Weekending for the Work

Josh Ginter writes one of my favorite sites right now: The Newsprint. The presentation is always beautiful, and his writing is always thoughtful. What a jerk.

He wrote a post a while back reflecting on his recent graduation from his masters program and and entry into the working world. This bit about time off and enjoying what you do is spot on:

So many people talk about work as the bane of life. We trudge through our 8 to 5 job so we can head home to our families. We value our weekends as though each week is a race to the finish line. And we better take our vacation because we deserve it.

Maybe we do deserve vacation time. Batteries need to be recharged to do our best work and vacation time is necessary from time to time.

But viewing time off as some sort of reward is a flawed paradigm. It certainly won’t make that 8 to 5 job any easier. If anything, it pushes us away from the moment and the job at hand. The allure of leisure time puts us in auto-pilot — unable to focus and find meaning in our work.

I’m very lucky to do what I do for a living. It’s something that is always interesting, always challenging, and despite the frequent nonsense and over-importance placed on the least important bits of the job, I really enjoy it.

In fact, it’s only been recently that I’ve learned to enjoy having time off from work. It was a hard earned lesson, involving the somewhat violent shift in work life balance that happens when you have small children at home.

It also reminds me of something that we all know yet mostly ignore: creativity requires a mind that is able to rest, process what’s already in it, and refuel with new input.

Grinding all of the time is only going to burn people out.

On the Aeropress

AeroPress is just a simple plastic tube and plunger. It looks like something you’d find on the coffee table of a stoner who’s into extreme sports. But since receiving one for Christmas this year, everything has changed. I am now making the best coffee I’ve ever made. The coffee is so good that it’s possible to drink black. Though I still prefer cream and sugar. I’m no monster.

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People began condescending to it from the moment I opened the box on Christmas morning. Coffee is an ancient craft. It should be made with tools that people are familiar with, from materials with integrity like metal and glass. AeroPress looks like a novelty. You’d expect to find it on a shelf at Brookstone. in-between the Bluetooth grilling tongs and shiatsu meat thermometers.

Brewing coffee with an AeroPress is a craft. It gives you control over everything: water temperature, courseness of the grind, length of steep. Use it right side up, as God intended, or flip it over and use the inverse method. Layer on some piano-laden 60s-era Miles Davis and become Mr. Rogers, if just for a moment.

Longer than switching out a K-Cup and pushing the button on a Keurig, faster than using a Mr. Coffee, your brew will be ready in about 5-minutes … and the difference in quality over those methods, as Larry Miller would say, is the difference between shooting a bullet, and throwing it.

Patronizing doubters become aspiring owners in a sip.

May their conversion be instant.

Without mercy.

— Ancient AeroPress War Prayer

Coffee is something my wife and I came to relatively late. We didn’t drink it every day, and we didn’t need to make it at home until a few years ago. Kids change things. But after trying to smile with a mouthful of bitter Keurig coffee for a few years in the name of utility, we’ve finally found a better way to stop the voices screaming in our heads.

Hero and Cystic Fibrosis

My friend Gary Moore is the only person I’ve ever met who has written, shot, and released his own movie. Now he’s written his first book, Hero:

Hero follows the story of Dudley Lockwood, software engineer, and two FBI agents as they fight a cyber-terror outfit bent on installing their guys into the American Presidency.

And if you buy it on Amazon on March 19th, you’ll be helping to support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation:

All proceeds from sales of Hero on March 13th will be donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The author royalty for books sold through Amazon is about $4 for both paperback and Kindle versions.

So, if you buy my book, $4 goes to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and you’ll receive my everlasting gratitude… and also my novel.

If you buy the book on March 13, I’ll match my author royalty from the sale. That means a total of $8 will be donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

If you leave a review of the book on Amazon at any time during the month of March, I’ll kick in another $1.

So, buying Hero on March 13 and leaving a review means $9 will be going to a fantastic cause that is near and dear to my family. And you still get a book! It might even be good! Who cares!

Abandon All Hope and Make the Clackity Noise

David Sedaris answering a question in the New Yorker about how he’s so prolific:

Also, it helps to abandon hope. If I sit at my computer, determined to write a New Yorker story I won’t get beyond the first sentence. It’s better to put no pressure on it. What would happen if I followed the previous sentence with this one, I’ll think. If the eighth draft is torture, the first should be fun. At least if you’re writing humor.

Then there’s this bit from Merlin Mann about making the clackity noise to make stories fall out of your keyboard:

Your keyboard will have different things in it than mine does, of course. But, it’s impossible to know what’s in there until you’ve made the clackity noise for a few minutes. You think you know what’s in there. But you don’t. It’s not your brain that makes the clackity noise, it’s your fingers.

Your brain helps you to breathe and to buy beer and to pretend to understand Kant and to use Spanish to ask the hot waitress for “mas salsa,” and, thank God, your brain is a boon companion at helping you avoid deadly attacks by bears, monsters, and SEO marketers.

But, your brain’s a piece-of-shit writer. I know this, because mine is too. So, let me assure you that there’s no point in waiting for your brain to start making the clackity noise for you. It can’t. That’s all on you, and on me, and on each of our extant fingers.

Weird thing is I still have to relearn this every single day. Hand to God. The only way I can tell I’m relearning this is I notice that the keyboard has been making the clackity noise for several contiguous minutes. I see that words have started to come out and sometimes they’re good and almost always they’re not and increasingly I’m not all that worried about it either way.

I’ve learned that my job is to just sit down and start making the clackity noise. If I make the clackity noise long enough every day, the “writing” seems to take care of itself. On the other hand, if there’s no clackity noise, no writing. No little stories. The stories may be in there, alongside God knows what else, but there’s no way to know. You must make the noise.

I’ve been trying to write more lately. I’m still not posting as much as I’d like, but I am writing most mornings these days.

The trick to it wasn’t in some software workflow or in getting different apps on my phone … the trick was to actually make time for writing. For one hour every weekday morning, there are no kids awake, I don’t allow myself to look at email or our bank account or Twitter or anything else that could derail. I just sit down with my cup of coffee and make the clackity noise.

Certainly not any groundbreaking genius insight, but the clarity of this eluded me for a really long time.

In the saddle with a lance and a gasmask

I’m well into the second episode of Hardcore History’s series on the First World War. I can tell you about the second all day long, but I’ve never spent much time on the original.

What’s striking about the war itself is watching as 19th-century gentlemen-soldiers, with frilly 19th-century uniforms and a romanticized 19th-century outlook of war, run headlong into a 20th-century machine gun fire. It wasn’t the first time that industrialized technology saw battle, but it was the first time that major powers faced each other using these technologies. What happens when 19th century people have to solve for a 20th century battlefield?

The French rode off to war wearing metal breastplates, white gloves and red pants. It was honorable for officers to stand and wave their sabres around during firefights. It didn’t take long to learn that charging calvary at machine guns presented some problems. Thousand year old tactics suddenly made obsolete, the entire war becomes a series of experiments. Lose a few hundred thousand troops using one tactic, switch it up.

While it’s easy to condescend to generals sending hundreds of thousands of people armed for Waterloo to a front line of drum artilary and chemical gas attacks, I get the feeling, a century later, we are at a similar crossroads. People are going to look back and see 20th century people dealing with 21st century technology. An estuary between ages.

Governments are still using the word “cyber.” The hacking and data collection that we hear about is only a fraction of a percentage of what is really going on. ISIS uses video on the web successfully, the US learns from that and begins to counter with videos of their own. Modern warfare is as much about communication, data, and ideas as it is about troops on the ground.

On the civilian side, we’re using the most disruptive technology ever invented as a new way to watch television, read books, listen to radio and send mail. We’re using 21st century technology for 20th century ideas of media and interaction. If you need any evidence that marketing hasn’t figured out what to do with the internet, look no further than the continued use of display advertising, despite overwhelming evidence of its ineffectiveness.

The more I think about it, the more I’m starting to think that being born before the Internet was widely in use isn’t all that different from having been born before electricity. When people look back, they’re going see us just as we see that German on horseback, carrying a lance and wearing a gasmask.