I’ve always like to make, build, and take stuff apart. My early curiosity lead the dissection of a battery. I was 8 at the time and was intrigued by the “Coppertop” commercial where the battery swung open on a hinge. I wanted to know if it actually worked that way. Needless to say, it didn’t. Batteries don’t have hinges.Not to be deterred by my first experience with deception in advertising, I began to peel away at the D-cell battery. What I found was a pool of black acid that surrounded a metal layers. Which lead to battery acid leaking all over my toy room and a heavy scolding from my mother.
My innate curiosity has fueled much of my learning. I have constantly tried to figure out how something was done and how someone might do it better.
Thank God for fellows like the Patron Saint of Process, Austin Kleon. Author of such titles as Show Your Work. Kleon best describes it as “a book about how to influence others by letting them steal from you.” This is best done by displaying your process and allow others to emulate you.
I contend that artists and creators show their work and sometimes the process is as great as the art.
Which brings me to Frank Howarth, wood worker extraordinaire, and his fascinating videos. In a recent video he showed the process and mindscape behind crafting an ornate wooden bowl. The end result was one of exceptional beauty and aesthetic, but the real art was in his telling of the story and showing his works.
Frank is hardly a flashy guy. He looks like just about every other dude in Portland, a plain dressed guy in horn-rim glasses. The brain behind the unassuming exterior crafts some exquisite pieces, but even more exquisite are his videos on the process. They are aesthetically simple but well executed basic process footage coupled with stop motion animation and simply narrated by Frank’s monotone. He leads people on his adventure from concept to finished product.
Sometimes process and documentation is nearly as good, if not better than the end result (whatever form that may take). And often in life the story is more powerful and beautiful than the genuine article. Make good art, because one cannot exist without the other.
America’s favorite sport is professional football. It’s the winner over and over each year.
Most Americans hate professional soccer.
Ok, hate is a strong word. But in a 2014 survey a mere 6% of Americans considered men’s soccer their favorite. And this is a high estimate, it’s up from 3% from previous year. The jump is likely due to the success of the USA men’s team in the World Cup.
Amid the native applications on Samsung’s Galaxy S5 phone is a little gem called S Health.
The potentiometer inside the phone works as a pedometer to measure your steps and movement each day. This data is recorded on the app. It’s simple and convenient. No strapping on fit bits or clipping on pedometers, simply walk around with your phone. Most people do it anyways.
The stock setting is for 6000 steps. Which is a decent days walk, approx three miles. Once you reach your step goal, a buzzer alerts and a notification pops up on your phone. Pleasure centers of the brain receive the newly introduced dopamine hit and you feel good. It’s a small reward, but you still feel you accomplished something daily.
I have been shooting for that daily goal since I got the phone. Most days, I can exceed it by 4 pm. More sedentary days, I struggle to make it. But, I try to never miss two days in a row.
The meager 6000 steps is attainable each day. I know that. But it does requires some effort.
To challenge myself, this year I upped the goal. I set the reward to 7500. That’s less than an extra mile of walking each day, but
after the holidays, it’s needed. The long math comes out to over 500,000 steps a year or 250 miles. Not bad for a small tweak.
With the new goal in my consciousness, my progress being tracked, and a simple readout every time I look at my phone, it’s now a priority. I now find myself parking further away, getting up from my desk more frequently, hitting up the bathroom on the other side of campus. It was a simple tweak, but with greater expectation comes greater output.
I wrote this essay back in ’08. It was my first foray into creative non-fiction. Enjoy!
Today started out as innocent as you would expect any Sunday would. Clouds gave way to clear skies as I rolled in to Sears on my day off to crank out a quick 3 hour power shift. Being short-staffed that day I agreed to come in for a few hours to fill in for a few employees that requested, like me, their Sunday off. I figured being on a commission basis I would make some sales in the morning and then go home early in the afternoon and enjoy the rest of my Sunday with a little extra cash in my pocket.
The doors opened at 11 A.M. to a frenzy of activity. There was something slightly off about this sunny Sunday morning. I noticed people seemed a little more tense than usual. I chalked it up as anxiousness to get what they wanted and to get on with the rest of their day. Like me they didn’t want to spend their entire day at Sears.
I fielded a phone call shortly after open from a lady that was interested in finding a patio umbrella. She was particularly insistent that this umbrella be at least 9 feet and a burgundy or maroon in color. I, being a guy, see the world in primary and secondary colors. When a seemingly heterosexual male describes a particular colorway as being a broad stroke of poised taupe with relaxed beige accents there is curious questioning about his sexuality by his peers. “That’s brown and tan, sir.”
Wanting to divert this phone call and make my way back to the sales floor to capitalize on some perspective lawnmower gawkers. I replied, “We do have umbrellas that match that description and size. I am not able to correctly identify the exact accent of each color we have on the sales floor because I’m a guy.” From the long pause and a brief chuckle I gathered that this lady had not discovered the wonders on the World Wide Web. Nor the fact that we have the entire catalog is available on Sears.com for viewing enjoyment in as casual of attire as her underwear.
When I finally hung up the phone I was quickly sidled by a distressed lady in need of help in the Paint Department. The Paint Department is the most dreaded department for any Sears hardware associate. There is a steady stream of neophyte DIYers looking for advice on which finish to use and which color compliments their shutters. In case you have short term memory loss, reread the above paragraph for why I am not thrilled at the prospect of helping a lady with this.
This particular lady was in a hurry and explained to me that her house is going on the market at the end of the week and she is looking to do some touch up work on her exterior paint job. Her request was simple enough, “I need a gallon of white and a gallon of black.” I thought to myself, “Hey, colors I know and I can identify with.”
I quickly grabbed a gallon of Sears White Premium Exterior Satin and set it in her cart. We rolled around the corner to the long section of color swatches. The swatches are sorted by color and arranged from light to dark from left to right. I quickly shuffled down to the end of the isle and picked a color sample that looked black in the low light. “Hmmm… Not quite black.” I grasped at another, “Neither is this one.” I had swatches with names like Black Bear, Little Black Dress, and Love Bites Black. I handed them to the lady with urgency, hoping that she would quickly pick one and I could have this done and get back onto the sales floor. She said, “Well this one has too much blue. This one looks almost purple and this one almost brown.” Among the multitude of colors that Sears offers, they do not carry a color swatch that will produce the color black. She settled for one of the colors and said that it would be close enough.
I took her color swatch over to the Sears AccuTint paint mixer that was purchased sometime between the fall of the Roman Empire and the first successful lunar landing mission. The screen on the machine features the same highly technical features you would find on a digital alarm clock displaying it’s red digits illuminated in the classical “8” pattern.
Anticipating a quick squirt of mostly black colorant into the semi-filled paint can and a quick shake, this lady would be on her way out the door with her project laid out for the afternoon. I quickly pried the lid off of the paint can to add the correct amount of colorant. Much to my chagrin I realized that the paint machine needed to be both purged and colorant added to the reservoirs to produce the desired color. After I successfully purged the lines of each color and added some colorant we were finally ready to get started.
I placed the can underneath the nozzle and pushed the start button. A fury of color shot from the machine’s nozzle into the pale pool of tint base set directly beneath. The other color jets quickly cut off which left only a solo nozzle firing a steady stream of black colorant in to the quickly filling can. Something diverted my attention for a fleeting moment. My eyes returned to the filling bucket now overflowing with paint streaming down from the sides of the can. The nozzle had failed to shut off, and the black colorant continued to fill the bucket while more paint streamed down the sides. I quickly hit the cancel button and every other button on the key pad until I found the now faded and paint caked “Stop” button on the antiquated panel.
I ran back to our receiving area and grabbed a garbage pail with a fresh liner. I wheeled it over to the paint area. I dropped the can of overflow paint into the trash can and proceeded to clean up the mess that was left.
After cleaning up the area under the paint mixer I decided I would try one more can and manually shut off the black stream by using the freshly found “Stop” button. I filled the can near the brim and cut the paint mix off. I shook up the can of paint, cracked the lid and presented it to the her. It was close enough to the elusive black shade for her liking.
I grabbed the trash can that was still on the sales floor that was now holding the sullied paint can as well as the paint soaked paper towels I had used to clean up the mess. I rolled the trash can into the back room when I felt my shoe slip then squeak on the ceramic tile floor. I looked back at the floor and the path I had just traveled to realize to my dismay that the paint had leaked out of the bottom of the garbage pail and pooled up in a nice pile of black paint followed by a blood trail-esque splotches that snaked across the once white floor into the back room.
After the additional half hour of cleaning up paint on the floor, enduring ridicule form both co-workers and customers alike. I realized the nugget of age old wisdom that God may have had in mind that day atop Mt Sinai. God must have visualized this distant day at Sears as he told Moses to carve these words into stone, “Always keep holy the Sabbath day.”
Blank pages are a bitch. There are no constraints. Anything can be scribbled on them. Without well formed ideas, they might just stay blank.
Every writer, from rookie to the crusty seasoned vet has to deal with a blank page. The playing field is level for all.
The blank page inflicts the same fear, doubt, and panic in the mind of every writer.
There are two small letters that save me a heap of time. I’m talking megatons.
I love research and I often get distracted and lose myself down the rabbit hole that is the infinite information of the internet. Just about anything is accessible with just a few stroke of a keypad or a click of the mouse. Hyperlinks lead to hyperlinks. Before I know it, I’m off track and forgot my original intent.
Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be checking a fact or looking for original source material.
While writing, it’s important for me to focus at the task at hand and push through to the finish of a draft. It’s a race. I gotta get there!
I’ve written before that where you draft matters.
The tools of the trade also matter. Different tools activate different parts of the brain. Take writing manually with pen and paper compared to whacking away at a keyboard.
Both produce the same thing. Or do they?
How you work matters. It affects the end product. But, you shouldn’t let the method stand in the way of your art.
The artwork is the product. The craft is the process.
The craft itself can be artwork, but it’s secondary to the art. Without the art, the process doesn’t matter. It’s important to not conflate the two.
The finish line is the most important thing.
How the sausage is made is irrelevant if there is no sausage.
Today’s hack is inspired by Austin Kleon, author of great reads like, Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work.
Austin is a multifaceted guy. He’s a self proclaimed “writer who draws”. He’s also a speaker, a husband, and a dad.
On an interview with the Art of Charm Podast. Kleon mentions one technique he uses to fend off bouts off procrastination.
The dilettantes of the internet are back at it.
If you’ve spent any time in the dark recesses of the internet labeled “self help” or the more professional track moniker, “personal development”, you’ll have seen many blog post about living and working your passion.
The echo chamber that is the internet is full of blog posts, podcasts, and books on the benefits of meditation.
I don’t discount the idea of being more mindful of your thoughts, feelings, and even your breathe.
“Philly cheese steak near me!” I barked into my phone a midst the crowded lobby of the Independence Hall visitors center.
What part of your journey are you on?
Look around. There are probably people doing amazing things at your same age. Hell, maybe even at half your age.
This has been a hard thing for me to get over.
“Look at how far along that dude is and he’s younger than me.”
“He’s only been at it 6 months and look where he’s at.”
Just remember that you are where you are, right now.
Start today and work towards where you want to be.
Not sure, where that is. Well, if you just stand still and look around you’ll be the same place 2 weeks from now, 6 months from now, 5 years from now. The only difference, you’ll be older, weaker, fatter, and more miserable if you don’t move.
Move your feet and work towards where you want to go. You’ll never know where you’ll end up. You can always change directions.
My challenge for you is to start something new today.
Sometimes the littlest things make the biggest impacts.
In a not so distant future, I’ll be able to have a gift sent to my nieces on their birthday without a second thought. There will be a system in place that will coordinate my Google Calendar to an Amazon Wishlist their parents set up.
As their birthdays approach, as triggered by the Google Calendar, an Amazon’s algorithm will select a gift for the soon to turn a year older niece and process the transaction. Without a conscious thought a transaction will happen and my niece will be delighted on her birthday with a gift from her Uncle Jeff.
Every summer, me and my brother, Kyle, look forward to spending time at our family cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin.
Over the years we’ve spent many weekends on the lake, in the woods, and at the local establishment. It’s come as a rite of summer.
Over the past few years our lives have become busy. We’ve both been inundated with work and family obligations. Kyle has recently welcomed a daughter into his life and I’ve been busy exploring the country with my girlfriend.
Every year without fail, we’ve at least made one trip to the cabin.
Every morning I do the same routine.
Gather my belongings for the day
Drive to work taking the same exact route.
Last Friday I was greeted by a beautiful morning and I received a flash of inspiration. Hey, why not ride the bike in today!
I spun my wheels and made excuses not to write.
My brain, filled with cleverly crafted alibis, If only I had cool experiences to write about. I really wish more ridiculous and ironic things happened to me.
And the classic.
On a recent visit to her allergy clinic for bee shots, my girlfriend encountered a wonderful nurse.
Being a good nurse herself, she was able to identify the skill set that makes for one.
Jim Rohn once notably said, “What Is Easy to Do Is Easy Not to Do.”
My girlfriend was having issues with her Jeep.
All indications were with the battery not charging. When she turned the ignition key in an attempt to start it, it resulted in a slow labored crank.
One of the worst things for any creator is to lose steam on a project. To fizzle out when things get tough. It’s easy to quit When the project isn’t taking shape the way it was originally envisioned.
I rarely talk about my projects before they are built.
Often I would get stuck in in the middle of an article or piece. I would find myself in this cycle over and over. I’d go back and edit something and I’d be disappointed in the outcome of what I was doing. I’d dwell upon all the lines that didn’t sound right or the lack of a cohesive story arc.
I never thought it mattered where I did the drafting for my writing, until my Labrador mind got the best of me.
Do you remember watching the first season of iconic shows like Seinfeld, The Simpsons, or The Office?
They tend to be pretty terrible.
The camera work is a little shaky, the dialogue sloppy, and the acting is missing it’s polish.
These shows are growing into what they will eventually be.
My dad is not a trained scientist.
In a former life, he was a mill worker.
He has taught me a lot about organization, process, and experimenting.
He’s not afraid to try something new and is willing to keep what works and throw out what doesn’t.
A few years ago while in a deep slumber, he was awoken by a severe cramp in his leg. He writhed and kicked and eventually the cramp abated and he settled back under.
What makes for an expert? How is expertise measured?
Expert doesn’t require a merit badge, a doctorate, or accolades from colleagues.