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Dunks & Walks, Sleeps & Snacks
...and something that'll make you feel *really* horrible.
Welcome to Everything Is Amazing, a newsletter about finding sensible, scientific-sounding arguments for going out and doing daft things, in a way that doesn’t hold me legally responsible for your actions.
As long as you’re not a Personal Injury Claims lawyer (trust me, I’ll check), you can subscribe below:
So, this one’s about doing challenges - as explained here. Should you be curious/bored/reckless enough to accept, here’s the deal:
You pick one (or more) of these challenges and tackle it/them over the coming week.
If you complete any - it’ll be hard to explain to anyone else why you did them! People’s faces will just crinkle in confusion and they’ll quickly walk away. This would help explain things, but they’ve gone now. Oh well.
This week’s challenges (brought to you by the Scottish summer, which is currently this hot) are as follows:
1) The 7-Day Dunk
This is how I finish most days right now.
It’s my favourite new thing: at the point where my thoughts are congealing into something between treacle and concrete, I glug back a few glasses of water, drag on a shirt and shorts and the pair of ruined walking boots I was on the verge of chucking away last month, walk down the road and bung myself in the sea.
That’s a lot of energetic-sounding verbs because…it’s not always easy to go swimming in Scotland. Some days it’s cloudy, or a cold wind is powering in from the Atlantic, or the water’s like crushed ice, or the water’s actual crushed ice, or I just can’t be bothered*.
But for the last 3 weeks, every day, I’ve been pushing myself into the ocean - and it’s all been worth it. I’ve now reached the point where I (a) feel a steady lift of my spirits, not just when I’m in the water or after I get out, but all day - and (b) I can’t really function without it. It now sits alongside coffee as a non-negotiable part of my mind’s boot-up sequence. I can’t believe I waited so long to start doing it every day - but maybe a national heatwave is the perfect time.
For this challenge, you’re agreeing to take a dip every day of the coming week - with a twist. You’ll have to find 7 different places to do it.
What does different mean here?
I don’t know - what does it mean? I’m asking you. Would it feel like cheating if you chose 7 different parts of the same beach, river-bank or lakeside? Then don’t do that! (Cheating is unsatisfying and won’t fill you up.) Want to sample one of each of: a pond, a lake/loch (freshwater and sea), a stream, a river, a bay and a beach? Sounds like a good adventure! Too limited with available hours that you couldn’t spare the time to go more than a few miles from home? Okay - what options are available to you? Pick one of those.
And for “dip,” I suggest immersing yourself to the neck. This obviously includes the worst part of outdoor swimming: when the never-warm-enough water reached The Body Areas We Do Not Speak About. There’s only one sensible way to deal with this - straight in, just get it over with - but your capacity for suffering may be greater than mine, in which case, feel free to spend half an hour inching the water up your shivering, misery-wracked body. Each to their own!
7 places. 7 days. In you go, then.
* Okay, it’s usually this.
2) Have A “Walk It Off” Chat With Someone
This is inspired (okay, stolen) from Isaac Fitzgerald’s wonderful newsletter of the same name, within which, amongst other things, he interviews interesting people by going for a walk with them - and allows the route itself to create some of the things they talk about.
(This is the technique behind one of my favourite books about curiosity, so I’m completely sold on it.)
It’s also a great way to have a chat with someone without being indoors facing your laptop, grinding yourself down with chronic Zoom fatigue. Instead, you’re going out for a walk. Both of you. At the same time.
If you’re lucky enough to be physically near that person, arrange to meet up and go for the walk together - except, not simply to just “go for a walk” (that’s when you start thinking “well, since a walk is basically doing nothing, what else could I do at the same time?” and you introduce pets, kids, shopping, chores and so on…). No. You’re meeting to talk, and the walk’s just the excuse.
If that person is elsewhere right now, and if you have the data, you could make it a streaming video call over your phone - except a call where you mostly turn the camera the other way, to show them (and for them to show you) the walking-experience of being in a different place. Compare and contrast.
Or you could just have what us old-timers used to refer to as a “phone call” (look it up, kids). That might work even better.
However you do it, take a tip from Isaac, and let your surroundings intrude on the conversation. Talk about where you are, and ask about where they are. Make a kind of two-way window between their part of the world and yours - like this one, only rather less literal.
Do your first one in the coming week. That’s the challenge.
Who’s it going to be?
3) Write To A “Hero” (Without Being A “Fan”)
I’m stealing this from the second lesson of my own writing course, for two reasons: (a) it applies to non-writers as well, and (b) it’s the most intimidating and sadistic task I set my students, so I figure it’ll have much the same marvellous, joyful, stressful and horrible effect here. Enjoy!
If you’re doing this right, this task should scare the s*** out of you. That’s what you’re aiming for here.
So. You got interested in [whatever your current obsession is] because of someone you admire who does it really well. You love their stuff. You revere them. You kinda wish you were them.
And so of course you're scared of them.
Come on. Admit it. You haven't contacted them because you just don't think you're there yet. Not even acceptably close. You care about their potential opinion of you, and you don't want to blow it with a clumsy introduction - so you want to wait until you’re ready, when the time is just right.
Bad move. The time is never "right". This is something we tell ourselves so we don't have to do uncomfortable things. (In the UK we call this "bottling it".) It’s how we never, ever reach out to people we’d give anything to be in contact with. This is how networks stay small, how creators toil in lonely darkness, and how fear devours ambition and spits out regret.
(It's also how your story fails to get out into the world - because you failed to show your face enough times for others to get interested in who you are and what you're doing.)
Here’s one awful-feeling antidote to this.
For this challenge, you're going to send one of your heroes a personal message, in the hope they get to read it. You're going to connect with them - but not like a fan who can’t stop gushing out compliments, and definitely not like an aspiring Them-clone who turns everything around to focus on yourself (“I love your work - but hey, you should see what I’ve been doing, check this out! And this! You can subscribe here!”)
Instead, you’re going to give them your best shot at actually getting a meaningful reply.
For starters: are you a true fan? Excellent - then you know what they’re obsessed about right now. Is there anything about this thing that you know that they might not? Send it their way. Add something to their obsession. Help them with it.
Or - ask them a question. A good question, one that they haven’t already answered in exhausting detail a bazillion times in loads of places you missed becuse you didn’t look hard enough. Depending on how interesting your question is, you may even trigger a little of the Ben Franklin effect, opening the door to further conversations. Or you might just get a terrific answer, aimed specifically at you, from someone you admire. Win-win!
Okay, maybe not always. There are caveats. First: whatever message you send, you may never hear back. Highly accomplished people are very busy, because of that “highly accomplished” bit. It may take a while, or you may never hear a peep - simply because they’re overwhelmed, nothing more than that.
Second: some creatives love to get mail.
Others, not quite so much:Teachers: please, please, please don't assign your students to email an author and ask questions. It's not fair to us or to them.
And the rest are somewhere in between:
(So find out which of these they currently are before you set your expectations of getting a reply - or before you write to them in the first place!)
None of this is putting you off the idea? Superb. Allow me to throw ice-water on your swelling confidence: you're going to do this today. By the end of today. The day you’re reading this.
The reason is fear. Given enough time, your fear of doing this will metastasize into pure, unyielding Resistance. You’ll create all sorts of sensible-sounding, utterly self-deluding excuses for not doing it. It’ll never happen, starting from tomorrow. So you need to get this done TODAY.
Permission to freak out is granted.
4) Spend 24 Hours Outside
A full day without a solid roof over your head. Sound like fun?
The easiest way to do this challenge is to just go camping (as I’m doing in a few weeks when I walk round Arran, just across the sea from me now).
Take a full day, and just walk, bike or drive (or kayak, or…?) somewhere new. Take a tent, sleeping bag or bivvy bag, do everything outdoors, and for one day that for the first time in years feels like it’ll never end, watch our world make a full rotation around you:
The hardest way is to stay home and do it.
Because, you can’t use that home. At least not the indoors bit. So how’s this going to work? Are you sleeping in the garden (thereby ticking off this challenge as well)? What happens if you need a wee, or worse*?
Or are you staying awake for 24 hours, like some Greeks used to do at the weekends? (They called this “un-nighting”: you spend all night in bars, going between glasses of wine & cups of coffee, then stagger home at dawn, grab a cold shower and head to work. In 2007 I tried the tourist equivalent of this in Athens. How I felt the following day is…still very easy to remember.)
You’ve got a week. Pick your day and get out there.
*I reckon some bending of the rules is permissable here.
5) Take A Food-Holiday
My friend Annemarie is in Greece right now, doing what every cell of my being is yelling that I should also be doing at this time of year: eating Greek food.
It’s not just that Greek food reminds me of my childhood in Cyprus, and my 2 months in Corfu in late 2019 - but that’s certainly a factor. Our taste-buds have an amazing ability to “date-stamp” memories, allowing us to be swept back to earlier moments in our lives. That’s a useful thing when you’re pining for a place and feeling a bit sad that life’s got in the way of your next visit.
Food can’t change reality, but food can certainly help you deal with it - and maybe, along the way, teach you something new, if you’re willing to be a bit more adventurous with your diet.
My options, then:
1) Scroll through pictures of Greek food on Pinterest and therapeutically eat ice-cream until I throw up.
2) Take it out on Annemarie over Twitter (not very friendly, and anyway, why should she care? She’s in Greece).
3) Spend a week pretend-eating my way round Greece.
Pretend-eating is big business. Isn’t that the promise that sells all those cookbooks we buy every year - that we can “eat like a [resident of country]?” But how often do we make the effort to actually do that, properly? In my case, hardly ever. And yet I always have access to ingredients of the close-enough-I-guess variety, and no excuse for doing this. Δεν υπάρχουν δικαιολογίες! Get moving, old son.
This week, you could do this too. Choose a cuisine that makes you happy every time you eat it, and really nerd out. Plan seven days of meals, do your research, find the traditional recipes, mix in the weird new fusion-foods that are gradually taking over, and learn (by reading and by tasting) as you go.
Alternate, less healthy approach: my friend Doug now writes an absolutely fascinating newsletter about snacks from around the world. Take this as an excuse to plunder his archives and then leap off to do your own research - and then, say, snack your way across Europe. Or Asia. Or down the Americas!
NOTE: Bonus points awarded for both these approaches if you ask a person actually living in your chosen country right now for suggestions!
In the next edition of Everything Is Amazing: What if all our maps are the wrong way round?