Suggested Song: All Day and All of the Night, The Kinks.
Suggested Drink: Negroni Sbagliato: Prosecco, Campari, Sweet Vermouth.

Ignorance is bliss.
– Thomas Gray

The summer shutter system. Bill’s apartment in Aix-en-Provence.

It’s August. Provence is baking, as per normal, and most likely where you are too, whether normal or not. There’s a daily regime here for the hottest weeks of summer. Open the home early to the cool dawn air. Run, market, yoga, and whatever other physical activities that demand that daily check mark get checked by mid-morning. Keep lunch copious but light. Salad, veggies, and fruits from the morning’s market crawl are perfect. Shudders close against the mid-day sun and remain so through the Saharan afternoon; windows open to any hint of circulation. Fans in every room. Nap, write, read through the day. Maybe there’s a good matinee at the dark, cool cinema. One can hope.

I sit at Le Forum with Canadian Dave and drink a cold pint of Kronenbourg. By 6 pm the sun has tempered from scorching to toasty.  Tables under the large terrace parasols are at a premium. The water-misting fans feel heavenly. Kat, another two beers please.

This is the bewitching hour; dusk on the urban Serengeti. Beasts old and young emerge restless to mingle and run. Children shout and play tag, their parents order Aperol spritzes and stay in view. Gazelles nimble past in flowing white linen. Teens huddle in clumps, the boys here, the girls there, subtle (but not too subtle) glances pass between.

August is not conducive to creative, high-throughput production of any sort, at least here in Provence. Our natural cooling system labors with the challenge, the mind struggles to focus, and anyhow why insist? We all need the reset, a hard reboot. Europeans understand this and vacation en masse. France runs at half tempo. Luckily, Le Forum will keep its taps on and parasols open.

Time to fill

With free time comes options. Access to the world is as easy as a lift of the laptop screen. The BBC, New York Times, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, San Francisco Chronicle, France24, and La Provence keep me on top of all developments, from global to local, essential to superfluous, by the minute. Online media produces an astounding, unrelenting volume of news coverage.

Henny-Penny, by J. Austin Miller

Competition for cyber readers, viewers, and listeners is hyper intense. Alarmism and fearmongering deliver the ears and eyeballs. Fox News is the undisputed master of this Henny-Penny shuffle in America and has the numbers to prove it: more viewers than its two closest competitors combined. This summer’s bombardment from the outlets is particularly dire. Wars, weather, disease, … this just in, the sky is falling!! (and cue foreboding music).

There is a choice: plugged-in anxiety, or blissful oblivion.

In the August heat I choose to be oblivious. You should consider it as well. Conscious ignorance pairs nicely with the summer downshift, and there is little merit in agitation; it will only make you hotter. On Le Forum’s terrace one can debate China’s Taiwan invasion plans, or instead make a claim for the best market stalls or Provence rosés. Something like this:

Bandol or Palette?

For rosé? Well, yeah both excellent, but frankly I’m loyal to the Coteaux d’Aix. I’m thinking that the local strawberries are just past their peak. Have you noticed?

Definitely, but the Cavaillon melons are in full sugar. I just follow the bees to find the best stalls. Speaking of which, the Saturday market at Place Richelme is exceptional this summer.

Yeah, I guess, but the marchands at Place des Prêcheurs remain mes préférés. And anyhow, Claudia, the girl with the stall offering the amazing legumes farcis, …  too cute. Now let me tell you about my new recipe for Italian bruschetta ….

Kat, 2 more beers please.

So which sounds more relaxing? Something like that, or a lengthy discourse on how to dodge Chinese space junk?

There are a few things you can control at the moment: where you shop, what you eat, with whom you share time. There are a lot of things over which you have absolutely no control this August. Here’s a short list:

  • An untethered Putin
  • An emboldened Xi
  • A politicized Supreme Court
  • Prices shooting up
  • The economy slowing down
  • A stock market in free fall
  • The US west in flames
  • The US east under water
  • The first wave of Monkeypox
  • The next wave of Covid
  • A falling Chinese rocket booster
  • The SF Giants (they are playing horribly)

This August I will focus on topics of interest within my minuscule domain of control. As for the relentlessly alarmist, 24/7 news dump I’ll choose obliviousness.

Filling time

Taking the no-news pledge for a slow summer month is easy enough. Filling the free time; that’s the pickle for the news-cycle obsessive. It’s a particularly vexing cornichon for me.

It helps to have a new project, something not on the standard calendar. I’ve chosen Italy and primed my enthusiasm with a jump across the border this week. It’s a seductive country in all manner of ways: the landscape, weather, architecture, food, people, and daily rhythms to name a few. All were on full display for 2 days in the seaside town of Ospedaletti, less than a 3-hour drive from my home in Aix (how lucky is that?).

A plate of fritto misto. Playa79, Ospedaletti, Italy

Freshly inspired, a new Italian recipe collection has been started (after the market crawl this morning I made a tomato bruschetta; simple and delicious, like the best Italian dishes). Any Italian films at the art house cinemas in Aix will get a viewing. And I’ll see what my friends at Book and Bar have in stock for authors. An Umberto Eco tome would soak up the spare hours (and days, and weeks…) nicely.

But perhaps the most fun will be a language course. Duolingo is free and fun and I’m on Lesson 3. When I tap out there I might ask Kat from Le Forum for a few lessons. She’s a native. August is looking better. I’m feeling clueless. How’s your summer winding down?

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

I woke up in the morning
to the sound of baby snoring
but oh oh oh so happy

Tickled pink or down and out. I love music drawn from the edge of emotion, the highest peak, the deepest ditch, … and that’s why I write rock dramas.

Happy Clam by Mina De Wet

Happy as a Clam is a pop feel-good melody, written during the bleakest period of Covid. It’s a giddy song by design, one that fell into my creative space and dared me not to write it, quickly. I was in a beautifully silly mood for a few winter months, manically happy, walking on sunshine as they say. I hope that this song brings a bit of that sunshine to you as well, perhaps a beautiful memory of some magic moment with some special one in some enchanting place.

For the video I carved up and whittled down a production by the Clams, an all-girl band out of Spain that is now defunct. I thank them immensely for the animated content, which complements my song brilliantly. You can also listen without the video by clicking on the Soundcloud button at the bottom of the page.

I’m working on a 5 song EP release now, months behind and expected out by the end of August. Happy as a Clam won’t be on the collection, but it will be a key song in the 2023 musical now under development.

Suggested song: Leap of Faith, Bruce Springsteen
Suggested drink: Paternel Rosé, AOP Côtes de Provence (any pale Provence rosé should do!)

“Make your life a lot more fucking awesome.”

I was reading an essay on Medium this morning, hovered over a bowl of Special K, muesli, and local strawberries. Nitin, a full-time programmer and part-time purveyor of millennial wisdom, was offering his 8 rules on “how to rewrite your life as you want it to be.” It was a slow news day. I was looking for distraction.

Rules 1 through 7 were the trite pulp one tends to find from the newly enlightened: honor yourself, follow a healthy diet, appreciate nature, yada yada. (Fair admission: I’m guilty of dispensing similar banal obviousness on occasion.) But Rule #8 struck a chord, and it wasn’t just the F bomb. Here’s why.

Every single one of us wants an f-ing awesome life. At 50 I was incredibly blessed and more than a little lucky to have had this: money, security, job, home, spouse, kids, grill. It was pretty damn good, but not f-ing awesome.

When my mid-life wobble met my inner narcissist there was little resistance to the axiom your life is not a dress rehearsal (so grab it). I bade my goodbyes to all above (except the kids) and went in search of my Shangri-La, El Dorado, Elysian Fields. I wanted more than money, more than stability, more than bliss. I’d trade all this and more (a great Dead Boys song, Spotify it) for a truly authentic life of deep personal meaning in an enchanting, inspiring locale: now that would be pretty f-ing awesome.

(Note that nowhere in that last sentence do you find the words affluence, comfort, or happiness.)

I found my Shangri-La in Provence, France. Yours will call too should you pursue the quest. Please trust me on this. Beyond the seductive splendor of its lavender fields, turquoise seas, and perched village cafés serving chilled rosé on hot endless days, I found my tribe in Provence. Seekers, most with impressive career and personal credentials, who will tell you that yeah that thing before was pretty damn good, but not f-ing awesome.

Sometimes we take it for granted, those of us who’ve washed up on these shores, but then a jealous friend on holiday or tourist at the next table will ask how one makes it all work. The language and legal and financial and family barriers and considerations.

You just have to figure it out.

A fellow runaway here once answered it quite simply like this: you just have to figure it out. This is what he meant: few of us here are independently wealthy; most of us have kids; all of us have/had aging parents back home; visa issues are rampant; and our language isn’t native. This further complicates already complicated things like tax regulations, wi-fi outages, parent-teacher mediations, and ordering that second rosé bottle (no, it’s not another please, it’s one more of the same!). You just have to figure it out.

My friend Dickie ran a high-stress, high-pay trading desk in Hong Kong for 10 years. These days he gives leisurely walking tours around Aix-en-Provence and fronts a local rock-n-roll band, while helping raise 3 teen daughters. Life? Yeah, pretty awesome, just figure it out.

Tilly was a BBC producer in London traveling across the globe to film nature documentaries. Now she’s at home in her small Aix workshop, turning out beautifully delicate ceramic bowls and creative pieces of jewelry. That’s when she’s not parked by the sea in the vintage family travel trailer, book in hand and watching her daughter paddle board across the placid Mediterranean blue. Life? Yeah, pretty awesome, just figure it out.

I abandoned my profession, divorced my wife (and closest ally, still), and moved to France in 2010. I had no real plan and no backup. A Wallenda moment. A part-time teaching job and a bit of advisory work helped, and I found, finally, the time and energy to develop my real passions: workshops on life change, a book, an album, and a musical.

Don’t expect all confetti and champagne in your pursuit of a life that is pretty f-ing awesome. It’s not the goal. My financial plan was never sustainable and remains tenuous. My creative projects have gone largely unnoticed, some have failed. Face plants can be humiliating. You soldier on. No regrets.

I’ve been scolded for the irresponsibility, most heatedly by myself. I’ve worried about the impact on my kids: a year or 2 with dad in French lycées, then back to mom and San Francisco schools, and then back to dad. But, 12 years later I’m where I belong. And each of my 3 little bumpkins have grown into fascinating, multicultural young adults of amazing potential. Life? Pretty awesome, just figure it out.


Here is the takeaway.

Your life now is indeed not a dress rehearsal. Forget all that stuff about heavens and reincarnations and molecular transmogrifications into other forms of pixie dust existence. It’s all wishful hooey. This is it, your one single shot.

You can do at least one thing better than any other individual on this planet.

So, to do what? Well, you can do at least one thing better than any other individual on this planet. This nonpareil gift is enabled simply by that unique blend of genes, upbringing, education, friends, and experiences that make you you. Finding your Shangri-La – geographically and emotionally – will help release the potential.

If you can pair that unique mastery with your deepest passions, then we all gain in your amazing gift. And you get to live a life that is pretty f-ing awesome. Now go grab it.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested song: My Back Pages, Bob Dylan (I love this 1967 version by The Byrds)
Suggested drink: Loyal Lager, Yards Brewing Company, Philadelphia

Things we’ve owned

I bought this Suzuki F-100 acoustic in 1978, at a pawn shop in Waco, Texas. It was priced at $150 and didn’t play particularly well. The action left my fingertips aching and its intonation up the neck was dreadful. It did, however, have an unexpectedly beautiful tone that touched me. I played it, put it down, played it again, then down again. After a few cycles the hook was set and haggle began. An hour later I drove home with my first 6 string.

I had arrived in Waco that August to start college in the fall. I was fresh off the farm, just dumped by a girlfriend (who was soon pregnant to a good friend back home), penniless and clueless to the world as a new-born lamb. Learning to play that guitar was the best therapy possible for this this heartbroken, homesick hippy lost in a land of redneck cowboys and supersized pickups. Guthrie, Nelson, and Dylan were my teachers, memorizing their playbooks and learning their simple chord structures. Two years in Texas gave me 2 educations: laser jock and guitar picker. Both would take my life in unexpected directions over the next 40 years. (Another essay.)

The Suzuki has found a home at Alexandra’s place in San Francisco, where I stay when in town. My boys have learned on it, just as dad did. I love having an instrument in the house when visiting, and I polish and restring it once per year (whether needed or not). While much better guitars have come and gone from the Magill collection, I just can’t sell this humble beauty. I still run through my set list of folk classics from the giants mentioned above and am transported back to those younger years in Waco. It’s magic. To some things we remain loyal.

Places we’ve lived

I’m in San Francisco for 2 weeks. There’s a wedding to attend and I never miss a chance to see my kids. And I still love the city by the bay. I lived more than 20 years in this town, going to university, getting married, buying a home and raising a family, launching a career, playing my music in clubs (that required better guitars), and chasing a thousand dreams through its foggy shroud.

San Francisco wasn’t my first stop after Texas. A new job brought me into the region and weekends free brought me into the city. There’s a mystery and romance to this town that preys on dreamers, that gets under your skin. That path has been well trod through the decades: sailors and miners; beats and hippies; techies and investors; everyone panning for gold. There are other amazing cities for lost romantics: Paris, London, and New York offer all the essentials. But San Francisco is the one that fed my wanderlust.

I know every green park and gritty alley of San Francisco, the dim sum palaces and Mexican taquerias, the coziest Italian cafés for a rainy afternoon and dog-eared paperback. There are always newer, hotter spots in a trending city like this. I haunt the places that matter. City Lights Bookstore, the Tadich Grill, Mario’s in North Beach, the Lone Palm on 22nd Street.

I still get goosebumps waiting for a downtown train in the Sunset, the cool ocean brume drifting up Sloat Avenue, the blue Pacific glimmering in the distance, the rattle of MUNI street cars, the anticipation of another night in Baghdad by the Bay. To some places we remain loyal.

Of loyalty and fealty

Don’t confuse fealty with loyalty.  Our former president is a case study in this allusion. His continued dominance over the Republican cult (was once a party) is easy to rationalize. He still commands a large and enduring following that can determine elections. If you want his nod prepare to go prone and grovel.

At the peak Trump’s Twitter accounts had almost 90 million followers and he garnered 33 million likes on Facebook. He still brings out the MAGA United despite having nothing new to share. The election was stolen, radical liberal judges are on a political witch hunt, his call with Zelensky was perfect. Rewind and repeat. But because of his unquestionable appeal to their voter base most all Republican politicians – congressmen, governors, state and local representatives – sing his glories and pledge their allegiance. He would be well served not to confuse this show of fealty with loyalty.

Hitler, too, was a messiah to the masses and his staff of sycophants and nationalists fell fervently into goosestep behind him. But at some point, all emperors with no clothes get the big reveal, and when that happens the façade of invincibility evaporates in a flash, then the worship. In Hitler’s case that started with a bad spanking in Stalingrad and the fall of North Africa in 1943. When the Allies pincered in from the boot of Italy and the beaches of Normandy that shroud of supremacy dissolved quickly. Confidence had so waned by 1944 that attempts on his life were being conspired by his closest advisors.

Trump still wears the robe of a king maker today, but the moment the surety of his nod loses its guarantee (his man in Nebraska just went down in flames) the fetid taint of his association will far out-stink it’s questionable influence. Expect the fall to be fast and ugly. Suck-ups who’ve trafficked (prostituted might too harsh, but then again…) their allegiance for ratings or votes – the Vance’s and Hannity’s and Gaetz’s – will abandon Trump World like rats from the Titanic. Well, maybe not Matt Gaetz. Even Hitler had his Goebbels.

New beginnings

The wedding was a beautiful affair. The wine country north of San Francisco shares a climate and culture with my own part of the world now along the Mediterranean rim. Warm days, cool nights, long summers, beautiful people. Endless fields of trellised vines and charming towns that revolve around all things white, red, and rosé. Trendy restaurants for the loaded (in both senses) and humbler options for the less well-heeled.

One person missing from the family gathering, a key person, was my sister Cathy, who passed away suddenly 4 years ago. And joining us was my brother-in-law’s new friend. Welcoming her into the group was easy. She was warm, open but not overeager, respectful and making an effort, and I imagined keen to be embraced by the fold. Doing so felt like a turn of the page, a moving on, a door firmly and finally closed, while a new one was opened. Cathy was gone and also her chair from this and future family tables. It left me off balance.

I have thought a lot about loyalty since the wedding and accepted that it’s not a zero-sum game. Steve’s decision to move on with his life is neither disloyal to my sister’s memory nor to us, her family. And I can honor her memory and remain loyal to a guy who filled her life with kids, comfort, and happiness. There’s a connection to my sister that Steve enables, the flash of warm moments we all spent together. He deserves only happiness with the possibilities ahead, and every evening I’ll continue to light a candle to Cathy’s memory.

Onward!

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested Song: I Won’t Miss You – Demo, Bill Magill
Suggested Drink: Continuum cocktail: Gin, Vermouth, Chartreuse, Cynar, Curaçao.

A good friend stopped by the apartment yesterday for a glass of rosé (okay, a bottle) and a bit of catching up. I pulled out my trusted Martin D35 and played a new song – “I Won’t Miss You” – that will make it onto the upcoming EP, and I asked for his thoughts. Through the years I’ve gotten invaluable feedback from this practice; a living room debut with some work-in-progress tune still half baked. Maybe it needs another verse or change in tempo. The suggestion yesterday was about dynamics: perhaps bring it up a bit here, take it back down there. The song is suddenly immeasurably better.

(Note to artists of all stripes: inviting criticism is essential. Know when to accept it; know when to stick to your creative instincts.)

Where does the creative flame come from; Van Gogh’s glowing starscapes, T Monk’s jumpy piano rhythms? A magic well of inventiveness deep inside our grey folds of neurons, peptides, and proteins? Neuroscientists see synapses sparking in the anterior cingulate cortex and left inferior parietal lobule when artists get their grooves on. That reveals the brain regions being aroused, but what does it tell us about the true source of inspiration? Is it chemical, physical, …. some kernel of protein pre-programmed before birth?

The Gods of Song

The Law of Conservation dictates that energy, whether thermal, electrical, mechanical, or other, can neither be created nor destroyed, simply transformed (first postulated by Émilie du Châtelet, a brilliant mathematician and close companion to Voltaire. … ah the French and their love of entangled affairs!). Can creative energy be governed by the same law?

Imagine that the gods of song lord over the reallocation – but not creation or destruction – of all musical creativity. They glean the energy burning off musical dynamism – the teenage frenzy at a Beatles concert; the rapture of baronesses swooning at a Mozart recital – blend it with other tuneful emissions of emotion at any given moment, recycle it, distill it, reshape it, then gaze down from upon high for the best possible artist at that particular moment to reinterpret it.

This process steps through a lot of conversions, as does power from original source to your wall outlet, but the principle of conservation remains inviolate, honoring Madame de Châtelet’s original premise.  No mystical origination deep in the limbic system at debut, no final extinction in the cemetery-of-song at end.

Antennas Up

As a creative you need to keep the receptors up at all times. The gods above are constantly surveying the flock for the perfect agents of delivery: who to best capture these water lilies in Giverny, the stars over Saint Rémy, to take this newly formed bundle of musical melancholy and write something tender about love lived and lost. The energy is floating in the ether. It just needs the right channel for conveyance. And that just might be you, if your creative soul is pure and open to divine inspiration.

A final note that I’m not the first musician to believe in the gods of song. You can find interviews with some of our greatest lyricists, the Dylans and Caves and Cohens, who claim that the process is as mysterious to them as anyone, that when inspired they are just a medium for the message and spill it out. The key? Stay inspired, live deeply, keep the heart open to joy and pain and all emotions in between, and always keep that figurative brush and palette close at hand.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested Song: Love is the Drug, Roxy Music
Suggested Drink: Botanical Buzz cocktail: vodka, honey syrup, lemon juice.

This simple, emphatic text was sitting in my WhatsApp box this morning:

“Just finished!”

No more needed said. A close friend has been working on a massive creative project for the past 3+ years. Blinders-on, head-down mode has been le rigueur since early 2021; behind schedule, under fire, and digging hard. I could almost feel his endorphin flood when tapping that final period of the last sentence of his closing chapter. YES!

Endorphins are hormones in our brains; large molecule neuropeptides that temper pain and lighten our moods when stressed out. Open that valve wide enough and a sense of euphoria sweeps over us like a Hokusai wave. It feels amazing and has a lot of health benefits to boot. Google it.

Exercise can provoke endorphins into action. The runners’ high, yeah, that’s it. So can a burst of laughter or a slow hot bath (or for that matter slow hot sex, reportedly). These activities hit the pleasure buttons hard, which release our peptide friends and make us feel even better. A virtuous up-cycle. Oh yeah, give me more of that!

The easiest avenues to endorphin nirvana come through acts of achievement, ours and with those in our love circle. Parenting offers plenty of moments: opening a near perfect report card or watching your child accept a diploma in her cap and gown (their pride is our joy; I get weepy). Work too can be fertile ground: learning that you just earned a hard-sought promotion or year-end bonus; getting the news that a new client (the one you’ve been jumping through hoops to woo) is coming on board; passing your CPA exam or the state bar after months of study.


At some point post midlife our kids graduate to their own lives, we retire from core careers, and slow hot sex becomes less common (reportedly). The need for regular endorphin boosts remains acutely important for emotional wellbeing, however. What to do, what to do?

There are plenty of natural-high options outside of kids and work, of course, but not through the usual pleasure activities associated with retirement: boozy golf outings, vacation cruises, trips to see the grandkids. These things can make us feel happy, but a vitamin E BANG! tends to come from the big moments of achievement as mentioned above.

So how do you catch that buzz? The good news is the opportunities are endless. Flow-inducing activities are prime ground, throwing your natural strengths and passions into projects of real challenge. My brother bought a crumbling french estate and built it into a stunning countryside showcase, mostly through his own labor. My friend Laura joined a sailboat racing crew in the Caribbean. Oh, she also started a school for elementary kids in Haiti, a challenge on an entirely different level!

Artistic endeavors offer all the key conditions for massive endorfic (made up word) release. They demand an intense amount of concentration and effort, then a moment of exhausted, exhilarating completion. Most creatives love the journey but surely look forward to the IT’S DONE! finale. When the last brush stroke is applied, the final period punctuated, or recording production mixed and mastered. These types of moments provide emancipation from a deeply rewarding but all-consuming journey of love.

At my side hustle the Interprize Group we embolden people to pursue audacious life ambitions of deep personal meaning. We’ll get you mainlining the endorphin buzz. Reach out to learn more, or just swing by Provence for week. I’ll get you sorted.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested Song: I Believe in a Dream, Bill Magill
Suggested Drink: French 75: champagne, gin or cognac, lemon, simple syrup. (a virgin version included in link)

Like almost everyone at the break of a new year I’d been plotting a different start to the next phase. A revival. Covid was diluting down, I was vaccinating up, and my system was primed for an animated resurrection of dormant, or perhaps entirely new, ambitions. Bring on 2022! On January 1, nothing. January 2, …still drawing blanks. Midmonth found me even more aimless and adrift. My reliable custom of new-years rebirth had abandoned me. What was happening?

Entropy : en·tro·py
/ˈentrəpē/
noun
A process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder. (Merriam-Webster).

Covid has been an easy out for getting sidetracked on life’s plans. Can’t travel. Hate Zoom. Off balance. Fair enough, now it’s time to get over it. Nature’s natural order is always toward disorder. Plants wilt and die. Cells in our bodies corrupt (and we wilt and die). Gears rust and software gets buggy. As Neil Young sang, rust never sleeps. Entropy never rests. When all bogs down one needs a strategy.

My very first vocation, pre suffusing in rosé on hot Provence afternoons, before teaching business, prior to financing startups, previous to writing reports on stocks and markets, earlier than wrenching on Star Wars lasers, … no way, way before all of that, I worked on cars. I’ve been up to my elbows in axle grease and wrapped many a rusty tailpipe in muffler bandage. A car mechanic makes his living on entropy in action.

All grand ambitions lose momentum and yield to gravity without an equal or greater force to keep them in motion. The bigger the plans (and the best plans are absurdly audacious), the greater the effort required. Consider this Magill’s 3rd Law of Life Motion. When inspiration flags and ambitions suffer from the entropy affliction, return to first principles and apply a dose of Spartan discipline. This is the antidote.


First Principals :  first prin·​ci·​ples
/ fɝːst ˈprɪn.sə.pəlz /
noun (plural)
The basic and most important reasons for doing or believing something. (Cambridge Dictionary)

Near the end of January I shared a coffee with Jonathan Simons (more on him below) and had a breakthrough: I needed to get back to first principles. When I upended my life 12 years earlier – when I quit my job, divorced my wife, and moved across the globe – what the hell was I thinking? That was a deeply disruptive decision to all involved, so what was the motivation, the justification, behind that madness, that moment of this I must do now!? What were my first principles?

First, some backstory.

When I moved to Aix-en-Provence in 2010 I had a big basket of mid-life dreams to pursue: write essays and books, record music and produce a musical, teach, give workshops on audacious life leaps, suffer a mad love affair, and try being Bill in entirely new and not yet understood ways in an unfamiliar land. The cable cars, foggy slopes, domestic surety, and San Francisco’s world of high-tech finance were in my rear-view mirror; ahead was nothing but alien green field.

These things I mostly did, but to little acclaim and largely unnoticed (the love affair excepted). My first compilation of essays – Postcards from a Runaway – was published in 2014 on Zook, which summarily folded. My 2018 album – Last Night at the Ha-Ra – was self-released and still hasn’t generated 1,000 listens on Spotify. The musical I staged around that album score has yet to gain traction with stage or screen producers. I did find a home at INSEAD teaching startup creation, so that gets a check. And I managed to convince Sorbonne CELSA to let me to teach entrepreneurship through the lens of life change (what I call interpreneurship), which they accepted with a puzzled look: Interpreneurship, c’est quoi ça professeur Magill? Bless them.

Regrets? Anyone telling you they live life with no regrets either (1) is being dishonest, or (2) lacks the humility to admit that every now and then they seriously fuck up. Do I question the move to Provence and abandonment of my former life? No. Am I frustrated at my continued obscurity? Yes. But I didn’t take this path expecting quick celebrity and riches (I’ll take them). I pursued a deeper life wild in new experiences, relationships, and possibilities that would fuel a body of celebrated work that would outlive me. When I recalibrated on these first principles, which nowhere state the words rich or famous, a crippling sense of frustration washed out, a deep sense of ease washed in, and I exhaled. Revival. I was good.


If you find yourself adrift at this point into the year, take a moment to define (or redefine) your first principles, then reengage. How? These 3 steps are working for me:

  1. Reset: Firstly, chill and don’t do jack for a few days or weeks; focus on getting back to your baseline. (For non-American readers, jack is short for jack shit. If you’re confused as to why shit is proceeded with jack I have no idea, it’s an American thing. … Speaking of American things, you’ll find a tune of that very same name on my 1996 album Eskimo in the Sun. Click here to listen. Big bobaloo kahuna baby!).

    During this reset (1) go minimalist and (2) feed the basics. Get as many distractions out of your daily quotidien as possible. Embrace your hermitude. Books. Netflix. Hikes. Meditate. Contemplate. Get healthy. Go naked. Baths (with plenty of bubbles or salts; your skin and soul will thank you). Don’t overthink your principles or ambitions, just re-find your balance. That desire to make a big reach will start to stir again.
  • Apply Discipline: There’s a time to be Athens, a time to be Sparta. All night decadence, all day recovery, bank-breaking adventures and other fun forms of hedonistic mischief will be waiting once you’ve relaunched. Athens reveled in grand displays of indulgence and creativity; Sparta in restraint and prowess. It’s a moment for minimalism and structure. When resetting to first principles get your Sparta on.
  • Reaffirm: Once you’ve established a stable state rewrite those first principles. If you no longer believe them, change them. If you never had them, craft them. What do you stand for now? What is your personal doctrine? What needs to be said about you at your eulogy? Find that supreme north star that guides all of your actions and major decisions. A distilled, incontestable, single statement of your name here raison d’être. Stew on it, write it, test it, reshape it, and then honor it.

    Companies refer to their first principles as a mission statement. Some good examples:
    • BBC: To enrich people’s lives with programs and services that inform, educate and entertain.
    • Walmart: We save people money so they can live better.
    • GE: We bring good things to life.

A powerful mission statement propels all employees toward a common, worthy, and clearly-defined corporate goal. Your first principles should similarly get you oriented toward a bright north star, cutting through all the turbulence and lulls that separate now and the realisation of your grand life ambitions. What gift do you want to leave behind? This will help get you there.


Two final notes:

The Analog Sea Review #3

A big thank you to Jonathan Simons. Our chat at Mana Cafe in January pulled me out of my creative stupor and back to first principles; the breakthrough mentioned above. Jonathan is the founding editor and publisher of The Analog Sea Review, a collection of poetry, essays, fiction, and fine art for those “wishing to maintain contemplative life in the digital age.” He is a most inspiring purist, unavailable by email, text, or phone (he doesn’t own one). No online presence, no digital wake. Exchanges require pen and paper. I love it. If The Analog Sea Review is not yet available in your neighborhood bookstore, please press them to carry it. Contact me for an introduction if curious.

To those of you whose grand ambitions center on artistic creation, if you too are toiling in anonymity take solace in the fact that some of history’s most revered artists – Schubert, Van Gogh, and Brontë being just 3 examples – left this world still largely unappreciated outside their small circle of supporters. This did not, however, corrupt their artistic vision or provoke them to toward conformity. Be provoked; never conform. If you are to be remembered for anything it will be that singular gift that only you could offer.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested song: The Real Me. The Who.
Suggested drink: Curtain Call cocktail. Rum, champagne, lemon juice, simple syrup, bitters.

Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.
– Mother Teresa

June is Gay Pride month. The San Francisco parade has been cancelled this year and that’s a shame. I have colorful memories of that brilliant cavalcade: the vibrant floats and flamboyant dance troupes and butch bikers tattooed up in black leather and blue denim. Loud and proud.

I was called into a group-wide meeting one morning while working at Livermore Labs back in the 80s. Our area supervisor announced (paraphrasing) that from this point forward John should be addressed as Joanne and will be dressing accordingly. Expect female attire and makeup. She’ll also be using the ladies’ toilets. Any questions?

This coming out was one of the most startling and bravest things I’d ever seen. The John I had known was a burly guy’s guy and husband with kids. To be considered for reassignment surgery he first needed to live full time for a year as Joanne. I couldn’t imagine the courage it took to share that decision with family, friends, and now coworkers.

We all have our closets. We perform on an open stage and let our hair down with the cast and crew when the curtain falls. A very few good friends get invited back to the dressing room, but then there is the closet. I’m hoping that I’m not the only one with a scary closet.

There are few resentments worse than feeling like a fraud, of being inauthentic. Real honesty requires a precarious journey from closet to stage in full drag, and that can be a tough walk. The good news is that as we get older this gets easier. A certain “let the chips fall where they may” settles in with age. The urgencies that guided our earlier years – career and vows and status – become the lesser priorities to authenticity; leaving this world with a history that reflects our truest selves.

Martin Whatson: Behind the Curtain

Being honest with oneself is of course step one, and often the most difficult of conversations. I lived most of my adult years in San Francisco and didn’t bat an eye (or even a heavily mascaraed lash extension!) at people being true to their sexual and gender orientations. But professional orientation was a different beast altogether. It is convenient to suppress misgivings over career choices when those positions are filling the bank account and feeding the ego. Damn I’m special! I was front and center of that line but in good company, particularly in the investment banking and venture capital industries.

There’s no shame in pursuing pay over passion when young and in one’s prime income-generating years (I’m happy to debate this over a glass of rosé). There’s great dishonor when continuing to shelter in the closet post mid-life, to oneself primarily. What you do, where you live, and whom you love. The legacy you leave. Are you getting these right? Are the what, where, and with whom choices you are making now reflect the most authentic and beautiful you? Will your eulogy be delivered by people whom loved you most, reflecting on things for which you wanted to be celebrated, in a setting that defined your spirit?

That is a lot to consider.

A final note. I founded the Interprize Group in 2013 to help people, mostly at 50 plus, pursue grand life ambitions of deep personal meaning. If I’m being honest, I’ll admit to using these workshops as much for self-discovery as for guiding others. Authenticity and purpose are 2 topics that get a lot of attention in these workshops. For the past 3 years I’ve been focused on a grand ambition of my own and the workshops have been on hold. We are offering a new and completely redesigned Life Leap Workshop this October in Provence. You can find more information here. If you are curious to know more please get in touch and we’ll set up a time to chat. Let’s get you out of the closet.

Suggested Song: Virus, Björk
Suggested Drink: Strawberry gin and tonic. Strawberries, gin, tonic water, bitters, lime.

It’s mid-May and those touchstones of our pre-Covid quotidian are reemerging from this long winter of lethargy and isolation. Cafés are hosing down their terrace tables, the boys of summer are taking the field, pétanque parties are back on the Provence calendar (bring your rosé passport), and one feels encouraged to consider summer travel plans, maybe. We’re not yet back to the bis(ous) in France, but air kisses are pollinating the breeze.

Everyone is ready for the world to turn again, but part of me is suffering a post-pandemic partum blues. New rituals and routines were grudgingly adopted, and now, to my surprise, I’m resisting their repeal. How about you?

Most of us entered wartime kicking and complaining. The masks and curfews and comatose streets where a tiresome affront. Then something unexpected unfurled: my adaption slowly evolved from noisy surrender to covert embrace.

Four things in particular have grown on me: hygiene hysteria, hermitude, travel restrictions, and a damn good cocktail. Let’s take a closer look.

Hygiene Hysteria

I’ve gained a new appreciation of protection against bugs, adopting a certain compulsive prophylaxis. Start with the mask.

I hated the mask at first. The fogged-up sunglasses; the hindered breathing; the constant “damn it, forgot my mask again.” Then a realization: that cloth cover was the best antiaging solution in my arsenal! The sags and the creases and the two-tone lifetime tan, all beautifully concealed, at least for that brief walk about town or trip to the grocery. I lose 10 years when masked up and love it.

I also appreciate that layer of discretion when slipping through the back alleys of Aix avoiding the predictable paths of this person or that. We all have those days, right? One gains an appreciation of the burka. There are days when I wouldn’t mind having a big black sack hanging in the closet. The Covid mask/sunglasses/wide-brimmed hat combo: perfect for a Howard Hughes steal through town.

Antiseptic hands are another new thing. I was raised on a farm in rural Pennsylvania and my childhood hands were perennially dirty; my bare Huck Finn feet even worse. Chasing salamanders along muddy creeks is blissfully messy. I’ve never given much thought to the germ history of stuff I was touching. Jostling with strangers on the Paris metro or forwarding hotdogs on down the row at the ballpark? Never a problem. I was firmly in the camp of it’s all good, I’m boosting my immunity. Now I travel with a small gel bottle, head to the sink after outings, and am setting perimeter strategies for the café life after Covid. I didn’t see that coming but accept that it’s just good practice, pandemic or no pandemic. Old dog, new tricks.

Hermitude

Covid put a serious dent into our social lives. The indoor seatings were taped off, then the terrace tables pulled up. We resumed in our homes until gatherings over 6 were banned. Okay, surrender.

Place des Cardeurs, Aix-en-Provence. Courtesy of Velasco, La Boitte Sauvage

And then, … I didn’t really miss it. The raucous dinner parties and late-into-the-evening drink ups, the restaurant tabs, the home turned upside down and head inside out while washing dishes at 3 am.  I was happy to give all of that a break.

This reversal had mostly to do with the temporary nature of confinement. I knew that we’d be sitting along a leafy boulevard lined with sycamores in Aix sipping rosé or flocking to this home or that beach soon enough again. So, I decided to embrace the hermitude and to quote Katy Perry, I liked it.

There’s a Lebowski appeal to stained sweatpants and frayed sweaters, dusty homes, hair gone to seed, sole control of the playlist (Siri, play the Bay City Rollers again), pedestrian wine in 5 liter boxes, locked in by dusk, books in bed by 9, lights out by 10.  There was time for curiously odd things like tarot readings and kimchi canning; activities and a comportment that I wouldn’t entertain should others be visiting regularly. Serene solitary confinement.

The travel ban is winding down and curfew rolling back in France. The apéro season is upon us. Confinement is ending, and I’m mostly ready. But the hermit has had run of this place for over a year now and not going back in the bottle graciously.

Travel Restrictions

The air travel experience has become insufferable. We all put up with it but who enjoys it? Some people apparently. Airlines were offering trips to nowhere during lockdowns; the flights were popular.

When it comes to finding points unknown (or known) I love being there, just not going there. A road trip is the exception. Lockdowns and quarantines provided a convenient excuse for avoiding that entire cattle call experience: boarding pass and ID here, now this slow queue, shoes off and everything in that bucket (“c’mon people let’s keep it moving!”), another line and more ID, the duty free mall and overpriced food, then a long sit at the crowded terminal, another cattle chute at the gate, boarding pass and ID again, buckle up and elbows in for the next few hours, try not to pee, … then it starts again at arrival.

No excuses were needed for avoiding travel these past many months. I missed people a lot, particularly my kids in faraway San Francisco, but not the process of getting there. I’m stepping back in the wading pool tepidly with a train trip to Paris in June and then we’ll see. I’m bribing the kids to visit me in Aix. As to that deep dive into a wide body across the the big blue sea? It’ll happen, don’t rush me.

And now to a damn good cocktail

Curfews and lockdowns force a reconsideration of one’s attitude on personal temperance. Some of us find all of that alone time a caution to curtail the evening tipple(s). Others find it an excuse to widen the guard rails.

I considered the abstemious option and locking the wine cave at first but was advised against it by a sage friend. A third option was to explore new directions, reasoning that the intake was neither more nor less, just different.

Hence, cocktails entered the equation. The art of preparing a good cocktail is no different than the secret to kitchen confidence: quality ingredients prepared with good tools and a lot of love for those whose company you most enjoy. Staying in season is key to both. The cold winter greys inspire Russian vodka creations comrade; the fresh spring greens calls for British gin old bean.

So, Moscow Mules have yielded stubbornly (it’s the mule) to strawberry gin and tonics (recipe here) as the weather warms and local berries fill the market stalls in Provence. Strawberries are in particular abundance and cheap at the moment, their perfume an irresistible siren seduction that demands purchase. My limes come from Maïtaï, who mans (womans?) a produce table at the Place de Richelme on Tuesdays. Anything she touches is as blessed as her sunny smile. The final key for me is the cocktail shaker from C&D Tools: an heirloom American-made bar tool offered as a gift from Kris, the company’s founder. How I became friends with this American diplomat stationed in Kinshasa, DRC is another strange tail for a future essay.

This is the time to consider your own permanent adoptions after a season of compulsory adaptation. Good luck with reentry. It’ll be fine, get out there!

I received notice today that the script for the audio theatre adaption of Last Night at the Ha-Ra received The Best Genre Script award by PRIX ROYAL Paris Screenplay Awards for 2020 Season IX. Now that was a nice piece news after a year of challenges and complications for this project; for most everyone’s projects this year.

The Last Night theatrical recording is working its way through post-production now, in the hands of Dan Logan, producer of the fully casted script recording and sound effects, and Russel Cottier, who is massaging the original album that we recorded in 2018 for the theatrical release. Early cuts are incredibly impressive and I’m excited about about getting this out in early 2021. We had hoped for this fall, but COVID had a way of plaguing the best of plans. We remain undaunted.

What’s next? Here is where things get interesting. I’m a big believer in the future possibilities of Virtual Reality (VR) in entertainment. The hook was set back in 2015. I was sitting in a San Francisco cafe and got to chatting with a product evangelist from Oculus, which has done much of the pioneering work in VR. I allowed him to fit me up with a headset in the cafe and lead me through a couple of programs, one being set in a theatre. (Here’s a blog post I wrote of that week, with a photo of him in the headset at the bottom.) Fast forward to 2020, I’m thinking of how to make this musical really sing; how to bring the viewer deeper into the drama and songs of my piece. Light bulb goes on, brightly.

Imagine this: you’re not enjoying the Last Night at the Ha-Ra musical on a 2-D screen or 3-D stage. You are IN THE BAR, surrounded by the characters, and immersed in the sound and action. Now that would be intense. That’s where we’re going. Please stay posted.

I wish everyone a safe end to a very unsafe year. There’s a sunrise ahead and we’re all ready to bask in its glory.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence