The Fear

Merlin Mann, in an excellent talk about fear:

The Universe doesn’t care if you’re scared.

Grow old enough, and everything becomes a habit. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, you’re too old to learn something new, you’ve been there and done that – we have sayings that point to life as a long-term habit. We get in the habit of breathing, and that’s the best we can ask for.

Routine, habit – do something enough times and it becomes like muscle memory. Toss a football every day and it becomes natural. So does riding a bike. Or using keyboard shortcuts. We don’t have to re-learn how to take a shower or drive a car. It’s all routine.

Those routines can become harmful, too: smoking, bad relationships, never trying something new. Sometimes habits become comfortable (or, worse, mindless) and get us in trouble.

I’ve thought a lot about habits lately because, at least in the past few months, I’ve broken so many of them. And not just little ones, like biting fingernails, but big ones, like driving a different way to a different job every morning.

When I lived in an apartment, I had the same morning routine: get up, eat breakfast, start the coffee, take a shower, get dressed, come downstairs and drink the coffee, then head to work. Now all that takes place in a different house, and the change in location has forced me outside of the normal routine. Now, I have to think, “Where are my shoes?” And, “Did I remember to make the coffee?” Nothing is automatic anymore because I’m learning a new routine.

That’s extremely stressful for me. There came a time, early last week, where the stress caught up with me and I came down with a light head cold. Part of me thinks my body gravitates toward routine and habit so much that when I’m forced to think about my routine, my wiring goes berserk.

But given enough time, everything becomes a habit. That initial stress never lasts long, because eventually the brain figures out a new groove and settles into it. It might take some time.

What I’ve learned is that even though it’s difficult to wiggle my way out of that groove, it’s far better to suffer a bit of discomfort and unease than plant myself in some habit and become complacent. This gets me in trouble especially in relationships. And after eight years of working at the same place, I noticed that my work grooves were becoming too deep for comfort, too.

The Fear caught up with me when I bought this new house. There were a few times where the little tickle in the back of my brain sparked some stress-induced thought, like “Why the hell did I do this? This won’t turn out well.” Really, that thought came from living in the same apartment for six years. The routine was so comforting that, even though the new house is a fantastic life change, my brain had a hard time letting go of the groove.

I was scared to switch jobs. I was scared to buy a house. I was scared to break up with my girlfriend last summer, because life with somebody seemed better than life all alone. Scared, scared, scared. And it all had to do with habits. With settling into that damned groove.

That’s not to say that The Fear doesn’t creep in now and again. I still wonder what the hell I’m doing. Don’t we all?

But as Merlin says in that talk (and a lot in his fantastic podcast): what’s the worst that could happen when you break your habits? When you try something new? When you shake things up and learn and grow as a civilized person? No one’s going to eat you.

The fact is, taking a new way to work now leads me to a better job in an environment I love. Yes, I live a bit farther out of town now and have to spend a bit more in gas, but I own a frackin’ house that I can do whatever I want with.

Eventually my habits (and probably yours) will become so ingrained that I’ll be that old guy who won’t learn new tricks, forgets to make his bed, and is still a jerk on Facebook. Maybe not. The point is, now is not the time to be settling into any well-worn grooves. No, it’s time to be brave, drink a beer, and get out there and try something new. The Universe doesn’t care if you’re scared.

Just do it.

It’s been an incredibly stressful month or two for me. I’ve had so much to think about, and so many little decisions to make. But that’s being an adult, right? And while life is a little harder than I’d like right now, soon – I feel it, because I’m getting old enough now where I have some wisdom and life experience to back it up – it’s going to be way great to be alive.

So maybe the good habit is not being afraid to break the bad ones.


Simple

GE Radio

The other day my dad was talking about his cellphone, and how it liked it so much because it was simple. Flip open, find the number you want, dial and talk, and then to hang up you simply close the clam shell.

Smartphones? They’re beyond him. Why do you need all that fancy stuff when you just want to make a phone call?

I almost chalked our conversation up to one of those aren’t-parents-cute moments, but then I thought, gosh, I recently felt the exact same way.

All I wanted was a radio. Nothing fancy, no media-playing capabilities. Just something that turns on, plays a radio station, and that’s it. And I wanted it to be portable enough to carry around the house with me: in the garage, in the kitchen, or in the kitchen window so I can hear it in the backyard.

At a local rummage sale, I found exactly what I was looking for. But to find it, I had to buy something that’s probably close to the same age as me. It’s the above General Electric desktop radio, model 7-4115B. Faux wood grain, black and metal finish, and two knobs – one for volume, and one for tuning. Then there’s a little switch that you flip to go from AM to FM.

It’s gorgeous, and it’s perfect, and it only cost me $1 at the rummage sale (some yahoo at Etsy has one for $18). That little radio was exactly what I was looking for, and it works like a charm. Plus, it’s stylish in a retro kind of way. That little radio fits perfectly with my kitchen. It’s sturdy enough, and if I drop and break it, I’m only out $1. But it’s the kind of thing where I can see having it for years and years. The thing has survived this long, after all – but maybe the reason it’s lasted so long is because it’s so simple.

When I’m doing repetitive tasks, I need something in the background to listen to. Put the radio on, and I’m up for anything. But if it’s not on, it’s easy to get distracted. Turning my brain off means having music, and so this new GE radio is going to be perfect.

Sometimes, fancy is great. Having the Internet on my phone is wonderfully handy, and goodness knows I get plenty of use out of my iPhone.

But then simple can be all you need just when you need it. My dad just wants a phone to make calls. I just want a little radio to carry around the house with me. Easy. Simple. Perfect.


Amateurs

I’m an amateur soccer player, an amateur cook, an amateur skier, designer, racecar driver, and flyfisherman. And I’m happy to be an amateur at all of those things. Actually I LOVE being an amateur at all of those things – it allows me to dabble, make a ton of mistakes, goof around, drop the ball, not care when something else might be distracting me etc.

Being an amateur at those things means I can be comfortable. It’s safe. There is no fear of success or failure.


The Look

Sean Kingston Concert - Yeah

We often do things that we regret when we’re out of our heads. Drunk, in love, low blood sugar – whatever the reason, something causes our brain to reboot, usually the day after, and look back on our behavior in horror.

Sean Kingston Concert - Smile

But at concerts, at least we’re doing things we regret with other people. It’s fine to act like a screw-loose reptile when everyone else is just as goofy as you.

Sean Kingston Concert - Sing along

Look around you. See all those people screaming their heads off? See how they’re gyrating and dancing in a sea of other lunatics? Notice how they don’t care who’s watching, because (probably) no one really is?

Sean Kingston Concert - Rapture

That’s why I go to concerts: to utterly lose myself in the songs I love. These kids, just like me, were having the time of their lives – and they didn’t care who was watching.

Sean Kingston Concert - Sing-along

The difference is that my enjoyment didn’t stem from the music on stage. No, it came from the kids losing their collective minds. This is why I want to take pictures. They mean something. I mean, look at them. They’re in ecstasy.

Sean Kingston Concert - Front row

Not on Ecstasy, mind you. No, there’s something about a collective musical experience that makes drugs or alcohol totally redundant. Who needs booze when you have grooves?

Sean Kingston Concert - Lining up

It makes my heart ache to see these pictures, the day after, and realize what fun we all had that night. They’ll remember the songs and their friends singing along.

I’ll remember that look on their face.


The Importance of Artifact

Scott at ISO50:


As I learn more about photography, I learn from and listen to and read what those who have Been There Before do.

And one of the easiest little tools I’ve found? Flickr’s exif data.

For instance, I really liked Jorge Quinteros’s coffee shop shots. Digging into the one with the guy at the table, you can see Quinteros’s exact camera settings. Here, he set the camera in aperture priority mode at f/2.8 at a 28mm focal length with the shutter slapping at 1/40 speed.

If you search through enough Flickr photos, you start to learn how great photos are made. The composition and editing are the artistic parts, where philosophy and style come into play. But in the numbers, you can learn a little bit about how to make cool pictures.


Fracking Battlestar: Galactica

Col. Saul Tigh:

Which side are we on? We’re on the side of the demons, Chief. We’re evil men in the gardens of paradise, sent by the forces of death to spread devastation and destruction wherever we go. I’m surprised you didn’t know that.

Science fiction is the rare genre that gets to explore the big issues of our time – torture, suicide, dictatorships, infidelity – without seeming to copy the headlines of the day. It explores the touchy with the fantastic, and lets us think about what could happen as well as what is happening.

This is only one of the reasons I’m in love with Battlestar: Galactica, the four-season series on the SciFi channel. Some of the other reasons include a deep affection for the characters, an appreciation for the big decisions that take place, and the gripping story. You know – silly stuff.

The story? Tell me if you’ve heard this before: humans created androids, who gained self-awareness and overthrew their human masters. A war broke out between cylons (the androids) and humans, and then the war reached a cease-fire that lasted decades. With the new series, the cylons have returned, they’ve eradicated all but the 50,000 or so humans who escaped, and they can take human form. In Battlestar: Galactica, the humans are on the run from their cylon pursuers, trying to find Earth and restart civilization – all while getting mixed up in messy human things like politics, labor and resource shortages, and self-inflicted violence.

It’s utterly fascinating. In a way, I’m glad the series only lasted four seasons, because I’d be watching it to this day if the show were still on TV.

But thanks to Netflix, all four seasons are available, and I’ve been absorbing the episodes since Christmas. It’s one of those take-a-chance things, where I’ve heard so many good things about the show that I dove in and got hooked.

Now I’ve started the final season, where things are getting tense and a little goofy. But watching a television series like this, where it’s more like a long-form movie, gets you invested in the characters and their stories. You have Adm. Adama, played by Edward James Olmos, who plays the perfect not-so-perfect military leader; Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, the hot-shot pilot who makes her own rules; Lee Adama, the admiral’s rebelious son; Gaius Baltar, the egotistical, womanizing genius; and – dear lord – Number Six, the gorgeous cylon with the perfect mouth who falls in love with Baltar.

The ship, the Battlestar, is almost a character in itself. Here it’s this obsolete ship from the first cylon/human war that is humankind’s only defense against the horde of cylons. And Battlestar: Galactica is a decidedly military-oriented sci-fi series, so most of the action and drama happens on the ship. You see characters using phones with cords and all these ancient computers, and you can’t help but feel sorry for them: like the human race doesn’t have enough to deal with.

It’s all these little struggles, plus the big one versus the cylons, that make the show so gripping. Against these overwhelming odds, how can you not root for the plucky humans trying to find their way back home?

That’s my kind of story: overcoming adversity, getting some revenge when you can, and present it all in a fun, fantastical package with strong, vibrant characters.


‘Real artists ship’

What do you do to motivate the person who has trouble staying motivated? Or to the self-starter who can’t quite get started?

How about the person with the great idea but no self discipline to get the idea off the ground?

Seth Godin quotes the famous Steve Jobs dictum: “Real artists ship.” It means you can have all the great ideas you want, but if you don’t release them out into the world, they’re worth nothing. Godin says:

A check in your wallet does you very little good. It represents opportunity, sure, but not action.

Most of us are carrying around a check, an opportunity to make an impact, to do the work we’re capapble of, to ship the art that would make a difference.

Just last week Merlin Mann talked about New Year’s Resolutions, and what a waste they are:

My bet is that most people who are seeing the kind of change and growth and improvement that sticks tend to avoid these sorts of dramatic, geometric attempts to leap blindly toward the mountain of perfection.

…Calendars are just paper and staples. They can’t make you care.

For me, that’s tough to hear (for you too, Dear Reader, I’ll bet). I’ve long been a Project Guy – someone who sets challenges for themselves, just to see how it goes. To experiment. To learn and grow.

I’d never seen America West of the Mississippi River. So I got in my car and went there. I’d never not eaten potatoes for 90 days. So I took on a potato fast for Lent, just because. I’d never not imbibed alcohol for a whole month. So last January I did it. I’d never grown a garden before, so last year I gave it a try and it turned out great. Not perfect, mind you, but I “shipped,” to use Steve Jobs’s phrase.

It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. My problem is, it has to be perfect the first time.

Self starting and self discipline – these are my weaknesses. It’s easy for me to think of a neat idea, and at least get started on it. But seeing it through has always been tough. And lately, it’s been a drag just to even start.

Take this idea I have. It’s a clear solution to an obvious problem here in Jackson, and the more people I talk to the more I realize it’s an idea worth pursuing. Like, this could be my Big Thing.

The idea is there, fleshed out on scraps of paper and in the brain of me and Kelli, my co-partner. But I’ll be damned if I can get the thing going. From brain to paper to real life – the shipping is always the hardest part.

Now, this idea isn’t going to make itself. Someone else could come along and ship it before I do, and then I’ll be one of those people who kicks themselves over not having the guts to deliver.

I want to deliver. It’s my responsibility to deliver. Even if it’s not perfect, even if there are kinks in the beginning. The point is to make something, not think about making something.

So the wheels are in motion, and the homework has begun. I’ve set a deadline for myself, and I’d like to run the idea by a few more people to get their feedback. But man. This thing has to launch. It’ll kill me if it doesn’t.

Even failing is a better option than not shipping at all, right? I mean, it could be that my idea floats and then pops like a punctured balloon. The grim reality of Jackson could render the whole venture useless.

Thing is, Seth Godin and Merlin Mann and Ben Franklin tell me that failing is always an option, because we need to fail at least once in a while to learn some things. If, however, you don’t have the guts to ship anything, you’ll never fail because your stupid pea brain shifts from “Drive” to “Safety Mechanism” and you become some depressed mutant reptile who mutters “Shoulda Coulda” to teenagers at the coffee shop. No one wants that.

I type this after having worked out at the gym, meditated on self-evaluation, and completed a project for my freelance business. Surely I have the wherewithal to do something as simple as ship an idea I’ve been kicking around since October. I mean, really.

This story gets told a lot, but after my first job interview, on the eve of graduating college, I came up to my journalism professor and trusted mentor. After explaining my reservations about the job, Dr. Renner looked at me, and said, “Dave, I had a brother who noticed the same thing in me from time to time. And he told me, ‘Dennis, you can him and haw and wring your hands and sweat the small stuff, but sometimes you just have to buck up and DO IT.’”

At the “DO IT,” Dr. Renner really yelled at me.

While I haven’t always been the best at applying that little lesson, shouted at me from Dr. Renner’s office at the newspaper, I’ll never forget it. Because he saw what my problem was. Dr. Renner had the same problem, and someone once upon a time told him exactly what he needed to hear to get him moving.

Just do it, Dave. Just do it.


I Am Not A Filmmaker

I Am Not A Filmmaker « Photofocus