How to live and be free
Advice from Montaigne and Rick Rubin
There is certainly no shortage of people doling out half-baked opinions disguised as expertise (guilty tbh). Advice is a precarious thing, to be sure. The more time I spend online, the more things I read, and the more conversations I have, the more I come across things that can be considered, if not explicitly purporting to be, life advice.
On a recent episode of his podcast, Lex Fridman asked legendary music producer and host of another one of my favorite podcasts, Rick Rubin, a question he asks every guest: “What advice do you have for young people?” In typical fashion, he continued to ask the question for another half a minute.
While Lex rounded out his question, (just) a thought came to me and inspired this essay. What is my relationship with advice? More specifically, how often am I acting on advice? Then Lex finally took a pause to let Rick answer:
“The only advice I have would be to not listen to anyone and do what you love and make things that you love, whatever it is.”
Timely and timeless, as most great advice is, because around the time I listened to this interview, I was reading Stefan Zweig’s fantastic biography of Michel de Montaigne. Montaigne is a 16th-century philosopher and writer who abandons an aristocratic life to be alone with his books, and more importantly, alone with his thoughts to remain intellectually free. I can’t recall a book I’ve highlighted more than this – a tangible measure of the text’s resonance. Flipping back through those highlights, I think Montaigne’s entire ethos can be summarized in this passage by Zweig:
“And while the rest, the Sorbonne professors, the counsellors, the legates, the Zwinglis, the Calvins proclaim: “We know the truth,” the response of Montaigne is: “What do I know?” While, through the Catherine wheel and banishment, they want to impose their “This is how you must live!” his counsel is: “Think your own thoughts, not mine! Live your life! Do not follow me blindly, but remain free!” He who thinks freely for himself, honours all freedom on earth.
Between Rick, Montaigne, and writing this essay, I realized that in theory, I had been considering life advice a one-size-fits-all, take-it-or-leave-it prescription. In which case, I was not really taking much, if any, at face value. In practice, though, advice augments my existing worldview for some indeterminate period of time (sometimes, albeit rarely, forever). And in the latter case, both of these bits of advice are currently shaping how I live in the world, even though their messages could assuredly be interpreted as encouraging the opposite. Do not listen to anyone. Do what you love. Ask yourself “What do I know?” Think your own thoughts. Live your life. Remain free.
After creating The Wire, David Simon endeared a certain type of loyalty in me. If the guy could create that, I was definitely going to watch whatever else he brought to HBO. But subsequent efforts failed to elicit the same reactions as the masterpiece that is The Wire. To use a term that I’ve never fully understood, Simon seems to have gotten off the schneid. His adaptation of Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America was excellent and his new series We Own This City, sees Simon revisit the cops and the streets of Baltimore. There are a lot of familiar faces and themes (the latter is a bit sad since it’s less reflective of Simon retreading familiar turf than it is of lack of change on those streets in the span between The Wire and We Own This City). Plus, a buddy of mine from high school is in it.
I was introduced to the world of Mike Mills when he and David Byrne chatted on the A24 Podcast as a promotion for Mills’s 2021 film, C’mon C’mon, which ended up as my favorite movie from last year. On Sunday night, Rachel and I watched 20th Century Women, his slightly more popular 2016 release. It is absolutely crazy to me that Mills’s work is not in the conversation with the best coming-of-age films of the last 5 years (a great window for the genre), despite having actually worked with Greta Gerwig on this. The storyline is not as plainly relatable as some of my other favorites in “the conversation,” but it’s packed with emotion and lovable characters of all ages trying to figure themselves out.
I am loyal to many YouTube channels, but probably none more than this one. Andrew Callaghan came to fame with his now defunct channel, All Gas No Brakes, which was commandeered by some short-sighted suits. Speaking of emotion and lovable characters trying to figure themselves out…
After writing about pants recently, I had the good fortune to stop into Plain Goods, an excellent shop in New Preston, CT, and got acquainted with Orslow Pants. I don’t know much about the Japanese brand, but the pants have a quality that you can feel instantly (part of why I insist on buying pants IRL). They’re definitely pricey—I didn’t buy a pair—but there seems to be a decent selection available on Grailed, so maybe I will soon. Regardless, they reminded me of the joy in discovering new brands in places that aren’t the internet.
Acme Smoked Fish’s Fish Fridays [NYC only]
Fun fact: all of the cheesesteak places in Philadelphia use the same Amoroso rolls. Preferences boil down to your meat and toppings preferences. NYC bagelshops have a similar dynamic: almost all of their nova is supplied by Acme in Greenpoint. And on Fridays, you can pick up a pound of smoked salmon for $18. For context: a 12oz (1lb = 16oz) package of the same stuff from the grocery store costs more than $30. We’re talking Costco prices here. They also have dozens of other smoked fish options. Buy the whole smoked trouts and use them to make this.