Current Status for Spring 2021

The backyard office

The flowers are planted, we’re growing seeds, and I’ve returned to the outdoor office.

I’m still working on the novel. I’ve got another two novel ideas percolating in the background and writing some essays for publications to drum up interest in my memoir. I’ve been vaccinated. My loved ones have been vaccinated. It seems like we’re beginning to come out of this—a year later—more assertive, more resilient, and not taking anything for granted.

But the year has honestly ground us down to the quick of a nail. It’s been hard for you too I’m sure. I mean, we’ve had 600,000 families who lost a loved one. This is why I’m so, so grateful that our family isn’t one of those families. Though we’ve been touched—by the virus here and there–none of us have been positive.

Throughout this, I’ve been working like a bat out of hell as a parent, a husband, and a storyteller. If there’s one thing this year has made clear to me: I don’t know if I’m going to live one day to the next, or if any of my loved ones will also, but I’m going to make the most of the time I do have to be a kind and loving parent, husband, and storyteller.

This week, I will share some lines from what I read and what they meant to me. Thanks for being here.

What I’m up to now for Winter 2021.

Squibbish at Yellowwood Park.

I know I said that I would do a 40 Things I’ve Learned in the 40 Years of my life, but it seems like I need more time to generate that much. So that’s it for this season.
Between now and the spring equinox, I’m working on finishing the last two acts of the SNOWDEN BOOK 1. Then, complete the memoir proposal and do the edits on an article for medium related to that memoir.

Regarding the non-writing life: I’m working and almost completing my Virtual Assistant platform and making some headway in terms of getting some copywriting clients.

Stay safe. The winter is likely to be a long one but I think that if you stay productive and focus on some of the deeper parts of your life, we’ll make this winter better than last winter.

On Routines and Ground Level Productivity

The little notebook is the EXT Notebook, the Journal underneath, and my Time Block Planner in the foreground.

A quote that floored me recently was from Marcus Aurelius on procrastination: 

“In your actions, don’t procrastinate. In your conversations, don’t confuse. In your soul, don’t be passive or aggressive. In your life, don’t be all about business.” 

And this is why I’ve mostly let go of attempting a full Getting Things Done install because honestly–it’s more work than I need. My final, rooted, ground-level productivity comes from a combination of people: Austin Kleon, Ryder Carroll, Elizabeth Eames, Cal Newport, David Allen, and the screenwriter John Rogers

From Kleon, I use two notebooks: I have an EXT notebook that I carry around with me and log notes and tasks and time block out workdays. EXT is screenwriting for EXTERIOR shot. The second notebook is my journal. I log in how much sleep I got the night before, what I did for exercise, and what I’m doing with each of my Deep Life buckets. Then I start rapid logging what I did that day. I’ll do a Reflection that night or the next morning to get clear of yesterday’s business and move onto the present moment. 

For my personal and family work, I have an Inbox, which I got from Elizabeth Eames’ book Life Admin, and from Allen’s GTD method, but less so since he’s mostly concerned with business and not family life. All the family stuff goes in there, like bills, agendas for family meetings, and things Meggan needs me to handle. 

From Allen, I set a 2-5 minute rule. If a task takes a maximum of five minutes to complete, I’ll do it right then and there. I also use his Horizons of Focus to provide a framework for each step in the Deep Life. 

If I can’t do it right then and there in five minutes, and it’s a project, I’ll control it by breaking it into 25-minute blocks (or Pomodoros). If it requires more than one step, I’ll put it in my EXT notebook to do it later. If the task or one-off project is uncompleted at the end of the day, I will file it into my Todoist. I’ll give it a scheduled date that I can dedicate to doing it, or I’ll tag it “someday” if there is no date. Usually, though, I’ll file it as a reference in my Bear notes app if there’s no action to do with it. For example, the stack of Book Notes I have to do that I haven’t made time to do yet, or figure out how I’m going to manage to do it in a reasonable amount of time. 

Finally, I’ll control it all by time-blocking out my workday, add a due date, or file it in Bear, and batch related tasks together like errands. I’ll review it all weekly, monthly, and seasonally. 

Now this doesn’t sound significantly idle. Well, no. Hodgkinson says that it’s critical for the Idler to be effective at doing the things they must do (like cleaning the house, dishes, manage day-to-day activities) to spend more time idling. Allen even calls himself a pretty lazy guy, and that’s why he developed the GTD system. 

That said, I’m going to take a nap and read. 

Below is what my crazy workflow looks like:

My crazy workflow. Sorry.

How being Idle is also being a practicing Stoic.

I came to Tom Hodgkinson‘s work through Austin Kleon when he posted Hodgkinson’s The Idle Parent Manifesto. I read it and said: this is exactly what all of us are doing right now with the pandemic and having to work and have our kids at home. Considering I’m an easy-going dad and–let’s be honest–exhausted, I asked, “How can we make this easier?”

So I picked up How to Be Idle and The Idle Parent.

I read the latter first and put it down due to some of the language in Chapter 3 that I had a problem with, and didn’t see the value in; but I saw the grand message Hodgkinson was going for: Parenting is hard, man. Try to go easy on yourself and your kids, so here are some strategies:

The chapters that most spoke to me were Stop The Whining, Computers or towards a Tao of Parenting, Let Us Sleep, Good Books and Bad Books, Say Yes, Learn How to Live From Your Kids. And of course the manifesto is excellent.

From Stop The Whining:
“I discussed with Arthur the idea of ‘evening games.’ Between dinner and bath we will play. Wrestling Time is something most children enjoy, rolling around on the floor, attacking each other and making theatrical grunting noises…We also enjoy Stair Ball, where the kids stand at the top of the stairs, I stand at the bottom, and each of us has to try to throw the ball past the other and hit a target.”

Chapter 2, The Idle Parent

We’ve adapted that to calling it “Couch Ball,” which is basically the same thing but sitting on a couch, which Hodgkinson advocates in Chapter 11 “End All Activities, Be Wild”:

“Sofa Games: Why get up. It’s amazing how much fun you can have with your kids without leaving the sofa. I’ve already mentioned Tickle or Trap. You can also fend off attackers. The kids can run around the room while you try to trip them up or grab them. They can throw balls at you. They can climb all over you.” (146)

Pg. 146, The Idle Parent.

What brought this home to me is that Hodgkinson is a reader and a Stoic. He quotes Epictetus when referring to “the non-consumer, the creator, knows that all things are equal. He is enlightened, he has the ‘non-discriminating mind’ and has nothing to complain about. He has a cheerful Stoic disposition and would tend to agree with Epicurus’s [SIC] epigram: ‘Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.'”

Hodgkinson meant Epictetus. He makes a great final point in “Say Yes!” that we are not obliged to have children.

“We choose to have them. There are many other paths through life. By not whining about it, we are surely setting a good example to our children, who will learn by example that if we are unsatisfied with a situation itself or our attitude to that situation…now instead of whining and moaning and wishing that things would somehow change, take my advice and learn to say, ‘Yes!’ to your kids.

pg. 198, The Idle Parent

I love Hodgkinson’s work, and I’m making it through the Freedom Manifesto and looking forward to reading Business for Bohemians.

I just love this photo of Hodgkinson and his wife reading as the kids play in the back yard. (Sigh.) One day.

Stoicism; or how Clark Kent was the key to getting through 2020.

From Superman/Wonder-Woman #4, written by Charles Soule with art by Tony Daniel

On December 28’s entry in the Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, I noticed a disparity in quotations from Marcus Aurelius from Meditations Book 4, number 35. The quote at the top of the page in the Daily Stoic says:

“Everything last for a day, the one who remembers and the remembered.”

The entry shares the same quote on a placard on the sidewalk of Manhattan’s 41st Street’s Library Way. It as “Everything is only for a day, both that which remembers, and that which is remembered.” (Italics are mine to show the difference.)

So I decided to pull out my copy of Meditations and went to Book 4, number 35, in which Gregory Hays translates the line as, “Everything transitory—the knower and the known.” (45)

This proves the Daily Stoic’s point for December 28. The translation is transitory. Everything differs, and “all of us, including Marcus—who is passed over by just as many pedestrians—last for just a day at most.” (Holiday, et al. 384)

So, I guess, make today a good one.

This time last year, we were down to one car. Now we have only one car. The kids have been home for four of the previous five weeks, and the tether to normalcy and the Adirondack Mountains is nearly gone. But in the last year, I’ve come to realize that an outgrowth of my Asperger’s Syndrome is not quite getting social cues, which represents mild-manners, sarcasm, social awkwardness. Combine that with an extrovert, and it makes for some weird and funny social situations.

Do you know who else is like that? Clark Kent.

Every time I think of Clark Kent, I see this clip from Superman: The Movie.

Then I think about Clark Kent, I see the original reason I wanted to become a journalist. When, in fact, I wanted to write books and comics. This was a representation of my awkwardness and High Functioning Autism. To understand people and cling to them, I was using this as an opportunity to understand them, and what better way than asking questions.

Also, M & D wanted me to find a real job because finding a creative writing career was not a steady idea.

Thirty years later, they’re still mostly right.

Still—Clark Kent is a Stoic. Just look at the panel at the top of this post. Writing for Clark / Superman is what helps him become more human. To care about people who are not him. At the end of the day, his physical gifts can’t really help him as a writer. Sure, being able to type fast is helpful, but it does not make a you a good writer. Because if there’s one thing that Superman and Clark get is the Stoic ideal is that we were made for each other–to help each other. Writing for him is the best way for him to identify with the people he fights for as Superman every day. He does it intentionally because it’s hard to be a human being and being Superman is just something he can do physically. Clark Kent is what makes Superman a good man.

Current Status for Winter 2020

Welcome back. Thanks for hanging with me. Here’s what’s been going on here.

In the last five weeks, we’ve had the kids home four of those weeks. We’ve had two near COVID scares, which turned out to be nothing, and we hadn’t seen relatives for more than three days since October when I went home to Lake Placid to help my parents pack up our home for the last forty years because they sold it.

I’ve read the three Truly Devious books, Boom Town by Sam Anderson, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, Listen like a Storyteller by David Sewell McCann, and the Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Leguin, and like a dozen more.

But what I’d like to talk about in this week’s posts is how Stoicism, Idleness (as practiced and espoused by Tom Hodgkinson of The Idler) have helped me make hard choices. I’ve finalized my productivity methods. And I turned 40, so to celebrate I’ve compiled a list of the 40 things I’ve learned in my 40 years on the planet, from the books I read as a kid to as recent as this past season.

Recently, today’s thoughts turned to the Daily Stoic entry for December 27: “Don’t let your soul go first—”It’s a disgrace in this life when the soul surrenders first while the body refuses to.”—Marcus Aurelius. The prompt then asks, “Is my should stronger than my body?” And the first thing I think of is Winston Churchill’s quote, “never, never, never give up, imprinted on a paperweight on my desk.

Here we go. Let’s wrap up this season.

On Social Media.

I’m a minimalist when it comes to my time on the internet. In the long run, it’s a better use of my limited free time as a parent with two young kids, a writer writing comics, a novel, and a memoir with a day job to spend it messing around on the Twitters and the Book of the Face. But I like taking photos, so I update my Instagram about once a week.

Really, my newsletter is filled with the sorts of things you might read here:

Now for Fall 2020

That’s all for this season’s posts. I’ve been thinking that at some point in 2021 I’ll do a season of daily blog posts, but it depends on where I’m at in my writing projects. It probably won’t happen until summer or fall of 2021, but it’s something to build towards in the next year. But anyway: here’s what I’m working on this fall:

  1. Preparing my third novel for Pitch Wars, which just opened for entries. I’m really excited for this as I’ve spent this summer preparing my query, proposal, and synopsis and I think I have a great shot this year in terms of both my fiction writing ability and the book I’ve written. Wish me luck!
  2. In October, I’ll be developing my Virtual Assistant platform. I took a workshop with Sarah Starrs on developing this as I feel like this year—especially since turning 40—I’m feeling a stronger pull towards being self-employed, because if we’re going to have to go back into lockdown, it will pay to be more flexible and keep money coming in rather than joining the unemployment line.
  3. In November, I’m also going to develop my copy writer platform. I’ve signed up for a course through Mike Shreeve after hearing about this workshop through Copyblogger.

Then it will be the holidays and I’ll probably take December to not work on anything serious while gearing towards the holidays and the next project starting in January.

I hope everyone has a healthy, enjoyable, and relaxing fall!

My Deep Life Project: Community

A walk with Squibbish on a day he had off from school.

When one thinks about community you think about the world outside of your home, and that’s extremely hard to do right now. It seems like everyone is in an either / or situation when it comes to going out in the community. People are either all in, or they’re not at all.

A few people are doing a bit of both. I’m doing a bit of both and that’s why I don’t necessarily think that I have to be doing more for the community. I’m keeping it tight. I have people I see for my job (6 people four days a week), my immediately family, and I have fifteen or so friends that I regularly text message. That’s it.

When I think about community the first thing is to be there for my family, and to be there for my family to help my kids become members of a community. One of the best ways I can do that is sending them to daycare where they learn there is more than family—there are friends and they come in all kids of ages, shapes, sizes, and identities.

But really the most important thing I’m engaged with these days is supporting my family and their communities.

For example, my wife’s first book came out this summer and I couldn’t be more proud of her. This book was instrumental in helping me gain traction and move up in my organization since moving to Indiana three years ago. Her book, and Cal Newport’s career advice books have been the gateway to helping me climb the ladder here and it’s been quite rewarding, so if you’re a librarian looking to get a job after the pandemic is over, I couldn’t recommend this book more.