Open Season

Writing Set Up

Travel is bad for art. Wine is bad for art. Staying up late is bad for art.

What my art needs is a plastic chair and a uniform schedule.

My dream is to turn my hobbies into professional pursuits, which has the dual effect of 1) earning money and 2) spending more time doing what I enjoy and less time “working”. It’s a snowy peak I’m aiming for. But other creators have made it – they’re busy making it this very minute – and all I have to do is follow their boot prints.

The good new for regular guys like me is, whatever your wildest dream is, somebody’s already achieved it.

Billionaire? Civil Rights Giant? Lead Vocalist? Restaurant Owner?

Oh baby it’s all been done a million times. You just have to find the right blueprint is all.

You just have to bounce around a few different cities, a few different careers, and a few different relationships first. You have to watch the first third of your life slide by. Or however long it is, to realize that nobody’s gonna bring the holy grail to your doorstep. Nobody’s gonna push your ass up the ladder because nobody feels bad for you.

It’s not that we’re jerks, we’re just too busy feeling bad for ourselves.

When you realize that it’s all your fault, then magically the prison door falls off it’s hinges. Now you can take your blueprint and spread it across the table like a treasure map. Draw a line from A to B and walk it like a mile-high tightrope. You owe it to the kid you used to be.

One Step Ahead

summer in january

It’s Friday man and I’m still half young. Two things worth celebrating in 2017.

This is how I look after two hours of Muay Thai training. Now matter how whiny I wake up feeling, how stuck, how full of self-loathing… I’ll always be smiling and skipping by the end of a good workout.

There’s something about movement that directly combats the feeling of stagnation. Depression is a kind of stagnation (nothing is changing, nothing is getting better, nothing seems to help). Physical movement takes that snow globe world where nothing ever changes, flips it on it’s head and sends an army of serotonin snowflakes to sparkle your city towers.

We all experience depression, minor or major, daily or weekly. But I’ve never once felt depressed during a backpacking trip.

I don’t know what the doctors say and anyway, I don’t trust them as much as I trust myself. I can distinguish some very clear patterns if I look back on my life with an objective eye.

When I was trail-running in Alaska this past summer, I quickly learned that I had to stay in a constant state of motion, otherwise I’d get blanketed by bitch-crowd of mosquitos in no time.

Depression is a buzzing black cloud of mosquitos. No amount of sitting and swatting will make them fly away. The universe is yelling over the megaphone that I need to move. I need a change and I need it fast.

How to Spend Your Quarters: Wednesday, September 10th

I write better in winter because it’s the quietest of all the seasons. Good riddance to June and July. They are too oppressive, their days too long.

It’s like, if you have a four bedroom house, then you’re bound to fill that house full of stuff. And it’s like how, the only way to pack well for a long hike is to bring a smaller pack.

Daylight is scarce in December, therefore time is more precious. Death is nearer in December too, which is always good for writing.

I was born in August, so you’d think I’d be partial to the summer. But for me and maybe everyone else, those first few months of life are painful, disorienting, full of tears. It takes more than a few weeks to open your eyes and start looking around. By the time the holidays rolled around, and the leaves had fallen, and the stars were tightly screwed into their sockets, I looked around and knew that everything would be alright.

The death of the future doesn’t scare me. I’ve heard that it’s coming, but there’s nothing I can do about it – so there’s no reason to worry.

Worries are Anxieties are useful as long as they spur me into an action. As soon as a worry is born inside my head, I try to replace it with an action. Then it becomes an obvious step, a check on the to-do list, something I can plan on. I know what I need to do. Now that the messenger has brought me the news, he can go back to where he came from. But worries that don’t lead to actions are messengers who have overstayed their welcome: they are crappy, hairy weeds taking up valuable real estate in my garden.

I’m not worried about the death of the future. I’m worried about the death of the past. I know that days and seasons and relationships come and go because I’ve seen it happen.

Economists understand that scarcity = value. When I realize that I’m a little kid at the arcade, with a bag full of quarters, and I’ve only got one day to spend at the arcade…. when I think about how my life is a bag full of quarters… then I start to get real damn defensive about how and where I spend those quarters.

This is my problem with “jobs.” I don’t really understand what a “job” is, but it seems like a backwards deal to me.

I know philosophers and artists have said this in a million ways, and I’ll never say it better, but it’s been on the top of my mind all year…

If I’m going to spend 75% of my quarters on one machine, then it better be a damn good machine. That game better have some meaning. It better lead to something. It better help someone. I better not slip into oblivion with a nagging regret that I could have been playing better games all the while. (The only proper way to slip into Oblivion Lake is with a smile on your face.)

This is why it’s so important to “find your passion” and “do the work you love” and “make sure you’re climbing up the right mountain.”

In a way, happiness is a selfish pursuit. But it’s the only nobel pursuit. Because if Gandhi was right that you have to be the change you want to see in the world, then the only way to add value to the universe is to first find it in your everyday life.

Next post I’m going to write about “how to find your passion.” Not because I have any damn clue how to do it. But because I think it’s an important question. And because I’m trying to figure it out for myself. And when I write out my thoughts, sometimes they look less like a pile of bricks and more like a building, or even a nice little home that I can live in until the storm passes.
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Go With the Flow: Monday, August 24th

The earth spins in one direction. The mighty river does not reverse it’s course. Everyday I get a little bit older. Computers get small and faster every year.

All of these things are outside of my control. Why try and fight them?

When we orient ourselves against the natural order of things, we make life unreasonably difficult.

It’s like when a silly dog owner keeps a German Shepherd cooped up in the living room day after day. The dog won’t stop barking at cars. He won’t stop tearing things apart. It’s not the dog’s fault. He’s just trying to be himself, but the dog owner is expecting the German Shepherd to behave like a stuffed animal.

Or it’s like when a University tries to keep the boys and the girls separate from each other – to keep them from doing things that boys and girls do. The University makes it’s rules, it’s curfews, it’s laws, imposes these things with an iron fist. The problem is, those boys and girls can’t help but acting like boys and girls. No threat is great enough to counteract their nature. Those boys and girls will lie, defy, bribe, scratch, run, break windows, sneak around, devise complicated plots, stay up till all hours, perform impossible feats… they will find a way. Nobody is ever happy in this kind of scenario, neither the rule breakers or the rule makers. But the kids are just being themselves. The administrators are the ones pushing the boulder up the hill.

I guess maybe there are some battles worth fighting. But I’m not sure what they are. For this brief period of time that I’m a member of Team Universe on Planet Earth, I’d rather surf waves than fight to swim upstream.

I think this “go with the flow” advice can really help people in their everyday lives. I try to follow it myself but it isn’t easy.

There are universal trends, and there are also personal trends. Each of our unique personalities has a “flow”. We have strong currents and weak ones. We have natural tendencies that can’t be reversed.

Exercise is one of my favorite examples. We all know we should  exercise. But so few people actaully do it. Why? Because they haven’t found something they love, something they like, something that syncs with the flow of who they are as a person.

Running sucks. Lifting weights sucks. Only a small percentage of people in the world have the discipline to run on a treadmill everyday. But if we can find a sport we love, whether it’s slacklining or swimming or walking or tennis, then we won’t have to make ourselves exercise anymore. It’s a terrible cycle where we fall short on our goals, and then we feel guilty for falling short. Guilt is the second dagger, the one that kills.

It’s because we’re going against the flow, lying to ourselves that going to a gym 5 times a week isn’t so bad. It’ll never last of course.

In my relationships. In my work. In my hobbies. The way I eat and the way I sleep. I can always find areas where I’m working too hard. Where I’m going against the natural order of things. And then, instead of putting my head down and pressing on into the storm, I try to change directions to a better course.

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Right now I’m working on my novel. That is, I’m working on the outlining and the plotting of my upcoming novel.

And whenever I get off course with the planning, whenever I fall behind, whenever I find that I’m uninterested, or that I’d rather do the dishes than work on the novel… whenever I get stuck, I try to remind myself to swim downstream again.

There’s no way I’ll ever finish a novel that I’m not excited about. I’ve tried before. It has to be something I care deeply about. It has to be drawn from my own emotional well. It has to feel like fun. Or else it’ll never work.

So that’s why I’m thinking about all this. I’m thinking about that compass that points to the magnetic center of my childhood soul. I try to go with the flow. I try to keep the needle pointed toward passion and away from work for work’s sake, at all costs.

Me vs. Me: Wednesday, August 19th

When I was in third grade I tried writing a novel. My teacher was a saint – she would always ask, “how’s the story coming?” I was basically copying my favorite stories of the time, but I changed the names and I reworked the plot. In my three-ring binder I scribbled away, in my room, at church, on the living room floor…

Somebody said, “Measure yourself against yourself and nobody else.”

It’s the most sensible thing I’ve ever heard about success.

When I compare myself to the rest of the world, I go against 7 billion competitors. I have 7 billion chances to fall short. In that big of a pond, the odds are low that I’ll be anything special, anything significant, or have any sort of measurable impact on the world.

When I compare myself to myself, the problem of success scales down to a workable level. I’m either better or worse than I used to be. It’s true that we’re either growing or wilting. There’s no sitting on the fence.

I’m either stronger or weaker than I was 5 years ago. Faster or Slower. More cheerful or less. I take more sick days or less. I’m more stressed or less stressed. More apt to forgive. Less motivated. More inspired. More jaded. Better at Chess, or worse.

People have potential. We have the potential to sink into a sucky version of ourselves. And we have equal potential to work harder, to do the right thing, to surprise even ourselves.

Kids come into the world with a unique potential. Kids have wants, dreams, quirks, obvious desires and talents.

If nothing else, I owe it to myself to keep improving. Forget the rest of the world. I don’t know what they’re doing and I don’t care. The news is depressing. If I watch the news, then I start to absorb all the problems and trauma and crisis’ of 7 billion people. It’s too much for anyone.

Focus on you. Focus on the kid version of yourself. It’s good to be selfish.

It’s not that other people don’t matter. The opposite is true. Because when you become a superhero, you save everyone around you.

I never finished that novel that I started when I was in third grade. I don’t know why. It was a big project. I got scared.

The kid version of myself was innocent. He meant well, his intentions were pure. I want him to be proud with how it all worked out. I want him to be happy.

7 Things I Learned From Walter Mosley: Tuesday, July 28th

When I’m stuck for things to write about, when I’m stuck for writing inspiration, I usually turn to traveling down the youtube rabbit hole. “Author interview”, “writers on writing”, and “Charlie Rose author interview” are my favorite searches.

This time around, I got drawn into an author named Walter Mosley. He is captivating speaker, easy to like, easy to listen to. I wasn’t planning on it, but pretty soon I was taking notes on everything Mosley was saying.

It’s a lovely thing to grab on to the wisdom of someone who’s put their whole life’s work into a craft or a pursuit. And I can just take all of his advice for free! It’s too good to be true…

Here are 7 things I learned from Walter Mosley:

1) The Writer’s Spirit: Mosley likens writers to explorers. He says that with every new character, writers are exploring the possibilities for new matter, new subjects.

2) Regarding Character: Novels are about the development of character. It’s how my character comes into the world, how they affect the world, and how the world affects them. They have to change. They have to find out something.

3) Windows into Other Worlds: A writer’s job is to answer the question, “what’s it like?” For example, “What’s it like to be a boxer in the ring?” “What’s it like to be a detective?” “What’s it like to be at sea for 90 days?”

4) Regarding Character and Conflict: Sometimes in books, you have a character (especially in the thriller or mystery genre) who is traveling down very straightforward path. For example, the detective is looking to solve a murder; or, the lawyer is trying to solve the case. But really, Mosley says, life is not that simple. In real life you have a lot of things, a lot of problems going on. It’s a lot of things coming together to create a much larger affect on the character. It’s not just that they have one, straight track to follow, or one single conflict to solve.

5) Writing Routine: Mosley claims that he writes 1,000 words a day. The next morning, he briefly edits that 1,000 words, then he writes the next 1,000.

6) Writing Schedule: His schedule is to write every day for about three hours, usually from from 6am to 9am, or from 7am to 10am. Mosley says, “Writing is almost a place of dreams for me. I do my writing early in the morning before most people are even up and going. Then for the rest of my day, I can go about my normal life. I don’t have to think about writing again until tomorrow.”

7) Regarding Younger and Older Generations: Mosley says, “The older you are, the more you live in the past.” A lot of older people get upset at young people, saying they’re shallow or selfish or whatever. Young people live exactly today, in the immediacy of their world. It’s important for old people to realize that a lot of their notions are no longer valid. They have to remember that young people are living in the now – for now it’s all they know.

Inspiration Runs Dry: Wednesday, July 22nd

It’s all well and good to make goals, but you need inspiration and hard work to see those goals to fruition – and inspiration is a limited resource.

Inspiration is like a precious little cup of water, sitting on a lone table in the desert. The world of jobs, tasks, errands, and everyday life is conspiring every minute to blow that cup over. The fiery sun flies high and zaps your inspiration straight into the atmosphere. If you drink it, then you’re good, but only for a while.

You’ve gotta find ways to keep refilling your gas tank.

Personally, for writing inspiration, I keep a steady IV drip of podcasts streaming day and night through my ears and into my brain. Constantly hearing the success stories of other authors helps keep me tuned into the right frequency. Of course those success stories aren’t really going to help me become a writer, but they just might trick me into writing today, into believing I can do it, into taking another step forward.

I’ve got a friend that I meet with once a month. We discuss our goals. I can’t even describe how much this has helped keep me accountable. Even if I do a miserable job all month, I’ll bust my ass that last week just so I don’t look like a fool when it’s time to report.

I try to tell my wife what I’m working on. I tell my friends too. When I make my goals public, it’s kind of like outsourcing my inspiration. Now I’m not just inwardly motivated, but I have a whole new set of inspiration which has solely to do with keeping my promises. I am incredibly motivated and driven by what I think other people think about me. Everyone is – it’s our nature.

But all that aside, the key is to NOT rely on inspiration as much as possible. However I can ween myself OFF of inspiration is a good thing. I know how unreliable, how fleeting it is.

So I’m trying to build good habits. Habits are the best way to fortify my goals.

Once writing, or exercising, or gratitude, or optimism (or any healthy activity you can think of), once it becomes a habit, then you don’t have to think about it anymore. You just do it. And good habits build momentum over time; they accumulate interest like a good investment.

Life is way too precious to wait around with your fingers crossed, hoping for the best.

If the Inspiration Fairies decide to pay me a visit, then I’m grateful. Maybe they’ll pick me up and fly me out over the ocean and reveal the world’s miraculous secrets. If so I’ll be ready, eyes wide, taking notes. I’ll see whatever inspiration wants to show me. And when it’s over I’ll thank them to the moon and tip them like kings.

Maybe the fairies are on their way this very minute. And maybe they’re not. Either way, as for today, I’ve got work to do.

Mac Lethal and Maturing as an Artist: Monday, July 13th

I’m always excited when an artist that I already admire comes onto the James Altucher Podcast.

This last week it was Mac Lethal, the self made rapper and artist from Kansas City.

My favorite aspect of the interview was when they talked about the progressions of a maturing artist. Here’s what I took from the conversation:

  1. In the beginning, you do something because you love it. Or because you’re bored. Mac Lethal started writing raps to amuse himself in high school, when he was bored during study hall.
  2. The first big evolution, the first big step, is to simply create a product that doesn’t suck. This is surprisingly harder than it sounds. For Mac Lethal, this meant creating songs that were bearable to listen to. For a writer, it’s the difference between writing confusing babble, and writing something that the reader can actually finish. It takes at least 3-5 years to get through this step.
  3. Eventually you learn ways to get your art into people’s hands, and you have to get creative. When a young Mac Lethal recorded his first collection of songs, he bought 1,500 CD’s for a dollar a piece from a company in Canada. He had no record deal, nobody pushing his music. He sold his own CD’s by hand to his friends and family for $10. Looking back, he says that first exchange is vital – the first time you create something, believe it has value, and see someone else pay for your product. That’s a powerful first step and a critical moment in the process.
  4. You can’t get down on yourself when nobody likes your art – when they either bash it or they simply don’t care enough to look at it. Your only job is to keep creating. Mac Lethal says he never reads the youtube or the facebook comments on his work, he just makes the next thing.
  5. You hone your craft by imitating your favorites, by copying your influences, and simply by trying to mimic the professionals in your field. Mac Lethal said that after 17 years of producing music, he feels that he’s just now starting to find his voice. He’s starting to have a good sense of what’s “original” for him, what he wants to say, and how to do it.
  6. That’s a long time! Possibly 20 years of daily, grinding work before you’re finally making some original material, something that lives up to your full potential as an artist. But it’s a brilliant thing to witness. Mac Lethal’s art is much different now than when I started listening to him 5 years ago. It’s obvious that these days, he’s the only one doing exactly his style of art. 10 years ago that wasn’t the case.

This was a super inspiring interview for any artist, and I would recommend anyone who’s interested to the “Ask Altucher” podcast.

Also, here are a few of Mac Lethal’s more recent hits, The Mozart Rap, and The Alphabet Rap.

Near-Death-Experience Envy: Thursday, July 9th

Harry Potter lives in a cupboard under the stairs and his family hates him. That sucks! I don’t want to be Harry Potter.

It’d be cool to be Ironman except for the part where evil super villains are always trying to rip your arms off.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching Walter White turn into a badass drug lord in “Breaking Bad.” Was it just me or did you really want to cook some meth afterwards? Honestly, I probably won’t cook any meth this week. It’s too risky and my schedule’s pretty full.

What’s fascinating to me the more I learn about story structure is: how all the core elements of story are the things we spend our real lives avoiding.

Stories are built on trouble, conflict, and danger. We’d rather watch an infomercial about stepladders than a story with no conflict. We’d never watch a story about somebody taking a safe flight from Boise to Buffalo, but as soon as you sprinkle in some skydiving, explosions, or some hijacking… we’re interested.

It’s funny to think that the path to becoming a hero is free for everyone. There’s no secret recipe. It’s just a scary undertaking. Way too risky for most of us. Who wants to face their deepest fears, have all their loved ones reject them, or wake up hungover in the shrubbery behind the Wal-Mart loading zone to realize they’ve finally hit rock bottom?

No thanks.

But sometimes I do catch myself wishing that I had a shittier childhood. Or that I could have a near death experience.

I heard a podcast this morning with a guy who got smashed in a head-car collision at 70 miles/per hour by a drunk driver. He was clinically pronounced dead for 6 minutes before the medics saved him. He spent three weeks in a coma, and came out of that coma with a profound gratefulness for life. What’s more, he awoke with a steel-hard resolution for how he wanted to help people, how he wanted to improve the world, and how he wanted to contribute, give back, show his appreciation for his blessed gift of life by returning that gift to others.

It’s a beautiful story. And all I can do is be jealous.

Luckily we have stories to teach us those lessons, and to inspire us, without having to actually cook the meth or fight the crime lords ourselves.  But is it enough to just read those stories? Is that enough to become a hero myself? Can I really learn those lessons second-hand? …That’s the question.

The World’s a Dream: Wednesday, July 8th

Inception. The Matrix. Vanilla Sky. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Shutter Island.

My favorite movies are the ones where the bottom falls out of the floor of reality. The curtain gets pulled back and we realize we’ve been deceived all along. The center does not hold.

It’s not always easy to classify these stories into specific genres. They might be action, adventure, thriller, psychological thrillers, mysteries…. they are thick, brain bending, revelatory, uncomfortable types of stories.

I’ll never forget that last scene in “Inception”, where the top is spinning and spinning and it’s about to fall… and suddenly the credits roll.

Lost is still one of my favorite TV shows of all time. It’s popular for writers to turn their noses up to the show, because of it’s complexity eventually got out of hand and the plot couldn’t be tied up in a pink ribbon. But even though I didn’t get all the answers in the end, that show and those characters took me for a wild ride. The ride itself was thrilling as hell. The journey of that show, for me, far outweighed the conclusion.

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Right now I’m in the middle of a year long project to blog five days a week and write at least one short story a month.

What I hope this year will start to teach me is…

Where is the intersection between what “readers want” and “what I like to write”.

I have no idea yet. But I know there’s a market for fantasy, and those types of stories seem to be the ones that interest me the most. The only way to find out is to do it.

And I’m excited as hell at the thought of one day finding that sweet spot.