In Seattle there are a good many Canada geese in the city. They’re tame, with a deep sense of entitlement that leads them to take ownership of your dock, your lawn, and your dog’s food. It’s goose paradise, with no predators, plenty to eat, and a temperate climate that doesn’t force them south in the winter. Lake Union can host major conventions of them at one time.
Geese, however, are migratory waterfowl. Their hardwiring runs contrary to this static form of comfort they’ve stumbled onto. And so you see them several times a day, gathering, honking, taking to the sky, circling the lake a few times and then… landing in the same place they were.
Sometimes, as I proceed with a new career or new area of interest, it seems I’m an Urban Goose, moving with some exertion and competence, taking flight, and landing pretty much in the same place I started. Humans often go through the same domesticated patterns, as the days and years and lives go by. I really didn’t want this to be me. You hit a certain point in life, you know? There go the geese, bon voyage, have fun in Alaska… what? You’re not going to Alaska? Aren’t you getting bored here in the park eating the food that people toss you from the Ivar’s fish bar dock? You’re all packed. Why are you still here?
I’ve gotten myself a career coach and am halfway through the nine sessions, in order to figure out reasons to be aloft and how to leave the urban lake and free french fries behind. Can purpose be discovered, uncovered, flying just high enough above the safety to catch a tantalizing view of the edge of one’s future? Is it already there, or is it invented? Do we make meaning up, to feel significant? Can we serve humanity and also wheel around the lake in a flock in a show of unfulfilled potential? Is comfort the enemy? Is a planned exit better than Pulling a Chuck?
Last November, 2016, I listened to the shocking election results, went to bed, woke up in a surrealist daze, and got on a plane to San Jose. I immersed myself for four days in Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power Within, an arena event geared to push the outside world out of my head so I could better hear the inside of my head. Tony Robbins’ timing couldn’t have been better.
For those who don’t know of Tony Robbins, it’s possible you’re young enough to have missed the late night infomercials for his self-help books and CD sets. Here’s a bit from his Wikipedia page: Tony Robbins is an American businessman, author, and philanthropist. He became well known from his infomercials and self-help books: Unlimited Power, Unleash the Power Within and Awaken the Giant Within.
He’s a mighty presence in person, and people flock to him for an infusion of what seems to be his boundless energy. Here is my Cliffs notes version of the event: Robbins isn’t your guru. He’s adamant about that, so adamant that he made a Netflix documentary with that name. Regardless, months earlier when I arrange to go to his Unleash the Power Within event in San Jose for the week, I resolve to throw myself into the four days 100%, drink the Kool-Aid, do whatever he tells me, and hire a deprogrammer later if I come home with unfortunate behavior that scares my friends.
The people attending are thiiiiis close to being cult followers, except we are all there to claim our own shit. Which cult followers don’t do.
10,500 people pack the place. The arena is so cold you can feel the chilled air descending on you like a waterfall. The decibel level is deafening most of the time. You feel the throb of the techno music more than you hear it. The environment is meant to keep you energized. It’s meant to rattle all your thoughts out of your head.
Robbins is there live on Day 1 and Day 3. His wonderful co-presenter, Joseph McClendon III covers Day 2 and Day 4. Neither of them let you sit down for very long throughout the 12-16 hour non-stop days. We embrace dance sessions, awkward aerobics, deep-breathing, actual fire-walking, and a whole lot of “LET ME HEAR IT!” shouting. The self-programming exercises are very much our very own.
The preferred greeting among everyone there is high-fiving followed by hugging. I haven’t hugged this many people since John Lennon died.
I come home with a metaphorical bag of actual tricks. Here are my favorite take-aways:
1. “I Own You.” On the first day, Robbins has us turn to our seat neighbors, point at them and yell, “I own you!” We are, of course, laughing, but it feels aggressively good. Fast forward six weeks: On Inauguration Day, instead of despairing, I realize that “I own you!” applies to everyone we democratically elected. We put them in office, we pay their wages and benefits, and we can take them OUT. (Of course, this is something most any politician up for re-election knows at its core.) “I own you!” becomes the constant reminder that we are not victims, in anyone’s control, or unable to kick the shit out of things we think are unjust. Looking for permission and guidance from that guy? That is just silly. Why? Because, say it with me: I Own You.
2. See things as they are, and not worse than they are. It’s unclear where Robbins stands politically on the election results, but he starts early with this one and repeats it a few times. It’s what rational people do. Columnists Paul Krugman of the New York Times and and Mark Morford of the San Francisco Gate could have used this as a screen saver for a few weeks. Paul. Mark. I adore you. Now, look out your windows. We are not going up in flames because we democratically elected a guy whose recklessness is both shocking and tedious. Speculation is not a substitute for action. We just have a shitload of work to do for four years.
3. Shop Like a Man. This tale of focus is from McClendon. He tells a great story about how men shop for a shirt versus how women shop for a shirt, complete with a Family Circus-style “Little Billy looking for his mittens” meandering dotted line diagram. Men typically go directly to a store they know sells shirts, ask someone to help them select a shirt, buy the shirt and leave. Men don’t give the shirt another thought. Women like choice, want it to coordinate, buy the shirt then check out other stores for things to go with the shirt, have some coffee, and oh, look, it’s a trunk show at Nordstroms…. Anyway, shop like a man. Buy the shirt, wear it, and don’t give that choice any more thought. It’s going to be fine. You’ll get a lot more done this way.
4. Language has Power. If you want to say “fuck” a lot, it has utility. You know how people pay attention when language shocks. In addition, using language that softens a message serves no one. “Softeners” are also known as tact, white lies, evasion or bullshit. Another language trick for your own self: say “and” whenever you are inclined to say “but.” Pay attention to your words, especially when you are making decisions. Words are things.
5. Move and Breathe. We all feel stuck from time to time. Well, fuck that shit! Move your body. Do some deep breaths. Right now: ten jumping jacks. It fixes everything. There. All better.
6. Get a coach. Some people on the event’s private Facebook page revealed themselves to be self-help junkies who are aces at the setting up and aiming, and not so good at pulling the trigger. Taking another seminar or training program seems productive and is often just a way to avoid getting on with things. Hiring a coach can get you past that logjam. A results coach can help you interrupt the habit of evading success. I hired a Tony Robbins coach, Nicole, with the expectation that my goal of making money will pay for the substantial coaching fee. So far she’s been a wonderful combination of focus, weed-whacking, and practicality. You can get a complimentary half hour session from one of the Tony Robbins people to see if coaching works for you.
7. Your alter ego is actually you. Vividly remember a time when your life was great. What were you doing? How did you stand and what did you eat and how did you walk? That’s you. Name that person. See the world and live as that person. (Kathy Bates as Evelyn Couch in “Fried Green Tomatoes” delivered when she yelled “Towanda!” That can be you, making the world right again.)
8. Raise Your Standards. This applies to everything. Ratty underwear in your underwear drawer? Toss them immediately without a second thought and don’t just replace them with the same cheap stuff. Go get the Cadillac of Underwear. Tired of the phone ringing? Turn off the ringer. Why? Because you own it. At a job that’s pleasant with no future? Get out of there, even if you don’t have a fully-thought out exit plan. You’ll figure it out. Your mom is wrong: you won’t end up living in a cardboard box under the freeway bridge. Hanging out with people who drain you and kill your soul? You can’t help them. Get out of there. It’s good for them as well. Start with all the small broken stuff that whirls around you like mosquitoes. Take your life to a better place.
8A. To take the fucking island you must burn the fucking boats. Okay, this is one of Robbins’ favorite sayings and I keep picturing Conquistadors massacring entire cultures, but the example is that an invading army would sail someplace, and then burn the boats so there’s no retreat. It’s conquer or die for them. I prefer the metaphor of bridge burning, and feel a good deal less guilty about it. So: burn the fucking bridge.
9. The 2mm shift. (optional: the cult-like tattoo.) When you’re struggling with something, it’s likely you’re only a 2 millimeter shift from getting it right. A few people I know got “2mm” tattooed on their wrists (yes, it is a little bit cult-like) as a reminder that sometimes the results they seek are just that close. To experience this right now, move your sternum 2mm upward Your slump is gone and you look and feel more like a winner. (or as your mom might have told you, stand up straight.) This can be used metaphorically as well. A small shift in things that seem to be stumping your progress might be all you need.
10. Interrupt the pattern to make change. This works brilliantly, and can be applied to anything large or small. You can break your own patterns, or patterns of someone else. It works if it’s just changing the radio station in your car from NPR to a mariachi station. It works when someone is ranting at you about politics and you ask them if they prefer oysters or shrimp because you can’t rant about politics and think about seafood at the same time. Or you can suddenly dash off, so they have no audience to listen to them rant. Remove the stimulus to interrupt the pattern, and it will stop. Here’s a new book I just read that talks about habit and pattern interruption and so much more on the workings of your brain: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
So there you have it. It’s not for everybody, but if you’re willing to hurl yourself at programming your best self and walk away feeling pretty damned good, I can recommend Robbins’ most accessible live program. While you are deciding to go whole hog to this event, try his CDs, which you can listen to in your car, and his books, often available at your public library. There are numerous free YouTube videos. And to really get the results you want, there’s no substitute for a live immersive experience in an arena full of strangers. It will push you farther in the right direction than you ever thought you could go. You’ll become your own guru.
I’m about to go on and on about the value of looking through a hole. There are no metaphors involved, just a method that can save hours of dithering and frustration when composing a painting or sketch.
I carry a plastic shutter-style viewfinder, called a ViewCatcher, with me, for quick composing of drawings and sketches. Sometimes I just muse through it, which makes me look a like a freak. This little plastic square has made my work a great deal more efficient and harmonious.
They’re great for sketch outings, to determine what to include and what to leave out of a drawing. I’m notorious for running out of paper, failing to block out the composition first. Set the ratio of the viewfinder to match the page you’re using, then decide what you want to draw and how to compose it. I’ve been concentrating on composition in this fashion lately, making more successful drawings and paintings because of it. Thumbnail studies on yellow stickers helps tremendously, too.
On bright days, it’s good to be able to isolate a color, too. The little hole is great for that.
You can buy a ViewCatcher or you can make a perfectly good viewing tool for less.
My nephew took up drawing recently so I thought I’d send him one of his own, and was reminded that this fabulous item costs $9 to $15 (at Daniel Smith) – I suspect at the time I bought mine years ago I experienced hysterical amnesia after I looked at the receipt, so I decided to make one for him instead.
In my rather embarrassingly large collection of unused art supplies, I dug up a wire-bound Artist’s Trading Card format (2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ baseball card size) watercolor paper notebook. I figured I could cut holes in it and make a collection of commonly-used ratios, plus a tiny holepunched viewer to isolate colors. First I had to turn the white paper 50% grey.
I bought a Copic art marker in a color that matched the ViewCatcher, and bought that for about $3. Toner 5 Grey T05S is marked T5 on the end cap. There are other brands as well, or you could mix your own middle-grey color and paint the sheets. (So far materials are approaching the cost of just going and buying a ViewCatcher at full retail price. But I digress.) I colored a number of the little pages, then drew, labeled and cut small windows of popular ratios for drawing papers. You’ll still have the remaining pages for sketches and notes.
It’s a portable thing to carry; just flip out the proper page, compose your picture, and enjoy how much better your drawings are!
So near Tacoma is a lake I used to walk around in high school, nearly every day. It’s a small kettle lake, with a tree-lined paved road that has seen nearly no car traffic in 60 years. It’s a great place to watch nature and the seasons change. Last winter, with a long spell of very steady, very cold weather, the lake froze over.
When you go to a restaurant with a bar, don’t waste time waiting to be seated in the restaurant. Do what my mother taught me at an early age: Go directly to the bar. Here’s why, and here’s a list of my absolute favorite bars you should make a point of visiting:
So I’m in Cleveland working on some webdev bloggy projects at my friend John’s house and one night I’m staring at the computer screen feeling stuck. The weather is hot and humid and airless. After googling longingly about those Dyson fans, I google “how to get unstuck.” I find Nora Dunn of Wisebread’s article, Feeling Stuck? 100 Ways to Change Your Life. Sometimes making changes in your life seems forced and inorganic but we try these things anyway. Sometimes simple things work well. She found one of these exercises.
This exercise includes two of my very favorite pieces of subconscious brain-work, a brain-dump and hiding the results from your conscious mind so the subconscious can get to work without all the hectoring. It requires Continue reading →
Years ago I rowed at a rowing club. I rowed singles, doubles, fours and eights. As a sculler I’d get thrown into any kind of boat where I might be needed. Even when I rowed a single, I usually went out on the water in the company of other rowers. The typical time to go on the lake was 5:30 AM for the calm water and a choice of boats. So I’d get up at 5:00 and show up at the dock at 5:30, get in a boat, row for an hour or two, and then go to work.
There is a bit of sacrifice with such a schedule, especially if you’re training every day and not all that competitive. It means Continue reading →
I may well have found the secret to getting unstuck.
Find a place to belong. Find people like you.
A young woman at Chris Guillebeau’s 1000-maniac gathering in Portland, Oregon, the World Domination Summit, discovered that after enduring geographic and social isolation, she traveled 5000 miles away, and there was the answer to her isolation – she found “People Like Her.” In a place that says “You Belong Here.”
It occurred to me that this is also, for me, at the very heart of every frustrated moment in my current life. I’m not where I belong, with People Like Me. When this is in place, everything becomes easier, faster, more streamlined. When you’re not where you belong or with People Like You, even the basics become an unnecessary struggle.
So. HOW do you find People Like You? I’ll jump right to the eight metaphorical hurdles:
I can’t find people like me.
They already have each other and there’s no room for me.
I can’t figure out how to reciprocate.
I can’t afford to be with those people.
I’m not sure these people are people like me.
I’m not worthy.
Fill your calendar with interesting possibilities.
The Great Recession Do-Over is a great opportunity for reinvention, but when you’ve slid into a rut looking at dirt walls, you need a view of the blue sky outside of the rut. (Yes, this is my intelligent summary of goal-achievement. Shut up.)
What’s needed to get out of the rut is movement. ANY movement. A view outside of the rut, and a plan. YOUR OWN plan.
Just a quick note to show you a bumper sticker I found on a car in the parking lot at a mall in the outskirts of Tacoma.
My first thought was that it was wonderful and I just had to take a picture and share it.
My second thought was that the car and people with the car were in Tacoma. Remember faster, people. Remember that you wanted to be cowboys or deep sea explorers or fashion models, look right, look left, be overwhelmed by the contrast to where you are now, then get the hell out of Tacoma.
Having something small and portable with which to be artful can be a great thing. Aside from painting something and mailing it off to a friend, there’s something about being prepared to record the colors you see around you. Drawing skill isn’t required; just a vague affinity to paint. Everything you need is in your coat pocket because you put your little 4×6 box there last night…
For travel this summer I refined my usual watercolor paint kit of loose stuff in a zip-loc. The key component in my new kit is a $3 4”x6” plastic Iris photo storage box found at places like Michael’s and JoAnn Fabric that pulls it all together without a prolific use of rubber bands. The kit doesn’t slow you down at airport checkpoints, fits in a pocket and is unobtrusive to use. The Iris 4”x6” photo storage box serves as an easel, drying box, and carrier. It stays securely shut and is rugged and easy to clean. Continue reading →
Create something original every day of June! #Trust30 is an online initiative and 30-day writing challenge that encourages you to look within and trust yourself. Use this as an opportunity to reflect on your now, and to create direction for your future. 30 prompts from inspiring thought-leaders will guide you on your writing journey.
This is a stellar opportunity to write and create in a community of thinkers and writers without getting too thinky. Jump in, even if you’re a little late to the party! Links below. Below that, links to my 30 pages. Continue reading →
Two things happened recently that I thought related nicely to each other.
A friend of mine just emailed me to tell me he had just “Pulled a Respectable Chuck” (more on that in a minute) and quit his job. He decided that the ambiguity of having no employment is more bearable than the job that unambiguously kills him a little each day.
I read with interest an article written by Alison Doyle of About.com called “Good Reasons to Quit Your Job” and wanted to tell everyone I know to read it.
Dumping a job seems like heresy in this day of hard-to-get employment, at first glance. At second glance, it reminds me of all the bad crap that snowballs on your sorry ass when fear rules the day, your decisions, and your life. Continue reading →
I took a really great class at Seattle Central Community College last year, called Typography for the Web, taught by Mike Sinkula. One of our first assignments was to design a monogram or logo for ourselves. I really thought that I was going to end up with something disappointing, having never designed a graphic thing that satisfied me in the past.
Our design process started with looking at tons of fonts for the letters we wanted to use. (Here are my typography class files if you want to see my youthful efforts. Be merciful.) I found a fantastic and ususually elegant font, Wade Sans Light, which I used to write my name. Then I thought about branding and constraining, like, if I put braces or brackets to contain the name, you know, like for coding, or a box, or something boxlike, or a shaded box background, and what if I put the letters on end or rotate them a little? Drop shadow. Everyone loves a drop shadow. I pretty much hated it all, except the letters themselves. Continue reading →
1. There is a handwritten sign stuck to a chainlink fence in front of an empty old building in downtown Tacoma that says:
“REALLY LOVE SOMETHING”
Heartfelt. Wistful. Ironic….
2. There is a woman near the freeway ramp adjusting a large triangular metal street sign on a sidewalk tripod. She does something that makes perfect sense in the breeze: she places the sign broad side down, and steps back to consider her work. She nods in approval, drags deeply on her short cigarette, and as the bus I am riding rounds the corner I see the it is a “YIELD” sign, upside down.
There are three very good, comfortably quaint books on prosperity thinking that were written in the early part of the 20th century. They are
The Magic of Believing and
The Science of Getting Rich
Before The Secret came roiling out of the publicity mill all Hollywood and Mythology, these uncomplicated little volumes served up prosperity thinking with a positive, down to earth helpful simplicity, and originally were available in affordable paperbacks aimed at the masses. Continue reading →
Let’s say your house is in disorder and you’re too disorganized to start to organize your organizing effort. Hey. It happens. Rome wasn’t organized in a day. You don’t have time to find a “system” or products to get started. You just need to get started. You’re too disorganized for methodology at the moment or you wouldn’t be in this mess, right?
Organizational products won’t help you just yet. Organizational methods, systems and tips won’t help you just yet, either. You need to dig out. (I trust you’re not one of those people on The Learning Channel’s “Truth be Told” show, who could do with less organizing and more pharmaceutical intervention.) I offer you, my beleaguered friend, the quickstart non-method: Organic Triage and the Big Stupid Box.Continue reading →
It’s midnight and I’m with four high school biology teachers and a couple college bio students. We’re campers on private Speiden Island, one of the lesser San Juans, and enjoying a bright full-moon hike, looking for owls. One of the college girls goes after some small nocturnal animal in the bushes, hoping to catch it. She stops and announces that she stumbled into nettles and has nettle stings all over her legs.
Anyone from the Northwest knows that nettle stings aren’t fatal, but they burn and itch like a bastard and there never seems to be a treatment at hand. You can’t pee on them like you can a ray sting; antihistimine pills and creams don’t help, either. (Do a Google search for remedies and you’ll find that there aren’t any good ones.) And of course, on a private island far from a druggist (much less one who will open for a nettle victim at midnight) there’s never anything handy. Or is there? Continue reading →
One day I lamented that my life was lacking old-school artfulness, and I wanted to take up some art form that was compact, inexpensive, and that I could do anywhere. I thought I’d try watercolor. It proved to be less difficult than I’d thought, with the right instruction which I found for free. Here’s how I successfully got started:
Watercolor requires as a bare minimum, paint in three colors (red, yellow and blue) from which you mix all colors, a paintbrush, water, and paper. After some experimentation I came up with a nice inexpensive kit that resides in my small handbag ready to use whenever I sit down with coffee to kill an hour. Watercolor can be easy to learn with the right resources. We’ll get to learning how to paint in a minute. First, gear up for a life as a traveling artist. Continue reading →
The year Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way came out, I was given three of them as gifts. I found the book unreadable, and re-gifted the volumes to those more appreciative. All the same, I knew there was good information lurking in the treacly prose as I scanned the pages.
Challenge Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” products in public and prepare for a beating from her mostly female fan base. The variety of items in her empire is large enough that you could receive a fortnightly beating with a different volume for about a year. Continue reading →
I enjoy meditation recordings because my mind is too squirrelly to meditate without a lot of help. In yoga classes I’m the twitchy one flipping the corner of the blanket with my toe. So when I find a hypnosis recording that claims it can help me in my ever-futile quest to find my Life’s Purpose, I decide to try it out on behalf of all the cynical seekers out there. (You know who you are, twitchy.)
Based on an emailing from Bradley Thompson, who seems like a reasonable and helpful guy who offers a phalanx of self-help products, I go to the web site Instant-hypnosis.com and peruse what they sell. Continue reading →
Ask a New York City cab driver, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” and you will be told, “Practise, practise, practise.” There are lots of anecdotes about practise. In Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell goes into detail about a concept of putting 10,000 hours of practise to become an expert at something. And though I never became an expert myself at large format photography, I was subjected to an exercise in repetition that gave me an excellent shot at competence.
Back in the 1980s I hauled my old Graphic View 4×5 camera to Vermont to study with artist Fred Picker at one of his workshops. Every day we’d take our behemoth cameras on wooden tripods out and take photographs, then come back to develop the sheet film at night. If we lost a picture opportunity due to fleeting light, a moving subject, or attack by cows, it was usually because we failed to set up our cameras fast enough. Fred could set a picture up and make the exposure in about a minute, a task that took me at least ten minutes. Continue reading →