“To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize”
– Voltaire
Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

Good morning!

I am Hugh Hollowell, and this is Life is So Beautiful, a newsletter about finding the beautiful when it's hard to - and maybe especially when it's hard to.

After Dad’s death last year, I inherited some things. Not the big stuff, like a house and property, because Mom still lives there, but personal things, like tools and guns and pocket knives and so on. And some of those things are delightful and fill me with joy, and some of them are so much detritus, and I have been trying to pay attention to what puts a thing in a given category.

As an aside, that is pretty much my biggest life hack I can give you: Pay attention. Paying attention to the food I eat has made it pretty easy and painless for me to lose 18 pounds in 2 months. Paying attention to how I feel after I walk vs how I feel after I run taught me I am a walker and not a runner, and paying attention to what people respond to has made me a better writer. Pay attention.

So anyway. I have inherited a bunch of stuff, and some of it is junk and some of it is delightful. And the biggest difference between the two seems to be not the economic value, but how personal the item was.

For example: I inherited a Dewalt drill. It’s a good drill, no doubt. It will probably last the rest of my life. But Dad owned lots of hand tools, most of which he bought at pawn shops, and this is just one of them. It isn’t personal. I couldn’t pick it out of a lineup of other Dewalt drills. If it broke tomorrow, I would just get another one.

But his pocket knife – the one I gave him 20 years ago – the one he carried and sharpened and used to work on his projects and to cut open packages and also as an impromptu pry bar to open paint cans… that one is important, and another knife could not replace it.  
It is the specific vs the general, similar to Buber’s discussion of I vs Thou.

So what have I learned by paying attention to this? For me, anyway, it is better to prioritize the personal, the intimate, the unique, the specific over the general and the generic. I would rather live on the quirky street with 12 unique houses on it than the cookie-cutter street indistinguishable from any other street in the neighborhood. I would rather eat off the brightly colored mismatched plate settings than the white plates with no personality. And I would rather have my Daddy’s pocket knife than his drill.

Five Beautiful Things

  • Here is a short video, without narration of the British artist David Hockney just flipping through his sketchbook. This is mesmerizing, and so much better than my description made it sound.
  • Probably a dozen people who know of my love of carving spoons sent me this TikTok link. (This is the first time I have shared a link from TikTok)
  • A friend shared the excellent, and brutal, poem Running Orders with me, in light of the Israeli/Palestinian fighting recently, and it gutted me.
  • Michael Pederson is a public artist, and he makes delightful projects, but my favorite is the little helpful signs that he installs in random places. I love this.
  • OK, this is a bit niche, but bear with me while I set it up. Bill Carter is an elderly British man who is one of the premier plane makers in the world. (Planes are hand tools one uses to smooth wood). He is quasi-retired these days, but he and his wife Sarah make videos on Sarah’s phone that they share on YouTube and Instagram about his planemaking. He has no pretension, no tripod, and he builds planes worth a thousand dollars in a cluttered shed in his backyard, and has done for decades. The memory card runs out often, the editing is horrible, but what comes through is his infectious joy. This is so far from influencer culture as can be, and I find myself hoping for new videos every time I go on YouTube. This is a tour of his backyard, and this of his shop, and it is all so adorable I cannot stand it.

* * *

Well, that is it for this week. I hope you have a great week, and that your life is filled with beautiful things. If you see something beautiful this week, I hope you will let me know about it, and if one of my five I shared today struck you in a special way, I hope you will let me know about that, too.

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Take care of yourself. And each other. 

Hugh Hollowell Jr

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