Infection

Creation is a disease. It is a virus. Once it infects a person it slowly, but surely takes over your entire being.

It is a small, invisible lifeform that moves from cell to cell in your body and takes control. It intoxicates to host and turns all energy towards the act of creating.

Once it takes hold, it is nearly impossible to destroy. Your only hope is to stop it early on. A blog is easy to stop when you’ve only posted a few things. A chapter or two of your novel can be tossed into an unmarked folder on your desktop. The paint and paintbrushes you ordered off of Amazon can sit in the corner “until tomorrow”. The guitar you borrowed from your father can gather dust in the closet after only a night or two of picking. The running shoes that cost $85 can sit by the door every morning if you’ve only run a few miles and you’re “too sore”, “running late”, or it is “too cold”.

But once creation starts to reproduce and get results, there is no stopping it. When you get the habit of writing every day and finish your book, you soon want to start a podcast. When you run daily and realize the rhythm of your feet matches the beat from a song, you want to start playing a musical instrument. When you recognize the patterns in the paintings around the room as mathematical principles you want to write a book about Leonardo DiVinci. Using your mind to make something new makes you wonder what your body is capable of, and vice versa. Creation infects every fiber of your mind, body, and soul and makes you wonder “what if?”. How strong could I be? What can I create with paint or chalk or music or poetry? Exploration of your own potential unlocks creativity that nobody can contain, and success isn’t about outside recognition but the completion of a task, and that motivates you on to the next thing you are curious about.

Creation creates creation.

You better stop now, or else there will be no stopping you.

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.

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/

One Little Comment

I’ve been struggling with my writing for the last few months. I’m not sure exactly what it is, I just haven’t felt like I am creating anything of value. Nothing I write really feels original or insightful. I’ve just been down lately. That changed recently.

While rolling with two of our closest friends I was curled up with one of them and she told me that she really liked my writing. To be honest, I was a bit surprised. This is someone that I respect on all levels and love very much. For her to have a positive comment about something I created really touched me deep. I occasionally get positive comments about my writing, and I love when I do, but something about this one really stood out. I truly believed her and it has inspired me to keep writing, and even take on new projects. I am sure the MDMA was a big part of why I believed her and why the positive feelings have stuck with me (it is an amazing medicine).

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a little paranoia that I was the butt of some unknown joke. There was a thought in the back of my head that my friends were really laughing about me behind my back, that partners were with me because they pitied me, or that people would discover that I am just a giant fraud in some way. It isn’t logical, but it has been there in my mind for a long time (though, it has gotten better since I started the bike ride). Maybe it is a self worth issue. It is something that I’d love to discuss with a therapist someday.

Anyway, I think it is important for us to tell creators that we value what they create. Particularly those that don’t sell what they create. I don’t think we should lie to people, but if you love something that someone does please tell them (and constructive feedback is awesome too). It really could be the difference between them continuing to create and giving up.

Prelude: On The Mountaintop

What follows is my first draft of the Prelude for my upcoming book, tentatively titled “Mostly Flat: <something something something>”. If you have any thoughts or recommendations about clarity, grammar, etc please feel free to email me at pjneiger@gmail.com or Facebook message me. I will add chapters as I produce them and then, after some editing and such, make my book available to purchase. 

 

It started on a mountaintop in Afghanistan, as these things often do.

I guess a mountaintop in Afghanistan is specific to me, but the planting of a seed in the mind needs fertile soil, and fertile soil is often found in those moments of peace and serenity amidst chaos. When the mind has been occupied and the body afraid there is no time to think or plan or dream, but when the fear of imminent death slides away you can take stock of your life and how short it is.

My mind turned towards the future as I was laying on that mountaintop, my automatic rifle laying loosely on my lap, my helmet on the ground, and my eyes closed as the summer sun tried to pierce my lids. The men around me, my brothers, were discussing the same things we always discussed when we had spare time in a warzone. We chatted about the food we wanted to eat, the beer we wanted to drink, and the girls we wanted to sleep with. On that final point I had little to contribute, I was a virgin at the time and had sworn to my God to wait until I was married before bumping uglies.

We also talked about home and the places we wanted to go. This conversation required the help of a translator due to the regions of the US that were represented on that mountaintop. On one extreme we had Gagne, a young boy from rural Maine. Slim in stature and prone to embellishment his excited tales of his time in Maine were some of our favorites and always brought ruckus laughter. We knew his stories of competing in destruction derby’s or driving a car without a windshield or hood so that he could pour oil into the engine while he drove were likely not true, but they made us cry with laughter every time he told them. I like to believe they are true.

Gagne, being ever the story teller, was the polar opposite of Harding. Harding is a southern-boy from Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and he fit every stereotype. He was big, both in height and weight, and spoke slowly with a deep southern drawl. He rarely spoke except to ask what Gagne was saying, the two couldn’t understand each other, and because of this I became the default translator. My upbringing on the west coast and neutral/boring accent allowed me to understand and translate Yankee and Redneck.

Discussing the all the towns we came from planted a seed in my mind. This seed was to see the country that I was fighting for and, in a way, pay tribute to my unit, the 82nd Airborne Division, the All-Americans[1]. Seeds in the mind are tricky things. They aren’t like physical seeds you get to plant a garden, they don’t come cleanly labeled with species and growing instructions. You may have a general idea what a mental seed will look like but as it marinates in your mind, just below the surface, it mixes with other ideas and evolves into something you couldn’t predict. Then, when the time is right, it springs forth from your mind. It may be months, years, or decades later, and you may have forgotten that the seed even existed. For me, that season for growth started when I attended Burning Man for the first time in 2011.

Burning Man is hard to describe because it isn’t one thing. At its foundation it is a community of people who gather together for a week to build a society based on 10 Principles[2]. The beautiful thing about these principles is that people apply them in different ways and to different degrees, and everyone is accepted as long as they don’t harm another person. The biggest influence for me was meeting people who had taken charge of their lives. They had decided they didn’t want a normal, stable, monotonous life, and they took action. I camped with entrepreneurs, artists, and adventurers. It was hard not to be inspired and, during a particularly pleasurable night of rolling on Molly and exploring The Playa, the seed that was planted in 2004 started to bust forth.

When I returned to DC I tried to ignore the plant that had sprouted forth. It was easy at first, it was small and existed only in my periphery. But as time went by the plant began to grow. Ignoring it became more difficult. The beauty of the idea took up more and more of my mental space and I found my mind wandering to the plant as I worked. In many ways it was like a mirror, showing me how unhappy I was living in Washington DC, working 40-50 hours a week, and buying into the system. I tried to make changes in my life by working from home and taking on hobbies, but the idea kept growing and as it grew it began to take a more solid form.

Not only was I going to explore the United States, I was going to do it by bicycle, and it would start with a solo cross country ride.

Eventually, I got to a point where I had to make a choice. The idea could not be ignored any longer and I either had to destroy it or I had to embrace it. Destroying it would have taken mental effort, but it could have been done. There were all the logical reasons in the world to destroy it. I had a good job with a bright future in an economy that was weak and I had loads of debt. There was no job waiting for me on the other side of the country. I knew nothing about cycling long distances or bike maintenance. It was a crazy idea to abandon all stability and cross 3,000 miles of unknown land on two wheels. I didn’t destroy the idea, it was too beautiful and inspiring to destroy.

Instead, I destroyed all the poisonous things in my life and used them as fertilizer for the idea. My job, stability, the doubts from friends, and my inexperience all became strengths. I quit my job, bought a $100 bicycle at target, strapped everything I owned onto the back with bungee cords, and hit the road with one paycheck in my bank account. I knew there was a good chance I would fail, but damn it, I was going to try.

 

[1] What is now the 82nd Airborne Division received the nickname “All American” from Major General Swift because it had soldiers from every state at the time.

[2] The principles are Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommidification, Radical Self-Reliance, Radical Self-Expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leaving No Trace, Participation, and Immediacy. You can find out more at burningman.org/culture/philosophical-center/10-principles/

Asking Why

Over the last year or so I’ve been trying to be more conscious of my decisions. I try to ask myself why  I am doing something, particularly little things that I generally don’t give much thought to.

Why did I log on to Facebook? Am I trying to communicate with someone? Am I just bored? Am I trying to see what is going on in the world? Is there a better way to reach my goals?

Why am I drinking another beer? Am I trying to get drunk? Is it social lubricant? Am I just satisfying my oral fixation? Can I find a healthier alternative?

This practice has gotten to the point where it is almost unconscious… most of the time. Through this practice I have noticed that I spend less time on wasteful activities and direct my energy to more productive ends. That isn’t always the case, sometimes I’ll think “Why am I surfing this political blog? Is it making me happy or more informed?” and the answer will be “I’m bored and this is bumming me out”, but I keep doing it anyway. Maybe I am just a masochist sometimes or maybe my will power is reduced to the point where even my conscious analysis doesn’t give a fuck.

Anyway, I like this practice and I’m going to keep it up. There is value in challenging our impulses, habits, and the things we do because we are told we should.

Selfish, Shallow, and Self- Absorbed

I just finished reading (well, listening to) “Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids”. Overall, I really enjoyed it. As an intentionally childless adult it was nice to listen to likeminded individuals explain their reasons for deciding not to have children. Many times I found myself nodding and smiling as the audiobook progressed, but mostly I was surprised at how diverse the reasoning was for many people. Even as one of the childless I still see the issue primarily through my own lens and hearing the authors (primarily women) discuss their situations opened my eyes to how easy I have it when it comes to this issue (and many others) primarily because I am a man.

The main title (Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed) is a bit tongue-in-cheek. Those accusations are something most intentionally childless people hear from time to time, and to some extent they are accurate. But, they are also accurate of people who have children. Isn’t it “selfish” to have a child because you’ve always wanted one or you get pleasure out of being a parent? Isn’t it shallow to have a child because that is what is expected of you from society? Isn’t it self-absorbed to require a genetic copy of you when nearly half a million children in the US alone need to be adopted or fostered? In the end, we are all selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed to some extent. It is our reasoning beyond those adjectives that I find much more important.

Some of the authors had abusive parents, some did not. Some were focused on their careers, but some did not. Some regret the decision, but others did not. The authors are individual humans, and as such they are complicated people and their reasoning reflects that. It is so easy to just label an intentionally childless person as selfish (or a Trump supporter as dumb or a Christian as foolish etc etc etc) but that removes their humanity. It reduces them to a small, inaccurate box based on one thing you know about them. It is like Dan Savage says about telling someone you have HIV… “When you tell someone you have HIV you are telling them one fact about you, but the way they respond tells you a lot about them”

We need to just cut each other a break once in a while. If you are truly interested in why someone chose not to have children (or why they did have children, support Trump, call themselves Christian, etc) then the proper thing to do is ask in a private and respectful way, and realize they don’t have to tell you if they don’t want to. I certainly wouldn’t ask those questions of strangers, it is kind of rude to ask a stranger why they do or don’t do the things they do with their genitalia, finances, vote, or soul.

So, if you are interested in hearing a small sample of the reasons people choose to be childless I highly recommend this book. Some of the authors are snarky and harsh, but so are some parents. It is a good read and can really open your eyes to how and why other people do the things they do.

Strength, Passion, and Revenue

I have this desire to be an entrepreneur and an author, but I struggle with finding what areas I can create value in. This is especially true when it comes to writing. I feel like most of what I have to say is unoriginal or so niche as to only be applicable in my own life. Logically, I know this isn’t really true. I have received countless emails thanking me for the things I write about or share on Facebook. I truly believe that by waving my freak flag high I am doing good, but I am still a reluctant flag bearer.

I guess that is where I can have some value in this crazy world. I feel no shame about being who I am and, consequences be damned, I will share that with the world. I think part of it is noble, I am in a position to be open while so many people are not. If my words, views, or actions can inspire hope or comfort for others than I am doing a good thing. Part of it isn’t really that noble, I am just more comfortable living my life out loud, even though it may make some people uncomfortable. Hell, part of me enjoys making people uncomfortable, particularly if they are people from my past who have views that I find abhorrent. I think bigotry and close-mindedness should be uncomfortable. You should be called out if you want to use the threat of jail or damnation to control the actions of others and to force them into the closet. To be honest, I still keep a lot of my views secret, particularly political or economic views because I consider these issues to be complicated and many people in my social circle have unrelenting and militant views… it just isn’t worth the fight or the stress of reading their comments (which, makes me sound like a coward).

I don’t think my willing to openly (and hopefully logically) discuss my life or my views on controversial subjects like zoophilia, sexually open relationships, pedophilia, atheism, anarchism, etc is particularly marketable. People aren’t really going to pay me to talk about those things, at least not pay me in a way that will let me live the life I want. I don’t want a large income, I just need enough coming in to maintain my lifestyle of travel, minimalism, and leisure… so, about $800 per month at this point. My current job more than covers that, but it’d be nice to get an income stream that is automatic and not require monthly work.

So, given that my controversial passions probably won’t pay the bills, I have a couple of more conventional ideas for books about biking that could bring in some cash money:

  • A Guide to Adventure/Lifestyle Cycling for couples, families, and pet owners. It can cover cycling basics like maintenance, finding water/food, stealth camping techniques, finding electricity, maintaining a fitness routine, dog care, equipment we like, and such. It can also have some tips for maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner(s) while travelling.
  • A memoir about my solo cross country bike ride from DC to LA in the summer of 2012. This could also be used as a platform to discuss my life philosophy and lessons I’ve learned. I’ll probably do this regardless just for myself.
  • Children’s books from Higgins perspective as we travel the US (and world?). I’m not sure if these would be better as picture books for very young children or as short stories for Kindergarten age. Actually, I have no fucking clue what age children read what type of book. This would take a little research.

 

I don’t know which of those (if any) are the best option for creating a cash flow for me right now. There is a lot of work involved with each but I actually have spare time almost daily to work on this. I think I need to re-read 4-Hour Work Week and start implementing his strategies, particularly market testing, before moving forward with actual content creation. Though, I can also create these for myself but it’d be nice to prioritize the ones that could create revenue first.

PS: I am also kind of terrified of investing in something that will/may be a failure. It is easy for me to jump off a cliff and roll with it, but to spend my heart and soul into creating something only to be rejected is terrifying. This also has stopped me from exploring other artistic creations that I’m interested in, like music and charcoal drawing. Again, I know this makes me sound like a coward. I have many areas in my life that need work.

Moving Forward

Today is the last day that I’ll be on holiday “vacation”, and that means when we get back to Dallas it will be time to start the routine again and ring in the new year. While on this break I intentionally neglected a lot of my habits as a reward to myself and as a way to minimize my stress and guilt that comes from holiday gorging, playing video games, and slacking. The three notable exceptions are that I still took my daily nootropics/supplements, I did some Duolingo German work daily, and I completed the work and classes for my writing Coursara course. Other than that, I just let myself roll with each day and didn’t worry about exercise, meditation, etc. Thanks to this break I have a clearer idea of what and how I want to make 2016 my best year yet.

First, I am going to take my health more seriously. That means not making excuses for bad eating habits. Just because I am biking almost daily that does not mean I should consume unhealthy foods or lots of beer. I also need to make time for strengthening exercises using body weight or the equipment I have available. I should be able to easily improvise weights with what I have on me.

Second, I want to really learn German. I have a three-pronged approach that is cheap and should be successful. I will continue with daily Duolingo, I’ll listen to the Pimsleur lessons on Audible, and I will watch a German language film 1-2 times per week. I am also going to research other free options online to see if any would fit my lifestyle.

Third, Anna and I are going to get started on “The Adventures of Higgins” (tentative title), a series of children’s books about our bike travels from the perspective of our dog. It will be a picture book that tells his stories exploring the US and will have basic lessons about geography, different cultures around the country, history, fitness, etc. I am going to use the “Isaac Morehouse Method” and try to do one thing daily to keep this project moving forward. This will provide me with an outlet for creativity, writing, and entrepreneurship. And maybe if it is a success it will bring in some cash too. I hope to have our first short book out this year and ready to send to friends who have kids for product testing.

Fourth, get into a regular meditation practice. Meditation, like flossing, is one of those things that I know I should be doing but somehow have a hard time getting into the habit. I know there are incredibly health benefits to mindful meditation and I have time to do it. I need to make it a priority.

So, those are my goals for 2016. I might create some sort of milestone for each with small daily or weekly tasks, or maybe I’ll just wing it. My current spreedsheet that has a point system seems to be working well for me so far. 2015 was the best year of my life and was filled with incredibly adventures and wonderful growth that comes from trials and success. I can’t wait to see what the new year will bring me.

The End of the Ride

In an effort to improve my writing I am participating in a free Coursera course “Writing for Young Readers”. Writing for children isn’t a particular passion for me but I figured it is good to do more writing and have others read what I wrote. What follows is my first assignment for that class. Due to the assignment limitations (500 words) the story is a very short version of the true events, but I’m writing a book about my cross-country bike ride and the final day will be explained more extensively in the book. Any comments or advice would be appreciated.

I awoke to the sound of lawn sprinklers dangerously close to my tent. In my hazy, early morning daze I knew something wasn’t quite right but my mind was moving too slowly to figure it out. Then it hit me. Literally. Water began to blast into my tent, soaking through the thin nylon and creating a growing puddle around my sleeping bag. The sun was barely coming over the hills and I wanted nothing more than to curl back up and go to sleep, but that wasn’t going to happen. Besides, this was my final day and I should be excited.

Over the last two months I had been riding my bicycle across the United States. After over three thousand miles and countless memories I had finally made it to my final day, the day when I would see the Pacific Ocean and start my new life in Los Angeles. I was happy and excited, but I was also a bit sad to see this journey come to an end. A part of me wanted to keep riding forever and neglect the responsibility that came with adulthood. It was easy being on the road with no concerns beyond finding a place to sleep or grabbing a meal. That leisure life of cycling had come to an end and ahead of me was the unknown. I had no job in Los Angeles, all I had was a friend who was willing to let me sleep on his couch until I got my life together.

So, I grudgingly got up and got ready for the last hundred miles. I went through the morning routine of coffee, breakfast, and packing that had become second-nature to me. Most of the day went by as a blur, a collection of faded memories that blended with the rest of my ride. At some point every farm, every town, and every road starts to look the same. Even the photos I took barely remind me of what I felt at that time. That changed once I got onto the final trail before I hit the ocean.

I rode that trail almost as if in a dream. My mind was unable to comprehend that the moment had finally arrived. Seeing the ocean had been something I had played over in my mind hundreds of times over the previous months. This moment kept me motivated when my bike broke down in West Virginia, when I faced 50 mph winds in New Mexico, and all the other times that I broke down mentally and doubted myself.

I can still picture the ocean coming into view, taking my breath away. Tears streamed down my face as I walked to that clear blue water. I fell to my knees and just sat there, sobbing and smiling. It was bittersweet, but the adventure was over. I had done it. I had biked across the United States.