Consumption is Key

In my experience, the best way to bust through writer’s block (or any block in creativity) is to consume more and more things. Now, I don’t mean “consume” like “spend money on a bunch of stuff or buy the newest gadget”, I am a minimalist after all. What I mean is, when the brain hits a roadblock it is usually good to explore new intellectual avenues and build some new neural networks. We live in the most amazing time in human history, the wealth of knowledge at our fingertips for free would take a thousand lifetimes to even begin to peruse. That information can help push us past our limits and help us discover new answers to our questions.

Consumption leads to creation. Just like the food we eat turns into fuel for our activities, the experiences we have turn into the things we create. And, like food and exercise, the more diverse and rounded our experiences are, the healthier and stronger the things we create will become. The body needs more than just one type of food and one type of exercise to be great and art needs more than just one perspective and one tool to be great.

Personally, I have a few “go to” services when my brain is stuck. Sometimes those services make intuitive sense. For example, maybe I’ll go to the library and pick up a book about writing (“On Writing” by Stephen King is my favorite) or I’ll check out a course on creative writing at Coursera.com.

Not all of the stuff I consume is based purely on writing, but they help my writing just the same. I’m working on improving my math skills through Khan Academy, which can help with logic and problem solving. I meditate using the Headspace app, which brings me a calmer mind and helps with focus (okay, I technically pay for this app but there are free options). Or maybe I read a book about Buddhism or business or psychology or some science fiction or philosophy or astronomy or pagan rituals to give me a new perspective on the human experience and how to communicate (or take Coursera courses about these things). Also, music and tv can help encourage new mental pathways and perspectives and, of course, video games (though, I find video games and tv/movies are the most dangerous sources of motivation because I can easily form an unhealthy relationship with them). I also enjoy looking into creating things in all the arts…. painting, dancing, cooking, drawing, etc can all make you a better writer because they round you out more as a person, they give you new adventures and perspectives.

There is, as always, a danger that consuming materials will start to become the goal instead of the act of creating. That risk is present with all things, that we will use consumption as an excuse to not create… but nobody ever said thriving in life would be easy. Ease and comfort do not lead to creation.

Advertisements

Practice Before Inspiration

Yesterday, while listening to the Isaac Morehouse podcast with his perennial guest TK Coleman, I had a “coming to Jesus” moment. In this particular podcast they discussed a one of Isaac’s recent blog posts where he takes issue with people “finding themselves” before knowing how to work hard. This discussion was like a punch in the gut because, in many ways, it defined my attitude. I’m that person who has been to Burning Man several times and spent a couple years biking around the country.

In a sense, I have filled my life with distractions instead of working hard towards my goals of becoming a writer. I think there was value to those distractions and my experiences have served many purposes (particularly in helping me process my PTSD), but they haven’t made me a better writer. Before I can become a “good writer”, I must become a “writer”. I haven’t put in the hard work and discipline necessary to reach my goals. Instead, I put the cart in front of the horse… I went looking for inspiration and life hacks and writing secrets instead of putting words on paper. Right now I am like a painter with all the colors and paintbrushes at my disposal, but I don’t even know how to hold the paintbrush correctly. I have ideas, I have experiences, but I need practice.

It is annoying that man cliche’s are correct. My health and fitness improved when I stopped drinking excessive beer, eliminated caloric drinks, started eating a whole-foods plant based diet, exercised regularly, and got plenty of sleep. For most people, life hacks aren’t like computer hacks, they are like hack writers… low quality and ineffective. You need to have the basics down before you can optimize. I’m laying down the basics with my health, but I haven’t started doing that with my writing.

So, were do I go from here?

Well, I need to write more. My blogging has been okay but it hasn’t been pushing me that much. I’ve allowed myself to slack on it or come up with excuses too often. I need this to be a daily thing. I also need to get back to basics, so I am going to try and take a class or two on writing. I also just need to write and read a lot more. I’m not exactly sure what system I can implement that will reach my goals, but maybe I can use something similar to my health routine.

I’m going to keep pushing forward, because I really do love writing and want to be a writer. I’m really thankful that this podcast episode came around when it did. I find it easy to get complacent and ignore the plank in my own eye (while often pointing out the speck in others – Mathew 7:3). It is always beneficial to try and objectively view yourself and figure out if criticism applies to you, in this circumstance it certainly did.  Hell, according to Isaac he often writes blog posts with a specific person in mind so maybe this one was aimed directly to me… probably not though. It is more likely that I am just lucky collateral damage.

Podcast Link: http://isaacmorehouse.com/2016/08/12/90-fwtk-anger-work-crappy-arguments-and-the-supernatural/
Blog Link: https://discoverpraxis.com/dont-try-to-find-yourself-until-you-know-how-to-work/

Smiling at the Furnace

Today, my writing is again inspired by a blog post from the eternal wisdom-seeker, TK Coleman. I wonder if it is cheating or lazy to respond and expand upon ideas from other people instead of spewing out my own thoughts… oh well, call me lazy I guess, but I prefer the term “efficient”. Anyway, in his post Coleman wrote about gaining optimism from adversity. He is made stronger and encouraged to go on when more obstacles stand in his way. My favorite passage from the short post is this:

I insist on giving the middle finger to all the shittiest aspects of life and saying “you can bake me, but you can’t break me” while being tossed into the fiery furnace of trial and tribulation.

That furnace visualization instantly made me think of the Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego myth from the 3rd Book of Daniel in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. I think there was a couple of popular songs about the story performed by Veggie Tales, Carman, dc Talk, or something. Anyway, in this story the three protagonists are thrown into a fiery furnace because they are unwilling to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzer.

Despite the shittiest of all aspects in life (death by fire) they stayed true to their beliefs and came out stronger. In the end they were rewarded for their faith with life and a promotion. (Yeah, it is kind of weird that they would continue to work for a king that demanded them treat him like God and tried to kill them… but whatever).

When it comes to our own life we should model the behavior of Shad-Me-Abed, we should smile at the flames and use the struggles of life to make us stronger. As we overcome greater and greater obstacles the things that seemed insurmountable become easy. Even Michael Phelps probably thought he was going to drown the first time he was in the water. And he probably thought that smoking pot would have a detrimental to his performance and career… but now he can naturally do both without barely batting an eye. There really are only two options to “demon standing before me, waiting to feed on the deliciousness of my anguish”, you can feed it and grow weak or you can laugh at it’s hunger and grow strong.

I find that people are often those demons trying to feed on our anguish. Something about humans makes us love the failure and self-destruction of others, maybe it is a cultural thing or maybe it is evolutionary (or maybe both), but we seem to enjoy watching people stumble and fall. We gossip about mistakes people are making instead of helping them make better choices and we discourage them from taking chances because of all the things that could go wrong. Maybe, seeing others succeed acts as a mirror and shows us all the ways in which we failed to take risks and, instead, just took the safe road that everyone else follows.

I remember a party I went to right before I started my solo bike ride in 2012. The “nay sayers” fell into two categories. The first group had my best interest in mind (I think) and tended to express concerns about my safety and how dangerous the world is. They primarily overestimated the challenges ahead and the danger that came from things outside of my power (weather, robbers, cars, etc). The second group seemed to want me to fail. They didn’t think I had the ability to do a solo bike ride, they were demons waiting to hear the news that I gave up or got hurt because they would feed off of that.

There will always be furnaces in life, and we should face them head on. Our bodies and minds are pretty fucking durable, more so than many of us imagine. Certainly, we all have limits, but those limits will never be known if we get comfortable walking away from obstacles and feeding demons. And when we start to become inspired and motivated by obstacles we may push so far beyond our limits that we even surprise ourselves.

Podcasts!

When you spend 4-6 hours a day cycling you have a lot of time to listen to stuff… or, I guess, a lot of time to be stuck in your own head. I certainly spend some time without earbuds in, but most of those hours I am listening to music via Spotify, books via Audible, or podcasts via Podbean. Podcasts are my current favorite and I thought I’d share what is currently bouncing around my speakers. In no particular order…

Practice of the Practice: This is one of the newest additions to my lineup. PotP is a podcast about the inner workings of running your own private therapy practice. I am still considering therapy as a future career field and I’ve found this to be incredibly informative.

On No Ross and Carrie: Currently my favorite podcast. Ross and Carrie investigate claims of the supernatural, paranormal, and fringe science. They personally get involved in cults, try out “alternative medicine”, and join religions. They’ve joined the Mormon church, Scientology, tried cleanses, tarot cards, and a whole mess of other things. They are funny and scientific and it has really inspired me to explore more religious practices myself.

TEDTalks: A bunch of these are available on Podbean. The quality varies but I find the Science and Medicine category to be pretty solid. My only real complaint is that they are videos instead of audio, which means you can’t shift away from the screen without pausing it and it sucks up a bunch of memory.

The Tim Ferriss Show: The podcast for Ferriss, the author of the “4-Hour Work Week” (one of the most influential books I’ve ever read) covers people who are the best in their field. Chess prodigies, neuroscientists, adventurers, fire fighters… every angle of maximizing human potential is explored. It is rare that I am not incredibly fascinated or inspired by the subject and interviewee. Ferriss is also a strong Stoic who published “The Tao of Seneca” on Audible.

Waking Up with Sam Harris: The podcast by the (controversial?) atheist and neuroscientist is similar to Ferriss’ podcast. It doesn’t come out nearly as often but I do enjoy them when they come out.

The Joe Rogan Experience: Man, Rogan is kind of an asshole sometimes and he is wrong on a lot of stuff but he gets into some fascinating conversations with incredible guests. Because Rogan is so prolific (he comes out with a 3ish hour podcast several times a week) I usually just download the ones with guests that I know of or subjects I’m interested in.

My Brother, My Brother, and Me: This is an advice show for the modern era and the flagship podcast for the McElroy brothers. They are freaking hilarious and I have had to pull my bike over several times while listening to them because I am laughing so hard that I’m crying and I can’t see the road. If you love comedy podcasts give this one a try… it can take an episode or two to get a feeling for the three guys and their contribution to the show.

Getting Curious with Johnathan Van Ness: Another new podcast to my list. Van Ness is an infinitely curious guy who investigates the random subjects that crosses his mind. His excitement during interviews can’t be contained, and it provides a comedic effect. The show is only about thirty minutes, which is a nice break from the other podcasts which can run over an hour. Some of the subjects he has covered includes menstrual cups, what was the first Christmas really like, what is gender identity, and who were the Romanavs?

Bunker Buddies: This is a McElroy podcast put on by Travis and his friend Andie. They discuss various end of the world scenarios and survival situations such as surviving a zombie apocalypse or surviving an airplane crash. Part funny and part informative.

Sex Nerd Sandra: Probably the most informative podcast about sex subjects that I’ve ever listened to. Sandra spends an hour or so interviewing experts on specific sexual subjects including swinging, anal sex, and asexuality. She is a fantastic sex educator who also puts on online classes weekly.

The Adventure Zone: This is the first McElroy production that I was introduced to. The McElroy brothers play D&D with their dad. It is a nerdy kind of funny and I anxiously await each new episode of this more than any other podcast.

The Isaac Morehouse Show: Morehouse is an entrepreneur and freedom advocate who explores what it means to be free in today’s world. There is often a particular focus on education and entrepreneurship, but it can get downright philosophical in the best possible way. I’ve found this podcast to be the most personally rewarding to listen to and it inspires creativity.

Sawbones: The final McElroy production that I listen to. In this show Justin and his wife Sydnee (a medical doctor) explore the wacky, crazy, and sometimes disturbing, world of medical history. They walk you through the relatively logical Greek/Roman era to the batshit crazy dark era to the enlightenment into modern times. It is the one Anna and I listen to the most together.

 

If you have any podcast recommendations feel free to send them my way and I’ll check them out.