Suggested Song: Strawberry Fields Forever, The Beatles
Suggested Drink: Cherub’s Cup Cocktail: Strawberries, lemon juice, vodka, elderflower liqueur, sparkling rosé.

It’s springtime in Provence. The colors and smells of local markets have shifted notably with the sudden onset of warmer weather. Local strawberries, asparagus, and artichokes fill the market stalls with their vivid reds and greens. The sweet fragrance of the berries mixes with the earthy scent of fresh basil and mint, bunched in bouquets and piled in leafy mounds. The seductive mix tugs on my senses from a distance. So very unfair. Well now it’s impossible to leave without a purchase.

Strawberries at the Aix-en-Provence market, mid-May, 2023

I was at a friend’s home in the countryside last weekend. The fields by his cottage were flooded in bright red poppies, their delicate petals spread wide to the sun and swaying gently. Larks were whistling in a distant tree line. Wisteria blooms hung in heavy lavender clumps in his garden. His daughter called me over to give them a sniff. It was the peak of the day and we opened a bottle of chilled rosé, put out some Greek olives. Sensation overdose. Healthy hedonism.

The merits of indulgence

I love this time of year; that fresh spring dawn after a long winter night (which has its own merits. Read here.). Rebirth and new plans. Stimulation and inspiration and so many things to smell, taste, hear, see, and share. It fuels a deep sense of revival and limitlessness.

You may want to listen to these larks singing while you read on.

This indulgence of the senses, this spring sensuality is a great equalizer. Fresh-picked strawberries taste no better to the millionaire than the pauper. A hillside full of poppies looks no more stunning. One could argue that those with little appreciate these things more deeply than those with lots, but I won’t argue that. I have plenty of friends from both ends of that spectrum. It has less to do with wealth, more to do with a deep respect for those joys that only nature can conjure, that cannot be improved upon with more money. It brings us all together, to wonder at it all, and indulge.

Wade deeply into your senses, be seduced, swish them around like a good wine, close your eyes and become the sponge, savor, … life will feel richer and you may live longer. This is true actually, and backed up with empirical evidence. Research at Victoria University in New Zealand (by Erica Chadwick) and Harvard (by Jordi Quoidbach) identify the many benefits of savoring, including stronger relationships, improved emotional health, and enhanced creativity. All are known to favor more happy years above the dirt.

Fred Bryant, a social psychologist at Loyola University, has written extensively on this topic, including in his 2006 book Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience. Bryant offers a variety of tips on training that savoring muscle. I condense it down to 3:

  • Awareness. Be acutely conscious of the moment you engage a sensation; something you smell or taste or hear or see. Go slow, ponder its effect, decipher. Luxuriate in the tingle (go on, you deserve it), immerse wholly, be the sponge.
  • Sharing. Share the moments and joys of sensory entanglement with others. Build bonds through the heady indulgence. There is no single factor more important to living longer, happier lives than close relationships. (Skeptical? Well Harvard say so! Click here.)
  • Gratitude. Simple indulgences shared with close friends are blessings. Respect your good fortune. Epicurus is surely smiling down at you. Embrace the pleasures and never take them for granted. Be humble, be grateful, and invite the happiness.

Protection from temptation

Of course there may be those who find this concept of sense and sensuality a bit too scandalous. Market strawberries dipped in Swiss chocolate, … and hand fed to me while in recline?! Abhorrent!

For those of you in this frightful camp, fear not, there is hope. The best prophylactic against incitement of the senses? That portable portal to all things digital, pixelated, and synthetic. It slips in your pocket and holds neatly in your hand. Never leave home without it. Your phone.

Arousal of the senses requires earthly engagement. Smelling things, tasting things, touching things, hearing things, and all of this done organically. It comes with a bit of dirt under the fingernails, a sunburn on the cheeks, your feet may get wet. For all the marvels of modern technology – and I have built a career around this stuff – it will never hack mother earth and the sensuality she offers.

Edward Cucuel, Woman Reclining by a Lake

The phone is a perfect prophylactic against these primal, libidinous stimulations. For those who prefer digital approximation and virtual isolation to deep and dirty organic engagement. Why talk with the friend at your side when you can text to your friend at a distance. And when those 2 swap places you can text with the former sidekick. Missing you! ❤️ See, no need to actually engage in spontaneous, interactive dialog. We used to call that a conversation. Quant.

Strawberries? Plenty of photos online, and of flowers too. Just google it! You don’t even need to learn their names. I’m sure you can find an influencer or 2 in Provence with plenty of staged and artificially filtered photos. As far as the smell, taste, and touch of something organic and alive, … eww, that might require an antiseptic. Thank god for Apple.

Before I close, an open offer:

The outdoor markets in France are amazing in their variety, respect for all things local and seasonal, and great prices (no middle men!). The markets in Provence are the best in France, … well I’m biased. If you are passing through Aix-en-Provence and interested in a market crawl together get in touch. This is a pleasure for the senses that I love to share.

Bill Magill

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.


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?
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!).
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

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

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.

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?”


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

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

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

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

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

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.


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!