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Small Victories 7 min read

Small Victories

On the benefits of morning pages, plus long and controversial magazine pieces, podcasts, NBC drama, baseball, and ultramarathons.

By Cary Littlejohn

Last week marked a tiny milestone for me: A week of morning pages. 

For those who don’t know, morning pages, popularized by Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, are three unedited, stream of consciousness longhand pages written every single morning. Cameron calls them the most important tool to creative recovery; they help unblock your mind and let you create more freely.

They’re simple, but to stick to them is harder than you might expect. I haven’t written that much by hand in a long time; it’s literally working muscles I haven’t worked in ages. It forces me to look at the chaos that is my handwriting, and it’s good for me to force myself to stare at it, not be afraid of it (or more accurately, embarrassed by it). They’ve been adopted by lots of creative types, and it feels good to make a small change and stick with it.

Whether or not you want to be an artist, you could benefit from morning pages, too. Cameron says it’s helpful to think of them as meditation. An unfiltered start to your day, to get out all your anxieties and neuroses and gripes and anything else that might distract and detract from your day. 

Mostly, this is my way of celebrating it for myself. I wouldn’t show the pages or reproduce them here, but it feels meaningful to stop for a minute and allow myself to be happy with a step toward a better version of myself. Here’s to whatever your small victories were last week, too.

Ten Worth Your Time

  1. Last week was one of long magazine pieces that generated LOTS of online commentary. was this piece in The Atlantic by Theo Baker, the Stanford college newspaper reporter who broke news that resulted in Stanford’s president getting the boot. It was quite the glow-up to go from the student paper to The Atlantic, and many detractors online complained about Baker getting the chance at all, deeming him a nepo baby because he’s the son of a New York Times reporter and New Yorker writer. For many who didn’t care so much about that detail, the piece was still objectionable because it was on college campus culture, specifically as it relates to the war in Gaza. Baker details the standoff between supporters of Israel and supporters of Palestinians, and he writes at length about how students (and the administration) are responding to the war. Aside from the specifics of the war debate, it doesn’t paint a flattering view of debate and discourse at one of America’s preeminent institutions. And for that alone, it’s worth the time it takes to read.
  2. Another long and much maligned piece was this massive New York magazine profile of Andrew Huberman, Stanford neuroscientist and optimization-guru podcaster. The story is sort of about that, but only slightly; it was the prerequisite to understand why the reader should follow along for 8,000 words to learn about how he juggled multiple women in what they thought were monogamous relationships. You may or may not know Huberman’s name; he rose to prominence during the those hazy COVID days, but a lot of people still don’t know his name. I only knew it because I know a lot of podcasts, not because I’m a devoted listener. I like gossipy drama as much as the next person, and while it’s a thorough bit of reporting, it begins to feel tedious at that length when the ultimate premise seems to be “This guy isn’t like his public persona. In real life, maybe he’s a jerk.” I hesitate to say that lest I be lumped in with the blue-checkmark hordes on Twitter coming to his defense; no part of me thinks he deserves defending. But as a piece of journalism? I’m pretty meh on it.
  3. Here’s a Slate piece that tackles Huberman’s podcast pontifications with the skepticism of a  fellow scientist. It’s a different approach to discrediting his mass appeal, and although it’s certainly less salacious, it feels made of sturdier stuff if one were looking for supporting materials to stage a Huberman intervention for a friend who can’t shut up about his podcast.
  4. Speaking of podcasts, the big daddy of them all, Serial, is back for its fourth season, and it’s looking at Guantanamo Bay. (Did you realize that place is still holding prisoners?!) After the first few episodes, it’s probably too early to judge the season, but even if the team is still chasing the highs of that first magical season, this topic feels full of promise, especially for podcast listeners around my age, who grew up hearing lots about the Cuban military base but know very little about it. Here’s a little behind-the-scenes primer for the season from Serial’s new(ish) corporate overlords, The New York Times.
  5. More podcast goodness, this time from Roman Mars and 99% Invisible. This episode introduces a new project that will last throughout 2024, and it’s essentially one long book club. The task: Tackle Robert Caro’s doorstopper of a masterpiece The Power Broker. This episode features Caro super fan Conan O’Brien and it’s just incredibly charming to hear people gush over their (nerdy) obsessions.
  6. I was obsessed with the NBC journalists vs. NBC vs. Ronna McDaniel drama over the past week. Here’s Puck’s The Powers That Be Podcast episode covering it, and a thoughtful piece from the Columbia Journalism Review on it.
  7. The biggest scandal in sports right now is focused on baseball’s biggest name. The details are still fuzzy at this point, but this Washington Post story on Shohei Ohtani can help you catch up while delivering on a bigger story about what a sensation he is coming into this season.
  8. Ohtani is just one of eight starting day pitchers from last season who weren’t able to reprise the role this year because of an injury. Six of those—including Ohtani—were elbow injuries. My elbow was the bane of my pitching existence more than 15 years ago, so this piece from The Ringer, which details how the MLB is conducting a study to assess pitcher injuries and asks why injuries have become so prevalent, really resonated with me.
  9. If my elbow was the bane of my pitching life more than 15 years ago, my legs, knee joints, lungs, heart, back, and more are the bane of my mid-30s’ running life. Not so for Jasmin Paris, the first woman to finish the grueling Barkley Marathons in my home state of Tennessee. The 60-hour, 100-mile ultramarathon through the wooded hills of Morgan County’s Frozen Head State Park takes the few runners who can finish the thing through roughly 60,000 feet of elevation change. Not that it’s a conscious thought most of the time, I definitely live my life in such a way as to avoid any and all circumstances in which I might be called on to run more than 100 miles (since the 20-mile loops aren’t easily measurable and are likely much longer) and climb the equivalent of Mt. Everest twice in 60 hours, but I can’t help but love any and all stories about this crazy race. Might be time to revisit the documentary, subtitled “The Race That Eats Its Young.”
  10. Two pieces from The Guardian for those of us physical-media lovers out there. One stresses the very real fear many of us have that one day, we’ll wake up and find that—poof—we’ve lost access to some or all of our streaming services or digital media. The other is about how Martin Scorsese was a devoted collector of VHS films and avid recorder of films and TV shows from broadcast television. [Insert “One of us! One of us!” GIF from The Wolf of Wall Street here]

Culture Diary

Here’s a collection of what I’ve been consuming in the past week.

The legend for my list was stolen from Steven Soderbergh, where ALL CAPS represents a movie, Sentence Case is a TV show, ALL CAPS ITALICS is a short film,  Italics is a book, and bold is a live performance or show. A number in parentheses after a TV show highlights how many episodes I watched. An asterisk after an entry means it’s a rewatch. The source of the movie or show, whether streaming service, physical media, or in theaters, is shown in parentheses as well.

3/26: 3 Body Problem (2) (Netflix)
3/27: Shogun (Hulu)
3/28: 3 Body Problem (Netflix); SEXY BEAST (Criterion Channel)
3/29: Top Chef, S17 (Peacock)
3/30: Survivor, S46 (Paramount+)
3/31: Hell is a World Without You, Jason Kirk; Top Chef, S17 (2) (Peacock); Survivor, S46 (3) (Paramount+); BLACKBERRY* (Hulu)