Where I’m at…

Lately, I’ve been seeing and hearing from lots of new folks coming here thanks to my appearance in the Minimalism documentary which recently started running on Netflix. Very cool and humbling, to say the least. So, this is a post to help folks find what they may be looking for and where to dig in to find more.
Posts here generally run on a “when I have something to say that belongs here” schedule. I post far more frequently right now at Rhoneisms. That’s my place for shorter essays and thoughts.
Go here if you’d like to buy the book enough which was mentioned in the film.
All of my books are available for purchase here.
I have also posted many things here around the subject of enough. You may enjoy reading how I increasingly subscribe to an Amish approach to technology, a great way to make your Twitter timeline more sane, or how we are better off when we choose tools and methods that are proven. All of these and more are about the choices that lead to a more simple and meaningful life.
I also have a free newsletter that has been warmly received. The schedule, format, and topics are irregular but I’m confident that those that subscribe find something helpful show up in their email inboxes every once in a while. Take a look at the archive if you’d like to get a sense of what I write about there.
Finally, I love being a guest on podcasts, email interviews, and any other engagement where I can reach and help more people. My info page tells you everything you need about me and how to get in touch. Please do.

I’m a writer. Writing is how I make this world a better, friendlier, stronger place. If these words improved your day, please let me know by contributing here.

Right Livelihood

Right Livelihood is the fifth precept in the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path. I have found this one the most difficult for me to find a way to apply to my online interactions and communications (and, thus, write about).

The precept is meant to speak to the way we make income or take on tasks. It discourages making any profit from those businesses or dealings which harm others, ourselves, or otherwise do not respect life. In the Buddha’s time, this spoke to things such as drug dealing, weapon manufacturing or sales, slavery, butchery, and even fortune telling. While I’m sure there are people using social media tools like Twitter and Facebook to help facilitate such transactions, I have not had any first hand experience with such. I certainly do not traffic in any of these nor do I ever plan to. Therefore, it would be easy for me to call this one "done" and move along.

But, I don’t think any of us should get off so easily when navigating the Eightfold Path. Each precept is meant as a prompt for our deeper consideration. Therefore, I feel compelled to seek any way my business dealings might be falling short of my greater spiritual goals. In a way, to borrow the popular Christian meme, I find myself asking "What would the Buddha do?".

Is the price of my products a fair one on both sides of the transaction? Am I paying too much attention to impermanent metrics like sales, downloads, or followers? Am I advertising my products and services in a way that is boastful, deceptive, or insensitive? All of these could just as easily fall under and be addressed by the concepts within Right Livelihood.

Right livelihood also stresses that we do not take our work for granted. That all of our actions, especially our daily tasks, are the result of all that came before and simply a contribution to a greater whole. That pride and hubris in our success is simply a recipe for suffering when change in such inevitably occurs so we should not dwell on it. So, to use social media to constantly promote our good work and congratulate ourselves on our own success simply makes this insecurity apparent to the world. Work that is consistently good speaks for itself.

I use the concept of Right Livelihood to remind me to keep my focus on doing work that contributes to the greater good, that is meaningful and helpful to those that choose to purchase my products and services, to humbly realize that any failures or successes will be fleeting, and that the most mindful path is to simply continue to do good work.

As the old Zen proverb says, "Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.

What Will You Be Remembered For?

My Grandmother was a piano teacher. She was also a world renowned concert pianist. She was awarded her Ph.D. in Piano Performance from the University of Iowa. She was also a freedom fighter, quite active in the civil rights movement in the south. She was also the author of three books about the life of a blind pianist named Blind Tom Wiggins. She was on the Board of Trusties at Dillard University for many years. She was a college professor at the University of Minnesota for about thirty years and Chair of her department for ten of those.
My Grandmother passed away many years ago. If you asked one of her former students who she was, they would likely say, “Dr. Southall was one of my college professors.” If you asked someone who read her books they would reply, “She was the author of the Blind Tom books.” And, if you asked one her friends from college they’d say, “Oh, the girl who played piano? She was pretty good!”
When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I’m a Writer and a Technology Consultant. I find it interesting that most of them then follow up with questions about either one of those things, but almost never both. If they latch on to the “Writer” they will ask what I write and I’ll direct them to my site and tell them about my books. If they latch on to the Technology Consulting part, they usually want to know if I can help them in some way with their Mac or their PC or their Website. I give them a card and let them know I can help. My bet is that if someone were to ask them only minutes after we speak what I do, they would likely only tell you the one thing that mattered to them.
This goes not only for the things you do but also for who you are. People will remember what mattered. Do you want to be remembered as the guy who screamed and yelled and flipped other drivers off from behind the wheel? Do you want to be remembered as the person who never had a nice thing to say? Do you want to be remembered by your children as a harsh, strict, and unforgiving parent? Of course no sane person would want any of these things — we all have had our bad moments and made our mistakes. Yet, if we do such things often we risk being remembered for them.
We are all many things. We all do many things. We will do many more things throughout our lives. Yet, when we are gone, most will primarily remember only one of them. They will pick from the lot and remember you as that. What they pick will, in their mind at least, be all that you are. Therefore, it is our job to ask ourselves with all the things we allow ourselves to do, with each and every one, “Is this something I want to be remembered for?”
This is why it is important to make “No” your default response to most things. Those things that seem like great ideas should get a “maybe” until they earn a solid answer one way or the other. But “yes” should only be given to those things that, if you were gone tomorrow, you wouldn’t mind being remembered for.
Note: This came out of a conversation I recently had with my friend Jeff Sandquist. You can read his take on it here: What Do You Do?

I’m a writer. Writing is how I make this world better, friendlier, stronger place. If these words improved your day, please let me know by contributing here.

On Kicking Ass

There are times in our life when we simply kick ass.

It’s OK to kick a little ass sometimes. In fact, I argue that it is imperative to kick a whole lot of ass when the demands of life call for one to do so.

Like the revolution, the kicking ass will not be televised. You don’t have to prove that you have kicked ass. The fact that you kick ass will be obvious to everyone who knows you. You can go about your life, kicking ass along the way, and know deep inside yourself how much you kick ass.

That said, it is also OK to be proud of it. When one kicks ass of any amount, it is OK to declare that you have done so. Let the world know of your ass kickery.

In either case, make sure to take time to reflect on your ass kicking. Especially if the asses kicked are in amounts higher than the average. Enumerate and take pride on the number of asses kicked.

Personally, I see little need to take the names of the asses kicked. That will only slow one down. One cannot both kick ass and take names at the same time. One must kick ass, pause to take the name, then move on to the next ass kicking.

Unless one needs to keep detailed records of each ass kicked for tax or expense purposes. If so, then by all means, take names as well. Just be intentional about the trade off you are making by doing so.

Regardless, the reason I write this straight forward message is simple — we need everyone to kick more ass. The world has changed. There are increasingly less instances of both ass kicking and those that are ass kickers than there has been in the past. Ass kickers were once admired and plentiful. Ass kickers were desired. They are less so now. In fact, some believe they are actively discouraged. There are even those that claim our institutions of learning are turning ass kickers into ass kissers. So, those that kick ass are desperately needed in these hard times and the harder times to come. Those that do kick ass need to make themselves known as far and wide as possible in order to inspire others to kick ass. As an ass kicker it is your duty now, for the future.

Now, go forth and kick some ass.

I’m a writer. Writing is how I make this world better, friendlier, stronger place. If these words improved your day, please let me know by contributing here.

Getting Started (After Only Twenty Years)

There is a science fiction story I have had brewing in my head now for over twenty years. It started as just a very simple idea. A “what if” question. A spark of something. For years and years I brushed it aside whenever it popped into view. I always had, what I felt, were valid excuses for writing it off. Here’s how the dialog would most often happen inside my head…

“I’m not a fiction writer.”

“I’m certainly not a science fiction writer.”

“But, it’s a really good idea.”

“Maybe, it would be good to give to one of my friends that are, accomplished, science fiction writers.”

I would act on this. I would tell it to my sci-fi writer friends in passing. They would kindly hear me out, but express no real interest in stealing it from me. “It’s a good idea.”, they would say. “You should write it.”

“But I don’t know how?”, I would resign.

And, so, back into the the bin it would go. Only to pop back up next week/month/year. But, each time a little bit closer — more fully formed each time it returned. Closer to a real story.

The excuses to avoid it, therefore, had to become even more deft…

“I can see the story but I have no idea who would tell it.”

“Where is the voice of the story coming from?”

“Without a voice, you can’t tell a story.”

I would shove it into the bin again — with force and prudence. Convinced that this idea was beyond my reach creatively. It was not my genre. I had no voice. I only had rough ideas and sketches and major details. But, I had not the talent nor skill to weave together into a coherent narrative.

But the idea keeps coming back. It haunts me. It now wakes me up in the middle of the night. It keeps me from being able to rest. Each time getting closer. Showing me a little bit more of itself.

“Write.”, it says.

A few weeks back it gave me it’s voice. I now know who is telling the story and why. And, last night, It came to me in a dream. The opening scene at least. It was lucid while I was barely so. I saw our protagonist. I knew his motivations. It was a start. It was not the whole story. But, it was enough for me to get the opening lines down first thing this morning.

Y’weh sits on the bench with his face in his hands. He’s tired. Lately, he sits here in much the same position before the work day begins. Exhausted before he has even started. His lab coat feeling like a burial shroud. He’s been at this job for a very long time. And, if he could find another — if he had a choice — he would. But, once you start The Process, you can’t stop the stars. You have to see them through.

It may take me another twenty years to finish. But, today, I finally exhausted all of my excuses — I started.

I’m proud of this.

Need a good way to start off your week? Take something you are proud of and stick it up somewhere you can see it. Better yet, show it to the world.

Then, as you hit those low points, where you a feeling word down or uninspired, look to that thing you are proud of. Because, if you did something that good once, you will likely do something at least that good — if not better — again.

We humans are creatures of habit and process. But, we also have the ability to adapt, improve, and evolve. Perhaps , you can strive to discover the process that results in the things you are proud of. Then, you can make a habit of the things that led you to that creation or idea. After that, you can adapt that habit to an even wider range of things. And, improve and evolve it to something you can be even more proud of the next time.

But, don’t worry about all of that today. Today, simply take one small thing you did recently, put it out there, be proud.

Things I Learned In 2013

With the close of the year, here is a not nearly complete list of the things I learned this past year:

  • If you decide to do something, you can do anything. All you need is to get past that comma.

  • The first part of your life is spent finding out who you want to be. The second part of your life is spent finding out who you really are.

  • You do not discover the future. You create it with the actions you take today.

  • The fanciness of your process only reveals your resistance to the dirtiness of the work.

  • If you find yourself unusually productive in one area of life, ask yourself what tasks you are avoiding in the others.

  • "Work, without love, is slavery." — Mother Teresa

  • The secret to making kids that travel well is to start them traveling young and keep them doing so.

  • Schlag is a Viennese term for homemade whipped cream that is seeing a certain renaissance as of late (in order to differentiate it from the canned stuff).

  • We don’t buy things, we buy into things.

  • One should strive to use all things until their usefulness is no more.

  • I’m not sure I will ever be as emotionally fulfilled by digital technology as I am by a good pen and a nice blank page of paper. Nor will it hold, for me, the same feeling of possibility.

  • Chindōgu is the Japanese art of inventing ingenious everyday gadgets that seem like a solution to a particular problem but cause so many new problems it is effectively useless.

  • So much of modern tech is beginning to feel like Chindōgu to me.

  • Sometimes, you have to come up with the completely crazy idea that could never work to get to the slightly less crazy one that will.

  • It’s worse than we could ever imagine.

  • One of the most dangerous ideas in a free society is one in which we believe that rights are granted, not guaranteed.

  • Fight fear, with facts.

  • “Fear is just excitement without breath.” –Fritz Perls

  • Most of what we call truth is merely consensus.

  • Unlike other trees whose roots are deep and thick, California Coastal Redwoods, some of the tallest of trees, are thin and wide. They stand tall by binding their roots with others near and far.

  • The first approximation of others is ourselves.

  • How much better “how to” posts/sites would be if they led with “what for”.

  • "Why?" would be good as well.

  • The GORUCK Challenge taught me more about myself in 13 hours than I learned this entire year. Especially the first item in this post.

Random Notes and Recent Thoughts #2

I’m suffering from a horrible cold virus. My third or fourth in as many weeks (I’ve lost count). My thinking, during such times, is both hazy and exausting. Therefore, please accept some of these brief and imperfect ideas that warrant more expounding than I have the energy for right now.

  • We all write our own eulogies. We write them with the way we live in each moment. By our acts of kindness or the things we do that delight others. Those things that make an impression on those closest to us. For, if we were to pass tomorrow, it is these things they will stand in front of others to share and remember.

  • Those that claim to have no choice always do. What they don’t have is a choice they want. And those that are doing something they don’t want because they feel they have no choice have, in fact, chosen.

  • There is no such thing as good debt. No matter how many financial advisors will tell you otherwise. I wish I had learned this before the age of 35. For instance, believing that a mortgage that was less than the value of the home was an investment — "good debt". Or, that a student loan is somehow good debt because it sets you up for the possibility of higher pay or a better career (when the first 10-20 years of said job is spent paying back that debt). Does no one do the math and figure out the only ones making money from this equation are the people that write the paychecks and the people who service the debt? I think if the past several years have revealed anything it is this fundemental fact and the lies that prop it up.

  • On every task list should exist the following: One thing that makes your life better. One thing that makes the life of someone else better.

  • The more complex your tool, the more likely it is to fail you in some way eventually. And, said failure likelihood will scale in parallel to the added complexity. And, because one’s expectations for said tool also scale in the same parallel, the disappointment from the failure is compounded.

  • People who love what they do for a living don’t ever dream of retirement — early or otherwise. Why wait to start the life you want when you can build it now? And, those that call bullshit on this are either a) happy and don’t want others to be so they can feel even more superior or b) as unhappy as the rest and looking for people to share in their sorrow. The truth is that you build the life you wish to have by the choices you make and, if you build a life that makes you happy, you can do it until you die.

  • This guy gets up and does the work he loves every morning. So, your excuses are invalid.

Announcing: This Could Help

Today I’m launching a new subscription-based newsletter called This Could Help. I really think this could help you in some way. A way that will be useful, and valuable, and meaningful. Sign up today for only $5.00 a month. If you’d like to know more, you can read a bit about it here.

For the story on how it came to be, please read on…

It started, as many things do these days, with a simple post to a social network:

You see, I used to have a subscription based newsletter called Reflections that I really enjoyed doing. It not only helped me share sneak peeks and get feedback as I was writing my book, enough, but it also was a place where I felt obligated to deliver the most value to my readers. After all, they were paying me a small monthly fee for exactly that. Whenever money changes hands, no matter the amount, the obligation becomes higher. Even to this day, I feel like I can look back on that effort and be proud of both the work I did there and feel like my patrons saw the value too. I delivered.

Then Letter.ly, the service I was using to run the business and delivery end of the newsletter, abruptly shut down with very short notice. And, while there are certainly other services out there that I could have used, none were as easy to use — for either the publisher or subscriber. And, switching to something else meant a hassle for my patrons. So, I made the decision to end the newsletter completely. Not only was this an end to a way for people who value my work to support it directly, it was an end to work that they told me really helped them. It was heart breaking but seemed best at the time.

But I never forgot.

I would, occasionally, lament its closing and the lack of appropriate service to replace it. I did this hoping that someone, somewhere, would either point me to some other service I was not yet aware of or decide to build something like it themselves.

Well, just seven days ago, my friend Andy Parkinson answered that challenge. the new service is called HappyLetter and it’s perfect (at least for me and likely for others too). It does what no other newsletter service seems to do. It allows publishers to quickly set up, price, and launch a subscription-based newsletter. It allows subscribers to sign up easily and get billed monthly for that newsletter. It makes delivering that newsletter to those subscribers as easy as sending an email. It handles the business so the publisher can focus on delivering their best work and get paid for it. And, he built it all in a week and live blogged the whole process so that others could see and learn from the work.

I helped a fair bit with feedback during the development process but to go from nothing to private beta launch in only a week is an amazing feat that deserves a look all by itself. There is a lot there to learn about the choices one must make when building any web based service. It makes one wish all developers were so transparent about their choices.

So, here the plan. My new newsletter is called This Could Help. It is where I plan to deliver my best work. You cansign up today for only $5.00 a month. I will publish as frequently as I feel it is helpful (but will aim for at least once a week). My work here and in other places will become less frequent and often be an extension or replication of the work I am first doing there. Some of the work I do there will be part of the work I’m doing for my next book. My patrons there will get early access and opportunity to participate with feedback on that book. They also will get a free eBook copy of whatever future books I release as well as other rewards I can conjure up. They also will get priority attention from me via email. After all, money is being exchanged. The stakes and obligations are thus higher.

As always, I remain very appreciative of anyone who reads any of my work, paying or not. After all, as writers we are simply happy to be read. Anything else is a tremendous bonus. Thank you so much for being here and making me happy.

Of course, if you feel my work here has helped you, yet you do not wish to subscribe to the newsletter, you can support my work by a free will contribution of any amount. It is very much appreciated.