Keith

“I still, when someone calls me for advice, or to lean on me, I still kind of get taken aback by that […] I think on some level I still walk around thinking I’m a fucking kid, you know, that I still don’t really have anything ‘adult-like’ to offer…

“You know one of my passions is cooking. I’m doing a leg of lamb and I got a buddy I’ve been pissed off at for three years and I finally said, you know, I’ve got to invite him over for dinner. So he’s coming for dinner and we’re going to listen to jazz.”

~ Keith B.

How Am I Not Myself?

“What do you do?” They’ll ask.

“Oh I uh…”

—pause:

What is the correct response here? How am I possibly supposed to answer this question with some sort of accuracy? If they actually mean—

“How do you make money?”

Then my answer would be, “Oh I fumble around from freelance design gig to another trying my best to stay afloat.”

To which they would then inquire, “Design?”

And I would smile and say, “Oh graphic design.”

Their eyes glaze over.

“You know, like web design. Logos and such.”

“Like Fiver?”

I knew it was coming.

“Like Fiver.”

But maybe they mean, “what do you want to do?” In which case my answer would sound more like—

“Oh I want to be a successful screenwriter and director. I want to travel the world and tell stories, fiction or nonfiction. I’m obsessed with people and their amazing stories.”

And then they would ask, “Have you written anything I would’ve seen?”

“Oh um… I’ve made a few short films.”

“What is that? Like a TV episode.”

“Kind of. It’s like a movie, but just a really short version of one.”

“Do you make any money from that?”

“No.”

“Where could I see one of your… short films?”

“Oh you can’t.”

And inside my mind, I’m praying an Alien spacecraft to crash land in the front yard so I can disappear unnoticed. I might leave a business card though. (Moo.com)

My issue with the whole line of questioning is the general assumption that I’m supposed to define myself as one thing, with that particular thing being the most successful of the many, many things I do.

When did it become socially expected to define’s oneself through the things that they do? Why do we, as a culture, feel the constant need to define and re-define ourselves through identities? Political? Sexual? And am I less-than if I don’t have an immediate and solid response to your question?

And to add complications to my potential response, I tend to feel that I’m not particularly doing the thing I want to be doing in that very moment.

I fell into graphic design in my early twenties. I was good at it and so I built a career around it. I wasn’t one of those young guys who knew exactly what they wanted to do from day one. I had to fumble around for almost ten years before I returned to writing. And even that was kind of a fluke. I was thinking about directing a movie but needed a screenplay. I didn’t know any screenwriters and so I started writing one. And then it wasn’t even until a friend read said screenplay—which, at the time, was more like half-baked ideas on cocktail napkins—that I realized I actually liked writing, correction, fucking LOVED writing.

At that moment the perception of who I was started to shift and dissolve and I suddenly became this person who was trying to do something that I didn’t know how to do or even where to start and that was seven years ago.

How do you put all that in an acceptable response?

But back to their question…

—un-pause:

“Today? I’m unsure about every decision I’ve ever made. I do my best to follow my creative desires. I surf both hope and jealousy. I’m glad Moonlight won Best Picture (instead of you know who) but angry I’m still fumbling around with my own screenplay and non-existent film career. I have moments of complete clarity but I get lost quite often, almost every day, down twists and turns and alleyways that sound responsible and practical and I flow in and out of identities between boyfriend, brother, uncle, son, fellow, writer, photographer, traveler, filmmaker, designer, director… me. There are many answers to your question and I guess the most honest one is:

I do the best I can.”

Unrelated Events

I like how seemingly unrelated events tie themselves together over the span of time if you’re looking for it and maybe willing to poetically bend the rules a little.

As a child I’d watch my Father get up at ungodly hours in the morning to begin his day. He would insist on getting a head start and not letting the day get away from him. He would sit at our small kitchen table, often in the dark before the sun came up, drinking his coffee, reading automotive magazines or sometimes the newspapers. On weekends or during summers he would wake us up, my brother and I, sometimes literally dragging us out of bed. Sleeping in was never an option.

And I resented it for so long. Especially when, in early adulthood, I was never able to sleep in like all my other post-college graduates exhausted from years of institutional transitioning. I would actually get teased for not being able to sleep in.

But then something started to change.

I’m not sure when exactly, but it wasn’t until I started writing that mornings became something more to me; something in the quiet I didn’t quite understand that my brain craved when trying to be creative. And it wasn’t until I moved out to California that mornings became something spiritual to me; being part of the sunrise that connects me to the Earth and the Universe, reminding me to place my feet on the ground and to have gratitude for all the magic that surrounds us at any given moment.

Today, I love the early morning hours. I use it for prayer, for meditation, for being part of the world, for writing, for listening, for taking a moment to breath before the day says, “Hey, I need you!”

“Never say can’t,” my Father would say to us often, and “Be thankful for what you have: two arms, two legs, all your fingers and toes.”

And today, gratitude has become such an important part of my daily practice. Sometimes spending entire meditations in gratitude itself.

The virtues in life that can lift us to great heights are all around us, we just have to be ready to hear and see them when they arrive.

It took me thirty years to hear my Father.

 

My mother used to say something that drove me nuts. There is a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.”

– Cheryl Strayed, Wild

 

I Want You To Like Me.

Why am I doing this?

Because I want to be perfect and I want you to like me.

By doing this, writing every day—originally the idea was to do it for a year but it has since been suggested to me to try it for a week (this being day five)—it forces me to be imperfect and vulnerable, two places I have a very hard time sitting in.

After all, who wants to be imperfect and vulnerable? Isn’t that what I spent the majority of my life pushing back against? Haven’t I been striving to rise above the rest, to show myself as strong and impenetrable, a veritable force to be reckoned with?

The irony of all of this isn’t lost on me. A blog. Every day. Pithy journal entries. How… unique. 

Hopefully you’re getting the joke here.

But maybe this isn’t for you. Or, at least, not entirely. Maybe this is for me, a way to (re)discover what the fuck I’m doing here in the first place. A way to find and nurture that inner voice I (we) had as a child that instinctually told us to draw, play, sing, dance, create in whatever medium that looked like for us… before all the judgement and self-criticism came in effectively arresting our creative development.

This is about the process of discovery and surrendering fully to that.

I won’t lie. I’m still editing this, checking it for spelling errors, trying to make some kind of point hidden in the text that hopefully makes you go “ohhh that’s interesting, isn’t it?”

I haven’t surrendered fully to the process yet. But I’m trying. I’m trying to write without self-editing. This isn’t to say I’m trying to write badly, quite the opposite in fact. I’m simply trying to create without worries of perfection or people pleasing.

And of course to confront that voice that says, “I’m not good enough.”

In Brian Koppelman’s (co-writer/creator of Showtime’s Billions) recent podcast The Momenthe discusses this creative process with Marcus Samuelsson (chef and owner of Red Rooster in Harlem). (The entire podcast is so inspiring, please give it a listen. He has an episode with Seth Godin that is unreal.)

In fact, I’m seeing a pattern almost everywhere I look when I study other successful artists, business owners, thought leaders, etc. They—maybe even on accident—hit on it in Netflix’s Chef’s Table… this pattern.

Maybe an easy way to illustrate it is to think of Miles Davis. The seminal album Kind of Blue came out in 1959. Eleven years later he came out with Bitches Brew, an entirely different kind of jazz that can be much harder to digest for the average jazz fan.

What happened in those eleven years? Why didn’t he sound the same? The Rolling Stones will always be the Rolling Stones, no matter what year or what album it is.

The answer is this: The Process. 

In Koppelman’s interview with Samuelsson, in Netflix’s Chef’s Table (check out the Ivan Ramen episode), Miles Davis… the list goes on endlessly. Each of these creative leaders courageously stepped out into the unknown, searching for answers they didn’t even have questions for. They leapt out into the darkness because something inside them told them they had to, that no matter what. They could no longer stay “safe.”

And I’m starting to see this pattern everywhere.

Discovery, whether it’s creative or not, begins with a willingness to say to one’s self, “I don’t know what’s out there, but I’m going anyway.”

Aubrey Marcus (founder of Onnit) talks about this a lot in his podcast. Another must listen if you’re into some form of self-improvement and discovery.

The point is this—and I’m sorry I went on a little long today—that I have no idea where this [blog] is going, what purpose it is supposed to serve, or even if I’ll continue writing after day seven. But I do know that I’ve kept myself inside a self-imposed cage for much of my life waiting for the perfect story or picture, the perfect opportunity for which to gamble on with one hundred percent confidence on profitable returns.

I told myself, for as long as I can remember, that one day someone’ll just pick me out of a crowd and say “You! You seem talented and creative! Here’s a million dollars. Go make the movie of your dreams!” And everything would be right with the world.

Today I can understand that no such gamble or situation exists.

And that, for me to achieve any kind of discovery, personal or creative, I first have to be willing to step out into the fear and say, “I have no fucking clue what I’m doing.”

 

 

The Philosophy of “Indiana Jones.”

In any given day you are more confused than you would like to admit. As much planning and scheming and tinkering with modeling your day perfectly, it still doesn’t account for a generalized lack of clarity that you find yourself in any singular moment.

Most days involve some kind of vague initiative, supposedly engineered for success, and ultimately destined to fall by the wayside. You make your lists, you have your index cards, installing new habits and subroutines; your intentions are always good, however sometimes (often) misguided.

Once in a blue moon—where does that expression come from?—you step into the day with complete clarity; you can see the world from far above the cloud cover and everything suddenly makes sense and you can see for miles. You can see exactly what you need to do, how to do it, and how long it’s going to take. You feel like Bradley Cooper in ‘Limitless’, suddenly unbounded and unshackled from the mental foggery that is the resting state of your brain.

You say, Cool! All I have to do is stay right here and everything will be okay.

But you eventually and undoubtedly descend from that height back into the mist below and you’re faced with the dense foliage of the uncharted forest ahead.

So for today, right now, you adapt a different philosophy:

The Philosophy of ‘Indiana Jones.’

Indy never knew where he was going. He never had a plan. He never saw the board, so to speak. He was constantly present, dealing only with what was right in front of him. It was only at the end of the story, in retrospect, he could see the game he was playing.

So, you tell yourself, Give yourself the gift of today’s adventure. Fall into it, dive into it’s obstacles fully. Don’t shy away from the fear or discomfort just because you cannot see clearly ahead. Be as present as you can in each moment and be thankful for the problems you have.

Who knows what treasures await at the end of this story?

Inconsistent

You love spring. The sun shines brightly through your apartment window this morning, kissing you gently into the world. Mornings are soft here in California. Not like they were in New York City, loud and abrasive, you often sick from the night before.

You dream of a house in a wooded area, Topanga Canyon or something, where the serenity lasts all day and you can sit out on your porch and write. Today, however, you’ll step out onto Vine Street and evade the resident homeless patrolling the sidewalks—develop more compassion, you read from an Index Card you made a few weeks ago highlighting virtues you wish to develop.

You dream of jumping in the car later this morning and heading up the Pacific Coast Highway or maybe driving east into the desert. You miss the desert. You miss having your camera that you had to sell when you couldn’t pay rent. The Mojave. What a cool name, You think to yourself.

She sits next to you in bed reading the Times. It’s what she does in the mornings. You wake her up and bring her a coffee, it’s what you do. And you love doing it.

You tried meditating but your thoughts wouldn’t cooperate and even now they’re a bit scattered between fear and love; what you want to do versus what you think you should do today.

Finding balance has never been your strong suit and it makes you think of when you were a child and the teachers would always write on your report card:

Inconsistent.

Inside & Out.

Your life dips up and down between stretches of time spent alone in your apartment—in complete isolation—and outside in the actual world.

Inside you create. You iterate, opine, decide, workshop, trash, start again. You write long pages of ideas and scenes, edit photos and sometimes earn a living. You jump up and down gripping a thirty-five pound kettlebell shaping your body because your hair isn’t what it used to be. And, of course, you watch movies.

But it’s out there you re-up on human contact, learn and hone new social skills, travel, experience life the way you actually imagine you would do so. And you know it’s time to get back out there when you find yourself watching movies like ‘Wild’ by Jean-Marc Vallée or ‘Tracks’ by John Curran. You’ve revisited these travel-redemption movies several times over the past two years.

You saw ‘Tracks’ alone in your room (marketed as an apartment) in Hollywood, on your blow up mattress you slept on for the first six months. You had just moved to Los Angeles, just gotten sober, and you were scared out of your mind.

There was something about the movie, something about the search for meaning in the isolation juxtaposed with raw, unedited natural beauty that spoke to you, it made sense without words—the way sense sometimes does. Maybe it’s your addiction to all things electronic and social. Maybe it’s an even deeper, primal need to experience nature; things you take for granted like Sunsets and Sunrises, soaking up the sun for hours at a time or sleeping under the stars at night. You find yourself, more and more, yearning for a deeper connection to the world around you. One that hasn’t been constructed and enhanced, one that hasn’t been altered and branded; decided upon by men you’ll never meet and spoon fed to you in doses meant to keep you in line; docile and happy; primetime viewing and Superbowls.

And so, if it is time to once again venture back out there, the question is of course where to venture to?

Spinning.

My mind is spinning, You think to yourself. You’re trying to figure it out, trying your best to make sense of all the information being thrown at you.

There are moments of elation. Moments when you think you’ve got it all figured out. You’ve got it listed out, bullet points and all, printed out in twelve-point type. Today will be different because you have everything lined up just the way it’s supposed to be and nothing, nothing can get in your way.

Then your butter coffee explodes out of the cheap Magic Bullet blender all over you and your kitchen and you burn your hand with artisan Ghee and high-grade coffee that is way out of your spending plan.

You are now late for your 7:30 AM meeting you overdressed for and it’s raining out and your girlfriend has your umbrella.

Nothing ever works out the way you want it to. But you’ll keep fighting the good fight.