Lenten Challenges [revised]

Learning As I Go

[Update: Substack, my newsletter provider, crashed last night while I was drafting this and, unknown to me, created a second copy. Now, that’s interesting. So the version I mailed out last night was missing extra links I’d inserted in the “Lenten Challenges” section and lost some text changes I’d made here and there. So here’s the updated edition for your collection.]


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 come 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 driving for two hours!), so I will replace the podcasts with Audible audio books and also some audio-based self-development programs that I have not made time to listen to. Longer, more satisfying meals rather than distracting tasty snacks.


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 financial 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 for me to add to and diversify my skills stack and where my income comes from.


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 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 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 these mostly dour 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’s just doing the job he was hired to do, for heaven’s sake), and, man, “Broadway Melody” is 8 or 9 minutes too long; my favorite performer is Donald O’Conner, my favorite numbers remain the short and snappy “Fit as a Fiddle” and of course the title song — happiness never looked better.

Downhill — A two-and-a-half star effort on the fractures in a marriage and family that never appeared to me to have any solidity 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 an installment of Will Bladen’s Henri Le Chat Noir, vignettes about the French cat Henri, whose subtitled thoughts about his existentially dismal life among the idiot humans had us in stitches.

Schitt’s Creek s5 — After the wrenching romantic entanglements of season 4, this season was light and fun, with a welcome focus on Stevie.

The Crown s3 — Our suppertime Sunday night viewing; we’re suckers for the big rooms, the pomp, and the sheer awfulness of this privileged family.

We usually chase The Crown with an episode of Bob’s Burgers, Derry Girls, or The Bob Newhart Show (all six seasons are on Hulu; it’s also showing its age but still awfully charming).


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 23, 2020. It is published on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month (but don’t hold me to that).