When I was a druggie we all grooved to Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit. Grace Slick screamed at us to Feed your head, and we complied.
Decades removed from that scene — who was that guy?! — I now think of that phrase metaphysically. Feeding my head means ingesting books, videos and conversations that uplift me, make me soar with the dragons, run with the wolverines.
It’s also about feeding my soul.
Meditation. Visualization. Connection. All the practices that dial up the wondrous and the woah of this life.
Week 2 of My Year of Micro Experiments leans heavily in that direction. Feeding my soul.
It was about connecting with my 15-year-old son.
Up until a year and a half ago or so we used to play in the pool all the time during the warmer months. I’m in Florida, I hear what you’re saying, aren’t they all warmer months??
Even here the winter months are a little too chill for hopping into an unheated pool. Sure, if you’re Nordic you’d bust out your teeny Euro-thong bathing suit, the temperature is still above ice melt. But for us, once it drops below lukewarm bathwater, we wait out the winter.
That’s how we mark Spring in the tropics, when you can breezily hop back into the pool without toe testing it first.
Every parent connects with their children through shared experience. For me and the Z it was watching wrestling for a year or more — the fake kind. That’s how far love will go. For a parent steeped in the art world, who loves reading and NPR and TedTalks, this was crawling into the sweaty armpit of our culture, all for the sake of connecting with my son.
Thankfully he’s moved on to YouTubers and The Office recently. But still, I’ve always been his outdoor parent, the one who plays outside with him. The active parent.
My tweak of the week came in a flash when Z compelled us to get a small weight set and bench: My goal was to work out with him every day for a week.
It would become the basis of our new connection adventure. It wasn’t necessarily outdoors, though it was physical.
But Zane was having none of it.
On Day One he was like: Hey, work out on your own time. I can’t wait for you.
I was like: But it will be fun if we do pushups and stuff together.
And he was like: I do pushups and pullups on a moment’s notice. I’ve already done 100 pushups today and 20 pullups. Why don’t you go and do some on your own?
On Day Two I managed to squeak in 10 pushups with him late at night. And then later in the week we shot basketball together.
That was it. The end of the week was a bust when I suddenly had to run across the state to rescue my Mom (MomJo!) from a condo mold situation.
Because I’m writing this a week later — yes, Week 3 is already in the can, I can’t divulge results just yet, so don’t ask me to — because of this time lag the obvious failure was not so apparently failure afterall.
We played basketball three times this past week. At his request.
Also, though it’s no longer a goal to work out with Zane every day, it’s in my mind to do so whenever the opportunity comes up. Having that as a mild background wish makes it more likely to happen when the stars and our timing aligns.
This is the interesting thing about micro experiments. Even when your results are uninspiring the aftereffects might still surprise you.
When my wonder woman wife Ann booked an art workshop for a week the hamster wheel in my brain started spinning. Squeaky and lopsided as it is, it still rotates. With a wobble.
Three years back a friend and I improvised a creative retreat across the state in a rental home in Anna Maria Island. My creative compadre for that retreat was improv comedian-speaker-writer-coach-transformational artist Travis Thomas — damn, what doesn’t this guy do?!
He’s beautiful too, so unfair.
It proved fun — and successful — so much so we vowed on our ancestors’ graves to do it annually.
We wiffled on that vow — ancestors are spinning in their underground cubicles — not managing to get another creative retreat off the ground . . . till now.
When Ann set the wheels in motion for her Big Sur art workshop week, I pounced on the idea for another DIY Creative Retreat, this time from our home.
Our son is in high school, so technically this wouldn’t be a round-the-clock creative mania like the one Travis and I did for several days on the barrier island.
It would mean about 6 hours a day including our lunch break. It was the best I could muster between delivering Zane to school and picking him up at the furthest point I could get him to disembark from the bus each day (to gain an extra half an hour).
(Devious, I know.)
Travis was on board immediately — love his spontaneity. He lives up to his improv roots. He yes anded immediately.
For those who might want to make their own intensely productive focus time happen, here are my loosey goosey Rules for How to Create a Successful Do-It-Yourself Creative Retreat:
1. Do it with a like-minded friend
This is my number one creative retreat suggestion if you can swing it . . . because is it really a retreat if you do it solo?
You can argue philosophically that it is — I’ve managed to ferret out time for creative bursts by myself. But there’s something about the presence of other people that spurs me to greater heights, greater commitment.
A great example is this very week:
Monday I was on my own yet still managed a fair amount of work despite a school holiday and the beginning of an exhaust fan installation into Ann’s studio that would take several days.
Cutting through exterior walls is not whisper work. There’s grinding and high-pitched whining, even if mostly from me.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday Travis joined me. He couldn’t make Thursday because of other commitments. Slacker.
Thursday, oh Thursday.
Thursday was the only day my creative retreat efforts collapsed. I spent too much time with Harley who was installing the exhaust fan in the morning.
After he left, seeing I had approximately an hour till lunch time I made the mistake of glancing at my phone. Responding to an email led to God only knows what else.
For the next hour and a half!
It’s like coming out of a digital bender when you look up sheepishly, myopic because you haven’t once glanced away from the phone, afraid to admit even to yourself you squandered 90 precious minutes on advice columnists.
Surely what I gleaned from humanity’s angstyness could have waited till later that evening while Zane was studying.
Which brings me to . . .
2. Set a schedule
. . . and stick to it.
In our case Travis arrived at 9, we kibbitzed for just a few minutes, then went to our spaces and revved our mighty engines.
We clocked out for lunch around 11:45 — scooted off to a Mediterranean meal spot in a neighboring town — and then came back for a couple more hours afterward.
3. Create space to work
Notice how I said we calved off from one another and went to work?
Workspaces matter. Not terribly much to two guys who are working primarily off their laptops, but they do.
I need space for my notes, my laptop, some water, my notepad for scribbling half-formed thoughts. Travis needed quiet, to create short videos, blast through his considerable email contacts and to handle the occasional phone call.
My makeshift workspace is pictured above. We lugged my son’s desk from his room to our living room. Voila, instant additional home office.
4. Vary your rhythm
Here’s an example:
I start out at the desk, tappata tappata typing away on the laptop keyboard. As soon as I feel myself flagging, I ooze on over to one of the bean bags — or to a recliner — and grab my notepad.
Settled in I let my drowsy brain drum up ideas, which I capture with the diligence of an 18th-century Lepidopterologist. (Butterfly enthusiast-collector-expert — I won’t make you look that up!)
I let my slow-moving neural network fire ideas languidly down my arm onto the page . . .
Then, when I’ve had enough of that, feeling revived, I slide into the upright position at the desk again.
Tappata tappata tappata.
Away I go.
5. Work from a different workspace than normal
. . . if you can.
Travis worked from my home office (a glorious term for my L-shaped desk in the master bedroom adjacent to the room I worked in).
I insisted on this to throw me out of my comfort zone. It may have seemed a generous gesture for Travis — who I hope is not reading this and discovering the naked ambition beneath my largesse — for me it was a surge of electricity.
To sit and work in a not quite familiar space put my imagination on high alert.
6. Take freaking breaks!
Our daily lunch was the best reboot tool of the day. We drove off, sauntered into a fast casual joint for a healthy meal, talked with the pent-up emotion of solitary confinement inmates let loose in The Yard for one hour, then jumped back into the work for the afternoon.
7. Bonus rule: Start off the day with someone who sparks you
Each morning between lobbing Zane onto the school grounds and starting at 9 am with Travis, I squeezed in a breakfast. Not just any kind, the inspirational kind.
A different friend from my creative universe was scheduled for each day of the week. This amped me up. More than you can imagine.
Minx Boren — whose Balance Points emails you have to sign up for because they are wisdom and poetry and verve all in one. Minx was excited to talk about her own bookitos in progress, which revved me all the more.
Another friend could meet only briefly because he was finishing up a bookito for his bioneurofeedback center. (Biofeedback for the brain.)
Each morning a different personality would energize my creative hemisphere into a higher state. An excited state, as they call it in physics and lap dancing.
On the drive between the diner and
home the creative retreat, ideas would be gushing — spilling onto note pads at stop lights.
That was Week 1 for my Year of Micro Experiments. Though this week was not micro at all, it set the tone and birthed the idea:
In case you want to follow along, I’m focusing on these areas:
— Creative work
— Enhancing relationships
— Body betterment
— Mental/spiritual hygiene
— Time optimization (in a relaxed way; I aspire to luxuriously unhurried chill focus)
— Outreach and marketing
Please email me suggestions at Evan (at) NotesForCreators (dot) com
Join me, won’t you?
I’m embarking on a year of micro experiments, one each week.
These will be experiments in how I approach my creative work, family time, body input (eating), body output (exercise), time usage, shutting down at the end of the day for reals because I most often don’t, as well as some spiritual tinkering along the way.
Let’s talk micro for a minute.
I’m emphasizing the micro. Small changes.
If it’s not easy, if it’s not small and incremental, if it doesn’t slide happily and without fuss into my busy schedule then this likely won’t be the year to try it.
Cuz . . .
I like my life as it is. I just want to improve upon it.
Since the coming of the scale-it-up-to-11 digital startup era much has been made of moonshots: Those impossibly galactic goals so colossal they eclipse the sun if you get the trajectory right. Knocking out competitors and disrupting the status quo of a thousand years too, if you do it really well.
I’m the opposite. I’m more of a pebble shot kind of guy. With a slingshot.
At heart I’m an incrementalist.
Sure, like you, I’ve made quantum bets — choices that ruptured all that came before. Moving to NYC from Florida. Quitting well-paying jobs for adventure. Moving into a van and driving around the country looking for an art town to move to. Diving into the unknown, like starting an art gallery after spending not one minute in the business.
Still, really, I believe most in tweakage. Small iterative tweaks that build. I believe most in incremental change that amps up into momentum.
Momentum becomes trajectory becomes inevitability.
Having mooned over micro . . . counterintuitively I’ll be kicking off the series with something macro: My DIY Creative Retreat.
I’ll be serving up that post next. About this past week where my friend Travis Thomas — book him now as a speaker or a coach while you can still afford him — and I created a home-based retreat on the fly.
(While we were doing the retreat Travis had this brilliant idea I can’t share, because it’s his idea to share on his timeframe . . . but I will come back and link to it here when he does announce it . . . and his idea spurred this idea, micro experimenting my way through the next year.)
After the DIY Creative Retreat piece I’ll post each weekend about the #TweakOfTheWeek.
You don’t need to tweak something every week, though wouldn’t it be cool if you engaged in a small life experiment for a week at some point? Maybe several . . .
Join me, won’t you?
In a recent short podcast Jon Acuff goes counter-intuitive: For those having difficulty jumping into a project, making a change, taking an action, Acuff says cut your goal in half.
Don’t aim to lose 10 pounds, make your goal 5 pounds. Then when you hit a 7-pound loss you’ll feel triumphant and aim for more. If you only lose 7 pounds when your goal was 10, you’ll feel like the biggest loser and not in a good way.
Can’t manage to work on your side hustle for an hour a day? Don’t accept defeat, go for 30 minutes. If that fails, make 15 minutes your daily goal.
Once you rack up wins the momentum will carry you to more.
Not only is this a sound philosophical change from the Big Hairy Goals concept for those who can’t get started, Acuff backs it up with research. Those who cut their goals in half are much more likely to make progress.
Like 63% more. There’s a study.
Because I believe in the power of vision I offer this amended haiku of a formula:
Big Dream, Smallest Possible Step
A big gauzy dream engenders an internal change bigger than the actions needed to get there. A big dream changes what we imagined our reality to be.
I currently have a big gauzy dream — of a series of bookitos on the connected creative life that will spread across America faster than fake news.
When we allow a big dream to smolder inside we alter who we think we are. Fan the embers of that new dream long enough and we begin to believe we can be that dream self someday.
I use the word gauzy to imply hazy . . . indistinct . . . not seen clearly . . . daydreamy.
A vision strong enough to excite us must also change our trajectory. By definition we won’t see the endpoint with absolute clarity.
When Stephen King wrote Carrie he could in no way have foreseen he’d become the cultural icon he is today. Though he almost certainly had a wispy imprecise vision of making a living as a writer, quitting his teaching gig, maybe even buying a bowling ball.
(Jigsaw puzzles, playing guitar and bowling are three of his pastimes.)
Dream the big gauzy dream and make your one true goal the smallest possible step you can take toward it. Feebly or forcefully or frolicking, however you attain it you will want to achieve another. And another. And another.
Sure, dream of your first marathon, but make your first goal to run to the end of the block. Or next door. Or to the sidewalk. Whatever is the smallest possible goal you’ll act on.
Dream of artistic glory; make your goal 30 minutes of creative practice a day.
Or 15. Or 5. Whatever is the smallest doable step . . . .
You buy a lapdesk and years later you’re working from your home office — as I did once, and am now.
Once you lock down your smallest possible step your big gauzy dream will compel you to enlarge — your goal and yourself.
Check out this short podcast by Jon Acuff on going smaller:
PS: I sure love a semicolon. Extra points for you if you can find it in 3 seconds.
Mr. Marcus only allowed 9th graders to use semicolons. As a 7th grader you’d drop a letter grade on any paper for using one incorrectly. I promptly used one in the next paper. Tragically I forgot the verb in the opening sentence.
Imagine I did that in the prior sentence. It would read thusly:
Tragically I the verb in the opening sentence.
I dropped two letter grades for that.[Mr. Marcus upped me a letter grade for the theme of the paper — on what the future might look like: When I was at a loss my Mom (MomJo!) suggested a remote device allowing teachers to give a mild electric shock to students acting up in class. Mr. Marcus likee.]