Thursday, April 30, 2015

Get over it, for your own good

"I hate the phrase 'Life is too short.' Sometimes it feels very long to me. But it's certainly too short to spend any time on hard feelings."

— James Altucher, Choose Yourself

Monday, April 27, 2015

W.B.'s Book Report (in progress): Choose Yourself

Kindle tells me I am 70 percent of my way through James Altucher's fine manifesto Choose Yourself, which has much to say about the way things are in this day and age and about how best to live during this new era. As Altucher guides me along, I find myself in greater admiration of Paul Phillips, the central figure in my Myke Phoenix universe.

When first we met Paul in the early 1990s (or 2008 when the stories first saw light of day), he was an everyday radio news reporter for WACR, a news-talk station in Astor City, a city that sort of reminds me of Green Bay, in whose orbit I have spent the last 30 years. But local radio news has faded toward obscurity, and Paul found himself in need of a new day job.

He latched onto the Astor City Times-Gazette as a newspaper reporter. You may have heard about the newspaper industry. Yep, Paul was laid off again.

What happened next brings us to Altucher's point, which you can sample in this YouTube video from a TEDx talk a few months ago. Paul Phillips chose himself.

His traditional jobs telling the story of Astor City dried up and went away. But Paul still believed that the people of Astor City wanted and needed to hear their story.

So, using the tools of modern technology, he made his own platform to tell that story: The Astor City Beacon, a local news website that does the things that WACR and the Times-Gazette used to do – that is to say, it tells Astor City's stories as seen and reported by Paul Phillips.

Altucher's thesis is that day jobs are swiftly becoming a thing of the past and that's OK because happiness is found not when someone else chooses you, but when you choose yourself. And he goes about telling how he did that and making suggestions about how you can do something similar.

I still have 30 percent of the book to become disillusioned, but through this point I've found quite a lot of valuable insight about how to navigate this brave new world. And for that I heartily recommend the book.

Oh, and I wouldn't object if you explore Paul Phillips' world while you're at it, either the original Paul or the more recent Paul.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A little writing about writing and art

Ray Bradbury is among the greatest writers of the 20th century, and on a more personal note he is my favorite writer most days. Bradbury (1920-2012) wrote an essay called “Zen in the Art of Writing” in which he boiled the craft of writing down to four words: “Work. Relaxation. Don’t think.”

Specifically he said that while you write, don’t think about the possibility of making money with your words – even if you’re a full-time writer whose livelihood depends on it – and don’t think about the process of writing. Just let the words flow.

It’s a tricky balancing act, but every writer at least occasionally enters a “zone” where good stuff just flows from your fingers. Time enough to edit later. For the moments of creation, it’s enough to get the thoughts out and worry later about whether the words are in the proper order.

Bradbury broke into the business of writing by making a commitment to write at least one short story every week. He didn’t worry about whether they were any good or “saleable,” he just wanted to establish a habit. At the end of the first year, he had 52 short stories. Almost none of them sold, but some of them did, and his career was underway.

Writer and filmmaker Joss Whedon is doing interviews this month in advance of his next blockbuster (”Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron”), and one statement jumped off the page at me: “I have a contract with my audience – that I will do better, that I will give them a reason to come in again that is more than the reason we gave them last time.”

What a powerful motivation for an artist! Whedon is the creator of several popular, well-known works from TV series to movies and even comic books, and his audience is passionate about him because they sense that commitment – that he considers his contract with them more important than any financial contract. Bradbury would likely say Whedon “gets it” – care first about the writing, and the rest will take care of itself.

There’s a brilliant little movie that Preston Sturges made in 1941, “Sullivan’s Travels,” about a filmmaker of popular comedies who decides he’d rather try to do something “important.” Instead of another silly feature, he aims to adapt a pretentious literary work called “O Brother Where Are Thou” (and yes, that’s where the 2000 film got its name).

He embarks on an undercover journey to feel what the characters in the novel experienced. Long story short, in the end he finds himself in an audience of prisoners watching a Disney Pluto cartoon.

He laughs at the antics on the screen, then looks around and sees the roomful of inmates also laughing – released from their miserable circumstances for a few minutes of something resembling joy – and he realizes that his silly comedies also meet a basic human need and he has already done something “important” with his genius for entertaining people.

We live for the act of creation – and each of us creates something in everything we do every day. There is an art to driving a busload of kids to school, there is an art to serving a great cup of coffee, there is an art to collecting garbage.

In our art we make the world a better place for others, whether we serve an audience of one or a million, whether we write a poem for our sweetheart or a blockbuster summer movie for mass consumption.

Think about your “audience” – the people you serve – and make a contract to do your best and make today’s best even better than yesterday, and you’ll achieve that better world.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Just get started

Time management only works if you make a concerted effort to manage your time. Reading about time management does not make you a time manager.

Knowing what to do and doing it: The first is easy. Everyone knows what to do. 

Doing it? It must be hard. It must be difficult. Because so few do what needs to be done. 

Lose weight/lay off the sugar? You know it’s good for you. Exercise? Meet deadline? Discipline your life? You know what to do. Just do it. Just get started.

What’s keeping you? Just you: Overcome inertia. Overcome inertia and live. Live before you have no life left to live. Never say die until you’re dead. 

Not hard. Not hard. Why act as if it’s impossible?