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.

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!