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.

My Deep Life Project: Contemplation

When I think about Contemplation that’s learning and reflection, but Newport cites spirituality, philosophy, which can lean towards contemplation. I’m vaguely spiritual, but not religious. This summer, I contemplated my Executive Functioning strengths and weaknesses.

I’m weak in task initiation, working memory, and stress tolerance, but I’m strong in planning / prioritizing, flexibility, and goal-centered persistence (damn right: I’m finishing writing my third and fourth book this year). I learned this from a book Meggan got me: The Smart but Scattered Guide to Success by Peg Dawson, and Richard Guare two teachers and psychotherapists. They provided a framework for considering these two areas.

The weaknesses make a lot of sense due to my diagnosis: ADD affects Working Memory and procrastination (Task Initiation) and Aspergers leads to not being comfortable with regular schedule changes, which leads to anxiety and therefore low stress tolerance. The former leads to depression and what my diagnosis said in my personality profile is that I “expect to fail” in all of my goals, because I procrastinate and don’t fully capture all of my Yes’s. I do think I do a fairly good job of combating Working Memory, due to my journaling habit that I’ve cultivated since I was a teenager. I think I write down about 85 to 90 percent of the tasks and projects I need to do and those next steps but I’m not so much good at getting started, which is why I gravitate toward GTD and specifically the Two Minute Rule.

I ask: will this next step take 2-5 minutes for me to do? If the answer is yes then I’ll get started, but it’s the next steps that really hold me up. If it takes a while to get started, I will put it off. For example, in my contemplation it matters to me that I read more and I process my notes from my reading into a reference system that’s sustainable. I’ve tried doing Ryan Holiday’s index-card system but it creates too much clutter and I have a lot of pocket notebooks already and journals, so I didn’t stick with it. I think I’ve hit upon a good system but it is still really time-consuming. Here’s what it looks like right now in reference to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and Zadie Smith’s recent book of essays, Intimations:

What the process looks like in my Bear notes

Obviously, I need to simplify the whole thing but I haven’t taken the step to figure that out.

Probably I will figure that out once I hit post on this essay.

Now for stress tolerance, I do a lot better when I counter it with time blocking—though that also feeds into my Aspergers diagnosis that when anything deviates from the time block, especially if it cuts off writing deep work, it usually really affects my tolerance and stress levels. But the middle ground is to counter it with mediation which I use the Waking Up app and Stoic philosophy, both of which I engage in daily.

Stoic Philosophy—while it is about more than dealing with stress—that is specifically what it combats for me is tolerating and handling stress and feeds into my flexibility strength that could always be improved, because I get stressed out easily.

Meditation and philosophy really does help with seasonal Resistance Syndrome. It’s probably why this September transition went more or less smoothly but the overarching goal for contemplation and constitution and dealing with all of my executive functioning and mental and physical health is to get more sleep. That is probably the biggest goal of all this fall season—work on getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a day and that greatly affects my ability to function at my best.

My Deep Life Project: Craft

Craft, defined by Cal Newport, focuses on work and quality leisure.

My daily work is to write for at least a hour and a half five days a week on my top priority. Usually it’s quite a bit more if you include my day job which is heavy on progress notes for clients and their mental health diagnosis. All told, five days a week, I’m writing and stretching my ability to write at least two hours. I’m never connected to the internet, when I am writing as my browser is shutdown by Freedom during my main Writing Deep Work block. There’s just my laptop and a notebook. The other part of craft is to read for just as long. I usually try for at least one chapter of whatever nonfiction book I’m into, and one chapter of fiction. I usually do quite a bit better over the course of the day, but there are some days that I don’t read hardly at all. This is usually terrible.

The mantra I repeat again and again in my morning routine is that reading keeps resistance away. Reading is my quality leisure. I usually try to read at least one chapter of nonfiction, and one chapter of fiction every day, or a single issue of a comic book. If I read and contemplate something complicated like a Stoic thought first thing in the morning then I’m more likely to have a good craft day. So I make it my priority to read something first thing in the morning every morning. On the weekends, I don’t start the day with reading—usually I sleep in—but I make sure I read at every available moment I have—at the breakfast table during nap time and in the evening with Squibbish. I’m usually away from the computer screen during the weekend. I reduce my TV time to a half hour or one episode of a show and replace it with reading or reflecting into my journal. Over the summer I read six books–that’s two a month which is twice as much as I usually do these days. For me, it’s no longer about quantity–it’s about how deeply I read that brings a lot of joy.

If I don’t do this, I usually feel lethargic and slow. As I do today, because I didn’t get up before the kids. What are you guys currently reading?

My to-read pile.

My Deep Life Project: Constitution

For Cal Newport’s Deep Life Challenge, Constitution is exemplified through physical and mental health.

For my fortieth birthday I got a new bike—a Raleigh. Which was actually the first bicycle I ever owned when I was 10. Back in New York, I was avid cyclist. I would ride my bike everywhere. But since getting here, we’ve had frequent issues with our bikes, there’s always a hole in the tire or something else that’s wrong and I don’t remind my bike as much as I used to.

That’s still the case, so one of the errands I have to do this week is take my bike and Meggan’s to the bike shop and get tires replaced. This is probably the second or third time we’ve had to do it since moving here. Something about these roads, I guess, or it’s just us.

Actually, it’s probably just me.

So what I amplified this summer was riding my bike once a week, without my phone, and just a book. The result was finding new trails on the Clear Creek and some nice spots to sit down—away from people—to read.

What I’m reducing is my chip intake and sugar and sweet intake to once a week.

I also make sure that I walk at least 3-5 miles every day and five days a week I do a morning wake-up workout which consists of 20-25 push-ups, twenty sit-ups, and twenty squats with an 18 pound Kettlebell. It’s to get me to wake up. I also have a pull-up bar so I’m going to layer that into my daily walks and start doing more pull-ups. I also use Sam Harris’s Waking Up meditation app and do the daily 10 minute meditation as part of my morning routine.

Current Status for Fall 2020

Hello and welcome back. Happy Autumn! Everything is on fire, and so is my neighborhood.

Here’s how I did over the summer on the things I was working on:

One. The kids have gone back to school and my wife and I find ourselves in the weird situation where we’re the only ones in the house which hasn’t happened to us in four years. It’s weird because we have all this physical, logistical, and mental real estate to sort of come and go as we please and make our own plans. The desk in the downstairs guest bedroom is now mine, and we got a table for Meggan up in the loft space for her to stretch out. Frequently and I use the picnic table out in the backyard that I will use to get some writing deep work done during the morning after dropping the kids off.

Two. I ended doing a little bit of all for keystone aspects of the Deep Life. That’s what I’m going to spend the next week talking about how I did each aspect of the Deep Life challenge Cal Newport talks about in both his blog and his podcast. Everyday I tracked my Constitution: how much sleep I got correlates to my ability to use my strong executive functioning skills to work better with at least seven hours of sleep. For contemplation, I make sure I meditate. For Craft: I’m doing a lot of Deep Work, my new job requires a lot of one on one teaching and progress notes so I’m getting at least four to five hours of deep work over the course of the day during the week. For Community: I’m mostly focusing on my family and being more present, easy-going, and laid back with them and a big source of that is reading The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson, which is not about lazy parenting, but laid-back, less-is-more parenting. It’s about leaving your kids alone to play and just take it easy.

Three. I’m gearing up to submit my novel to Pitch Wars next week so this week’s posts will be short and sweet.

Four. A medication change — I’ve changed from Ritalin to Strattera and started Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which has helped with my sleep and anxiety.

Five. The Seasonal Resistance Disease was pretty temperate the beginning of this month with the medication change, more sleep, and a focus on craft to make the transition changes of the kids going back to school, some of my clients going back to school, and managing some of the high priority writing goals for this month. I’m not quite performing to my standards, but then again my standards for myself are high so reading Hodgkinson and listening to Cal Newport’s podcast has helped me be okay with where I am as long as I’m making incremental progress five days a week and going easy on myself on the weekends and making sure I nap and read and get outside.

So, here we go!

Now for Summer 2020

The major thing I wanted to highlight about this past spring is I worked on the Deep Life challenge from Cal Newport. In this you spend one month on four areas of your life to delve deeper into a life that isn’t shallow.

In April, I amplified my contemplation or mental health. I generated a To-Don’t List, something I learned from Margaret Atwood. I think I did fairly well there. I reduced the SPIN/SLIDE victim reactions by countering them with creator language, like rather than Shame counter with Love, rather than Pessimism counter with Optimism, rather than Isolation try to connect with someone else. Rather than No creative or productive outlet, do something productive like put stuff in the dishwasher or take a walk, or meditate. I’m going to focus on this in September.

In May, I amplified my craft by doing a partial GTD installation at home, that I need to complete because the kids are going back to daycare in August, Meggan received a promotion at her job, and she has her first book coming out! I’m also transitioning to a higher paying job with more autonomy and less reactivity to always being available over email and such. So for the craft side of things I reduced tv time to know I managed that mostly but id like to reduce it further. I’m going to focus on this in August again. I would give myself a C on this challenge. Lots to still do and work on.

In June, I worked on my community. I spoke to a lot of my friends and former colleagues back in New York in what was a hectic time for our family. That went hand in hand with the reducing activity—I only used my phone for communication—no social media, no email, nothing like that except talking on the phone and texting. I would give myself a B- on this one this month.

This month, I’m working on my constitution or physical health. I’m walking daily and reading for a bit before returning home. I’ve reduced alcohol consumption to just two days a week. I’m doing okay with this right now but the bar is very low.

I’m going to repeat this cycle over the summer to close loops and improve. Then afterwards I’ll focus on each one over the course of a week and level it up.

That said, this summer sees a lot of things happening:

  1. The kids are going back to school meaning things are going to be getting crazy with potential spikes and all of us coming back to this house for a time period probably this fall when the students return to IU. That means, staying loose and flexible because we can still get sick at any time.
  2. I’m transitioning to a deeper job this month, so I’m going to focus on Craft in August to make sure that I’m starting off on a good foot.
  3. I’m five chapters into the manuscript of the memoir, and halfway through editing the novel, so I’m going to start preparing the query letters, proposals, and other materials for submission to Pitch Wars and to agents.
  4. I’m also starting Cognitive Behavioral Therapy soon—as soon as I can find a provider that has openings—because there is still a huge gap between intention and impact and learning how best to communicate my needs, and to work by getting started. I don’t have a problem with time management, organization, or task management but I do have a hard time just getting started on something if I’m unsure about the start of the process. This is why this season’s journal has these notes from John Rogers and Cal Newport:

That said, it seems like I suffer from something I call Seasonal Resistance Disease. Every change of season: January, May/June, September and that means , I slow down from the progress I made all season and regress due to transition points. I think this is a strong sign of my Aspergers as that’s been the case since I started teaching. Every season change there seems to be a regression of behavior and progress. Obviously this has got to change, and it’s why I’m trying CBT, because knowing this issue hasn’t changed the fact that it happens every year.

That’s all for the review of spring. I’ll talk to you all again in the fall where hopefully we’ll be healthy and things will have reached some form of normal, and I’m making progress in CBT. As always my letters will go out weekly, and I’m thinking about doing a weekly thing on Instagram with my marginalia. We’ll see though.

Stay healthy, safe, and wise.

–Dave

On keeping your journals.

A selection of journals from 1996 to last month.

This spring, while doing some cleaning , I organized and minimized a lot of the books, notebooks, and notes we had stashed in the boxes and in our upstairs loft space. I opened one of the boxes and found all of my journals. Like since high school. Here’s a selection:

Copying Rorscach’s Journal from Watchmen #1. 2000 or something

The first one is one that my dad got me from one of his business trips. In it you can see me copying the sentence structure of Rorschach’s journal from Watchmen. In my sophomore year of high school I was reading The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale in single issues and trying to solve it.

Trying to solve The Long Halloween.

Here’s some poetry from summer 2002 when I was in Oxford studying British-American Media and Culture. This is from the lake district. Here’s a photo scan from this Loughrigg Fell, holding that journal, where I probably wrote that horrible poem.

“Poetry”
July 2002 on the Loughrigg Fell

Jump to New York City in 2004. Frank Miller gives me the advice to write down everything so I buy a standard one subject notebook.

NYC, November 2004

For the longest time I took a pocket notebook with me everywhere in my back pocket from 2009-2013. This was brought on by John Hughes. Then of course, there is the current stage where I use bulletjournaling. Even though I think I’m not really using the format all that much anymore other than specific modules like the daily log, the brand of notebook, and the month log. The index helps too.

Most recent journal

So really this post is about commemorating the growth happening here in these journals from when I was 16 to now—almost 40. I guess this is a place-holder as an invaluable resource in writing a memoir.

Anyone by Charles Soule

Collaging and kinetic sanding with Squibbish. Man-spreading to the extreme.

As previously mentioned, I’ve taken to making collages and while working on this during an art day I started cutting up the Kindle Notes I had from Charles Soule’s second novel, ANYONE. I hit upon a solution to my reading notes problem. Which is a novel about a piece of technology that is discovered outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan that allows people to transfer their consciousness into other people’s bodies. It’s called the flash, and it’s managed by NeOnet Global. Or Anyone. Here’s what I learned:

In the past I had copied my marginalia and Kindle notes into a notebook dedicated to reading notes, but that grew into a pain in the neck and I never kept up with it. It felt like double the work. But I realized, while making a collage with Squibbish, that I could cut up my Kindle notes based on specific topics like—beautiful language in Anyone. See below:

Then I thought that since I’m Generation Oregon Trail, or Xennial , I do well when I combine the digital with the analogue. So I’m not doubling up. When I do handwritten marginalia in a physical copy of a book (my preferred reading method) I’ll do a scan through the physical book after I’ve read it and summarize the points I learned in a Bear Note specific to that book and tag it Reading Notes 2020 or Diary2020/reading notes. I’ll export it as a Word document and save it to the Reading Notes folder I have in my Dropbox.

But anyway, here’s what I learned from Soule’s great second novel. I’m thoroughly enjoying his novels, and he’s probably my favorite modern writer today, next to G. Willow Wilson and Benjamin Percy.

One. Like that the flash in the book is the literal black and white symbol of the superhero the Flash.

Two. The discussion of technology and how it manifests. I loved how it’s a discussion of technology and how it manifests “It reminded me of the way smartphones became ubiquitous in the 2010s.”

Three. Soule holdovers a comic book-writing style thing in the book where he underlines emphasized words rather than italics which seems to be the form in prose.

Four. I loved these philosophical asides in the middle of a plot point of set piece moment, like:

“Face value. What was the ‘value’ of a ‘face’?…A couple walks by you and the woman has a black eye. What does that mean? A child is overweight. What does that mean? A woman is wearing a very short skirt. What does that mean? A man has a prosthetic leg. What does that mean? A neuroscientist’s mind is transferred into the body of an overweight security guard. What does that mean? For one thing, it meant the nurse who could save the neuroscientist’s life had placed herself on a professional pedestal above the security guard (who was also the neuroscientist), but she couldn’t see that, and was exercising her gatekeeper prerogatives to reinforce that status.”

Soule, Loc 1816.

Five. Alternating chapters between perspectives of past and present means you always have to level up up the stakes of each chapter until both join together. It’s a master class in alternating perspectives from back story to current story. It’s directly in the face of Benjamin Percy’s “no back story” rule from Thrill Me. Unless, you’re good enough as Percy writes. And Soule is good enough. Am I? I don’t know. I’m going to try it though.