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..."Lord, Protect My Child" by Susan Tedeschi: Bob Dylan released the song in 1983 but Tedeschi's cover, like Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower," is so much better than the original. Her song is bluesier. More soulful. You hear the yearning in Susan's voice. Her version appeared on one of my Apple Music playlists that updates every week. It's been in heavy rotation ever since, as I cook, head out for a walk or—god—read the news.  

These days, Lorrr-OHHHH-LORD, PROTECT MY CHI-IIIILD pretty much sums it up, huh?

...The Lives of Others: Friend of the pod Michele Rigby Assad emailed me a few weeks back. She'd just seen a decade-old foreign film, The Lives of Others, and thought I'd like it too.

I loved it. The movie follows a secret-police agent in the Communist-controlled East Germany of the 1980s. He's ordered to spy on a playwright and his actress girlfriend, ostensibly to see if they are true friends of Lenin but really to dig up dirt on the playwright, with the hope that the writer be imprisoned, which would then allow the boss of the police agent, a boorish German apparatchik, to move in on the girlfriend and take her as a lover. The secret-police agent, Stasi Captain Gerd Wiesler, does as he's told—he's a true believer, a good Communist—but he begins to doubt his mission as he secretly listens to these lives of others.

The story doesn't follow the familiar arc of personal redemption. It's instead about the cascading consequences of acting morally. The film, like the limited series Chernobyl, is an examination of the central character's lives and the political system that constricts them. It's a two-hour film that contains a world, and a worldview, and a lesson for anyone who watches until the credits roll.

You'll watch until the credits roll. If you want to tell great stories, study this movie. The Lives of Others won the Oscar for best foreign film in 2007. I vaguely recall critics raving about it then. Some online commentary now says it's one of the best movies of the 21st Century. I don't disagree.

..."How It Feels to Get Everything You Ever Wanted" by Ryan Holiday: What a fascinating essay. Holiday writes about wanting fame and money as a young writer, and getting both, getting in fact more fame and money than he dreamed possible. How does that feel? Great for a little bit, nice for a while, and then...nothing.

"Maybe it feels even worse than nothing because you expected something so different...I was mowing the lawn when I found out my new book debuted as an instant #1 New York Times bestseller. I saw the email come in and went right back to mowing the lawn. Nothing was different. Nothing changed."

This state of apathy can actually be a good thing—if you know how to channel it. That's the work of the second half of the essay. Like I said: fascinating little read, and applicable to those who've reached their goals and those who haven't.

...Commonplace books: For the past few months I've kept a few and they're transforming my life. What are they? A commonplace book is a notebook or journal where you jot down the wisdom you encounter: in books, articles, song lyrics, TV shows, whatever. I soon had so many quotes in my commonplace book that I started over, and divided the quotes into themed commonplace books. I now have a commonplace book called Science vs Religion, another called Civics, Politics, Globalization, another called Creativity and Writing. I've got seven commonplace books in all, including one just called Commonplace Book, which is the book of books, the best and most-learned thoughts I've come across. 

Almost every day I add a quote to one of these books. About once a week I read one of them. It's amazing how engrossing they can be.

I started this because I'd heard Thomas Jefferson kept a commonplace book and it helped him organize his thoughts and lead a better life. I've since learned that everyone from Erasmus to E.M. Forster to Steven Johnson kept (or keeps) commonplace books. John Locke loved his so much he wrote an actual book about it: A New Method for Making Common-Place Books.

What's my favorite quote thus far? Impossible to answer. But here's something that speaks to this point of reflection in my life and underscores, too, the process of keeping commonplace books:

"Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself." 
--Rumi, the 13-century Persian poet. 
 

Lastly, I need to correct a mistake. Last week I wrote about the Roy Cohn documentary, Bully. Coward. Victim. I said that Cohn worked for U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy. Cohn worked for U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy. Eugene McCarthy was a completely different man. Given the choice, I think I'd have much rather grabbed a drink with Eugene than Joe.

I apologize for the mistake.

Have a great weekend. I'll be back next Friday.

Paul

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