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Optimal at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Can I ask you a personal question now with a. What it's like to be a cybernetic organism living tissue over metal embryos, go to Paris, so. Hello, ladies and Germs. This is Tim Ferriss yet again running out the door to a flight, but I have such an exciting episode I can barely contain myself. I might just see myself on my way across the country, but I digress.


Probably TMI. Let me answer just a couple of questions.


What does this podcast about you long term listeners might know long term, long time that it's about dissecting excellence, trying to tease apart what makes world class performers so good at what they do?


Finding the tools and tactics that you can apply in this episode features Maria Popova. I'm about to explain who she is.


And if you don't know who she is or if you are intimately familiar with who she is, you in for a treat? First, I'll answer a question that a lot of people ask me. That is, what are you reading?


Well, what I'm reading right now is two books comprised of two books.


The first is William Goldman Adventures in the Screen Trade.


Goldman is the screenwriter behind such movies as The Princess Bride, one of my favorites of all time, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The second book is John Muir Wilderness Essays. So very different, both very, very good and highly recommended.


The adventures in the screen trade is a little outdated with some of the contents because it's related to film and it was written in the 80s. But there are a lot of timeless principles and Goldman is just hilarious.


But moving on, the guest, Maria Popova. Oh my goodness, where to start?


She would describe herself as a reader, writer, interestingness hunter gatherer and curious mind at large. What does that mean? It all makes sense.


And just a few seconds, while she's written for all sorts of amazing outlets like The Atlantic and The New York Times, I find her most amazing project to be brain pickings dot org. And I'm not alone in this. Founded in 2006 as a weekly email that she sent out to seven friends, co-workers, really very informal brain pickings was eventually brought online and now it gets more than five million readers per month. It is massive.


Many of you ask, what blogs do you read often? What do you do online? Where do you spend most of your time? The answer is that I read very few sites consistently. I don't have that type of loyalty. But Brain Pickings is one of the few. It is a treasure trove. It is Marías one woman labor of love her subjective lens on what matters. It's also an inquiry into how to live and what it means to lead a good life.


This is what hooks me, of course, because she'll pull from excerpts and reading from the Stoics, my favorite Senaka to Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and everyone in between.


Maria is good at finding the hidden gems to share and the amount of information this woman consumes and can pass down to the finest detail of what will help you now blows my mind. She makes me look like the laziest son of a bitch ever. And of course, immediately my questions are how how does she do that?


How on earth does she do that? And we dig into this in this interview, really, I try to unearth the hidden gems in her life, her workflow.


It takes me a few minutes to warm up, as it often does.


But once we get going, we geek out like crazy and we talk about almost every aspect of her life, her site, her business, her workouts, her writing, her workflow, her tools, her workarounds, all of it. And I love doing this interview. I hope you love listening to it. And for bonus credit for those of you who are super curious, might have a little bit of extra time to do some detective work. At one point, she mentions that her Facebook fan page went from a few hundred thousand people to over two million people without explanation.


So if you are able to figure out why that happened, what contributed to that, please let me know on Twitter.


Antifascist RISC I'm dying of curiosity and always or as always, I should say the show notes all the links that we mentioned, the tools, etc. All of that can be found on the blog at four hour work week dot com forward slash podcast for our work week dot com forward slash podcast all spelled out so you don't need to scribble away furiously with notes, although you can. I will have pretty much everything that you will need right there in the show notes.


So without further ado, please meet Maria Popova.


Hello, ladies and gentlemen, this is Tim Ferriss and welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss show. I am extremely excited to have a fellow geek in arms, Maria Popova on the line with me. Maria, how are you today?


Very well, thank you. Thank you for having me.


And I appreciate your coaching on the last name. I wasn't sure if it was popover or popover. I have friends who, for instance, Nivola advocate has a friend. It's actually novel, but Americans can't really pull that off. So he goes for Nivel. So I appreciate the the coaching.


And I guess as a country of immigrants, we have a surprisingly hard time getting people's original names. Right, right.


Absolutely. It's just the sort of Anglicize ing of of such a sort of like a a melting pot of different cultures. And, you know, at the same time, I think it's a reflection of where I spend a lot of time, which is reading.


And there are so many words. I've embarrassed myself on many occasions that I've read dozens or even hundreds of times, especially in scientific literature, that I've never heard pronouncements.


Oh, yeah, I call this reader syndrome. As somebody who spends the majority of her waking hours reading, you run into that a lot, especially with sort of cultural icons, last names, first names that are spelled differently then very differently than they're pronounced. It's kind of tragicomic when you actually find out how they're pronounced. No, exactly.


Or it can be a real revelation. I remember when I was a young kid, I couldn't hit, let's say, democracy or aristocracy. I could only say because and I'd also read it democracy aristocracy, for whatever reason, I couldn't get the emphasis right.


But coming back to the the reading and someone who spends most of their waking hours reading, if if someone asks you and I'm sure occasionally it happens, what do you do for those people listening who may not be familiar with you?


But we'll start with the cocktail question. When someone asks you what do you do?


How do you answer that? Well, I've answered it differently over the years, in part because I think inhabiting our own identity is kind of a perpetual process. But right now I would say I read and I write in that order and in between I do some thinking and I think about how to live a meaningful life, basically.


And if someone were to go online, find your work, end up at brain pickings and they're like, oh, this is quite interesting when they kind of looked over their shoulder because they happened to be doing it on their iPhone at the party. And they're like, what is brain pickings?


How would you describe how do you typically describe that?


It's just the record of that thinking. My personal, subjective, private thinking that takes place between my reading and takes and the writing and takes form in writing a collection of very interesting things.


And sometimes you know how I sort of simply put it to folks and brain pickings for those people wondering is one of the very few sites that I end up on constantly.


And when people ask me, what blogs do you read, I I'm embarrassed in some cases kind of humiliated to answer that. I don't go really to many blogs consistently.


And I think part of the reason is so many of them are feel compelled to put out very, very timely of the moment material that expires within a few hours.


And I don't like the feeling of keeping up with the Joneses when the Joneses are just sort of churning out content. And I remember Kathy Sierra at one at one point told me that you should focus on just in time information, not just in case information, and which I thought was very astute and really sort of profound.


But there are there are two sites that come to mind that I end up on quite a lot brain pickings as one. And Sam Harris's blog. Yeah. Is another. And I saw your your review of his latest book, Waking Up.


Well, not a review. Not a review. I don't review books.


I OK. No, no. So this is an annotated reading.


There were I guess an annotated reading of and I definitely want to dig into that annotated reading of waking up, which I found really, really impactful for me.


In a lot of ways.


It put words to a lot of vague sort of feelings or observations that I had for a very long time talking about reviews.


So I pulled a number of my friends and my readers about different questions they would love to ask you. And a close friend of mine, Krosoczka, he he came back with sort of what percentage of New York Times best sellers can be attributed to your coverage? And I'd be curious to hear you answer that. And then there's sort of a follow up.


But you've you've built this incredible powerhouse of an outlet for your whether it's creative musings or observations, and it has a huge influence on what people read. So if you were to sort of think of that, how would you answer that question?


Well, first of all, you're very kind to put it that way as a script. But I think one big caveat to all of that is that the majority of books that I read and write about are very old out of print, things that are not competing for New York Times bestseller. In fact, I don't even know if I ever really I mean, perhaps I don't know the books that I read have any overlap in the Venn diagram of things with The New York Times best sellers.


But I suspect that the reason I ask that question is actually that I met him through his wife, who collaborated with Wendy McNaughton, the illustrator whose work I love. And I love Wendy on a book about wine. And definitely that book ended up and I wrote about it because it's lovely and sort of profound and. Challenges are existing ideas about sort of sensory experience, and I like things that that take something very superficial and find something deeper and something unusual in it.


But in any case, I wrote about that book in that particular piece on brain pickings seem to do pretty well.


And I think perhaps that warped Chris's idea of how much contemporary books I really sort of am interested in. Right. But I would say that's a minority. Right.


And for those people wondering, it's the essential scratch and sniff guide to becoming a wine expert, which was written along with the illustrations, are wonderful.


The Richard Betts is the sommelier who was part of that.


And at one point I met with him because I wanted to try to deconstruct the master sommelier test and he said, I can show you how to do it. And it was just the pared down, sort of hacked, if you will, version still of passing the master Somalia taste was so intimidating that I put it on ice indefinitely. But at some point, Richard, we will talk again and and form a game plan.


The so the the opposite, of course, of sort of putting out this material that expires as soon as it's out on the vine is putting out what I think you do very often. And that is sort of timeless, timely and timeless.


I've heard you call it material where you're sort of pulling from old sources or older sources doing pattern recognition to pull from other areas to talk about, say, a theme or or something that still affects people. And I was I was doing research for this interview and we met briefly in New York at an event.


And I've been a longtime fan of your work.


And so I thought to myself, like, you know, how much how much digging do I really need to do? And good God, you have such an absolute canon of work out there.


It is astonishing.


I mean, it is really kind of just the volume of time, really. It's been you know, I've been doing this for eight years coming up actually exactly a month from today. It'll be eight years, really. So it's just the accumulation now.


And so as I was, I was I'm fascinated by routine and schedule. And, you know, I'm reading from of course, not not the always accurate but generally good place to start Wikipedia.


And it says that brain pickings takes you to 400 plus hours of work per month, hundreds of pieces of content per day, 12 to 15 books per week that you're reading.


How do you and I know I'm asking a handful of questions that you've been asked before, but sometimes the answers change and evolve. They always do.


And which is why I actually don't do interviews very frequently because I find they sort of. Tend to kind of cast this as the static thing that just stays there, some sort of reference point while we're really just the fluid process and we're constantly evolving. But in any case, no, definitely so.


So the question that you've been asked many times, but I'll ask again is how do you choose the books?


How do you find choose the books that you read?


This is a huge problem for me because I, I my my appetite for reading outstrips the time that I have. And so I end up actually, unfortunately, sometimes finding myself anxious because of the number of books I've taken on at any given point in time. So I'd be curious how you sort of vet the books that you read.


Well, I guess it goes back to that question of, well, let me backtrack and just say that I write about a very wide array of disciplines and areas and sensibilities, because that's what I think about anything from art and science to philosophy, psychology, history, design, poetry, you name it. But the common denominator for me is just this very simple question of does this illuminate some aspect, big or small, of that grand question that I think we all tussle at every day, which is how to live well, how to live a good, meaningful, fulfilling life, whether that's Aristotle's views on happiness in government or beautiful art from 12th century Japan or Sam Harris's new book, Anything.


Got it. And the I've read you citing Kurt Vonnegut before. Kurt Vonnegut's one of my favorite writers of all time.


I know. I heard you're a semicolon.


I think it was either the interview I did with Kevin Kelly or with Sam, but I actually have a counterpoint to the semicolon.


OK, no, no, but go on.


So I actually I actually I brought up the semicolon, quote, partially as a sort of wink, wink, nod ribbing to a friend of mine named John Romanelli, who has a tattoo of a semicolon on his I think it's this for some type he love said he also has a molecule of testosterone on the other armies is a fascinating guy.


But the the quote that I heard you cite that I wanted to dig into a bit was to Kurt Vonnegut saying write to please just one person. And so my question to you is, when you write. Is that still the case, and if so, who who you who is that person that you are writing for?


It is very much the case. I still write for an audience of one, and that's myself. It's like I said, it's just a record of my thought process, my way of just trying to navigate my way through the world and understand my place and understand how we relate to one another, how different pieces of the world relate to each other and sort of create a pattern of meaning out of seemingly unrelated, meaningless information in the intersection of or transmutation of information into into wisdom, really, which is what learning to live is.


It's about wisdom. So I an interesting too, because when I started drinking games, like I said almost eight years ago, it started very much as a private record of my own curiosity. And I shared it with seven coworkers that I had at the time, just as a little sort of email newsletter thing. And now to think that there are about seven million people, strangers reading it every month. That's amazing.


Thank you. But I'm not sort of number dropping for sale or anything like that. But just to try to articulate how surreal it feels to me that I still feel like I'm writing for one person, one very sort of inward person. But there's also now the awareness that there are people looking on and interpreting and just relating to this pretty private act. And it's a strange thing to live with and no way a bad thing. I'm not complaining about it, obviously, but it's just interesting to observe how one relates to oneself when being looked on by a few million people, you know, definitely.


And there's so many so many questions I want to ask you. We might have to do part two at some point because I know we have some time constraints, but the.


Where to even begin, this is where I start fraying at the ends as an interviewer, so the the the first question would be related to that there's so much temptation to dumb things down or to go after kind of the tried and true BuzzFeed type headlines. Do you ever contend with that temptation?


And if if so, how do you resist it? And I and this is part of the how do you respond to the the expectations of the crowd or the seven million people looking on? And I feel this personally sometimes because I have a blog that has certainly by no means the number of monthly readers that you have. You know, I'm somewhere between one and two million uniques a month usually, but thank you.


But even at that point, even of that scale, there are times when I put out something that I feel is very, very important.


But on on the downside. And and then it will sometimes it takes off, but but sometimes it doesn't. And and there's a lot of temptation when, for instance, I know you use social media quite a bit and we'll get to that where I look at, say, the tweets of the favorites on something that's kind of dense.


And then I'm like, oh, God, I should just do like the seven tricks you can you can actually teach your cat, you know, and get 500000 tweets.


Is that something that you're that ever sort of crosses your mind? And do you ever feel that temptation?


Well, you know, it's interesting because I think anybody who. Thinks in public, which is what writing is, which is even what art is, it's some sort of. Putting a piece of oneself out into the world, anybody who does that struggles with this really irreconcilable kind of tug of war between wanting to really stay true to one's experience and being aware that as soon as it's out in the world, there is this notion of the other audience. And Oscar Wilde, he very memorably said that a true artist takes no notice whatever of the public and that the public art to him nonexistent.


And it's very easy to say, especially for somebody as wild, who was very prolific, very public, almost performative in his public presence. It's very easy to call this out as a kind of hypocrisy and say, well, you can't possibly not care about the audience when you make your living through it and sort of perform to it. Right. But I think that's a pretty cynical interpretation, I think, rather than hypocrisy. It's just this very human struggle to be seen and to be understood, which is why.


All art comes to be because one human being wants to put something in it to the world and to be understood for what he or she stands for, who he or she is. And so with that lens, I do think it's hard to say, well, you know, I don't care about what happens to it out there. Even though I write for myself and think for myself, the awareness of the other really does change things. But I think.


Perhaps Werner Herzog put it best. I just finished reading this kind of six hundred page interview with him, essentially it's a conversation that a journalist named Paul Clonan had with him over the course of 30 years. And in one passage, Herzog says something like, you know, it's always been important for me to have my films reach an audience. I don't necessarily need to hear what those audience reactions are. Just as long as they're out there, they're touching the films or touching people in some way.


And I feel very similarly. So with that in mind, I guess to answer your question rather circuitously, I do feel tempted to make listicle or to make. Anything that I feel compromises my experience of what I stand for, and in part I think the beauty of the web is that it's a self-correcting organism, but for as long as it's an ad supported medium, the motive will be to perfect the commercial interest, to perfect the art of the BuzzFeed listicle, the endless slide show, the infinitely patinated article, and not just the human spirit of the reader or the writer, which is really what I'm interested in.


Yeah, no, it's. I think it's a very virtuous goal.


I you know, I really admire your site and obviously the newsletter and all these other aspects of it for a lot of reasons.


One of them is, well, I feel a very sort of kindred spirit with a lot of the decisions it seems you have made.


So, for instance, I mean, not doing the slideshows to rack up page views for some type of CPM advertising, that stuff drives me insane.


So if it drives me insane, I assume it drives my readers insane. So I'm not going to do it.


Or like you said, that's so wonderful that you do that, because I think so much of the cultural crap that is out there, not just on the Internet, just in general, comes from people who fail to understand that they should be making the kind of stuff they want to exist. So if you're a writer, write the things you want to read. If you're an artist, paintable, you want to you want to see painted. And I think the commercial aspect is really working that.


And I really one thing I really admire about your work in all of its permutations from your books to this podcast to say everything is that there's just this sort of sense that you just want this to exist. It doesn't exist for any other reason than you want it to exist. And I think that's wonderful. Thank you.


I means a lot to me. And I, you know, coming back to the right to please just one person.


It's I, I think that it's related to that.


So in a way it's, you know, put the things out into the world that you would want to. Consume yourself or experience yourself, number one. Secondly, just for those people who haven't heard this anecdote, when I was writing the four hour work week as my first book, I still to this day find writing very challenging.


And I wish I could say it's gotten easier over time, but for whatever reason, it seems not to have the in the case of the four hour work week, I came out of undergrad at Princeton and many, many years have passed, obviously. But when I wrote the first few chapters, it was really stilted and pompous and kind of Ivy League, you know, where I was trying to use Tendler words where a 10 cent word would suffice and be a lot cleaner.


So I threw out the first few chapters that I drafted and this was a major kind of panic attack moment on deadline. And I remember I was in Argentina at the time and then I went the other way and I said, no, no, no, I have to be loose, I have to be funny. And so I wrote a few chapters that were completely slapstick, ridiculous. I mean, it sounded like Three Stooges put on paper.


And so I had to throw out those few chapters. And of course, I'm doubling down on my anxiety at this point and decided at one point that I was just going to have a little bit of your my two glasses of wine and no more than two glasses of Malbec and sit down and start to write. What is that?


Molbeck is just this wonderful variety in South America, best known in Argentina. But there's actually some really nice Molbeck wines in Chile.


They were, as I understand it, it was viewed almost as a garbage grape in Europe, but it was brought by the Italians to Buenos Aires and has developed this worldwide fame because of its cultivation in Argentina.


So there's there's a lot of sort of there's a lot of metaphor there that I also like, but drank two glasses of wine, sat down and literally opened up in an email client and started typing the four hour work week as if I were writing it to two of my closest friends. One was an investment banker trapped in his own job, and he felt like he couldn't leave because his lifestyle was swelling to meet his income. And then the other was an entrepreneur sort of trapped in a company of his own making.


And so these two very specific guys of mine, I started to write with just enough alcohol to take the edge off. And that's how I was writing in that case, to please just two people. But that's that's the only way I could make it work.


The your schedule. So I've I've read of your schedule, but I'd love to hear the current iteration of that.


It seems like you've had a fairly you have a fairly regimented schedule, which would make sense if you were putting the number of of hours into reading and writing that you do. So what is what is your current day look like?


Well, I'll answer this with a caveat. The one thing I have struggled with or tried to solve for myself in the last few years, a couple of years maybe, is the sort of really delicate balance between productivity and presence, and especially in a culture that seems to measure our worth or our marriage or our value through our efficiency and our earnings and our ability to perform certain tasks as opposed to just the fulfillment we feel in our own lives, in the presence that we take in in the day to day.


And that's something that's become more and more apparent to me. So I'm a little bit reluctant to discuss routine as some sort of holy grail of creative process, because it's just really it's a crutch. I mean, routines and rituals help us. And not feel like the overwhelming messiness of just day to day life with consumers. It's a control mechanism, but that's not all there is. And if anything, it should be in the service of something greater, which is being presented in life.


So with that in mind, my day is very predictable. I get up in the morning, I meditate for between fifteen to twenty five minutes before I do anything else. What time do you wake up? Typically exactly eight hours after I have gone to bed. So it varies. OK, I'm a huge proponent of sleep, I think. I when I write because or when I guess try to think what I do is essentially make associations between seemingly unrelated ideas and concepts, and in order for that to happen, those associative chains need to be firing.


And when I am sleep deprived, I feel like I don't have full access to my own brain, which is certainly am not unique in that in any way. There's research showing that our reflexes are severely hindered by lack of sleep. We're almost as drunk as if we sleep less than half the amount of time we normally need to function. And I think ours is a culture where we. Where we. Where our ability to get by on very little sleep is a kind of badge of honor, badge of honor that bespeaks work ethic or toughness or whatever it is, but really.


It's a total, profound failure of priorities and of self respect, and I try to sort of enact that in my own life by being very disciplined about my sleep, at least as disciplined as about as I am about my work, because the latter is a product of the capacities you cultivated by the former. So in any case, so I get up eight hours after I have gone to bed, I meditate, I go to the gym where I do most of my longer form reading.


I get back home, I have breakfast and I start writing. I usually write between two and three articles a day and one of them tends to be longer. And when I write, I need uninterrupted time, so I try to get the longer one done earlier on in the day when I feel much more alert. So I don't look at email or anything really external to the material I'm dealing with, which does require quite a bit of research usually.


So it's not like I can cut myself off from the Internet or from other books, but I don't have people disruptions, I guess. So anything social. And then I take a short break. I'm a believer in sort of pacing, creating a sort of rhythm where you do very intense, focused work for an extended period and then you take a short break and then cycle back. And then I deal with any sort of. Admin stuff like emails and just taking care of errands and whatnot, and I resume writing and I write my other article or articles through the evening, I try to have some private time just later in the day, either with friends or with my partner or just time that is unburdened by deliberate thought, although you can never unburden yourself from thought in general.


And then usually later at night, I either do some more reading or some more writing or a combination of the two. Got it. And so a number of follow up questions, what type of meditation do you practice currently just guided Vipassana very, very basic.


There's a woman named Tara Brock, who she's a mindfulness practitioner.


How do you spell your last name, B or a C? H got it. And she's based out of DC and she was trained as a cognitive psychologist, then did decades of Buddhist training and lived in an ashram. And now she teaches mindfulness, but with a very secular lens. So she records her classes and she has a podcast, which is how I came to know her. And every week she does a one hour lecture and sort of the philosophies and cognitive behavioural wisdom of the ages.


And then she does a guided meditation. So I use her meditations and she has changed my life, perhaps more profoundly than anybody in my life.


So I highly recommend her. Tara Broch Rock. Yes, and all her podcast is free. Just two books out. Two. She's really wonderful, very generous person.


I will have to check that out and see you're listening. Then you have earbuds in when you are or you're listening. You're listening to audio while you meditate. Yes.


And it's interestingly I mean, she puts one out every week, but I've been using the exact same one from the summer of twenty ten. It's just one that I like and feel familiar with and it sort of helps me get into the rhythm. So every day I listen to the exact summer 2010.


How does that start? How would people recognize it?


How does the audio I think the title is it sounds cheesy, but it is not easy. I think it's called Smile Meditation, and I'm sure she has repeated it in various forms through the years. In other recordings. It just happens to be the one that I have on and on my broken 3G iPhone without any Internet or cell service, which I just use as an iPod and that's on it.


Awesome. That's great. Answer God, I love digging into the specifics. When you go to the gym, then to workout, are you still using an elliptical for that or are you are you sprints, high intensity intervals on the elliptical and are you for cardio?


And I do a lot of weight and body weight stuff too. You do.


All right. But when you're reading. Is that on the elliptical. Yes. And what type of device, if any, are you using for that reading?


Well, I prefer electronics, so I use the Kindle app on the iPad or any PDF viewer because I read a lot of archival stuff. But the challenge, of course, is that because I read so many older books that are out of print, let alone having digital versions, that's not always possible in case it's rarely possible unless I'm writing about something fairly new. And so in that case, I just go there with my big tome and my sticky notes and pens and sharpies and various annotation analog devices, and I just do that.




All right.


So that that leads perfectly into the next question, which is what is your note taking system look like and how do you take notes if, for instance, you're really good at using excerpts or quotations, pull quotes.


And I found myself asking as I was reading this, like, how how are you gathering all of this so that you can use it later.


So what is your notetaking system look like when you in the case of digital and in the case of hard copy?


Yeah, so with digital, it's very simple. I just highlight passages and I write myself little notes underneath each that are that have acronyms that I use frequently for certain topics or shorthand that I have developed for myself. But reading is really or understanding really, which is what reading should be a conduit to is a form of pattern recognition. So when you read a whole book, you kind of walk away with certain takeaways that are thematically linked and they don't usually occur sequentially.


So it's not like you walk away with one insight from the first chapter one instead from the second chapter. It's just sort of this. Pattern of the writers thought that that that permeated the entire narrative of the book and so. Especially as you if you read as a writer to somebody who not only needs to walk away with that, but ideally wants to record what those patterns and things are, that sort of reading is very different. And so what I end up doing with analog books in particular, and I sort of have some systems of doing it electronically, but they're imperfect is the very last page of each book, which is blank usually right before the end cover.


I create an alternate index, so I basically list out as I'm reading the topics and ideas that that seem to be important and recurring in that volume. And then next to each of them, I start listing at the page numbers where they occur. And on those pages I obviously highlighted the respective passage and I have a little sort of sticky tab on the side so I can find it. But it's basically an index based not on keywords, which is what a standard book index is based on, but based on key ideas.


And I use that then to sort of synthesize what those ideas are once I'm ready to write about the book.


OK, I have to geek out on this because I'm so excited now.


So as it turns out with analog books, I do exactly, literally exactly the same thing I usually do with the front inside cover. But I create my own index and of course, they don't have to be in order. So you can sort of list them in any way, in my particular case, in any in the order.


I also will have sort of to a couple of lines dedicated to P.H. and just refers to phrasings.


If I find a turn of phrase or wording that I find real, I do that to really OK it B.L. for beautiful language.


Oh, that's so cool. OK, so there's that and then I have. Q or Q If if they're quotes, so, for instance, many books will have quotes attributed to other people or just header quotes in some cases. And so I'll have quotes, I'll just write that out and then Colen and then I'll, I'll list all the page numbers for that particular sort of category that I'm collecting in the case of quotes.


So when you're gathering this, you mentioned acronyms and shorthand. So besides beautiful language, what are some of the other acronyms that you use?


Oh, they wouldn't make that. They're just very private. It's like too long to get into what they stand for. Is there my own system?


Is there one other example that you just just if you can indulge me, one that is, I guess, not so much about the contents of that passage as about its purpose is LJ, which is I have a little sort of Labor of Love side project called Literary Jukebox, right?


Sure. Yeah, I've seen it. It's yeah it's it's awesome. Oh thank you. But yeah. So I do these pairings of passages in literature with a thematically matched song. And so sometimes as I'm reading a book I would come across a passage that I think would be great for that and maybe a song comes to mind. And so I would put LJ next to it. But I want to go back to what you said about the external quotes.


I guess the author quoting another word. I think those are actually really important. And that goes back to your question about how I find what to read and I mark those types of things. So for the for the annotations that are specific to that particular book, all of my sticky tab notes are on the side of the of the pages. But when there's an external quote, something referencing another work, I put a tab at the very top with the letter F, which stands for Find.


If I am not familiar with the word the work or just no letter, if I just want to flag a quote from something else that I know of. And I think that's actually very important because the phenomenon itself, not my annotations of it, because literature is really and I say this all the time, it is the original Internet. So all of those references and citations and allusions even there essentially hyperlinks that that author placed to another work. And that way, if you follow those, you go into this magnificent rabbit hole where you start out with something that you're already enjoying and liking, but follow these tangential references to other works that perhaps you would not have come across that way.


I mean, directly and in a way. It's a way to push oneself out of the filter bubble in a very incremental way, and I've often found amazing older books that were, you know, five or six hyperlinked references removed from something I was reading, which led me to something else or slightly something else, which led me to this great other thing. So I think that's that's kind of a beautiful practice.


Yeah, it's the serendipity of it is so beautiful when it works out. And I'll I'll give a confession. This is really embarrassing. But, you know, since no one's listening.


I came across Sinica, so Sinica the younger who's had probably more impact on my life than any other writer originally because I, I was perusing a number of anthologies on minimalism and simplicity and Sinica kept on popping up, quote, Sinica, quote, Senik, because it was always one word like Madonna or and this is going to be really embarrassing or like Sitting Bull.


I assumed that Sinica was a Native American elder of some type for probably a good way, actually.


I assumed she was a Native American elder for a probably a good year or two before I realized he was a Roman was like, man, first you got to do your homework, Balik, you got to dig in.


And then at that point is when I really sort of jumped off the cliff into a lot of his writings, which I still to this day revisit on and almost revisited his and the shortness of life so good, which is perhaps the best manifesto.


And I had had this modern word sort of buzzwire, but I use it intentionally. So the best manifesto for our current struggle with this very notion of productivity versus presence and how much are we really mistaking the doing for the being? You know, and it's amazing that somebody wrote this millennia ago, before there was Internet, before there was the things we call distractions today. And yet he writes about the exact same things just in a different form. Yeah, the exact same things.


And the way that if I'm trying to use Sinica as a gateway drug into philosophy, I won't use the P word, first of all, with most people, because philosophy smacks of I think it calls to mind for a lot of people the sort of haughty, pompous college student in good will hunting in the bar scene who's like reciting Shakespeare without giving any type of completely disagree.


No, I agree with the notion that those are its connotations today and people have a resistance. But I think that's all the more reason to use it heavily and to use it intelligently and to reclaim it and to get people to understand that philosophy. Whatever form it takes, is the only way to figure out how to live. Everything else that we take away from anything is a set of philosophies. Essentially. I agree.


No, I totally agree.


So but I usually if I'm going to lead people there, I try to to to lure them, lure them in with with Seneca, because I think he's is very easy to read compared to a lot of, say, at least the Stoics or that's actually not even fair compared to a lot of philosophers who who have been translated from Greek.


Most of his writing, I believe, is translated from Latin, which tends to be just an easier jump from English. So it's very easy to read. What I tell people is, you know, start off with some of his letters and you'll find that you could just as easily replace these Roman names like Luke Killis and and so on with like Bob and Jane or, you know, make your contemporary name if of choice.


And they're all as relevant now as they were then.


So I'm going to come back to the sort of performance versus presence which I think of oftentimes as the achievement versus appreciation, split or balance, or maybe neither. But before we get there, I want to put a put a bow on the notetaking with your electronic notetaking. So you're using the Kindle app, you're taking highlight's. Where do you go from there?


Are there any other what is what is the sort of workflow look like from there? And are there any any particular types of software or apps or anything like that that you use often?


I mean, honestly, I feel like that problem has not been solved at all in any kind of practical way. So the way that I do it is basically a bunch of hacks using existing technologies. But I don't think or perhaps I'm just unaware. I don't think there's anybody designing tools today for people who do serious heavy reading. There just isn't anything that I know. So what I do is a highlight in the in the Kindle app on the iPad.


And then Amazon has this function that you can basically see your Kindle notes and highlights on the desktop, on your computer. I go to those, I copy them from that page and I pay them into Evernote file to sort of just have all of all of my notes and a specific book in one place. But sometimes I would also take a screen grab of a specific iPad Kindle app, Kindle page with my highlighted passage and then email that screengrab into my Evernote email, because Evernote has, as you know, optical character recognition.


So when I search within it, it's also going to search the text in that image. I don't have to wait until I finish the book and explore all my notes. And and also it's the formatting is kind of shitty on the on the Kindle notes on the desktop where you can see all your notes. So if you copy them, they paste into Evernote with this really weird formatting. So it tabulates each next note indented to the right. So it's sort of this cascading, long, cascading thing that shifts more and more to the right of the loop.


That's horrible. It's like an email thread.


It's like an email thread, except there's no actual hierarchy. These are all in. So if you want to go fix that, you have to do it manually within Evernote. And I read on the Werner Herzog book, for example, which is six hundred pages of thousands of notes. So imagine thousands of tabulations until the last one is so narrow and long that it's just like unreadable. So hence my point about just there is no viable solution that I know.


Got it.


OK, so let me just because I this may or may not help for me, it was a huge shift in how I manage Evernote because I mean, I'm looking at this list of questions and I'm not reading entirely off on script, but I have a collection of questions in Evernote right now.


And one one of the things I realized about formatting and transposing things from, say, the, you know, my Kindle page, if you if you log into your your Amazon account through Kindle, DOT or copying pasting from many different places is going to I don't know if you've tried this, but edit and either paste in match style or paste is plain text and it tends to remove all of that headache that's say nine times out of ten.


So if you if your problem with that, I did try that once, but when you remove the style, it makes all the metadata look the same as the text.


So I maybe highlighted passages also have my own note. I see.


Got it. Plus, you know, Amazon's own thing that says add note, read, redid this location and so it all merges. It becomes just hideous to just say, God, you know, I wonder I wonder what to do there.


I used to take notes and drop them into text wrangler, which is used for coding a lot just for the formatting and then put it into Evernote.


Yeah, I do that with kohta. Yeah, it's true though. There's got to be a solution. And the thing is, Evernote, I love Evernote. I've been using it for many years and I could probably not get through my day without it, but it has an API, which means somebody can build this as know your way to like I even thought. I mean, I was at one point so desperate and so frustrated, which I think is the the duo that causes all innovation, you desperation and frustration.


I thought maybe I should just save up some money and offer like a scholarship or like a grant for a hackathon for somebody to solve this for me.


Yeah, that's a great idea. No, not I mean, I, I'm still sort of contemplating that.


OK, well, we'll talk about that separately. I think that's something that we could absolutely explore. And for all of you programmers, coders out there, please take a look. This is actually not as rare an issue as you might expect. One question for you on the Kindle highlight's. I've run into this. You mentioned the Werner Herzog book and having, you know, thousands of of highlights.


I have you run into instances where you'll you'll read an entire book.


You're super impressed or not.


But regardless, you have hundreds of highlights and you go to look at those highlights and you're restricted to only.


So, yeah, it said like 200 highlight eighty one available or something like.


Right. So how often does that happen to you? Because that's happened to me where I've taken so much time to meticulously highlight stuff and then I'm only able to see twenty five percent. And it's so infuriating and I think it's a limitation that is determined by the publisher. Yes, it is.


And so I'll tell you why it hasn't happened to me much. It happens to me occasionally. But that's a different thing. Digital for listeners who don't like acronyms, digital rights management thing that has that is fairly new. So that is more recently published books. But if you read, you know, the digitized version of, say, Alan Watts that was published originally 40 years ago, there's no such problem unless the publisher now is reclaiming rights and doing a whole new thing.


But because I read so much less out of sort of newly published material, I don't run into it often. But, you know, there is a way to very laboriously, you know, deal with it, which is you can still open that passage in your Kindle app on desktop for Mac for me. And it will let you highlight and copy those passages, paste them into your Evernote in between the missing parts. But it's obviously I've not said I have done that.


And it's so horrible because you also get the like excerpted from that the like three lines.


Everyone's just publishers. If you're listening to this, you are making it harder for people like Maria who have seven million uniques per month to share your stuff.


So please up your threshold.


Do you have anybody helping you with brain pickings or is it just you, the actual reading and writing obviously is just me, but as of about 10 months ago, I have an assistant, Lisa, who is absolutely wonderful, and she just helps me with admin stuff that has to do with my travel or email or scheduling things that. I feel it is weighing me down so much, I operate so much out of a sense of guilt for sort of letting people down or and as you know, I'm sure when you get to a point where the demands are just.


Incomparable with what you can even look at, then you kind of need to have help in order not to either go insane or live with a constant guilt over not addressing things. So.


And was there a particular. Oh, and I also have a copy editor, this wonderful older lady I hired to do my proofreading. She's great. And that's all I can say. I think proofreading is really, really important and I'm constantly embarrassed if I have a typo, which as you know, as a writer, you cannot prove your own work. It just your brain just does not see the errors that were made in the first place or the majority of them.


And so and people are kind of mercilus. They think somehow that a typo makes you lazy or don't even know. There's no kind of compassion for the humanity that produces something as human as a typo. Right. Despite how mechanical the term itself seems, which is sort of ironic. But in any case, yes, I have my assistant, Radman, and my copy editor for Just Perving.


And what platform is is brain picking on at the moment? What is it?


What's the technology behind it? I know that I've heard you mention WordPress before. Is it is it still in WordPress?


It is. And WordPress.


I was going to make a joke about how the technology is called corpus callosum, but the actual technology is.


Yeah, this is very Sam Harris friendly joke.


The the SU when you're working with, say, your copyeditor, do you give your copy editor admin access to WordPress and she'll go in, proofread it and then schedule or publish.


What's the process.


So it's it's a very against the first sort of hacked together process, which is every night I email her the articles from the preview page on WordPress. I just copy that and paste it into a body email and I send it to her and then she sends me the correction to your email. Got it. I mean, like I said, she's. Not very. I would say tech savvy, I mean, I'm sure she's a wonderful learner, so I'm sure she would totally learn how to do it if I gave her admin access.


But between that and the fact that I write in HTML, so I really don't like the way the way I hate it, actually. I think it's just easier to do it via email because then she can highlight the word and sometimes she would make suggestions that are more stylistic. And I, I would like to have the final say in those because very often I want to keep it the way that I have it, because I've always so I find email works just fine.


Got it.


OK, no, I'm I'm always fascinated because I will use while when I was when I was hosting WordPress elsewhere, I'm also on WordPress.


I would use the share a draft plugin to share drafts with people. I'm I'm now on WordPress VPI, which has a it has a sharing function where people can leave feedback in a sidebar that runs alongside the article itself, which is pretty cool.


Oh, that's cool. I should actually look into that. I think that's what I have to work with the press. I don't even know what the that function is.


I'm kind of I mean, for somebody who writes on the Web, I'm. I don't really. Yeah, I sometimes only learn about things through friends. I think, yeah, that's that's how I learned about a lot of this stuff.


And the the other option that I've used quite a lot is and as much as I hate word and I really do, I love the track changes feature and I just find it.


More user friendly for a lot of folks than having them use something that's cloud based like Google Docs, just because I operate so much offline to try to get anything done.


And yeah, I mean, that's what a lot of people suggest. And what Kai, my operator, actually asked originally, but I do not own Microsoft products on principle and I am not going to go with it.


OK, no, that makes sense. And your assistant.


What was what was the the the sort of defining moment, the straw that broke the camel's back when you were like, you know what like what was the day where you just like fuckin enough of this?


Like I need to get somebody stat. I mean, what when did you actually make the decision?


It wasn't so much that I made the decision as the decision was very strongly, lovingly but strongly sort of pushed on me by my partner, who one day said, you are using so much time on things that are just so menial and you should not. And because I was really stressing to the point of just driving myself crazy, and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I'm always have been very independent. I moved away from my parents house when I was 18, paid my way through school, lived always by myself, and I just had this Emerson like no sense of self sufficiency and self-reliance, that to a point of pathology where it was to my own detriment.


And the notion of outsourcing felt to me on some level almost like an admission of weakness. It's ridiculous. I think that's true for a lot of people, though.


I know. And the strange thing, that disorienting thing is that I think we intellectually know that's not the case, that it's actually a lot of strength to be able to delegate and to sort of divvy up control according to a hierarchy of priorities. But on some sort of psycho emotional level, it is just death to to consider that you cannot do something on your own anymore. And, of course, I mean, it's interesting in terms of how things evolved, which has always been very organic.


So the sort of, you know, eight year. Thing that has happened, it went from being a little newsletter that contained five links, no text like five links to five things that I found very interesting. And then it went to sort of five links with a little paragraph about each about why this thing is interesting and important. And then it was not not a little paragraph, but a little like one page piece. And then it became not one, not five things every Friday, but three things every day of the week, pretty long form in the thousands of words.


And I foolishly, naively thought that I could just have the same sort of operational framework, despite the enormous swelling of just the volume of the writing. And that's unreasonable. It's completely unreasonable. So at one point last fall, as the sort of seventh birthday of brain pickings is approaching, my partner was just like, please consider.


And yeah, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to cut you off.


I was just I'm always curious to ask, how did you how did you find this, the system that you ended up with?


Well, she's wonderful. She's a professional sort of personal assistant that's had this type of job for about 20 years. She's just a wonderfully warm and generous person, but also has such doggedness about things and just work ethic. That's unbelievable. And you always have the sense that she's looking out for your best interests and the most magnanimous kind of way towards you, but also the most warmly non no bullshit way outwardly towards the world, demanding things from you and having this buffer.


It's really, really great. Yeah.


And did was she how did you track her down? How did the two of you get connected?


Just a recommendation. She's been working for somebody who is a very trusted dear person for a long time now. She works in business.


And did that person reach out to you? Did you reach out to her?


I'm always curious about the specifics, because the way that I found one of my first assistants and we worked together for many years was any time I had a really fantastic interaction with someone's assistant, I would say, hey, I know this is off topic, but you've been awesome to deal with.


Do you have a twin brother, twin sister, somebody who does what you do as well as you do it that you could recommend? Because I need some help and I just did that over and over again. And eventually one of them said, well, actually, I work for multiple clients so we could talk about it. And that's how we ended up working together.


But what what was the. The introduction was made by the person, so we I, I had met her, Lisa, my assistant had met her just socially many times before. And so eventually when the time came for me to consider, like she just like we set up a meeting, we talked and she was really into it. And she had been reading Brain Pickings. And I made sure it wouldn't be too much on her plate because she's also I mean, she's Superwoman, Lisa Superwoman.


She is the mother of two kids, one of whom is now her first year in high school, and the other one his first year in college. So she had that on her plate, too. And but she's very, like I said, very dogged, very sort of dedicated. And she was like, I can do it and I'd like to do it. And I was like, great, let's roll onward.


So with with your assistant, if you were to do an 80 20 analysis of to the eat the the 20 percent of tasks that take up 80 percent of her time, what what are the types what would those look like?


What is the vast majority of her time spent on the. A lot of it is, I guess, coordinating travel and things, but I'm trying to really I mean, I have this new ish commitment to really not do any speaking at commercial conferences anymore, but to speak to students, because I think it's important and. What it takes out of me, which is a lot speaking, takes out a lot of me because I'm a writer and I also don't really recycle talks.


I like to write something original. And when it's a commercial conference, it just doesn't add up for me what I get out of it, because I usually donate my commissions due to the local public library and whatnot. But with students it is worth my time if I display even one journalism student from going into buzz worthy lands after graduation. That's worth it to me. And so even though I've scaled back on the speaking speaking, I now getting like all these college requests.


And so that takes so much time, especially coordinating because a lot of them are organized by sort of student volunteers and they're kind of still learning what it means to, you know, schedules and deadlines and advance notice and so releases sort of wrangling that. And another big part, and I should also mention the evolution of what I've been able to delegate has been has sort of organically happened originally. I just really didn't know what to give her. I felt like I had to do all of it because I didn't know how to explain it to her to do.


And but it's just a great learner and I'm learning to delegate more. But another thing, because my site runs on donations. I. When I sort of make an effort to send handwritten thank you cards just at this point, randomly picked donors every month. And so I have a sort of export those names and emails for me and just give me like just prepare envelopes and all those types of things that I could not spend too much time on the actual admin of the mailing and do operate.


Do you communicate exclusively via email or do you use soft other types of software?


Oh, email, email and text, email and text solo project management software. At this point, no sort of base camp or Asthana or anything like that.


Now I don't know that would make which is like some sort of commercial organization. You know, I still have so much resistance to the fact that I even have to deal with these things at no cost to the author. While hypocrisy audience and I guess is attention.


What a couple of a couple of quick ones. So the first is when when you lift, do you tend to have the same workout? What is your what is your weight look like?


It's changed a lot in the last year and a half. I've prioritized body weight stuff heavily, no pun intended. That was actually total inadvertent. This how language, how we think and language. That's so funny. But I prioritize body weight stuff and so I do pull ups, push ups and that sort of thing. It also depends on where I do my work and my gym has my building has a sort of gym like a one of those residential gyms.


But I also have a membership at a larger probably, I think the best gym in New York. I love it, but I'm only there a few days a week. So it just depends on where I do it and what I do.


And if you had to pick one besides the elliptical, if you had to pick one body weight exercise to hold you over, let's say you were traveling for a few months, you can only pick one body weight exercise.


What would it be? Well, it would be pulla, but you can't always find a place to do it. So I just do usually elevated push ups to my seat on a bench or bed or some like a step or something, and just push ups.


Call a great little hack for pulling motions while traveling, is putting your feet on a chair and going underneath a table to do basically inverted bent rows to you know, it's actually very helpful for traveling is plyometrics, plyometrics.


And Trex is actually quite handy.


There's a massive system for some reason and just not my thing. I can't get into it. Yeah, it doesn't.


The thing is, here's the thing. So if I am forced by circumstances to do a workout, that is not my preference. I very much like to be able to do something else while doing it, such as listening to podcasts, which is what I do while I do weights at the gym anyway. And there are certain types of movements that it's just a hassle to have the headphones. And it's just not true, though I actually carry a way to jump rope with me when I travel in case there's no way to do sprints, which is my plan B for cardio.


And then plan C is just jumping. Skipping rope. Yeah, you're intense. I love it.


The I remember the you know, I wanted to every time I meet and this is so silly, but I was so obsessed with Bulgarian Olympic weightlifters for a very long time that whenever I meet Bulgarians or people who at any point have lived in Bulgaria, I want to talk about Olympic weightlifting.


But it's not I know nothing about them. I don't exactly weight when I was living in Bulgaria. I know. Exactly.


It's kind of like a you know, like, oh, you're from Switzerland. Let me talk to you about the guys in the Ricola commercial. They're like, no, we don't talk about that stuff yet. Is that guy your cousin?


Yeah, right. Right. You must know, like, no, I actually don't like I know I went to X, Y and Z College, but there are 5000 people per year. You know, it doesn't doesn't always work out. You mentioned the donations.


I want to talk about the site. So it appears and I and I dug around a bit, but it appears that you have no comments or dates on your posts. Is that accurate?


I don't have comments. I do have dates there in the URL. This is the date.


Oh, they're in the URL, but they're not in the post. They're in the URL structure, but they're not in the displayed post itself.


Yeah. So the reason for that is because I do think we live in an enormously. News, fetishistic culture, and the reason I do what I do is precisely to deconditioned that because we think that if something is not news and it's not at the top of the search results or the top of the feed because all feeds are reversed chronology, then there's an implicit hierarchy of importance to that thing. If it's not at the top, it's not important. And you would understand writing about Seneca.


It really doesn't matter what the date stamp on it is, but I think the culture conditions are so much. People when they see a date stamp, they sort of think, oh, this was like two years old and it's really, you know, two thousand years old, but because a lot of academics actually use brain pickings to reference.


So I constantly get things. This another thing that Lisa deals with, like requests from textbooks or citations or whatnot, and those people actually need the dates. So I've made it so that if you actually look, it's kind of easy to see or I can just tell them when they write and ask me what the date is, look in the URL. But it's just not one of those immediate things that slaps you over the head like a newspaper front page.


You know, definitely.


I actually have done the same thing for quite a few years.


And if you if you go to any permalink, so if you go if you get linked to any of my posts directly on the blog, the date is there in the URL, but also at the very bottom of the post after the related links.


So for the same reason, because there's so much bias against older material. And I think some of my older stuff is I mean, it depends on the person, obviously, in the context. But it's it's an easy way to have a higher sort of abandonment rate is to to timestamp the comments.


Did you ever have comments or have you never had comments?


I did originally. And then I was like, you know what I kind of feel like Herczog does I don't really care to hear. I mean, I do write for me. I'm very gladdens by people who are in any way moved or touched. But the comments that I was getting, I was I've been fortunate enough not to really get any trolling or anything like that, but they were kind of vacante or people trying to plug their own thing or spam, and it was taking more of my time that was worth.


And so instead of made my contact information very easily accessible. So if someone has something of substance and urgency to say, which is, I think, the two things that help people to reach out, they'll do it via email behind their own name and not anonymously. And then, I mean, I do get a lot of a lot of emails from readers and those are valuable, but I don't really care for comment. Now, the flipside of that is that now that I have the Facebook page, having something mysterious happened with the Facebook page last fall or it just started growing so fast, I have no idea why I was going to ask you about that, because if you if you look at say that your Twitter follower growth versus your Facebook growth, the Facebook just kind of took off.


Yeah, it was in about October of last year and it went from two hundred fifty thousand to now, I think I don't know, I think point something million close to three maybe. So more than tenfold in less than a year. I have no idea why I've done nothing differently. I'm very I don't really enjoy Facebook. I do it reluctantly because I know I get a lot of emails from readers elsewhere in the world who actually use Facebook as their primary thing.


And they're such sweet notes, people who just are stimulated and inspired and moved in a way that perhaps they wouldn't be if they hadn't read that piece about some random thing that I read and wrote about. And I think it would be selfish of me to just sort of disable Facebook because I hate it. But the point of it is that you can't you have comments on there.


And Lisa, my assistant, actually, that's something I delegated her a few months ago just to completely deal with them. I can't I can't deal with them. I can't. And not for any other reason that I have complete allergy to people. Pronouncing their so-called opinions without having actually digested or even engaged with the thing so people would comment on the basis of a thumbnail image or the title make really outrageously inaccurate comments, clearly not having read the piece and this kind of snap reaction thing that I think social media to a large extent perpetuate.


I can deal with it. It just it's like a psychic drain. Like I can't even explain it just I can't.


So anyway, so so that would explain that would answer one of my questions, which is in your header picture on Facebook, you have this should be a cardinal rule of the Internet and of being human.


If you don't have the patience to read something, don't have the hubris to comment on it.


Obviously, I don't care if it sounds like Bitsie or anything. The point I mean, you know, it's interesting because I think a lot about criticism and the notion of criticism and and why it's so hard for anybody. And I do think that people have a hard time with criticism because another person this agrees with or dislikes what they're saying. They really have a hard time when they feel misunderstood, like the other person does not understand who they are or what they stand for in the world.


And 99 percent of the time and you actually touched on this in your conversation with Sam Harris, when you say that his ideas are not as controversial as people think when they don't actually understand what they are. Right. The main. Source of anguish is not being seen for who you are, not being understood and this kind of reactive culture where people comment without taking the care to understand what you're expressing or what you stand for. It is so toxic.


It is so toxic to readers, to writers, to us as a culture. And I just don't know how to get around it other than just having instructed Lisa to be just merciless about banning people and deleting comments that are just not. There's no humanity, there's no patience, there's no thinking in them. So, I mean, you know, anybody who writes online I think feels similarly that this is kind of my home and people come and be idiots in it, then they're not welcome there.


So, yeah, no, I actually use the exact same analogy. I say look at humor, especially on my blog. I view the comments as my living room. And if you come into my house for the first time and get raging drunk and like, take your, you know, put your feet up on my table with your shoes on, you're not going to be invited back.


You're gone.


You know, suit is is your assistant's job as it relates to Facebook, then primarily culling the herd and just removing the the idiots or does she have what are what are other instructions, if any?


Are there things that she passes to you? Are there things that she responds to?


No, I don't I don't really care what people say, again, to the point that if people have something of substance and urgency, they will reach out. And I'm then very happy to hear from actual humans and engage in a human dialogue, which I do. But I really care about the comments on Facebook. I just don't want them depressing me when I go on the page because I put my own show under.


Lisa doesn't put the actual postings. And I also don't want them creating a culture that is antithetical to the very reason why I do what I do, which is a kind of faith in the human spirit. I mean, that's where I come from. I am. A cautious one sometimes, but an optimist about the so-called human condition and anybody who craps on that without having even given a chance to the thoughts that that speak to the to those ideals, which is what my articles are recorded, then I will want them gone.


And so her instructions are just bad people who are offensive to others, sort of in a vicious way, as opposed to just having rational discourse of disagreement, ban people who are ignorant and and have not read the thing and have some very scandalous or even scandalous sort of sensational in sensationalist take on it. Clearly not understanding the nuance, because I mean, a culture of news, as I say, often a culture without nuance and. Yeah, so that that's basically it helped me stay sane when I look at them.


That's her. That's her path does not make me lose my mind over just exasperation when people's impatience.




And I you know, I really respect that because another reason that I read Brain Pickings as opposed to other sites and I feel comfortable going there is that I feel it is sort of a stronghold of positivity and optimism in a lot of respects.


So kudos to the. Email, actually, before we get the email, I've read that you schedule your Twitter and Facebook, which would make sense because you're prolific.


If that if that's still the case, what do you use to schedule that social media?


I use Buffer for Twitter and I use just my hands for Facebook.


But again, I mean, this goes back to the same inner struggle of. I do want to be reading and writing for myself, so why do I have the compulsion to put so much of it out there? And I sell flagellate over that because on some level it does seem like a form of hypocrisy. But then I do think about the people that email me from India and Pakistan and South Africa and Korea and wherever, that actually that's how they connect.


And I think if I'm putting in the amount of time that I do into into what I do, even if I do it for myself, I might as well just harness that time anyway if it benefits somebody else's journey. And so I do it because of that mostly. Definitely, and I think that while it's fine to write for yourself, if you if you keep the value of what you write to yourself when it could benefit a lot of other people, then I think that's actually it could be viewed as a selfish act.




So I think that there's particularly when you're curating in the way that you do and you're saving people thousands of hours of searching by distilling a lot of these concepts. Well, I would argue that the benefit.


The value. It's not even I mean, what I do is kind of the antithesis of search, it's a discovery of things that ideally one would not have come across within the usual parameters of one filter bubble to sort of a lot of the people that that I hear from, for example, just this week to choose the example. Actually, just this week I heard from this guy who was an I.T. person, trained as a physicist, end up doing it and said the Zeneca, the shortness of life piece really, really put everything in perspective.


I've never really read philosophy, never been interested in and never looked for it. But it just cut in the middle of what I'm struggling with right now in my own life. And it's kind of it gives you pause to hear that from people.


Definitely agreed on on email the.


If you go to your contact page, you recommend email charter dog, and I'm very curious to hear if people actually follow the email charter, it would in terms of the the email that you receive.


Do people actually pay attention to them?


And if they do and I'm so grateful and I mean for the majority of them, do you know some people who reach out with the intention of self promoting? There's usually laziness to people who self promote for the sake thereof know. So they don't they don't usually follow.


But people who actually care to have a conversation and to engage are very courteous and very sort of mindful of what I've asked, except for publicists who are never.


Yeah, right. Well, I mean, I suppose if they're flying on autopilot and just blasting out a template. Dear oh dear blogger.


Oh yeah. I love this. But the blogger thought, you know what I get very often, which I think is actually hilarious. People who don't even bother to read the name of the site, so they address me.


Dear Brian, right now I'm trying to be at this.


The pinnacle of this was when last year, at one point I opened my physical mailbox in my building, my home, and I found this bundle from the USPSTF, but like with an elastic band around it of mail for somebody named Brian Pickens. Who lives in Long Beach, SEIA, or youth, do I get? And somehow that stuff got forwarded to me because I guess the guy either moved in the US somehow looked things up and I don't even know it was such a sort of mystery and metaphor for what I deal with online.


How can you ask a publicist not to?


So I used to have a company ages ago called Brain Quicken and I had I got a telemarketing call one evening and this guy goes, Hi, sorry if you're if I'm interrupting, is this Brian?


And I go, excuse me. And he goes, Brian, Brian chicken. And I'm like, Brian Chicken, right?


I was like, no, and take me off your list. Goodbye.




So on the on the on the email and pitching side of things or just on the pitching side of things, how on earth do you deal with not just cold enquiry's but how do you deal with writer friends or acquaintances who are writers that don't want to be rude to who want you to read their books?


How do you polite declined that stuff? And maybe maybe you don't get a lot of it? I get a ton of it.


And the fact of the matter is, like not everyone is is able to put the time or effort into writing a good book.


So inevitably, if I get ten books from decent or good friends, some of them are going to be terrible.


And I don't have the time necessarily or the inclination to read them all.


How do you deal with that type of situation?


Well, I guess the deal first and foremost, by controlling not the outcome, but the cause, which is your circle of friends and acquaintances, I'm very selective about the people I surround myself with. And I'd like to think friendly to pretty much everybody that I meet. But my circle of actual friends is really close and really tight. And people who are just, you know, when the sky crumbles, they're going to be there and we're there for each other.


And so with that in mind, I think there is a certain boundary that you have to put up beforehand to to, I guess, manage social expectations in a way. And so for those people, my friend, friends in large part, I mean, I should mention that the majority of my close friends, including my partner, too, are people that I have met just through what I do. So there is already the self selection of sensibility and ideals.


And I think we've become a centripetal force for the kinds of people we want to be and surround ourselves with those types of people. William Gibson has a wonderful word for it. He calls it personal micro culture. And even when you said early on the kinship of spirits, I think that's so important. So which is the long winded way to say that when and if those inner circle people put a book out, it's a guarantee that I will like it because of who they are.


And so and I'm more than happy to support it. I mean, the the book that we started with, the scratch and sniff guide to wine, Wendy, the illustrator, is precisely that type of person, somebody who I met through what each of us does. And she's now one of my closest human beings, you know. And so, of course, I'm going to support her work, but not because I'm being nepotistic about it, but because that's the requirement that I am moved by her work and respected and love it.


And that's how we became friends. But outside of that inner circle. I do I think acquaintance's know that there's no such expectation, and when I do get such requests, it's a matter of well. Did the person do their homework and knowing what I actually think and write about very often, and I'm sure you had that to get pitched things that are just so outside of what you do, in which case I didn't feel compelled to respond, because if they didn't put in the time to understand what I'm interested in, why should I put in the time to explain to them why this is not a fit?


Yeah, that's a great way to put it. I need to embrace that more. I think that's an area where I carry a lot of guilt, guilt, but guilt.


It's interesting because guilt is kind of the flipside of prestige and they're both horrible reasons to do things. So often. We would agree as humans, not just you and me or just anybody would agree to do things because they sound prestigious in some way and and equally avoid things because of the guilt thing or do things because the guilt thing. But sort of the whole Buddhist thing about aversion of avoidance and aversion and making decisions based out of either fear, which is what guilt is, it's the fear of disappointing somebody and then feeling disappointed in yourself or out of sort of grasping for approval or a claim, which is what doing things for paresthesia is.


I think either of those. Or really bad reasons to do things, and yet they motivate us a lot, or at least they sort of lurk in the back of the mind constantly. And it is a real practice to try to deconditioned that. Definitely.


No, I like I like like what you said about why put in the effort to explain why it's not a fit if they haven't done the homework to determine if it is a fit. I think that's a great way to put it.


I want to ask and I know we don't have too much time left, so hopefully sometime someday we can do a follow up part to I think that'll be a blast. I'll bring some more back.


If you actually see, I can introduce you to it first hand.


But the the donations I'm very fascinated by the the ad free donation approach.


And just to just to to keep it simple, if you had to choose, say, 20 percent of the options you're currently offering, which would you choose and why?


In other words, you have people living by the option. No, no. So I'll explain. Or two or three. So so people can make one time offer, they can make a one time single contribution.


They can let me simplify that question or they can become a member and donate seven, three, ten or twenty five dollars a month.


What I'm trying to ask without being improprieties or making you feel uncomfortable is what is working best when you're asking people for donations, assuming that it's working.


If someone were to offer one or two options instead of four options per month or the the single contribution versus the membership or the membership versus the single contribution, what would your advice be to people?


Well, I will preface this with the caveat that I use PayPal for donations and I can for the life of me, figure out how to actually like look at the data and get any sort of real reason. All of it is so antiquated, their export tools and such. And I'm not that interested, I would say five days into looking into it so I can tell you sort of my intuitive interpretation. Yeah. And by the way, the only reason these options are as they are also is also the reason why I don't have an ad supported site, which is I just asked myself, what would I like to read as a reader?


Well, I would like an ad free site. And how would I like to support that? Well, I'd like to have a few options just because I don't want to be sort of confined to something. And so I just just pull it out of the hat, basically with these tiers. And I've just left them on since I put them on. They seem to work whatever. And originally my sense was that the one time donations accounted for much more.


But I'd never actually analyze it because I think I see the alerts that come from PayPal and sometimes people would send a really large one time donations like things that are totally humbling and enormously generous. And I think those kind of you kind of weigh them somehow. It's more than the cumulative some of the smaller donations. So I thought the one timers were much more. But then and I'm pretty sure that must have been the case earlier on. Right. But and I've had the recurring ones.


I've had the one time donations for as long as I can remember, for as long as I basically needed to start making money for the site. Because, by the way, running the site cost me several times my rent, like all the costs associated with it. It's like crazy. So at one point I got to a point where I had to make money. I said, I want to do ads. I don't believe that I'll have just donations.


And I even think of recurring ones at the time. That was years ago. And then my friend Max Linsky, who runs Long-horned Dog or having tea, and he said, well, why didn't you, like, push the recurring ones more? Because it's working really great for us. And at that point I had the option, but it was buried somewhere on my donation about page or something. And I was like, OK, so I put it in the sidebar.


And that was, I want to say maybe twenty eleven. And it started occurring slowly. And so this past year when I did my taxes, I very reluctantly went to deal with all the PayPal tools to get the data out basically. And I actually had to pull all the Excel and whatnot. And then I did the tally to see and to my surprise, the recurring ones, which are very small individual amounts, actually were two to one ratio to the one time donation.


And I don't know at what point it tipped over. Mm. But I think because of the scale and just how many people have these tiny tiny donations that they contribute every month, I mean that's such an active commitment and it's so generous that they add up. And I my guess is that as time goes on because. Recurring ones have only been available for the last two and a half, three years, whatever they would become, by far the larger sort of financial support compared to the same ones.


Sure enough, that makes sense. The if you had to choose and of course, this is hypothetical, but if you had to choose two of the amounts to leave in the dropdown, so you have seven dollars a month, three dollars, ten dollars.


Twenty five.


If you had to choose two of those to live up, which would you choose?


Oh, I have no idea. I'm probably just the mathematical logical choice. The two middle ones that three in 10.


OK, cool though. Just very curious about this kind of thing. I think I think you've approached the blog in a very authentic way with the content.


And I can't emphasize strong strongly enough what you just said, which is you you base what you do on what you would like or dislike as a reader.


In the case of something with with text, it doesn't have to be super complicated. It doesn't have to be doing tons of analytics for months. Before you make a decision, just ask yourself, would this annoy the shit out of me? If so, don't do it. I love this. If so, try it out.


And every decision, too, has been that way. And actually in the last couple of years, I've been getting really annoyed. I mean, reinfecting is a pretty sort of low fi site. As you can see. It is very super simple, basic. But I've been getting annoyed that it doesn't load very well on my iPhone when I want to look at something or pull something up to reference or iPad. And my friend Scott Belsky, who runs Behance, is a great guy and he's been sort of a very generous donor, just supporting and, you know, and one time he pulled me aside.


I was like, I think in February and March. And he's like, you know how much I love rainmaking, but like, the site sucks.


They didn't say it in that way, but it was super sweet about it. And he offered to connect me with this guy that he knew that I could hire to do a responsive design. And I always have this resistance to making these sort of technological improvements, because then I feel like I don't want to be a media company, like I don't want to be a BuzzFeed. But at the end of the day, I as a reader and as a sort of engager with that experience, with being annoyed by myself.


So now I'm in the middle of releasing like a simple, responsive site that is actually easy to read on your phone.


And so, yeah, that's a fair consideration. Prevail again, innovation.


It's so, so worth it. It took me let's see. It only took me three oh, God. Seven years to get a mobile version of the site ready to go, which I just launched a month or two ago.


So better late than never. Espers. Well, Maria, this has been a blast. I really appreciate you taking the time.


If someone were to want to explore brain pickings, what are a few articles you might suggest that they start with? Or a few posts well, since we talked about it so much, it's the Seneca piece about the shortness of life fairly shortly. There's a piece I did a couple of years ago, which was less about it was not about a specific book, just sort of things that I've been thinking about for a long time, this disconnect between purpose and prestige.


And why would you think that? I forget what it's called. I think it's called How to do what you love or some other how to find your purpose and do what you love. And it was sort of an assemblage of thoughts on that from various sources as well as my own. And perhaps most of all, a piece that I wrote last fall, as on the seventh, seventh birthday, really at the site, which was about seven things that I learned in those seven years of reading, writing and living, which is a great article.


And I didn't want to replicate everything in here. So I sort of bobbed and weaved around some of these subjects a little bit. But just to reiterate something that you mentioned and that's doing nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone. And I just want to quote Paul Graham here, which you included, which is prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy.


It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you would like to like, which I think is so astute and inclosing is there.


And also, I could just interject and say any Alan Watts piece, not because my writing about it is so great or it's not coming from a place of check me out. It's going to check him out. Alan Watts has changed my life. I written about him quite a bit, so I highly recommend any of those articles.


Cool, right. Brain Picking's Doug is the site, guys. Check it out. Maria, any parting advice for for this episode, this portion of our conversation?


But before we before we check out any advice to the people listening out their thoughts, parting comments, no advice for, say, just a comment and a hope, which is that, you know, thank you so much not just for having me, but for having this show and for doing everything that you do. And I really hope we have more people who operate out of such a place of just I guess, for lack of a better word, idealism and conviction.


And, yeah, thank you for setting an example that way.


Well, that means a lot coming from you. And I think I think you're a tremendous force for good out there in the world. So I hope people check out your work. I hope you continue to do what you're doing.


I hope you continue to add repetitions to your pull ups.


And we will we will talk again soon. Thank you so much for being on the show.


Thank you.


Hey, guys, this is Tim again. Just a few more things before you take off. No. One, this is five Black Friday if you want to get a short email from me. And would you enjoy getting a short email from me every Friday that provides a little morsel of fun for the weekend and five? Black Friday is a very short email where I share the coolest things I've found or that I've been pondering over the week that could include favorite albums that I've discovered.


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