Life Imitates Art

Saturday, I rewatched the 1999 Thomas Crown Affair remake, and found it held up quite well; still near the top of my guilty pleasures film list.

Then, Sunday, I ended up in the same subway car as Mark Margolis, the actor who played art forger Heinrich Knutzhorn in the film.

Baader-Meinhof indeed.

Rebooting

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”
– Joseph Campbell

Focal

Let’s say you need to meet a stranger tomorrow in NYC, but you can’t communicate in advance to coordinate time and place. So where and when do you meet them?

The answer is: the information booth at the center of Grand Central Station, at high noon.

That’s actually the empirically correct answer, as nearly 3/4 of respondents will say the same thing, thereby making it your best bet.

It’s an effect first illustrated by Nobel-winning economist Thomas Schelling: people naturally default to certain ‘focal points’ (later called ‘Schelling points’) in the absence of communication. In many problems, there are answers that seem inevitable (or specially meaningful), and people tend to gravitate towards them whether they mean to or not.

It’s a particularly useful concept in friendly negotiations, where you need to strike a balance between competition and coordination, rather than just fighting out every point. Try and find Schelling points that work for you as a compromise, and it’s easy to get your counter-party to accept them too, as they just seem right.

Episodic

Back in my movie days, I used to watch the first couple episodes of any hit TV show. Casting directors would often suggest actors by throwing out a name, followed by ‘you know, the Dad from Heroes’ or ‘the youngest brother on Malcolm in the Middle.’ I needed to keep up.

That’s how I ended up at the Blockbuster near my old apartment, back in 2002, renting a DVD of the first four episodes of the first season of 24. It was a Friday afternoon, and I had dinner plans with friends, but I figured I’d have time to watch at least the first episode or two before I headed out.

Two episodes in, I called my friends to cancel dinner. Four episodes in, I headed back to Blockbuster, to trade that DVD for the second. And then, the next morning, I headed back for the third, and the fourth that afternoon. By that evening, I’d watched the entire first season of 24 in less than 24 hours time.

Of course, in today’s Netflix-enabled world, binge-watching is commonplace. Fire up a season of Hannibal, True Detective or Orange is the New Black, and it’s nearly impossible not to be propelled from one episode to the next, bedtime be damned.

At the same time, I’m also still a big movie fan, watching an array of mainstream and indie releases, new and old. And I frequently find, three quarters of the way through a film, that I just really no longer care what happens. I’m hoping it will wrap up shortly, can barely imagine watching another 30 minutes, much less six to eight hours, of the same story playing out.

I’ve long wondered about the reason for that gap. Perhaps it’s the difference in pacing between film and television, or TV episodes’ frequent cliffhanger structure. Perhaps it’s our willingness to give early episodes of a series the benefit of the doubt, and then the relationship we build with characters that keeps us in for the season’s balance. But it’s something I’ve heard a slew of other people mention, too. You can pop TV episodes like they’re Pringles – once you start, you can’t stop; but edit a film to longer than 90 minutes, and it’s an uphill battle to keep an audience in their seats.

Cursed

“When angry, count four. When very angry, swear.’
– Mark Twain

[Ed note: as I’ve gotten older, I’ve increasingly noticed how often people talk adjacent to each other, rather than truly with each other – sort of the adult equivalent of ‘parallel play.’ Arguing a point, both sides become more deeply entrenched, rather than listening to, and staying open to, the opposing position. As I’ve aged, I’ve also become increasingly sure I’m wrong a large percentage of the time. As a stubborn asshole at heart, it takes work for me to put that insight into practice, to admit I’m wrong and to really listen to what others have to say, especially if it’s hurtful for me to hear. But I’m sure trying. It’s always good to know that, if a comment is a bit too close to home, i can always count to four. Or curse.]

Quotidian

“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing every day.” – Dan John

With lots unmoored in my life at the moment, I’ve been honing my to-do list, trying to figure out the things I value enough to do every single day. At the moment, I’m down to a core seven daily obligations: meditate, work out, inbox zero, journal, blog, practice trumpet, stretch/mobilize.

Hence this post. #everydamnday

Independent

Two hundred thirty-nine years in, and America still seems like a pretty good idea. In light of that time frame, these two posts from nine and ten years back seem more than recent enough to repost, especially as I still stand behind them both:

“Self-Determination”, July 4th, 2005.

“Balls of Steel”, July 4th, 2006

Hope you’re all enjoying the day, and happy god bless America birthday wishes to the good ol’ U S of A.

165

Over years of running CFNYC, we discovered that, on average, our members attended the gym about 2.8 times a week. Talking to coaches at other CrossFit boxes, to yoga, pilates and spin instructors, and to private trainers, that seems about par for the course. In a committed, workout-attending population, people seem to hit the gym about 2.5-3 times a week.

And, indeed, that’s great. If you’re smart and focused, that’s often all the gym time you need. Though that depends, entirely, on what you do with the other 165 hours of your week.

There’s an old fitness maxim: you can’t out-train a bad diet. You also can’t out-stretch days full of sitting, standing and moving in terrible posture. You can’t out-caffeinate a lack of sufficient, high-quality sleep. And your three hours at the gym are only enough if they’re just the far end of the power curve – the small percentage of time you move at high intensity, paired with the large percentage of time outside the gym in which you’re still moving, albeit at a lower pace.

The problem is, gyms aren’t really set up to address those other 165 hours. Sure, trainers and coaches will sometimes give homework; but we know from research on adherence in physical therapy that people just don’t do their fitness homework, even if it’s literally hurting them not to.

Which, I think, is an opportunity for technology. Pair a great in-gym experience with a well-crafted app that extends that experience to guide the other 165 hours of the week, while still tying back to the expert accountability and community support you have in the gym, and you’ve got a far more effective way to help people make positive change in their lives.

Stoic

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Down, Not Out

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
– Thomas Edison