10 Things I Learned in The Last 10 Years

After seeing Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Photo by Jordan Craig. August 15, 2010.

2010: A big year for me. Interned at Marvel Comics where I learned that trying so hard to get somewhere means not getting anywhere. Also, having my first Aspergers moment in memory where I criticize a Marvel writer’s grammar issues in an interview with group editors.

My dad had a heart attack and I moved home for the summer. Triggering my first major break-up and losing my Upper East Side apartment I lived in for five years. But the major lesson learned is that family comes first.

2011: I start working at the Wolfe Institute, and I struggle to complete my graduate degree in English. Bob Viscusi becomes a close friend, mentor, as well as my graduate thesis advisor. To this day, I want to grow up to be like him.

2012: I bust through with a great thesis on Grant Morrison. I consider going for my Ph.D, but talked out of it because I’m not ready for it. I decide to move home to Lake Placid after graduation and decide that all I want to do is write, teach, and work my production company. I start teaching one section of English 101 at Paul Smith’s College. I meet Meggan during my time at Paul Smith’s College

2013: I start dating Meggan during Winter Carnival. She’s among the group of friends from PSC that we hang with. She buys a beautiful country house on two plots of land and we start working together to renovate it. It’s a great experience. My production company produces a short film and a trailer for the Go Digital or Go Dark campaign.

2014: We move in together in the country house on Main Street. I read Getting Things Done and discovered the Bullet Journal method and that drastically changes my journaling habit and both help me manage teaching six classes between North Country Community College, Paul Smith’s College, and SUNY Plattsburgh. I start writing the Emerson novel that will become The Human Library series.

2015: I asked Meggan to marry me on New Year’s Day and six months later we were in Michigan on a rainy day ceremony. That fall, I become a full time professor at Paul Smith’s College. I finished the first draft of The Human Library series.

2016: Teaching a full load and finally hitting my stride as a professor. Loving my job, my life, everything about it. Curt Stager and I start working with Emilyann Cummings on Walden. My son is born in August. And we adjust to the new normal being working parents with a newborn and his struggles to gain weight.

2017: Meggan interviews at IU and gets the job. Walden: The Graphic Novel comes out that spring. I leave Paul Smith’s College, and bring the first college film team to the Sleepless in Lake Placid Film Forum. We move to Indiana in July 2017.

2018: Unemployment ends and I end up at a job at a not-for-profit with folks who have developmental disabilities. I read So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Deep Work by Cal Newport and begin therapy. The two books and the therapy cause me to level up in my day job and produce a lot of written words. I cut down on social media and how I use the internet because I realize that none of it has anything to do with the work I ultimately need to produce. This leads to exponential growth—also quite a lot of behavior change in the coming two years.

2019: I start getting evaluated for Attention Deficit Disorder and I’m diagnosed with Aspergers, ADD, Generalized Depression and Anxiety. By the end of the year I can trace back specific actions and moments in my life where I exhibited symptoms of this. I realize that the victim/creator pattern alternates years and goes on streaks. For two years at this point I’ve been in a victim pattern. It’s time to come out of it. My daughter is born. I feel reborn as I begin to study Stoic philosophy and write like I could die tomorrow.

Proust Questionnaire.

David Bowie as Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige

For a while now I quote David Bowie from his answers to Marcel Proust’s Vanity Fair questionnaire.

“What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Living in fear.”

So I thought in these times, where it seems like everyone is home, a good old questionnaire would be worth it. I’d love to see anyone else’s responses to these questions in the comments.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Reading and writing near a view of some water or woods.

What is your most marked characteristic?
Cutting people off by finishing their sentences and intending better but having a totally different impact.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Being a morning person and being a dad.

What is your greatest fear?
Becoming a victim to my brain and my all or nothing way of going through life.

What historical figure do you most identify with?
John Hughes.

Which living person do you most admire?
No one.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Writers who publish books and novels and comics. Really all writers.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Making excuses, blaming others, complaining, and becoming a victim.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Know-it-alls.

What is your favorite journey?

The drive to Lake Placid. Especially just before the Glens Falls exit where you can see Six Flags and a mountain I don’t even know the name of, but I’ve always called that part of the road: “The Entrance.”

But really when I pull off Exit 30 and drive through Keene, Keene Valley, Cascade Lake and Mountain, and past the ski jumps into Lake Placid.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Justice.

Which word or phrases do you most overuse?
Seriously, any adverb really.

What is your greatest regret?
Resisting admitting that I’m not neurotypical.

What is your current state of mind?
Creative; apologetic. Always.

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
That we didn’t talk over each other. What can you do? We’re Italian, Jewish, and New Yorkers—that’s like saying no to a bagel—it’s simply not in our DNA.

What is your most treasured possession?
Notebooks and journals.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
I’m going to go with what David Bowie said to this question: “Living in fear,” but adding of letting my family down and being given the pink slip by them and being homeless.

Where would you like to live?
Somewhere that is near the splendor of the Adirondacks but not nearly as far from a major city. Honestly, somewhere like Ellicottville, NY and close to Buffalo.

What is your favorite occupation?
Typing on a typewriter.

What is the quality you most like in a man?
Radical transparency.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Not afraid to drink dark beer and bourbon. I found her.

What are your favorite names?
My kids’ names.

What is your motto?
Fatahmaha. (Inside joke.)

Current Status for Spring 2020.

This is the face of a writer who is working from home and playing with his family.

The major reason I became a writer is so that I could work from home. Really anywhere.

Now my day-job has nothing to do with writing, but considering circumstances these days in Indiana, mostly everyone is working from home—or have been laid off. The latter is not the case for me, thankfully. But there are a lot of people who are not so lucky.

The Press Gang is healthy.

But for right now, I’m extremely grateful to be able to work from home, play with my kids, and hang with my wife. It’s been very challenging this past week, but it’s been filled with a lot of ups and downs. Who knows what it will be like tomorrow, next week, next month — but today — and this week has been hard but with a lot of great things!

That’s life.

In the meantime I full intend to grow my beard to Alan Moore levels.

The home office setup.

Now for Winter 2020

The new work bag, from out of a William Gibson novel and into my life, designed by Mark Ryden.

Good morning.

I’m coloring a donut throwing unicorn robot with Doodlehog crayons.

So, I have something to tell you all.

The daily reality of my life is no longer a fit to blogging; because, well, life with two kids, a busy day-job, and some great writing projects (here are a few loglines) on the horizon makes blogging more of a chore than a joy. So I’ll write posts during the first two weeks of every new season and whatever I end up posting is it. Can’t promise it will be daily.

So it goes.

Here’s what I’m working on this winter:

  1. Perfecting my GTD process and applying what works to my personal and professional life.
  2. Writing a memoir
  3. Then writing a murder-mystery novel similar in vein to Winter’s Bone.
  4. Engaging in Cal Newport’s Analogue Challenge.

Happy New Year to you all and I hope you have a productive beginning of the New Year.

See you in the spring.

19 Lessons I Learned From 2019. (Plus one for the New Year.)

  1. My diagnosis of ADD, High Functioning Autism (Aspergers), Depression and Anxiety. I learned that these symptoms are representations of what Steven Pressfield calls Resistance in the War of Art. But really it’s all just an addiction to pain, shame, pessimism, isolation, and no creative or productive outlet. Weston and Shadow King is resistance and Great Grandma is the muse.
  1. Quotes of the Year: “Comparison is the thief of joy,” quote of the year from Meggan, “Never ask for permission only forgiveness.”
  2. As a result, there’s a lot of internal conflict happening here. Meditation and Stoicism has taught me how to respond to that internal conflict.
  3. Estrangement is the norm, but for the first time in a generation that’s changing and it started with my parents and it continues to me. That is an incredible honor (and burden.)
  4. It’s my responsibility to give all that I have to my family and the stories I want to tell. Being a dad is a privilege and I must remember that every day.
  5. Doulas are amazing human beings. “The second child’s birth is the birth of a father.”
  6. John Grisham’s Work Routine is what works for me.
  7. Headspace Meditations on Sleep Health, Pain Management, and Anxiety are helping me defeat my resistance.
  8. Always remember what it’s like to be a kid.
  9. Seven to nine hours of sleep is required.
  10. Read everything, put yourself—as strange as you are—on the page.
  11. Less is more in life and digital.
  12. Remember the walk to Mirror Lake. That is your Creator’s Path. You listen to everything, choose a new action, and stop blaming others.
  13. If you want to get stuff done, wake up early.
  14. Playing with Loglines: Wonder Boys meets Parenthood and Legion. For fans of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series and the work of John Green and Rainbow Rowell. As if John Hughes, Danny Woodrell, and Kelly Link were on the writing staff of Twin Peaks. Tintin meets Hellboy. Little Nemo in Slumberland in the 21st century.
  15. The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony and how being an office drone leads to creative death.
  16. What it means to be the father of a daughter and there are unwitting predators everywhere. Transfering that anger from real life to fiction.
  17. Matthew McConaughey on life not being easy, unbelievable is the dumbest word, happiness is an if/then statement and never attainable, but joy is a constant ever-present process of doing the work of being a human. That you must define success for yourself and don’t leave crumbs behind. Pay yourself every day.
  18. Small things lead to big things and a lack of doing the small things lead to big problems. So make small things playful activities with your kids.
  19. Finally always ask: how does this next action impact my intentions to be a loving, joyful, proactive husband, father, and storyteller?

Getting Things Done.

Making a December plan.

I’ve re-read David Allen’s Getting Things Done because adjusting to life with an challenging pre-schooler, adding another family member, and how seismic and difficult it’s been to transition from work to home with frequent extended breaks for family reasons, I felt I needed to install a system that would allow me to pick up where I left off at work and know where things are at, and that’s been embracing GTD. It’s a good system for jobs that require a lot of task-related work that are seemingly never closed and doesn’t allow for a lot of deep work and a lot of paper-pushing.

In the past, I’ve relied on the Bullet Journal Method, but from changing my work from academic to business, I have to keep track of a lot more in my life that can’t be paired down into three simple things: reading, writing, and teaching. With my current job I had to adopt and develop a new system to make sure I’m staying current on all the impromptu stuff that comes up. It’s to say the least a lot different from the education work. It’s Human Resources, and while it is still knowledge work, it’s a ton of open loops in my job. Most of the work is task-related, in other words, it’s a lot of 2-5 minute steps that end up putting taking a half hour to put together one worker’s comp claim. It never closes up because then I have to wait for that staff-member to either go to their follow up appointment and send out new restrictions. Some weeks I get one worker’s comp claim and some days are so nuts I get six and I have to keep track of all of them. That’s a lot different then going to a class, teaching the class, collecting papers, reading those papers, and grading them to be turned back in a week. Which was way more manageable. So I had to develop a bigger external brain then the one I previously worked with in the form of the Bullet Journal.

It’s started with, really, Cal Newport’s system. He uses Workflowy as his main external brain paired with his calendar, he pairs it down into a Week Schedule, and then he makes a plan for every day of the week in his notebook. That’s basically what I’ve done with this job. I then use my work notebook to list out the remaining open loops, make a plan for them for the next day, and update my calendar to make sure I stay constant.

Analogue Days

Installed new kitchen lights on an Analogue Day

I run around the circle of my suburban Southern Indiana subdivision, chased by the same exterior lamposts that are required to be uniform by the housing authority, The Whisperer in Darkness plays in my ears matching the slight pushing of the wind and I hear talk of the Elder Beings and John Dee and the Babylon Working. The Department of Works and all of that.

It is just after 5am.

I’ve been really enjoying Julian Simpson’s adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and its sequel, The Whisperer in Darkness. More so, I’ve been all over Simpson’s excellent newsletter and blog, INFODUMP. In this article he talks about analogue day:

Analogue Day. This is a new thing we’re doing at home and I want to take credit for inventing it but I probably didn’t. Or maybe I did! Quote me in your correspondence and we’ll make it The Simpson Method. Anyway, it’s exactly what it sounds like; turn off the computer and the iPad and put the phone in another room as far as that is possible. One day a week where you write longhand, read actual physical books and magazines, talk to people and all that touchy feely stuff. When you make things up for a living, you are constantly drawing on a well of ideas and inspiration and that well is finite. You need to refill it regularly. And you don’t do that online. Or if you do, you can do it the other six days of the week. Analogue Day is about changing pace and changing input, grabbing a book off the shelf rather than scrolling Facebook, listening to stuff, watching stuff (I don’t ban myself from movies and TV on analogue day, but there’s no dicking around online whilst half-watching something). One day a week and it REALLY pays dividends creatively. Personally, I have a bunch of magazine subscriptions that build into a pile on the table throughout the week so I take this day to go through them. Then I might scan the bookshelves for something I’d forgotten I had and start reading it. It’s all about new things and unexpected creative prompts and I’ve found it to be enormously helpful and also, which seems to be anathema to the productivity nerds, fun.

It is basically a moratorium on screens. I tried this to a certain extent, but I’m still mostly failing at it. Saturdays are the days for that and basically the idea is to use whatever technology I am using for a singular purpose. Smart phones as Steve Jobs originally intended it: for communication, and audio. Reading physical books (which I do basically every day), working on something household-related which can be as simple as taking down the Christmas tree or like last couple of weeks, installing new light fixtures in the house.

I haven’t been perfect about this. I still take a lot of photos on my phone and spend entirely too much time on Instagram. What it boils down to is I just need to delete the social media apps on my phone and use it specifically for communication and audio, because my son likes audio books before bed time and I’m not about to shake up because that’s the critical piece that’s taken three months to whittle bed time from an hour and a half to a half hour. But I have gotten quite good about there being no screens or multi-tasking devices from 5pm to 8pm all week, but in 2020 I’m going to limit my phone time to business hours and after bedtime. The phone time will be for at most an hour, and only to talk to people. On the weekends, no screen time other than communication and audio.

That said, if you’re interested in something like this, you should check out Cal Newport’s Analog January Challenge.

Spinning

Morning Pages

Happy void period between Christmas and New Years! We are back on for the week in which I will talk all about what I learned this fall.

The first such thing is Morning Pages. I write them in a Field Notes notebook because writing them in my main journal is too long and feels more like homework. Previously them I wrote them on legal pad paper and that’s probably one of the reasons I dropped the habit.

I did them for a long time, when Squibbish was born but I dropped out of the habit, because I stopped seeing the purpose of them. I was just writing to write and get three pages in about literally anything, but since developing the new routines, I see value in them to write about and work out a solution for the resistance and my diagnosis’ symptoms to generate actions that lean into my intentions of being a loving, joyous, and proactive husband, father, and storyteller who is working on being physically and mentally healthy.

That last statement is my voice as a human like the novella I finished just before my daughter was born was a pure distillation of what my voice is as a fiction writer. A loving, joyous, proactive husband, father, and storyteller. This is my character, or whatever you want to call it.

This is when I realized, while finishing Ned Hallowell and John Ratey’s 2005 book Delivered from Distraction, that the last three months—really since Baby Girl was born—and I got out of sync with my work routines and adjusting to an expanding family and all that goes with it. I have have been “SPIN[ning]” as Hallowell writes where I’ve hit a wall in which my therapy, the medication, etc has driven me into a wall and in many ways I feel worse than I’ve ever felt. SPIN stands for:

Shame
P stands for pessimism and negativity
Isolation
N stands for No creative, productive outlet.

Family illnesses, inconsistent work schedule, Mercury in Retrograde, a car accident that totaled my car and the stress of finding a new one wrapped around the holiday seasons and an exceptionally boundary-pushing preschooler has made the last three months really rough. All this has equaled in not finding much time to write, feelings of deep shame for the horrible car accident, isolating myself from work and loved ones because I just don’t feel like I’m worthy of their love or kindness and worst of all—not writing or working on fiction, or working on it very slowly.

So in my Morning Pages, I asked myself what next action will I take to show my intentions of being a mentally and physically healthy dad, husband, and writer who loves all three of those things and works on them with joy and proactivity? That is: to take the next best action afterwards. And keep building towards a finished product.

Now for Fall 2019.

Loft space book shelf.

That is all for this season. Apologies in advance for the shorter posts, but I am kind of busy this season. Here’s what I’m working on this fall:

  • Adjusting to life as a family with a newborn.
  • Reading a lot of first novels that I’m mining as I begin to write my third novel that will hopefully be a breakthrough.
  • Editing the novella for (hopefully) publication through one of my favorite independent presses.
  • Developing something completely different from comics or novels or nonfiction.

And that’s it for now. As always, you can find me weekly at my newsletter. Be good to one another. Talk to you between Christmas and New Years.

Currently on my nightstand.

The Wilding by Benjamin Percy

The Wilding by Benjamin Percy. His first novel.

I’m reading a lot of first novels by writers I respect like Mary H.K. Choi’s Emergency Contact, Drew Magary’s The Postmortal, and short story collections like Lauren Groff’s Delicate Edible Birds. This book, from one of my favorite living writers, I finished over the spring and it is the sort of book that I hope mine for the next novel I’m going to write, which thematically is sort of like this. It’s about generations, the limits and educations of those generations, and they are in a no-win situation. Here’s some of my notes:

My marginalia is copied slightly from Sam Anderson’s style. I love writing all over books because it means that I’m really enjoying it, but it is work. So often, I’ll read a book once for enjoyment and just take notes as I go. Then I’ll read it again to study it: the turns of phrases, the plot points, and then I’ll synthesize and think about what I learned. On one of the end pages. Usually highlights will get uploaded to Bear. I try really hard not to make it like work, because then reading becomes a job rather than a joy. And I’d rather stick with joy.

One of the interesting things about the end of this book is a short essay from Percy about listening to music while writing fiction. He only listens when he’s revising. I know so many writers listen to music during the act of writing, and when it comes to revision–it’s silence. That’s me. I can’t revise what I’ve written with some music in the background because I need to read it aloud otherwise I don’t catch mistakes. So Percy supplies some of the tracks he listened to while revising this book.