Category Archives: inspiration

There Are No Rules

I was chatting with an artist buddy yesterday about his craft. After making and selling for a few years, he took a class where the biggest thing he took out of it came from a discussion on technique.

He was stepping through how to set up to do this one thing, and his teacher asked why, and he said he had always done it that way. She asked again, “Why?” He stammered and repeated that he had always done it that way. That’s when she said there are no rules – do it differently, who cares, you’re still making art.

I’m still sitting with that, digesting it.

What Are Days?

You ever notice that sudden plans are usually fun? For me, sure, what’s cool is the thing that is planned, but it’s equally neat how, like, 2 hours ago, this idea of a plan wasn’t out there, and then, all of the sudden, somebody came up with it and then it was acted upon.

Wham – you blink.

Bam – you enjoy.

If I could only remember that the days were not bricks to be laid row on row, to be build into a solid house, where one might dwell in safety and peace, but only food for the fires of the heart.
- Edmund Wilson, Critic and Writer (1895-1972)

This is my way of saying that this last Sprint, I’ve had an extraordinarily large number of emergent stories, and I’ve gone along with them. Dinner here. Movie there. Oscar-watching party somewhere around the corner. Sprint Goal nowhere close to being accomplished.

Yet – and I think that as you get older you become more OK with things like this – I’m more OK with things like this. I’m trying to remember that our days are indeed meant to be gut-level exciting.

You’re Allowed

Bill Watterson is the guy who did those Calvin and Hobbes comics. He gave a commencement speech to Kenyon College in 1990. From it is an excerpt that made it onto some webpage that then landed in my Facebook feed. I can’t find that page, but I think I found the excerpt:

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

I especially like that last bit – establishing your own life’s path starts with giving yourself permission, sometimes permission to not climb the success ladder that’s such a sacred structure of our environment.

That awesome life you want starts with realizing… you’re allowed to live it.

Find Your Path via Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver is a Pulitzer Prize winner of a poet. In 1992, she wrote The Summer Day. Pause after the last two lines.

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

You’re saying my one life is ‘wild and precious’? Hmm, waking up day to day is now colored so strikingly and ephemerally. Ponder that question. I know I am.

To Be A Better Person, Do Anything

A little birdie sent me the following link, thinking this is the type of thing I’d write about:

David Wong‘s End Times Report: 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person, for Cracked.com

Challenge accepted.

This message of tough love was viewed over 8 million times and I’ll talk about it as a whole. Before I do, here are those 6 harsh truths:

#6: The World Only Cares About What It Can Get from You
#5: The Hippies Were Wrong
#4: What You Produce Does Not Have to Make Money, But It Does Have to Benefit People
#3: You Hate Yourself Because You Don’t Do Anything
#2: What You Are Inside Only Matters Because of What It Makes You Do
#1: Everything Inside You Will Fight Improvement

He starts it off by talking about markets, covering a point by Chris Guillebeau in ‘The $100 Startup’, where you can follow your inner compass and do what you love, but unless it is of value to somebody, and Chris G. refines this to lessening somebody’s pain or growing somebody’s happiness (he further refines this to not selling what you do, but teaching what you do), you’re only pursuing a hobby. The example given is enjoying pizza. Is somebody going to pay you for eating pizza?

Now, I don’t know about you, but I think I might subscribe to the blog of a pizza afficionado – a one-man Yelp of all things pizza. Heck, think of the detail you could go into…

The secret to the unique texture of the Cooney Island pizza lies in, yes, the water. Its signature flavor peaked in 1954, with hints of cranberry making an appearance if allowed to rest on the tongue, a good year which reflects optimal summer rains, minimal sewage treatment runoffs, and maximal body disposals.

Such gastronomically intriguing critique aside, the point is that there has to be somebody who cares enough for what you’re doing to perceive it as valuable, and valuable enough to trade ya for it, usually with money.

Since stuff like money does help out with living, we acquire this currency via doing things of value for others, usually at a job. Since it’s natural to define ourselves by how we benefit society (how we give value to others), we are defined by our job, and this Wong guy says that actually, you are your job. You can be a nice person, but nobody is paying you to be nice, or at least not as much as they’re paying you to do your job. (And if being nice is your job, then man, I’d love to read your blog; you must be really really REALLY nice…)

So, now that we’ve gotten driven into our heads how humans need things, and how we are defined by our ability to supply a demanded product or service, he approaches our value from an angle I haven’t really seen. The second half of the article talks about inertia and how it relates to our value. See, the only way to be a part of this market of human supply and demand, besides demanding, is supplying: y’gotta do something. I like how he puts it:

Don’t like the prospect of pouring all of that time into a skill? Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the sheer act of practicing will help you come out of your shell — I got through years of tedious office work because I knew that I was learning a unique skill on the side. People quit because it takes too long to see results, because they can’t figure out that the process is the result.

The bad news is that you have no other choice. If you want to work here, close.

And by ‘close’, he means supply a human demand. Create and share. Output.

It’s easy to demand. It’s easy to want. It’s also easy to judge what others supply, what others make. It’s easy to be the critic. It’s harder to make something and suffer through the suckage which comes with the process of perfecting the craft of however you’re making value. This inertia, this… force that pushes back on you, this… laziness, is actually built in – it’s part of your biology, at least as per this Wong guy.

Happiness takes effort, but you can’t get criticized for what you make if you don’t make anything, and this fear aversion (what’s biologically built into us) is comfort. Comfort is easier than happiness, and it’s another form of doing nothing, not participating in the human market, and thus not adding value on this large, mostly blue rock.

So what does this Wong guy recommend to be a better person? Do something. Think it’s what inside that counts? Only if it gets you to do something: share what’s inside with others. Can’t think of something you can share with others? Do something that’s impressive to other people.

And that’s how he ends it. I read that last bit as do something exciting, which I’ve come to understand is happiness.

Challenge completed.

Thank you, little birdie.