3 things I was forced to do — and I’m better for it

Get a job

If you didn’t have to, would you?

Yet I’m betting that most of the characters you’ve engaged and endured in your lifetime have come through your job. As well as many of your most significant challenges and growth opportunities.

The world of work is a wonderful thing. It’s as if commerce and trade were pre-destined by the Great Spirit in the Sky for humanity’s greatest lesson — to serve each other.

New York City is the best example to me. While living there it was easy to note how people who might easily war with one another were happy to serve each other — to make money. Over a hundred languages were spoken there. Who knows how many different tribes of thought. And there we all were, working, providing service, laying down political and religious grievances — to make money!

It’s a beautiful thing. Implicitly each person realizes their best case for happiness and prosperity is that every other person also gets their best shot at happiness and prosperity. It’s a mutually self-reinforcing process that grows itself to gargantuan proportions.

It’s no accident that polyglot cities are meccas of financial power.

We all serve one another while working. We may not think of it this way even while we’re doing it, yet we are, we are.

Sell our house

In order to survive the impact on our business when the market melted down, it quickly became apparent to me that we had to sell our house at that moment if we had any hope of surviving for two years. We did it even though it was painful and we had no idea where we’d live in the interim till we found a home at half the value — or even where and in what condition that home would be when we found it.

Ann — to her everlasting credit understood the risks were we to wait it out — jumped onboard that very same tearful day we discussed this option. We spent the month of November orchestrating a house makeover. It was an exhaustion you imagine only a twenty-something could withstand day after day.

We sold it the day before Christmas.

A month later we were gone forever from our dream backyard.

A year and a half after making that decision, we moved into our new home — and spent the next six months rehabbing it. Again, exhaustion not meant for the fifty-year old set.

Yes the home is old and less impressive — to others. Yes, it will need maintenance the way a geriatric does. To us it is paradise. We live on 1.3 acres adjacent to a preserve. Wildlife abounds that others can only read about. Ann has the art studio of her dreams in the old garage once made over into an apartment (though this is why I love Ann! — she already has new dreams for a spiffier, bigger studio someday). Our boy can get treed, dirty, or sopping wet at any given moment — he gets to be a country boy a skip away from where we used to live.

As family and friends often point out: this home feels like us, free and loose and natural. I thank God for being forced to sell the old one, and us for being wise enough to do so.

Leave my family

One way we figured out how to make money in the midst of our business implosion was this:

We had a big van, a Sprinter van. It’s the kind of van you can stand up in. It was mostly sitting idle as art purchases from our gallery dried up.

So we joined up with the best art transporter we knew (Bob Sorrentino of itransport4u.com) and I hit the road. For a year and a half I was gone more than I was home. Generally it was 3 to 3.5 weeks on the road, maybe 5 to 10 days home, and then back out again.

Not only did I see the grit undergirding Americans in this crisis all across the country, I came to know what it’s like to have no money and to work 12 to 14 hour days — every day, no weekends, no breaks, for the entire time I was on a trip.

I hadn’t worked and lived so close to the marrow, ever. I’ve worked that hard — but was paid well. Or I’ve worked that hard in pursuit of a dream. This was existential survival. If it went well, I could work again next month. Our gallery and our people could work again next month.

I now know for sure that failure is the hardest thing there is. Subsistence living is the hardest thing there is. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve been in over the years where those of us who were well off would slight the working class, the surviving class. It disgusts me now that I wasn’t a more vociferous defender of low-income workers everywhere.

I also know this in that visceral way you come to know something by its absence: I need my family. I live for my family. My friends, my family, they are my present and future.

Which is why I am no longer on the road. 

I would rather fail my business than my family.

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The freedom of no

Yes is powerful. You can’t get anywhere meaningful without it. Yes opens your way into relationships. Yes fills out your adult life. Yes gets you a job. Yes delivers you into adventure.

No is freeing. No is focusing. No is the second most effective tool in the kit of life, after yes. When you say no freely, it allows you to focus solely on the big Yesses in your life.

Isn’t this a tasty paradox? No drives the yes!

Think of, oh, let’s say Usain Bolt. Once he committed to yes, I want to be the fastest man alive, then a thousand noes entered the decision field. No to a hedonistic lifestyle. No to slothful days. No to people who would diminish his zeal. No to getting together casually because he said yes to a rigorous training schedule. No to certain foods. No no no no no no and no . . . .

Every committed life is sparse on the yes side, abundant on the no side. Once you burn in to your commitment though, the necessity for no diminishes. Every no reinforces the big Yes of your desire. Until you find yourself living your Yes . . . . Then you get to say yes and yes to more that’s in alignment with that life path. Things off the path are not in your vision, and those who would offer them have receded to a vanishing point. Here, no becomes unnecessary.

My brother is a high-octane athlete. He hasn’t had a drink in many years. No one in his current life would even think of suggesting he veer from this — but not so before this arc became solidified. In school and in his early career I’m sure there were many who sought to get Tony involved in their lifestyle choices. Now it would be inconceivable. The no has worn such a deep groove that only the yes is visible — and he no longer has to make much use of that no.

The next time you Yes it up, give no a spin. Trot it out often. Enjoy the no. Put no to use. Make no work for you. No no no no no . . . . until you’re living in Yesville.

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Uniquity ubiquity

Uniqueness is pervasive. The singular and the fantastic and the unique are everywhere these days.

It was really an extraordinary realization — that the ordinary is as varied as a wetland habitat. I’m accustomed to thinking along with everyone else that we live in a massively similar world. But it’s not true. There is more choice running rampant today — and people are exercising their right to pursue it — than ever before.

It was only a couple generations ago that the corporation man, the man in the grey flannel suit, was an icon of similarity.

Think on your billionaires. Here are a few that spring to mind:

  • Warren Buffet, that investing hero in off-the-rack affordable suits
  • Steve Jobs, the black shirt, the jeans, the intensity
  • Donald Trump, today’s Barnum-and-Bailey business showman in tailored, puffed-out power wear
  • Oprah! — need I say more?

They are as different as snowflakes, in their personas, in how they dress, in how they work their work. Go back a hundred years to the titans of the day. Similarity ruled. Not only the clothes, it even looked as if they went to the same barber.

The profusion

The other day I was trotting around doing business and I was struck by what my Grandmother Griffith was struck by thirty years ago when we were sitting outside of a mall waiting on family to join us — how many more clothing options there were than when she was a young adult. Now there are added layers of individuality — hair style, hair color, tats, piercings, accessories, teethwear for godsakes . . . .

From what we read to what we think to the freedom we have in choosing where to live to what we do in our lives, there is a proliferation of design-your-own-life choices. If we spoke with an economic historian she would be able to point out with great fanfare the eruption in types of jobs and businesses now compared to a hundred years ago. It’s on the magnitude of the Cambrian Explosion in life forms.

And we can say that possibly she is a she. A hundred years ago, no.

I’ve worked with a guy on and off for years who in his mid-thirties in suburbia has managed to never own a car! He bicycles everywhere.

I know artists who own homes north and south, who live famously well and are able to thrive off of street festivals. You couldn’t do that in the Middle Ages. Not with a spa and a pool.

In my own little life I’ve been a tire changer, a graphic artist, a proofreader, a waiter, a valet, a drug seller, a ranch worker, a smoothie maker, and a vacuum salesman if you can count half-a-day of training as a job  — all before I was thirty. I’ve left out something I’m sure, partially for brevity, partially for sheer not being able to remember it all.

The fecundity of options is dazzling, the difference between now and then is as striking as a night sky witnessed in the Colorado mountains by a city dweller. 

Why are we weary then?

Why are we burnt out?

I think one reason is we don’t hue to our own instincts enough.

It takes discipline to simplify into your own genius.

We take on the mindset of the collective. Because it’s out there we must do it, eat it, buy it.

I’m struck by how some of the most singular individuals in history lived so simply they became utterly themselves and no one else.

Jesus we know much about, an itinerant rabbi who lived so simply he had no home.

Socrates, a poor man who influenced how we think about thought forever.

Lao Tzu, who extolled spareness, whose koan-like proclamations tendril through history all the way to Yoda.

Simplicity and genius bask in time, open time. The irony is that it takes un-choosing to get there. Choosing not to travel to that place and that place and that place. Choosing not to scatter yourself like Hugh Hefner’s seed. Choosing not to plug in, turn on, tune in.

Good luck–

 
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Midlife Makeover

My wife and I are undergoing a midlife makeover. Some of it is brought on by massive upheaval, some of it is brought on by zeroing in on personal passions.

It is difficult to tell where the line between upheaval and passion begins and ends. Perhaps in that life review a soul undergoes upon transition we’ll find out it was all part of a significant plot point and there was no line at all.

I’m sure hundreds of thousands if not millions of others are also undergoing the upheaval/passion play in their lives. Uncertainty reigns. Excitement glimmers (for what could be). Fear mounts (for what is lost). Resources collapse. There is no clear road ahead, you have to bushwack your way there.

We are already two-and-a-half years into our life makeover. We jettisoned the house first, and spent a year and a half searching for a new home at half the price, from within a storage unit — it was a condo, but all of our belongings stacked to the ceiling lent it a storage-warehouse chic.

Our business has suffered so many rounds of losses that my friend Russell two days ago compared it to the movie Zulu, where a cohort of soldiers is thinned further and further by overwhelming assault waves. I personally feel like the character in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who loses — one by one — each of his limbs and still continues the fight: It’s just a flesh wound!

But for those of you who are going through it also I can tell you this: by facing each crisis and taking action — whether it is effective or not — sweet relief will come your way, in the most surprising of ways. 

What Ann and I have also discovered is that if you keep zeroing in on your passions, somehow, some amazing how you will find yourself ever nearer the target — even as your losses mount! Even in the maw of great financial turmoil I am more convinced than ever that life belongs to those who crave to live it in their fashion.

When I was in my twenties I once picked up a business-suited hitchhiker with a briefcase. As we were driving and talking for some while he opened up about his experience in Vietnam. It was as if this were the first time he’d been able to admit this out loud: that he’d never felt more alive than he had back in the Vietnamese jungle. He’d been determined to feel every sensation. There was nothing he wasn’t taking in — as a matter of survival. He was a million open sensory points.

In his case he was passionate to live, yet upon leaving the battlefield had not found an equal passion. In our case, we are moving toward our passions in the midst of collapse and life becomes all the more dearer the further we travel.

When Russell mentioned the Zulu analogy I had a hearty laugh followed by a wan snort.

“Thanks,” I said, “weren’t they all wiped out?”

“Noooo,” Russell replied, “that’s the thing, a few survived — the Zulus sung out a tribute to their tenacity and left them in peace.”

And I swear that’s how it will be if you zero in on your passions regardless of the mayhem in your life. I’ll prove it over the next few years and update you in these articles from time to time.

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Why I encourage you to curse like a sailor — from a foreign port

In today’s say-it-all society it’s all been said. Regarding the f-word, the c-word, the b-word, the mf-word, the ho-word . . . the relish is gone. Once it felt good to just let your language hang out naked and raw from time to time. It meant something. The perfect profanity at the perfect moment is like a flame darting off your tongue. It sears.

Inane profanity 24/7 is just a bad sunburn that won’t quit.

Now when someone utters f**k or sh*t, it generally signifies a brain refusing to do its work, a brain in sleep mode. The brain is a calibrated instrument for discernment, and for communicating that discernment. A brain that refuses to choose phrases that elicit meaning and instead spews forth terminology that is knee-jerk meaningless is an insult to other human brains.

I’m here to encourage you to learn to curse like a sailor — in another language. Preferrably one not spoken often here.

Spanish won’t do. In the southern U.S. everyone speaks it, or at least knows how to fling a zesty frase or two around. But German, oh! Bull Sheize! Hölle! Crappen! It sounds vaguely naughty, but cryptically so. (Translation accuracy not implied or guaranteed.)

So what’s the merit in foreign language expletives?

The freedom! The expression! The ability to say it — obliquely. The side benefit is if your kid picks it up, what the hey, he’ll only seem uncouth in Germany. Or Nigeria. Or Basque country, or wherever you string your curses from.

Don’t relegate your brain to that dead zone where you communicate nothing through an artillery barrage of the trite. Sure it’s a return to civility — and many of us would rather be thought a rogue than refined — but it’s also a sharpening of your mind, the only tool you have for navigating this world.

My take: Use that brain! Be specific — actually convey a nuanced meaning — or go foreign. At least let our brains try to puzzle it out.

A final note: As in everything I write, my admonitions are for myself. It may seem as if I’m writing to you. I am. But I also use you as in one, one’s brain, one’s language — a way to generalize. Really a way to say me.

Or more on pitch: Evan, stop effing around and start speaking on a higher plane or you’ll be the ruination of your eight-year old! And your brain.

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Keep it in until you can’t

A few weeks back I was interviewing Lori Saitz (zenrabbitcookies.com). In the middle of a far ranging conversation we stumbled upon a discussion of the conflicting advice you get when you are setting a new path for yourself, a new goal.

Frequently you will hear this: say it out loud to as many people as you can, so that you harness the sheer weight of social pressure to keep you moving toward that goal. Or better yet, establish an accountability partner to keep tabs on your progress.

Then there are others who will advise you to keep the dream in your heart, lest others trample the idea too soon with their own opinions. This scenario makes sense in this way — your desire is born of your experience and could not possibly have the same import to someone else unless they are closely aligned already to that particular dream.

Let’s say . . . oh, some newbie fifty-ish dude wants to start up a blogsite. Were he to yak around town about this there might be some who would question his sanity. What are you thinking?! You’ve got a raucously bad business environment! What is that going to lead to?! What a waste. You think you’re contributing?! What have you got to contribute? Leave that for the fey intellectuals . . . .

But, same fresh though now slightly dejected fifty-ish guy talks to his thirty-something friend who already has a blogsite going — that would be you Travis Thomas (read his blog by the way) — and suddenly it is the coolest way to make a contribution without breaking a sweat.

My synthesis of these two seemingly conflicting strains of thought is this: Keep it to yourself until you can’t!

I’ll give an example that I gave to Lori. When I first started writing the book The World Is Freaky Beautiful two-plus years ago (yes, there’s a book . . . this website is its spawn), I told no one. I’m not even sure my wife knew. Perhaps she thought as she’d enter the room and I’d slap the laptop shut, oh it’s come to this, internet porn. And then perhaps she thought this, yay, now I’ll get to shower alone sometimes.

Because I spent eleven years in New York City where everyone my age then was an actor, a writer, an artist, a dancer, a musician, a somebody creative and alive! — I quickly learned to go the opposite direction. I wouldn’t allow myself to talk about being a writer — not even for seduction purposes, cuz you know how exy-say writers are in New York City — unless I’d actually written the day before. I tired quickly of the writers who hadn’t written in five years and the musicians who never seemed to practice and the artists who drank hard after a hard day of not creating art, you know how difficult it is to keep good art in all day.

Because of this I speak to no one when I begin a project. Until I can’t help my dang self! Until I’ve gotten so far into the new thing that no one can stop me. Because by this time I’ve got momentum, baby, and ain’t no one gonna stop that train.

Which is why I’m not blasting this blogsite out to anyone till I get a few more articles under my belt — then nothin’s gonna slow this blogtrain down . . .

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What I learned about fitness on the road

Sanity is rhythmic.

I’ve been off the road for almost a year now. But before that I was driving 12 to 14 hours a day, sometimes more, for a year and a half. I’d be gone for two to four weeks at a time, back for five to ten days, and then off again. It was a consequence of the financial meltdown and the way it affected our art gallery — plus our fervent desire to keep our employees hired.

That’s another story, and not an easy one. What might have been adventure in my twenties was anguish nearing fifty — I had a six then seven year-old at home; I had a wife there who turns me on to this day.

This is not about that time except for this: It dawned on me early that this was not the vibrant lifestyle I’d been striving for in my recent adult decades. It was easy to spot the other drivers out there; most of them fatted up like penned calves quickly. It was evident I was heading into that same body-fat percentage zone after the first couple of trips.

At first I tried the logical thing — to exercise at the end of the day, in some forlorn hotel with oily carpet. Or it could be a walk around that desolate hotel at 9 pm, circling around five, ten times to get in twenty to thirty minutes. That didn’t work. By then you’re too exhausted, too achy, or you can’t see or its rainy or cold or buggy or all of it. Plus you’ve got to get up at 6 am and run the roads again.

5-minute exercise breaks
If you’re driving 12-14 hours a day and you don’t want to look McMuffinish then you’d better get yourself active. And if you think you’re gonna do it when you pull in exhausted at 8 or 9 pm, then you skipped the ancient dictum “know thyself” along the way.

Here’s what I discovered: Do it in quick chunks — microbursts — throughout the day. Five minutes at a time.

I started coming home from several-week trips buffer and leaner. My wife joked that had she known the road would be so good to my physique then she might have sent me packing earlier, during the good times.

Everyone can exercise 5 minutes at a time every hour or two. At rest stops, gas stations, restaurants. And I did. It was a heart-pumping joy. I’d climb back into the cab of the van invigorated.

In the beginning I’d duck around the side of a building, or into the back, as if I were committing a shameful act. Sod that! I just started doing my yoga moves and push ups and knee bends right there — at the gas pump, at the restaurant sidewalk. People in pickups might give you a sideways glance but this is what I found. People in shape approve, even applaud (in my mind of course, but they would given a different setting). People who aren’t are, well, flabby — and they wish they had the discipline to be you. I’ve had people walk by and tell me so.

At the end  of the day I would total up my 5-minute workouts and voila, 20, 30, 45 minutes of exercise had been had!

A beneficial consequence: I was more alert for driving. Suddenly the aches that had developed so quickly disappeared.

A secondary realization was this: if you ache, then you’re not moving enough — in enough different ways. When I hit the road it was as if I’d contracted instant arthritis. Unexpectedly I had joint pains that fairly bellowed. Upon entering into my 5-minute micro-workouts all those pains vanished.

Recently I brought that rhythm into my current workday. A quick 5-minute workout every hour or two. It’s actually easier because there’s so much more available to you in your regular life. On the road you only have your vehicle and pavement, maybe a strip of grass somewhere.

Yet there’s an interesting psychological component in standard life I didn’t expect. When you are driving 12 to 14 hours a day, you must make it happen every hour or two — there will be no other time available. In your regular workday there is a time seduction — you fall under the spell of I-Can-Do-It-Laterism. It’s an illusion! Shake it off!

Once you accustom yourself to taking five-minute exercise breaks in your everyday life — it becomes far more dynamic than on the road. You can take a quickie walk — can’t always do that on a lonely stretch of highway with nothin’ but venomous snakes for miles of desert (the signs say so if you’re out west, west starting with Texas).

You know the terrain on home terrritory; there’s nothing to figure out. You can utilize your exercise equipment if you’ve got it laying about at home. A  five-minute fitness splurge is exquisite! It’s a no-boredom-guaranteed intensity.

One of my favorite routines that can be done anywhere is this: 15 slow pushups in a row, broken by an arch Downward Dog, then followed by five more slow pushups. A dozen yoga leg poses that challenge your balance, a dozen all-American knee bends — because I’m nobody’s true disciple — ending with 20 up and downs off your toes/balls of your feet while standing straight and tall, arms up in a triumphant V if you dare!

You can take that into your non-driving day, that micro-burst ethos. You have the time! And I guarantee you, you will accomplish more, feel better — and your wife won’t send you on the road to get that fine bod. That sleeker self will be yours for the price of a more enjoyable day.

Vitality can be yours five minutes at a time.

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