Getting to Simple

The Simple Life of Gregory Alan Isakov

Beyond being a talented musician, Gregory Alan Isakov is a person who embodies what it means to live an intentional life.

In an interview with Apartment Therapy, Isakov describes the working farm he lives on when he's not touring.

I once saw an old documentary about Leonard Cohen. He was living in Montreal in a very sparse apartment, white white walls, a table he was typing at, and a bed. I was instantly attracted to that space because it felt like a truly creative environment. A blank slate so to speak. A lot of my design inspiration came from that.

Isakov has set limits. It's a 450-square-foot studio apartment that sits adjacent to his sheep, gardens, and recording studio. It's also only touring half the year, and spending the other outside, fighting the heat, inspecting the quality of this season's produce. The fruits of backbreaking labour.

In another interview, he describes when he realized he wanted to own a farm:

I’ve always really wanted that since I can remember. I worked on a lot of other people’s farms. I really started touring whilst I worked on a particular farm for about 4 or 5 years in Colorado. It belonged to a really amazing family who were super supportive and wouldn’t charge me rent when I was on tour because the winter was pretty off season so I would tour around then and then I’d work in the summer.

I’d lived there for a long time so it was a really great place to hone my songs and connect to music again. I think as a musician your hands kind of get soft and you lose connection to work. And that’s where a lot of my writing comes from, just spending time working that isn’t music related. I think it’s a really important part of my process and I don’t think I could give it up.

For Isakov, a simple life does not translate to an easy life. But if I had to bet, he’d probably agree that it’s undoubtedly meaningful.

Simple Pleasures

In Cal Newport’s new book, Digital Minimalism, he cautious readers to not confuse the connection with conversation. Connection is what you feel when you catch up with a loved one for an hour over a cup of coffee. Conversation, on the other hand, is simply a form of a communication.

Newport argues that while ‘liking’ a friend’s photo on Instagram isn’t necessarily bad, engaging in that behaviour instead of spending time with that friend in-person can be. Our brains don’t interpret online conversation as meaningful connection. That’s why we’re becoming increasingly lonely despite becoming increasingly connected.

In an effort to prevent this from happening, I’ve taken steps to spend more time engaging with the community around me rather than staring at a glowing screen, which has included attending service at a local church and signing up for a recreational softball league. In making these new commitments, it forces me to get outside my apartment and meaningfully engage with others.

My approach towards leisure time can be summed up in three words: prioritize don’t plan. I don’t plan every single minute of my evenings and weekends, but I make sure to protect that time from professional work. If I don’t prioritize reading, going for long walks, and spending quality time with friends, it won’t happen. And when you fill up your leisure time with these various tasks, you will inevitably edge out time that’s usually spent mindless scrolling through social media.

This past weekend is a good example.

On Friday evening, I went out for dinner with my girlfriend, Saturday I spent shopping for a birthday present for a birthday party I was attending that evening (it was held at a roller skating rink, which is a hilarious analog activity in and of itself), and on Sunday we had a friend come over for drinks. On Monday, I took my girlfriend to a favourite spot of ours where I proposed and, with the exception of announcing our news, we spent the day enjoying each other’s company.

The time I would have spent mindlessly scrolling through social media was replaced with meaningful interactions with loved ones. Not only was this infinitely more fulfilling, but I actually returned to work feeling more refreshed than usual.

Don’t underestimate the power of high-quality analog activities. If you’re not religious or team sports aren’t your thing, consider joining a local book club, taking up a hobby, or even negotiating a bimonthly date night with your significant other. Whatever interests you, rest assured there are much better options than scrolling through the highlight reels of your friends while binge-watching Netflix.

Simple Recommendations

This weekend I shared a photo on Twitter of my new-to-me office desk and chair. After spending three years coping with cheap Ikea stuff, I learned a valuable lesson: Spend money on what you and your work sits on. Sacrificing your health for the sake of a few bucks is not worth it.

I bought the Herman Miller chair off Kijiji for $160 (which commonly retails for $440) and the vintage desk off Bunz for $30. As a result of buying second-hand, I was able to eliminate waste, save hundreds of dollars, and stretched out the life of these items. The smugness that came from achieving a good bargain while relieving my back pain cannot be understated.

Here’s what I’m enjoying this week:

See you next Tuesday.