A few issues back how I was kind of uncomfortable with the idea of 'role models' but really liked Austin Kleon's reframing of them as 'guardian spirits'.
In response, a friend told me about 'expanders' - people who expand your idea of what might be possible for you. They're not necessarily role models - you might not want to be like them in a lot of ways, and you might not want to go as far as they do - but when you meet them you realise your life could be a bit bigger than it is, or your options a bit broader.
My friend Lisa Skye wears full on 80s scifi makeup and neon fishnets and stuff, and I don't want to dress like that, but it does make me want to be a bit more out there, a bit more visibly myself. Because it turns out... you just can. She gets away with it, because there's no overlord who decides how you're allowed to dress (outside of work obviously). She expanded my horizons of how out-there I think you "can" dress.
Or, maybe at work, a fellow employee tells your boss, "Sorry, I can't do that work, I already have too much to do this week" and you are super shocked because you didn't know you could say no. When your boss asks you to do more work, you just accept it and try to get it done and it's not even that you felt you had no choice, it just didn't even occur to you to wonder if you had a choice or not. It's just... you assumed you had to say yes.
It can be big things or little things and it's going to be different for everyone. You are probably someone else's expander, and you don't even realise it!
(This is all kind of existentialism by the way, if you've ever wondered what that is, the philosophy. A big part of it is accepting in a very radical way that you are free. Not that your actions won't have consequences, but that the range of choices available to you is vast, far vaster than we ever run through in an average decision-making moment. It means instead of thinking "I can't just get off the train right now and hang out in that park instead of going to work" you realise "I can get off the train if I want. I would probably lose my job, and so I'll probably choose not to. But I can. I literally physically can just stand up right now and get off the train and go sit in that park." In some ways it works out much the same, but existentialism says it's not the same.
Especially because there is a gap between what you feel sure you "can't" do, and the actual things which will have terrible consequences. Expanders help you see some of the things in that gap.
Some people HATE expanders though
Finding out you have a lot more options than you realised is really exciting and liberating for some people. But for others, it makes them really really angry. Because instead of looking forward to the new possibilities, they look backwards. And when you say (through your actions), "you can travel overseas, even though you have a mortgage, it's not actually that expensive", they hear "all this time, you could have gone overseas. But you didn't" and the thought of that is too painful and so they shut it down immediately and go "well it's easy for SOME, I suppose" or call you frivolous and irresponsible or whatever.
People who are not happy with the choices they are making get angry when told they have other options available to them.
I think this is also what was behind a very particular flavour of backlash to #MeToo - some women who had been sexually harassed in the workplace got annoyed at women speaking up about it. "In my day, we just got on with the job", or whatever. Some people were really happy to see women no longer tolerating what they were forced to tolerate. But others found it too painful - the only way they had been able to cope is by thinking of it as inevitable, unavoidable. Being told that it WAS preventable (not by any individual, but by the culture), made them feel worse, not better.
I guess it's something to watch out for - if I find myself resenting someone. I should check in whether it's genuine anger or whether it's some sort of personal regret that has nothing to do with them.
A train in Minnesota leaked corn creating this extremely satisfying things fitting perfectly into other things situation.
"The spill happened in Crystal, Minnesota, on the Canadian Pacific line. The Star Tribune reports the corn stretched for about 2,000 feet (609.6 meters). Assuming the corn was about 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) deep the entire way, the Tribune estimates the spill would amount to about 900 bushels. That’s about $3,400 worth of corn on Tuesday’s prices at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange." (I love that the reporter got that level of specificity. Source.)
Things evolve into crabs so often there's a word for it
'Carcinisation' is 'the hypothesised process whereby a crustacean evolves into a crab-like form from a non-crab-like form." (So the above image is not actually a depiction of carcinisation, sorry.)
"Carcinisation is believed to have occurred independently in at least five groups of crustaceans, most notably king crabs, which most scientists believe evolved from hermit crab ancestors. The other examples are porcelain crabs (which are closely related to squat lobsters), the hairy stone crab, the coconut crab, and true crabs."
The term was introduced by L. A. Borradaile, who described something as "one of the many attempts of Nature to evolve a crab".
Neanderthals weren't round-backed - the first skeleton we found just had arthritis
When I was growing up, neanderthals were understood to be the 'missing link' between half-walking-on-their-hands apes and straight-backed humans. Like the picture above, or a million like it.
But it turns out, through sheer bad luck, it's just that the first neanderthal skeleton we dug up had arthritis. That's why he had a hunched back. What are the chances!
Through finding more skeletons, and DNA sequencing, we now know that "far from the knuckle-dragging, dim-witted brutes that they were portrayed to be, Neanderthals walked upright with ease and grace."
"Neanderthals were more human than ape. In fact, it was learned that while man split ways with primates more than 5 million years ago, the human and Neanderthal branch only diverged about 400,000 years ago. "
On overthinking things, and telling people not to overthink things
Overthinking is real, and I definitely do it, and I will get into what I think it means and how to avoid it in a bit.
But it must be said that pretty close to 100% of the people who have told me not to overthink things are people with a history of poor decision-making. When someone who has, for example, bought a kitten on the spur of the moment while they are staying on a friend's couch, says "don't overthink it", my brain's immediate response is maybe in fact you could stand to think about things a little bit more.
In any case, "don't overthink it" is entirely useless as advice. Because no one aims to overdo anything. You think you're doing it the right amount. No one deliberately misses a target (if you, do then, it wasn't your target) - it's that you don't know exactly where the target is or how to hit it. "Don't overthink it" is like saying "Don't miss the target!" to an archer. Oh cool, good advice, I won't then.
Maybe more meaningful would be, "I think you have enough information to make a decision, and you're just going around in circles now."
Or: "This is a really low-stakes decision - it doesn't really matter if you get it wrong."
(This is why I can say people who say "don't overthink it" generally have poor judgement. It doesn't mean overanalysers are always right. It's about the way it's communicated - because you can actually tell someone to stop overthinking things in a way that gives meaningful information or guidance. People who say "don't overthink it" are generally just trying to shut down something that makes them uncomfortable.
Sometimes they're just bored of hearing you talk about it, which is honestly fair enough - but there are about a million ways to change the subject without saying "stop thinking or caring about the thing you think and care about."
Overthinking is when
a) you have all the information you need, and you're just seeking more information as a way of procrastinating on making a difficult decision. An exercise you can do is to ask yourself, "what new piece of information could I receive that would make a decision possible?" Either any imaginable piece of info (an additional user review, after you've already read 133) would not help you make a decision. Or else the piece of info is impossible - if you realise you're waiting for God or the Universe to tell you the full and complete consequences of every path you're considering, that's not gonna happen and you might as well stop searching for more info.
b) time is a factor, and delaying making a decision is worse than picking either available option.
c) it's a low-stakes decision, and the time/brain energy of spending this long deciding is not worth the benefits of making the optimal decision.
A lot of this stuff is down to anxiety. So if you notice yourself doing it, try and figure out what it is you're anxious about, underneath. Like, what does the choice represent? Is it a little choice that actually ties into bigger choices you also have to make? Often I can't do some small thing because it actually rests on a much bigger thing I haven't made my mind up about yet. Generally any "do you want to do [activity] on [day]?" spins me out because to answer that, I have to plan out my whole week and figure what I do and don't have time for, and part of that might mean whether I say Yes or No to a piece of freelance work, which is a decision that's really fraught. So you're saying "do you want to grab a coffee on Thursday?" and I'm hearing "if I say No to this piece of client, will they find another editor, who will then become their go-to person, meaning I will lose that client forever? If so, how would that affect my budget? Well, that depends on whether I decide to get that expensive dental surgery that the dentist said I SHOULD get but don't HAVE to get". So the question of coffee on Thursday is now re-doing my annual budget and making a major healthcare decision. And that's why I didn't respond to your text, Ashlee.
Anyway: anxiety. If you can see that you're circling, then maybe stop trying to decide right now and instead do whatever you usually do to feel less anxious (get warm, have a shower, ask for a hug, idk. I'm not good at this). I would also say: don't beat yourself up for overthinking things! Don't beat yourself up for feeling anxious about stuff! It's unhelpful and unkind. Even if you ARE circling repetitively around a decision that feels really big to you... okay? That seems reasonable to me? Worrying about a big thing with consequences seems pretty human and normal.
And if it's a high-stakes decision, and you're still getting relevant new info that impacts the decision, that's not overthinking, it's just thinking.
(For real, someone once told me not to overthink the decision to have / not have kids.)
If you want solicited advice, send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or just reply to this email.
Lastly, a word about the bushfires...
I don't normally talk about current events, but I'm Australian and my country is extremely on fire right now, and it feels weird not to address it. This is the end of the newsletter; feel free to stop reading here.
So most people, here, would put a link to donate to the fireys, to wildlife recovery, etc etc. And I am so so grateful to everyone who HAS donated to these charities - it's over a hundred million dollars. I have seen hundreds of artists locally and internationally auction their work for charity or just straight up donate, and it has been amazing.
But the thing is: this isn't a one-off disaster. This is the new normal. We're going to have fires this bad again in a few years. The new and horrendous severity of these fires is caused by climate change, and Australia is getting hotter and drier every year (if you've heard the fires were caused by arson... there's a lot of ways to disprove that, but the most obvious is that it doesn't really matter who starts a fire. A match thrown onto wet leaves doesn't cause an inferno. The spark is pretty irrelevant, what 'causes' an out-of-control bushfire is the situation you throw the spark into.)
So yeah - the best thing you can do to help Australia's suddenly endangered wildlife is to vote for whatever party in your own country is promising to take serious action against climate change. I don't mean "we can still be completely reliant on fossil fuels but we'll plant a few trees" serious, I mean switching to renewables very very quickly, even if there are economic costs. Because this is all going to happen again, and the next time it happens - the next catastrophic fires - are not going to get this outpouring of support because it will be, well, old news by then. And because you'll be dealing with your own climate-related disasters, whatever they are.
Important: unless you are on the board of a fossil fuels company, or a member of parliament, or whatever, climate change is not your fault. You do not need to feel bad or responsible. Even if you use single-serve plastic yoghurt cups. That is just a distraction from the actual problems we need to fix (and by "fix" I mean "vote out of office").
Because climate change is not something that is "just happening", it is something that is being done to you, by people with a lot of money and power who would rather see your country burn that lose a cent. They would rather see my country burn, and it is burning, and they are watching and and they are seeing all the devastation you are seeing, the burnt koalas and the ash-choked rivers, and instead of thinking "jesus christ, how can I help?", they are thinking "how can I do as little as possible without getting voted out?"
If this seems hyperbolic... well maybe you had to be here. Our Prime Minister literally went on holiday to Hawaii and refused to give the firefighters any money (they're volunteers), and he has lied and lied and lied and lied and lied. But people got super angry so he's been forced to come home and give them a little. So getting angry did work.
In other words: don't feel guilty, feel angry.
Some articles, if you're interested:
The people in power will let your country burn
A burning nation, led by cowards
And if you want to donate:
These are six of the most high-impact, cost-effective, evidence-based organisations fighting climate change. I'm sure there are others. And please vote.
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