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.


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.

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.

Charlie Kaufman

A blind contour

I just received his first novel in the mail. It’s 700 pages. The David Foster Wallace of screenwriting has written a David Foster Wallace-ian novel. Then I read this great profile in the New York Times Magazine on what the quarantine has been like for him and it was eye-opening. The first couple of paragraphs were heart-wrenching:

Eight weeks, this went on. It was a bizarre way to get to know a stranger, at a time when there was scant opportunity to discover anything new in life at all. A bond formed: not friendship, not therapy, but a kind of reciprocal Stockholm syndrome with qualities of both. “I wonder if you and I are ever going to meet after this intimate thing we’ve had,” Kaufman asked during our final call on April 29.

“I’ve had that thought, too,” I said. “It’s strange the degree to which you’ve been the only real relationship in my life during this time, beyond my wife and kids.” I had tried setting up weekly calls with family or friends, I told him, but nothing else stuck.

“Mine too, really,” Kaufman said. Friends reached out, wanting to talk, but he usually felt too gloomy or anxious to engage. One guy, the previous week, had been uncommonly persistent, “and I finally had to text him back and say: ‘I can’t. I just can’t.’ But I couldn’t do that with you,” Kaufman told me. “That’s been good for me. I’ve had to do it.”

Man, what I would have given to be on this assignment. To talk to Charlie Kaufman, the writer of one of my top five favorite movies (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and to see how he’s dealing with this stuff. And I love Adaptation too–it is so exactly my kind of bullshit.

“They want you to come back to talk to me because the piece doesn’t have anything to do with the time we live in. If it did ever have anything to do with the time we live in” — and Kaufman was skeptical — “I think it’s important to point out that that was two weeks ago!”

“I don’t think that’s exactly what they’re saying,” I said. “They’re not saying it’s irrelevant. …” But I’m not sure this was totally honest. Everything except a small number of things did feel pretty irrelevant to me just then.

“It may be irrelevant!” Kaufman gladly interrupted. “I accept that it’s irrelevant.” It’s why he had felt wary of doing the profile in the first place, he said. No part of him believed that he, as a person — not just his work — warranted this kind of attention. He’d written a book, and this profile was proposed, and it clearly seemed worth doing even if it made him uncomfortable. “At the time, it was fine, because I liked you, and it’s been nice talking to you,” he said. “But now, just because I wrote a book, are you going to have to keep coming back to me until July 5, or whenever this thing is published, for updates on the world? It’s embarrassing,” he said. “It’s embarrassing to me.”

Kaufman compares this stuff to the Seven Up documentary series and rather than seven years it’s two weeks. Then they talk about how Kaufman writes—how he writes himself into corners and how he writes himself out. He’s also super-meta when he writes about what he’s thinking about.

Then, of course, the most interesting thing for me is how Charlie Kaufman seems to escape description or profiling because he’s so uniquely himself.

I don’t mean to be flip about this; I empathized with the problem because I was experiencing it myself. I worried that the conversations Kaufman and I were having wouldn’t translate well in print either; that people would skim through the article I was writing impatiently, feeling exhausted by Kaufman and his tendency to process every minuscule facet of existence through a vast, clattering, Rube Goldberg machine of introspection. But in real life, it was actually pretty moving to listen to. His vulnerability didn’t make you want to turn away from him; it made you want to be vulnerable too.

To be honest with you, it sounds like therapy. Like you’re going to see a psychologist but the psychologist is Charlie Kaufman. Then they spitball ideas of how to construct the article from a material point of view and inserting the author and getting to the truth of someone’s anxiety.

It was quite an article, and I’m looking forward to talking the novel.

Happy Fourth of July

A cover job of Sam Anderson’s blind contour of David Foster Wallace.

This morning, while mowing my lawn, my neighborhood had a parade since there isn’t going to be a big one downtown. Immediately, I thought of David Foster Wallace’s October 2001 Rolling Stone essay, “The View from Mrs. Thompson’s.” on September 11.

Everybody has flags out. Homes, businesses. It’s odd: You never see anybody putting out a flag, but by Wednesday morning there they all are. Big flags, small flags, regular flag-size flags. A lot of home-owners here have those special angled flag-holders by their front door, the kind whose brace takes four Phillips screws. And thousands of those little hand-held flags-on-a-stick you normally see at parades – some yards have dozens all over as if they’d somehow sprouted overnight. Rural-road people attach the little flags to their mailboxes out by the street. Some cars have them wedged in their grille or duct-taped to the antenna. Some upscale people have actual poles; their flags are at half-mast.

Funny enough, I snickered that he was writing this from Bloomington, Illinois, and I’m writing this from Bloomington, Indiana.

Then I almost mowed over the desiccated corpse of a rabbit that may have been laying dead on my yard all week since returning from Michigan on Wednesday.

I hope you’re having a great day.

Letter of Recommendation: Sam Anderson’s Work.

Ursula Le Guin by Sam Anderson

I was introduced to Sam Anderson’s work through Austin Kleon. Really it was long before I knew of Kleon, when I read Anderson’s great piece on David Foster Wallace.

I cannot recommend his work enough. Whenever I see his byline I see someone who loves reading, and has intoxicated my own reading habits.

I highly recommend his first book Boom Town, a book about Oklahoma City from the perspective of a New Yorker. It’s informed the memoir I’m writing now and my experiences in Indiana.

This book is a history of Oklahoma City. That may strike you as unnecessary, or unfortunate. If so, I would understand. In the larger economy of American attention, Oklahoma City’s main job has always been to be ignored. When non-Oklahomans need to think about the place, we tend to fall back on cliches: tepees, wagon trains, the Dust Bowl, country music, college football, methamphetamine, radical anti-government politics.”

-Anderson, XV

Some of my favorite articles of his are Haruki Murakami, The Good Place, and recently Weird Al Yankovic.

But recently what helped me out a lot with the stress of this spring was reading his letters of recommendation on looking out the window, blind contour drawings, and the collages he does on Instagram. So I adopted those and started doing collages and blind contour drawings almost daily in June and that led to Squibbish drawing actual faces and collaging with me. As a token of appreciation I bought this Ursula K. Le Guin t-shirt featuring his sketch of her, her quote, that supports his favorite local bookstore.

A collage: “I miss baseball”

In Anderson’s style, this season’s posts will be a series of Letters of Recommendation of things that brought me joy this spring.

A blind contour of my son’s lion toys while listening to Carnival of the Animals.

Current Status for Summer 2020.

The Scarlet Oak Woods

Happy summer everyone! I hope you all are doing well. Staying healthy and staying employed.

We made it through this season with without getting sick and our employment staying mostly in tact. There are changes coming on that front but we’re not on the unemployment line and we’re all healthy.

I’m writing this from Michigan. Where we hope to spend portions of this summer visiting family because who knows when we might see them again in 2020. Especially considering this crisis and its persistence.

Over the course of the spring I’ve written four chapters of the memoir and have a complete outline of the novel, and I’m working hard on keeping the fire hot on the novel while I work on the manuscript of the memoir. I’m doing that through research of the various legal procedural aspects of the novel because it is a crime novel.

How was your spring? Anything good happen during this time?

We’ve been hiking a lot and that has brought us a lot of serenity and peace.

What I’m working on for Spring 2020.

The home office setup.

Good morning! That’s the end of our posts for the transition between winter and spring. It is obviously a difficult time. One of the new habits that I’m working on is cultivating more of my Stoic-self to counteract my Aspergers, ADD, Anxiety and Depression. I realize it’s a very white-guy thing to do but it does speak to me and I do think it helps in a wholistic Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Way.

Here was March 29’s entry in Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman’s Daily Stoic: Why Do You Need To Impress These People Anyway?

The irony, as Marcus Aurelius points out repeatedly is that the people whose opinion we covet are not all that great. They’re flawed—they’re distracted and moved by all sorts of silly things themselves. We know this and yet we don’t want to think about it. To quote Fight Club again, “We buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.”

That’s so true. Do I need all these books, notebooks, paraphernalia to call myself a good father, husband, and writer? Some of them do serve a purpose — a purpose I value—showing my story the way I want. But could I be better? Yes of course. For every book I buy, I should donate one to others. To be a minimalist. To be present with my kids and my wife because I regard this time right now as a gift.

I don’t need all that much to tell my story: just a notebook and a computer. And not even really the latter.

But most of all I’m not writing here to impress anyone. I’m writing here in hopes that what I’ve learned over specific seasons of life will help someone else down the line in their own seasons of life. Who knows if I’m doing it well. It’s not up to me other than putting one word after another, one sentence after another, and so on. That’s the only part I can control.

So here’s what I’m working on this spring:

  1. Keeping my family safe, healthy, and together.
  2. Writing the first draft of a novel that I’ve been playing with off and on as an interconnected short story collection that will probably end up being more of a straight-up murder mystery like Winter’s Bone and Before the Fall.
  3. Solidifying my GTD habits and methods for working from home by using Bear and my Journal.
  4. Reading the backlog of parenting books I have.

I hope you and your loved ones have a safe and healthy spring, and if you need anything at all (other than monetary and a visit from me)–despite my nickname (Depress)–I’m actually a pretty positive and optimistic person. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.

My newsletter will continue to go out weekly (as long as me and my family are healthy). Please note the new url for the letter as I’ve transitioned away from TinyLetter.

Talk to you again this summer.


Winter Reading

Suicide Woods by Benjamin Percy. Obviously, I’m a big fan of Percy, so I dug this collection. I liked some more than others, for obvious reasons. I finished it while doing Cal Newport’s Analogue Challenge. My favorite stories are below:

The Balloon, considering where we are now, hits a little too close to home for right now. But that’s what makes him so good. He can turn the contemporary moment into a horror story. Too bad right now it seems like everyone is living inside The Balloon or The Dead Lands prequel.

Some more marginalia from The Dummy—which I would teach if I was still teaching creative writing. Some day.

My favorite story of the bunch was the novella The Uncharted which I poured over while writing my novella. This book is why I love Percy’s work.

If you like it, you should check out his Skillshare class which is just like Thrill Me, but live, and he will critique your work. If you want a sneak peek at my novella check out the class.

Delivered from Distraction by Dr. Ned Hallowell and John J. Ratey, MD: I think it’s impossible to say how much this book was valuable to me over this winter, much more so than its predecessor Driven from Distraction. It gave me the concept of SPIN and SLIDE and so many other tools to harness my diagnosis which has been one year this season. A year ago I was diagnosed with ADD, Aspergers, Anxiety and Depression and Hallowell’s work has given me so many insights to help me this year. The battle with the diagnosis continues as it’s 38 years of misunderstanding but I’m confident that some day soon it’ll be a characteristic, a quirk, rather than a detriment. But I still have a lot of work to do moving forward.

The good news? I think my way through is in the memoir I’m writing now. I think that book is how I break through the resistance my diagnosis throws up.

The Big Over Easy: A Nursery Crime by Jasper Fforde. I used to be intimidated by Fforde’s work because it just seems so much like The Human Library series I’ve been working on for the last five years. But I realized that after reading this book—it’s totally different. His work is more like Douglas Adams wrote a police procedural with literary characters. Mine is more like the Hughes Teen Films with literary characters (though not so suburban and white.) I read this on Kindle at night—and I really had to hold myself back from laughing out loud while Baby Girl was asleep in the Pack and Play right near my side of the bed. I read most of these books on Kindle because that is just how my reading life is right now.

You should check out his Instagrambecause it’s filled with beautiful black and white photographs of Wales. His website is a lot of fun. In fact , I definitely want this website to be somewhat like his in the future.

First Draft in 30 Days by Karen S. Wiesner. This book was recommended to me by Kelsey Wharton and I used it to write the first draft of my memoir. I found a lot of it to be overdoing it for my sensibility in terms of outlining a book. I’m more of a Neutral Plotter anyway. And this book is definitely for Lawful Plotters.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams. Meggan recommended this book to me and I thought it was great. I listened to it on Audiobook. A hilarious romance novel about a Fight Clubish group of baseball players who read romance novels to woo back their wives. And since there isn’t any baseball right now—much to this family’s chagrin—I loved this book. Definitely something off the beaten path for me and that’s why I always endeavor to read my wife’s recommendations because she’s so great at that sort of thing.

I did the Daily Stoic Read to Lead Challenge over the winter and rather than starting a commonplace notecard system, I just dedicated a notebook to reading. I ordered this notebook from Out of Print and started filling it with my notes on reading by theme and by book. Like below are the plot points for Undiscovered Country #1 by Scott Snyder, Charles Soule, and Giuseppe Camuncoli and company!

After the Comics Notes page there’s a collection on the theme of Parenthood and Dad Life. I like this because it blends together fiction and nonfiction and different authors and it gives me space to come up with new ideas. I believe Joe Hill does something similar.

Kids Books! One of my favorite things about being a dad who is a reader and writer is reading to my kids. It’s something we as a family deeply value. I loved Hattie and Hudson, Be Kind, and we started Squibbish (3-year-old son) with Little Feminist Book Club. It’s a great selection of books sent to us every month. His favorite is the Proudest Blue but I really dug Reading Beauty.

Obviously this was a long one. But I hope you find something you like. I find that I try to read at least one book in each of my principles (fatherhood, mental and physical health; on writing fiction and nonfiction, and–of course–comics. I hope you find something you like here!

How Intentions do not lead to Impact When You Have ADD

Martin Sheen on the West Wing

Since my last post on SPIN and SLIDE, I’ve come to learn quite a bit about myself and the work that is necessary when it comes to intentional impact.

See the problem with intentions and impact when you have ADD is it takes several extra steps to get there. Check this video from How to ADHD:

It’s like a bridge with lots of missing steps. So there are two rolling hills when it comes to the ADD spiral. The first is SPIN, which we’ve covered. Then there’s SLIDE, which is:

Self attack
Life attack

So one day in January, in my Morning Pages, I come up with a question that I ask: “How do I intend this [next action] to impact my wife, my children, my physical and mental health, and the story I want to tell about my life?” But the problem is that intention doesn’t always lead to the impact that I want it to have. And that usually sets off the SPIN and SLIDE spiral.

So the way I solved for this is to bust out my American College Dictionary and look at the antonyms for shame, pessimism, isolation, and no creative or productive outlet. Those are:

Creator Connection

I tried to make it into an anagram like SPIN and SLIDE and came nowhere close, except my brain–for whatever reason–changed proactivity to (m)otive and it became LOCOMOTIVE. And immediately, because I’m a comic book nerd with ADD, the Superman theme came into my head.

More powerful than a locomotive! It’s Superman. The thing that I’ve always liked about Superman is that he’s a writer. So the way to counteract all of that SPIN and SLIDE is always what it has been since I was 13-14 years-old—to write it out and leave it on the page. So, naturally, the way through is when I am doing the spin and slide it’s to remember the Superman theme which causes a giggle and then the question and sometimes I slide right out of it.

It’s a habit I’m working on building.