Category: Economics

The Life-Changing Magic of Pruning Trees

Last December Peggy, my auntie’s cavoodle, was biting the overgrown branches off one of our trees in the backyard. Branches being the choking hazards they are, I chased her around the yard to get the sticks out of her mouth. And then she went back to the tree and bit some more. So I put her inside, got the garden trimmers from under the kitchen sink and snipped away the branches. And then, with the tree looking more and more tidy, something took me by surprise – relief.

Thanks to COVID I, like so many others, lost my job and by necessity had to step back into the benefits system and the job hunt I so dread. By that point in the backyard with Peggy it had been another unfruitful week and I was so wound up chasing jobs and hearing nothing back, once I finally did something that gave me an immediate result the tension I didn’t realise I was holding dropped away.

In the burst of free associations that followed I remembered Marie Kondo and her “Konmari Method” for tidying and decluttering one’s house. I never jumped on the “spark joy” bandwagon. Maybe it’s because I dislike it when something that’s originally free like folding one’s shirts is turned into a commodity as part of a personal brand. Still, in a capitalist society we all need to make money somehow.

But pruning trees remains free of charge and far more giving.

What’s Our Writing Worth?

Lewis Hyde writes in The Gift that “the artist in the modern world must suffer a constant tension between the gift sphere to which his work pertains and the market society which is his context.” Hyde also writes of a “disquieting sense of triviality” that haunts artists in societies like ours. You know the feeling. Every so often we’re neck deep in doubt and ask ourselves “why bother writing, painting, etc. if I’m not going to be paid for it?”

Even the questions we ask ourselves are framed in terms of their market value. But John McPhee thinks different. The author Tim Ferris studied under McPhee at Princeton and in his class notes he wrote “McPhee never has suggested that the point of writing is to make money, or that the merit of your writing is determined by its market value. ‘A great paragraph is a great paragraph wherever it resides’ he’d say. ‘It could be in your diary.’”

But I think so long as the market exists there will always be a temptation to cater to its demands and become what Seth Godin cautions us not to become in The Practice, a hack.

But what about worth? Again Hyde says “I mean ‘worth’ to refer to those things we prize and yet say ‘you can’t put a price on it.’ We derive value, on the other hand, from the comparison of one thing with another.” When we live in a society where almost everything has a price and we’re bombarded day and night by adverts it’s hard to recognise worth apart from value, especially the worth of one’s art when we also believe time is money.

And it’s Black Friday today. See what I mean?

The Paradox of Love

Viktor Frankl and his second wife, Eleonore Schwindt.

We all know it: dating is hard. On the one hand it clears any ambiguity: you both know why you’re there; but on the other hand it raises the stakes, because you both know why you’re there. But online dating is a different story. I can’t account for all the possible reasons why online dating is especially hard but I think one significant reason is that every dating app is in the business of dating, not love. They provide a platform for people to meet but how useful is that platform if every aspect of its design from its colours to the way people show interest (i.e. swiping) is only to keep me on the app and ultimately pay for upgrades? It’s all counterintuitive.

Sometime this past summer I remembered a quote I found on Wikipedia years ago by Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor:

[…] happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself[.]

– Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

As with happiness, so with love, I think. It sneaks up on us. The wave of a hand. The way someone calls our name to say goodbye, and they really mean it. Who knows what summons love?

A swipe right?