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The Whippet #31: the stork and the turtledove, the crane, and the swallow

McKinley Valentine — 8 min read

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Good morning, happy Halloween!

Today's newsletter has literally 0 spooky-themed articles. Oh well - last week I played a game of Werewolf (if you've never played, it's sort of a collaborative murder mystery that you solve through conversations) with a super toxic guy and I tried to intervene a few times and get him to chill with no success, and then 30 minutes after he was removed from the game for bein toxic, I came across an article on how to handle narcissists and I was like... oh dang, that is absolutely what I should have done. BUT IT WAS TOO LATE. Spoo000ooo0000ooooky. Anyway so today's Unsolicited Advice will be: how to handle toxic narcissists if you can't get away from them.

Productivity tip: Interstitial journalling

The other thing advicey thing I read about is called 'interstitial journalling'. Interstitial means the spaces between places or tasks. The 15 seconds while a new Netflix episode loads. Airports, where you're not really in one country or the other yet.

The interstitial spaces in your day can massively derail you, if you're like me. You finish a task, you don't want to start the next one immediately without a transition, but you can't take a proper break because you're working, so you just look at twitter or the Guardian and now 45 minutes are gone and you're also maybe furious about the state of the world.

Intertitial journalling is a minute or two of journalling that you do in between tasks to help you clear the old task out of your head and re-focus on the new task. You have a running Word doc and you switch over, write the date or time, what task you just finished, and what you need to do next. So instead of knowing you need to email someone and switching over and then instead of sending the email you read the new emails that have arrived and then you're like 'that reminds me, when is my package arriving' and you find the email with the tracking number, and...

A huge amount of what to do with interstitial spaces is check our phones, and that's not necessarily that helpful because it's so, so unfocused - there are a million things that 'looking at your phone' can be.

So instead you switch to a Word doc: Finished writing intro to Whippet. Next, reply to Nat's email asking which sunscreen I use. Google the name of it because I can't remember it. Don't read reviews of other sunscreens I want to try.

It could be longer for a more complex task, but you get the idea. You probably need a transition task, but looking at your phone/email/facebook is a really high risk one.

This idea comes from Charles Chu.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti had a pet wombat and he loved it so much

He's a pre-Raphaelite artist who did paintings of a lot of surly Arthurian women like the one on the left, and he was obsessed with wombats for 12 years before he finally able to get one.

He wrote this poem about wanting one:

Oh! How the family affections combat
Within this heart; and each hour flings a bomb at
My burning soul; neither from owl nor from bat
Can peace be gained, until I clasp my wombat!

"Wombats were admired for their stumpy strength, their patience, their placid, not to say congenial manners, and also a kind of stoic determination." He called his Top.

His friend, another artist, visited him and was... less positive, describing it as "the most lumpish and incapable of wombats, much addicted to following one about the room, and nestling up against one, and nibbling one’s calves or trousers."

History of the pre-Raphaelites obsession with wombats, PS, it's not rad to own non-domesticated animals.

Arrow storks: how we learned about migration

"The white stork (Ciconia ciconia) can be found throughout much of Europe during the warm months of the year. But in the winter, the birds disappear, and this perplexed Europeans for centuries. Aristotle thought that white storks, swallows, kites and doves might hibernate in winter, perhaps at the bottom of the sea. A 1703 pamphlet put forth the idea that the birds flew to the moon to the winter."

(This Pamphlet was called, in true old-timey style that we have regrettably abandoned, 'An Essay toward the Probable Solution of this Question: Whence come the Stork and the Turtledove, the Crane, and the Swallow, when they Know and Observe the Appointed Time of their Coming'.)

Another theory: “flocks of swallows were allegedly seen congregating in marshes until their accumulated weight bent the reeds into the water, submerging the birds, which apparently then settled down for a long winter’s nap.”

Anyway, in 1822, "A white stork, shot on the Bothmer Estate near Mecklenburg [Germany], was discovered with an 80 cm long Central African spear embedded in its neck. The stork had flown the entire migratory journey from its equatorial wintering grounds in this impaled state." That's it in the photo.

Dozens more storks like this were found (called Pfeilstorch or arrow storks) and it's basically how they figured out birds migrate. [Source, CW for picture of unbothered, impaled deer]

Dentist invents golf tees

"The development of the tee was the last major change to the rules of golf. Before this, golf balls were teed up on little heaps of sand." [Wiki]

I find this enormously cute, that golfers carried little boxes of sand around with them to make tees out of. George Franklin Grant (1846–1910), the first African-American professor at Harvard, and an inventor of a wooden golf tee, in 1889. He was, specifically, a professor of mechanical dentistry - meaning he made false teeth. Which makes sense, how that would transfer to creating a simple, small, useful object, that's inert, it's just a shape, but is really functional. Also... TEEth. Think about it.

Three different people patented variants on golf tees over the course of a decade, but they "failed to catch on, as most golfers—whether because of tradition, habit, or concerns about the rules—continued using heaps of sand. It took a strong marketing effort by Dr. William Lowell, one of the other inventors. in the 1920s to bring manufactured tees into widespread use."

The idea of being curmudgeonly about new technology trying to take away your little heaps of sand is also great.

If you're finding it hard to warm to any story centred around golf (rich people, old boys clubs, upsetting exclusionary use of land and water), my present to you is this 19th Century painting called The MacDonald boys playing golf, which will help you in hating golf even more purely and truly.

Rusted ship + giant kraken to become artifical ree

"This past April a massive 80-foot steel kraken was purposefully sunk into the Caribbean Sea on top of a decorated WW2 ship. The former Navy fuel barge and its monstrous passenger were placed underwater in order to jumpstart a new coral ecosystem, while also serving as a cutting-edge education center for marine researchers and local students from the surrounding British Virgin Islands. The project is titled the BVI Art Reef, and aims to use sculptures like the porous kraken as a base to grow transplanted coral."

“Everything from corals to sea sponges, sharks and turtles will live on, in, and around the wreck."

More photos, more details, and trailer for a documentary about it.

Unsolicited Advice

How to handle narcissists

Not talking about people who just have tickets on themselves, talking about it in the psychological thing of, unpleasant bragging, responds disproportionately to any perceived criticism, entitled, exploitative, dishonest, etc etc.

How you handle them is: get away, minimise interactions, etc etc. But you can't always do that, or not immediately. I just want to emphasise that this is how to get along with an abusive person, how to survive - not how to fix them, as though that was your job anyway.

According to the article I read, narcissists are people who are deeply insecure - they have no faith that people will just like them - affection has always been given to them conditionally. So they are constantly seeking praise, taking credit for things they didn't do, trying to control you etc. (This is obviously a terrible strategy for getting people to like you.)

So, 1. Begin by reinforcing the value of this person, and your relationship with them. (This is probably a lie: we're talking about surviving in a bad situation.) In the Werewolf game, I tried to make them see that their behaviour was making their own life worse: "You are making this game not be fun for people, people are going to not want to keep playing with you if you don't change how you act." That was a mistake, because it makes them feel more insecure, their relationships more tenuous, so they double-down.

I should have said something like "you're a good player and an important part of the team and so we need to be able to work together effectively."

And then also talk about how their behaviour makes you feel. (If it makes you feel contemptuous and angry you will maybe have to lie and say 'sad' - I would normally ever recommend lying about your emotional state, but this is a survival mode thing.)

"All psychopaths are narcissists, but not all narcissists are psychopaths. Psychopaths can’t feel empathy.

For narcissists, empathy is more like an underdeveloped muscle. Still there, but as you have probably experienced first hand, it sure doesn’t get used much. You need to help them build that empathy muscle.

Calling them a jerk or criticizing their behavior only makes them worse. But when they are compassionately reminded of the importance of their relationships — and how those relationships can help them achieve their goals — they can improve."

The researcher calls these "empathy prompts" - emphasise the importance of the relationship, and then tell them how you are feeling . It's also useful because when it doesn't work, you've found out way faster, and have a better idea of the kind of emergency you're in.

How to tell if empathy prompts are working:
"Malkin explains that you’re succeeding when your narcissist responds by:

  • Affirming: “You’re my best friend, too. I don’t want you to feel bad.”
  • Clarifying: “How long have you been feeling sad around me?”
  • Apologizing: “I’m sorry— I don’t want you to feel like a failure.”
  • Validating: “I know my sarcasm hurts you."

Other elements:

  • Use words like we, our, us. Reinforce relationships and being on the same team (this is all backed by research by the way).
  • Compliment them when they behave warmly or nicely (don't praise them for their achievements, but for prosocial behaviour)

Article goes into much more detail

If you want solicited advice, send questions to or just reply to this email.

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