Lenten Challenges

Learning As I Go

Hi all,

Thanks for subscribing and (possibly) reading this newsletter in your electro-mail.

In the last two weeks

At the day job, I finished off the monthly report and started in on major research to update a user guide.

At home, drafted the next Bull City Commons Cohousing newsletter over several evenings; it fell together more quickly than usual, which is what I’m aiming for. It should go out sometime this week.

We had our first snow of the season last Thursday night and awoke Friday to a pretty scene. It was also a perfect snow in this respect: it was mostly gone by Saturday night.

In honor of the snow, the other illustrations in this newsletter comes from Illustrations of Snowflakes (1863), from the Public Domain Review site. The illustrations, according to the book, are "representations of individual crystals, actually observed and sketched with the aid of the microscope."


Lenten Challenges

My productivity guru, Mark Forster, issues a yearly Lenten Challenge where his readers commit to using a single task-management system for the 40-day period of Lent, which for 2020 runs from February 26-April 9.

This year, I’m using Simple Scanning, a basic pen-and-notebook system that seems to be working well for me so far. (And skim the sheer number of pen-and-paper systems Mark has created since his retirement as a time-management coach — the mind reels!)

I have always thought my work and projects too complicated for such a simple approach, but the truth may be that my thinking about my work and projects was too complicated to accept that a simple approach would be just fine.

And to join in the spirit of Lent, I’m also giving up listening to podcasts for 40 days. I love podcasts: I listen to them when commuting, washing the dishes, vacuuming, walking. (I apparently can’t bear to hear myself think.) But they are intellectual snack food that fill up my time and head without providing much nutritional value.

I still want to listen to something on my commute (Lent starts on a day when I’ll be in the car commuting for two hours!), so I will replace the podcasts with Audible audiobooks and also some audio-based self-development programs that I have not made time to listen to.


The economics reporter Paul Solman’s piece on a recent PBS Newshour — Why more older workers are finding themselves unemployed as retirement approaches — is the kind of report that sends a chill through me and keeps me awake at night. Solman’s story focuses on a 59-year-old former manager who works three jobs, sleeps about 4 hours a night, and earns about 70 percent of his former income. He’s one back injury away from disaster. It’s the kind of story that makes me say “that could be me.”

Our financial planner has said that her fear is of me losing my job and not replacing my income. As my birthday clock ticks closer to six-oh, it becomes a higher priority to add to and diversify my skills stack and my income. No job is permanent. We’re all freelancers and we’re all expendable.


Liz shared the following link from Duke Today, an editorial in comics format on “the weight of end-of-life care on loved ones”: Are We Failing Families at the End of Life?

The editorial’s headline, by the way, breaks Betteridge’s law of headlines because the answer to the question is YES.


Some quick takes on movies/TV we’ve seen lately:

Fantastic Fungi — A fast-paced, almost comically hyperkinetic movie on slow-growing fungi, a form of life neither plant nor animal and still startlingly underexplored and under-researched; the movie is almost derailed midway through by its focus on psilocybin mushrooms and the suppression of experiments with psychedelic drugs.

Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films — I remember one or two of these shorts being impressive for simulation of texture (the weave of cloth on a character’s coat) or a particularly effective visual moment, but all-in-all, none of the stories made me lean forward in wonder.

Singin’ in the Rain — The jokes, plot, and performances remain as solid as ever, though some bits are starting to creak — Liz pointed out that the movie’s female characters take it on the chin quite a lot, I disliked Gene and Donald humiliating their teacher in “Moses Supposes” (he just doing the job he was hired for, for heaven’s sake), and, man, “Broadway Melody” is 8 or 9 minutes too long; “Fit as a Fiddle,” “Good Morning,” and of course the title song are more joyful and skillful examples of the American movie musical at its best.

Downhill — A two-and-a-half star effort on the fractures in a marriage and family that I never believed in to start with; Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a sharper, better actor than the cuddly and unfocused (rather than ambiguous) Will Ferrell, who doesn’t have the chops to fill in the gaps of a weak script.

Cat Video Fest 2020 — Yes, we’re cat people and, yes, we enjoyed it; the best segment was Will Bladen’s Henri Le Chat Noir, a subtitled philosophic clip about the cat Henri, bored to tears by his life among his idiot humans.

Schitt’s Creek s5 — After the wrenching romantic entanglements of season 4, this one was sheer enjoyment.

The Crown s3 — Our Sunday night viewing.

As a chaser to the “The Crown,” we’ll chase it with an episode of Bob’s Burgers, Derry Girls, or The Bob Newhart Show (all six seasons are on Hulu, including The Mary Tyler Moore Show!).


I’m Michael E. Brown. One of my goals with my website and this newsletter is to  keep in touch with friends and correspondents. So if you have any feedback, please send it along!

This was issue #0011 of Learning As I Go for February 24, 2020. It is published on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month (usually, sometimes).