Ass scratches and belly rubs: Remembering the simple things

2015-07-27 12.13.17

Rufus does four things every morning upon waking. The first thing he does is wipe his eyes. It's a very awkward movement, but is one of the most human-like things he does. Next, he stretches. Then, he looks at me, wags his tail, and backs into my leg, wanting me to scratch him above the tail in that one spot he can't reach. When he's had a few minutes of that, he will roll over on his back and take a minute or so of belly rubs.

Then I'm allowed to meditate and have some coffee.

There are two things to be gleaned here, and they're lessons that don't need a lot of deep diving.

(1) Morning rituals are important. I can run to the kitchen and grab some coffee and hop in the shower or whatever, but Rufus will follow me around, nose in the back of my knee, until he gets his scratches and rubs. He needs his morning ritual to have a good day.

(2) Keep it simple. I can help those rituals along with one hand. They're one step each. It's not like David Ortiz approaching home plate or the Ickey Shuffle. Strip the rituals down to the things that are most important and don't require a lot of preparation.

Now, go scratch your ass, rub your belly and have a great day!

Control your next step: Move forward


You know, this doesn't only apply to running. This is really about getting out of bed and pushing through every day, whatever your challenges are.

Some of you know I'm training for a half marathon in November. I get it. Thousands of people do these every year — maybe it's hundreds of thousands. I have a friend who, after suffering a foot injury in 2014, is looking to complete 15 of them this year. To qualify for the competition division in the Boston Marathon, people need to run a full marathon faster than my projected half marathon time. For many people, a half marathon is no big deal.

But it turns out it kind of is. It's a giant mental challenge. I'm not even to half that distance yet, and I'm already running more hours in a week than I typically drive. You know what else is a giant mental challenge? Life.

Tuesdays are my first run of the week, and a week ago Tuesday, I had five miles on my calendar. I really had to push, especially the last three-quarters of a mile or so. I felt good about getting past the temptation to walk for a bit, but in general I was giving myself a mental beating about it. I had other things to do, though, and I knew I'd need some of that brain power for the evening, so I let it go.

The next day, Wednesday, is typically a day off, but I'd already decided to change up my schedule for the week, so I went back out for another five-mile run. Two and a half miles in, I was feeling good, and I came to the realization that it didn't matter what yesterday's run felt like. It didn't even matter what the first mile of today's run felt like, or even the last step. Once the step had been taken, it was done. I couldn't take it again. I could only worry about the next step, and then the next one after that. I couldn't even worry about what happened in ten steps — I had nine steps to go before then, and I had to take each one of those as they came.

It wound up being a great run.

By that point in the week, the podcasts I typically listen to had started to pile up for the week. And they were all about pulling yourself together and doing what's next and not making a big deal out of what you just did. Almost all of them, in fact.

For your listening pleasure (no, really, this all converged in the same week; thanks, universe, for giving me an idea then clobbering me over the head with it a few times):

Seth Godin tells Brian Koppelman it's easier, sometimes, to keep failing, to not take the steps required for success because if you do succeed, then you'll have to deal with that success. Example: Do you have a manuscript under your arm? Go ahead, don't submit it for publication. You can keep having the excuse that you can't get it published.

Joe Rogan had Jon Ronson on, discussing some of Ronson's old documentaries, which really required him to do some crazy stuff, like infiltrate "secret societies" (I tend to prefer "societies with secrets" as a term, I guess), and his new book about public shaming. Realize, though, that to be publicly shamed, you have to have really taken a bold step in public.

Tim Ferriss talked to Ret. Gen. Stan McChrystal and his former aide-de-camp Chris Fussell about the mental toughness required to be a great leader. They also touch on the difference between impressing authority and impressing your peers — McChrystal found himself in considerable amounts of trouble at West Point (where for punishment they basically make you pace to waste time you don't have), but he always got really high peer reviews, and he turned out to be a great military leader and a successful entrepreneur.

Marc Maron spoke to transwoman Laura Jane Grace, who fronts the punk band Against Me!, about dealing with her identity, transitioning from a man to a woman while maintaining the same role in the same band, and what it means to "sell out" — that is, dealing with your success vs. changing to become successful.

Duncan Trussell talks to Marc Maron about what it was like to talk to a sitting president in his garage. Maron's garage, not the president's. And Maron's response is basically that it was exciting, but he woke up the next morning and still went back to work.

Robert Johnson talked to Joseph James about making movies, specifically the start of creating the second film of a planned "The Freemason" trilogy. It doesn't matter what the trilogy is about, though. The first film had a very limited release and made most of its money on screenings, but James is hoping for a wider release for the second film, including getting it into theaters. The discussion is really about following the calling to create, and what it takes to make that happen.

So, what's your next step? I'm not sure what mine is yet, but I know not only that I can control it, but that it's all I can control.

Building a better you

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Here are some great posts to get you up and moving, in no particular order. These are the ones I most often come back to, to remind myself of their importance, to help build a better me.

In Freemasonry, we call ourselves, as fallible, imperfect humans, rough ashlars (an ashlar is a stone used for building). We work on ourselves to try to become a perfect ashlar – in builder's terms, a stone perfectly fitted.

I hope you think they'll also help you to build a better you.

What does 2015 look like?

This was my annual look back and look ahead, and it's by far the most in-depth post like that I've done. My biggest takeaway for me:

You know how sometimes you want to be good at everything? Well, you probably should be.

What do you have to offer your heroes?

It's easy for most of us to name some people we might call "heroes" or "inspiration." It's another thing altogether for us to be able to offer them something if we ever have a chance to meet them.

Create something

So go out, and create something. Because creating's fun. Do it for the sake of creating something. Don't worry about the rest; just go out and do it. And do it with purpose. If you're not ready to create something big, create something small. Let it grow. It doesn't matter what your scale, just create.

How do you plan for success?

That's an honest question. I have to admit I'm scared shitless of the idea of success.A lot of people are afraid of failure. I'm not.

We are nothing if not present tense

For the past couple of years, since I stopped being driven by The Almighty Search Ranking, I've been either a former writer or an aspiring writer. I'm not sure which is more dangerous of an attitude to take. "I used to do this," or "someday I'll do this." We are nothing if not present tense.

The universe isn't out to get you

the universe is busy dealing with entropy and eventually collapsing on itself. There are stars blowing up every day. Let me repeat. There are stars exploding every single day. There are comets careening around willy-nilly.

The universe could give a rat's ass if your power goes out while you're trying to make dinner, or the cable's on the fritz at kickoff, or if gravity took a beer glass from your hand and pulled it to the floor. I mean, gravity, for fuck's sake. It's keeping you on the planet, stopping you from floating up in the air and having your head blow up because it can't take the pressure.

You know what? If your head blows up? It's going to leave a hell of a lot less crap floating around the universe than those exploding stars. The universe isn't even concerned if your head blows up. It's not hiding your car keys, you just didn't put them on the hook when you got home yesterday.

More favorite motivational posts

My dog is more interesting than you
Want to crush life? Take a chance at getting crushed
6 tips for just getting on with your miserable fucking life

Are you your cause? Art, and life, for your own sake

He died seeking the cause, seeking A cause. He was already dead, he never really lived — uptown, downtown, crosstown — his body was found all over town.

Every now and again I wander back toward the edge. I rewatch "Piñero" (watch) and "Exit Through the Gift Shop" and remember to be open my eyes a little — maybe not wider, but differently, both outside and inside (myself and the house).

In a world in which we're focused on Baltimore and Ferguson and train wrecks and royal babies and underinflated footballs, we need to take time to remember that while the world might be bigger than us, we are not. And further, we are us. I am me. You are you.

I often look to others for inspiration, but those I feel most inspired by are people who do things outside my field(s). I understand the Miguel Piñero portrayed by Benjamin Bratt. That got me started doing some spoken word about 11 years ago, and I've since had some of those poems published in juried journals and compiled chapbooks.

But street artists like Shepard Fairey (known for the Andre the Giant "Obey" posters and the Barack Obama "Hope" posters), Banksy, Invader and even Mr. Brainwash make me want to dabble in something different; not what they do, since that's not my thing. But they open my eyes in different directions.

The same holds true when I watch parkour videos.

David Byrne, of Talking Heads fame, mentions something along these lines when he talks to Marc Maron. Byrne grew up in suburban Baltimore, and it wasn't until he went off to college at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) that he started meeting black people and Jews and rich kids and people from California — California! — who all helped broaden his horizons and help formulate what became his style: something of a fusion of a variety of influences. Did you know he couldn't actually speak any French when he wrote "Psycho Killer"?

These artists and poets and athletes don't do it for the money (though Piñero eventually made a living writing for TV and Fairey and Banksy have become well-known artists), they did it, and continue to do it, for themselves.

The important thing, though, is to remember something Rick Rubin tells Tim Ferriss: Compete only with yourself, and don't think too much. Write a better song tomorrow than you did yesterday; don't try to write a better song than The Beatles wrote. Lead with your heart, then let the brain look at what the heart has presented.

He died yesterday, he’s dyin’ today, he’s dead tomorrow. Died seekin’ a Cause, died seekin’ the Cause, & the Cause was in front of him, & the Cause was in his skin & the Cause was in his speech & the cause was in his blood but he died, he died seekin the cause. Seekin A cause. He died deaf, dumb and blind and he died and never found his cause because he never, you see, he never never knew — HE was THE CAUSE.“

What are you going to do for you?

[Both excerpts from Miguel Piñero, "Seekin' the Cause".]

How do you see a blank page?

Marc Maron spoke to Amber Tamblyn this week on his podcast (listen here). The actress has a new book of poetry, Dark Sparkler, out.

In the book, Tamblyn uses troubled and deceased child actresses as inspiration for poems (she herself began acting professionally as a preteen).

One notable moment in the podcast is when Maron opens the book to a poem dedicated to Lindsay Lohan, and finds nothing but a titled on an otherwise blank page. He finds it very pessimistic, but Tamblyn doesn't agree. She says she's not willing to impose anything on Lohan (though to be fair, putting her name on the page sure does impose something, it's just a bit more open to interpretation, I think).

While Maron looks at that blank page as pessimistic — empty, devoid — I feel very optimistic about it. There's still a chance to write a whole story there — and not only that, but a new story, leaving a past behind.

On the other hand, some of you will have read The Wit and Wisdom of Spiro T. Agnew or SEX after 60, which are famously blank for humorous reasons.

So, what is it? How do you see a blank page?

How to publish an ebook on Amazon

Something I did recently was this. I compiled some of my blog posts, edited them a bit, and put them together in an ebook to sell on Amazon. It's called Resolutions for the Rest of the Year, and is meant to give you the tools to set and accomplish goals now that most people have given up their New Year's resolution.

Almost as important to me as putting the book together (it's short; go ahead and give it a shot, why not?) was the process. Let me tell you how I did it, so that you can do it, too.

First, I redeemed a coupon I had for Scrivener, an amazing $40 piece of software (that's without the coupon). It makes it really easy to organize a book, and will help you compile it for pretty much any format — Kindle, iBooks, hard cover, soft cover, PDF — and provides you with a bunch of tools for proofing and organizing research and putting together keywords to embed in electronic versions.

Next, because it's such a complete piece of software, I took advantage of a special on a Udemy course on Scrivener (at this writing there's not a special, but almost 20 hours, it's still a deal at $169 for Mac or Windows).

Then I put the actual product together. If you're going to try this, be honest with your self and understand that the software's easy enough to learn, putting the product together is the hardest work.

I did some searching for royalty-free art to turn into a cover (feel free to pay for some, too), put the cover together, spelled a word wrong, went back and did the cover again, and thanked my eyes for catching that.

Next, I signed up for Kindle Direct Publishing, Amazon's Kindle publishing platform. It's a fairly simple process (it took about 15 minutes) to upload the book and cover, add some keywords, price it, confirm that I own the copyright on the book and click the submit button (which is the scariest part, but that was the goal of the whole project — pressing that submit button).

I sent that on a lunch break, about 2 a.m., and by the time I woke up about 10 a.m., I had a book on Amazon.

Your turn. Go!

On entitlement and your right to work hard


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We were walking around downtown not long ago, talking with some friends about a new "work" culture. The sort that was really spearheaded by Avon and Tupperware and has since blown up. You can have parties now with representatives selling organizing totes to sex toys to low-cost energy (though that last one is a a tough business to get anything out of).

People quit their jobs to sell stuff that is often highly marked up to handle their commission. And if you get an invitation to a party with a consultant, expect someone to try to guilt you into buying something.

"Remember, I have fun doing this, but if you don't buy anything, I can't put food on the table." OK, but if I don't like your products or your prices, why would I buy something?

You're entitled to try to sell me something, not to my purchase.

It's not just about work. Entitlement is about a lot of things. Did someone delete your comment on a news website? Yes, the company believes in freedom of speech. Do you know what you're not entitled to? Publication. You have the right, in the U.S., to say pretty much whatever you want (there are some limitations on that, of course). You do not have the right to expect someone will listen. You do not have the right to expect someone to provide a platform. You certainly have the right to create your own.

The "American Dream" has had various incarnations over the past 240 years. But I think we're at a point where many people need to be reminded that you have the right to work your ass off for your chunk of the American Dream. You have no right to just expect a chunk of the American Dream to fall into your sedentary lap.

Whom do you work for? Not your employer, your reason

Gypsee Yo grew up under a repressive regime in Albania. When she was 16, she and her best friend Magdalena promised to get to America for a better life.

So they took a job, dismantling bullets.

After a while, the government stopped dismantling bullets, instead repackaging them to sell on the black market. Or rather, the government was having 16-year-old girls repackaging bullets in concrete warehouses.

And then one day, a painfully hot day, one of the girls picked up a really heavy box of bullets, and she caved in under its weight, and she, along with the box, went crashing to the floor.

Quick physics lesson: Impact ignites gunpowder, which propels a bullet in the direction it's pointing. Bullets bounce off concrete until either drag slows them down enough that gravity stops them or they find something soft enough to embed in.

So if you drop a box of bullets in a concrete warehouse, you'd better get under or behind something and pray, which is what Gypsee, Magdalena and their coworkers all did.

When the chaos subsided, Gypsee found herself among the lucky ones. The two blood-stained fingers on the floor in front of her, not attached to a hand, showed her Magdalena was not so lucky.

From that point on, the government may have been her employer and some bureaucrat may have been signing her paycheck, but that's not whom Gypsee was working for. She was working for herself, for her best friend, for a future.

Think about your employment situation, then. Whom do you work for? Why? If you complain about work, think not about your employer, or your customers, but about your reason for working. If that reason isn't enough to propel you forward in your work, get out of your situation, whatever it takes.

What does 2015 look like?

If you, like most of us, flip the calendar tonight, you're probably also doing two things: reviewing your year and thinking about some resolutions for 2015.

My year in review basically consists, chronologically, of becoming a Freemason, getting married and moving 1,000 miles. There were other pieces along the way. Lots of great conversations, lots of lessons. A longer-than-two-week bout with poison ivy. My first real experience with animal stress (the dog had something called hot spots, which means he was literally trying to — and succeeding in, until we got some medicated shampoo and a cone of shame — PEEL HIS FACE OFF for a month).

In all, it's been a fairly chaotic year, punctuated by highs and lows. (It seems that was more or less the way of the world in 2014.) I might be willing to trade some of the extremes over the next 12 months for a more subtly happy, peaceful existence. As far as what's in store for me? I'm looking back and taking some lessons from me.

It's also some of the wisdom I have to pass on to you, take it or leave it. I'll write like it's for you, but it's really for me. But it's for you, too.

Benjamin Franklin came up with some guiding principles for life, and they're not faith-specific. In fact, Jesus is paired with Socrates, and there's no other mention of anybody. You could do a lot worse, and I'm betting you couldn't do a lot better.

I think moderation and justice are the most important here, and I hope for more of them — from and for everyone — in the coming year.

Find a quest, and see it through. It doesn't have to be monumental, but it has to be big enough to call a quest. Something greater than an adventure. I think with a quest, it's OK to make parts severable. If you don't fulfill your quest, you can still accomplish a lot, and have many adventures on the way.

Find some ritual, even if it's drinking your coffee in silence in the morning, or writing exactly 1,029 words in the first hour you're awake every day, or brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand so you have to concentrate a little more.

Tim Ferriss asks just about every one of his podcast guests about their morning rituals. It's usually in the last 10 minutes; that's a great place to start.

Speaking of Tim Ferriss, he spoke to Chase Jarvis about bringing back the polymath. This is the most important thing of 2015 for me. You know how sometimes you want to be good at everything? Well, you probably should be. Here are a few reasons, but Buckminster Fuller outlines more here. I wrote a few thoughts on Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth about five years ago; more will be forthcoming in the next month or so.

As part of this, some things to consider:
Learn more about the world
Read these things weekly to get smarter
Get more interesting
Participate actively in your choices
Own your bad choices so you can make some better ones

The artist John Baldessari once destroyed all of his artwork. He didn't tear it up in a rampage. He collected all of it, cremated it, and he still has the ashes. He felt he had spent the past as sort of an apprentice, and he was ready to become a master. So he got rid of all his apprentice-quality work, and set out on his master's journey.

I've entirely thrown out about half a dozen blogs in my day, including purging archives here at joshshear.com three times. I think the quality has gotten a lot better. But maybe it's time to go read, and then destroy, some of the stuff that's not up to my current standards.

That's not to say, "I never did that," it's to say, "This is no longer a part of me," and I can always reserve the right to change.

If you're serious about improving, make sure you remember that practice is important, and so is a willingness to be challenged, and sometimes to fail.

"Now there's a hand my trusty fiere
And gi'e us a hand o' thine
We'll tak' a right guid-willy waught
For auld lang syne"

The universe isn’t out to get you

I was going to title this post, "The universe doesn't give a shit about you," but then I thought, "I'm probably stealing that from somewhere." I was close with that thought. The universe might give a shit about you, but it does not give a flying fuck.

Look, the universe is busy dealing with entropy and eventually collapsing on itself. There are stars blowing up every day. Let me repeat. There are stars exploding every single day. There are comets careening around willy-nilly.

The universe could give a rat's ass if your power goes out while you're trying to make dinner, or the cable's on the fritz at kickoff, or if gravity took a beer glass from your hand and pulled it to the floor. I mean, gravity, for fuck's sake. It's keeping you on the planet, stopping you from floating up in the air and having your head blow up because it can't take the pressure.

You know what? If your head blows up? It's going to leave a hell of a lot less crap floating around the universe than those exploding stars. The universe isn't even concerned if your head blows up. It's not hiding your car keys, you just didn't put them on the hook when you got home yesterday.


Check this out. Seriously, you think the universe gives a shit that you missed the fucking football game?

The universe is definitely not out to get you. You're simply not that important to the universe. You know who you're important to? You, and the couple of dozen people closest to you. And your dog. But even your dog will learn to love someone else. I know that because my wife and I adopted a rescue, who was well-loved but who couldn't move with the family who gave him up. He loves us just fine.

Do you have a small coin nearby? A penny, perhaps, or whatever a small currency is wherever you live? Or a thumbtack, something like that? Put it on the table (or desk or whatever) next to you, and look at it.

That's you.

Now, next to it, envision 100 more just like it. Those are the people who were at your wedding, or your bar mitzvah, or your first communion or whatever. Double the size of that pile. Now it includes all the people who couldn't make it or you wish you could have invited but didn't have space/money/whatever.

Take that pile of 200, and double it. Then double it again, then again. There are 1,600 pennies or thumbtacks or whatever there now. That number doesn't mean anything. It's just a really big pile of stuff next to you. Now multiply it by 10.

At 16,000 in a pile to your 1, you're already losing perspective and scale. Now add four more piles just like it. You already look really insignificant, and you've finally surpassed the number of people who went to the Michigan vs. Michigan State football game this year.

Can you imagine what you're like among the billions of people on earth? No, really, I don't think you can.

If you're insignificant next to the number of people at a single college football game, you are nothing in the eyes of a planet, or the universe.

But, you can be important to you and the people around, and that's what you should do. In fact, you can make real change in your life, and in theirs. If you write some life-altering book, you may even have a small effect on millions in your lifetime.

But really, you just need to focus on you. Be you. Be the best there is at being you. You are not who you came from or who you spend time with or who's around in the place you happen to live or eat lunch. You are you, and you can pick which bits and pieces you take from everyone.

We're all just making it up as we go along, no matter how confident we appear. Just try not to be too much of an asshole along the way.

It turns out I write about this kind of stuff a lot, so...

Related posts:

6 tips for getting on with your miserable fucking life
Intrinsic motivation vs. extrinsic motivation
3 things you can do to live happier
Commit to a process and let yourself fail
Allow your plans to change
Do it like it's your life, not your job
How do you plan for success?
4 steps from "I'm gonna" to "I am"