Suggested Song: Aquarius, Let the Sunshine In. The 5th Dimension
Suggested Drink: Mystic Martini. Vodka, absinthe, olive brine, green olive

When the moon is in the seventh house
And Jupiter aligns with Mars

I bought tarot cards while in San Francisco recently. It was an undisciplined move for this disciple of science, but not an impulse buy. I was feeling blocked and sought a shift beyond the unusual to break through. The esoteric arts seemed just crazy enough, and the tarot was an option high on the wackiness scale. I found cards in the Haight (naturally), studied a few books over coffees or beer, started laying out simple readings at the kitchen table, and became enchanted. Here’s why.

Sciencism

I’m not naturally drawn to the mystical arts. I pursued physics in college and studied the theories of giants like Foucault, Einstein, and Bohr. I believe in the scientific method: imagination, observation, and verification built on empirical evidence. Yeah that sounds reasonable, now prove it.

Science does a pretty good job of explaining how things behave; tiny things like quirks and massive things like black holes. The arc of an arrow or locus of a sub-atomic particle? We got that, even when said particle is (almost mystically) in 2 places at once.

What do we do with this knowledge? A lot of good things and a few unimaginably horrible things that counter all best intentions. We heat the winters and cool the summers and tame nature at home while venturing beyond our garden of eden to uninhabitable worlds. We put men on a barren grey moon while burning our own  blue paradise to a crisp. We develop an unlimited source of renewable energy and then commit its stockpiles to assuring our own mutual destruction.

So the breathtaking sweep of scientific evolution, from the earliest mathematical foundations of Babylon and Maya to their extrapolations for modelling motion and mass by Newton and Galileo, and through Einstein’s impossibly elegant mathematical reduction that relates that mass to energy through the inviolable speed of light (in a vacuum) has led us to this: perhaps two generations remain before the planet is reduced to a bleached cliff notes version of its former verdant splendor, or we blow ourselves to smithereens first.

Earth is Melting, by RadillacVIII

So what is science worth if through its application we ominously degrade the quality of our existence or threaten that very existence itself? It’s a question worth considering.

Science: an astounding, evolving compendium of knowledge fundamental to making sense of the many mystifying dimensions of the world micro to massive: physical, chemical, and biological. As for providing the common sense and tools needed to harness this knowledge for the greatest benefit of everyone? Not so good. Some people lose their faith in the preeminence of religion. I’ve lost my faith in the primacy of science.

Mysticism

Unlike science, the mystic arts provide zero utility in understanding the physical world beyond; whether just beyond our touch or light years beyond our sight. They provide an interesting option to understanding the world within, however. Useless at explaining how things behave, but effective (for the open minded) for reflecting on why we behave in the crazy ways we do. And if we hold a clearer lens into our own behavior, perhaps we make better decisions about that behavior.

A stack of colorful cards is nothing more than that. In a vacuum (again with the vacuum) they offer no particular value beyond the pleasure of a game. But equipped with a good guide book, a glass of decent wine, and the help of a friendly ghost (now this is key for me) that stack of 78 cards comes alive in its many dimensions and possibilities.

The true power of the tarot is in its various facets and options for interpretation. Imagine gazing through a magic kaleidoscope that could clarify your past and foretell the future. Twisting the tube sent the many colors of varying shapes and dimensions into unpredictable spins; each shade, size, and trajectory open to interpretation. Now here’s the magic: that interpretation is unique to each viewer. There is no rigid set of scientific guidelines for analysis. Yes, there is a system to the tarot, but what you draw from the colors and spins will be different than what I draw, because our histories and expectations, and the burning questions in our lives are all wildly different.

Kings and queens, princesses and princes, knights and swords and cups and disks and wands, blues and reds and yellows and greys, fire and water, and then throw in the planets. These are just a few of the kaleidoscopic elements of the tarot that drive the meaning of the cards.

I have my own belief system and hope that you do too, … one that offers comfort and solid footing. I’ve mentioned in an earlier essay that I light a candle each evening for my sister and she is present in the moment. I fill her in on my day and invite Cathy to guide the cards that I select and lay out each evening. She has joined the conversation and I (want to) believe is giving the readings a mystical bump here and ethereal tug there, and from her side of the spiritual divide bringing order to the cards I’ve randomly pulled from the deck. If true then I’ve tapped into something powerful, and if not true than I’m just connecting with someone I miss and love. Either way it provides a fun system for pondering decisions about what’s around the corner; immediate or longer term.

Scientific? No. Spiritual? Kind of. Mystical? Definitely.

Some believe that Jesus healed the blind and others that Moses parted the sea. Maybe Mohammad did split the moon and one particle can exist in two places at the same time. I believe that my sister cuts the cards. We choose our miracles. I’m good with mine. What are yours?

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Start this song: The Human Touch, Bruce Springsteen
Sip this drink: Anything on the cocktails menu at Analogue in Greenwich Village, NY.
Then read.

I hope some day you’ll join us
– John Lennon

In 1982 a remarkable book was published defining the 10 most powerful global trends transforming our lives. Megatrends, written by John Naisbitt, was a blowout sensation that sold over 14 million copies and dominated the NYT Bestseller list for over 2 years, mostly at the top.

1982 was still largely the analog era and too early for Naisbitt to foresee recent technology disruptions like Blockchain or the Internet of Things (although the dissolution of consolidated hierarchies was a key theme), but his #2 on the list should give us all great pause. He was uncomfortable with an emergent invasive technology push and predicted a trend towards human balance and technology pull based on users’ true needs. To Naisbitt, high touch technology recognized that science “cannot solve all problems or do away with the need for responsibility and discipline.”

Fast forward to 2019 and undisciplined technology push seems to have missed the bulletin. That we over-connect and hyper-share is our own undoing, but organizations happy to encourage and exploit these tendencies are at best calculating and self-serving, and at worst sinister. And in the first signs of blowback two related but independent waves are forming: awareness of the loss of human touch and anxiety over the loss of privacy.

No one is suggesting an end to digital media – that genie is well out of the bottle – but there is a growing awareness of the dangers lurking therein and a growing discomfort with blind faith in the masters of this domain. Analog is cool again and rebuilding its brand.

Human Touch

Ubiquitous connectivity is harming the sincerity of our human connections, and doesn’t that read strangely? How can it be that the easier it is to connect, the less we feel sincerely connected? It takes no more than a walk down any city sidewalk or repose in a popular café to observe that we are ignoring the friends at our elbow in favor of remote pals with whom we can text, or whose new picture streams need to be swiped through right now.

The local highschoolers sweeping down my street every weekday at noon chatter and goof with buddies at their sides while typing away distractedly on their phones. After school they’ll hook up with their typing targets for drinks, then ignore them while texting back to their lunchtime besties.

Wouldn’t it be more satisfying to eliminate the digital distance and revel in the camaraderie of the analog moment?

Pinging and getting pinged suggests that you have a very cool and dynamic social scene going on; I get that. So then not constantly tapping implies the opposite, that you’re a lonely loser? Teenagers cringe at that particular tarring and that’s fair enough, but shouldn’t age and maturity allow the rest of us to move beyond those particular insecurities?

Yes is the answer of course, and a growing pool of analog acolytes are emphasizing that realization with a hearty Hell Yes!

Data Privacy

That the titans of social media are poor shepherds of our personal data has been widely revealed. There is no need to spill more digital ink on that phenomenon here, but interested readers can refer to a newsletter just launched by the NYT called The Privacy Project. To quote a newsletter quote from Matt Cagle, ACLU attorney, “Privacy is really about being able to define for ourselves who we are for the world and on our own terms. That’s not a choice that belongs to an algorithm or data broker and definitely not to Facebook.”

Yet many of us are happy to make that deal: a stage to share our carefully crafted (and questionably authentic) self-images in return for the devil’s unfettered access to our personal data: interests and alliances, locations, browsing histories, and rolodex of contacts (whether or not they’ve agreed to the tradeoff).

I plead guilty but at least am not alone. And an emerging riptide is forming along the digital beach, tugging at those of us eager for that drag back to the analog sea. I’m all in.

Back to the Farm

So there is survivalist movement afoot; a back-to-the-farm redux for 2020. We can label it digital minimalism or going off the internet grid. It has nothing to do with mountain compounds or the hoarding of bullets and canned goods. It has everything to do with resistance, and who doesn’t love a good resistance movement?

As part of this nouveau vague the term analog has taken position front and center, a new cool. Just two examples include a NYT article that ran last week (I quote from it too often, but it’s one of the last truly great newspapers in America; consider subscribing) titled Digital Addiction Getting You Down? Try an Analog Cure and a new hard cover publication called The Analog Sea Review, an offline (naturally) journal of poems, short stories and essays that can be found at your local bookstore, … and only at your local bookstore (sorry Amazon).

It’s small movement in early days, but gaining attention and it’s got mine. For the moment I’ll continue to publish my newsletters online because I want them easily found and read. And my music will remain available in Spotify and other media platforms, although compared to a CD (get yours here) the sound quality is horrible. But then isn’t that the sacrifice we make for our online social connections as well: a quality experience for casual convenience.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested Song: Wall of Death, Richard & Linda Thompson
Suggested Drink: a frothy pint of Guinness. Let the toasts begin.

I was in Nashville last week for a funeral and had been invited to say a few words on behalf of my family. This kind of duty can make people squirm. To be honest I don’t mind it. It provides a rare chance to reconnect with that soulful raconteur within, a genetic companion from my paternal grandfather, who was an Irish preacher of the good word.

Toasts spill out with ease, but eulogies can be tough to get right when the material is thin. This was not the case in Nashville. In fact my challenge was less what to say and more what to leave out. For my oldest sister had suddenly departed a life of beautiful breadth and depth. She was a traveler and seeker, a generous giver and curious student, strong when strength was needed, vulnerable when our own failings were being shared.

Life is short so enjoy it now.

This popular call to carpe diem always gets a good airing at funerals and wakes. It never quite hit the intended mark for me.

Life is short. Not necessarily. All that we know for sure is that none of us have any idea for sure. Children die unexpectedly and wrinkled up folks live past 100 and most of us get plunked down somewhere in between.

I never heard my grandmother Magill say life was short. For her, life was one long adventure. She escaped the crossroads of a Pennsylvania village and ventured off to college at the dawn of the Roosevelt era – Teddy that is – when a woman’s place was well understood: hands on the pot and babies on the hip. Work and wonder would carry her on to Puerto Rico, up to Manhattan (where a degree from Columbia was added), down to deep, deep Alabama, and then overseas to the Egyptian Sudan where she married my grandfather; the one and the same mentioned above.

Grammy lived to 100 and my sister to 67. I lost a close childhood friend at 19. We can’t waste time trying to size up our allotted sand in the hourglass. Life is unpredictable. Isn’t the key to get in a grand story worth sharing?

Enjoy it now. I don’t propose suffering now, but there is more to life than margaritas deck-side. If we want our eulogists’ writing assignment to be easy then we need lead lives worth retelling. And we’re all going to have someone retelling our stories, right? No one gets out of here alive.

So my point is this: go bold, go deep, do it now. Your remaining days may not be short. You may have decades left to create a magic that reflects all the best of your gifts and passions. Then again, you may have one more day. Be the author of the narrative you want delivered on that sunny day in the chapel, or it may fall to someone much less vested in making you sound amazing. Offer a highlight reel that can’t be cut and cropped; one that keeps everyone roused and laughing between tears.

Put a pint in my hand and I’ll stay full of barley-inspired toasts to you for many a round. But if you want deeper reflections on a life that truly mattered, that left everyone who knew and touched you in a better place, take the leap now. Uncover, develop, and share that bold gift as only you can.

Dedicated to J. Catherine. You made my job so easy sister.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

 

 

Suggested Song: The Human Touch, Bruce Springsteen
Suggested Drink: Communion cocktail: vodka, creme de menthe, orange juice, grenadine syrup

It was billed as “The World’s Biggest Eye Contact Experiment,” and the local event was held in a large grassy park in my hometown of Aix-en-Provence. This is what happened. I arrived soon after lunch to find 3 dozen or so people already paired up, sitting on cushions and facing one another, relaxed and concentrating on their partner’s eyes, and not uttering a peep. This trance would hold for a few minutes, then after warm smiles and a short debrief they would part and seek out someone new, … someone like me.

Fixing on a stranger’s eyes for a sustained moment without conversing is an intense, slightly disconcerting experience at first. Nicolas was my initial victim. I’ve never fixed on another man’s eyes for 2 minutes in silence. What should I be expressing and how do I do that without uttering a sound? It’s the opposite of mindfulness. You’re not focused internally on breath and body, you’re connecting externally and personally, and there is an odd intimacy that is unavoidable. The mind searches for the appropriate decorum. How to convey empathy but not attraction with only my gaze?

Lily was next. She was a different person of course and the opposite gender, and I was now experienced (as Jimi would say). I was curious to see if that changed things, started to relax, and could lock eyes without overthinking my presence and demeanor. From Nicolas I received a gentle vibe of curiosity and outreach, and with Lily it was a simple acceptance. Here I am facing you. There is nothing more important at this very moment than our simple bond. We are going to just connect in silence and relax, … friendly smile.

I sat with a few more people before leaving. Each exchange was unique and quietly profound, and required a moment to reflect and recompose before moving on to someone new. The point of this event, held that day in dozens of cities across the globe, was to appreciate afresh the wonders of genuine human connection. Not through a carefully manicured iPhone photo or social media stream, but across a naked space of perhaps 3 feet, separating you from a stranger offering 100% of their attention, deeply, for a few minutes. Beautiful.

The Need for Speed

I have a few friends on Tinder. I’ve gotten the demo: the wow Bill, the check this one out, their swipe, the immediate response and plans for an evening dalliance. It’s an ultimate end to the trend in speed and effortlessness that has taken root these past many years. Why spend time in the kitchen when gourmet options are available in your frozen section? Why learn to play a guitar with real strings when you can be the next Slash with Guitar Hero? Why learn to commune with friends in person when you can socialize over the phone, still in your boxers at home? And why learn to love when sex is available with the ease of a swipe?

Am I showing my age when I say that this leaves me more than a little sad, … and confused? What don’t people get? The joy of cooking is more than a classic recipe book. Art offers even more to the creator than the consumer. The beauty of friendship is most deeply enjoyed elbow to elbow (and glass to glass!), … without ringtones. And love, well the gulf between sex and love is as wide as the ocean is deep. It’s like comparing a Big Mac to the Colours, Textures & Flavours course at Restaurant Guy Savoy in Paris.

Personally, I shoot for the human touch trifecta by inviting good friends for long dinners prepared throughout the afternoon in my modest kitchen. And for this they get a proper torturing after dessert with a few new songs on my trusty guitar or piano. Food, friends, music, perfecto!

Life is short. Why rush through it? Dive deep and linger over what you create, when you connect, and whom you love.

For more on the “The World’s Biggest Eye Contact Experiment” click here.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested Song: Hello, Goodbye, the Beatles
Suggested Drink: Memory Lane cocktail: rye whisky, shrub, bitters, lemon juice

Goodbyes can be hard and I’ve had an avalanche of them this year. Friends, kids, and lovers moving on, cherished apartments given up, and even my daily out-door market moved from the bottom of the street to across town. Now that really hurt. Adios.

This kind of churn wreaks havoc on the daily agenda. Whom I see when, where, and what it is we do together has been upended, and being a creature of habit I am off my game. The creative well is dusty, productivity down, and motivation flagging. My summer rosé pace remains robust and thank god for that. At least I can point to something that’s trending up.

It all started near year-end with that darn Sottak family. After holding court as provocateurs and organizers of all things social and immensely fun amongst our circle for the past 7 years, they decided to call it a French day and skedaddle back to the US. They were the glue and warm glow that pulled us all together for spontaneous apéros and long family dinners, group holidays to hither and tither, fun and frolic and generally irresponsible licentiousness. That they could not be replaced made their move even more unforgiveable.

Then over the Noel holidays my landlord sent a cryptic email that a dinner in January was welcome, … and needed. He needed to sell the apartment that was my welcome matt to Aix-en-Provence in 2010, a small but noble 17th century flat in the heart of this sun-touched, provincial city. So many memories between those walls: my 3 kids and their friends joyfully spread out amongst the cots and daybed and pullout; the communal meals and singing and supporting and debating and always one more bottle; mon amoure at my breakfast table, her perfume lingering for hours after departure. Another difficult goodbye.

More recently good friends of mine in Aix have decided to get divorced. They are managing it with all the love and respect that a beautiful 13-year marriage deserves, but it leaves me sad and deflated. My reaction is purely selfish of course, as they both seem fine and taking on the change with a positive, forward-facing attitude. I see a farewell to the many delicious memories we’ve shared these past 7 years, two of my closest friends imagined as forever a unit and couple.

I will continue to see them separately of course, but between their news and my own recent breakup, and my daughter packing up last week after a final long summer with Dad (growing up and college bound next year), and the Sottak departure, and the apartment move, … 2017 is becoming one long goodbye to an intimately warm and beautiful era.

Coping

Goodbye and Hello are funny words. One starts with a positive syllable but is often a distressing experience, while the other begins with a foreboding term but is typically hopeful and uplifting. Weird. Hello to new people in our lives, hello to new places.

The best we can do with empty space is to enjoy its serenity. Our daily lives are filled with turbulence, and a momentary calm can be soothing and restorative. An empty home is a clean slate, and an empty heart, once healed, open for new and beautiful souls to discover.

I’m keeping my hellos to a minimum through this transition, leaning toward the zen hermit mode and a few faithful friends. Stay busy and switch up the hours regularly. Avoid the routines that tug out warm memories. Run at dawn, write into the night, then write at dawn and run late. Travel on impulse, an evening in Italy or weekend in Paris. Keep the overnight bag at the ready. Staying off balance seems to offset the imbalance of these various goodbyes. I can’t explain why, but it’s working.

I’m hoping that all of your goodbyes are as warm and tender as mine. That doesn’t lessen the sting, but eases the recovery.

Enjoy the rest of the summer. It will be saying goodbye all too soon.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested Drink: Chateau Simone. Any year, any color will bring a smile.
Suggested Song: Deeper, Ella Eyre

Are you feeling exasperated and powerless during this current baffling political season? Events in Britain, America, and soon France leave us questioning core beliefs about our communities and the greater world at large. It’s a weird time full of strange characters and unpredictable outcomes. Unsettling.

hillary-donaldMany of us have been passing through the classic 5 stages of grief since early November: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Okay, perhaps we’ve managed to navigate just 4 stages but it’s still early. I’ve been trying out different coping mechanisms and arrived recently at the following simple approach: less looking out, more looking in, drink better wine. I’m letting go of what I can’t control and focusing on what I can control, and then there’s the wine thing. Let’s take a closer look.

Less looking out

Embracing the wider world requires an effort in reading, watching, listening, discussing and debating. Despite my best efforts to be enlightened I have come to accept these realities in the new era:

  • I no longer understand the greater electorate and its true tendencies.
  • I have zero control over who gets elected.
  • I have no control over the policies and actions of the newly elected.
  • The press has no idea about what they write in this political season.
  • The pollsters have no clue about what they survey at the moment.

I am not planning a crawl to the cave just yet but have stopped considering the public discourse online or in print as somehow rational and informed. I can’t help myself from engaging in debate and the dinner table discussions with my local Provence cabal remain spirited. But I accept that all our righteous pontifications over delicious meals and endless bottles leads us no closer to understanding the new reality.

It feels like a good moment to unplug.

More looking in

We can’t dress the greater world in our own wishful designs – or even understand the fashion season at the moment – but we still dress ourselves, thank goodness. Physical, emotional, and educational growth still remains 100% under own purview and control.

This is a fantastic opportunity to get good with our personal development. Get the body healthy and balanced, the soul nourished and full of zest, and the mind exploring new and esoteric endeavours.

Where to start:

  • Physical: Listen, we’re all going to be adopting a new fitness regime come January 1 (as goes the custom of grand resolutions) so why not get a one-month head start. Run, swim, bike, gym, yoga, tai chi, paddle board, … you decide. These are all good for the body and 100% under your control. Start today.
  • Emotional: I believe in the merits of meditation and consider it essential to our emotional balance and durability. And meditation can come in whatever form that works best for you; whatever provides the easiest release from the daily grind and stress, like the current political season. The classic lotus position stuff or a good walk along a peaceful lake, painting, dancing, music, anything that stops the gears in your loopy grey matter from spinning on everything except the moment. This is essential healthcare for the soul and 100% under your control. Do it now.

Another topic of emotional wellbeing is happiness. You want more of it in your life. There are plenty of ways to create and strengthen your positive emotions. Way too much to discuss here but join my Interprize Group (click here to go to my website and join) you’ll find endless readings, resources, exercises and more, … and you can always call me. Start today.

  • Mental: What a perfect moment to educate yourself in a deep topic – historical, scientific, philosophical, …whatever – outside the myopic minutia of the daily media. If you missed today’s news you wouldn’t know Trump’s latest cabinet pick (who will be fired shortly) or Taylor Swift’s plans for a TV channel. However, you could take, just as an example, that time to start a journey into the 20th century’s most influential philosophers (I’m reading Sartre and Michel Onfre at the moment, both of whom leave me fascinated, but more winded than a morning run with Jill Finkle). You could alternatively seek out books on China’s Zhou dynasty, or take a deep dive into the dynamics and dissimilarities of human societal advancement by reading Jared Diamond (GJ&S is a good start, but anything he writes is golden). Any of these undertaking and an infinite list of others will create a richer and more interesting you. This is essential gymnastics for the brain and 100% under your control. Do it now.

simoneDrinking better wine

Only this will I say about that: life may be shorter than anticipated given the ongoing turn of political events. It’s a good time to clean out the wine cabinet and toast your good fortune. If it all blows up tomorrow you’ll be toasting me, and if we’re lucky enough to be still breathing in 20 years, you’ll still thank me for enjoying those special wines with very special people. That is 100% under your control, so enjoy them now.

My french girlfriend jokes that our occasional disagreements can be explained through our choices of favorite authors. She reads Proust and de Beauvoir and I read Hemingway and McMurtry. She prefers dandy and ambiguous. I prefer cowboy and direct. Maybe she’s right, not sure, but this much is indeed true: I prefer a debate on any given evening over literature, philosophy, recipes, and a great bottle of of wine than a sterile discussion about a boring rich guy who’s never had a drink and wouldn’t know Chomsky from Camus.

And now I step off my soapbox.

Suggested Song: My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue), Neil Young
Suggested Drink: Jackhammer cocktail: Jack Daniels whiskey, Amaretto

“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”
– Pablo Picasso

I want to destroy your life. No, actually I want you to destroy your life. I want you to quite your job, leave your spouse, and plan your move, today.

Stick with me for one reckless moment.

We tend to frame major life changes – professional, personal, geographic, and other – from the inertia of our current situation. Like planets in a universe, each of these big things has a distinct and defining rotation, but orbit around a common core called our life. If any one of these big things gets out of orbit our whole universe can wobble out of control. So we focus on keeping things in safe (even if less than stimulating) trajectories. Knocking them out can initiate a chain of unpredictable consequences after all. Reckless.

planets_orbitsConsidering this astro-emotional dynamic, we ponder change through an inventory of impacts to our safe and predictable cosmos. If I left this job/spouse/location how much upheaval would it create in my entire universe of orbiting things? It’s a focus on the negatives and how to manage them. It’s a calculation that most often encourages inaction.

Let’s flip this conversation on its head. Imagine that for some reason – because Bill says so – you are required to leave your job, spouse, or location. Can you defend why you want to stay, why you are ready to defy that expectation? Tell me now, because as I said above, I want to destroy your life. Now the conversation leans toward positives. What do you so love about your job, spouse, location, and other big things? Remind yourself why the compromises are worth it, make a quick list. Is there enough good stuff there to fight for?

Now here’s the reckless part: stop treating this like a silly exercise. Do it, act on it. How’s the list coming along?

“It takes a long time to become young.”
– Pablo Picasso

Picasso was a big fan of child-like liberation, of creating art without the constraints of convention and expectations. Life imitates art with respect to our compliance to an ever-expanding collection of rules and etiquettes as we age. We grow up. We get properly tamed.

Did you ever “run away” when really young? I remember rolling some provisions into a cloth sac tied to the end of a wooden pole, tossing it over my shoulder like Huck Finn and heading out. I was probably 7 or so, and with no hand to hold that small Pennsylvania town felt like a wide-open universe. I didn’t consider my parents’ reaction, didn’t think about how I would buy stuff, wasn’t worried about my safety. I was limitless and unbounded. Untamed.

RunawayThe older we get the more we consider the consequences of our actions. A high priority is paid to risk aversion and fitting in, of not making waves. We gain a sense of responsibility at the surrender of possibilities and our autonomy. It’s also the start of the blame game: jobs, partners, and locations. My job is killing me. My marriage is boring me. This town is stifling me.

I wager that the single deepest source of frustration in our lives is the loss of self-determination; believing that our personal options and identities have become compromised. We sign contracts, make vows, and take on debts (financial and emotional) that we come to regret. But all of these obligations can be cancelled with a little steel in the backbone. Isn’t being honest and authentic more important than some hell-or-high-water cling to desires and ambitions long since faded? Kids are the only obligation that demands honor: you created them, now raise them. But, even kids don’t expect you to honor that until-death-do-we-part stuff if you’re unhappy and being a fraud. Ask them, I did.

We tiptoe around life like cowards. Most all of us. We limp through our second half and ask, why did I spend my best years with someone whom I no longer loved? Why didn’t I leave that crushing, pointless job when I still had the energy and time to pursue something of real interest? Why did I waste my life in city X instead of trying my dream on island Y?

I’ll tell you exactly why: money, security, feelings, and judgment.

Money

A lot of us drive career aspirations off income potential. I know I did. I was a failing physics major who loved the wine industry, and UC Davis had one of the best departments in the world. There was no money in that though, so rather than changing my major to wine and oenology I moved over to economics and had a decent career in finance and business. I was a square peg in a round hole but a couple of the jobs paid well. No regrets.

money worriesMaybe I’d make the same choice again at 25 and would be dishonest to suggest otherwise. I wasn’t living a passionate life, but managed to woo a great wife, buy a comfortable home, raise 3 terrible kids, and establish some savings. At 25 these are strong considerations for most of us, and that’s understandable. Be a good boy now, just a small dose of lithium and off you go to work.

At 50 I become uncooperative. Step 1 was to stop making life choices based on income. You should too. Our fixation on money is the single biggest source of bad decisions we’ll regret at the tail end of life; choices that pad our bank accounts and provide security to the detriment of true happiness and sense of authenticity. It’s a corruptive influence that pushes us to take on certain work, stay with certain people, and live in certain places that leave us feeling drained and compromised.

Doubt me? Just google “top regrets when dying” and compare the many, many various articles. The biggest common laments:

  • not being authentic to oneself (at the top of every list)
  • not pursuing one’s passions and purpose
  • not taking more risks
  • not finding real love and the right partner

Interesting that no one wishes they had worked longer hours and made more money, yet we make most of our big life decisions around their impacts to our finances. How odd.

Want to reclaim yourself? The single toughest but most immediate step is to vow no more decisions based on money, zero. Damn the consequences.

Security

Ever hear this: I’m not really happy with life and would change it tomorrow, but how would I survive, where would I live, what would I do? Maybe it’s a friend confiding over a glass of wine, maybe it’s a pesky voice in your own head.

We get comfortable in our bubbles of habit and security. Maybe life isn’t a soft bed of fragrant roses, but at least it’s not full of anxiety. Change and uncertainty make us anxious.

Consider for one reckless moment that it’s time to be a bit untethered and noncompliant. You can choose to face the unknown as a set of risks or list of possibilities. It can be how would I survive, where would I live, what would I do? Or it can be what new skills can I develop, new people can I meet, new horizons can I discover? Most importantly, you can approach change for what it is: the chance and excuse to reinvent and rediscover.

We are packrats with our bad tendencies; I know that I am. Only a disruptive move or change dislodges them from my routine. There’s no better time than midlife to question what’s important, go grab it, and leave the rest behind, despite the risks. (As for the anxiety that may result from your rash and reckless disregard for security I suggest meditation, sex, and the occasional joint.)

Want to reclaim yourself? A big step #2: no more safe decisions based on security.

Feelings

We stay too long in relationships, personal and professional, out of concerns for peoples’ feelings. It’s honorable to consider others’ happiness but serves no one to dial in a performance that is insincere, apathetic, and prolongs inevitable closure.

I’ve let people down at inopportune times and have been troubled by my betrayal and own egoism. I’ve quite rock bands and startups and corporate positions where my positions were key and the timings of my departures were disruptive. I recently broke up with a woman who loved me deeply. Feelings get hurt, colleagues and lovers feel betrayed, and we feel horrible. But life in all its unpredictable beauty is full of uncertainties and risks. Interests and priorities can change. The greater sin is remaining in expired situations and blaming others for our unhappiness and sense of entrapment. We have to be adults about this.

picasso giftWe also have to acknowledge that our gifts are unique and there is an obligation to share them to the best of our abilities. Each of us has a Picasso-sized gift waiting to be uncovered, developed, and shared. This can require life pivots that cause real damage.

Your inception was a miracle and your genetic inheritance was unimaginably unpredictable. Consider that going back just 10 generations all of the sets of parents in your inception line managed to survive wars, famine, plagues, terminal disease, premature birth, and other unpleasant forms of nasty demise before siring. Somehow each survived long enough to forward their genes, some of which are floating around your corporeal vessel at this very moment. The 10 male forbearers each produced about 250-300 million sperm per day if healthy and each and every one had a unique DNA profile, some elegant piece of genetic code that on some enchanted evening made it upstream through the generational spawning ladders to you. There is no one on this planet with your unique profile of education, experience, and talents and you have a responsibility to offer them up. Right? Should you let the fear of hurt feelings get in the way of this obligation?

Indeed everyone deserves kindness and respect in these situations. But that respect extends to you as well. In fact, you are your first priority.

Want to reclaim yourself? A sometimes painful step #3: no hesitations out of a fear of hurt feelings.

Judgment

No one enjoys being judged poorly. If I quite my job, leave my spouse, or move away what will my parents think, my friends think, my boss or colleagues think, my kids think? We waver over our actions and defer to the comfort of group acceptance, suitably tamed and compliant. What a terrible impulse.

judgedIt is patently unfair to blame others for our own unfilled desires and ambitions. Yet we hear it constantly, particularly in the final years. The what could have beens if I didn’t have this or that commitment to meet. As mentioned above, one of the common regrets in later life is not pursuing our real passions and much of that stems from a fear of judgment. But as also mentioned above, there is only one obligation: raising our kids responsibly, and that doesn’t require staying in dead-end jobs, expired marriages, or same cities. Think about the examples those decisions set for your impressionable brood. My mom sacrificed everything for me, and I’ll be a good mother and sacrifice all for my kids because I want them to be the best that they can be. But wait, based on your example they will feel obliged to sacrifice for their kids, who sacrifice it all for their own, and on and on. Who the hell gets to benefit from this solarium system of martyrdom?

If your actions are self-serving you will surely be judged, but who better to serve than yourself at the most fundamental core? If you live through the lens of others’ expectations, how will you align with the most authentic sense of yourself and be truly understood and appreciated? Who knows and appreciates that identity better than you?

Want to reclaim yourself? A courageous step #4: no hesitations from the fear of judgments (which are surely to come).

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
– Dylan Thomas

Taking a jackhammer to your secure life foundation sounds horrifying, but here’s the good news. If your list in defense of inaction is long and convincing, the hammer can be safely tucked away (for now). If not, there’s no better time for disruption than midlife. You’re maturity, self-awareness, skill set, and helpful connections have never been stronger. You probably have some financial buffer to see you through a gap, at least more now that at 25. And it’s been shown that we start to lose this constant anxiety over money at midlife and focus more on happiness and self realization.

Grow old gracefully, compliantly? To hell with that.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested Song: Sunny Afternoon, the Kinks
Suggested Drink: 2015 La Rose Des Ventes rosé, Cotes de Provence

Your author hard at work.
Your author hard at work.

It’s Wednesday afternoon and hopefully someone is working. Are you? Because I’m floating around a placid lake in the south of France with a few friends, enjoying the Mediterranean sun and warm breeze and a bottle or two of Provence rosé. We forgot to bring plastic cups so have dissected small water bottles into goblet pairs. Amazing how creative one can get with a bold thirst and Swiss Army knife.

We’ve rented two small electric powered boats; one for the adults and one for our teen daughters. They’ve set out up the gorge in search of flirtatious mischief and a discreet cove to probably smoke something tucked into a bikini bottom. They would deny all of this of course.

We watch from a receding distance and putter along leisurely, recounting our own tales of youth and sharing details that only great friends care to hear. There is no rush, … to go where? … to power aggressively through one of the most stunning river systems in Europe, the beautiful Gorges du Verdon at the southern base of the French Alps, with its limestone cliffs carving dramatically down into the cool turquois-green water? The good lord was having a inspired day when she cast this spot.

It is a small boat, a lazy pace, and a best-of-friends moment. The sun is bronzing our shoulders from a pastel blue Cezanne sky. Are you working, keeping the wheels of industry turning, the flows of the economy flowing, craving that rush hour drive home in your fabulous gleaming Tesla or BMW or whatever the driven class drive these days? I truly hope so, because the world needs you. We float in our 15-foot rental and praise you, we toast you with another pour of the bottle. God bless you.

First mate with an engineered goblet
First mate with an engineered goblet

We’ll gather with our girls in an hour to share a simple late lunch of smoked salmon and lettuce sandwiches in poppy seed baguettes, and local Provence cherries and strawberries from the market this morning. It’s hot but we have lots of water and plentiful ice for the wine, and now the carved-up plastic cups. All is good. All is really good actually.

This makes me think about the goings on in my old stomping grounds of San Francisco. Tom Perkins died there last week. He was an originator and titan of Silicon Valley’s venture capital industry and amassed a great, great fortune investing in companies like Genentech and Tandem Computers. Perkins was a man of big appetites and had commissioned the 289-foot clipper the Maltese Falcon (at that time the world’s largest private sailing yacht). He must have enjoyed some amazing times on that massive beast, champagning the biggest celebrities, wooing the hottest models (just saying it’s possible), traversing the oceans blue. Well perhaps not too much free time for traversing blue oceans. That high-gain, high-burn vc lifestyle doesn’t tend to pair well with extended, low-stress getaways. Unlikely he’d have been caught dead on our dingy, drinking discount wine out of MacGyvered cups. We would have enjoyed having him aboard I think. What an exchange.

I think about Perkins and his accomplished life while bobbing around on this warm serene day, chilled rosé in hand. I hope he died a happy man, with that keen knack for moneymaking and great talent for toy buying: the boats and Bugatti collection and massive homes. He probably did, what do you think? Maybe he got buried in one of his Bugattis, that would be cool. Who said you can’t take it with you? He did get touchy about his wealth status near the end, writing that the rich in America were being unfairly persecuted in a manner last visited on the Jews in Nazi Germany. It’s a weird paradox: the more we have, the less willing we are to share it. Money is like that, cocaine is like that, rosé with good friends isn’t like that.

How’s that commute going?

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested Song: Garden Party, Ricky Nelson
Suggested Drink: Strawberry basil margaritas: strawberries, lime, basil, tequila

A new spring edition of Bill’s fabulous adventures in Provence. It is easy to write about this time of the year, with the eager return to longer days, changes in the local farmers markets, and the resumption of warm weather rituals that most often center around drinks and socializing.

connectionI’ll start, though, with an epiphany of sorts: smart phone addiction is little different than other forms of unhealthy dependence, and the loss of its tickle in our pockets leads many of us through the same series of withdrawal emotions.

I suffered through 5 days sans connection recently. My iPhone went missing after a Saturday night of pronounced revelry at the restaurant Les Agapes in Aix. There was eating, there was drinking, there was singing and dancing, and my socket to the wireless ether vanished mysteriously through a wormhole of midnight excess. These things can happen when we’re having serious fun.

As the next day was a Sunday and the day after that had me on an early morning train to Paris, there was no time for quick replacement, so I resigned myself for a few days of unconnected disquietude. This I experienced:

  • Day 1, Sunday: denial, anger, depression, acceptance (that my phone was indeed gone, dammit)
  • Day 2, Monday: comprising, coping (through another day – this one traveling – without constant connectivity)
  • Day 3, Tuesday: observing, realizing (all the ways my smart phone distracts, demands attention, and eats up my precious life minutes)
  • Day 4, Wednesday: embracing, flourishing (the minutes and hours freed from uninterrupted connectivity and distraction)
  • Day 5, Thursday: denial, anger, depression, acceptance (that my new phone had arrived)

For a final word on this topic I defer to Prince Ea’s compelling recent video: Can we auto-correct humanity?

Artist: Jennifer Pochinski
Artist: Jennifer Pochinski

Back to the warming weather, we took advantage of longer daytime hours this past weekend to throw a casual dinner party in a friend’s garden. Spring training for the competitive season that will be in full swing by May. Creating an Aix-Mex menu from the spring vegetables in the local markets was challenging great fun, and with the aid of said friend’s massive grill we offered up fajitas of slow-roasted skirt steak (onglet to my local French butcher) and melt-in-your-mouth beef tongue, peppery gambas marinated in Italian lime and cilantro, papas con chorizo with spicy Spanish sausage, and an amazing Provençal inspired pico de gallo with local tomatoes (just starting to find their flavor now), green onions, and roasted chili peppers. Homemade cornbread and a just-from-the-oven chocolate cake filled out the menu. Yee haw.

All in there were 27 of us – half kids – enjoying this spring fling; no phones sitting on the table or gripped instinctively in needy hands. Just great conversation and catching up after the dark days of winter. Another bottle please. Life is short, the world is beautiful. Unplug, connect.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested Song: You Only Live Once, The Strokes
Suggested Drink: Forever Young Cocktail, gin, cranberry juice, club soda

It’s been sobering start to 2016 for the bulletproof believers amongst us. You know, we flag bearers of the centennial club, confident that at 100 we’ll still be kicking on most cylinders and fully engaged, and then softly, painlessly fail to wake up one sunny morning.

David_Bowie-06It’s a comforting fable for Big Idea procrastinators like me. Why do today what we have 40 more years to achieve? Zen, relax. And then we hear that certain ageless celebrities of our youth – David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Dale Griffin, and Alan Rickman, just this month alone – are dying from the frightening unmentionables like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and colitis before the age of 70. It’s a deflating jab to our comfort bubble.

The centennial club thrives on 2 fundamental deceits: when and how we’ll die. In reality we shouldn’t expect to tick past 83, which remains the average lifespan for the much of the western world. And we won’t likely expire peacefully in our sleep. We’ll probably succumb to the kinds of disorders and diseases that snatched the headline names mentioned above. It won’t be pretty and it will rob us of a few final years of fun and frolic. We won’t be supernovas, expanding in unbound potential until a final blinding flash leaves us scattered to the ashes. Damn.

So let’s get real. Let’s assume that our productive years wind down at 80, after which we’ll drool over endless rounds of bridge, shuffleboard, and acceptable wine on decks of the Carnival Cruise Lines. How many months are left then to do something grand, to pursue a legacy ambition that leaves us feeling accomplished and complete, that our unique purpose for being on this beautiful planet at this amazing time has been served? At 50 we can expect 360 more months and at 60 just 240 months. Sounds like a lot, sounds like so little.

Anxiety over our lack of effective runway can also be debilitating. Why try to take on something ambitious if there is insufficient time to implement it? Bowie and Frey were wasting time in rock bands in their teens, a time when we were planning responsible careers. They had decades to experiment, fail, perfect, and establish their genius. What hope is there to start at midlife, regardless of our ambitions, music or otherwise?

dont just standThe fact is we’re never better positioned to pursue quixotic adventures than at midlife. You probably have more disposable income at 50 then 20, are less impulsive and smarter about the world, have established a helpful network of support (even if 1-2 degrees removed), are no longer distracted by childrearing (although child-funding never ends!), and are driven less by considerations that are purely financial (that corrupt your vision), more by self realization (which distills your vision).

For a lot of reasons we can’t expect to launch a stellar career at 50 like Bowie’s, but we can still find success, recognition and respect, and establish a more authentic self, whether it’s as a musician, writer, artist, restaurateur, winemaker, nonprofit director, extreme athlete, teacher, yoga instructor, life coach, or whatever represents that grand ambition of deep personal meaning to you.

The point is this: there is no better time than now to get to it. The real prize is the journey and self-discovery as much as the final creation of our endeavors. In a few years someone will be writing your obit; perhaps the same person who summarized the lives of those above. Give her something to smile about.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence