14 Things We Can All Agree On

OK people. Whatever your political persuasion, it’s been a week. The events of the past eight days since inauguration have resulted in a lot of open and hostile disagreement on social media. I wasn’t immune to it – I took some unasked-for shots at people and had to apologize. And I’ve heard troubling accounts of people on both sides of the political spectrum being called names, bullied, demeaned, all sorts of trollish behavior.

We have to find areas where we agree in order to have substantive dialogue. If we silo ourselves into two or more different camps, this acrimony will only continue. If we stay in conflict, we’ll just stay in conflict.

In that spirit, here’s a list of things I believe we can all agree on. 

Your mileage with this list may vary. This is my own personal opinion intended to bridge the divide between different points of view. It may change over time.

I welcome your comments. I would ask that you provide them in the spirit of civil discourse and respectful exchange. Thanks.

14 Things We Can All Agree On

1. What makes the United States special and unique among nations is the freedoms granted to its citizens, including freedom of speech, religion, press, and the right to peaceful assembly.

2. We want for our families and children to be healthy, happy, fed, clothed, have shelter and live out of danger.

3. We want our President and elected officials to keep us safe, grow our economy, protect our rights, and act in accordance with the Constitution and our laws.

4. We have a right to expect truthful answers from our elected and appointed officials, whether about issues large or small.

5. We all want to be listened to.

6. People who are protesting should not shout down, demean or physically assault those that disagree with them. We don’t get to hurt others because we feel hurt.

7. Protesting is not an everyday behavior. If someone is protesting publicly, they probably are experiencing strong feelings about something that matters to them. We may not understand a protester’s thoughts or feelings, but we don’t have to understand to listen and be compassionate.

8. None of us want to be hurt, threatened or denied fair treatment because of something about us. That something could be our skin color, religion, gender, sexual identity, disability, family, country, how we look or some factor outside our control. Since this is true for all of us, all of us would benefit by supporting others who face such obstacles.

9. Sexual assault is not okay.

10. Public servants should follow the rules. Classified information is classified for a reason, and elected and appointed officials should take every care to protect it in their communications.

11. When you get sick or hurt, you should be able to see a doctor and get the care you need.

12. Arguing on social media rarely changes minds. It also doesn’t make us feel better.

13. We are all brothers and sisters. There’s no escaping each other. Therefore we should strive to be kind and, if we can, love others. Even the person that hates us.

14. Han shot first. *

(*Gratuitous Star Wars reference to lighten the mood)

God bless us all.

 

 

3 Ways to Change Problem Habits Around Technology

Resolutions suck. But goals? Goals I can do.

It works better to reach for something than to avoid something. For example: Don’t think of an elephant. Poof: A nice fat pachyderm is munching hay in your head.

Same thing happens when I resolve, “This year I will eliminate sugar from my diet.” You can hear my brain sniggering. Within three weeks chocolate is creeping back in devious ways. Or rather, I’m being devious about smuggling it back in.

Negative framing produces a negative result.

With that in mind, on New Year’s Eve I created 15 tidy, affirmative goals for the coming year. Some of them focus on longstanding habits I’m working to change. I’ve found that some habits take a long, long time to transform. The key is simply to never give up. No matter how many times I indulge in the problem habit, I can reset my goal and focus on my next opportunity to make a better choice.

This sounds softball and woo-woo, but it’s the only approach that has ever worked for me. Wallowing in my mistake does no good. Nor does scolding myself.

Technology use is a big problem area for me (and possibly for you, too). Here are three goals that focus on improving my relationship to technology.  Essentially I’m putting boundaries around my use of these tools, just like with any other pleasure-inducing habit. Self-control, while not sexy, is effective.

  1. No phone use after 8 pm. The research is clear: Use of smartphone and computer
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    We’ve all been there.   (Image via creative commons.com)

    screens within 1-2 hours of bedtime is bad for our health. Blue light from screens suppresses melatonin and throws off our circadian rhythms. Phone use before bed leads to a sleep death spiral, in which we’re tired the next morning, perform sub-optimally that day, act grouchy, and then repeat the pattern that night.

    My goal is to put the phone down at 8 pm. There are few phone-based things I really need to do after that.

    Why not include the computer? Sometimes I write before bed. My solution for that one is to wear yellow-tinted glasses that block blue light. The legit ones are pricy but I’ve had great success with these inexpensive babies.

    Also I looooove Night Shift.

  2. No TV after 8 pm, 6 nights a week. Okay, this one could be lumped with #1. But I know myself and specificity helps me not wriggle out of the rules.

    Television before bed is such a problem habit for me. After a busy day I crave escapist adventure with a TV show or movie. Like many problem habits, this one never gives the result I expect — or want. I always wake up tired. 

    Also, I meditate before bed. Often Netflix looks a lot better than my meditation chair.

    So I’m committing to no TV after 8 pm, except on Saturday night. (I find it’s important to build in breaks as we change habits.) I expect this one to be challenging. But if I don’t set the goal, how will I change the habit?

  3. No devices in the bedroom. OK. Here’s where shit gets real.

    My therapist, whom I love for her badass practicality, told me bluntly, “The bedroom is for sex and sleeping.” Don’t just put the phone down. Keep it out of the room. Keep the bedroom a dedicated space for rest. Thus I’m clearing my sleeping space of phones, iPads and computers.

    How exactly I’m going to pull this off I’m not sure, since I currently use the Bedtime function on my iPhone as an alarm. And I’m not sure how I will convince my lovely, phone-loving, postpartum, sleepy, did I mention lovely? wife to join me in this madness.

    But I do wear a Jawbone UP2 fitness tracker which has an alarm setting. That can do the trick.

Bring it, 2017. As I implement these goals, I’m looking forward to the increased energy, attention and enthusiasm I will have. It’s worth it, and so am I.

 

 

Writer’s Panic, or How to Do It the Hard Way

I made a classic new-novelist mistake the other night. I did some research.

The novel I’m writing is set in the near future and heavily dependent on the concepts of

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Reaching for the Batsuit in Batman: Arkham VR. (via forbes.com)

virtual reality and augmented reality. I thought I knew what those things were really like. But I didn’t.

I’m admitting an embarrasing thing here. While writing about these ideas, I had yet to put a VR headset on or view augmented reality beyond a few games of Pokemon Go.

There are two reasons why I didn’t research these topics earlier. One, a lingering injury made it hard for me to write at all, much less do research. I basically had to write without context and leave the research for later. Althought I knew rewrites would probably come, I was hopeful I’d nail it and limit the rehashing.

Two, I’m a little reckless/lazy. If I can fly by the seat of my pants and produce good work, I’ll do it. Now in my 40s I’m just starting to learn how to be a grown-up, put in the hours, do the scut work, and make the creative output better.

So: the research. On the first night of Chanukah, I was at the home of a good friend who is a successful writer of comic books and graphic novels. He’s been in the business for years, has enjoyed consistent success, and when he speaks I listen.

After candle lighting, he offered me a go on the Playstation 4 virtual reality headset, playing Batman: Arkham. I was eager but I knew my injury symptoms might be aggravated by the visuals. We agreed to give it a few minutes and I could always pop the headset off.

Suffice it to say I discovered some important shit about VR.

I found that the experience was not only magical, like a great new movie in 3-D — Avatar comes to mind. But it was more than that. It was life-altering. The experience was so immersive, so 360-degree, and so fiendishly believable that I was totally overwhelmed — in a good way. I kept repeating, “I don’t believe this.”

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The PS4 VR headset and control wands. (via wareable.com)

I had thought that these early years of VR would produce visually rich entertainment, but that it would ultimately fall short of “immersive,” because it is not a full sensory experience. Touch and movement would either be nonexistent or get short shrift. In other words, you can play Batman, but you can’t leap around or feel a villain’s hand around your neck (probably a good thing).

Turns out, it doesn’t matter. The 360-surround of sight and sound is utterly hypnotizing. And my experience was that the brain “fills in” some of the missing sensory information. You can’t really feel the batarang in your hand. But once you get the hang of using your wand controller to “pick it up”, you essentially “feel” you are holding it, and “feel” yourself throw it.

When, in the prologue, the killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents leaned his scarred face into “my face”, it was totally terrifying. I had to look away.

I couldn’t keep the visor on for long. But I came out of the game with a profound change of mindset. It sounds cliche, but I saw the future. I saw a world without screens, with totally immersive online experiences, TV shows in which you can interact with characters, mind-bending sensory adventures. I also saw the potential for abuse and addiction, many degrees beyond what we already suffer from with smartphones.

I saw how our humanity — how we interact with the world and what it means to us — would necessarily have to change as VR becomes more common.

I knew my story would have to change.

Afterwards, my friend gave me some sage writing advice: Do the research first. Figure out what exactly you’re writing about — especially with speculative fiction. The research will give you untold amounts of detail and history to draw from as you write. None of it may actually make it into your writing. But it will enrich and enliven what you do write.

Also it will prevent you from rewriting whole swaths of your piece if you discover, oops! — what you’re writing about doesn’t work.

For 48 hours I basically panicked. I realized I had to set my story about 20-30 years ahead of now, not 40-50. I had to change basic foundation concepts. The VR and artificial intelligence components of the story wouldn’t be rare to my characters. They would be run-of-the-mill, everyday stuff.

I got to work writing new foundational stuff — backstory, side work on characters, plot points. Little by little I hacked through it and a clearer picture began to emerge. It’s still forming but I’m “writing my way through it”, as they say.

I found that my new discoveries about VR weren’t going to sink me. They were giving me a stronger wind.

Do the research first. Duh.

My Novel Approach

I appear to be writing a novel.

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I’ve put off saying or writing those words, for fear of repeating a past mistake: Getting excited and announcing a goal, only to fall short later. Just saying a creative goal out loud has often seemed to jinx success. The moment I shared my ambitions, that’s when the momentum seemed to ebb.

But after writing regularly for months, setting a daily writing goal, then meeting it most days even with the birth of our third child … I’m going out on a limb. I’m writing this shit.

Here’s the plan. In recovering from a long-term injury that makes computer use difficult, I knew I couldn’t write for long periods. Said injury also comes with periods of profound fatigue; again, long periods of writing: out.

On the advice of many good writers and bloggers — including Chuck Wendig’s Here’s How to Finish That Fucking Book, You Monster  and David Biespiel‘s amazing The Writer Has a Thousand Faces — I set myself a modest goal.

Like, really modest.

I planned on 300 words a day, six days a week. The old me, always in a big hurry to accomplish stupendous flabbergasting things, would have been nauseated. “Such a piddly goal! Real writers write 1,000 words a day! 1,500!”

The new me, however, practiced answering him: “Relax.”

Because 300 words a day I can do.

In fact, 300 words six times a week is 1,800 per week. Which is 7,200 a month and 43,200 in six months — striking distance for a short novel.

Of course this doesn’t count revising and rewrites. But I’m optimistic. Most days I’m beating my 300-word goal.

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My birthday happens to be about six months away. For my 42nd birthday, I’m giving myself the first draft of a kickass novel.

I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to hear about your writing goals and writing process. Comment below!

Work It, Baby: A Creative Space That Works

Finally my studio is ready for creative action.

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Studio JJC open for music, fiction, poetry, painting, meditation, shuffleboard

I had this studio built in the back of my garage about two years ago. It’s been a priceless work space. I’ve written dozens of songs for a musical, taught voice and guitar, and composed many demos and poems here. Not to mention painting with my kids and, best of all, deepening my meditation practice.

But the place got cluttered. Drawings on the walls, music books in piles, paperwork unfiled. And the cables! Coiling, snaking, tangling microphone and guitar cables became the bane of my organizational existence.

I was trying to do too much in the space: Teach, compose, write, answer emails, meditate, even paint.

I needed help. So I asked for it.

I enlisted a blackbelt in design and organization. My friend Amy Drews of the delightful SimplyFineDesign came by and gave some simple, powerful suggestions for decluttering and reorganizing.

It was life-changing.

A few hours of reconfiguring transformed the space. Now most non-essential supplies and books are on shelves in the closet or out of sight.

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Cables hung by the file cabinet with care.

The big old recording desk you see in the background is nearly out of here via Craig’s List.

And look at these cables! Never been so (almost) tidy.

The place is clean, bright, simple. It’s ready — for whatever creative thing I engage in.

And like clockwork, I am getting you-know-what-tons done. It’s almost mystical how effective this cleanup and cleanout has been.

To sum up, I now have a space for creative work that is:

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This desk has stayed uncluttered for like three weeks. Shh, don’t say anything.
  • Functional
  • Simple
  • Uncluttered
  • Clean
  • Likeable!

A creative workspace that I want to be in.

The lesson I take from this? Whatever the space we artists have available …

IT. CAN. BE. DONE.

Would love to hear about your creative spaces in the comments below!


Hey! For a beautiful, functional website you will love, check out www.simplyfinedesign.com. Amy Drews is the absolute bestest.

What Do We Do Now? These Four Things.

Dear Friends:

We are now in post-America America.

As we come to grips with what that means to each of us — and experience our individual and collective fears about the future — we need to prepare.

We — by which I mean, those who value human decency, civil rights, the rule of law and the democratic institutions of our republic — are about to walk a difficult road. Sometimes it will be a Valley of the Shadow. It will not be easy.

We must develop tools for the journey. We must plant signposts for other followers. And we must not travel alone.

As the final votes were tallied on Election Night 2016, my wife asked me, “I know we need to stand against whatever this is. I know we need to do something. But what do we do?”

It was a resonant question for which I had no answer.

Since then, I’ve taken my 24 hours of mourning. Now I am not in mourning. I’m determined. I will not be defeated by this turn of events. I am a Jew, a proponent of civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and gender equality. I believe in the ideals for which our republic stands.

My jaw is set, my values are clear as stars, and I’m committed. I will not be swept away by a tide of misguided anger — whether mine or the anger of my brothers and sisters in red states whom I’ve never met.

Time to prepare for our long walk. Time to practice with new tools. Time to get to work.

What work?

This work. Here are the four things that each of us, right now, can do.

1. Pick something and do it.

Pick something. Volunteer at your kids’ school one day this month. Buy coffee for the homeless woman outside the grocery store. Drive one day less. Post a poem on social media. Read the writings of Gandhi or Dr. King.

Just pick one thing that gives more than it takes. Anything.

This is how we build the muscle we will need to withstand and overcome: The muscle of sacrifice and endurance.

2. Love the children.

If you have kids, love them. Show your love by giving them your time, even 15 minutes of quality attention in a day. Tell them you love them and that they are safe. Tell them their lives will go on as normal.

Make them laugh. Be silly. Cook together, build Legos, take a walk to the park.

Grieve if you need to over the impact this election may have on their futures. But do it privately and make their worlds shine. Again, by making this effort, even when we are exhausted and upset, we build the muscle.

If you don’t have kids yourself, chances are there are kids in your lives. Do what you can to make them smile and feel like they belong to a community.

3. Make good art.

I borrow shamelessly from Neil Gaiman:

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.

Trigger-happy, unstable, racist, sexual abuser given unfettered power over your country? Make good art. Put your heart into it. Put your anguish into it. Pour the heartache into something positive, something the world has never seen before. Only you can do that.

Five minutes a day, 15, 30. Make your spirit flourish by feeding it this way. Then it will be there for you when you need it.

This goes for artists and “non-artists” alike. Everyone has creative energy. What is your art? Make it.

4. Do the work inside.

Think of a holy teacher. Pick a sacred text. All of them teach a fundamental lesson: do the work inside.

We cannot change the world outside if we haven’t attended to the house within. Look inside. Be curious about what you find. Anger, fear, old resentments, old guilts, unresolved grudges. All of it gets in our way. We don’t have time or room for it anymore.

This is the work we can do right now. We can’t stop Supreme Court nominees from being confirmed, or stop climate change deniers from being appointed to head the EPA. This is what we can do.

Consider learning about meditation. Try it. Try 5 minutes. Whatever you can do is enough. If it “doesn’t work” and your thoughts bounce like popcorn the whole time, try it again. And again. Keep sitting. Just the practice of sitting cleans the house.

Or simply find a sunny window and sit with your feelings. Let your thoughts whiz by like a whirlwind. Let this internal junk wash over you and sometimes threaten to swamp you. You won’t die. It will pass. You’ll become cleaner. More ready for what comes next.

Pray, if prayer appeals to you. Explore the idea that we are only in control of a small corner of what we call our lives. The Universe is running on its own clockworks, of which we are a small part. Pray and ask for guidance. Get mad at God. Get honest with Him/Her about how you feel. Pour your heart out. Ask for deliverance. And don’t stop until you hear something back. In my experience, messages come.

I don’t purport to be some sainted expert on this inside-work. These are ideas gifted to me and others by those who walked this path before us. These ideas are battle-tested. They work. Every wise man and woman walked the Valley of Shadow in some way before they became “wise.” They had their path. Now we have ours.

There will be gut punches and tears in the days and weeks ahead. Our resolve will be shaken, our equanimity battered. Our country’s basic fabric may be altered forever.

Still and all, do these things. I will do them, too.

If we walk together, we will fear no evil.