Nobody Wants to Read your Sh*t, by Steven Pressfield

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Like last 2017, this year is dedicated to writing (and one of these years, hopefully, something will actually come of it). I'd heard this book mentioned several times by artists of various sorts so I thought it as good a place as any to help start off the year. 

It wasn't amazing, but it didn't disappoint - I'd give it a solid B, perhaps a B+. 

Here are some of highlights:

It isn’t that people are mean or cruel. They’re just busy . . . so, streamline your message. Focus it and pare it down to its simplest, clearest, easiest-to-understand form . . . because The reader denotes his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer must give him something worthy of his gift to you (pg 5).

If there was nothing else in the book, this is a hook I can hang my hat on: people are busy - or, as Derrick Jenson says, they could be having sex, so my writing better be worth their time. It better be better than having sex. 

“Let my countrymen discover, by their suffering without me fighting as their champion, how by far the greatest of them I am” (pg 23) – quoting Agamemnon, the Anti-hero.

The solution is embedded in the problem. If your job is to find the solution, the first step is to define the problem (pg 32).

Every piece of work operates from a thesis statement: Walter White in Breaking Bad says, “Change. Chemistry is the study of change. Elements combine and change into compounds. That’s all of life, right? Solution, dissolution. Growth. Decay. Transformation. It’s fascinating really.” This is Vince Gilligan’s statement of the theme (pg 35).

The two quotes above are gold and can/should be applied to anything, even teaching. A classroom, a novel, a movie, a TV show, even raising children or running a church should be guided be a central, clearly defined and easily applied, thesis statement. 

Because when life gets hard, when the ship rocks, or when no one knows what to do, it is the guiding and unfaltering force. So it better be a good one.

A real writer (or artist or entrepreneur) has something to give. She has lived enough and suffered enough and thought deeply enough about her experience to be able to process it into something that is of value to others, even if only as entertainment.

It's okay to seek success, as long as the purpose is greater than ourselves; if it is to serve the greater community. It's all about our motives

How to Create a {Classroom}: ask the questions (modified):

1.     What’s the theme?

2.     What’s the climax?

3.     Who’s the hero?

4.     The Villain?

5.     What are the stakes?

6.     What’s the purpose?

The American dream – you can be anything you want to be if you’re willing to work for it . . . and the American nightmare – what if we try and fail? (pg 90).

Your job as a writer is to give your hero the deepest, darkest, most hellacious All is Lost Moment possible – and then find a way out for her (pg 104) because The All is Lost Moment is followed almost immediately by a breakthrough insight or epiphany, an awakening for the hero, an “Aha!” moment (pg 105).

Write your nonfiction book as if it were a novel . . . give it an Act One, an Act Two, and Act Three. Make it cohere around a theme (pg 123).

The hardest and maybe the best way to establish authority is through the quality and integrity of the voice itself (pg 165).

The War of Art Structure:

Hook – “resistance,” the invisible negative force of self-sabotage that all writers (and creative people in all fields) face.

Build – mounts to a high point at which the problem has been defined and the answer spelled out. Leading to the question, “What does it all mean?”

Payoff – they paid off the Hook and the Build by reinforcing the reader’s own rising self-confidence that she not only identified the enemy and now knew hot to fight it, but had been turned on to the unseen, unbidden, but powerfully fortifying forces that would ineluctably come to her aid once she committed to her calling and took up the challenge (pg 169,170).

There is an evil force that is constantly defeating us as artists and bringing to naught all of our dreams. Let’s name that force, accept it as our enemy, and figure out how to overcome it.

Here’s how you know {you’ve got something worth pursuing} – you’re scared to death of it (pg 186).

Resources:

-       The Story Grid, by Shawn Coyne

-       The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

-       The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp

-       Quiet, by Susan Cain

-       Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill

Perhaps the greatest takeaway was the idea that even a nonfiction book (or classroom) should be structured and designed just like a fiction novel - central theme, hero and villain, three part structure. I love that. 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :   NY Times Best Books of 2017  :   Reading Log 2017  Reading Log 2018

On top, but alone : a sabbatical from writing

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As 2016 drew to a close, like many people around the world, I planned for new beginnings, new hopes, and set a strong resolution: to write a blog every single day. I knew it was low hanging fruit and that it wouldn't bestow upon me the ever elusive title of "author," but I was okay with that, because it would ensure that I intentionally wrote a polished piece of work every single day. Up to that point, writing in my journal was erratic, sloppy, and unchallenged - it was a place I could live and write without consequence for my grammatical errors or faulty ideas.  It was a place of little growth.

So, for almost the entire year, I published something daily. Sometimes I struck gold, other times a septic line, but always I learned and grew - even if only slightly. Because people now had access to my thoughts.

Friends revealed my terrible grammar.

My wife refined my insensitive rants.

Readers encouraged my process, thoughts, and style. They commented, liked, and shared my writings which inspired me to stay up and write, well beyond my bedtime, because I had to write, I had to publish, and I had to maintain the number of views I was becoming accustomed to. 

Writing, suddenly, was no longer about writing. It was about getting Mother Mary up the mountain. And I couldn't figure out how to stop.

About halfway through the year, after writing about a variety of topics, posting videos, songs, movie trailers, and whatever else caught my interest, Mother Mary was still far from her summit, and I could feel my strength, my desire, and my purpose, slipping. When school started and life began to fill up, she lingered on the cliff. 

So I sent two dear friends an email entitled, "A Crisis of Sorts."

Here's an excerpt from that email:

For the past several weeks I've been working hard at my blog (god that sounds stupid). I've stayed up late, sacrificed lunches, and spent many many hours thinking on what to write, how to write, and to whom I might be writing for. And whenever I publish something I think, "Yes. That's good. I like that." But whenever I go back and reread various works and thoughts, I think, "NO! That's shitty. I hate that," and I get fully discouraged and lose hope {of} ever doing anything with writing because what is my blog going to do? How is this getting me anywhere closer to being a writer? Where is this going to get me?

I've started writing a bit more on personal matters, believing it might be encouraging to others because we're all tired of the surface bullshit we post on Facebook and Instagram and whatever. Some of the best and well-known writers and thinkers I've come to love are those who write and think honestly, and I want to emulate them. But as I work on a second piece about the struggles of a broken family, I keep questioning myself, "What's the point?" Outside of myself, who truly cares about this?" I know writers are supposed to "write for themselves," and I get that, I do. But it's also bullshit. We, as humans, as writers or artists or whatever we call ourselves, want to inspire, to help, and, as selfish as it sounds, be validated in what we do and the time we spend doing it. And this is EXACTLY where I'm struggling.

What am I doing wrong? Am I completely deluded in thinking that what I'm doing, the time I'm spending, and the way I'm writing is doing anything other than wasting time? 

Their responses, as I knew they would be, were golden. 

One writes, "Has the blog become too consuming? Does it interfere with other priorities? Are there any unhealthy byproducts that come from writing this blog? . . . Consider your motivations for writing the blog . . . maybe taking a “sabbatical” from the blog would be the healthiest option."

The other, "Have you heard the phrase, "Kill your darlings"? . . . I'm not saying your blog needs to be scrapped completely. I think if it's a momentary stumbling block that will be fine in the long run, keep going. But if it's a race of hurdles where you just trip over hurdle after hurdle, maybe it does?"

In short, why am I trying to place Mother Mary on top of a treacherous mountain? 

Because it's the good and right and noble choice? Because it serves the smaller and greater community?

Or because I want to take a selfie on top the world? 

Are there any unhealthy byproducts that come from writing this blog?

Maybe. Maybe not. But the real problem was that I never asked, that I never allowed myself to consider the possibility that there were unhealthy byproducts. How could I? To kill my darlings would be to kill myself. 

Why am I dragging Mary up the mountain? 

Kevin Ashton, in How to Fly a Horse, tells of the gruesome story of a time when "doctors did not scrub in or out of the operating room, and were so proud of the blood on their gowns that they let it build up throughout their careers." And because it was a teaching hospital, it was common practice for doctors to deliver babies after dissecting corpses. 

The hospitals mortality rate was so terrible mothers would often rather give birth in the streets, on their own, rather than in the hospital. Because their survival rate was higher. 

Yet, none of the doctors asked why or assumed they played a role in any of the deaths. When asked to simply wash their hands, almost immediately, the mortality rate went from 18% to zero. 

However, "This was not enough to overcome the skepticism. Charles Delucena Meigs, an American obstetrician, typified the outrage. He told his students that a doctor's hands could not possibly carry disease because doctors are gentlemen and 'gentlemen's hands are clean' (via).

Charles Delucena Meigs, the American obstetrician, was doing great things - saving lives and advancing our understanding of the human body. Why would he ever need to question his actions when his motives were so good? 

Because people we're dying. And at that point, it shouldn't have mattered his perspective, his convictions on the cleanliness of a man's hands because, people were dying. 

And people are always more important than convictions.

I want to be a writer. Bad. But more than that, I want to be a better person. Writing has helped me be that, I think, but not always. Sometimes not. 

Because sometimes, instead of helping and loving and living a life worth writing about, I drag Mother Mary up the mountain. 

And the selfie just isn't worth it.

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  The DR Who Championed Hand-washing  :  How to Fly a Horse :  Open Thoughts

Breath, by Olbinski, is a deep punch to the (creative) soul

"The moment I heard the opening thump of bass…I knew I would be using this song for my film. But then those haunting vocals hit my ears…and blew my mind. It was like a punch deep in my soul. It’s hard to explain that feeling when you first hear a song and you immediately fall in love with it" (via).

Mike Olbinksi is a storm chaser, photographer, and an overall pretty amazing artist who has inspired me more than once. And his latest work, Breath, a storm time-lapse film in black and white, is no exception. 

"About halfway through editing," Olbinski writes, "I knew the song title would be my film title as well. It was so perfect I couldn’t believe it. Sometimes for me…when I’m chasing or watching an amazing storm…I’ll realize I haven’t taken a breath in awhile. Never really thought of it until I heard this song."

As you may have noticed, for the past month or so, I've stopped writing (more thoughts on that to come). It started consciously in December because I wanted to truly enjoy and unplug over the break. I was supposed to break the fast on New Year's Eve, but couldn't because, like Olbinksi (only opposite), I've been unable to breath. So I took another two-week gulp of air and planned on perhaps another six. 

But then I came across Olbinski: "I hadn’t even planned to start working on this film yet," he continues, "but I was so inspired that I furiously began to lay down time-lapse clips. I couldn’t stop pouring over it. It was last September and I was supposed to be working on Monsoon IV, but I forgot all about it once I heard Ex Makina’s “Breathe.” It almost felt like it was made for a black and white storm film." 

Inspiration inspires inspiration, furious creativity, and moments of intense clarity where we forget meetings, deadlines, lunch, even to breath. And I love that. Because that means it comes from somewhere outside ourselves, and because when it hits, we have to saturate ourselves in it, envelope it, and then, get it out.

Like filmmaking.

Like writing. 

And that's inspiring. Beautiful. "Like a punch deep in my soul." Which I desperately needed. 

Thank you, Mike Olbinski!

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Inspiration  :  On Creativity  :  Mike Olbinski

"It doesn't say, 'America.'"

Sadie did not attend school beyond the second grade. Instead, she worked. Like many of her should-be schoolmates living in Lancaster, South Carolina. Hine photographed the mill school, and the public school where non-mill children went.

Lewis Hine caption: This is where the mill children go to school. Lancaster, S.C. Enrollment 163– attendance, usually about 100. There are over 1,000 operatives in the mill. These are all that go to school from this mill settlement, which is geographically a part of Lancaster, but on account of the taxes has been kept just out of the corporate limits. Nov. 30/08. Location: Lancaster, South Carolina.

Lewis Hine caption: This is where the mill children go to school. Lancaster, S.C. Enrollment 163– attendance, usually about 100. There are over 1,000 operatives in the mill. These are all that go to school from this mill settlement, which is geographically a part of Lancaster, but on account of the taxes has been kept just out of the corporate limits. Nov. 30/08. Location: Lancaster, South Carolina.

Lewis Hine caption: This is where the other children go to school. Public School: Lancaster, South Carolina, November 1908.

Lewis Hine caption: This is where the other children go to school. Public School: Lancaster, South Carolina, November 1908.

In a time where the America is in constant pursuit of making itself great again, one has to question, if the image of Sadie didn't say America, what did? And what does?

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Sadie's Story  :  Photography

Treehouse Living

Sometimes, watching these sort of lifestyles plants seeds of envy, regret, and a whole lot of discontent. Other times, they inspire. Not to live in a treehouse necessarily (although I absolutely would) but to think outside my often times commercial box, and live different. Sometimes radically but more so simply.

Because don’t need a treehouse for that. Just courage. 

A space for home

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This transition process is taking longer than we expected. We still don't have lampshades, we have to borrow my in-laws vacuum almost weekly, and our dining room still doesn't have a working table and chairs - we have to crowed around a small countertop island to eat as a family.

But those are simple things that can easily change in the near future. It's the other stuff that's taking time, the human stuff, the kids crying themselves to sleep because they're thinking and dreaming and missing China stuff. The missing home stuff. And I didn't know what to do. 

We can talk about China and their friends, revisite old photographs and some of our favorite memories, and we can talk about all the blessings we've been able to experience since arriving back in the states. But that doesn't seem to help. Not much anyway. So resort to words like, "It will be okay, I promise. You just need time," or, "by this time next year, you'll be feeling much better, I promise." But they're empty. Because really, I have no idea if it will be okay, if things will get better. If they will ever stop missing home.

My optimism, in the end, amounts to nothing.

But then, this morning, my wife sent me a text that convicted and challenged my heart. She was writing to share the news that she'd been featured on a forum that receives close to a million submissions, and she was one of seven people chosen. "It's not a big deal," she wrote, "but it is just a little encouraging. She continued:

It's funny how I am feeling so sad about loss and constantly worried I'll shrivel, but there are spaces of delight here. Just comparing apples and oranges. But getting this photo featured means more than just that. It means there is hope for a Home again. Even if it's hard to believe now.

I loved the way she said that, "there is hope for a Home again. Even if it's hard to believe now" because it reminded me that hope is active.

It is her taking pictures every day, even when she doesn't feel like it because its her and her passion and the best way she knows how way capture life, because soon enough these times will be gone.

It's her working on a home, daily, even when there isn't any more money left or much to do so she rearranges the few pieces of furniture for a second, third, and forth time because that's how she builds a home, little by little, and over time. 

It's how she moves towards hope.

Hope is active, optimism passive. Optimism believes things will get better and turn out okay while hope gets off the couch and ensures that they do - even when it's hard to believe that it will.

"There are spaces of delight here", and with hope, those spaces will expand and grow and fill up with memories, laughter, and Life. 

Until this space becomes our Home.

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Open Thoughts  :  On Living  :  Josey Miller Photography

Naked, and without shame.

"We are only what we always were, but naked now.  Aye! and the wind. God's icy wind, will blow."

- John Proctor - 

In class today, while discussing the culture of Mississippi, the banning of To Kill a Mockingbird, and if the Confederate Flag will survive the deep south hospitality, a student asked, "Why is all this happening now?"

"What?" I asked.

"The taking down of flags, the rise of the LBGTQ community, and all the sexual harassment stuff."

"Because we're in the midst of a revolution," I said.

A revolution of power. 

A revolution of fear.

And a revolution of responsibility

as parents,

teachers,

adults,

woman,

men, 

people,

And bystanders.

The magnitude of accusations has been staggering, but it's also been terrifying, because it has come from every corner of every neighborhood, like a plague, infecting everyone. Comedians, actors, producers, pastors, reporters, governors, liberals, Fox Newsers, presidents, neighbors, and family members. 

Recently, for a poetry unit, one of my students wrote, 

. . . it was a bathroom filled with smoke and shot glasses littering the table.

I try my hardest to forget but I know I am not able.

I remember all I could think was, "Please do not come any closer."

The night soon, just not quickly enough, came to an end and he asks, "Promise not to tell?"

Me? Not not me. No sir.

Who would I have told with so much on the line?

A life would be ruined and I'm absolutely sure nothing would be fine,

Except now I fear hands that are bigger than mine.

. . .

When I called DFS and reported the story, they already knew. But there was nothing they could do. It was his word against her's. 

And she's just one of thousands of woman, both old and young, who have hidden and damning stories that have been trapped beneath years and years of lies, fear, and power.

That's why the cover of the New York Times, Cosby Woman has an empty chair, and it why the TIME Person of the Year cover has a mysterious elbow below Taylor Swift, because "she’s symbolic of all those people who have yet to come forward and may be struggling to do so for fear of repercussions" (via).

Why is all this happening now?

Because it needs to happen now. 

We are what we've always been, only naked now.

So let the icy winds blow.

For the innocent feel no shame.

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  #Metoo : this is the hand . . .  :  On Living

 

Cory Richards and the soulful art of vulnerability

"At the age of 14, photographer Cory Richards had dropped out of high school and was technically homeless. His education, he says, was instead obtained through the observation of struggle" (via)

Ever since, he's made a living out of it.

Above all else, vulnerability is key to making any good art.

You have to show up.

And you have to bring all your baggage with you.

 

Photo by Cory Richards

Photo by Cory Richards

Because that's when you connect.

Photo by Cory Richards

Photo by Cory Richards

That's real. That's reality.

Photo by Cory Richards

Photo by Cory Richards

Sunstars and oversaturated - Instagram - that's not soulful.

That's easy.

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Life of Adventure  :  Photography  :  Purpose of Conflict 

A Tribute to Discomfort: Insights from National Geographic Photographer Cory Richards