to go crazy with capturing, but you should also assume that you’re going to forget what you’re thinking about. In the evening, give yourself 30 minutes to turn each note into a paragraph about what you felt, heard, saw, and observed. No observation is too trivial. Trust your instincts and don’t think too much about the usefulness of any given idea. At the end of the trip, while the foreign place is still fresh, expand on the most resonant ideas.
  2. Tour Guide over Place: Though I have a bucket list of countries I’d like to visit, I always favor countries where a passionate friend can show me around. Knowledgable and adventurous locals who are passionate about their home will show you a better experience than any self-directed travel itinerary. Once you have the right guide, surrender to their recommendations.
  3. Architecture: Building styles are the fastest way to see the cross-pollination of cultures. Walking through downtown Montreal, you’ll immediately see how there are almost no high-rises built after the 1980s — when the center of Canada’s economic gravity shifted to Toronto. Seeing that led me to deeper Québecian themes, such as the various succession movements and its historical role as a Canadian industrial hub.
  4. Create: Make something about your trip, and use it as a forcing function to pay attention during your travels. I like to write listicles because it matches well with the high-cadence rhythm I bring to my travels. Plus, writing makes the world pop. My grandpa did things differently, though. Instead of moving around a lot, he painted watercolor landscapes, which forced him to look deeply at the nature he so admired.

On the theme of notes, I just met a British Museum visitor named Finley.

Reflecting on our chat, here’s what I wrote: “He was sketching some statues, and I complimented him. But once we started, I saw his pinky finger shaking and immediately sensed his nerves. To calm him, I jokingly started twirling like the statues in front of him. It worked well enough for him to open up. He was trying to capture the Greek appreciation for movement that’s been lost to the entropy of time.”

To remember the details in case I write about our conversation in the future, I snapped the photo below.

— —

Why Write While Traveling?

Travel to collect the dots. Write to connect them.

— —

Make it a Project

While sitting at Ali Abdaal’s production meeting in London this morning, we spoke about how learning happens. Too often, people set out on a goal to learn a skill. But it’s often better to set a goal where the skill is a means to an end.

Instead of learning to cook, commit to hosting a dinner party; instead of learning to work out, set the goal of gaining five pounds of muscle; and instead of learning to write, aim to publish a few quality essays. When the goal is clear enough, the learning is an inevitable byproduct.

Ali says: “Learning should be a side effect of what you’re doing.”

Setting an inspiring end goal, where learning is just a byproduct, will make you a more motivated learner.

— —

Use Different Chairs

One of the easiest ways to improve the ambiance of a hang-out room is to have a bunch of different chairs. A room with identical chairs can feel as sterile as a classroom.

Instead, you can choose a variety of chairs — large ones and small ones, thin ones and fat ones, new ones and old ones — all built out of different materials. That way, people can sit in different ways depending on their mood and body type.

Thanks to Clayton Dorge, who runs this lovely Twitter account, for the inspiration.

— —

Jack Yeats: The Highs and Lows of City Life

In Dublin, we visited the Jack Yeats exhibit at the National Gallery. This painting, In the Tram, hit me the hardest because it reminded me so much of my time in New York City.

Visually, the eye is drawn to the three women on the right — particularly the one on the left. They’re splashing with color and sizzling energy. You can practically hear the laughs and intense conversation. I remember having so many moments like this with friends on the train, usually on the way to a baseball game or a night out.

As I look at the painting though, I think it’s made by the guy on the left. His skin looks feeble, which communicates the intense loneliness of urban life. Perhaps the most surprising thing about living in New York was the haunting loneliness that can come when you’re surrounded by hundreds of people.

— —

The Olympic Painting Competition

Speaking of Jack Yeats, who Tyler Cowen called the greatest Irish painter of all time, he won an Olympic silver medal for the painting above. It’s called The Liffey Swim.

These art competitions took place during every Olympic event between 1912 and 1948. Artists were awarded for contributions in architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture. I wish this tradition still existed.

Photos of the Week

These photos were snapped at the Cliffs of Moher in the west of Ireland, with my delightful host: Neil Patrick Collins.

He lives in Dublin but grew up in a countryside county called Roscommon, where he played Gaelic football at the professional level. After that, he moved to New York (where we met), and today, he’s an artist.

Neil has always dealt in a witty but friendly banter. Originally, I thought it was unique to him. But after my trip to Ireland, I’ve learned that it’s a classically Irish way of being. Of everywhere I’ve visited, I’ve never had such an easy time striking up a random conversation with a stranger at the pub or a sidewalk. Ireland has a tremendous amount of social trust. People look out for each other.

One moment stands out. On our countryside drive from Galway to the Lahinch, a car passing by blinked its lights at us. Neil instantly knew something was up. As expected, there was an automated speeding camera a mile ahead, which the other driver was warning us about. Without thinking about it, Neil alerted every other driver about the camera for the next few minutes. He said: “We look out for each other here and you have to pass along the favors.”

Gestures like this, where people help each other out even when they know they won’t get anything from it, are the essence of a high-trust culture — and it’s one of the things I admire most about Ireland.

Have a creative week,

David Perell Logo 2x

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