Nov 272014
It's not just about the bird.

It’s not just about the bird.

This is that time of year when folks get together to devour a stuffed turkey — or pigeon if you live alone — and think positive. It’s that time of thanks.

But there’s no law says you have to reserve all your thanks for that one day in a year.

Thanks, properly given, is a regular thing. Weekly? Daily? You bet.

If you can’t find something thankworthy in your life, stop and spin again. You’ll come up with something.

Could be a pair of shoes or a warm jacket.

Could be the fact you had something to eat today. Or because you can still fog a mirror.

Dinner for one?

Dinner for one?

Could be the time you spend with loved ones. With loyal friends. With a faithful dog.

Could just be memories. That’s thankworthy too.

Could be your ability to write your thoughts down. To make music to express what’s iin you. To create. To spread an idea. To live.

I can think of plenty in my own crazy life. I’m not going to list them here because it’s your time. Think of your own.

When you think about it, it sure beats mumbling a fast, desultory “hey, thanks man” during halftime of the Lions-Bears game, huh?

Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday, and keep looking for things that deserve thanks. All the time.


Nov 212014

I recently read Walter Isaacson’s “Jobs,” the recently-released bio of the Apple/Macintosh/Pixar pioneer. While I didn’t care much about his personality, his ideas and approaches were amazing. His original iPod Shuffle had no display, little in the way of actual controls, but was as simple as it gets. Jobs built his computer brand around simple operation, a stripped-down interface, around Zen art.

He liked to keep things simple, and maybe even idiot-proof. Although the old SPARC operating system played with the concept of a graphical interface, Jobs and Steve Wozniak were the first to really pull it off with the old MacIntosh. This made computers much more accessible, because clicking on an icon is a lot simpler and friendlier than trying to remember what to type at the command line. And despite what Microsoft loyalists say, the first Windows system looked like a dead ringer for the old Mac interface.

I don’t know if it’s the ease of operation and the art of minimalism that drives Apple’s success these days or its cult factor. I’d say both, but I’ll give extra weight to simplicity.

But Jobs still had his over-engineering (or more correctly, over-designing) moments — the company could have slid down the toilet while he vacillated between a pure white or smoke-gray computer housing. Even in the name of simplicity, the wheels sometimes fall off.

Keeping things simple. That in itself is an art. Charles Mingus, the great jazz bassist put it well:

“Making the simple complicated is easy. Making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

Think about it. It’s like the hoary tale about the public speaker who said if you wanted him to talk for 15 minutes he could have it ready in a couple of days. If you want him to speak for two hours, he’s ready now.

Anybody can come up with a convoluted mess. The real art is in trimming it down to a manageable size and simplicity.

Notice this. Mingus did not say anything about making things easy. As a bandleader he was a taskmaster with an explosive temper, and he liked to change timing structures right underneath the soloist. His piece “Passions Of A Woman Loved” shifts through multiple time signatures, and the band really had to be on the ball.

But if you can get something as densely-packed as a Mingus composition or as wide-ranging as Apple’s computing concept and make it simple, that’s creating.

(Video: Charles Mingus, on a 1964 concert tour. He wrote this song for his alto sax player Eric Dolphy, who was the second sax soloist.)


If you’re so inclined …

You can get Jobs for your Kindle here. I think I rated this book four stars out of five.

Disclaimer: I get a small commission for copies sold through this site. If enough of y’all order, you might even defray the cost of my own copy. But it’s a good read.




Nov 152014
Got to love this old ad. Despite the lack of political correctness it did give birth to a great catch phrase.

Got to love this old ad. Despite the lack of political correctness it did give birth to a great catch phrase.

Quickly: Who said, “Getting there is half the fun?”

If you said Cunard Lines, congratulations. For what, I’m not sure — either for collecting that useless nugget of information or for being seriously old. The pitch is from the early 1950s, before I was even around.

Okay. Is getting there half the fun of creating?

My first shrink seemed to think so. She was into that oo-ee-ooey stuff about presence and mindfulness and the sound of one hand clapping, so in my mind her credibility was shot. But she suggested the idea of enjoying the process.

Who? Wha’? I’m all about results. Did I complete x work? Is it up on Amazon? Is it getting read? Those are the important things. Enjoy the process? What kind of foolery is that?

Except she may have been right.

Seth Godin recently said enjoying the process takes guts. You’re working without the end in sight. This runs counter to the way I’m wired, and maybe it’s the opposite of how many others like to work.

But it’s fun. It’s getting into that high-performance car that might even scare Tony Stewart. You fire it up, feel the vibration of the engine, listen to the roar, take off in a cloud of dust and burnt rubber.

Not because you’re in a hurry, but because it’s fun.

For me, the act of writing is sometimes a drag. I have word counts. I have deadlines. I have standards (believe it or not!). I have mental shutdowns when the words don’t come, distractions that look a whole lot more attractive than my work, a hangnail that’s killing me when I type.

But I also have the opportunity to play what-if with my characters. To build a whole world, even if it’s not as elaborate as those of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis or J.K. Rowling. Shall I use an existing city that I know for my setting or build a whole new one? Who gets to play? What kind of characters do I want? How shall I move the story along — lime pit or mine shaft? How about the good old-fashioned wood chipper?

Now that’s fun.

Practicing scales is not fun. Playing that same piece for the 40th time today is not fun. Diving into a musical hole so you can find your way out — now that’s fun.

But Seth’s right. I’m not even thinking about the end product. Deciding what species of shark to feed the body to — or deciding whether to transpose from C to A minor — doesn’t necessarily take the result into consideration. Shoot, it might not even make it into the final product. It’s just fun.

Maybe getting there all the fun and the actual result is anticlimactic. Reckon?