Notes to self

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

notes to self

notes to self

Came home from a walk with my wife and wrote down this list. It’s going on the wall in my studio.

What your days look like

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

in any day there is some poetry

When my dad brought home girlfriends, my grandpa, rather obnoxiously, would quiz them from his arm chair. I’m told the first question was usually, “So, what’s your philosophy of life?” (I’m not sure what my mother answered.)

I was thinking of my grandpa last week when I was asked a similarly baffling and broad question during an interview: “What is your definition of success?”

I hemmed and hawed a bit, until I finally said, “I suppose success is your days looking the way you want them to look.”

Sounded okay, but after I said it, I wondered what the hell it meant.

“What do you want your days to look like?” is a question I ask myself whenever I’m trying to make a decision about what to do next. In fact, I believe that most questions about what to do with one’s life can be replaced by this question.

What career should I choose? Should I go back to school? Where should I live? Should I get married? Should I have kids? Should I get a dog? Should I take up the piano? 

“What do you want your days to look like?” forces you to imagine the day in, day out realities that making such choices will present you with.

Albert Camus once told a reporter, “One has to pass the time somehow.”  And how you pass the time, what your days look like, well, as Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Maybe success is just a matter of how the reality of the days match up to the ones in your imagination.

That’s not to say my ambitions these days are all that lofty. In 1851, Nathaniel Hawthorne, after spending the day with his five-year-old son, wrote in his journal, “We got rid of the day as well as we could.”

Whether that’s aiming too low or not, it sounds like success to me.

Office hours

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

sorry we're tired

My inbox is full of more questions than I could possibly answer and still get any work done, so once a month, I try to schedule a set period of time to hold “office hours” over on my tumblr, where people can ask me anything they can’t google.

Oftentimes, the answers are just remixed thoughts from my books (how much more is there to say?), but sometimes I hit on something interesting. Below are a few answers from yesterday’s hours minus the questions…

i feel like i have a book in me


Some thoughts on Layer Tennis and having another body in the room

Monday, August 11th, 2014


Last Friday I played designer Kelli Anderson in a match of Layer Tennis, moderated by Jason Kottke. You can see the whole match unfold here.

It was definitely one of the most intense afternoons I’ve had in a while. I used to hate playing in competitive sports. The only sports I ever enjoyed taking part in were pretty solitary: golf and long distance running. Practicing both of those sports, mostly you’re just trying to beat your own score or time. (Honestly, I hated them, too. Just not a sports dude.)

I think one reason I’m drawn to writing and art is that I don’t have to be competitive — if I’m competing with anyone, it’s against myself, or a bunch of my favorite (most of them dead) artists, or it’s a kind of friendly competition spurred on by seeing other folks’ work in the world. And even then, I’m not competing to be the best at what I do, I’m trying to be the only one who does what I do.

But there was something about the combination of the pressure of the match and what Kelli threw at me that pushed me to come up with stuff I wouldn’t have come up with otherwise…



Making a mark

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Photo Jul 30, 11 11 11 AM (1)

Some mornings, after our walk, my 21-month-old son and I will sit on our front steps and draw on a little square of the sidewalk with chalk. Birds (“brrr!”), trucks (“chuck!”) and maybe the letter S (“esh!”) or B (“buh!”) It never gets old, but it gets hot, so when we’re sweaty enough, I stick the little box of sidewalk chalk behind a potted plant on our porch, and we go back inside the house.

* * *

This morning when we got back from our walk, I noticed someone had taken the red chalk from the box and written down the sidewalk:


At first I was puzzled by the graffiti, but then I looked across the street at the signs stuck in my neighbors’ tree lawns, advertising the URL of the local “bike-powered compost recycling” startup. And like Will Graham in an episode Hannibal, I blinked my eyes a couple times, and reconstructed the scene: The Composter, biking the big barrel around, collecting the green buckets from porches, comes across my porch, which is bucketless. The Composter takes in our drawings, notices the sidewalk chalk, and sees not a marketing opportunity, no, but a chance to spread the message.

* * *

I’ve been feeling cranky lately about the slogans I’ve seen coming from the “creative” slash “entrepreneural” slash “startup” worlds:



It strikes me that both of these metaphors involve vandalism.


The shape of days

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

i had a rough day

Kurt Vonnegut thought every story has a shape that can be graphed —  each has a beginning and an end (plotted on the x-axis) and every character goes through “good fortune” and “ill fortune” (plotted on the y-axis). I put a bunch of them together for this chart in Show Your Work!:

kurt vonnegut's story graphs

I think our days have shapes, too — each has a beginning and an end, and we go through good and ill fortune as it progresses. (more…)

Is the year half empty or half full?

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

is the year half empty or half full

July 2nd is the middle of the year. Half of the year is gone, half of the year is still to be.

One of the reasons I like keeping a logbook is that it makes time tangible. Turn the pages, and you can feel the days pass.

Sometimes you flip back through the pages and they feel wasted. But flip forward, and you still have plenty of blank pages to fill.


A brief history of my newspaper blackout poems

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Every morning I try to pick up a newspaper and a Sharpie marker, and I make one of my newspaper blackout poems:

This is what one looks like after I scan it into Photoshop and play with the levels a bit:

in texas there is nothing but texas

(It’s sort of like if the CIA did haiku.)


Interview with A Total Disruption

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

A Total Disruption

Filmmaker Ondi Timoner came out to the house last September to interview me for her series, A Total Disruption, right around the time I was finishing up Show Your Work! It’s a fun time capsule for me—since then, I’ve moved out to my own studio and lost about 25 pounds! (Still carrying around the same ideas, though.)

Watch it below or on YouTube→

10 Ways To Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Show Your Work cover

Show Your Work! is a book for people who hate the very idea of self-promotion. It’s the followup to my New York Times bestseller, Steal Like An Artistif Steal was a book about how to be more creative by stealing influence from others, Show is a book about how to influence others by letting them steal from you.

10 ways to share your creativity


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