This is Life Is So Beautiful, a weekly newsletter about the search for beauty in a world that seems ugly and harsh. I’m Hugh Hollowell, and I’m glad you’re here.
I turned 50 yesterday. I find this difficult to reconcile with the mental image in my head of what a 50-year-old man is like in my head. There is a scene in the movie Million Dollar Baby where Hillary Swank, a 30-year-old woman in the film, wants Clint Eastwood (who is in his 80s) to teach her to box professionally. He tells her he can’t – that she’s too old.
“I don’t feel old”, she says.
“Hell, I don’t feel old”, he says. “But then, I’m not fighting 19-year-olds, either.”
Well, yes. There is that.
My gift to myself was twofold: A short trip to the beach (I’m currently sitting in a hotel room yards from the ocean as I write this) and a small wildlife pond for my backyard. (That’s it in the picture up top). Both of those things are important to me, in different ways.
Travel is important because it helps me see the world differently – I get exposed to different people, different ideas, new ways of being in the world, and new experiences. It helps at times to walk away from the troubles of the day-to-day and just feel something new. I get that. But I never want to rely on that for my survival.
These days, I’m trying to figure out how to build a life from which I do not want to escape, which is why the wildlife pond is important. Not in and of itself, but because it’s part of figuring out what I need in my environment in order to flourish.
I use the word flourish there intentionally because when I go to my small patio beside the pond and listen to the birds and hear the splashing of the water and watch the tadpoles dart among the lily pads, it isn’t an escape from my world – it IS my world. Often things like mindfulness and travel and exercise are sold as escapes from reality, or at best, as crutches that enable us to do the hard work of surviving in our daily existence.
I have a camelia in my backyard that was, when it was planted, in the dappled shade of a live oak tree that lived in the neighbor’s backyard. Camelias love that sort of shade, and it flourished and bloomed every winter. But then the neighbor cut down that oak, and now my poor camelia is in full sun year-round and it’s struggling, because it no longer has the environment it needs to flourish. It is just existing.
But I don’t want to survive, or exist. I want to flourish. And my self-work right now is about figuring out the things I need to make that happen, and then figuring out how to get them.
Here are some things I thought were beautiful.
Brad Wilson is a photographer who takes animal portraits. These are amazing – I know the dangers of anthropomorphizing animals, but their personality is tangible in these photos. He has a new book out with even more animal portraits called The Other World.
Feather Stars are a type of starfish. They are invertebrates with fern-like arms that sort of creep along the sea floor, like animate plants. The ocean is a vast, unexplored world, and the things that live there fascinate me.
Someone pointed out the Facebook page Overheard on the Underground, which consists of photos of things people saw on the London subway. This hits all my pleasure points, but sadly seems to be no longer being updated.
Street photography is my jam, and so I swooned when someone pointed out this collection of 20 vintage self-portraits of street photographer Vivian Maier. Selfies were not invented with the advent of cell phones – just made easier.
The last year has been my most creative year ever. I launched a new blog, Humidity and Hope, on which I have published 186 articles just since October, consisting of more than 152,000 words. I continued to publish this weekly newsletter, Life is So Beautiful, where every Monday morning I send a short (previously unpublished) essay and five links to beautiful things to thousands of subscribers. And I launched The Hughsletter, my personal newsletter, where I share what I’ve written that week and links to cool things I’ve found.
And now I’m launching something new: A membership program to support my work.
Figuring out how to monetize this sort of work is hard, especially if you have scruples. I don’t want ads everywhere, scraping your privacy. I don’t want to limit access to only people who can afford it, like a paid newsletter. And all of this *waves hands* costs a lot of money to do – my email service alone is hundreds of dollars a month, whether I send anything or not.
People who want to support my work, who want to keep my public work free and ad-free, and who want more of my work in the world can contribute as little as $5 a month to help make that happen.
You can learn about how it all works here.
One more thing, related to this: Just like there is Pledge Week at NPR, June is now “Membership Month”, because of my birthday. I will be making a big announcement later this week on my blog about a secret project that is for members-only, for example. And I will each week, highlight more of the creative work I do, made possible by the members who support this work.