(last edited on February 15, 2023 at 12:26 pm)
I have been feeling jittery for the past several days, feeling the desire to work on projects while simultaneously turned-off by the complicated and time-consuming rkaequirements for starting them. I also have been spending too much time in front of the computer, and decided I needed time away from all things computery AND also my own looping thoughts. What do normal people do to get away from from their own thoughts? Or do normal people not have this problem? Musings and some nifty insights follow!
The Challenge of Not Thinking and Not Working
I couldn’t really come up with an activity that I would actually like doing. I’m not one for nature walks (I don’t like dampness or bugs). I am on a calorie restricted diet so making food or eating out was also not a good choice either. I thought about going to the mall or to a local museum to window shop, but this sparked only the faintest interest. So I decided that just getting out of the house might be a good starting point, and I could just see what happened. So I took out the garbage and settled on a local coffeeshop as a default destination. “Maybe an hour away from the house in the daylight is all I need,” I thought to myself; I know from past experience that it really doesn’t take much away-time to do myself some good. It just takes a lot of effort to just get me outside!
I bundled myself up into the car and enjoyed the warm weather, playing whatever was on NPR to keep me company. It was already pretty wonderful just being in the car driving, cycling up and down through the gears and feeling the road rumble away below me. I made several random spots along the way on a whim as I drove west toward Amherst NH, one of the two main retail shopping roads near Nashua.
I stopped by “Lanna Asian Market” to pick up a bottle of coconut water and some Asian-style beef jerky as a snack, and to say hi to the owner Joy. The place was quite busy, which was good to see! I told her about my adventure plan and she wished me well. I’ll stop back tomorrow for my regular Asian grocery run.
Stopped by a plaza that had a “Home Goods” store in it to look at furniture, which my friend Stacey drops into periodically to look for furniture deals. Her place is AMAZING, so I figured I should follow her advantage and have a look for myself! Saw a few lamps that I thought might be interesting for the corner table, but nothing I wanted to jump on just yet.
I noticed a “JoAnn Fabric” store, and went inside to see if they had some kind of leather-like material to make an anti-scratch cat barrier for my expensive “Sactional” couch. They had all kinds of utility cloth and upholstery, and some new “OttLite” color-balanced lighting options on sale for 40% off. I may return in the future. I also noted that there craft supplies there too; I hadn’t realize JoAnn stores sold general craft goods, so that was good to know since my sister tells me they often have big discount coupons.
I noticed several new stores under construction, noted other places that I’d heard about and had intended to visit. For example, there is a restaurant/clothing store called “Fit and Fashion of India” that apparently has great Indian food AND sells (I am guessing) traditional Indian clothing. A weird and interesting combination! I saw that the local Volkswagen dealer had some new model cars out on their spinning platform.
I had to make a U-turn to get to the coffee shop, “A&E Coffee Roasters”, which is part of a plaza named after the “Mother & Child” store that moved there several years ago. I had met the owner of this store years ago at a business networking event, and had been happy to see that business had gone well enough for her to buy an entire plaza and fill it with stores that had a certain positive vibe to it.
On the way to the coffee shop, I drove through the lot where the local “Good Will” donation center is. I had been dropping off stuff at this place for the past year, but it occurred to me that it had been a while since I’d been inside. So I stopped and went inside, and looked around. Didn’t see anything that caught my eye, other than noticing that their women’s clothes section seemed to be arranged by color and it was a pleasant effect. There was a kind of musty smell, however, so I quickly went outside again.
Finally arriving at the coffee shop, I drove up to it and suddenly didn’t feel like getting coffee. I had hit the point where I was recharged, and was ready to go home. So I continued past it to the next lot, planning on driving home through the wooded back roads of Hollis, NH. I noted that the gun store in that plaza was still somehow in business (it’s not a particularly good one) and more importantly, the “Dutch Epicore Bakery” was still open! I went inside to see what artisanal cheeses they had (none!) and inquired whether they had stopped carrying them. They were just out of stock at the moment, so I looked for some kind of pastry to get, settling on a chocolate-frosted cake filled with peanut butter mousse. SO MUCH FOR CALORIE RESTRICTIONS. I paid for it and headed back home through Hollis, feeling quite pleased with myself, listening to a repeat of “The TED Radio Hour”.
The drive through Hollis is a change of pace from Amherst Street, as it’s more of a New England countryside dotted with some very expensive houses; There are quaint houses and rolling farmland, abandoned orchards, a small lake, a couple of flea markets, an alpaca farm, and a couple of mysterious signs advertising a “Hollis Chocolate Factory” and “Time and Time Again Clock Repair”. I thought about stopping by one of the farm stands, but I was already ready to go home and write down some ideas!
The total transit time was about two hours from the time I left to the time I returned. Weirdly, it was enough of an activity to feel recharged though I was just driving through territory I already knew. Was I so easily pleased? Actually, I have a few new insights about the nature of my work thanks to this short drive.
The Nature of my Creative Business
One of my 2024 goals is to have a “neat creative business” centered around my productivity stationery design. What I like about this is that I get to sell physical boxes that people are excited to have. I consider my website (which presumably you are familiar with if you are reading this) as part of the “marketing” for the creative business as far as my business accounting goes. However, I also really value having the website itself, as it is a collection of things I like to think about. However, I have been stuck for a long time trying to identify what I am collecting for the sake of business clarity. Is it productivity tools? Is it pictures of food? Is it musings like this one? Is it a shared journal for people who like shared journals? Is it a confessional? What is OF VALUE here? What is the PRODUCT? Why do people COME BACK?
Today I think I have the best answer I’ve yet come up with. It’s in two parts:
1. The Tonality of Being is the Product, Ironically Expressed through Product
Part of learning to embrace my essential nerdiness and love for delightful quirky things is learning to express it as well. A couple months ago I realized that I really wanted to be more expressive in this way, and have slowly been opening myself to it one tentative step at a time. Last week I even bought a really cute phone case as a symbol of this desire, and I have been feeling very pleased by it. That was a hint, I think, that I am on the right path.
Getting back to the business part of things, I had reasoned-out that my “creative brand”, such as it is, probably looked like this:
- I design, share, and produce “serious and useful” design work that appeals to a subsection of the paper-loving productivity tool community, and it’s a successful one in that I’m able to sell product related to it.
- I have a lot to say on the subject of productivity in the context of pursuing a creative path, and as I scale-up the software development side of my skill set I’m seeing that there is a lot of room for growth. Additionally, I have a lot of previous writing that could be repurposed into better-edited and highly-targeted content to save some people time. This is the kind of work that could be a book or a series of guides that, when mixed with my design work, create a valuable product in itself.
- I am also part of a tribe of like-minded people who are on their creative journeys, and by sharing my thoughts and experiences I am helping this community indirectly. As I get all my past work and new products in order, I could start to contribute more actively to a “philosophy of being a creative on a journey” tribe of like-minded folk, which will lead to increased connection and camaraderie!
This is a good plan. If I were a smart, focused person I would execute this plan in a year and have a book on the market, then start with workshops and founding my own conference, and build my platform with highly-targeted and periodic posting in a topical blog. However, I am not a smart, focused person. People may THINK so, but what they are seeing is a handful of useful products I’ve made almost by accident. What is really important to me, I realize now, is that there is an emotional tonality that is what drives me, and by extension my product creation. In other words, it’s not “making products” that is the motivation. It’s being positive and excited about what people are doing, hearing their stories, and spreading the joy of it. I once had a chance to talk to my blog crush Kathy Sierra at SXSW Interactive 2006, and when she asked me what I was passionate about I said, “I think I’m passionate about passion?”. She laughed kindly and said, “that doesn’t count!” and thus began a search that has so-far lasted for ten years as I’ve tried to find an ALTERNATIVE answer. Eventually, I got to the above “creative brand” definition over years of doing Groundhog Day Resolutions. Though the definition fits me pretty well, it has never quite seemed complete. Why aren’t I more excited by it? I figured that maybe I just needed to toughen-up and be disciplined, which is a good strategy to make something happen so at least you are doing something of value, but there has always been a gnawing sense that is wasn’t 100% right.
So now…I think I may have my answer! This reorients the blog around an intention that feels more true to who I am, as it encompasses my personal belief and optimism about the amazing things that people do. It unifies my intellectual output with my personality, which until lately has not been expressed as openly as I might have allowed. This is a huge win!
2. A Reason to Get Out of the House
Today I was beset by the feeling that I needed to recharge by doing something AWAY from the computer that wasn’t work-related, so I went on that drive because I couldn’t actually think of what I wanted to do. The answer came to me on the way home: I want to see what people are doing. That’s really it. It’s not so much the activity or the destination that matters. I am not looking to be entertained by movies or provoked into feeling thrilled. I just like to see what people are doing, and that is what I like. Bonus points if they are doing something that is emotionally and tonally compatible with myself. It is also more uniquely me, and that is a huge relief to finally realize.
In the future, I should be able to quickly drop into the recharging cycle just by asking myself the question, well, what are people doing? Let’s go look! and taking a random jaunt somewhere. There are a lot of environmental cues to change to see, and I have a related interest in how people are cooperating with each other as well. I like seeing people effectively cooperate and share their knowledge, though I don’t always like being PART of it. I’m not sure why that is, but let’s call that a puzzle for another day.
Stuff Learned and GHDR Points Earned
I figured out how my business activities and my personality can be expressed under one guiding principle: What I put out there is the emotional tone by which my heart operates, which is broadcast through the practical design work and writing I share. For me, I believe this is the one continuum, not two separate activities, and expressing this emotional tone is really really important. I want to be inhabited by it, to convey it, and to see transformation happen from it. We are all weird quirky bundles of contradiction and interests. It is wonderful to see what happens when people are allowed to see where it leads them!
I figured out that my key motivation to leave the house is simply I like seeing what people are doing. This is sufficient to recharge my circuits, and it also has the pleasant side effect of giving me a new perspective on my ongoing projects as I interact with new sights and experiences. It fills me with joy to see interesting activities are being undertaken by people, and how people are grouping together to try to make something good happen.
There is nothing on my GHDR Goals Points chart that really rewards this. Technically I could argue it’s a packaging of an idea that will pay for itself down the line which might count for 50 points under the new scale, but this is a major breakthrough and it should stand out on my eventual graph of the year’s achievements. So let me give myself 50 points for EACH major connected idea: (1) Personal Brand (2) Website Content Strategy (3) Self Motivation Recharge.
|150||3 Key Insights x 50! Booyah!|
|2||Posted words on this website!|
So…152 points. Not a bad day!
About this Article Series
For my 2016 Groundhog Day Resolutions, I'm challenging myself to make something goal-related every day from February 2nd through December 12. All the related posts (and more!) are gathered on the Challenge Page.
Hey Dave, congratulations on your new insight, looks like a big one! It’s funny what you mention about other people doing stuff… I remember when I first discovered your blog, ~5 years ago, I always took out of every post a lot of notes of stuff I wanted to look into: TV series, videogames, visual stuff… I loved your capability for admiration at other people’s work, and the way you conveyed your enthusiasm about anything you liked… It was contagious and it left me always turned on, wanting to start cranking out my own creative stuff.
With time, in my view, your posts have become a different experience, now they are more introspective in nature, more focused on your inner process, and I think my connection with your writing now comes from our common belonging to that ‘creative tribe’ you mention…
I think creative people of any kind is always facing a paradoxical situation: our best work comes from establishing original connections, leaps of intuition, putting side by side elements that no sensible human had ever put together. For such task, having an erratic, whimsical mind is almost a requirement; if our thought were linear we would rather be bean counters or lawyers… But on the other hand, without a modicum of linear thinking, nothing gets ever finished! So it’s always a bit of a balancing act, and what is great about reading your process (for me, for this reader), is that in your efforts to “tame chaos” I often see my own, even if our weapons of choice are different (in my case music and aficionado programming, mostly, plus a bit of writing in the past)… So I’m glad you’ve reached this new level of clarity, as only good things can come out of it for all of us, and thank you for sharing your stuff the way you do…
Nacho: Hey, thanks for the insightful comment! You’re right I think about the balance part, and I really like the phrasing “erratic, whimsical mind”…I think that’s a goal of mine to unlock it! I’ve been so focused over the past few years on getting the “linear” part working better for me that I think yes, the tonality did change quite a bit. Hopefully it can come back! Though lately I have been compelled to do a lot of livestreaming and it’s even LESS concentrated than my rambly blog posts. Hm!
This whole section of your comment is wonderful…this is a super insightful and concise statement that I think we should share.