I surround myself with creators. With people who imagine things and work to make them a reality. Ideas are the currency in which I usually deal and I absolutely love them. Stories (and myths) to me are incredibly important and I feel that there is a deep reservoir of knowledge that comes with our embracing the native elements present in them and applying them to our own lives.
In other words, I believe that art matters.
But, with growing frequency, I find myself seeing the state of the world and wondering if this is truly the best use of my time. Doesn't the world need food more than more popular music? Don't people need medical care, equality, human rights, water, and beyond?
How does the latest Radiohead album help them? What purpose does it serve to write a poem, or a song, a novel, or create a film? Playing a concert to a fawning and excited audience might be fun and feed the ego, but it does nothing for those who in the world who can't help themselves.
Many will argue with me and I understand what they're saying. Others tell me to build the platform through art and then use that to increase what I can do for others. All good ideas.
I suppose that, deep down, I suspect that I am only good at the art and that the art isn't worth a lot to a world that requires so much. This is difficult for me to process, but I need to be deeply honest with myself about it.
More than once, I have been ready to give my life to something I thought mattered, only to find that they were fairy dust; that the paths were nothing but stubbornly persistent theater performances presented in everyday life. Is it possible that art, that music, that words, that my entire professional focus, is the same way?
Or, is it all an illusion? This strikes me as the most possible of all of these ideas.
I have yet to work this out in my head and in my heart, but it IS being worked out. The answer is being sought. It will inform the next part of the story that I'm living.
The house is quiet.
The ticking of the clock fills the void of silence and somehow becomes more vivid; the moments of my life ticking away like the money speeding out of your pocket at a gas pump. For some reason however, this time, I feel no call to action, no mission to pull me from my bed.
I feel the space in between the ticks and the tocks, my breathe in's and the breathe nots. I feel the moment and eternity at the same time and I wonder if simply laying here and experiencing moment after moment would be enough. If I just spent my time dreaming and never making those dreams a reality, would that be a waste? If thoughts are energy and take life when you think them, does not the dreamer create reality through the dream?
All these thoughts occur to me at once, like a waking, quiet euphoria. Then, I sit up, stretch and go do my work, knowing that it doesn't matter and, at the same time, means everything.
My name is Michael and I have a problem.
It pains me to say it, but I am a Time Elitist (TE). I screen my calls, rarely answer, and sometimes take more than a few days to listen to the voicemails that are left on my phone. Occasionally, I will hold off even looking at texts, chat messages, and emails for hours, even days. Requests for coffee are often denied. Meal meetings are, in most cases, not even a possibility.
I'm a pain in the ass to get a hold of. It's on purpose. You wouldn't be blamed for thinking that I am a just an asshole (which, depending on who you ask, might not be far off), but I'm here to defend myself. I think what I'm doing is, however hard for others to understand, the right thing to do.
I am keenly aware of what I'm "put on this planet to do" and I work each day to make it a reality. If I took phone calls every time they came in, who would that be serving? The caller, perhaps. But not myself and definitely not the work. Text messages are just as bad. They can pull you off your game for hours in the course of a simple conversation. Email and Facebook are marauding time thieves as well.
I need my space. My mental time. I need silence to think. And then, most importantly, I need quiet to WORK. Staying in constant contact with the world works against that equation, not for it. My work is my focus and my reason for being here. The people who love me most know this and see my true expression in the work. They know it's where I live. It's so important to me, that I have a hard time expressing it.
On the other hand, I love my friends and associates. I truly do. They are one of the big joys in my life and I don't want to neglect them. Unfortunately, I occasionally get very bad at staying in touch. Something needs to change.
So here is my plan:
a) Stealing a page (or two) of thoughts from Tim Ferris (www.fourhourblog.com), I am going to record my outgoing message to encourage callers to email me instead and, if not possible, tell them two specific times and days of the week that I check my voicemail. Stick to those times and days religiously.
b) Use an app like YouMail that allows me to select which voicemails I listen to when, so I can listen to the high priority ones from family and close business partners ASAP and prioritize the order of listening to make sure I'm spending my time wisely.
a) Batch checking these to twice a day, taking care to put it specific blocks with a defined start and finish time. It's easy to fall down the rabbit hole here, so it's best to build the constraints into the process.
3) Day Planning
a) Schedule in defined work times and stick to them, allowing my off time to BE my off time.
b) Spend that off time connecting with those I care about and haven't seen in awhile.
c) Plan in time for networking and expanding my connections base.
d) Always plan time for proper nutrition and exercise.
e) Set aside for meditation twice a day, every day.
f) Work to limit distractions of all kinds throughout my work time.
So, there you have it. This is how I will be going about trying to cultivate my time and not be an irresponsible partner or friend. I'll let you know how it works out.
What about you? Do you have any routines, rules, or tips that might help myself or others in this area?
My First Foray Into Semi Public Nudity Derailed By Teenage Girls - Or "How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Morphine"
When I was a teenager, I finally took off my shirt at a public swimming pool. I knew that everyone felt self conscious from time to time, especially at this adolescent period in their lives, but I didn't just think I was different. I KNEW that I was. But still, I decided to risk it.
At the edge of a swimming pool in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, I shed my t-shirt and laid it on the chair with my towel, trying to act as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Internally however, I was completely petrified. "Everyone else seems so comfortable," I thought "Why can't I be?" Despite trying to reason with myself, I was on high alert, feeling an odd surge of adrenaline, but I was determined to work through the fogs of trepidation.
Then, I heard it. The musical sound of tittering giggles behind me. I turned to see a group of four girls my age, each dressed in a very colorful and fashionable two piece swimming suit. Of COURSE, they were gorgeous. Why wouldn't they be?!! Cue the "deer-in-the-headlights" look for Michael. I stopped, hoping their vision was, like a pack of T-Rexes' vision might have been, based on movement.
As they passed by, one of the girls looked at my left shoulder and arm and said out loud to her friends, "Oh my god! What the fuck is wrong with his arm?!" Being teenage girls, they looked, laughed incredulously, and walked away. There I stood, feeling like less than a person and more than a little self conscious.
I didn't understand their reaction, but somehow expected it. They didn't understand. How could they? Would they even want to?
You see, just a few years before, at the age of ten, I had a bit of an adventure..
It began with a long fist fight with a misunderstood boy by the name of Jimmy Arnold (who I'm sure is a great person all these years later and actually saved my life back then, so if you know him, tell him "thanks"), I raised my left arm in the air only feel a powerful "SNAP!" and have it fall back at my side, completely immobile. I couldn't believe how much it hurt.
Doctors concluded that I had a bone cyst that had made my left humorous bone weak, allowing it to break under pressure. They conducted a bone graft from my hip to the arm and I was declared "soon to be fit for duty". I would get back to normal after a routine healing period. Unfortunately, life had other plans.
Memorial Day, 1991 - I took out the trash from my family's home to the garbage cans in alley. The day was warm, but wet from rain throughout the night and early morning. On the way back to house, I noticed a baseball base that my little brother, David, had left out on the path. I decided to make a heroic, game winning run for third base.
I pushed off the wet grass, slipping only a little, picking up speed to beat the throw from the imaginary outfielder in my imagination. There was just enough time to make it, I thought, as I stretched my arms forward and slid...
The first thing I remember upon hearing the "SNAP!" sound again was that my parents were going to be upset with me. I didn't quite understand, but I knew surgery couldn't be cheap and here I was, ruining the surgeon's hard work. The next thing I remember is the pain. It overwhelmed me and made it hard to roll over and push myself off the ground. Tears filled my eyes and I made my way back into the house to tell my startled parents what their dunce of a son had done.
Within three hours, the "cyst" in my arm had grown to the size of a grapefruit. A few days of tests confirmed that it wasn't a cyst at all, but a bone cancer, called "Osteogenic Sarcoma" or "Osteo Sarcoma".
My parent's wrestled with how to tell me, wanting to understand how to explain it me first. Meanwhile, a well meaning nurse had given my mother an outdated medical textbook that told her that the first step to treating Osteo Sarcoma was to immediately amputate the affected limb. They were also told that my expected survival rate was "less than 4%", and that was with the amputation. Hard words for a parent to hear.
Of course, they never told me these thing and I thank them for that. I was never told what the "rules" were, so therefore, we didn't have to follow them. Enter the medical heroes of the story - Dr. Lori Odom (Oncologist) and Dr. Ross Wilkens (Orthopedic Surgeon) http://limbpreservation.org, who stepped forward to pull off a treatment strategy that ended up being nothing short of a miracle, although that success was never a guarantee.
There were countless nights in the hospital, too many tests to remember, a lengthy coma induced by a reaction to a chemotherapy drug, and any number of strange medical procedures and drug induced experiences that got to me to stop worrying and love morphine (love is not a strong enough word - but our affair ended in a painful opiate sweat out all those years ago), learn and immediately practice self hypnosis to control excruciating pain, be the first human to have a biodegradable chemotherapy sponge implanted in his body (in a surgery attended by a veterinarian, of course!) and so on.
I also developed a deep and abiding love of Mexican food. For this, I am grateful.
That day, as I stood by the pool, shirtless in public for the first time since "my adventure", I watched the girls walk away, completely oblivious to the story they had just crossed. At that moment, I had a realization.
They didn't know what they didn't know. They were innocents, much like I was. They saw the scars. but not the war, not the strength, not the weakness that ran in my veins. Then I, in turn, couldn't see it in their lives either. What might I be missing if I could understand the emotions behind the eyes of others?
We all have a story. Some sell better than others, but that doesn't make it any more worthy than another story. The best we can do is take that moment to see those around us, ask questions, and truly listen.
P.S. Perhaps I'll tell more about "my adventure" someday soon, but today, it felt like too much to write and stay interesting.
People often comment that I'm a very positive person. That I'm inspiring. That I'm passionate while being laid back.
If they only knew the real story.
The sordid truth is that I'm very good at depression. I'm very talented at being paralyzed from action and I'm much more intense and hard on myself internally than you would realize. This isn't something I am proud of by a long stretch. Very purposefully, I have learned and built ways to pull myself out of my head. It's been for the better, trust me.
But there is also that raw, primal creator within me. It manifests when I decide to run after a new idea or project and attempt to breathe life into it's lungs. It's a fight which I will never retire from or retreat. This work matters to me and that's all that matters.
That creator exists in the swirling storms and crashing waves of my other emotions. I imagine him living in a stone hut on a small circular island surrounded by a thrashing and angry grey sea. It is a place fraught with danger, yet he remains unmoved, because has learned to calm the storm.
Armed with practices like meditation and gifts like perspective, he can calm the waters and let the sun color the clouds orange and purple. Then he can begin his work, brush stroke after brush stroke, word after word, note after note.
But he knows that without the tempest, there could never be the creation in the calm.
The conflict in me comes in wanting to banish the storm in me but keep the work. I believe that it's possible, but rarely see the results of those who have claimed to have calmed it. A piece of me doubts that they ever have, instead aggrandizing themselves for money, power, ego, or whatever.
So, here's all I can do:
- Stay present
- Show up to work every day. No excuses.
- Keep loving relationships to cultivate an ecosystem that is supportive to your spirit.
- Remember to find beauty and be grateful. Ditch the cynicism.
- Give yourself permission to enjoy being a human.
- Eat well, stretch, workout. Practice the "living" part in living.
It is a battle i'm happy to fight and keep fighting. But, for some reason, I'm really feeling it today.
Tomorrow. It's the phantom menace in which all of our fears are realized, and we are alone and unloved, destitute, sick and, fear of all fears, naked (!) in a foreign land. Oh, and by the way, the love of your life, your soul mate? She never really loved you, anyway. We put all of our anxious imaginings, our deepest fears, into "Tomorrow". What a shitty place that must be.
I suppose my favorite thing about this kind of "Tomorrow" is that it is perpetually in the future. It never arrives. What I assumed would be tomorrow ends up being today, which will soon be yesterday, and I'll be on to a new today, all the while completely panicked and the thought of what might happen "Tomorrow".
You can see my predicament.
Then again, "Tomorrow" also sounds like a bastion of hard work and accomplishment. How many novels, screenplays, symphonies, albums, workout programs, healthy diets, and business ventures find their moment of glorious manifestation in that otherwise horrific, blood-strewn hellscape known as "Tomorrow"? How much time is spent with neglected family members? How many promises are finally kept? How many relationships end there, finding their disillusionment there among the lava and sulfuric fumes?
As I sit and drink my coffee now, which was made in one of those yesterdays that once was a "Tomorrow", it occurs to me that "Tomorrow" is the enemy. The misty future is an enemy which we must meet on the field of battle. There is no choice. There is quarter. We will take the day, or the day will take us. But how?
It's simple. We do away with the fears that cloud our judgement. We toss aside our excuses and make today this day where it finally happens. We get in front of the day, so as to shift it where we would. The day will come anyway, like an out of control steam engine or a bull down the cattle shoot. The goal is to shape the experience.
Yesterday matters not. Tomorrow is a jerk.
Today. This hour. This minute. This second...is pretty lovely when you really think about it.
As I write this, I'm mid-recording and writing a song. It's a melody and chord structure that I've been playing around with for awhile. I know there is a resonance to it, but it's vague and undiscovered as of this moment. I aim to end that tonight.
Part way through, while web surfing (procrastinating), I remembered this blog, the intentions to write in it frequently, to say something publicly on a more frequent basis, and the ultimate failure so far to do so - and I thought I would say "Hello", as to attempt to open myself up and unlock the lyrical floodgates.
My work over the last year has been about opening and giving myself to my internal voice completely. This has led me to some strange places, some wonderful, some not so much. Much of this journey has been in my head, but has manifested out into the world in many ways.
Yet, here I am again, struggling to open up enough to write this song honestly, let alone write a blog post that has any sort of relevance to those who might read it. Who am I? Someone who tries to creates things and often fails, calling whatever is left over as "Art".
But sadly, I can only fool the audience and myself for so long. Eventually, they'll want me to go be a coal miner or something. That's alright. I suppose that a little black lung is a fitting punishment for some of the fun I've had.