The world needs you: Remembering Tom Wolfe, and remembering to show up

I was talking to my friend Seth Horan about, among other things, the death this week of Tom Wolfe, the great journalist and author. [Aside: There will be a podcast with Mr. Horan; I just have some work to do on it. Patience, please.]

I asked if we, as creators, have a responsibility to live up to our heroes.

His short answer: no. Plenty of people are.

Which I guess leaves me to look in the mirror and wonder if maybe I'm not doing enough. It's possible, maybe probable. I could definitely do a lot more showing up, as Stephen King puts it:

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.

Or, perhaps more aptly, as Wolfe's contemporary Gay Talese — who, along with Joan Didion, as among the last of the founders of "New Journalism — says, I might need to get off my ass a little more.

I'm not going to do much reminiscing on Wolfe. I'm a big fan. He made a huge difference in print journalism. But his death is more a wake-up call for me to do some work than, say, Jimmy Breslin's. He felt like one of the last of a dying breed of OGs.

Michael Lewis: How Tom Wolfe Became Tom Wolfe »

One of the things I think we miss when we remember Wolfe and Breslin and Hunter S. Thompson and we think of Talese and Didion is that they made something new when they were young. Their brand of "new journalism" is said to have started in the early 1960s and became mainstream by the early 1980s.

If my work was in a pile of others' work on their desks, would my heroes notice my work?

I think I'm getting better. I'm not sure. I do know I'm going to keep at it.

So, fortunately, are others.

Seth mentioned Matt Taibbi as a strong newer voice. He has a wonderful new serialized novel out. I mentioned Chuck Klosterman. I forget sometimes about Douglas Rushkoff and Chuck Palahniuk.

And of course Cal Fussman, who wrote for Esquire for 25 years and recently started a truly excellent podcast.

Be it resolved. Get off my ass. Show up every day. Don't ship every day, necessarily, but show up and get something done. Grow. You, too. The world needs us.

Who is on your personal board of directors?

When I was thinking about this, I thought, wow, this sounds like a Tim Ferriss question. Sweet. Turns out, it's a Tim Ferriss question.

Nevertheless, I think it's worth exploring.

Companies have boards for a bunch of reasons, but two prominent reasons I can name are (1) the founders don't know everything and (2) founders can get tunnel vision.

And so it goes with our lives. We're all just making all of it up, right? We make up rules for ourselves based upon our experiences and desires and sometimes we don't even follow our own invented rules. Why not look to others for some assistance?

My first three

My first three in are admittedly all white men. The reason for this is that I understand that part of their experience; I don't have to understand where they came from to understand where they got to.

They are Benjamin Franklin, Buckminster Fuller and Richard Feynman.

All three were creatives who synthesized ideas, followed their curiosities and created lasting work.

My next two

This is where I start to bring in some diversity; getting people of different backgrounds is important, I think. Ada Lovelace was an independently thinking woman in a time when that was hugely discouraged. She was involved in an industry — mathematics and computing — that is still, over 150 years later, still largely dominated by men. Not only was she fiercely independent, she was both brave and bold, as well as an autodidact.

George Washington Carver was born into slavery but grew up free. He was discouraged at every turn from even really being part of society, but became a scientist and inventor anyway. He was creative and courageous, and had to fight many uphill battles.

Who would you want offering you direction on how to steer your life toward more greatness?

Prove your can’t

A couple of days after I conceived of the title of this post, Rob Jones was on an episode of Jocko Willink's podcast titled I can't vs. I won't, so of course the whole thought process for the post changed.

And then I listened to David Goggins on Joe Rogan's podcast and got more inspiration.

And then I heard Li'l Misty Diaz on Cal Fussman's podcast. So it changed again.

Let's meet these people.

Goggins' dad was a sex trafficker, moving prostitutes across the border from Canada to Buffalo. He didn't believe in sending his kids to school — instead, they worked at a roller rink at night, then slept while their mom worked a bar until 3 a.m. Dad beat the kids and mom, and mom finally left when Goggins was 8, moving the kids to a small town in Indiana where racism was rampant.

He wanted to be an Air Force special operations agent. He failed the test twice, but got a tutor and managed to pass it the third time. He was also afraid of the water and after six weeks of toughing out a training program, the military tested him for sickle cell and found he had a trait for it, so they sat him out for a week.

Goggins had quit everything he'd ever done, so until he was sidelined, he wanted to prove he had changed. After he sat out his week, he figured he could push through the final three weeks, but his commanding officer (CO) told him he had to start the training from the beginning. He couldn't imagine going back through that, so he told his CO the sickle cell discovery scared him and he got a medical excuse out of the special ops unit.

He had quit again.

He went on to do a job that didn't require any work in the water, and put on 120 pounds, then left the Air Force and went to work for an exterminator. Eventually he saw a show on Discovery Channel that struck a chord with him and he decided he wanted to be a Navy SEAL.

He finally found a recruiter who would sign him up for the path. His prior stint in the Air Force helped him, but at 6'1" and 297 pounds, he had 90 days to lose 106 pounds to meet the weight requirement for the SEAL teams.

The next night he went back to work at the exterminator, and decided that wasn't going to be his life. He walked off the job and, as he puts it, became "a guy who didn't exist." He went hard. He sought discomfort. He lost the weight, got into the class and went through 3 SEAL hell weeks in a year. He didn't make it through the first, but he did through the other two.

After his service, he became an endurance runner and motivator.

Yes, these two photos are the same person.

Just wake the fuck up! I get asked all the time how do I do it- how do I find the motivation to workout everyday? Well, that so-called motivation died out 30k running miles ago. I'm sorry, there is no secret. Some people write books, articles, etc., on ways for you to find motivation to workout. Most of it is BS. I speak from experience. You don't become 300lbs twice in your life because you love running! Yes, some people love working out, well Merry Christmas to you. Personally I hate the shit! Every morning putting on those fucking running shoes and then stepping outside in the cold, hot, rain, snow, etc. You get my point. I’m just keeping it real! Yes, attitude is everything but shit still sucks! This is why in 2014 the obesity rates were 34.3% in men and 38.3% in women. The shit sucks...period! On your bad days, when you feel like a tortured soul, that is when you can really win the battle against yourself! If, on your worst days you can pull off your best performances, that's when your mind truly starts to shift! Win that battle and it will move the mental needle! It's easy to win when life's your best friend but when it's choking you out is when you truly grow. Sometimes there is no light at the end of the fucking tunnel but you still have to go in!!!! There may be no light at the end but, there is a better you! Start conditioning your mind to walk in the darkness. Trust me, the more you walk in it the better your eyes will adjust to it!

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Join me at 2pm EST/11am PST with @joerogan - http://joerogan.live

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Rob Jones joined the Marine Corps Reserve during his junior year in college as a combat engineer. He and his team would be responsible for using explosives and detecting buried IEDs. After graduation, he would be deployed to Iraq in 2008 and later Afghanistan in 2010.

After a landmine exploded near him in Afghanistan, he had both legs amputated just above the knee.

It took over a year for him to heal, and eventually he left the Marines with an honorable discharge.

What's a wounded Marine with no legs to do?

Row his way into the Paralympics and win a bronze medal, of course. And then cycle across the US. And then run 31 marathons in 31 days.

You can read in more detail on his website.


Misty Diaz is called Li'l Misty because she is about 4'4" and weighs 78 pounds. No, she's not 9 years old. She's an adult with Myelomeningocele, the most serious form of spina bifida, a condition described as "a birth defect in which the backbone and spinal canal do not close before birth." She walks with the aid of two pink crutches, or sometimes a walker.

Diaz' bio says she started entering races when she was 7, but in talking to Fussman, she says at one point she found herself broke, divorced and wondering what to do, so she signed up for a 5K and started off walking to the mailbox and back so that she'd be able to complete it (which she did, in around an hour).

Now she does 15-mile Spartan races. You know, the ones with the obstacles in them. She also holds some weightlifting records in her weight class.

#MedalMonday 🏅 #TeamWork - Aside from the @goliathgauntlet #OCR race being amazing 🙌🏼 - LETS CHAT ABOUT TEAMWORK ... - I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot. Together we can do great things! - There’s no way I could have gone this far in life without team work. 1. Starts with being a good leader (be the leader you would need in life) 2. Having clear communication. When I have a team I tell them what medial issues I might have and what leg is stronger then the other. 3. Define responsibility (in this video I looked at who had a stronger base..Jayme did. I needed a strong base in order to create a foundation) each one of my TurtleElites teammates had a big role in building this ladder. 4. Be positive and never give up! Is the perfect mix for an amazing team! - What I love about working with a team is we accomplish so much and learn from one another no matter what speed we always reach our end goal, we cheer for one another and hold one another accountable. - Keep working on those goals and create that team! Don’t be afraid to ask for help. #NeverGiveUp #LiveLife100 #Strong @peopleareawesome @medaladdict @bbigivingback

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How are you feeling about "can't" right now?

I conceived this post while I was in the midst of what was then my longest-distance run and still remains my longest-duration run. A few weeks after this run, I went a mile farther, but did it about six minutes faster.

When you think you can’t, take another step. Then another. And another. #running #pr

A post shared by Josh Shear (@joshuanshear) on

I've got nothing on Diaz, Jones or Goggins.

But let's talk about me for a bit, and about Goggins, specifically, because most of us are not ever going to have to deal with losing both our legs above the knee, nor are we likely to suddenly find ourselves with a birth defect we weren't born with.

There are three basic body types: ectomorphic, mesomorphic and endomorphic. Ectomorphs are long and lean. They tend to have problems putting on muscle or fat. Think Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Mesomorphs tend to put on muscle very easily, and are often rectangular and lean. Think Dwayne Johnson. Endomorphs tend to put on both muscle and fat easily, and are often pear-shaped. Think Danny DeVito.

Elite distance runners tend to be ectomorphs; elite sprinters more often are mesomorphs. Endomorphs? We're likely to be elite post-run beer drinkers.

Yep, me and Mr. DeVito both, though to be honest, I don't know anything about Danny DeVito's drinking habits. Or his running habits, as far as that goes.

What I'm getting at is that running doesn't come naturally to me. It's actually very difficult. I don't start enjoying a run until I've been going for 45 minutes or so. At that point, I can finally zone out and not think about how awful it feels.

Of course, in order to run two or three hours at a time, you have to take a few 30- and 40-minute runs a week. [As I prepare for my first full marathon in November, I hope to just make my "shorter" runs over an hour and mostly cut out the annoying ones.] That means I enjoy one or two of my five or six runs a week.

Really, I do it because I'd probably weigh close to 250 pounds if I didn't. Not exactly an ideal weight for someone who is 5'2".

I got started because when I was going to get married, my future sister-in-law (my wife's brother's wife) said we should do a 5K every month until the wedding. We signed up for the Chilly Chili 5K, a mid-January run in Cazenovia, New York. It was 12 degrees at race time.

That was the last one she ran with me.

I did a couple of others, and when we moved to Savannah at the end of the year, I needed a new challenge, so I signed up for a half marathon and trained hard for it.

It wasn't easy. Easy would be sitting on the couch.

When I signed up for the race, if you had told me I had to run it the next day, I would have said, "i can't." I'm no Bert Kreischer, who barely trained for the LA Marathon.

But the fact is, I could have. Running is just one foot in front of the other until you're at the finish line.

Goggins found this out, as well. He could go in the water. He could go through SEAL hell week three times. He could run a 205-mile race, even though the first time he ran he weighed 297 pounds and only eked out a quarter mile.


What are you telling yourself you can't do? Have you proven you can't do it? Have you tried? I mean, really tried? "It's too hard" is not the same as "can't." You (most likely) can't flap your arms fast enough to fly. You (most likely) can't pick up a tractor-trailer and carry it to the nearest port.

You (most likely) can do basically anything you can conceive. Thomas Edison famously took thousands of tries to come up with a filament for the light bulb. When asked about all those failures, he is quoted as saying, "I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that didn't work."

If you're going to say you can't do something. You'd better be able to prove it. Think about Edison. And Rob Jones. And Misty Diaz. And David Goggins. And then try harder.

Jones sums it up best in in a blog post:

I suggest removing the phrase, “I can’t,” from your lexicon and replacing it with, “I can’t YET.” Do this, so that you don’t risk being on your death bed saying, “I didn’t.”

Oh, and in case you need more proof that you can, meet Kyle Maynard, a congenital quad amputee (that means he was born without arms or legs) who went on to become a high school wrestling champion and a mountain climber.

“Books are where they keep the secrets:” Steven Kotler on Unmistakable Creative

Srini Rao recently re-posted his conversation with Steven Kotler, and there were enough reminders in there that I went back through and took some notes to keep my brain on task; maybe it will help you, as well.

Read a lot, and read everything. Read a variety of opinions, sure, but also read about subjects you don't think you're interested in. Just read. Be curious.
Books are where they keep the secrets. Before we had the internet, anyone who knew about things wrote books about it. A lot of people are still writing books.
Know your values. If you're not sure where to start, try "work hard" and "don't lie."
Be fascinated. Kotler says he was fascinated with people turning science fiction into science fact, and the parallel within the art world.
Be ferocious. Sure, you can be playful and have a good time, but be ferocious toward your goal.
Find your thing. You wake up in the morning, says Kotler, and you have to do this thing. Everything else is hogwash.
There are three fail points for creatives. The first is during the first few years, when you're just not making much money and the poverty is too much for you. The second is about 10 years in when you get a chance to play with the big boys, but you're not so well-known that you get to do your own thing — you have to play within their boxes. A third fail point is when creatives forget that their job is to please editors, not themselves. Your book has to be acceptable to the editor, not yourself.
Creative desperation will lead to a high-flow life. When you need to eat, you'll find your groove.
Flow triggers. In the presentation above, you'll see Kotler had, for his book The Rise of Superman, identified 17 flow triggers. For Stealing Fire, he and co-author Jamie Wheal identified several more. None of the flow triggers is particularly difficult. Among common flow triggers:
      — Flow follows focus, so get focused on your task.
      — Intentional practice.
      — Passion and purpose.
      — Risk (doesn't have to be physical).
      — Novelty and unpredictability.
      — Clear goals; understand the next steps.
      — Be able to shut out the rest of the world for a period of focused work.
      — Stretch your comfort level by four percent.
Tools. Don't be afraid to use some tools. They mention a few.
      — Meditation
      — Exercise
      — Focus@Will
      — Electronic music

Other posts about Kotler:

Lessons in exponential growth from Bold by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler
Crazy, coffee and conundrums: Lessons from Abundance by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler
As the brain spins: It takes incremental growth to build toward monumental growth
Kotler on Joe Rogan's podcast

JRE #873 - Steven Kotler from JoeRogan on Vimeo.

Creating from the middle

Some people claim they can only create when they hit a bottom.

Some people claim they can only create when they hit a top.

No doubt a lot of creativity can come from extremes. But what happens the rest of the time?

We can't all be Hunter S. Thompson, whose daily routine would kill most people on the first day.

But we can all be Stephen King, about whom I wrote recently. His advice is to show up, and keep showing up.

Steven Pressfield offers the same advice.

You can certainly do some things to make it easy to maintain some continuity in your creativity. Earnest Hemingway used to stop writing mid-sentence so that he'd have a starting point for the next day. Pablo Picasso, on the other hand, disagreed. He said you can stop if you're willing to leave the work as complete should you die before you get back to it.

Ritual is important to creating. So are habits. And routines.

Nothing's foolproof, of course. Even the greatest slip up sometimes.

But if you keep showing up, your chances of success get much better.

Coloring outside the lines

When Hurricane Irma was coming toward us in September, we were scheduled for a trip to Central New York for a family wedding.

We were at the car rental counter when we landed, and inquired about adding days onto our rental if that became necessary — the day we were scheduled to return to Savannah was the day Irma was expected to hit the area, making our return on that day unlikely and our ultimate return day uncertain.

The clerk at the counter wasn't confident that we'd be able to extend our reservation, especially with the same car, but she suggested that we call the agency we booked the car through to check.

"Hypothetically speaking," I asked her, "what if our flight were to get moved to, say, Wednesday, and we just didn't bring your car back until then?"

She explained that if we were able to extend the reservation, it wouldn't be a problem, but otherwise, they'd give the car to someone else.

It took several go-arounds for me to make my point. We were scheduled to bring the car back Monday, and they could therefore rent the car to someone else on Monday.

In order for her to hand someone else the keys to the car, though, we would have to bring the car back. What if we didn't?

She simply couldn't conceive of someone not following the rules.


In a coloring book, the lines constrain an image, but not a palette. An object is offered, but the scene is not. Take this gorilla with a bow tie, for instance:

The gorilla has a proud expression on its face, but outside of the animal straightening a bow tie, we have no context. Coloring inside the lines augments the subject, but still doesn't give us any context. Did the gorilla steal the bow tie from a zoo visitor? Is there a formal dance at the panda display? Is the gorilla crashing the Academy Awards?

If you want to tell a story, it's the part outside the lines that is most important.


The law of the instrument says, in its most famous iteration, if you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

It's really a story about education — one early version says:

Give a boy a hammer and chisel; show him how to use them; at once he begins to hack the doorposts, to take off the corners of shutter and window frames, until you teach him a better use for them, and how to keep his activity within bounds.

Within bounds? That will sound familiar to my Masonic brethren.

In Freemasonry, when we speak of bounds, we're talking generally about "keeping our passions within due bounds," that is to say, even in the face of anger or frustration, we are to keep a level head and treat people politely.

What it doesn't mean, though, is to treat every situation in the same way.

We have leeway to come up with reasonable solutions. So too, the child with the hammer and chisel. There are times when it is perfectly reasonable to use a hammer and chisel.


You could use the face of a hammer to break the safety glass and the claw to pull a fire alarm. You could play pool with the grip as a cue.

You could use a hammer to open a bottle or can, set a broken nose or make mashed potatoes.

You could carry a thin sheet of hot metal.

Each case would certainly be within due bounds, if unorthodox. Except the setting a broken nose bit. I'm pretty sure that's exactly how they do it. If you've ever seen my nose and noticed sort of a re-curve in the bridge, that's an over-corrected broken nose, and it looks exactly like someone took a hammer to it.


Duncker's candle problem is a cognitive exercise in which a subject is placed at a table next to a wall. On the table are a candle, a book of matches or a lighter, and a cardboard box of thumbtacks.

The charge is to light the candle and walk away, but ensure that no wax drips on the table.

The solution is to empty the box of tacks, tack the box to the wall, and place the candle in the box.

The success rate when Duncker first proposed the exercise was fairly low.

If the same items are presented but with the tacks piled on the table next to the box, the success rate is almost 100 percent.


I don't know this for sure, but I'm guessing the linear, inside-the-lines thinking that gives people trouble creating scenes around a coloring-book gorilla, makes Duncker's exercise difficult and makes it hard to understand that someone might not follow established norms is learned.

I know our education system is based on a factory model, though increasingly we have de-institutionalized ways around that, from MOOCs to on-demand boutique learning through sites like Udemy or Creative Live or The Great Courses Plus, to tutorials on YouTube on anything from changing your oil to installing a water heater to building a shed.

Without allowing creative thought and nonlinear problem solving to take a larger role in our development through schooling (and subsequently through our largely institutionalized workplaces), we're going to have fewer and fewer people to take the sorts of shots that Elon Musk, Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil are taking, or that Astro Teller is looking for over at Google X.

Let's think differently and make the world much more amazing.

No more bad art

It's going to be a few weeks of reaching deep for me.

Stephen King's advice to writers includes this important bit:

Write every single day.
 
"Once I start work on a project, I don't stop, and I don't slow down unless I absolutely have to," says King. "If I don't write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind ... I begin to lose my hold on the story's plot and pace."
 
If you fail to write consistently, the excitement for your idea may begin to fade. When the work starts to feel like work, King describes the moment as "the smooch of death." His best advice is to just take it "one word at a time."

Seth Godin blogs every damn day.

A few things converged recently in my life. We had an inspiring conversation with Jon Vroman. After I read his book, I picked up Bill Morrissey's Edson again. It reminds me a of few things:

  1. You can feel old when you're young, if you want. The story's protagonist is 37 and at the end of his rope when the novel opens.
  2. Life is short. The author died shortly before he turned 60.
  3. Share. Just as I was introduced to Morrissey by Tommy Shea (formerly of the Springfield (Mass.) Republican), Morrissey introduced me to Mississippi John Hurt.
  4. Give. Morrissey signed eight copies of his book for me one night after a concert and reading. That took some time for him, especially with a room full of people who wanted to talk to him, and he left me a nice inscription.

Around the same time, my old friend James O'Brien popped up in my Facebook feed with some new old music.

O'Brien was the first artist whose music made sense to me after 9/11. I always think about him this time of year.

His song "War Has Come" reminds me where some of my privileges lay, but also that they come with a responsibility.

It's easy to write a bullet. It does not hiss, it is not close to me. It's easy to write a wound. I've never clamped a femoral artery.

It also reminds me that art requires internal war — and is sometimes itself an act of war.

When I was on Cesspool, I was asked who my dream podcast guests were. I deferred. I've already interviewed Joan Jett and Bruce Campbell and David Clayton-Thomas and some other great talents. I said I wanted to have something to offer the Marc Marons and Joe Rogans of the world.

I've been sitting on that thought for five years, and I've done a little toward it, but not enough.

So I'm reminded, again, of John Baldessari's purge. It marked a turning point for him, but it was a calculated turning point. He didn't wake up one day and say, "Fuck this old shit I did, it was terrible!" He decided what would serve as a reminder of his past, but that didn't need to take up space for him anymore.

So I'm starting today, planning my purge. It'll probably be a weeks-long process, but it will mean improvements, I hope. In my life, in the content I produce, for the future, and for my legacy.

Onward.

More: Who challenges you?

What passion and purpose look (sound) like

John-Speaking

In the early 2000s, one of Jon Vroman's friends challenged him to run an ultramarathon. That's two full marathons back to back — 52.4 miles — and Vroman hadn't ever run more than a couple of miles before.

One day on a training run, Vroman, who at that time was a successful sales coach, suggested they use the race as a fundraiser.

They had a hard time picking a charity so they did the next best thing: created one.

The Front Row Foundation works with terminally ill patients and their families to provide "front row moments" at recipients' dream events. It's not just tickets to the event. The organization makes an amazing overall experience, from limo pickups to nice dinners to meet-and-greets when possible.

Nikki, for example, suffers from HER2-Positive Stage IV Breast Cancer. She's a life-long Dallas Cowboys fan. Check out how Front Row Foundation hooked her up:

Vroman's gone on to become a speaker and coach, and is author of The Front Row Factor: Transform Your Life with the Art of Moment Making.

The book is really inspiring, and so is Jon. He graced us with over an hour of discussion over on the JKWD Podcast. Give it a listen and learn how to win a personalized hardcover copy of the book.

Love and hate

It's so much easier to love than to hate.

Watch a couple of Alex Jones videos, then watch a couple by Jon Vroman.

Sure, Jones has more views. But looking at them and listening to them, whose life would you rather have? The one who yells a lot, or the one who smiles a lot?

Misery loves company. It needs you to be there. Love can go solo, but welcomes you along.

Your choice.