A Re-Distribution of Fargos


I want to talk about my contributions here of late, partially to make excuses for myself, but also partially to justify myself. And I know, justifications are basically excuses, but I’m coming to understand that what I once thought of as excuses for myself are actually perfectly reasonable and acceptable justifications.

Here’s the critical worry in my mind over the last several months: I’m not writing enough. I’m not! For a guy who fancies himself a writer, I am decidedly not writing enough. A few years ago I was writing every day, bragging about it in more writing here on the blog, churning out short stories almost every weekend … I was capital-W WRITING. And then in the last several months here, not so much. My current novel project is stalled (I’ll circle back to that, but it’s totally mud-stuck and has been for a while), my blog posts have been rarer than Bigfoot sightings, and as for short stories, well, let’s just say I’ve come up short.

The obvious net result of all that is: I’m not writing enough. And I had something of a depressive episode several months ago — which I did write about — that I think must have been triggered, in part, by my feelings about not writing enough. It gets to me. It burns me up. Makes me question myself.

And I know I’m not the only one who thinks that way. Feelings of inadequacy, I wager to say, are rampant in the writing community, if not an understood part of the package. I wouldn’t make the mistake of thinking I’m special for going through it. But I did want to think that I might be special by dint of finding a way to overcome it. (Spoiler alert: I’m not over it yet.)

Which brings me back to those justifications.

I was at work the other day, taking a little break. We (my students and I) had just gotten finished hanging and focusing lights for our spring musical (I have an incredible group of students who always want to give up their time to come down to the theater and help out, and we were working during their lunch periods.) Hanging and focusing is tiresome and tedious work (up the ladder, down the ladder, forgot the wrench, find a burned-out bulb, up to the booth, up the ladder, remove the instrument, down the ladder, replace bulb, up the ladder, re-place instrument, focus, down the ladder, repeat). So they were on the stage listening to some music and I was parked on the backstage sofa just sort of watching and zoning out before heading up to write cues for the show.

This little kingdom ain’t much, but it’s mine.

And revelation struck, as revelation tends to do, while I was lying there not thinking too clearly or too intently about anything: that this is where my creative energy has been going.

I’m a fairly convinced believer in the school of “you only have so many Fargos to give in a day” (Fargos of course is a stand-in for another F-word I shouldn’t be using as a government employee paid to educate children), and I think that goes double for your Fargos related to creativity. Being creative is hard. At least, I should say, doing something with your creativity is hard (daydreaming is easy). Sitting down to write is hard! Laying down a blog post is hard. Working on a novel is hard. Editing a novel is … well, don’t start.

These things suck up all the creative Fargos. And, well, when I started this writing journey, I was an English teacher. There’s an element of creativity in that, but mostly my job then left my creative Fargos untouched, so I had a lot of them left over.

But my job now? Teaching theater? I’m tapping deep into my creative Fargos just to get through an ordinary day of class, let alone to do work on the musical, or help an actor find their motivation, or coax a design out of a scenic painter, or collaborate with my techs to find the right look for the lights, or work with my props crew to wrestle the bloody plant prop that we’ve fixed five times already but somehow, somehow keeps finding new ways to break. By the end of the day, my creative Fargos are tapped out — and I’m already overdrawn on tomorrow’s balance as well.

Which, here’s where I circle back (finally!) to the point of this post — leaves me utterly exhausted and unmotivated to write. Because I have no Fargos left.

And I was upset with myself about that. (Still am, actually, but I’m getting better.)

But the revelation I had, lying on that couch backstage, had another revelation hidden within it, like the gooey center of a Cadbury’s egg (the caramel kind, not the gross frosting kind, you monsters).

And that revelation is: It’s okay that my creative Fargos are going into my job. In fact, it’s good that I have a job where I get to use my creativity. That’s an enviable spot to be in.

After all, I get to work with young minds, helping them tap into their creativity, helping them find ways to express themselves, giving them the freedom and the safe spaces to explore who they are and how they experience and create art. And that’s pretty Fargoing awesome. And not to take anything away from how awesome that is, but I think it would be selfish of me if I continued to be uptight about spending my creative Fargos in that way.

So I think I have to be okay with maybe not writing as much as I was. Which is not to say that it won’t upset me — it surely will, as critiquing myself is one of my favorite pastimes. But I’ve now got what I feel is a perfectly legitimate excuse — no, a perfect justification for my slackitude, which isn’t slackitude at all.

It’s just a re-distribution of Fargos.

But here’s the other delicious secret: making this realization? Shedding light on this re-distrubition of Fargos? It’s a little like hacking the Matrix.

Because as soon as I made the connection that this is where my creative Fargos has been going, I started finding myself, shockingly, with more creative Fargos. I’m filled with desire to work on my current novel again, whereas for months I dreaded the prospect. I’ve been writing in the mornings again for the last two weeks, pages at a time — writing not fit for human consumption, mind you, but writing nonetheless. And that’s creating even more Fargos.

Overcoming and accepting my hangup with my own productivity has actually opened the gate to more productivity.

Or, viewed from another angle, the roadblock to my creativity was mostly just me thinking there was a roadblock.

The problem, as they say, seems to have been located almost entirely between the ears.

Luckily, that’s a space I seem to have plenty of access to.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Can’t remember the last time I did one of those, but here we are. Thanks Linda!

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Boycott With Your Brain


Did you know Nike is under boycott?

I only recently learned! Or only recently re-learned, maybe. I feel like it’s the sort of thing I heard about and immediately dismissed because, well, it struck my ear as being a little bit ridiculous. Or maybe a lot ridiculous. I mean, I get it. It’s the age of protest and all. Wasn’t it last year that Time magazine named “the protester” its person of the year? (Bit of a cop out, actually, that. Hard to pick one really stand-out individual so let’s put a faceless mob on the cover and call it a day.) (Also, I’ve looked it up, and it turns out 2011 was when “the protester” was person of the year, which, well, I mistook 2011 for happening a year ago, and can you blame me?) (Also also, 2011 wasn’t the only time they copped. Last year it was “the guardians” and in 2017 it was “the silence breakers” and in 2006 it was — ugh — “you”. Which is not to take anything away from their reasons for the choices, but collectives like that aren’t really a “person” are they? Rabbit-hole dive over)

But that sort of thing always feels a little far away. Those people over there are making a big stink about it, but these people over here in my circle? Nah, they’re clever, they wouldn’t go in for that sort of nonsense. Sure, people are on YouTube and even, sometimes, the news (because the news is a nonstop trash fire these days), shooting up their coolers with automatic rifles or whatever. (Why shoot up a perfectly functional cooler, by the way? The company already has your money. What message are you sending, and to whom?)

Except, well, sometimes those people over there? They’re actually over here.

And, look, I get it. We all have opinions, and it’s the age of protest and power to the people and to the individual and let your money talk and blah, blah, blah. If you feel strongly about a thing, by all means boycott, protest, stage a walkout, whatever. That’s your right, whether you’re right or not.

Image result for boycott everything

But here’s a modest proposal to anybody protesting or boycotting or walking-out. Don’t do it because your favorite talk show host or YouTuber or social media guru told you to. Do it because you’ve studied the issue, analyzed the point-of-view of the victim of your civil action, and disagreed with it on legitimate grounds.

This is called arguing in good faith, and it’s not hard to do, though it might be inconvenient.

In the Nike example, the reason to boycott (as I understand it generally) is this: Colin Kaepernick disrespected veterans when he refused to stand for the national anthem. Nike then hired him as a spokesperson. Therefore Nike is disrespecting veterans, therefore boycott Nike.

But the truth is, Kaepernick never said a cross word about veterans, did he? Or took any action which led to harm for a veteran? Did he actually do anything to harm somebody who wasn’t out looking for a reason to be harmed? (Here’s a newsflash — if you go out shopping for offense, you’ll have no trouble finding it, and you don’t have to watch an NFL game either.)

To argue for a boycott of Nike in good faith is to first ask yourself: what did Kaepernick actually do? Well, he knelt during the national anthem. That action in and of itself is harmless even if it’s unexpected or shocking to the sensibilities. In the absence of physical or emotional harm, then, the next question which must be asked is, why did he do it? The lazy answer is to disrespect veterans because that’s what a lot of other people interpreted the action to mean, but to answer in good faith is to take the reason he gave, which is: he was upset about the apparent murders of black children by police and the lack of justice for the officers involved. Why kneel during the anthem? Because as a professional NFL player, it was a unique platform afforded to him that most other people who felt as he did were not entitled to. He used that platform to bring visibility to the issue. You can choose to change the channel when news of another unarmed black person being killed floats across the screen, can’t you? Or not watch news at all? (Not a bad idea of late if you ask me.) But when you turn on the TV for the game on the weekend and you see the quarterback taking a knee, you have to ask yourself “what’s going on there?”

So, he used a unique platform afforded to him to bring visibility to a racial issue. His actions got him fired, effectively, but Nike saw that, figured it was a campaign worth giving voice to, and hired him on.

To boycott Nike, in other words, is to boycott the hiring of a man who used his platform to bring attention to a racial issue that was negatively affecting the country.

Now, you’re entitled to think that’s a bad thing, and if you do think that’s a bad thing, then by all means, never spend another dime on anything Nike in your life. Set fire to your sneakers, toss your jumpsuits in the ocean. (No, don’t do that, the ocean has it hard enough.)

Here’s the point, the phrasing of which I’ve basically stolen from Sam Harris in more than one of his debates: if you can’t summarize the other person’s point of view in a way that they would agree with, then you haven’t understood them — and you definitely shouldn’t be taking action based on that flawed misunderstanding. And it’s my sneaking suspicion that most of the Nike boycotters — or boycotters of most other things in recent history — couldn’t articulate their reasons in this way.

In other words, think critically. Spend, or refuse to spend, your dollars mindfully, based on the reality we live in, not on the basis of an imaginary world that you’ve heard about somewhere.

In even simpler terms: brain harder.


Past baggage


We’re out of town and away from computers this week, but I can’t not share this, so I’m posting from my phone, of all things. Blasphemy! My typing speed is hamstrung, but that’s a testament to my shookenness.

I picked up a copy of Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living on the recommendation of Tim Ferriss (thanks to my previous post) and 5 pages in I can already tell this one is a keeper. I’m sharing with you, then, an excerpt from the opening pages.

A few months before he spoke at Yale, Sir William Osler had crossed the Atlantic on a great ocean liner where the captain, standing on the bridge, could press a button and -presto! – there was a clanging of machinery and various parts of the ship were immediately shut off from one another – shut off into watertight compartments.

“Now each one of you,” Dr. Osler said to those Yale students, “is a much more marvelous organization than the great liner, and bound on a longer voyage. What I urge is that you so learn to control the machinery as to live with day-tight compartments as the most certain way to ensure safety on the voyage. Get on the bridge, and see that at least the great bulkheads are in working order. Touch a button and hear, at every level of your life, the iron doors shutting on the Past – the dead yesterdays. Touch another and shut off, with a metal curtain, the Future – the unborn tomorrows. Then you are safe – safe for today! Shut off the past! Let the past bury its dead … shut out the yesterdays which have lighted fools the way to dusty death … the load of tomorrow, added to that of yesterday, carried today, makes the strongest falter. Shut off the future as tightly as the past … the future is today … there is no tomorrow. The day of man’s salvation is now.

Waste of energy, mental distress, nervous worries dog the steps of a man who is anxious about the future … shut close, then, the great fore and aft bulkheads, and prepare to cultivate the habit of a life of ‘day-tight compartments’.”

We – and by we I mean I – carry so much of the weight of yesterday and tomorrow that it gets in the way of today. But the fact is, yesterday is over – whatever will come of it is out of my hands. And tomorrow will come, or it won’t – and very little of that is within my compass either.

Worry over the past or the future, therefore, is worry picked up for its own sake. Maybe think twice before picking up all that baggage.

Put another way…


Productivity Porn Pays Off Sometimes


I made the mistake of listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast this morning.

I say mistake because, as is often the case when I read or listen to something by Tim it tends to take over my brain, the way the moon drifting in front of the sun turns day into night for a few minutes. The difference is instead of lasting for minutes, the effect tends to last for days or weeks.

The problem with listening to Mr. Ferriss, or with any so-called “productivity porn”, is that it tends to create a feedback loop, a sort-of hyped up fugue state. You read this thing and you think “HELL YES, this thing is going to change my life” and your brain drowns in the dopamine flood caused by the visions of success, and while you’re high on that you notice that the thing you just read references this other thing and hey, you’ve got a few minutes before you have to get back to real life, so why not check that out while you’re at it, and wouldn’t you know it the new thing hits you with the “HELL YES” effect again and the cycle repeats. (Full disclosure: when I started writing this post I visited Tim’s site — for the first time in months, I might add, because I know what happens when I do it — and fell victim to the same cycle. I also signed up for his new newsletter. And may or may not have copy/pasted some material onto my desktop. Stop judging me.) Point is, you have to be judicious with this sort of thing, which is why I’m probably not going to dip my toes into Tim Ferriss land for several months again. Still, this morning, I think, was beneficial.

The material in question was a recent episode called Tea Time with Tim, which covers a lot of ground but left me with a couple of things clanking around in the ol’ noggin: something he calls “fear-setting” and a few quotes from ancient Greece.

First, fear-setting. You’ve heard of goal-setting, where you set down your goals, enumerate the steps to the achievement of said goals, and more or less plan your vision for success. Well and good, but for us anxious types, who dwell on fears perhaps more than we should, there’s a tendency to let those fears paralyze us to the point of inaction. (See for example my writing productivity over the past several months.) Fear-setting is designed to take the positive visualization of goal-setting and turn the full artillery of that framework on the anti-action fear center of the brain. In a (woefully inadequate) nutshell, fear-setting entails writing down all the things that could go wrong and enumerating the opportunity cost if all those things did go wrong, then weighing those costs against a (harshly conservative) estimation of the possible benefits if the things don’t go wrong. For the anxious sort like me, it seems like a good way to short-circuit the “thing is scary so maybe just pretend it doesn’t exist and it’ll go away” paralysis I tend to fall into over stuff.

Then, quotes from Greek guys. First, this one:

Which is one I’m going to share with my classes today, because my students tend to be sick with the germ of “well I want this thing really badly, and things tend to work out for me, so on performance day it’ll all just come together”. You and I, of course, know that kind of thinking is what makes starving artists waiting tables for their whole lives, or worse, a phalanx of creatives who never took up the dream at all because a single performance didn’t live up to the hype in their head. So I’m going to remind them, today, that their training, today, matters for the performance a month down the road, and, well, for most of ’em it’ll bounce right off but at least I’ll have done my part for the day.

It applies for me personally, too, of course. Suffice it to say I’m not particularly well trained-up at the moment in a number of domains, and, well, that needs some attention.

Then, this:

And, yeah, Seneca was Roman, not Greek, but the Romans were basically Greeks with better tech, so let’s not get too hung up on the details. I’ve actually seen the quote more often with the first clause as “we are often more frightened than hurt,” but I prefer this one with fears and dangers. The important part, at any rate, is the second part. The thing we’re afraid of is always worse in our minds and the reality is almost never as bad as we build it up to be. For evidence I offer the example from Louis C.K. (and yeah, quoting Louis C.K. is problematic these days but his personal faults don’t change the poignancy of his words) of the average description of a trip by airplane. The person is likely to complain about the length of delays or the slowness of service or the lack of wi-fi and less likely to dwell on the fact that they literally FLEW THROUGH THE AIR and crossed the country in a matter of hours. We make things out, in other words, a bit worse than they really are in the scheme of things.

So, yeah, my brain is basically on fire this morning.

I hope it doesn’t burn out.


Don’t Forget to Wash Up


This is the kind of thing that you find all over your previously perfectly boring, perfectly un-terrifying house when you become a parent.

Kids don’t give a hot handful how a toy is meant to be played with. They’re going to play with it in the way that makes the most sense to them at the time, dammit, and if that means dumping six 300-piece puzzles out on the floor and mixing the pieces together so that those puzzles will never be completed in this life or the next, that’s what they’re going to do. If it means running Hot Wheels tracks all over the house and the couch and the cat sleeping on the couch, that’s what they’re bloody well going to do. And if it means decapitating their action figures and not so much tossing but posing the disembodied heads in the sink drains so that it looks like little blue gremlins are slithering out of the unseen depths to haunt my nightmares, then that’s what they’re absolutely going to do, thank you very much.

Never mind that I’m going to stumble on this disturbing tableau first thing in the morning. My sleep-addled brain is going to have to contend with a miniature demon head peeking out of the drain. (It won’t contend well. I’ll first have a lizard-brain fight-or-flight jump accompanied by a quite unmanly yelp, followed by some hyperventilating and finishing off by jumping at shadows for the rest of the day.) Never mind that the petit horror is waiting for me in a safe space within a safe space to thoroughly throw off my sense of routine. (Nobody expects to get their brains scared out first thing in the morning in the bathroom, for goodness’s sake … but if it is going to happen in the bathroom, I expect the terror to come from the shower, as would any red-blooded horror movie fan, so the sink is just out of bounds. I’d at least be gratified if the kids had set a trap for me in the shower.) No, the scare will come, not from the last place I’d expect, but from a place that it wouldn’t even occur to me to ever consider that it might come from.

I’ll table, for now, the question of whether leaving a disembodied head in a sink means my kid is a serial killer in the making, and instead focus my mental efforts on checking the toaster for silly string and my kids’ artwork for surreal nightmare imagery culled from my dreams.


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