When I worked at OU I began auditing an Italian Medieval Literature course. It was pretty awesome- we studied Italian classics in Italian. Because we were all excited about what we read and discussed, and just happened to be doing it in Italian, we all learned way more than we would have in a traditional language course. At least I did. I was concurrently auditing an Italian Conversation course that always left me unsatisfied, the opposite of how I felt leaving the literature course.
One of the juicer tidbits I learned in that course was the etymology of a cavaliere errante, or knight errant. Specifically the errant part. And why were knights errant in the first place?
Errare, in Italian and presumably Latin (and also Spanish, I believe), means both to wander and to err, or to make mistakes. In fact it is easy to see the common root of the English words errant and err. But why does one word in Romance languages have two meanings that seem unrelated?
The two are intricately tied together, however. To wander in the sense of a knight errant implies sauntering into the unknown and therefore taking risks. Risks mean that mistakes are likely, as well as valuable experience. Knights were errant because they had to quest, to question, to search, and could only find the answer through their wanderings. They had to live the answers and live the knightly virtues. Wandering was typically a dangerous proposition, and precisely for that reason it was also a path to unique and valuable learnings. They erred along their path, as anyone who takes a risk inevitably does. But as Joseph Campbell pointed out, "where you stumble, there lies your treasure". To wander is to err but it is the only way a knight could come into his own, prove himself, and pass from being a knight errant to a grail knight: one who has become a vessel for the infinite energies of the universe, through whose hands holy work is done. Before he could do with his hands he had to learn with his feet. With his feet he wandered and erred, learned and grew.
Or as Quijote himself put it, "who wanders much and reads much, sees much and knows much".
Dillon Dakota Carroll
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Today I was talking with some friends. One of them brought up how Robin Williams committed suicide. How could a man on top of his craft, on top of the world, kill himself? This sparked a conversation on achievement. How do we stay motivated after we achieved the success we sought? We are impatient to reach our goals, but once we do, we miss the sense of progress and purpose we had when we were striving for it. This makes me suspicious of any philosophy of life or conception of identity that emphasizes possession, whether that be money, things, love, acceptance, accomplishments, prestige, or experiences.
According to existentialists, notably Sartre, we are what we do. Existence is action, and action is the fundamental activity of human existence. Our mass of accumulated experiences and memory does not define us. These are the deadened remnants of our past actions. As soon as we begin to identify with our past, we stagnate. Life force ceases to circulate within us. If we are not acting, we lose ourselves. It is the conundrum of human experience: life itself (action) destroys itself the instant it exists, instead becoming history. We must keep acting always. The way is the destination.
Since the way is the destination, the ends never justify the means. The means must embody the ends.
The question, Who am I? can only be answered by the person asking it. The right and responsibility for doing so is given to no one else. The answer is the choices made and the actions undertaken. It must be answered anew each day, and living the answer to this question must be the fundamental pursuit and activity of any person's day-to-day life. Each month, each day, each hour is an opportunity to renounce, reinvent, or recommit. The greater the action, the greater the man.
Dillon Dakota Carroll
We began working in January of 2014 on Levaté, an accessory product for wheelchair users to help improve their independence. It'll likely be three full years before the product is ready to be manufactured, about a year and a half behind our original, optimistic schedule. We've slowly learned that developing a new product and launching a business around it takes longer than expected. Double any initial estimate of time and money cost.
Being in a pensive mood as I mulled over what we'd learned in the past thirty months, I began thinking about the broader lessons for my life. This is the list I came up with.
I love notebooks. Beautiful, well-made notebooks, of course, with silky paper and a pleasing design. But also cheap dollar notebooks from low-price box stores, the kind with scratchy paper and cheap binding or, worse, spiral bindings. Spiral notebooks both fascinate and repulse me.
I love them all because I love the idea of a notebook.
An empty notebook is enticing possibility. The magic of all the things one could live, learn, dream, design. It is the thought of the intimate essay we get to write for ourselves, what will be a constant work-in-progress, growing alongside the writer.
An empty notebook is an invitation. It is an invitation into conspiracy, where writer and receiving vessel are complicit in the act of rebellion that is writing. In its pages a shared secret unfolds, for they retain the silence of their father trees. They keep their secrets, their only whispers being that of pen on paper.
An empty notebook engages all the senses. There is the feeling of it in one's hands. The crinkle of the stiff pages waiting to be worn in. The imaginings of what it could eventually contain. The woody smell of the unspoilt pages still beating to the rythym of its former forest. It's an elixir I could get drunk off of, were it only able to be distilled. In a way, I do drink it in regardless. How else can I explain the uninhibited dance of pen across page, the inkblots like footprints in the sand? The dance that begins so hesitantly, so delicately, as I'm afraid to sully the pristine pages with the profanity of my penmanship. But, inevitably, I do. Thoughts crystallize as they can only do on a page.
The notebook is the medium, the sacrifice, the kindling that so patiently sacrifices itself in the search for something greater than the writer. The notebook can never again be perfect once it is used, filled as it is with earnest attempts at enlightenment crammed around yesterday's shopping list. The pages, clear like a polished mirror, reflect our own imperfections.
The only thing I love as much as an empty notebook is a freshly filled notebook. There is a different kind of beauty to it, but a beauty nonetheless. Everything in between is messy anxiety and stuttering insight.
I've always been a mediocre swimmer. I could never swim more than a lap or two before I was exhausted and needed a break. Even more embarrassingly, I could never submerge my head. I always had a primal fear of getting water up the wrong way somehow, and mastering the mechanics of breathing in time to my stroking seemed beyond me.
In short, I always wanted to learn how to swim properly, but didn't know how to improve. Swimming more laps didn't seem to help, and I just wore myself out faster. I also didn't have the money to hire an instructor and wasn't thrilled by the idea of taking classes anyway. It was obvious I needed some major tutelage but I wasn't sure a class was the way to go.
I read about Total Immersion on Tim Ferriss' blog and always wanted to give it a try. It seemed to be exactly what I needed: a relatively inexpensive multi-media program that promised to decrease my swimming drag, allowing me to go farther with less effort and far more gracefully than before. The fact that it was recommended by Ferriss made me trust it and want to try it more than I would had I stumbled across it on my own, as Ferriss' whole schtick is accelerated learning. The only issue would be finding a swimming pool, as I didn't have access to one.
Does selfishness get a bad rap? How much do intentions really matter?
At a bar a few nights ago I got into a conversation with a stranger on precisely this topic (among others). He pointed out how a friend of his mentioned giving money to a homeless guy, and how he felt good after doing so, so he liked doing it. He saw this as selfish, and by extension a bad thing, because the intention wasn't to help the man but to feel good. Ideally, the intention would be completely pure.
I disagree. I think the selfish/selfless debate we constantly hear about is malarkey, and a clear case of a false dichotomy. The problem is we've come to associate selfishness with manipulation and taking advantage of others, and we've equated selflessness with good deeds.
A college friend and I, both interested in product design, recently challenged each other to begin keeping a "bug list". This is an idea we'd read about in a book by some of the founders of Ideo, the famous product design firm. A bug list is where you keep a list of all the problems you encounter or run into on a daily basis. The problems that seem the most promising become fodder for later product ideas. All good products start with a problem they're trying to solve. The bigger the problem (I've heard it described as solving shark bites versus mosquito bites) and the more people who have that problem, the more impactful the product will be.
More fundamentally, the bug list is a tool to get ourselves in the habit of looking for problems to solve. Everytime we complain, get frustrated, lose something, etc. during the day we make a note of what the problem was. Or I would sit down at the beginning of the day and think of ten or more problems I had as I mentally ran through my routine or through the previous day's activities.
The nature of our challenge was to each come up with ten new problems a day for two weeks. Then we would have a call to compare and figure out the best problems we would like to solve. That's close to 300 problems we came up with between the two of us over those two weeks. Most of the ideas were shit, of course- things that couldn't really be solved with products or even software, or that were more personal problems or societal problems. Or problems that would require a multi-million dollar research team to solve, rather than two young engineers working in their spare time. Many of the problems were small problems, too- problems few other people likely saw as an issue, or that were mosquito bites that wouldn't be worth the hassle of using a product to solve. Still, we developed a short list of things we'd like to try and solve at some point.
Even if none of these ideas go anywhere, coming up with them has been a powerful process for me. I see three distinct advantages.
On Wednesday some friends and I were talking about the role anger plays in being a balanced man, but how hard it is to express it nowadays. It is taboo to get angry. We take it personally, even when the anger is used only to express and not to attack. The angry person is considered to be unreasonable, aggressive. Anger has associations of violence and brute force.
The book Radical Honesty by Brad Blanton changed my mind about anger. We all experience anger when our boundaries are crossed or our expectations are not met. It is a normal human emotion that, like any other, can be expressed positively or negatively. It can be used to destroy or to create. The problem arises when we don't express the anger we feel in the moment. It builds up inside of us and poisons us. If we are angry at a friend or loved one and we don't express it, it can ruin the relationship. If we don't express our anger, it makes it impossible to move on and continue enjoying the moment. We're yanked out of our bodies and into our heads, disconnected from the flow of what is constantly unfolding.
...sees much and knows much