My Reading List for Saving our Civilization

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

 Rachel Carson
Photo by Michael Competielle

“Civilization is much more than the survival of the fittest and the unrelenting culling of the weakest members. Civilized people share a value system that extends far beyond doing whatever it takes to survive. Mere barbarians might be devoted to a life of exploitation. In contrast, civilized people value nature and care for the most vulnerable members of their kind.”

 Kilroy J. Oldster, Dead Toad Scrolls

2020 has been one hell of a year with the Coronavirus highjacking the World news headlines. It seems like a millennia ago I was tipping back a glass of bubbly thinking of new ways to expand upon my creativity and intellectual explorations. Reading more books to learn new talents topped the 2020 wishlist.

2019 had concluded with my starting to read A Year with Swollen Appendices by the polymath revolutionary Brian Eno. I’d joined The Long Now as member #10,800 to expand my knowledge of long term thinking while maximizing each precious moment.

It was in studying Eno I’d recognized his pattern of protection of time by practicing aggressive time management. The importance of protecting each precious moment and recognizing how little time we have. How he conceptualized the idea that we shouldn’t perform any tasks that didn’t provide the ability to simultaneously listen to an audiobook. How we should use every moment to our maximum advantage and automate practices to increase productivity.

Learning from brilliant thinkers such as Eno, Stewart Brand, and Malcolm Gladwell has reinforced the power of explorative thinking while mastering my own universe. Enhancing my brain plasticity by increasing the saturation of intellectual content has proven to change my mood and ability for conceptual retention.

Processing Qualitative Content

Heading back from spending the Holiday in Florida I listened to the audiobook version of The Spirit Level by Kate Pickett during my drive home. The book focuses on the analysis of inequality in unequal societies through the widening divide between the wealthy and the poor. How successful societies require greater economic equality and not greater wealth. Based on over thirty years of research the book lays out examples of gross inequality and conceptualizes ways to achieve equality.

As we are currently fighting a World Pandemic, the inequality has never been more apparent than during these struggling times. The inability of many demographics to work from home, social distance, have access to quality healthcare, and monetarily survival is apparent. Concepts of Universal Basic Income and Universal Healthcare should take precedent over opening beaches or sporting events.

I deep-sixed a shitty book The United States of Socialism written by pro-Trump supporter Dinesh D’Souza. The book wrongfully displays Social Democracies as Socialist or Communist societies. It does help to mention that the D’Souza was pardoned by Trump and therefore has a debt to pay. I didn’t finish this book nor am I recommending it.

Overcompensated professional athletes are prioritizing playing games with cardboard cutout fans while jeopardizing essential medical, emergency, and transportation workers. It’s sophomorically wreckless, childish behavior while lacking empathy or emotional intelligence. Professional sports should suck it up, and sit this one out. Collect some unemployment checks or small Federal stipend and call it a day.

As America goes deeper into the Pandemic the inequality becomes deeply apparent. According to a recent study by the Washington Center for Economic Growth these 6 principles of vulnerability in pandemic inequality. must be examined.

  • Too many people lack the basic protections that would have slowed the spread of the virus.
  • Workers lack the power to share in the gains of the economic expansion that would have given them protections and security.
  • Decades of stagnant wages and meager workplace benefits leave many families without enough savings to weather the coronavirus recession.
  • Policymakers starve public goods of investments that would have enabled better protections from the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing recession.
  • States and localities don’t have the resources to deal with a pandemic or a recession.
  • Business concentration across markets increases consumer and small business vulnerabilities just when those threats are most dire.

The Spirit Level brought to the forefront a clear understanding of why inequality happens and the difficulties of a healthy survival if the struggles aren’t addressed. The irony is within a few short months of reading this book, the failures of our society would become blatantly evidenced during this trying time begs to question, Where do we go from here?

Corona and the Quietus

Pre-Corona my suburban neighborhood was noisy. Highway and air traffic polluted the air with a consistent noise-floor. I’d attempted some early spring field recordings hoping to capture cheerful birdsong only to listen to highway rumble. One evening I stepped outside to an eerie sound…the sound of silence. Gone was the road noise and grounded were the planes. For the first time in my life, I noticed the silence.

The idea of descriptive nature writing fascinated me to the point I read The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf. This book studies the polymath Alexander von Humbolt. He explored nature, botany, geology, geography, and science. It was Humbolt’s explorations and writings that had inspired Darwin, Thoreau, and Thomas Jefferson.

Having traveled from Europe to South, Central, North America, and Russia, Humbolt was the first person to describe human-induced climate change. His first writings on the observation were in 1800. Agriculture and industrialization was the cause of climate change. Unfortunately few listened.

The completion of The Invention of Nature filled my reading list with Darwin’s Origin of Species (a text I must need and not listen too), Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and Walden by Henry David Thoreau.

Our understanding of nature and it’s precious balance has come alive in these books. The silencing from the pandemic lockdown has globally impacted even the most casual observant. Noise and noise pollution from excessive traffic and industry temporarily gave us peace and quiet.

Patterning Your Life To Maximize Productivity

Charles Darwin’s Day to Day Pattern

Prioritizing a process toward structure is essential if you want to excel at learning. As I continued my quest for knowledge and comprehension as my focus shifted to expansive thinkers. Range by David Epstein is a book that explores the need for knowledge in a wide range of subjects and the ability to make new and unique connections. The book debunks the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hour theory by an exploration into vast thinking and developing a wide range of topics.

Polymath is a term often used to describe broad depth thinkers. A copy of The Polymath by Wacas Ahmed helped to solidify my interests in wide-ranging knowledge, autodidacts, and boredom of specialists. Every day I jam in hours of audiobooks, web-based text, and books to expand my thinking and depth of knowledge.

Thinking Long Term

I abandoned The Power of Now by Eckhardt Tolle in favor of thinking in the long term. Go Long by Dennis Carey filled the void from now to then by examining examples of long term strategists. Companies such as Amazon and Apple were examined while short term bottom-line thinking is exposed.

Ecological Intelligence by  Daniel Goleman digs even deeper into the long term effects that products have on our economy and environment. Studying the life cycle of products from the cradle to the grave and understanding the impacts from raw material acquisition to biodegradability or recyclability will push manufactures and markets to explore their impacts and work collectively to make environmental change a policy.

Wearing Bluetooth headphones while making breakfast and doing dishes I can block out external distractions. Ignoring social media accounts, the morning news, and unsubscribing to invasion emails has impacted me emotionally. I feel freedom and less triggered.

Noise by Joseph McCormack examines how we are emotionally and mentally hijacked by marketing and electronic gadgets. The book reads fast and fluently through the amount of severe noise we daily must wade through. It was the exposure to the knowledge of how were are being mentally manipulated that has rejuvenated my levels of self learning.

Black Lives Matter

It was during the Pandemic, while many people were home glued to the noise of their televisions and smartphones that our nation’s inequality and racism was again exposed. Better yet it was during this moment it was recognized. As the World is struggling to survive, America has again proven our racial divide.

I’m not going to pretend for even one second that I understand racial prejudice, or can I even use what little knowledge I possess to teach. What I’ve realized is I need to learn more.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Olua stings like a swarm of bees. The belief that racial inequality and prodigious was an issue swept under the carpet of the 13th amendment is untrue and unjust. With the fact that 1 out of every 3 African American males will be incarcerated in their lifetime is a horrific statistic. The fact that African Americans currently make 30% less than the average Caucasian worker and this inequality is widening.

Brian Eno recommended Roll Jordan Roll by Eugene Genovese in his list Reading for an Apocalypse. James “Jimbo” Mathus recommends The American Slave Coast by Ned Sublette. Both of which are still in my queue.

I’m silenced by my need to continue to learn more.

Michael Competielle

Where Do We Go From Here?

I’m reading George Orwell’s 1984, we are living it, might as well have the blueprint. Fake news and unvetted stories can keep piling up. I’m not partaking. We must learn from these moments and make a change.

As one of our modern-day brilliant minds, Stewart Brand has helped to expand knowledge and futuristic thinking. From his Whole Earth Catalog to How Buildings Learn, Stewart’s expansion thinking is inspirational. From his Ted Talks to his The Long Now presentations, I’m unaware of any other writer who has changed my mind and thinking more than him.

Whole Earth Discipline by Stewart Brand is a book that can and will change the World. From explorations in population expansion and contraction, alternative energy, nuclear power, and GMOs (which he refers to as Genetic Engineering) this one man could potentially save our planet.

From requesting that NASA in the 1970’s release a photograph of the Whole Earth taken from space, to the installation of a 10,000-year clock Stewart Brand has the potential to save the Whole Earth from its largest predator, humans.

Learning How to Write

When I have the time, which is hardly the case I try to work on my writing skills. I’m reading The Rum Diary by Hunter S Thompson for a novel I’m currently writing, The Peregrine by J.A.Baker to learn to be more descriptive and Wired for Story by Lisa Cron so I can use neuroscience to get you to read past the title.

If you read this far, which is doubtful, you’ll realize I’m trying not only to learn but to also articulate my thoughts into readable text. Currently, my Yoast Seo AI states this “article is shit and that you suck”. Perfect words to hear because the World is in shitty shape and we all need to learn.

Healing Yourself Holistically

Photo by Michael Competielle

Today we set the clocks back for daylight savings and therefore we have an extra hour today. I’ve been working on creative writing projects and then I’m going to head outdoors. To embrace nature and connect with the world.

Fall is the time of year where the leaves are changing as we prepare for winter. The stunning hues of golds, reds, yellows, and oranges paint a picturesque vision into my soul. Taking time to embrace nature and what she has to offer.

The Essence of Time

I’m planning to manage my day wisely. One extra hour is hardly enough to achieve all of my goals. Mentally I prepare for the day by listing the tasks in sequential order based on importance. Eating well is of primary importance and so, therefore, may sure to have a hearty, healthy breakfast. Morning coffee is my fuel that plugs in my engine to move forward.

Creative writing is sort of like journaling. I may not go really really deep essentially because I fear what I may unearth. I’m taking the higher ground by pushing aside the past and disregarding being superfluous. My writing takes on a breath of its own as I’m mapping my daily thoughts.

My connection to my daily feeling and emotions allows me to check in on myself and verify if I’m going off the rails. Monitoring myself and being in touch with my priorities makes the remainder of the day’s events purposeful. I don’t spend much time on wasted motion.

Fuel Your Life

Good food for fuel and mental clarity prepares me for the unknown. I’ve recognized my triggers and attempt to distance myself from the offensive. The daily news, gossip, and shitty people that I previously allowed to taint my mood I’ve removed from my life.

No longer do I waste a precious moment dragged into the false narrative of the shallow and disconcerting. My time is exactly that, my time. Not to be abused or taken for granted by anyone. Where I thought I’d become more isolated, my time spent with those that honor the passage of time has become life-changing.

Mindfully Reclaiming My Life

I’ve realized that no matter what it is I’m doing it needs to be for me. I needed to become 100 percent selfish to put out the best version of myself. Instead of retracing the countless hours, days, months and years I wasted in a fetal attempt to please the dissatisfied, I moved on. No longer do I do anything for anyone unless I place myself first.

How can I be empathetic and mindful if I don’t place everyone else first? How the hell can you be completely engaged and present if you are there for yourself? We need to please ourselves before our masters.

Daily I embrace the inner workings of my mind and soul. I question my thoughts and nurture my growth to feel fulfilled. Selfishness achieves the ability to become present within the moment. Our internal demons are managed and life’s external forces we can keep in check. It is then when we can be at our best. Present at ease and adrift in the moment.

Photo by Michael Competielle

Ride Mother Natures Wave

I used to get infuriated at a contractor that worked for me. We would have work scheduled and he was a no show. I’d call him and his boss yelling and complaining and ruining my own Zen. And when I found out where the guy was I’d be angry for hours.

He would go surfing!!! I would be blowing a gasket as he would walk in a few hours late with this huge smile. He would eventually get to work and complete his tasks with a huge smile. Why? He was complete. He couldn’t change the weather but he could carve out the time to enjoy the moments when the waves were perfect.

Today is seasonably warmish. The temperature and precipitation is certainly out of my control. Now more than ever I’ve realized I need to drop what I’m doing to take the time to embrace this exact moment and ride the wave. The work and life’s priorities will still be there once I return. But this perfect day or those perfect waves. They may not.

Embrace the day, enjoy your extra hours and fuel your soul.

Listening to Life… A Soundwalk

Photo by Michael Competielle


Weekend mornings are a time for extended rest, free from the burdens of weekday life. Our dream sequences allowing us to transcend reality for just a few minutes more. Composed and at ease, we calmly rest.

And then the lawnmowers start, 2 cycle weed-eaters and leaf blowers wreak havoc on my silent lucidity. Environmental noise pollution poisoning my mood and making my heart beat a bit faster.

Certainly, the suburban lawn is one of the least ecologically friendly environments, a biological wasteland. I’ll ask myself how with all good conscience can I partake in helping destroy our environment willingly?

Natures Classroom

Earlier this year my wife and I took a soundwalk through The Watershed Institute, a 1,000-acre watershed reserve. The Watershed staff consists of water and land stewards working to protect our local waters and wildlife habitat.

Photo by Michael Competielle

Armed with my backpack full of field recording gear we headed into the visitors center. Kiosks explained the history of the mission of the Institute. We learned about the impact of water runoff from manicured landscaped yards. The harmful use of herbicides and pesticides and their impact on our waterways. The Watershed recognizes itself as responsible to maintain the ecology of the local landscape and teaches those practices.

As we walked outside feeling informed yet still exploratory, I read on a sign about the Institutes rain gardens that collected the building’s water runoff and how native plants are used in its construction.

Native plants have adapted themselves naturally to survive well in local environments and create a biologically stable habitat for bugs, birds, and bees. Pesticides, herbicides and added fertilizers aren’t required for native plantings to thrive.

The Trail

Putting on my headphones and holding my microphones we began heading down a wooden boardwalk that’s slightly elevated from the boggy land below I could feel the sense of life in the foliage and ground. Frogs, crickets, and bugs were immediately apparent as we headed deeper into the woods.

A smell of rotten eggs wafted towards our noses, evident that this site is biologically diverse.

The raised boardwalk ended and we found ourselves navigated a muddy terrain as we headed deeper into the watershed. Stopping every few hundred feet to observe the sounds of the remote preserve. It didn’t take a highly trained ear to hear the disturbances from near distance noise pollution.

I could hear the sound of a lawnmower trimming some local fields and a distant sound of small aircraft inflight from a local airstrip. I stopped recording as I was saddened how my excursion which felt remote was not far enough away from manmade noise.

I began to think about the animals when they are awakened from their dreams. Forced into fight or flight in an environment they call their home. None essential human-made noises that could easily be avoided if we respected the Earth and nurtured our environment.

It was on that day I learned about the environmental impacts of humans and the ecological effects of manmade noise. It was on that day I began my quest to become… An Audio Ecologist.

Taking Pause During the Passage of Time

Photo by Michael Competielle

The season is changing, maybe a bit more gradually than in past seasons however it’s still inevitably happening. The days are getting noticeably shorter as the temperature doesn’t rise quite as it has. The trees are shifting color into lovely autumn hues. The slow conversion into winters hibernation.

The sounds of the winds change as the whistling through green leaves is replaced with a distinctive different tone of rustling through autumn foliage. Footsteps crunching sounds alarm wildlife as we head into the forest.

Large flocks of birds flutter across the grey sky in a pattern like a squadron of jet fighters. Squirrels nesting away their winters stock of acorns cleaning the forest floor. Deer cautiously drinking from the cooling streams.

As we slowly and silently escape into the forest the rules of our trek is not to speak a word. Our objective is to use all of our senses to enter a meditative mindful state while preserving the serenity of the woodlands.

Armed with headphones attached to field recorders, we monitor our surroundings as we attempt a stealthily silence. Man made noise pollutes our recordings as in the far distance we can hear leaf blowers and highway traffic.

Seated comfortably on the ground we become one with the earth. The wind blows and trees branches sway above us like choreographed freestyle dancers. We breathe in deeply and smell the fresh pungent air.

Closing our eyes we fine tune our ears listening to the forests sounds anticipating motions in the trees. As our focused listening moves through the individual sounds we hear the forested orchestrated instrumentation’s. Distant human made sounds become more evident than ever while we now struggle to filter them out.

The forest floor reminiscent of a large hand knitted Persian rug embedded with a seasons worth of dander. We pause time as we find full immersion.

As we leave the forest our concentration is focused and our respect for the environment, our hearing cleansed.

The Soul of a Tree is the Secret to Life

Photo by Michael Competielle

A slight breeze blows through the forests upper canopy as the foliage uniformly dances to her breath. The crunch of decaying leaves that have fallen to rejuvenate the earthen soil. The forests ecosystem is home to flora, insects, birds, owls and deer.

Fall is coming and the leaves are changing into vibrant colors like a evening campfire. Birds singing as they fly branch to branch looking for the days meal.

Finding a rock in which I can sit down I quietly reach for the record button as I monitor the forests sounds thru my headphones. Bird song and cool breeze… so peaceful and serene. I begin to slip into a meditative state of Mindfulness as I’m completely immersed in the present moment, the worlds distractions are distant.

Looking at each tree as a unique living being I begin to think about teh miracle of the forests existence. The foliage protecting the habitat below providing a natural cooling effect. Some trees live a beautiful life as they grow in a perfect fertile environment stretching tall to capture the sun rays to synthesize carbon dioxide into oxygen.

I slowly breathe in… hold… and breathe out the rich forest air.

My mind begins to wander as my thoughts focus on our current environmental issues we are creating through deforestation. In the Amazon alone we have lost 17 percent of the forest in the last 50 years. Entire species of animals extinct from the removal of their habitat to make room for developments and farms.

Forest woods are used for furniture, building materials, fuel, paper and packing materials. Trees produce fruits, nuts, rubber and maple syrup that can be extracted without destruction to the tree. Carefully removing a tree from a forest is not an issue as a seedling can be planted in its place and the circle of life continues.

Trees are the ultimate renewable resource while the removal of an entire forest is not.

Simply put, we cannot survive on this planet without forests. In a sense, they breathe for the Earth, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and producing the oxygen we require in return. And by storing that carbon, forests help to regulate the global climate, absorbing nearly 40 percent of the fossil-fuel emissions we humans preoduce. Rainforest Alliance

Photo by Jennifer Competielle

Coming from a family of cabinetmakers for generations, I’ve been around wood and woodworking tools my entire life. Cutting and shaping trees into cabinetry, moldings, structures and trinkets. I savor my scraps reusing them as blocking, shims or dunnage until I’m down to the smallest piece I feel comfortable to discard.

Feeling a tree shouldn’t be killed without responsibly using its resources for making sustainable and renewable products.I’ve always tried to get the most use I could out of the woods.

It wasn’t until I happened to visit the wood shop of Master furniture builder George Nakashima that I began to understand that trees have a soul. A unique life form that needs to be recognized and understood.

As I toured the showroom, wood storage and shop I began to realize the philosophy utilized in the creation of Nakashima’s works. Each piece of wood is carefully chosen to determine how it will be shaped and tooled into a new unique existence.

In the true Japanese tradition of Wabi Sabi, the natural characteristics and flaws are accentuated, often where slpits in the wood are locked from further splited with butterfly joints.

Photo by Michael Competielle

I purchased a copy of George’s manifesto The Soul of a Tree: A Master Woodworkers Reflections which I had George’s daughter Mira, who now runs the business carrying on the Nakashima legacy, sign my book.With a deep philosophical understanding that the respectful use of a trees woods gives the tree renewed life and purpose. I learned to honor the trees soul.

When trees mature, it is fair and moral that they are cut for man’s use, as they would soon decay and return to the earth. Trees have a yearning to live again, perhaps to provide the beauty, strength and utility to serve man, even to become and object of great artistic worth.

George Nakashima

Forest Therapy And My Quest For A Quiet Place

Photo by Michael Competielle

The Japanese practice of Forest Therapy is called Shinrin-Yoku which means “taking in the forests atmosphere.” Quite simply the process is to just head into the forest and that’s about it. Well that’s sort of a generalization of the actual philosophy where you can shed stress and anxiety by spending time with nature by trekking through the woods, engrossing yourself in the silent ecosystem.

Forest Therapy or Forest Bathing is used to embrace nature and to enhance wellness and happiness. Heading into a forest and focusing on being present in the silence while engaging in deep breathing, recognizing smells and sounds can be healthy and therapeutic.

A few years ago as I was researching field recording I stumbled onto a sound course offered through Princeton University called Space and Place. I messaged the Professor to see if I could audit the course although the semester was winding down and his Princeton Arts Fellow nearing an end he was kind enough to share with me the syllabus.

I quickly purchased every book mentioned in the syllabus and proceeded to read every referenced website and article. One particularly interesting piece was on Chris Watson of the 80’s Industrial/Post Punk band Cabaret Voltaire who had since entered into wildlife field recording. Upon reading an articleon his techniques, I realized he and I had similarities in equipment I decided to try some forest field recordings.

As I began to repurpose my film audio-recording equipment and expand my collection of specialty field recording gear with some new purchases I headed off into the woods. Wearing my Kuhl Silencer pants, Merrell hiking boots, Tilley and sound recording gear I headed into the forest. Uncertain of what my expectations actually were and primarily hoping for a clean, noise free forest ambience recording I found a quiet remote location and grabbed a seat on a rock under a dense canopy of trees.

Photo by Michael Competielle

Putting on my headphones and hitting record I silently listened to the sounds of the forest. With a cool summer breeze calmly making the forests vegetation dance like a ballerina and strained to listen for the sound of the forests wildlife. What I heard while focusing was the distant sound of the outside world. Planes, lawnmowers and the distant highway spoiled my recordings.

Calmly I continued to record hoping the noise pollution would stop. The distant persistent noise droned on however as an hour had passed however I was feeling focused, calm and relaxed. The experience, alone in the forest was meditative as I was focused on my environment fully mindful and present.

My recording was essentially trash, ruined by the environmental noise pollution of the suburban forest. I Googled “field recording quiet places” in a feeble attempt to find a quiet place to record nearby my Princeton area home.



-Gordon Hempton, Founder

One Square Inch of Silence

My research lead me to the Audio Ecologist Gordon Hempton know for his nature recordings on 6 different continents while on an endless quest searching for One Square Inch of Silence.

In 2005 Gordon Hempton while recording in the Hoh Rainforest in Washington’s Olympic National Park, one of the quietest places in the world, he placed a rock on a log claiming it to be One Square Inch of Silence. Hempton defines silence as lacking in human created noise pollution.

For years Hempton has monitored his One Square Inch of Silence often having to inform noise polluters of there noise pollution and writing the offenders letters along with recordings hoping to obtain their support in creating less pollution.

Gordon’s One Square Inch website deeper explains the environmental concerns and educates in an attempt to raise awareness and maintain the silence.

While I have yet to visit Hoh Rainforest or find any location free of noise pollution, my forest therapy continues.

With today being the first day of fall the colorful foliage is about to change. I visualize the sounds of leaves falling and the crunching sound as I walk to a suitable recording spot. Hoping to immerse myself mindfully in the forests serenity.The Startup