Forget Everything You Think You Know About Greatness.

“Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself.”

– Miles Davis

***

Is there a way to quantify the moment when someone transitions into greatness? Can we package it up and brand it? Sell it to the masses or create some vocational school centered around breaking personal creative barriers?

Want to be the next Jackson Pollack? Justin Timberlake? Rihanna? Well you’ve come to the right place.

In his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell went ahead and tried to quantify it with his ten thousand hour rule. We all know the cited example of The Beatles playing in Germany every night of the week for several years, carefully and painstakingly honing their craft before ever setting foot on American soil and becoming the international sensation forever etched into musical history.

And so, according to Gladwell, ten thousand is the magic number where ordinary transcends into greatness.

I mean it sounds good, comfortable, even “doable” if you’re prone to the occasional manic episode such as myself; amped up on a delicious chemical imbalance, a mental Molotov cocktail of grandiosity and delusion.

Ten thousand hours. That’s all it takes. All I have to do is pick something I’m good at or something I enjoy doing and plug away at it for eight hours a day, every day of the week for three and a half years and I’ll graduate from the Gladwellian School of the Arts destined for greatness.

But Gladwell is a master marketer, and a goddamn fraud.

He presents you with something rather benign and then he raises his nasally voice and says, “Everything you ever knew about that thing you thought you had figured out is wrong!

Your mind is now, effectively and forever, blown.

You lean back in your chair with your eyes wide open and your hand smacks your forehead and you say to yourself, “Oh my God he’s right! I don’t know anything. Please Malcolm, tell me. Tell me now, dammit! TELL ME!

Gladwell is brilliant at catering to one of the most fundamental characteristics of human nature: the need to know. It’s the essential building block to any dramatic situation in story telling: you present a juicy-enough question and the audience is hooked. Will Ross kiss Rachel? Will Walter White get away with it? What does Jon Hamm have in his pants?

The Media use this device every day, except they ratchet it up with a heavy dosage of fear to guarantee viewership. Is this the storm of the century? What you’re eating could kill you. At eleven.

At the same time Gladwell presents you with something that is utterly preposterous yet simultaneously juuuuuuuust out of reach. If Gladwell had said, “These are people you’ll never be like because you’re simply genetically and mentally inferior,” he’d never get close to bestseller numbers. This is a marketing and mass-distraction phenomena Noam Chomsky discusses in his book “Manufacturing Consent” but unfortunately we don’t have the time to get into that because it’s usually around this point I really start to feel the need for an editor.

“Bring it on home, Joe!” she’d say to me, slightly seizing from mainlining a Venti Triple Shot Mocha and tapping her watch.

Exhale.

Gladwell’s not entirely wrong: There’s merit in taking the time to learn your craft. But my problem isn’t with the hours, it’s the assumption that greatness follows.

I’m not sure I know what it means to be great or when, as a culture, we went from striving to live a good life to striving to be the best at every goddamn thing we do. I do know that I’ve tried my whole life to be great and fell short. Over and over again. And that rift between what I expected of myself and reality created more pain than I’d like to remember.

But maybe it’s not even about being great at all.

Maybe greatness is just another marketing tool, a distraction, something to strive for. Maybe it’s about something else entirely. Maybe it’s just about being the being the best me.

***

Truthfully, I think Miles said it best:

“Man, sometimes you takes long time to sound like yourself.”

Oh and I just totally Gladwelled you.

 

Exercising With Billy Crudup.

Please note, Billy Crudup isn’t actually in this story. He appears only as a post-pop cultural manifestation playing the part of my inner critic.

That being said, I exercised today. Sigh. Finally.

Don’t judge.

Exercise has largely remained illusory to me during my adult career. I am unsure as to why, but I suspect it has something to do with the story I tell myself. Or rather it’s that sinister voice inside my head that sounds like Billy Crudup in Big Fish and loves to use my new favorite four-letter word:

Motivation.

That voice—we’ll aptly call him Billy—comes on gently like an airplane floating blissfully over the horizon.

“How ya doing, buddy?” Billy will ask, smiling that slightly condescending yet encouraging smile of his, as if we both share a secret no one else knows. “Hey listen,” he’ll begin, “I have an idea.”

Ugh that smile, I can never resist. “Tell me,” lathered in a faux enthusiasm perfected from over ten years in corporate America’s luxurious bosom.

“Well,” a Pinter pause, “We’ve been wanting to get in shape for some time now.”

“Yeah?” I say, curiously blending my Bulletproof Grass-fed Ghee coffee in my Magic Bullet Blender.

“And so, you know, I’ve been thinking maybe today is the day.”

“Today?”

That smile again. That grin. Thin lips pressed tightly into the corners of his mouth, eyes as honest as Abe Lincoln, “Today.”

“Let’s do it.”

And cue in Alan Silvestri’s heroic theme music to Forrest Gump as I get ready for the run of a lifetime. “This is it,” Billy continues over the crescendoing orchestra, “This is the day we’ve been waiting for. This is the moment where it’s all going to change. Last year—and all the years prior, I guess—was just leading up to this… very… moment.

“It’s time to get,” here it comes…

“Motivated.”

So off I go dressed in an old pair of running shoes, an unflattering pair of lightweight shorts and a tank top, hurling myself westward down Willoughby Avenue, ready to run all the way to the ocean if need be. For I am motivated. Today is the day I’m going to change my physical fitness status from average to athletic. I’ll alter my metabolism down at the genetic level, maybe even start training for a marathon. All is right with the world and I have Billy Crudup and his smile running right here next to me.

But, as is always the case, Billy gets greedy.

“Hey,” he nudges me halfway into mile one.

“What?” I say, pulling my earbud out and putting my motivational Tim Ferris podcast on pause.

“How about we double it?”

“Double it?” dodging a mine field of sidewalk tents.

“Instead of two miles, let’s do four,” he’s showing teeth now. He means business.

“Four miles?” I ask, slightly concerned.

“You’re right. Fuck it. Let’s do ten.”

“All right Billy. Let’s do ten.”

It’s around mile three that Billy and his goddamn motivation go from an airplane hovering gently over the horizon to a giant jumbo continental airliner screaming at dangerous decibel levels soaring right above me and I realize I’ve gotten in way over my head.

Shit. This always happens. Billy Crudup and his big ideas.

At mile four point one my knee starts to feel as if the cartilage has melted away entirely and the bones are painfully rubbing against each other like sandpaper on my nerve endings and I stop to take a breath and tell Billy to go on, I’ll catch up. Without a second thought I call a Lyft and hightail it back home.

And so tomorrow when he shows up wiping the shaving cream off his freshly shaved face trying, once again, to get me to join in on one of his grandiose health schemes I’ll politely tell him to fuck off.

Sorry Billy Crudup, but I don’t need your motivation today.

30 Days Without Television? Am I Insane? 

I’ve decided this morning that I need to go thirty days without Television.

Well, the idea actually popped into my consciousness during my meditation like a microcosmic big bang[1] so I don’t know that I can fully take credit for such a novel and totally unique idea.

“Why would you ever?” You ask with jaws agape and brows furrowed like Mark Wahlberg beaming judgement upon me from your third eyes, “There’s so much good TV.”

And you would be right.

Even amongst my screenwriter and cinephile friends, “The trends are moving towards television,” they say, “That’s where all the good writing is these days.” Pause, exhale, inhale and finishing with, “Movies are all franchises and superheroes, television is where the stories are. If you’re gonna get a job, I’d look into television.”

And they would be right, too.

And I would be lying if I said I didn’t love television but here’s the thing:

When does so much good television become too much good television?

At what point do trends reach their tipping point and become obsession? Obstruction? Oppression?

I’m truly asking because I don’t know the answers.

***

I stare at a computer screen for a living. It’s what I’ve done my entire adult life. College—just before the social media explosion—was maybe the last time in my life I was able to go a day without looking at a screen. Since then it’s been all-screens all-day-long and now I routinely shuffle between my Macbook Pro laptop, iPhone 7+, and 42” Vizio that I tell myself isn’t really a screen because it’s a television and TV screens have been around forever so that’s really okay. It’s been grandfathered in, I reason.

But then yesterday while doing work on one of the aforementioned screens I had what’s called an ocular migraine. I had to look it up because, although I’d experienced this phenomena in the past, I never knew what the hell was happening. It went down like this:

Suddenly, without any warning, my vision went askew and a jagged bright spot that looked kind of like a circular version of Zeus’s lighting rod appeared in the center of my vision and I couldn’t see anything directly in front of me. I couldn’t read or do my work. It was painless, however, semi-alarming. Google gave me an answer that was sort of satisfactory, but then I started thinking about how most nights, by the time I’m ready to try and fall asleep[2], I’ll have a dull throb behind my eyes where the retinal wall meets the optic nerve. And then, almost predictably, that existential itch arose in the back of my brain:

What if this was more than just an isolated incident?

***

Luke Storey, in his illuminating health and wellness podcast The Lifestylist, talks about eyesight in several episodes. In his interview with James Swanwick, they discuss the effect that blue light (screens) have on our eyes and brains. And in his discussions with Nadine Artemis they talk about the necessary health benefits of Sun exposure, Sun gazing, and even the Sun’s abilities to heal certain ailments.

So what am I getting at?

I’m just spitballing here, but I’m starting to think that maybe we weren’t engineered by nature to sit in front of a screen all day. Is it possible that we evolved as creatures of the sun and the moon and that by denying ourselves that relationship we’re doing damage to ourselves?

I don’t know. But here’s what I do know:

I do know that screens give off blue light and blue light tells my brain that it’s daytime even if it’s nighttime and if I stare at too many screens before bedtime I can’t sleep because my anxiety levels are raised and if I can’t sleep my body and mind aren’t restoring themselves and when I’m not restored I’m tired and when I’m tired I need energy and I can’t focus and my mood plummets and my emotions become volatile and I end up drinking too much coffee and too much sugar adding to my anxiety levels and my head and chest will start to hurt and—

Point made.

***

Okay so let me try and tie all of this together.

I need to earn a living so I can’t stop looking at my computer, and I need to answer the phone when it rings so I can’t eliminate that screen either. At least not entirely.

I can, however, decide not to watch television for thirty days to see what it does. Just as an experiment. I can decide to go outside for that hour and soak up some much needed sunlight or read a book or maybe even have a conversation with someone.

Mostly, I want to do it because I have no idea how I’ll feel after thirty days of unplugging from it all. Truthfully, I don’t even want to do it and I even have a strong, however irrational, fear that says I can’t do it and that it’s simply impossible and I’ll be missing out on life.

These days I find myself averse to all forms of addiction and when I become aware of them I try and build some mindfulness around them. The idea of needing to see the latest episode of Whatever-the-fuck isn’t a virtue I’d like to nurture.

And getting back to that existential itch:

Maybe I just don’t want to be addicted to someone else’s story anymore.

Maybe I’d like to invest that time into my own.

[1] Yes, I’m referring to my ideas as miniature big bangs. No I don’t really understand what the Big Bang theory really is but as a writer I reserve the right to use whatever is floating atop the cultural zeitgeist as I please. In other words, get past it.

[2] Sleep is another topic altogether we’ll discuss at some point in the future.

Mind vs. Heart.

c518fqwwmaahe_2
Illustration by Amber Vittoria.

My mind often sounds like a hall monitor, sounding the alarm on every decision I try and make (or surrender to) throughout the day. Constantly warning me with little mental jabs, stabbing me in the frontal lobe like a trickster migraine with:

You can’t.

You don’t have the time.

You’re too old.

You’re too young.

No one’s going to care.

You’re going to make a fool out of yourself.

Your friends will make fun of you.

You don’t have any friends.

You don’t have enough money.

Everyone’s looking at you.

You have nothing important to say.

You’re mediocre at best.

Give up. Stay inside where it’s safe.

No one’s ever going to love you.

You’re a terrible boyfriend.

You’ll never have a family.

You’re alone.

You’re not worth it.

… and the list goes on but I think you get the idea.

This is the voice of my mind.

It is a critical voice. A problem-solving voice. It is also a crucial voice from an evolutionary perspective. Having an intuitive warning against immediate danger is probably one of the many things that kept us alive as a species. Watch out! That sabretooth tiger can most definitely eat you! was probably a good thing to hear inside our heads eleven thousand years ago. But in today’s fast-paced, high-stress environments that voice can be debilitating.

My problem was I used to believe that voice. I would swear by it. It was so loud and constant and pervasive that it never occurred to me there might be another voice inside me; a gentler, softer voice, one that was standing right beside me, ready to guide me, just waiting to be heard.

But my mind was being hijacked and held prisoner by a very real and powerful emotion:

Fear.

I hadn’t realized that for so long I was cultivating that voice of fear, feeding it with reinforcements, making it stronger and more prevalent. Maybe some of that was environmental, maybe not.

And if I was ever going to break the cycle of fear-dominated decisions, living my life hoping for something good to happen but too scared to walk out my front door, I would have to find another voice.

This was the voice of my heart.

This is the voice that sounds like the morning sun that just shone through my kitchen window as I write quietly while she sleeps.

It is the voice that tells me to take a walk under the sun.

It is the voice that says it’s okay to take that drive to the beach and enjoy the day.

It is the voice that says to keep going and have faith, you are being guided.

It is the voice that says you are loved, you are beautiful, you are wondrous and powerful and you are worth living an extraordinary life.

It is the voice that says at any moment you can choose to see incredible beauty all around you simply by surrendering into immense gratitude.

It is the voice that says breathe. You are alive.

It is the voice that says smile at someone and give them a hug. Reach out and do something great for someone and keep it a secret.

It is the voice that says, I love you.

It’s important to say that I am afraid. All the time. I fear everything. Even things that have nothing to do with me. But today I do my best to cultivate the voice inside my heart. To build awareness around it when I am afraid, and to not run from my fear but to step inside it and amidst all that terror to confront it, listen to it, and learn from it.

Because on the other side of that fear lies true discovery.

No More Pills. Meditate.

By twenty-three I was told I had a heart problem and put on beta blockers. I was experiencing uncomfortable palpitations, shortness of breath and extreme anger. I remember the first time during one of my first post-college shit-show jobs at a small company in Stamford, CT. I was in the back lab and I had the thought, for the first time, that everything was wrong. That I was imprisoned and needed to run, that I was literally dying each moment I stayed in that environment. That that job, those hours, were effectively not what they promised me in the American Dream literature during my formative years in (slightly) Upstate New York.

They hooked me up to a holter monitor and for three days I walked around with a little device the size of an iPhone Plus and electrodes taped to my chest where they had shaved the hair away like little crop circles. They called it Wolf Parkinson White Syndrome and told me I would need surgery.

They said they would send a catheter down the artery in my neck and into my heart and they would literally “burn” out a part of my heart and that would “fix” me.

I fearfully opted for a second opinion and never had the surgery.

By twenty-six I was told I had Bipolar Disorder by two separate medical professionals and put on different medications: Seroquel and Abilify. The first made me exhausted, foggy and caused me to gain weight and the second made me feel like I was having tiny little seizures in the fatty layer between my skin and muscle tissue.

I took those for as long as I could to try and save a relationship that couldn’t be saved and eventually stopped taking the meds. I would learn they have that behavior pre-built in the disorder; people with Bipolar Disorder frequently stop taking their medication. I was a semi-self-fulfilling mental disorder.

By thirty, I had realized on my own that the palpitations, shortness of breath and anger was anxiety. To say that panic attacks and anxiety defined my twenties would be an understatement. But I go back and thank God I made it through those years without knowing what I know now.

But I still wasn’t ready to hear what I would hear years later.

I was prescribed Klonopin and Trazodone. One for anxiety and the other for sleep—I hadn’t sleep well in years at that point. Klonopin worked great, especially with Whiskey. Trazodone was like date-raping yourself.

Around thirty-two the anxiety got so bad I had checked myself into the Emergency Room at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, absolutely terrified. I wasn’t necessarily suicidal, but I had no idea what was going on.

Just the voice, over and over and over, This isn’t right.

They sent me to a clinic in Brooklyn because I never have health insurance and a month later, after I’d jumped through enough hoops, I was prescribed Lamictal. Lamictal is an anti-epileptic medication they discovered also treats Bipolar Disorder.

Funny enough, when I asked the Doctor exactly how it treated my illness, she told me straight,“We don’t know.”

I asked her, “Is this something I’m going to have to take for the rest of my life?”

She nodded, “I’m afraid so.”

I won’t lie. Lamictal changed my life for a while. I felt relief I hadn’t felt as far back as I could remember. I remember crying in my apartment in Bed-Stuy thinking this was how the other half lived. This is what I was missing out on.

But of course all Band-Aids wear out and eventually fall off.

By the time I moved out to California at thirty-four I knew, without a doubt, that I needed a different solution. One that didn’t lie in changing my brain chemistry. One that didn’t require me to fill out papers and get governmental approval. One that didn’t pull me out of the fabric of life and lay me out on the slab of cultural conformity.

My problem for so long was that I felt simply wrong.

How could life be like this? I would ask myself every day. I felt so wrong in my inner defiance against the stream that everyone else seemed to be swimming so expertly.

But maybe that inner voice that was screaming was actually helping me. Maybe instead of trying to dull it down and numb it into submission, maybe instead I could simply just listen to it.

“There’s no way I can do that,” was my initial response to meditation. “I don’t have the time,” and “My mind is just way too active, I’ll never be able to sit still,” and finally, “I’m not a fucking monk.”

I told myself every excuse not to try it until one day in early 2015 I simply just surrendered and listened and closed my eyes for twenty minutes.

And a light went on.

Relief.

Within a month I had weaned off of the remaining Lamictal I had stashed from New York and developed a religious Meditation practice. I opened myself up to learning what meditation actually was, and not what I thought it meant. Words like mindfulness, body awareness, breathing, presence, peace, and serenity entered into my life.

I stopped trying so hard to control every aspect of my life.

I learned to stop running and be present for my own life, to experience the emotions I was being given and to stop trying to control them in some irrational fear. I learned to focus on gratitude for the sun that shines through my window each morning and learn the virtue that says I’m exactly where I need to be.

I feel the need to say this is a true story.

I no longer have panic attacks.

I meditate.


Sarah Blondin’s Live Awake project is one of my most frequent listens in the mornings. I don’t always do guided meditations but her voice and musical selections never fail to gently bring me into the mornings.

 

 

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.