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NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CHANNELS/JOEY L

Attention to Detail With David Rees

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NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CHANNELS/JOEY L

In his new show, Going Deep, artisanal pencil sharpener David Rees explores how to tie shoes, flip coins, dig holes, and perform other quotidian tasks with care and sophistication. Here are his tips for staying sharp.

I just stumble into stuff. I started sharpening pencils because I got a job with the U.S. Census (pencils were used for completing forms), and I wondered, “Wouldn’t it be cool to do this for a living?” That was a challenge for myself: Could I get paid to do this?

I like the idea of taking something you do every day without thinking and saying, “Stop, slow down, pay attention.” It opens up the world to you through this particular lens.

I’m up to my 2,000th sharpened pencil. At this point, my price is $40 a pencil. If someone’s gonna pay that I’d be a fool not to do it.

When I’m sharpening, I think about how it’s going. I’m paying attention to the pencil to see if it’s gonna split. Sometimes I zone out, but usually I’m thinking about the craft. If I sharpen a pencil, bag the shavings, refine the point, fill out the paperwork, and ship it. I can usually do four an hour.

There’s this guy known as Professor Shoelace in Australia. He has a different way of tying a shoe. You make both bends first, and you pass them through each other at the same time. It’s crazy—it looks fake. It’s three times faster than the old way.

The biggest influence was Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. That’s my favorite TV show ever. We wanted to make a show that had that spirit of curiosity and adventure but for a slightly older audience. As a kid, it blew my mind when Mr. Rogers went into the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and was like, “It’s a set,” and explained how they made the show. He took you seriously as a viewer. He respected your imagination and the fact that we’re dealing with reality, even if the Neighborhood of Make-Believe is a set.

The things I’ve had the most success with are things I started doing for myself. Cartooning—I didn’t think anyone else would be interested in that besides me and my friends. Then I was a cartoonist for seven years. When I try to make things I think others will give me money for, it’s never as much fun, and I think that lack of fun shows in the work. People respond to sincerity and enthusiasm.

Don’t quit your day job. I mean, keep the structure and income and light social interactions that characterize office work. I started cartooning when I had a
day job. Then I quit and had nothing to react against.

Goof off. Sometimes you have to do stuff for fun, without worrying. If you’re making money being “creative,” sometimes it’s unclear if you’re doing something for fun, for money, or for fun but also for money.

I love jumping off rope swings—that’s probably my favorite thing in the world.

'Going Deep' premiers July 14 at 10pm EST on the National Geographic Channel

This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Subscribe to our print edition here, and our iPad edition here.

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iStock
How Your Parents' Career Choices Affect Your Own (According to Facebook)
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iStock

We inherit a lot from our parents—our appearances, personalities, and many of our likes and dislikes, to name a few things. Are we also more likely to choose their career paths?

Facebook researchers Ismail Onur Filiz and Lada Adamic examined the occupations of 5.6 million English-speaking parent-child pairs listed on Facebook. Their aim was to see how frequently a child followed in their mother or father’s vocational footsteps. Filiz and Adamic mapped out their findings in a series of interactive visualizations, which you can view over at Facebook’s blog.

The takeaways were manifold. For instance, Facebook found that the son of someone in the legal field is 4.6 times as likely to practice medicine as sons in general. (This phenomenon could be explained by the fact that the two professions have a similar socioeconomic status, New York magazine points out.) Meanwhile, daughters whose moms are nurses are 3.75 times more likely to enter nursing than the average woman.

One caveat? Since this study only looked at individuals who specified their occupations on Facebook, these findings “may not be representative of the population overall,” Filiz and Adamic write. For example, “the military occupation category is over-represented because it is mapped based on both employer and stated occupation and past military service, whereas other job categories were mapped based on stated occupation only.”

After seeing how parent-child career choices were related, Filiz and Adamic delved into sibling data. Since siblings share similar upbringings—and in the case of twins, similar genetics—it would theoretically make sense that they also landed in the same occupations. Filiz and Adamic examined 2.37 million same-gender siblings, and compared twins with siblings who were born two years or less apart. They found that 15 percent of same-gender siblings worked in the same field. Meanwhile, a whopping 24.7 percent of same-gender twins entered similar professions.

The overall takeaway? Family members are "proportionally more likely" to wind up working in the same field, particularly twins. However, at the end of the day, the "vast majority" of individuals forge their own paths. Curious to learn more? Check out the full results over at Facebook’s blog.  

[h/t Gizmodo]

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joy grabiec
How to Procrastinate Wisely
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joy grabiec

If you’ve ever been on the Internet, chances are you’ve stumbled across a thought-provoking essay by hyperprolific writer and English professor Roxane Gay. We wanted to find out how she finds time to watch Law & Order.

If there’s a through line in my work, it’s giving a damn about the world. Whether I’m writing fiction, nonfiction, or criticism, it’s about caring enough to speak up about what I think and feel. I read a lot, and I’ll think, “I have an opinion about this.” It will start from there. I’ll cook something, and I’ll think, "I’m going to blog about this."

I’m an insomniac. Theoretically, I sleep about four or five hours a day. Sometimes I don’t sleep at all. I live in the middle of nowhere, and there’s literally nothing to do. It’s the best cure-all for work I know. If you want to write this much, just move to a very small town in Illinois.

Twitter makes me feel as if I’m in a big, communal office space. I find that chatter helps me focus. I do a lot of my best thinking on Twitter!

If I’m in my office, I’m much better at focusing, because if I’m at home, I’m like, “Oh, Ina’s on the Food Network.”

At home, I mostly work in front of the TV, so I can watch Law & Order.

I think there’s value in procrastination. I do a lot of writing in my head, doing the work mentally before I ever commit something to paper. I think our minds are telling us something about what we’re ready to do and not do.

I love listening to music while I work. I make this list called “Music,” whatever I like at the moment. Right now, it’s a lot of Beyoncé, Lorde, Haim, and some sort of BS rap, of course. And some Lady Antebellum, my favorite guilty pleasure.

I read every day. Books. With magazines, I always have good intentions, but they’re sitting in a stack on my coffee table. The one magazine I read regularly is The Believer.

I write at airports, in hotel rooms, on planes. I’m going to be on the road for the next 10 days, and I have a reading or meeting in each place. But I have a bunch of free time and I don’t know anyone, so it’s easy to write. When I’m not at home, it’s very easy to focus.

Writing online has given me a thicker skin. I can deflect an argument in a way that’s productive. I’ve learned to figure out what is valid, and that has helped me become a better rhetorician.

My next novel is called The Year I Learned Everything. People are calling it YA. It’s about a young woman who has a really transformative year; she learns about love and finding herself and overcoming her past. It’s a novel told in diary entries. I love immersing myself in her voice.

I’m trying to make more time for human interaction, away from the laptop. On Sundays, I try not to make my phone the first thing that I look at.

You have to make space in your life for writing. I love to have fun and play. But I make time for writing. It’s a significant priority for me. You have to commit. It can’t be like, “Maybe I’ll do this.” You don’t have to write every day to be a good writer, but you can’t not write every day.

A version of this story appeared in an issue of mental_floss. Subscribe here.

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