Suggested Song: That Was Me, Paul McCartney
Suggested Drink: Guinness Extra Stout (The Irish have mastered a good sendoff)

This is the second of 12 experiments I’m proposing to readers this year; one per month. If you’re intent on making 2023 a pivot year toward more purposeful ambitions, or perhaps just asking that post-Covid question – okay, what now and how? – these experiments will help draw maps, uncover truths, enhance motivation, strengthen resilience, and be fun. All are part of the Life Leap Workshops we run in Provence (more about those here). Please give them a try and let me know what you learn and how they can be improved. Comments and critiques are encouraged.


I need to start this essay by highlighting the good fortune we all have, those of us in a position to think about passion pursuits and life purpose. Close to a billion people on this planet are too damn hungry to think about self-actualization. Double that number when including conflict and war zones. Where do I find my next meal and how do I keep my children alive? There are a few Ukrainian families here in Aix – mostly moms and their kids – trying scrape together some way of paying rent while avoiding bad news from the front. What would the hungry and harassed give to be at the peak of Maslow’s pyramid? So, with much humility and respect, onward.

Eulogies

Damn it all, plunked in.
On the gravestone of Andy Loy
(A colorful character from Bill’s childhood)

The January Experiment (Missed it? Click here.) dealt with the Wheel of Life. It’s a helpful tool to examine how well your current life aligns with the ideal life you imagine. For February we fast forward the reel and talk about, …. death. I don’t mean to be darkly provocative. After the final pulse, there will be a day for others to a cast warm light on your life. Your eulogy, the Cliff Notes version of greatest hits; if you die tomorrow will it recount the legacy you want to leave? What does this say about the life you’re living now?

She started a soup kitchen that fed 100s of homeless and hopeless a day.

His films made viewers rethink the black experience in America.

They restored by hand an old, dilapidated French farmhouse into a world-class BnB.

You will have a eulogy, a moment for friends and family to have a final say on your final day. Maybe even an obit! If there’s one thing we all agree on: no one gets out alive. The question then is, do you want some influence over said commemoration? Specifically, do you care about how you will be memorialised by those at the pulpit for them in the pews?

http://www.memorialpaintings.com/uploads/1/0/9/8/10983253/fullsizerender-3_1.jpg
Artist unknown

The only option for that input is the legacy of material you leave behind. How you lived your life, whom you touched, and what you created: that’s what will be so fondly recalled, not necessarily the same how’s, who’s, and what’s you hoped for. Others – family and close friends – will be climbing the sanctuary to sing your praises. They’ll want to spin some magic. So give them your magic. Make their job fun.

This experiment, then, is a valuable tool for considering purpose, potential, and progress (gotta love the 3 ps). Why you’re here, why you want to be here, why you mattered. And we all want to have mattered.

How is your eulogy lining up? Here’s a quick, back-of-the-envelope experiment for a quick gauge.

The My Eulogy Experiment

Step 1: Your ideal eulogy.

1.     Calmed with a warm cup of tea (or chilled glass of rosé) imagine the contented end. Slipping peacefully into eternal slumber, your purpose has been realized, deepest passions fed, your legacy secured. Yes, that WAS a life lived richly, with little left on the plate. And you’re confident that those things that mattered most will be mentioned at your funeral as a true reflection of who you were, how you served, and why a glass raised in your honor is well earned. (If you practice mindfulness this step is a perfect meditation for that zen state.)

2.     On a piece of paper list 10 highlights that most merit mention. This is your ideal life list, so include endeavors and achievements from the past for which you are proud and ambitions for the future to which you are committed. Rank them from 1 (essential and non-negotiable) to 10 (important but less critical).

3.     Look at the list. Are these truly the 10 highlights to include? Are they authentic and possible (your memorializers will sympathizers, not fabricators)? Ranked properly? Come back to the list later in the day and then again tomorrow, and each time check for correctness. As with the Wheel of Life, don’t consider the ideal eulogy highlights finished until you’ve had a chance to review them over a couple of days, at different times of the day, in different moods.

Step 2: Your current eulogy.

1.     In a similarly calm state take a second piece of paper. Rank the high points of your life to-date most likely to be mentioned should you die tomorrow, from 1 (almost surely) to 10 (possibly).

2.     Review the list a few times over a couple of days to make sure you’re not forgetting something and have a proper ranking.

Step 3: Compare the lists.

1.     For highlights that are on both lists and at similar levels, bravo, your attention and energy are being directed appropriately to those things most important for your life legacy.

2.     For highlights on both lists but at notably different rankings, what can you do now to start a correction?

3.     For highlights included on your ideal list but missing from current, what’s the plan to get something launched? (That’s our specialty at the Interprize Group, you should ping us!).

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/86/d2/f2/86d2f28f5454328d7855abd379bb53a6.jpg
Hachiro Kanno

The toughest part of this experiment will be coming up with your list. At first you may think that 10 things about you don’t need to be mentioned, and then you may feel that 10 isn’t nearly enough. Grand passions and life purpose and big achievements are all amazing to pursue, to have on our final resumé. But in the end we just want our lives to have mattered. Helpful grandmother, acclaimed author, much-loved and trusted kindergarten teacher, national champion, …. How did you matter?

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested Song: Find Yourself, Brad Paisley
Suggested Drink: Virgin Mojito (staying in theme with my dryish January)

With this year’s series of essays I’m going to offer 12 experiments; one per month. For readers intent on making 2023 a pivot year toward more purposeful ambitions, or perhaps just asking that post-Covid question – okay, what now and how? – these experiments will help draw maps, uncover truths, enhance motivation, strengthen resilience, and be fun. All are part of the Life Leap Workshops we run in Provence (more about those here). Please give them a try and let me know what you learn and how they can be improved. Comments and critiques are encouraged.


Each new year starts with our best intentions. Less of this, more of that. Back to basics, forward to the unexplored. Revived projects and new ambitions. Reinvention.

You may be sketching out plans now. They may get realized, maybe not, perhaps not even launched. One thing is assured: nothing deserved of your very limited time and energy – which are infinitely more precious than money – will magically self-organize. If you want to do something purposeful and grand this year, if that’s a resolution, then you need to organize a plan, even if futile.

Start with your foundation.

The Wheel of Life

It’s been over a decade since I left the cable cars and golden gates of San Francisco for the lavender fields of Provence. For 30 plus years I had been living the dream in the Bay Area’s tech and investment industries, as a laser jock and analyst and banker and venture capitalist, and I absolutely loved it until I didn’t. When that unsettling mid-life question – is this it? – began to itch in places I couldn’t scratch it was time dig deeper, beyond the surface stuff like money and security and title and possessions, and seek out genuine authenticity.

Pablo Picasso, Girl Looking in Mirror.

San Francisco State University had an executive ed program on life coaching back then and the night courses opened up a whole new universe of questions for me. Are you happy? Does happiness matter? Who is in control of your life? What are your core nonnegotiable values? What is your personality type and why is that valuable to understand? Most importantly, what tools are handy to disassemble and reflect on considerations such as these, and to help ferret out some answers?

On the first night of the first class we were introduced to the Wheel of Life. It provides a graphical segmentation of how your finite stores of time and energy and attention are being parsed. You can fill one out for your current situation and another to represent the ideal life. Comparing the 2 is particularly insightful in understanding how truly offtrack your life has become (perhaps not at all, but then again…), and where adjustments should be concentrated; that is, assuming you want a life most closely aligned with your core priorities and interests. (You do.) By the end of this first class I was feeling feverish and plotting Life of Bill v2.0 on the MUNI streetcar ride home. Within 12 months I was living in Provence.

The Wheel of Life is a circle segmented into 10 slices that collectively represent how your time and energy is being consumed; at least with the 10 most pressing elements. The following chart is an example, but your elements might be different. Some slices are common to most people: Health and Friends/Family, for example. Other slices may be critical to you, not so much to others. Step 1 to using the wheel involves identifying your 10 most critical life components. Take time to get them right, then run the experiment.

The Wheel of Life Experiment

Step 1: Sketch your ideal life.

  1. On a sheet of paper sketch a Wheel of Life similar to the diagram above: a circle segmented with 10 equal slices.
  2. Create a list of the 10 most defining components of your ideal life; those activities when combined would consume most all of your time, energy, attention, and other resources. It’s critical to get the right components, so take time here to think this through. (Your favorite café or wine bar might be an inspiring workspace for this exercise.) In your ideal life you are in control, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have obligations. Include major commitment that you may not particularly enjoy but that are inescapable (caring for an aging in-law could be an example). It’s also the moment to consider what is and is not truly inescapable. (This can lead you into dangerous territory. Go with it for this experiment.)
  3. For each of the 10 elements, assign a weight as to the attention it would consume in your ideal life on a scale of 1 (very low attention) to 10 (very high attention).
  4. Assign each element to a slice. Write the 1-10 weighting under each element label, and fill in the slice with a crayon or marker reflecting that weighting starting at the center. An allocation of 10 will fill the slice entirely. An allocation of 1 will barely fill it at all.
  5. Look at your chart. Are these the 10 critical components to include? Are they weighted honestly? Come back to the chart later in the day and then again tomorrow, and each time check for honesty and correctness. Don’t consider the ideal wheel finished until you’ve had a chance to review it over a couple of days, at different times of the day, in different moods.

Step 2: Sketch your life now.

  1. On a second sheet of paper sketch a Wheel of Life that reflects your life now.
  2. You must use the same 10 elements as included in your ideal life wheel.
  3. For each of the elements assign a weight to the attention it consumes in your life today, from 1 to 10.
  4. Fill in the wheel to reflect this weighting, as in number 4 above.
  5. Review the chart a few times over a couple of days to be comfortable with its completion.

Step 3: Compare the 2 life wheels.

  1. Place your 2 wheels next to each other and contrast the profiles.
  2. For twin slices within 1 point of difference, bravo, your current and ideal situations are well aligned. Keep it up.
  3. For twin slices between 2-3 points of each other consider what can be done to move your current situation closer to the ideal. Small tweaks may work wonders in lowering the weighting tension. Experiments that we’ll be running in future essays this year should be helpful.
  4. For twin slices that are 4 points or more apart, danger ahead. The tension between your ideal life and current situation may cause serious complications in the future (emotional, physical, relational); they may already be giving you an itch that can’t be scratched. Some things in life are out of our control (I argue that this list is smaller than most believe), but seeing your misalignments visually is valuable should they provoke an effort to ease the friction. (At a minimum, toast yourself for soldiering through the inescapable.)

The following chart could have been my Wheel of Life experiment 15 years ago (with the slices colored in). Some misalignments created alarm, then determination, then action. What will yours incite?

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested Song: I Thank You, Sam & Dave (See ZZ Top’s amazing live rendition, 2011)
Suggested Drink: Your favorite herbal tea. (Pure joy on a cold night with a good book.)

Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart,
it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.
– A.A. Milne

The Place des Cardeurs is the largest open plaza in Aix-en-Provence. A city block long and half as wide, the Cardeurs is ringed by restaurants and cafés and wine bars and beer pubs and gelaterias. It’s dining and drinking al fresco; open air in the summer, then under those large canvas and plastic tents the French have mastered through the years. Eat inside? But how would I smoke?

Weekend evenings in the Cardeurs are loud and collegiate, with throngs of students (there are over 30,000 in Aix) enjoying cheap drinks deep into the night. A chorus of laughs and chatter under strings of festive lights. Sundays awaken quiet and calm, with families and kids commandeering the massive terraced savannah, now void of the sea of tables and chairs from the evening’s bacchanalia. Off you go Junior, run that endless battery down while your mother and I enjoy a slow coffee.

It is to the Place des Cardeurs one comes for that Sunday afternoon glass late in the season. For, with its large expanse and low-slung periphery of buildings, the Cardeurs is the most promising spot in town to catch a few fleeting rays of hibernal sun. It seems to barely reach mid-sky during the Provence winters; a lazy ball that’s up late and done early. But it manages to arc just above the south-facing roofline through the afternoon, casting silhouettes of the tangle of unemployed antennas and vent pipes and chimneys.

Caffe Cardeurs, mid afternoon on the last Sunday of November, 2022

The Winter Mood

Darker, colder days like these can shroud a winter malaise over the cheeriest amongst us. I tend to stay buoyant but have family and good friends who can get gloomy, and I have seen what a demon that can be to wrestle. I follow a winter strategy to fend off despair: (1) lean into the season and (2) inoculate against melancholy with a regime of winter indulgences and rituals.

I lean in mostly with what I eat (lots of stews and soups), when I sleep (early), what I read (long tomes for long evenings), and whom I see (just a lucky few). As for rituals, I light the apartment with candles, spend money on bath salts, listen to Coltrane and Chet Baker while making dinner, and take an inside table at Lulu’s (click here for her menu of the week). These things I never do in the summer, except for the occasional Baker.

Rather than resisting the seasonal change, you might try embracing your winter hermit with arms wide. Retreat into your cave. Build your books-to-read stack. Re-up Netflix. Knit (kidding, consider any home craft). Nest. Bears do it. Squirrels do it. I do it. Try it. Spring will bring a sharper contrast in light, warmth, friends, and merriment. The buds and blooms will seem somehow more extraordinary, more appreciated. (For a fascinating rumination on hermitude and recluses read Michael Finkel’s A Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit.)

Your Best Defense Against the Blues

The Thanksgiving holiday is a reminder that beyond the turkey and football (in both variations this fall), gratitude is a healthy addition to the winter regime. Giving thanks is the low-hanging fruit of happiness and effective at fending off the winter blues. If you need a positivity boost when the days are dark, expressing gratitude is the easiest and most impactful ritual you can adopt. Its power in building resistance to the dark side has been studied extensively.

1920x1080 depression sad mood sorrow dark people love winter rain wallpaper

Through his cutting-edge studies, Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at my alma mater UC Davis, has shown that gratitude “can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide.”  All can feel acute in the dark months. His findings match those by other thought leaders in the happiness field, such as Barbara Fredrickson (UNC Chapel Hill), Sonja Lyubomirsky (UC Riverside), and Martin Seligman (UPenn).

Gratitude journals, gratitude letters, gratitude circles; these are just a few of the options available to practice the practice, something we do in our Interprize workshops. You can find endless links to infinite articles online about this stuff. For more rigorous findings and suggestions, search on the names in the previous paragraph. What works best for me: a  simple end-of-the-month inventory of people and things to which I am grateful. I keep it short – 5 or fewer – and don’t dwell on what or who misses the cut, … there is always next month.

https://getwallpapers.com/wallpaper/full/e/c/4/268872.jpg

If interested in the Bill Magill November gratitude list, I offer it here in no certain order. This past month I have been deeply grateful for:

1.     My adventurous grandparents’ talent at staying alive (or I wouldn’t be typing this now). My maternal grandfather managed to survive the trench warfare of WW I as part of the Canadian forces fighting in France. About 67,000 of them didn’t make the return, another 4x that number were injured. Chances of making it home unscathed was less than 1 in 2. He was short and perhaps that helped keep the helmet low. Papa made it home.

My fraternal grandmother, just out of college, travelled south to teach at the Calhoun Colored School in deep Alabama in early 1900s. She was part of an alliance of northerners committed to the education of post-slavery children in a deeply segregated south. The Klan were no fans of such enlightened idealism. Educated white women elevating poor black kids; what was next, the vote?! As that wasn’t enough excitement, she later took a steamer from New York City to Alexandria, Egypt, alone, and then continued on to the Sudan where she married my Irish grandfather, traveling amongst the villagers and crocodiles and malaria. They made it back to the US in 1 piece, had a pack of kids including my dad, and in 1957 my tiny zygote squiggled into the world.

2.     The brilliance of the classic novel “A Confederacy of Dunces. It kept a grin planted on my face through the entire month. Sadly, its author John Kennedy Toole ended his life in 1969, shortly after completing the novel. It took his loyal mother 11 years to find a publisher, but his genius and her perseverance were awarded with a Pulitzer posthumously in 1981. (Many thanks to Canadian Dave for lending me his dog-eared copy.)

3.     My daughter’s impulsiveness. This call I got in October:


“Hey dad, I had a great tip week at work and was thinking of coming for a quick visit.” (From LA.)
“Fantastic Stella, when?”
“Uhhh, tomorrow?”

Melt.

Fortunately her mother works for United Airlines. You gotta love those standby perks.

4.     The American voter and US court system for protecting that right. The large slate of kooky candidates running this fall on a platform of 2020 election denial – one has to admire this cult’s tenacious cling to disproven fantasy – was universally denied at the ballot box. And the courts, up to the Supremes, shot down the many attempts across numerous states at voter suppression. The people’s voices were heard and counted. Democracy triumphed. Whew!

5.     The craftsmanship of my Martin guitar. I bought this D35 acoustic in 1989 new, an MBA graduation gift to myself (Bill, you are so amazing you deserve a reward!). With its lifetime guarantee I can walk into any certified Martin repair shop around the world and have it refretted, trued out, and tuned up for free. Its tone has only gotten warmer through the years and the body of spruce and Brazilian rosewood still looks beautiful. If curious to take a look see I made this tutorial video last week on how to play Little Bird. Even with the cheap recording acoustics of my tiny iPhone its sound quality is unmistakable.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested Song: Changes, David Bowie
Suggested Drink: Shapeshifter cocktail: vodka, crème de violette, lemon juice, bitters, egg white.

I had an essay on psychogeology planned to drop this week (yeah, it’s a thing!), but two new biographies of Anthony Bourdain have provoked me to the point of making a last-minute swap. Extracts from the biographies are making the rounds, their authors giving interviews.

Bourdain had a large fan base to which I subscribed.  Kitchen Confidential was an irreverent exposé of restaurant kitchen culture; a raucous reveal behind the twin swing doors. He reveled in shining a light on the soiled underbelly of something carefully manicured and disneyfied. Bourdain was the essence of punk insolence and I was punk rocker at the time. I ate it up.

Bourdain’s own brand was manicured as well: culinary rapscallion; acute observer of the absurd; globetrotting seeker of the strange and spicy; unapologetic provocateur; cool older dude with hot younger girlfriend. I can imagine that this fun stamp could be exhausting to maintain. We all evolve, sometimes to our friends’ and fans’ resistance. Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilder begat terminator begat governator. The Beatles graduated from Can’t Buy Me Love to A Day in the Life. Fans were unhappy, but the Fab Four were done with holding hands and love me do. Happiness is a warm gun. Transformation is essential for staying fascinated by ourselves.

Bourdain was reportedly excited about a new project that would be decidedly un-Bourdainian. Even pirates pull down the black flag at some point. One can imagine how liberating it would be, and befitting of his style, to shock the devotees with something unexpected and completely out of character. I spent 20 years cultivating X and now I’m Y. Trust me. Join me!

In an earlier incarnation I had a privileged life in San Francisco. It was the greed-is-good Gecko era and cred was built around possessions and title. My wife kept me grounded but every peacock loves to spread the feathers from time to time.I found my wings when I severed the strings (a lyrical couplet from the 2021 MASSIVE HIT To Say Goodbye) and moved to slow-and-sunny Provence from fast-and-foggy San Francisco. I knew that my professional repute and financial surety were about to become irreparably unwound, and was elated. For I was moving towards a more natural, authentic version of myself; correcting course towards a north star I had always seen brightly to the side and too long denied. At a certain age denial is a very unhealthy choice.

My sense is that Bourdain was a mostly authentic guy but yearning to evolve. He was an undeniable creative and creative types don’t like being boxed in. The slightest tinge of I’m starting to feel fake elicits the hives x10. Maybe he was finding it difficult to shape the shift, given the heavy momentum of his much-loved brand. Certainly his open history of substance issues and depression wouldn’t have helped, and his relationship was reportedly on the rocks. He loved her deeply (according to the new bios) and must have felt it slipping. That can push one into embarrassing behavior. I can relate more than I want to admit, and perhaps is why I felt compelled to pen this rumination.

We all need to be aware of the gravity of our brand and the effort required to escape said pull, if indeed that’s what is needed to grow and thrive. It’s a very healthy thing, mandatory I’d suggest, to question our identity regularly and tweak where needed; destroy when required. If surrounded by people who love you in a place that nurtures you then you’ll be fine. Actually, much better than fine, you’ll be alive.

Ch ch ch changes…..

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested Song: Happy, Pharrel Williams
Suggested Drink: Virgin Mojito (Stella’s favorite drink when on the Quai in Cannes!)

I gave Stella a hug and waved goodbye, then was slightly teary on the drive home. She’s on a Paris-bound train now; boarding a flight back to Los Angeles tomorrow. My daughter decided on an impromptu visit and we had the best 10 days imaginable. A jump across the Italian border for pizza and fritto misto. Hikes in Cezanne’s mountain and along the dramatic Mediterranean cliffs. Morning coffees here, afternoon apéros there. Our favorite museums and restaurants and dishes at home. Provence perfect weather for autumn: cool nights, sunny days, breezy. Lots of laughs, lots of hugs. Lucky.

Cafe sitting in Cannes with Stella

I have a close, loving family. Like their sister, the boys are happy, curious, adventurous, and astounding me daily. Everyone is healthy in body and spirit. They call or text often to say “love you Dad!” Their relationship with mom is equally tender and Alexandra remains a close friend and ally, despite our divorce. We’re a stable, supportive, cohesive unit with albums of photos and beautiful memories. Many more to come. Lucky.

I live in a historic building in a picture postcard city. The bones of my apartment – with its 17th century French doors and high beamed ceilings – envelop me in harmony. The ghosts of my kids wander its halls, laughing and arguing and studying and sharing meals. I may not own it, but after 12 years its soul is 100% Bill. I love to entertain, and this home was built for dinner parties. Friends walk through a historic neighborhood of cafés, boulangeries, monuments, and fountains to arrive at my door. These things I value greatly. Lucky.

My friends are warm, interesting people. Some are creatives, some from the worlds of business or education, some committing this moment to parenting, some figuring out who they’ll be next. All are a bit pirate. All enjoy a good laugh, a ready drink (even if non-alcoholic), and leave their hang-ups at home. I’ve been on my knees and these people have lifted me up. I’ve done the lifting a few times. We all need trusted companions. Lucky.

I do what I love. I get up early by choice, because the day ahead is inspiring. Every morning starts with a farmers market crawl, ends with a book and a cup of tea. I teach on occasion, learn constantly, create and share, and worry about the usual things like money. If I died tomorrow my kids would say, yeah he absolutely loved it there, doing that, with those friends. He was lucky.

The morning market, Aix-en-Provence

You don’t need kids to feel lucky. You don’t need an airy flat in a charming Provence town to feel lucky. Your friends don’t need to be fascinating globetrotters or celebrated/aspiring artists to feel lucky. In fact, the lucky life is infinitely unique to each of us and boils down to 3 simple things: what you do, where you live, and whom you love. And those 3 basic, fundamental pillars of providence are entirely under your control.

Are you planning new adventures, scanning unexplored horizons, considering big life changes, or seeking a harmony that somehow, at some point mysteriously slipped away? You’ll need a bit of luck. What, where, and with whom. Start with those.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

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

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