Curious About Everything Newsletter #3

Including reads about: democracy's struggles, screenshots, and the science of spiritual narcissism.

Curious About Everything, a newsletter by Jodi Ettenberg

While 2021 has only begun, it already feels like we’ve stuffed a full year of extreme politics, global health, and other updates in a short few weeks. Like many, I watched the events of January 6th in the USA with horror, and while this is not a political newsletter I did want to include a few resources following the insurrection in the United States. Regardless of political affiliation or who you voted for, a violent attempt to overthrow the government is bad for democracy.

Brief Updates

  • One thing I forgot from last month was to share the new welcome page logo for this newsletter. I absolutely love it. The turquoise/teal colour will be the primary colour for Legal Nomads and the new logo there, which I hope to also share soon:

  • Part of my medical journey has been to navigate excessive mast cell activation, an immune problem with symptoms that involve the skin, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, respiratory, and neurologic systems. Those following me on Instagram know that I’ve struggled with a variety of reactions since blood patching (when I went into anaphylaxis on the table). Triggers vary from patient to patient, but are as innocuous as sunlight or scents, or foods that previously provided no problems. Given how many CSF leak patients anecdotally seem to develop mast cell problems, I wrote a long resources page collating my notes to date. It’s a living tree, and I’ll be adding to it as my uptime allows. It includes symptoms of the condition, triggers, and links to conditions like celiac disease and IBS. You can find it here.

  • I was doing a bit better on the leak front, and even mastering the stairs, but unfortunately due to a nightmare where a spider-lizard creature (a spizard?) crawled up toward my head in my sleep, not so much anymore. I jumped out of bed while asleep to escape the spizard, and now leak symptoms are quite severe. Spizard 1, Jodi 0.

  • I am almost finished the Patreon page, but everything takes a lot longer than you anticipate it will when you can only stand for brief periods! Surprising no one, I also plan to use bird mascots for my tiers. Here is Bob the Bluebird, for one of them:

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The 5 Best Things I Read This Month*

*And a few extras.

1/ 100 Tips for a Better Life | Ideopunk, December 22, 2020. By Conor Barnes.

Very thoughtful list of things to keep in mind to live fully, divided into topics like “cooking” and “self”. Three examples from the list:

27. Discipline is superior to motivation. The former can be trained, the latter is fleeting. You won’t be able to accomplish great things if you’re only relying on motivation. 


49. Don’t confuse ‘doing a thing because I like it’ with ‘doing a thing because I want to be seen as the sort of person who does such things’.


67. It’s possible to get people to do things that make you like them more but respect them less. Avoid this, it destroys relationships. 

2/ The American Abyss | New York Times, January 9, 2021. By Timothy Snyder.

One of the best things I have read about the events of January 6th, and what they mean for American democracy (past, present, and future).

Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves.

I also wanted to share a few other pieces about the events in the USA that may be helpful, and that I found worth reading:

3/ The Science of Spiritual Narcissism | Scientific American, January 11, 2021. By Scott Barry Kaufman.

A study from October 2020 found that some popular forms of spiritual practices, like energy healing, yoga, and meditation, correlate with both narcissism and a sense of “spiritual superiority”. The authors of the study measured spiritual superiority as people who feel they are “better than” those who don’t have the spiritual wisdom they ascribe to themselves. You would think that, since spiritual training encourages people to detach from the ego and practice self-compassion and non-judgement, validation and narcissism would be less present.

Alas, not so. The study found that spiritual training may enhance peoples’ need to be “more successful, more respected or more loved,” per the study authors.

Kaufman’s SciAm piece delves into this issue, citing from this and other studies:

Just how much of a problem is all this, really? Perhaps on the whole, spiritual practices really do help quiet the ego, and spiritual narcissism isn’t that widespread. What do the empirical data actually have to say on one of the greatest paradoxes of our time, which is: If a major point of yoga is quieting the ego and reducing focus on self, why are there so many yoga pose pictures on Instagram?


Kaufman, a humanistic psychologist who wrote a book on the science of self-actualization, ends the piece with a better option to superiority: healthy transcendence. It’s not an easy task, but is the root of how spirituality can help without amplifying the ego.

Healthy transcendence doesn’t stem from an attempt at distracting oneself from displeasure with reality. Healthy transcendence involves confronting reality as it truly is, head on, with equanimity and loving kindness.

Great read.

4/ Seeding the Ocean: Inside a Michelin-Starred Chef's Revolutionary Quest to Harvest Rice From the Sea | Time Magazine, January 9, 2021. By Matt Goulding.

chef leon and his quest to harvest rice from the sea
Chef Ángel León holding seagrass at his Michelin three-star seafood restaurant, Aponiente, in El Puerto de Santa María, Spain. PHOTO: Paolo Verzone for TIME.

I’ve long shared Matt Goulding’s work in storytelling workshops I’ve done, because he’s both an incredible writer and he deftly builds an intimate sense of place that keeps you interested, no matter how long the piece is. His newest, for Time, is about Chef Ángel León. Matt spent a year reporting on the story and Chef León’s quest to grow grains in the sea — a process that may not only help feed a hungry planet, but may also serve as a help in the fight against climate change.

Everything that he does communicates an unshakable -commitment to honoring the ocean. He thinks about the sea the way a physicist or an astronomer thinks about the sky: as an infinitely discoverable space, where the right mix of curiosity and discipline can yield solutions to some of the most pressing problems of the 21st century. In his wide-eyed enthusiasm and boyish curiosity and fierce marine mania, he comes across as a mixture of Captain Nemo and Willy Wonka.

6/ Screen Memories / Real Life Magazine | Jan 14, 2021. By Kelly Pendergrast

Contemplative read that feels very now: an ode to the screenshot, the quickly-evolving practices of vernacular photography, and the nature of the Internet during the pandemic.

Like the snapshot, the screenshot is a technique I use to process and frame the world, to keep or to share with others. The act of capture is a simultaneously archival and communicative act. I screenshot an image from a blog roundup of “comfiest face masks” for posterity, with the hopeful sense that this image will feel historic and defamiliarized in the near future. My sister screenshots goofy stock photos of robots typing on computer keyboards to send to me. I screenshot a meme to post on Instagram, because it takes two fewer clicks than actually downloading the jpg. I know my experience of screens is different from yours, and that we notice and enjoy different things. And so, I frame, capture, and share.

Grab Bag!

Nature phenomenon of the month:

The surreal winter scene at Japan’s Lake Nukabira, in central Hokkaido. Per Spoon Tamago, gas filaments from the lake freeze as they rise to the surface and become trapped in layers, leading to an ice bubble wonderland. The lake’s surface is usually covered in snow, but this year snowfall has been more sparse, so the bubbles have been viewable. Some beautiful examples of the many photographs from the region, below.

A post shared by ジュン (@ziyun176)
A post shared by 中川 道裕 (@mittchan514)
A post shared by Koji.Taniguchi🧟‍♂️ (@taniko1212)

Link of the Month for the After Times:

Thru Hikes, a curated list of long distance hikes around the world, created by fellow celiac and traveler Oz.

Video Series of the Month:

Canadian comedian Julie Nolke has a series of short videos where her future self comes to discuss the next horrifying turn to 2020. I suspect she’ll have her hands full for 2021. Very funny. First video in the series is below. Thanks to my brother, who sent it my way.

Thank you for reading!