Lost Focus – Johann Hari’s feasible solutions to our burning problems

April 13, 2022 at 4:08 am | Posted in capitalism, Democracy, depression, digital technology, dreams, Leisure, Living creatively, media negativity, mental illness, stress management, writers' health | Leave a comment
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Tsunamis of information are drowning us

We’ve lost our ability to focus. Tsunamis of information are coming at us, drenching us every minute of every waking hour. We can’t keep up with it, mentally or emotionally. What we sacrifice when we try is depth. Not to mention sanity, peace of mind and our democracy.

In other words, the stakes could not be higher. Johann Hari’s Stolen Focus (Bloomsbury, 2021) is an important book, beautifully written, which outlines practical solutions for the problems that unregulated social media has unleashed.

While researching this book, Hari interviewed 250 relevant experts worldwide. One of them was Aza Raskin. You mightn’t have heard of him but chances are, he’s influencing your behaviour every day. His dad invented the Apple Macintosh for Steve Jobs. The internet used to be divided into pages. When you got to the bottom of one, you had to decide to click a button to get to the next page – an active choice that gave you time to think: do I really want to continue reading this? Aza designed a code that took away that choice: infinite scrolling.

All social media now uses a version of this. It automatically loads more when it gets to the bottom. It will scroll infinitely.

Soon after his code took effect, Aza Raskin began noticing how his friends seemed unable to pull themselves away from their devices. He did some sums, and calculated that his invention was making people spend 50% more time than they otherwise would on sites like Twitter. For many it’s vastly more. He saw people becoming angry, hostile and lacking in empathy as their social media use rose. Had he invented something that not only drains away people’s time, but ‘that tears us, rips us, and breaks us’? (p. 116) Continue Reading Lost Focus – Johann Hari’s feasible solutions to our burning problems…

Reinventing our lives: surviving with the help of literature

December 28, 2019 at 6:11 am | Posted in Andrea Goldsmith, Australia behind, Bookshops, capitalism, Charlotte Wood, creativity, depression, Inequality - Australia, mental illness, optimism, value of the arts, writers' health | Leave a comment
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When I was in Dublin in September I bought some wonderful books. A favourite is the intriguing, personal and beautifully written Hidden City: Adventures and explorations in Dublin by Karl Whitney (Penguin, 2014). (I’ve lent it and others to friends and can’t take a photo of its cover or some other favourites at the moment!)

Stitched Up: The anti-capitalist book of fashion (Pluto Press, London, 2014) is a compelling account of how the fashion industry exploits and damages both the environment and individuals. Tansy E. Hoskins’ exposé was an eye-watering shock to me on both counts.

I had no idea about the toxic chemicals involved in high-fashion clothes production, or how, for instance, models are sometimes treated as they are in the pornography industry – dispensable and beneath contempt.

Continue Reading Reinventing our lives: surviving with the help of literature…

When the Couch-Potato Pill is invented will you take it?

January 9, 2018 at 1:24 am | Posted in Andrea Goldsmith, Cook books, depression, health, swimming, writers' health | Leave a comment
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Summer Cook Books

‘That’s the first time I’ve ever seen anyone do that,’ said my friend Sharon, standing above me on the turquoise-tiled rim of Dickson swimming pool.

‘Do what?’ I asked, as I completed my length and stood up in the shallow-end water.

‘Yawning while swimming,’ she said.


Continue Reading When the Couch-Potato Pill is invented will you take it?…

Cycling and writing

April 12, 2017 at 2:45 am | Posted in Cycling - health benefits, cycling - mental benefits, depression, Living creatively, writers' health | Leave a comment
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A people-centred society

Riding a bicycle regularly has measurable benefits for your body and immeasurable ones for your brain and creativity. In my last blog I hinted at these benefits and in this one I have the space to expand on some of the glorious results of swapping four wheels for two, and I don’t mean the kind with the internal combustion engine attached. I mean the kind that relies on human muscle power.

That muscle power is the key to the benefits. Cycling improves the strength, tone and flexibility of muscles and sluices synovial fluid through the hip, knee and ankle joints, which eases arthritis. Pumping oxygen through the bloodstream enhances your energy, expands brain capacity and improves your complexion.

Continue Reading Cycling and writing…

A struggle with mental illness – I Am Brian Wilson: A memoir

February 5, 2017 at 11:24 pm | Posted in creativity, depression, mental illness, song writing, writers' health | Leave a comment
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Pet Sounds

When I was fourteen my older brother gave me the new Beachboys’ Pet Sounds album for Christmas. It was and remains my favourite. I’d never heard anything like those sophisticated, layered compositions and sublime harmonies – and neither had anyone else. No one had ever put together sounds like that before. It had a massive influence on future music. Without Pet Sounds the Beatles would never have made their Sergeant Peppers album.

I’ve been thinking about Pet Sounds a lot lately because I’ve been reading I Am Brian Wilson (with Ben Greenman, Coronet, 2016), a story of early success and mental illness, of creative genius and tragic loss, of addiction and second chances. I love this book. Continue Reading A struggle with mental illness – I Am Brian Wilson: A memoir…

Titans and sex goddesses: on Tim Ferriss and Helen Gurley Brown

January 14, 2017 at 9:30 pm | Posted in Anti-ageing, depression, health, Living creatively, nutrition | Leave a comment
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What do you have for breakfast? This is one of the questions that Tim Ferriss asks those he interviews in his Tools of Titans: the tactics, routines and habits of billionaires, icons, and world-class performers (Vermilion, 2016). Protein shakes are popular with many of these titans.

Tim Ferriss (See www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog ) is the best-selling American author of The Four-Hour Working Week: escape 9-5, live anywhere, and join the new rich (Crown, 2007) and other books and podcasts.

Tools of Titans is ‘a compendium of recipes for high performance’. Some of these ‘recipes’ are intriguing and some sensible. Some of them I do already and some I can’t wait to try. Continue Reading Titans and sex goddesses: on Tim Ferriss and Helen Gurley Brown…

Eliminating the Inessential

July 20, 2013 at 11:55 pm | Posted in creativity, depression, nutrition | Leave a comment
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‘Creativity has more to do with the elimination of the inessential than with inventing something new.’ Helmut Jahn. That’s out of a book by Alena Hennessy called Cultivating Your Creative Life. I buy these things but never have time to read them. But I can flip through them and get a lot from the gorgeous images and little quotations like the above. When I retire I can read them properly!
That quotation in the first line reminded me of one I heard long ago: ‘Life is getting rid of everything that is dead.’ It’s an instinctive thing I do in interior design. It’s a kind of visual editing. In my editing career spanning 20 years or so, it was common to be able to delete one third of a person’s writing to improve it. (Yes, I was very diplomatic.) Most people write very repetitively, as you will know from editing your own work. The electronic cut-and-paste options made so easy with computers exacerbated this tendency.
I mentioned interior design. I’ve never done that professionally, though looking back, that would have been an obvious career path. In the days when I was at high school art was where I shone. But did we have career guidance? Nope. And at this new school I was allowed to drop Maths, which I hated. And so I did. The place to go after leaving school – the only place – the place where every famous artist had gone to in those days – was East Sydney Tech. No one told me and I was without the nous to find out that in order to get into East Sydney Tech, one needed not only to be great at Art but to have Maths.
In my uncompromisingly adolescent way, after I left home at 17 straight after the Higher School Certificate, I worked at a variety of jobs and only had time to paint on weekends, and I decided that I didn’t want to be a “Sunday painter”, so I dropped it. Idiot!
I’m sure that the sudden loss of creative expression contributed to my severe depressions in the following years. Through a circuitous route of different jobs and different countries, those experiences led to Canberra (Queanbean, actually next door to Canberra but in a different State: New South Wales – through my now ex-husband’s job at a high school there) and to ANU, that’s the Australian National University, and an English (Hons) degree. And after that a writing and editing career. And along the way, I had the worst depression of my life – and was forced to go to a counsellor someone recommended.
I was so clueless that, even though I couldn’t stop crying, I thought I’d just go once. I remember that was the first time I heard the word, ‘ongoing’. She was American and Australians didn’t use that word then. But I picked up the meaning from the context, and said, ‘Do you mean I have to come again?!’ Ha! Okay, 18 months of sessions later, I’d done it – got to the bottom of those apparently random, meaningless depressions that had been incapacitating me from time to time for 15 or so years. It was to do with repeated loss when I was little, when too young to make sense of it or to conceptualise the future – that the future would be different from this, that this was definitely temporary, something my older siblings could work out.
And after I’d worked out the reasons for my depressions intellectually there was another six months before that knowledge was incorporated into my emotional self. So it was a long process, involving one of those horrible tendencies in life of things to get worse before they can get better, but afterwards I was free. I was 33 and I was free of those debilitating depressions for good! I knew that there would still be pain and loss, I knew that there would be grief, but I knew that I’d never suffer depression again, and I was right. And it’s very good to create from a clear psychic/emotional space.
Some Zen person figured out this metaphor for what I mean: you want to pour some tea into a cup. If that cup is already full, when you pour the tea will overflow. But when you pour into an empty cup the tea will simply fill that space without any messy spilling over. Does that make sense? It made sense to me at the time, although now I can see it might be a bit simplistic.
I prefer to think of it as when painting a picture you want to put your beautiful colours onto a white or pale piece of paper so they’re clear and not onto paper with paint already there, which would sully your new colours.
Eliminating the inessential – that tenet of creativity above – is expressed by blogger Sarah Wilson in many of her posts. She lives simply and eats simply. I love her way of life and her writing – and her recipes. I’ve mentioned her before but her blog is at http://www.sarahwilson.com
And you can get her Friday missives once a week with great sugar-free recipes and her advice about interior design etc. She is a creative person and seems very smart and generous and kind. She and Jules Clancy http://www.stonesoup.com.au are my two favourite food and nutrition people.
For the moment – well actually for the next year and a half – I must eliminate the inessential in all aspects of my life in order to finish the book I’ve been commissioned to write. More about this another time. In the mean time, remember that less is more, to eat simply and well (see those websites above), and that creative expression is very important.

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