What I Learned from Dolly Parton

Do good for the right reasons, not to serve your own ego. That’s what I learned from Dolly Parton. Okay, I did grow up with the same values as Dolly. I just wrote about that the other day. But her initiative to provide children with books, and the recent revelation that she quietly helped to fund a covid vaccine, remain inspiring.

“This will sound crazy, but when I was interviewing Dolly Parton, I almost felt like she had healing powers.”

Gene Siskel, quoted by Roger Ebert in “Dolly Parton: Gee, She’s So Nice” (December 7, 1980)

Her charitable work aside, that fact that she remains so humble and down-to-earth in spite of being an icon is amazing unto itself. I can absolutely picture her taking off the wig, the makeup, and jewelry, putting on ordinary clothes, and walking down the street unrecognized. Her husband has managed to stay out of the limelight for decades, allowing them to live a life of relative normalcy.

What I Learned from Dolly Parton

You can be ambitious, and you can be successful, but you ultimately need to be true to yourself. That fact that she seems to happy is attributable to the fact that she is so grateful. Her thankfulness for the opportunities she’s had are made manifest in her kindness and her charitable work. My wife Katie refers to her as an angel on Earth. I don’t think she’s far from wrong. I aspire to have my act together, and to be as generous, as Dolly.

The 21st-Century Curator

There’s a scene in the Netflix series Master of None where Aziz Ansari’s friends want to go grab a taco. Now, this is from memory, because I haven’t rewatched the series since before Aziz got cancelled. He doesn’t want to leave this taco experience to chance. Given the opportunity to get a taco, he goes online and does a little research. He has to know the best taco place in the immediate area.

On one level, I get this. It’s not even a “fear of missing out” thing. Katie and I had some spectacularly bad Chinese food a while back. It was as if someone who had never eaten Chinese food was shown a picture of various dishes, and they said “yeah, I can cook that”. We later found out that half a block away, in a less conspicuous location, there was a phenomenal Chinese place.

Katie and I are also the type of people that will see an interesting looking hole in the wall and take a chance. We’ve discovered a lot of great restaurants that way. It is, admittedly, how we ended up in the bad Chinese place, too. If you’re willing to take a risk you can be rewarded, but not all of the time. Hence, Aziz does research.

“The 21st-century curator works in a supremely globalised reality.”

Hans-Ulrich Obrist, interview in The Telegraph, 8 October 2010

In putting together my 2021 bullet journal, I have an eye on that sort of curation. There will be lists of books I want to read. I will have collections of movies I want to see, and television shows I’d like to check out. When I have the time, I can check out the list.

The 21st-Century Curator

There’s more to it than that, though. If I want to pick a movie I haven’t seen, my Netflix queue saves me a lot of writing. There’s no need to clutter up my bullet journal with that. The flaw is that a) the queue limits my choices to what’s on Netflix, and b) it doesn’t tell me why I put that movie in the queue in the first place. I might not remember, several months later.

So what I’m doing is making notes in my bullet journal collections, rather than just listing things. These books are Booker Prize winners. This list contains books I want to read as research for a specific project. This is an author I want to check out, and this is how they came to my attention, and this is the book of theirs people suggested I start with.

I’m also trying to change my thinking. A collection of media to be consumed, or even projects I’d like to work on, is not an obligation. Because I need to schedule in reading and viewing — I’m curating how I use my time — these are things that can be migrated. At the start of a month, carry forward the book I didn’t get to last month. Go to the collection of books I want to read and pick one or two more.

That’s far less overwhelming than having dozens of choices staring me in the face.

What I Learned from Bob Ross

Some things should be for everyone. That’s what I learned from Bob Ross. If you create art, you’re an artist. You don’t need specialized training. What you create doesn’t have to be for public consumption. All that matters is that you’re getting what you need from the activity. That could be relaxation time, having some fun, or expressing yourself creatively.

“Traditionally, art has been for the select few. We have been brainwashed to believe that Michelangelo had to pat you on the head at birth. Well, we show people that anybody can paint a picture that they’re proud of. It may never hang in the Smithsonian, but it will certainly be something that they’ll hang in their home and be proud of. And that’s what it’s all about.”

Bob Ross, interview with The Orlando Sentinel (July 7, 1990)

This extends to all manner of creative fields. If you write, you’re a writer. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re published. If you cook, you’re a cook. I have no desire to go to culinary school or work in a restaurant, but I enjoy preparing food. No one should be prevented from pursuing hobbies or career goal by gatekeepers.

What I Learned from Bob Ross

That said, we do need gatekeepers in some places. Anyone can start a blog, or a vlog, or a podcast and cover the news; that doesn’t make them journalists. There ought to be some accountability to ensure the public is being fed factual information. Not any cook should be selling food to the public. There are health and safety regulations for a reason. Any field where harm could be done requires standards and oversight.

But that’s not what Bob Ross was saying. He never claimed that you, too, could be a professional painter and earn a living doing it. There was no grift going on. When I say writers write, I’m not saying that everyone can be a successful author. Having a creative hobby, though, is enriching. Our lives become more well-rounded and interesting. It makes us better people.

News of Author Douglas Stuart’s Win

Currently I’m reading Shuggie Bain, which I learned yesterday won the 2020 Booker Prize. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been reading through this year’s short list. I forgot that the winner was set to be announced on 19 November. It didn’t show up in any of my news feeds, which are admittedly locked down to spare myself the twin anxieties of US election propaganda and pandemic misinformation. So it was especially annoying that what filtered through wasn’t news of author Douglas Stuart’s win. It was the bigoted, sour grapes comments of past winner John Banville.

Douglas Stuart winning wasn’t the story. An old man basically saying Stuart only won because he’s gay was the story. Since last year’s prize was split between two women, Banville proclaimed that straight, white men can’t win the Booker Prize any more, and it’s all a product of “woke culture”. He then muttered some allusion to Black Lives Matter, which has absolutely nothing to do with anything.

News of Author Douglas Stuart’s Win

To be clear, Banville didn’t even have a novel in the running this year. It’s not as if he were personally snubbed. Shuggie Bain is a novel about a young (white) boy growing up with an alcoholic mother. It’s about life in public housing in Scotland in the 1980s. This is a well-crafted and powerful work of fiction. A novel that won on merit.

Naturally, great literature isn’t the headline. The general public doesn’t care about a novel winning an award. Stirring the pot with some “culture war” horseshit, though, that draws in the views.

Giving Tuesday 2020: Do Not Announce It with Trumpets

Today is Giving Tuesday 2020. I’m not going to tell you what causes or organizations to donate to. I will certainly encourage you to do so, if you can. My only real issue is timing. Too many people, including charitable organizations, try to guilt people into giving. The timing is meant to offset the holiday shopping sprees of the past few days. I’d rather people help all year long, because their hearts tell them to.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Jesus, Matthew 6:1-4

Do Not Announce It with Trumpets

Neither I nor my company publicly discuss giving. Not who receives donations, nor how much. I do not claim charitable donations on my taxes, because it’s not about getting deductions. Charitable giving is not a flex for public relations purposes. The way I was raised was deeply in line with Matthew 6. Not just the part about practicing righteousness, but the admonishment against praying in public and making a show of your faith.

For a start, it’s no one’s business but my own. My reasons, aside from a desire to do the right thing, are my own. I don’t want to hear whataboutism; “Well you support X, but what about Y?”. Nor do I want to hear a litany of flaws that a given charity, or people associated with the organization, may have had in the past. I do research. I support groups that do good in the world, and spend their money wisely and responsibly. As should you.

Giving Tuesday 2020

As started off by talking about timing in relation to assuaging guilt. It needs to be acknowledged that there’s a matter of timing regarding the expense of the holidays themselves. This has been a rough year for most people. Yes, charitable giving is for those who have had it rougher than others. Don’t beat yourself up if you prioritize having a nice Christmas for your family over donating a few bucks, especially when money is tight.

Give as you can. All year long. If things go back to normal in the coming year, give then. Should you experience a sudden windfall next May, give then. But do so because you want to. Do so because you truly believe that an organization is doing good in the world. Do it because you believe in the cause. Not because of guilt. Certainly not because you need to keep up appearance. Giving needs to be meaningful to the giver, as well as the receiver.