Norwood by Charles Portis

What I think I learned from this book is that it is like a Coen Brothers film, like Barton Fink, and you could see why Portis is perfect for them. It was a weird, random, and yet not tired.

Current Status for summer.

a cover job sketch of a pencil portrait of Whiteface Mountain

This time last year was, again, a moment of transition, and this year not so much. Employment has been suitable. It works with our schedule and our kids’ needs, and our personal needs.

Last week we were on vacation, like last year, but this time we decided to do a staycation which was maybe not our best idea with two young kids. Last year also had me reflecting quite a lot about what I was writing the memoir; since then, I’ve written a 40 + page proposal for the book—which was the worst. When I complained about it on Twitter, Brett Lewis tweeted at me about baking bread a year before you make the bread.

But at the same time, it was a period of mourning last year. I am glad that those days are behind me now, but they came roaring back last week in the form of dreams to a certain extent. I’ve been dreaming about Warren Ellis. This time last year also saw all the allegations come out about his grooming, harassment, and assault. At the time, none of the accusations were surprising—he’d always been playing a character that seemed to be okay with this sort of thing even though I didn’t think it was true. Like it was an inside joke, and due to not being great with social cues as a part of my Asperger’s Syndrome, I did not perceive that character as well as I should have been. I’m not trying to use my symptoms as an excuse, just that I have to work harder than most to not be so socially gullible.

Anyway, I was disappointed, and I’m still disappointed. I was so disappointed that I threw out all of Ellis’s work that was in my library. My reason? I have a daughter, and I could just not have him anywhere near her, even tangentially with his books. When he resurfaced last week, it was coincidental. I had been having dreams about him where I reasoned with him. We were at my favorite bar in my hometown—the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, another place I’m mourning. About why I couldn’t let him in my house anymore, but that I wanted to not be disappointed by him. I want to give him another chance, forgive him, but only if justice had was served.

This doesn’t mean that I will repurchase his work because that’s unlikely. I haven’t bought Cameron Stewart, Brian Wood, Scott Allie, or countless others’ works anymore in years. Even if they are with artists like Grant Morrison, and Mike Mignola. Because men like Ellis and the above have had minimal professional repercussions due to this movement, look at Kevin Spacey, or Bryan Singer, or Joss Whedon. All of them I won’t support even though I previously respected and liked their work a lot.

Finally, I stand with So Many of Us. I’ll be watching because I hope Ellis will be the kind of man I thought he was—that many people thought he was—and not actually playing a character. That’s why I’m disappointed and hurt, especially for the women he hurt. I won’t let Ellis’s work in my house because I thought he was not actually playing a fictional character. Still, it turns out he wasn’t playing pretend. He was that character.

So that’s where I am at. Looking back in prospective retrospection and being grateful that period is behind me. This week, I’ll discuss the books I’ve replaced Ellis’s work with this past spring.

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson.

Reading hikes will be a new thing in the spring.

I came to this book, and Robertson’s work through Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Stoic and his many books on Stoic Philosophy. Both The Daily Stoic, this book, and the work of William B. Irvine (A Guide to the Good Life, Stoic Challenge) were essential in understanding my reasoned choice and what that looks like for my mind as an Aspergerian and ADDer, because Robertson is a cognitive behavioral therapist his book broke down the Stoic practices and how it links to the therapy I was receiving throughout the pandemic in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s what helped me make the reasoned choice that ultimately sacrificing my day job and my work for my family led to a deeper life of being at peace with my choices.

At the end of the chapters, I write down some of the key points to revisit later when I’m reviewing what I read for the week.

Look Me In The Eye by John Elder Robison

The brother of Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors), Robison’s book gives a detailed account of what it means to be “mild-mannered” in the sense that he blurts out non-sequitors, (I back track to comments in a conversation made five minutes ago when the conversation has moved on); avoid eye contact (all of my wedding photos show me not looking at the camera and up and off to the left or right); and a deep desire to go wonder off in the woods and read books alone or hold my breath underwater for more than a minute. My mother used to say to me when she picked me up from school that “They’re going to think you’re weird,” because I was talking to myself. I would respond with: “I’m rehearsing dialogue, and good.” I wanted to be left alone by the kids at Weston. To them, I was a nerd and a hick. Robison was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when he was 40, I was 38, so in many ways my book fits in between The Journal of Best Practices and this book in terms of timeline and emotional development.

Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin

I’ve been spending a lot of time working on the proposal for my memoir–about how comic books helped me through life with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome, ADD, anxiety, and depression. I thought talking about some of the comparable titles that have already been published would be a good way to introduce the topic.

This popular book and the subsequent movie adaptation is the autobiography of Temple Grandin, an animal scientist whose original thesis is that Autistic people are visual thinkers. This was an incredibly important work to me, as I had seen the movie starring Claire Danes before reading the book, and even before I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, I realized that visual thinkers—like the students I encountered at Paul Smith’s College—were not confident writers because they did not “think in words.” In the 2006 update, featured here, Grandin amends this, and my memoir is a natural extension of this book because it describes how I used comic books—a visual medium—to learn to write and help others do the same.

Here’s some marginalia:

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.