Contemplations, Ramblings, and Rants

Thoughts on photography, books, music, and other things that bring value to my life.

Valentines Day of 2021 will not soon be forgotten in Texas. That was the start of a winter storm, the likes of which is rarely experienced in these parts. We were frozen for the better part of a week and we found out how ill prepared we were for such prolonged cold.

Power was lost at our house late that night. We were told that there would be rolling blackouts. The reality was that power would not return for more than 3 days. The next morning water pressure was much lower than normal. Drawing on our experience of a catastrophic flood in Iowa back in '93 that took out the water treatment plant, I knew what was coming and immediately filled our bathtubs up. When the water flow inevitably stopped, we at least had something on hand that could be boiled to drink or used to flush toilets.

We were fortunate. No burst water pipes. Our house was cold for those few days, but not intolerable. We huddled under blankets and had rations of soup that we heated with our gas stove, along with a loaf of bread and peanut butter. We had plenty of flashlight batteries and candles.

Our preparedness could have been better. The pantry needs to be better stocked and a good supply of drinking water needs to be kept at the ready. A generator to keep our gas heat, refrigerator, and a few other essentials running is going to be a near term purchase. We know we should have been better prepared and failed to follow through. Still, in perspective, we were only inconvenienced for a few days. So many, too many, did not do so well.

I wrote about the pandemic year of 2020 a while back and how my big take away for the year was a feeling of gratitude. The experience of the big storm certainly brought about that feeling again. I also felt a sense of peace, oddly enough. Sure, I was stressed at times and frustrated by the governmental failures that ultimately led to the collapse of large part of the Texas power grid. However, my readings in Stoic philosophies helped temper my reaction to the events that unfolded.

In the days prior to losing my convenient access to clean water from my faucets, I had been practicing a bit of the Stoic mindset. Part of that is contemplating everyday things in terms of a “last time.” What if this is the last time I do this thing, like turning on a faucet to get a drink of water or flicking on a light switch to read a book? By contemplating the hypothetical loss of something, a greater appreciation for that thing can be realized. I've also tried to cultivate a sense of awe in my everyday experience. Isn't it remarkable that I can simply walk to my kitchen sink and get a glass of water from my faucet? How awesome is that and how many people in the world don't have that luxury?

I hope not to repeat the experience of the big Texas freeze, although I have a feeling it won't be the last in my lifetime. Storms in life will come. That much is certain. The unpleasant experience did bring a flood of gratitude, perspective, and humbleness. There are a great many things that affect my life which are beyond my control, but I can control how I respond. Maybe I can even take away some things from the very things that take away from me.

I don't have much of a social media presence these days. It has been a couple of years or so since I dumped most of my accounts. I've still got Facebook and LinkedIn, although I've never considered the latter to be a social media outlet for me personally. Over the recent holidays, I've put a lot of thought into whether Facebook is worth sticking around on.

After watching The Social Dilemma on Netflix, listening to various podcasts, and reading books along similar lines, I have to question whether any value I get from Facebook outweighs the negative stuff. I just finished reading Jaron Lanier's “Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now” and that really has me leaning toward leaving Facebook for good.

Honestly, Lanier didn't discuss anything I didn't already know. The main gist is that free social media amounts to behavior modification. It's meant to keep users engaged in the platform by whatever means necessary for the purpose of harvesting data and pumping ads in order to make loads of money. Lanier calls this BUMMER, an acronym for “Behaviors of Users Modified, Made into an Empire for Rent.” That probably sums it up as good as anything. Word of warning though, if you read the book, you will get tired of seeing BUMMER on nearly every page following its introduction.

Do we need to quit social media or can we just cut back a bit? Maybe you can curtail your usage; that's what I've done for quite some time. I only look at Facebook briefly daily-ish. It's not on my phone – I have to be at my home computer, the device I use the least. Mostly I use it as a calendar so I can wish friends a happy birthday, check on local events, message friends, etc. I try to avoid scrolling the feed.

Still, even though I'm quite intentional in my usage, I'm participating in something that just doesn't sit right with me. If I do find myself doing a quick scan of the feed, I may see a number of good things. Inevitably though, there's something that's going to make me feel badly. Is it worth entering a hostile territory for minimal value in return?

Negative feelings from a social media feed shouldn't come as a surprise. As Lanier puts it, “ Social media is biased, not to the Left or the Right, but downward. The relative ease of using negative emotions for the purposes of addiction and manipulation makes it relatively easier to achieve undignified results.”

Facebook has made staying in touch with some people a bit easier and it has helped me stay in the loop on things I enjoy, such as the local music scene. It's a convenient way to connect with bands that I photograph. Certainly, there are ways to get the information I want and stay in touch with people off of social media and those would be less convenient, to be sure. Convenience comes at a price and I'm not sure I want to pay it any longer. I'm reminded of the computer's conclusion in the movie War Games, “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”

After making sure I've got current non-social media contact information for the people I want to keep in touch with, I'm planning to take the first step and disable my account soon. If, in fact, I find I can get along just fine without it, why stick around?

#socialmedia #read

250 – that's the approximate number of photos I took and kept from April of 2020 until the end of the year. Normally, I could easily take that many or more at a concert. Once the pandemic set in, those stopped happening. With my primary photographic passion abruptly taken away, I was left wondering what to do with my camera.

There are other things I like to photograph. Cars and bikes...oh yeah, we don't have those events right now either. Urban wandering used to be fun too. The joy just wasn't there anymore and I failed to find it. Anything I tried with the camera felt forced.

While I didn't take many photos in 2020, I did do a lot of cleanup of my library. I've deleted over 10,000 photos so far and I'm still not done. Why the big purge? Well, photos tend to accumulate like emails and you don't think about how many you have until your drive or cloud account starts filling up. I know plenty of photographers who have arrays of drives with multiple terabytes of data. That's not for me. Pre-pandemic I was at about 750GB in my main photo library that lives in the Adobe cloud. Today I'm at 430GB and expect to be even less as I find time to declutter further.

I'm not deleting anything I value, just the clutter that has built up. Things like HDR brackets that I don't want any more, pairs of raw and JPG files (I keep one or the other, not both, preferring the JPG unless I have a compelling reason to keep the raw), things that don't have any significance any longer – those sorts of things. I'm either “hell yeah” about an image or it gets ditched. No “meh” or maybes.

Just because I wasn't taking many photos didn't mean I wasn't creating. I actually created quite a few photo books. Going through my library with a critical eye helped me identify the images that I truly feel strongly about and I committed a bunch to paper and ink. Thinking in terms of a book really helps the cleanup effort. I really prefer to view photos in print and if I'm not willing to commit an image to a spot in an inexpensive book, is it really worth keeping?

I miss being out there in the music scene with my camera. That day will come again. Nothing else really does it for me like capturing the energy of performers on stage. I've got plenty of work to do until the shows return. I needed to get my library cleaned up for a long time and it was always a “one of these days” sort of thing. Due to the pandemic, one of these days is now.


Over the past couple of years I've slowly backed away from social media. Most of my accounts are gone now. Facebook is really the only thing I have left. I'd love to ditch it too, but I do find some value for specific things. I tend to go in to get what I need (mainly event notifications and details) and get back out. Scrolling the feed is avoided.

After reading Messing with the Enemy by Clint Watts over the holidays, I have to question whether I want to stay in the social media world at all. I've viewed Facebook as a necessary evil. Now I wonder how necessary it really is for me.

Watts gives a historical view of how social media in general has been leveraged by those wishing to cause harm, be it through recruiting to terrorist organizations, distributing misinformation, encouraging divisiveness, or promoting hatred. We've probably all heard about social media being infiltrated by Russian hackers and trolls, particularly since the 2016 elections. The extent of the problem is greater than I realized.

It's not just that systems are being hacked. That's “old hat,” as Watts says. Hacking to influence people is the real game these days. Who and what can you trust anymore? It's exactly that uncertainty that mind hackers are after. Watts states, “...nothing can be trusted, and if you can't trust anyone, then you'll believe anything.”

What has me concerned more so than the legions of hackers, bots, trolls, and the like is how social media platforms tend to create tribes that latch onto belief systems that are all too often based on the various bits of misinformation and divisive rhetoric that we are constantly bombarded with on these platforms. Watts refers to these as “preference bubbles.” People end up being herded into bubbles of like-minded people where their preferred views are hardened, whether based in fact or not. This is large scale confirmation bias, affirmed by equally biased peers in massive social media networks. Viewpoints and facts that contradict the bubble are met with hostility.

Can we survive in today's online world? Sure, but it's not easy. Watts offers some helpful advice to close out this sobering book. Healthy skepticism and fact checking comes in to play here and unfortunately too many people just aren't willing to do it. The sheer volume of information and misinformation we are subjected to daily in social media is staggering and the allure of a preferred belief system is powerful when it is reinforced so easily in social media.

This is a quick and engaging read. Definitely worth your time and it will get you away from the social media screens for a while if nothing else.


Wow. Is it really the last day of the year already? 2020 seems like a blurry bad dream that I managed to get through relatively unscathed. There are battle wounds to be sure, all mental, as I've been fortunate enough to still have my health. Bearing witness to a non-stop barrage of very bad things has certainly left me feeling weary.

Ordinarily I'd be reflecting on the past year and contemplating what I want to accomplish and improve on in the new year. This time around I admit I'm just not sure what to think or say. We all know it has been a dumpster fire of a year. You don't need me to remind you. I'll try to be a bit more upbeat.

As I sat contemplating how I could sum up the year for me, one word comes to mind. Gratitude. In spite of the chaos and uncertainty of 2020, I still have what I started the year with for the most part – my health, my wife, my home, and my job. So many others can't say the same. I'm heartbroken by the profound loss so many people have had to endure. I take nothing for granted. I'm thankful and grateful for what I have.

Even considering the loss this year of a couple of friends and my dear dog, Lucy, I am grateful for the years we had together. Loss strikes without warning. We have now. The next moment isn't a guarantee. This is reality and reality owes us nothing.

My main photography passion is live music. The pandemic sure put a damper on that. As a result, I took a minimal number of pictures in 2020. It feels like a failing in some ways. Maybe I could have adapted to photograph something else. Nothing felt right though and I wasn't going to force it. I spent my time instead curating my library and printing a number of books. I gave a few to people who I knew would appreciate them. I saw my work make people cry, in a good way. I'm grateful I could do that for them.

I poured myself into my work and I made it through several semesters of classes. Hopefully I'll finish a computer science degree I've been working on in the summer. I'm grateful that I have an employer, a wife, and friends who support me in my efforts here.

In late 2019, I purchased a bass guitar (I have 2 now actually, but who's counting.) This dumb drummer has never played a melodic instrument and I hoped to spend some free time this year learning to play it. Outside of my work and studies, I was in a mental funk most of the year. I'd pick up a guitar and try to practice here and there, but no real progress was made. It was more of a frustration than anything. Over the holidays, I picked up a book of bass music for The Beatles and started learning some songs. I caught myself smiling, genuinely smiling, for the first time in a long time as I bumbled through McCartney's melodic bass lines. Music truly has great power. I'd forgotten that and I'm grateful to have rediscovered it.

I do hope 2021 treats us better and that we all learn to treat each other better. May you find peace, health, love, and gratitude in the new year.

These days almost everyone carries a quality camera in their pocket thanks to smart phones. People take more pictures than ever before. It doesn’t cost you anything to take a snap and a huge amount of storage can be acquired for a paltry sum. What becomes of all these photos though? After an initial share to social media, they tend to accumulate in a digital landfill of forgotten images.

When I was growing up, digital photography didn’t exist. Every photo we cared about was printed. The best photos got stuck in photo albums and it was fun to revisit them every once in a while. Having something tangible and tactile to hold in your hands while looking at a photo is something that many people have forgotten about or never experienced.

The number of photos we used to have in the pre-digital days was a lot less than we’re used to contending with now. As I considered how to manage my own hoard of digital images, it occurred to me that printing could be an effective way to help cull and curate the photos that are truly meaningful. We effectively have unlimited input with digital photography. Printing is a way of placing a limit on output. Having an end goal with certain limitations helps to guide an entire process of approaching our photos with a curator mindset.

I’ve developed a workflow that helps me think about my photography with the mind of a curator every step of the way, from capturing the images to printing. In a nutshell, my process involves:

  • Capturing images
    • Consider the subject
    • Set limitations
    • Culling in camera
  • A multiple pass image culling process
    • Initial culling through an intermediary program
    • Additional culling pass in main editing program
    • Final culling pass of edited images
  • Creating a short, carefully curated book
    • Laying out a story or a collection of images for print
    • Printing an inexpensive book or magazine
    • Sharing your work – no social media required

Let’s get started!

Step 1 – Capturing Images

The curator mindset begins when you pick up your camera. It’s easy to start snapping away and fill up a memory card. What I suggest is being a bit more mindful and maybe setting some limits. Here are some things to consider when you venture out to take pictures.

Consider your subject

This may seem obvious, depending on the situation. Before you raise the camera to your eye, consider the subject of the photo. Why are you photographing this person or thing? What are you trying to say about the subject in your photo and how best can you accomplish that? Having a good idea of what you are looking for will help you get there in less frames. Be intentional with each shot.

Set limitations

Something that really helps me is to think in terms of an artificial limitation. I may tell myself that I’ve got a roll or two of film and that’s it – so I stop shooting when I hit whatever that limit happens to be. For example, when photographing a band on stage, I might treat it like I have a 36 exposure roll of film. When I hit 36 shots, I put the camera away. Another limitation might be time based, such no more than 10 minutes with a single subject. Think quality over quantity.

Culling in camera

This may not be comfortable for some people, but it’s worth considering. If you have time to review images on your camera before you get back home, you could do some preliminary culling of photos. I often do this out in the field if I’m somewhere that I can sit and go through my memory card on my camera LCD screen. I’ll delete images that are obvious rejects so that there are less images to consider back at home.

If you’re not comfortable deleting images in your camera, see if you have a feature that lets you rate images. On some cameras you can assign a rating that a software application on your computer can read. This rating can be used as a guide when selecting images for import.

Step 2 – Image import and culling

I find it useful to make my image culling a multiple step process, leading up to a final curation of images from a shoot. The extra steps keep my primary photo library cleaner, as well as giving me more opportunities to scrutinize things with that curator mindset.

Initial ingest

I like to use separate processes for getting images off of my camera’s memory card and importing them into my main photo library. This ensures that only the images that I think have value are ever copied to my system and ultimately to the cloud service I use. Clutter is kept out of my library and less space and bandwidth is required once I do import into my main library.

For the first step, I can recommend a couple of options. For most people who work off of a Windows or Mac computer, I recommend using Photomechanic. It’s a paid app and it’s worth every penny. This app is lightning fast at whipping through images on your memory card so you can quickly tag the ones you want to import to your system hard drive. You can also add metadata to the images while you’re making your selection. I discovered this app when I was doing high volume sports photography and found it to be excellent at what it does.

Another option, if you have an iPad or Mac, is to use Apple Photos for the initial import. For smaller numbers of images (a “roll or two of film”), this works well. You can easily go through images and view them at full screen size on a tablet, which is more than enough to judge images. Make your picks and import into Photos. You’ll take those imports into your main library in the next step. A number of popular editing and library apps can pull in the images from Photos.

Apple Photos import screen Apple Photos import screen (iPad)

Don’t put too much thought and time into the initial culling of images. Go with what immediately resonates with you, even if it isn’t technically perfect. You’re trying to separate the wheat from the chaff as much as possible at this point. Answer just one question – do I love this image or not? Your first impression is probably the “correct” one. The opportunity for closer scrutiny comes once you’ve identified the most likely batch of keepers.

Import into library

Now that you have a subset of potential keepers ingested from your memory card, it’s time to import into your photo library. I use Adobe Lightroom myself, but the process works the same on similar photo management systems. The images from the initial ingest get brought into Lightroom in my case. Once in the library, make another culling pass through the imported photos, this time with an even more critical eye.

Lightroom import screen Lightroom import screen (iPad)

During this secondary culling sweep, narrow down similar images to a single best shot. Zoom in and check sharpness on images where that is critical. Flag those that don’t meet technical rigor or are redundant. Go through each image at full screen. Look at them quickly and consider your first impression. Is the image a “hell yeah” or a “meh?” If you’re not excited about an image, flag it. Once you’ve made this culling pass, delete the flagged images. Don’t worry about how many images are left. Just keep what you are truly happy about. Would you print these images? If not, let them go.

Like a sculptor chiseling away at a block of marble to produce a work of art, the culling process takes you toward a final curated collection that you can feel good about printing. Note that by the time you get through this secondary culling, the photos you didn’t pick no longer exist on your drive. At this point, I'll confirm that my images are synced with my cloud service, then do a local backup. At that point, the memory card is formatted. There is no going back.

Edit and final curation

Left with only the select images that represent your best work, it’s time to edit. When I say edit, you're probably thinking post-processing. Well, sure, that's a part of editing. However, the editing process should involve final selection of images to keep and use in your curated output. Stay in that curator mindset. What images are strongest through editing? Which ones would you add to a printed book? Think in terms of a limited set of images to print – maybe 12-24 at most.

Once you’ve completed your editing pass, it’s time to take a break. Get away from the images for a while. I recommend sleeping on it and coming back with fresh eyes the next day.

Come back after your break and look through your edits one more time. Use full screen views. Be ruthless in this final curating pass. What you want to remain are the strongest, most meaningful images, which you’ll ultimately be printing. If you aren’t completely sold on any of these images and aren't sure you'd want to print them, now is the time to drop them.

Step 3 – Creating a book (or two)

About the books

Certainly most people are aware that you can print photo books from your digital images. The problem is that it can be time consuming to lay out lengthy books and it’s a costly affair with most print labs. I wanted to bring back some of the joy of holding printed books in my hands with minimal fuss and without breaking the bank. After lots of research and test printing of various products, I found some options that are just the ticket.

Before I go into my specific recommendations, I’d like to mention some of the things that are important to this style of curated printing.

  • Simple – I wanted to be able to print things frequently without making a big production out of it. I’m a photographer, not a graphic designer. I wanted something easy-to-use that lets me add photos to a book layout without spending hours at my computer fiddling around with complicated software.

  • Inexpensive – For the kind of casual printing that I wanted to do with virtually all of my work, it has to be inexpensive. Of course, it needs to look good and be something that I’m proud to share with others.

  • Compact – It doesn’t make sense to create bulky books for frequent printing. They shouldn't take a lot of space and they should be easily shareable with friends, family, even potential clients.

The products I use and recommend are produced by Magcloud. Their digest, square, and magazine formats work best for the easy one-off prints of curated images that I’m talking about.

Magcloud digest books Magcloud landscape digest books

Laying out images

A book might be derived from a single photography outing or event. It could be an ongoing project. Whatever your goal is, keep the image count to a modest amount. Most of my books are in the 12-24 page range. I've done a lot of short books and I find that for a single theme, 24 images is a good maximum number. I base this on years of experience watching how people interact with a book. People are used to scrolling feeds and bouncing between sites. Many people will start flipping pages quickly after a dozen or so images and put the book down soon after. Attention spans are regrettably short.

I recommend one image per page or possibly a two page spread for featured photos. The idea is to not cram as many images as possible into a small number of pages. You are creating a work of curated images and they should be as large as possible on the page. I’m partial to full bleed edge-to-edge prints myself. People are accustomed to staring at phone screens. Here's the chance to wow them with a comparatively large print.

Don't wait too long after shooting to put a book together. It's best to act while you are inspired as a result of your careful curation and editing. Even if you're working on a long term project, I encourage you to print milestone books. Think of them as chapters that eventually find their way into a larger book. Nothing brings a sense of accomplishment like holding your printed work in your hands.

Magcloud magazine Magcloud magazine

Printing a book

I recommend choosing a book format that lets you layout your photos as naturally as possible for the way you shoot. Do you work mostly in portrait orientation? Choose a magazine or portrait digest format. Are you a landscape orientation buff like me? A landscape digest would work best. For the most versatile option, you might do a square book. The square format allows you to go between landscape and portrait orientation seamlessly.

One advantage to keeping a minimal page count with my preferred printer, Magcloud, is that page counts of 16 or less get printed on a heavy 100# paper that looks and feels great. This would be comparable to the type of paper you would see in a high end photo book. I love printing quick little 12 or 16 page books that bound with staples. You can get a book printed for about $3 in that range!

Always do a proof print by ordering a single copy of a book before placing a larger order to share with friends. Images will always look a bit different on paper than they do on a screen and sometimes you may have to tweak your edits a bit. I tend to do orders when I've got at least a half dozen different layouts prepared, to save money on shipping.

Magcloud square books Magcloud square books

Sharing your work

Back in the day – wow, that makes me sound old – we'd get film developed and get double prints to share with family and friends. Printing small, inexpensive books brings back the joy of sharing your work. I end up giving a lot of what I print away and ordering a new copy for myself. People aren't used to seeing prints these days and even a cheap little photo book can have a huge impact.

I gave one of my magazine prints to a friend recently. She owns a live music club and I curated my favorite shots of performances there into a neat little magazine. I'd been providing digital photos for her to use on her site for years. This one modest printed collection of work made her stop and linger over the moments that took place in her venue. I enjoyed seeing her slowly look at the pictures, ending up with tears of joy in her eyes. There is a connection you make with prints that you just don't get when looking at photos on a glowing screen.

Wrapping Up

I hope that the workflow I've shared helps you develop your own curator mindset. While it may take a little more effort along the way, the end result is a lot less digital clutter and a much smaller quantity of carefully curated meaningful images that you can hold in your hands and share with others. The digital world is temporary and fleeting. A printed work brings a sense of stability – almost permanence.

#Photography #Printing

I’m an impatient person and one of the things that can really bring my blood to a boil is getting stuck in traffic. Having to wait on a slow moving train to clear a crossing is something that has always resulted in irrational anger and frustration. Having lived in an area that requires me to cross busy tracks frequently for over a decade, one would think I’d be over that by now. Yet, when my mission of getting a Latte at a local coffee shop was blocked by a train yesterday morning, my temper flared. Fucking trains.

For some time now, I’ve been practicing mediation. It’s something that I know has huge benefits, particularly for dealing with my anxiety. I carve out time almost daily to practice at home. Applying it in daily life has been more of a challenge. While my mind was internally grumbling while the train lumbered through the crossing, it occurred to me that I hadn’t done my morning mediation before leaving the house on my mission of caffeine acquisition. Seeing as I had some time, I thought, “Why not now?” I put my car in Park, let my eyes fall to a soft downward gaze, and turned my attention to some long, deep breathes.

After 2 or 3 breathes, calmness replaced anger. I became aware of the sounds of the train clacking along the tracks. There was a peaceful rhythm that I hadn’t noticed before. I felt my tense muscles in my neck, shoulders, and jaw start to relax. In what seemed like hardly more than a moment, the clacking faded off and I heard the sound of the crossing barriers raising. What initially seemed like a long and sluggish train now seemed like like a mere blip in my day. I was almost disappointed that it was gone.

It was a nice lesson in mindfulness, as it applies to daily life. What might appear as an obstacle may be an opportunity for a fulfilling experience. It takes persistence in personal practice to get there and it doesn’t come easy or naturally. As fate would have it, I got stuck once again at the tracks on my return trip home from my errands that morning. My brain’s initial ingrained response started to flare…”Argggghhh…” Before the default response could take hold, I remembered the breath. Breathe, listen, enjoy the calm. Train crossings aren’t so bad after all.

It has been a month now since I heard of the passing of Neil Peart. I was at work when I got the news and it hit me hard. While I’d never met him, his music and writings have been with me most of my life. His work was brilliant and always inspirational to me. I’ve never been one to idolize celebrities and I certainly didn’t think of him as a “rock star”. I’d love to have had the chance to meet him – not for the sake of shaking hands with a famous musician, getting an autograph, or any of that stuff. I’d simply have loved to chat or maybe share a bit of road by motorcycle with this talented and interesting character.

My friends know how much Neil meant to me. I started getting messages of sympathy from friends the day his passing was announced, including some folks from way back in my high school days who I hadn’t heard from in years! Some would say he was a hero of mine, but that’s not quite right. Saying I was a huge fan doesn’t cut it either (fan, deriving from fanatic, carried a negative connotation to Neil). Really, I just admired what he did and appreciated the things I learned over the years through his words and example.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been listening to a lot of Rush and reflecting back on what it was about Neil that I respected so much. There are a number of lessons I’ve learned from The Professor over the years, gleaned from his books, interviews, and instructional videos. Here are a few that stick out the most.

  • Be genuine. One thing that was clear to me in everything I’ve heard or read by Neil is that he never pretended. What you saw was what you got. Rush wasn’t exactly hitting things off as a commercially successful band in the early days. Neil and his bandmates stuck to doing things their way and it eventually they did quite well while by being true to themselves.

  • Your only obligation is to be your best. Neil may have seemed off-putting to Rush fans in his reluctance to do the usual rock star meet & greet thing and sign autographs after a show. As an introvert myself, I can certainly relate to Neil’s shying away from the masses. “I can’t pretend a stranger is a long awaited friend.” (Limelight) A band needs followers to succeed, but Neil made it clear that his only obligation to fans was to write and perform the best he could. Being a people pleaser is something I struggle with and I always admired Neil’s example of keeping boundaries.

  • Do something excellent. If you’ve read any of his books, you know that Neil was quite an adventurer. Always moving and doing. Carpe Diem. He sought to fill his free time with enriching experiences. I remember hearing him comment in an interview, “What’s the most excellent thing I can do today?” He dreamed big and his passionate efforts turned dreams into realities.

  • Take the road less traveled. Neil blazed his own path, both in his travels and his work. Charting out paths to travel by motorcycle between Rush shows, he’d find the most obscure routes to get away from the pack and find his own adventure. Creatively, his music was known to meander into new directions.

  • Never stop learning. I was a little taken back the first time I heard about Neil taking some time off from Rush to take drum lessons. The guy is worshipped by virtually every drummer on the planet…and he took lessons. In his mind, he never arrived. Always pushing forward, always something new to be learned.

  • Be humble. On one of his drumming instructional videos, Neil made the comment (and I’m quoting from memory, so it may be a bit of a paraphrase), “The apprentice takes something easy and makes it seem difficult. The master takes the impossible and makes it look easy.” He went on to state, by the way, that he considered himself an apprentice. If you know anything about his skill as a drummer…wow, just wow.

  • Be your own hero. This one is perhaps the greatest lesson from Neil (and the most difficult) to take to heart. I read an account by Jeff Hayden of a chance meeting with Neil on a motorcycle ride. After a pleasant conversation over lunch, Neil offered some parting advise, “Never follow anyone. Be your own hero.” Between being a people pleaser most of my life and struggling with the internal enemy of depression, this is not easy advice to follow. It is something I have made some great strides in lately. If Neil was a hero to me, he is gone now. The only hero I can count on being with me the remainder of my days is myself.

“We’re only immortal for a limited time.”

Thanks Neil. For everything.

I hear and read it a lot — people referring to themselves as “Creatives.” It always makes me chuckle and I’ve thought to myself, “What kind of presumptuous hipster millennial bullshit is this?” Seriously, when did “creative” become a noun? I supposed that was an evolution of language driven by human desire to find an identity and neatly label it. Funny thing though, I recently discovered that its use as a noun actually goes back at least a hundred years. Well, I’ll be damned — can’t blame the millennials for that one I guess.

In any case, it still bothers me how this “I’m a Creative” thing gets tossed around these days. On the one hand, it can actually be a genuine occupational title. Some companies do in fact have positions for “Creatives”. Then there are people who pick it up and use it as an identity because they regularly engage in some activity or art associated with creativity. Is there anything wrong with that? Maybe not. Personally, I consider it disingenuous to label myself a “Creative”.

The main thing that bothers me about this “I’m a Creative” labeling is that I know a number of people who are what I consider to truly be “Creatives” (if there is indeed such a thing). I’m talking about people who consistently create original and imaginative works — whether photography, drawing, writing, sculpting — whatever. They think differently than me and it’s quite obvious. That’s not to say it comes easy to them. However, there are people out there who have “it” — maybe it’s genetics, early upbringing, a God-given talent — I don’t know. I just know that’s not me. My brain isn’t wired that way. While I’ve learned to do some things that are creative in nature, it absolutely does not come naturally, nor do I produce creative things consistently. It’s more like a happy accident when it happens. Therefore, I cannot in good conscience label myself a “Creative.”

It’s a subtle thing — I’m making a distinction between doing something creative and identifying as a “Creative” — “I do” vs “I am”. Everyone does something creative from time to time. However, I don’t think everyone has it in their nature to create consistently and imaginatively. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn to do creative things and be good at them.

While I don’t think I’m a “Creative” by nature, I’m absolutely a creator. I create photographs, I write, and I play music. Sometimes my work might even be described as creative. Does it matter to me? Not really. Doing those things brings me joy, so I do them. I won’t be hanging a shingle outside my office door that says “Creative” though.

I recently finished reading Cal Newport’s “Digital Minimalism” and it got me thinking more about my personal struggle to reclaim my focus from the grips of technology. I was happy to find that I’d already been following a lot of Cal’s suggestions, even though I haven’t done the actual digital declutter he recommends — stepping away from all optional technologies completely for 30 days, then reintroducing things that are truly valuable.

Over the past year, I’ve slowly backed away from technology traps that were sucking up way too much time. Almost all social media is gone. Facebook is still there, barely. In the book, Cal talked about finding ways to use technology smarter and that is something I’ve done to keep Facebook around, at least for now. You won’t find me lingering on it these days.

I thought I’d share some of the changes I’ve made in my online habits and life in general. For me, it came down to wanting my focus back. Today’s technology is an outright war to capture and hold our attention. I realized it was a problem that needed to be addressed in my life when I was feeling the twitch to check my phone throughout the day, having trouble focusing when trying to get lost in a book, or struggling with racing thoughts during meditation sessions. It was time to join what Cal calls the Attention Resistance.

Here are some of the things that have helped me:

  • No social media on my phone. Not that I have much left besides Facebook, but I don’t want the temptation to scroll through the feed. I have to be at home to access it, so there is no temptation during the work day.

  • Avoid Facebook itself as much as possible. Most of the value I get from Facebook is from Messenger and events. Messenger is grudgingly there for me because it is the best way to communicate with a few people. Still, I don’t need to be immediately available. For events, Facebook has an app called Local that I use as a calendar for things I want to attend. I can do this from my iPad at home. None of the peripheral Facebook apps need to be on my phone.

  • Check any social media or email in designated time slots with a predetermined limit. I check Facebook in the morning during my one cup of coffee, along with email and a few other things. 15 minutes total time allotted to get in and out with everything. Same in the evening — brief check of messages or emails before moving on to more productive things.

  • Unsubscribe from distracting email. I was spending too much time deleting emails I didn’t want to begin with so I started killing the subscriptions.

  • Be intentional online. If I need to go online to look something up, research something, check news, etc., there is an intentional purpose. No aimless Internet surfing. Time limits apply here too. Rather than watching a clock, I tend to use a somewhat flexible time, such as the time it takes to finish a drink or snack. Alternatively, I might also fit in some online time in a short time span before I have a hard stop for something else. Setting a limit is key.

  • Use curation to gather together truly valuable online resources. When I find a blog that I get value from, I’ll add it to the Feedly app on my iPad. When I have free time to devote online, I’ll go to my own curated feed instead of hitting up Google.

  • Find something else to do that involves a physical activity, learning something new, or doing something creative. I take long walks, read, write, meditate, practice photography, or work on post processing. Recently, I took up archery. It is a wonderful and very mindful activity.

If you struggle with technology keeping a strangle hold on your attention, consider starting your own resistance. Cal’s “Digital Minimalism” is a good resource for starters.

#read #minimalism