Share your input

Like last week, I'm going to share a little something I learned on one of James Altucher's podcasts. [See my favorite podcasts]

Altucher spoke with Austin Kleon, who, among other things, creates poetry by blacking out large chunks of newspaper articles, leaving only the words that form his works. It has both a written and visual element, and includes some of the built-in commentary that nothing is truly new, it's just a reorganization of something that exists.

Kleon said two things on that podcast that I found interesting.

One was that when we make something, we should record the process, because the process is also of interest to people.

This, of course, is not new. There have been "the making of..." documentaries on movies and TV shows for decades now. But it might be something a lot of solo or small-group creators don't think about. In addition to selling your finished product, you can sell a thing (book, DVD, whatever) about how you made the product.

The other thing was this. When using social media, you don't have to share your output every day, but you should share your input. That is, you may not want to tell people what you're working on that day, but tell people what you consumed – if you're learning from it, let someone else learn from it, as well.

I'm doing more listening than reading these days, most of it to the podcasts I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, and I'm trying out some silence at times of the day when I normally wouldn't have silence.

I'm also re-reading The Four-Hour Workweek; it makes a lot more sense to me than it used to.

What's your input look like these days?

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Be willing to be laughed at occasionally

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the podcasts I'm listening to, and there are a couple of takeaways I want to share over the next couple of weeks.

On James Altucher's recent podcast with Stephen Dubner (of Freakonomics fame), one of the things Dubner mentions is that we're afraid to be laughed at.

The context is this. You know those meetings that start off with someone saying, "There are no stupid ideas," and then someone vocalizes an idea everybody thinks is stupid, everyone laughs uncomfortably and no one comes up with anything mildly interesting the rest of the meeting? Well, maybe if we can spit out all the ideas that people will think are stupid and laugh a lot, we'll get the crap out and get to the good stuff.

Because when the good stuff and the crap are all mixed in together, it's hard to separate them until you've said them aloud. And if you don't say them aloud because you're afraid to get laughed at, they just stay inside, where they're not doing anyone any good.

Also, laughing's good for you. It releases dopamine and works your abs. Plus, it's infectious, like yawning.

Altucher has more of a guide to coming up with ideas over on his blog. He also wrote about laughter recently.

[photo credit]

Saying thanks: Wedding vendors

It's now under three months until my wedding. We've been blessed in this process by having talented friends and family who we love and who love us. Only our flower vendor (whom I'll also mention here) was a stranger at the start of our process. As you plan your events, we recommend everybody here. Tell them we sent you!

Flowers: Backyard Garden. I really wanted no part of the flower plans. If I can't eat it, I'm not interested in learning how to grow it, and if I need an allergy pill to pin it to my lapel, I'd rather just skip it. But Nino took us through the shop and into his consultation room, which basically looks like a dining room with a big TV on the wall. He offered us coffee, asked some questions, picked up a remote and showed us some slides. He's followed up with us on colors exactly on the schedule he outlined, and we're looking forward to the final product.

Photos: Kelvin Ringold, Custom Photogenics. Kelvin is one of my oldest friends, and he's part of that group of people we were both friends with before we started dating, so he's known us and our relationship the whole time. Kelvin's a talented human, not just photographer. He writes newsletters, he's a public speaker, he's a life coach. Kelvin and I eat lunch together about twice a month, share our lives and how we're improving ourselves. Send him some business, if you would.

DJ: Geoff "Deaf Geoff" Herbert. Geoff is a friend I made on Twitter back in 2009, when Syracuse was first starting to use the paltform to build a community, before the university embraced it. He's a multi-talented pop culture observer. He's an entertainment producer, disc jockey and former on-air talent. And he's deaf. He speaks not only to students who want to be in radio, but also to groups of deaf young people to show them what's possible for them, to expand their horizons.

Favors: Simmons Ink & Stitch. Reggie and his wife Lysa are a new business. I used to play racquetball with Reggie, who has the sort of laugh you can hear for a quarter mile, and that's how I learned he was doing this for work. I was walking through a mall to see a friend at an art shop, and I thought I heard Reggie laughing, so I wandered in that direction, and there he was. They spent an hour with me showing me what was possible, and we found something that we truly loved, and, by letting us do some of our own craftwork, they helped us keep within our budget.

Venue and food: The Ridge. The Ridge is a lovely 9-hole golf course with a tavern that some of Jen's cousins bought and remodeled. The course has some great views, and the food at the tavern is fantastic, as is the atmosphere. They love bourbons and beer, always keeping a couple of special craft selections around. Make the trip out there. In fact, get in touch and we'll make plans to go play and eat.

Officiant: Frank D'Agostino. Frank is one of the funniest people we both know, another friend I made on Twitter alongside Geoff. He's a goofball, but he's a grown-up, in that he knows when to be serious. He may be a Yankees fan, but he's one of the best people in my life, and his family and ours have certainly been mutually supportive. He got a license when we asked him to marry us, so he can marry you, too.

Podcasts I’m listening to

Note: Updated 12 Aug. 2014 with Marc Maron's WTF.

One of my new favorite things is listening to podcasts. Better than listening to music for taking my mind off the pounding I give my knees on a run and requiring less attention than audiobooks, I'm picking up useful information and being entertained.

These are some of my favorites right now. Please share yours; I'm just getting into them, so I'd love some recommendations.

The Tim Ferriss Show. You know Tim Ferriss from the 4-Hour series (work week, body, chef) and maybe from his television show, which I haven't seen. His podcast is new (as of this writing, there are three episodes; there might be a fourth by the time this publishes), and very entertaining. Life-hacking, entrepreneurship, self-experimentation, meditation and more are subjects discussed in long-form entertaining interviews over copious amounts of wine (seriously, I think episode 3 is almost a constant pour over two hours). On Twitter: @tferriss

The James Altucher Show. I'm a big fan of Altucher's books (Choose Yourself! and others), his writing, and his weekly Twitter Q&A. I waited a little while to start listening to his podcast (he announced it in January), but I'm glad I did. He has some great guests, and his shows are generally a much more manageable length (35-60 minutes) than Ferriss's, if that's an issue for you. On Twitter: @jaltucher

Brew/Drink/Run. This is exactly what it sounds like. Home brewing beer, drinking craft beer, and running. They brew at all levels, from starter kits to complicated all-grain recipes. They run at all levels, from an endurance athlete to people who struggle to get a mile in some days, and they review beers that aren't your average Miller Lite. It's a very entertaining crew, and you might pick up a little something here and there. On Twitter: @BrewDrinkRun

Foundation. This is a podcast by Kevin Rose, the founder of Digg and the guy who decides which startups Google Ventures writes big checks to. He has some wildly interesting people on the podcast, talking about entrepreneurship. There aren't a lot of people giving away content who are having conversations with Elon Musk and David Copperfield. Take advantage of it. On Twitter: @KevinRose

Snap Judgment and The Moth. I put these two together because they have similar offerings. You can hear both on NPR stations across the country, and both feature storytellers, often in a performance environment. Snap does some long-form feature reporting as well. I don't know that there's much crossover in terms of people who tell stories, but I'd suggest giving them both a listen. On Twitter: @SnapJudgment and @TheMoth

Addendum: WTF with Marc Maron. Holy crap. Mark Maron is a comedian I never heard of until recently, and he's had one of the top-rated podcasts on iTunes for a few years now. He's 500-something episodes in, releases two or three a week, and has amazing guests. Like Robin Williams (2010), Claire Danes (there was mutual fandom there) and Bob Newhart. Maron was part of the crash-and-burn standup crowd, coming up with Sam Kinison and doing too many drugs and drinking too much. He has a show on IFC ("Maron"), still tours, and, in addition to his interviews, speaks to his audience about his life – his neuroses, his health, his relationships, what have you. He's incredibly relatable, and every interview is a conversation with what seems like an old friend.

Sports talk: Colin Cowherd

A lot of you know I'm a sports fan. And a lot of you have probably gathered through reading the blog, or spending time with me, that I appreciate smart people.

If you're not listening to Colin Cowherd's show The Herd, give it a go. It runs from 10am to 1pm Eastern on ESPN Radio (that's 97.7 FM if you're in CNY). You don't need to be a sports fan. Seriously.

Cowherd tackles his subject from a very honest place. He understands that he works at a large company, one owned by Disney. He also understands that he works for one of the few successful cable channels out there, the top sports channel out there, and that his company gives him three hours every weekday on national radio because he's smart and he's confident in his views.

So if he thinks his company screwed something up, he'll tell you.

And that extends elsewhere. If he thinks the NFL screwed something up, he'll tell you.

If he think you screwed something up, he'll tell you.

He doesn't take idiocy well. If you call into the show, you'd better be smart or entertaining, or prepare to be hung up on and ridiculed on air.

And he enjoys having people on the show who aren't just known for sports, like Mark Cuban (whom you might know from the TV show "Shark Tank" and other ventures outside of his ownership of the Dallas Mavericks) and on occasion someone like Malcolm Gladwell.

If you're not a sports fan, give him 10 minutes one day and 10 minutes another day here and there; his job is sports, but I think you'll learn something way beyond that industry.

Focus

I was scrolling through my blog archives a bit and noticing that you can really tell what's going on in my life by what I'm writing. I know that sounds common, but I rarely use this space to diarize. Instead, I've used the space to give myself motivation by attempting to give you motivation. Those times when I tell you to go out and create? I'm feeling creatively stifled and am really telling myself to go out and create.

So this week, I'm passing along some steps to help you get focused. To help me get focused.

I've been feeling a little...unsettled lately. For the past five weeks, we've been trying to squeeze in some naps as we get the house on the market, get a little outside time, do the work to be raised in Freemasonry, and to continue to grow. Oh yeah, and we're planning that wedding thing, too. Sheesh.

I haven't even picked up a book in almost a month.

Things are finally settling down a touch. We're able to reconnect with the people who matter to us (we even wound up having an impromptu barbecue the other night, with no stressful preparation or cleanup). We're able to get back to activities that matter to us, and to really find a little more time to focus on things like laundry and holding hands, instead of things like painting ceilings and moving beds.

Seek, but also offer, opportunities for redemption

I was out on the golf course for the first time this season with a friend. We're not good golfers. We enjoy the sun and the fresh air and the sound and feel of hitting a good shot, which, you know, comes occasionally. And sometimes that occasional good shot comes after pulling up on the ball and taking four strokes to hit the ball 10 yards. You keep your head down and knees bent and the next swing sends the ball 115 yards to the green.

"This is a great game," I said after such a stretch on the 12th fairway. "There's an opportunity for redemption with every shot."

It got me thinking about things like mistakes, and grudges. That every time we make a mistake, we shouldn't beat ourselves up over it — instead, we should take a deep breath (or two, or eight), and figure out the steps for finding redemption, and then follow them.

And we should learn a lesson from our finding redemption: Offer it to others. If they make a mistake, forgive them, reach out to offer an opportunity for redemption.

Living with others, and ourselves, is that easy.

Becoming a Freemason

One of the more interesting and worthwhile endeavors I've undertaken recently is becoming a Freemason. I'll be raised to Master Mason (3rd degree, for those not in the know) on April 15 – any brothers reading are certainly welcome to visit for the degree ceremony (meeting at 7 p.m., Lodge details here and the usual visiting rules apply, of course).

I have a family connection to the Fraternity: both of my grandfathers were Masons. While I didn't really know my paternal grandfather, Milton Shear (he died when I was 2), I was close with my maternal grandfather, Bernard Tuttle, who I knew growing was a Shriner, but I didn't recognize his connection to Masonry until he died. He was a 32nd degree Mason, and I was recently sent his degree certificate, which is an interesting artifact, as well as an heirloom, which I'll of course have framed.

I also have, through Freemasonry, a connection to some great people throughout history, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, a total of 52 signers of the Declaration of Independence and at least 16 U.S. presidents (including Gerald Ford, who was a 33rd degree Mason, the highest degree).

Groucho Marx is famously credited as having said that he wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have him for a member, and when I was at the other end of that spectrum – looking for a club to belong to that wasn't actively seeking me as a member – I went looking to the Freemasons.

I first wrote to my local Lodge in application over a year ago, in March of 2013. I didn't hear from them for a couple of months, when several Lodge members came to the house to interview me, and then I didn't hear from them again for almost six months, when I was told the initiation ceremony for the first degree (Entered Apprentice) would take place in December. After being initiated, it was again six weeks before I was contacted, and mentored through the degree work; I was passed to Fellowcraft in March of this year.

There seem to be few things, these days, that take preparation, time and work, and largely take place through the mail and in people's living rooms.

Since I've told some friends that I'm undertaking this endeavor, there are two questions I get a lot:

(1) Didn't you at one time actually have to be a mason to become a Freemason? and
(2) Aren't the Freemasons a secret society? Why are you telling me?

To answer the first, yes. Operative masons – people who built buildings – were the first Freemasons, and Speculative Masonry, which is what Freemasonry is today, can be traced back, at least on paper, to 1717, and still uses as spiritual tools common operative masonic tools, like the square and compasses, which are prominently displayed on Lodge buildings and pretty much everywhere throughout the Freemasonic world.

To answer the second, well, kinda sorta not really. Question mark? You can always tell a Lodge by the square and compasses on the side of the building. Masons are not asked to keep their membership a secret. Many of their works are public, from appearances in parades to Shriners hospitals and circuses to (in some states, like New York) the Child Identification Program (CHIP) to places like the Masonic Care Community in Utica.

And there's plenty of information on the Web, and of course in books, many of them written by Masons, so they'd know.

Some people look at the names of Freemasons – Washington, Franklin, Adolf Fredrick (18th century king of Sweden), Salvador Allende, both Leopold and Wolfgang Mozart, James Naismith, Gene Autry, Count Basie, Simon Bolivar – and think with all that power and celebrity, there must be some conspiracy at hand. I looked at the list of Freemasons and said, hey, if all those great people wanted to be a part of this, I want to be a part of it, too.

Anyway, that's the long version. But it's one of the things I'm up to these days.

It’s spring; who’s ready to get outside?

We're starting to be able to get outside here in Central New York. It occurs to me that, with today being April 2, it hasn't actually been a longer winter than others, it's just been a little more brutal — no thaws to speak of, and extra cold.

It also featured something (two things, depending on whom you ask) called a polar vortex. I still don't really understand what that means, but I didn't like it.

Anyway.

It's time to be running outside, waiting on the ground to dry a little so we can get some yard work done, and of course I'm back to watching parkour videos. These inspire me for a few reasons:

(1) While there must be a healthy dose of fear involved, freerunners by and large don't show it. I heard a freerunner say something about a 15-foot gap once, and I look around at my 12'x12' home office and think, "If I had a full running start, I could maybe come close." But to think about jumping between roofs 15 feet apart and 10 stories up is just— I don't have a word.

(2) Although a lot of parkour videos look improvised, the truth is a lot of rehearsal tends to go in, especially for people who cover ground. It's one thing to improvise some railing swings on a wheelchair ramp, but it's another entirely to know what's around the corner or over a wall. You can see some of that practice going on here:

PARKOUR REEL from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

(3) It lends some itself to creativity not only the action, but also in the animation and direction.

[ PARKOUR ] from Tonner Vi on Vimeo.

What's inspiring you this spring?

Intuition

I've just read two books back-to-back that largely teach about intuition. This wasn't intentional; I picked one ebook up while it happened to be free, and I just happened to be reading at it the same time I visited the library and picked out another book based solely on its title.

They both happened to be about the same thing, so maybe it was the universe just telling me I need to listen to my gut more.

The first was Trialogue by Colin Wright, still a deal at $2.99, by the way. It's about a small-town guy, working a dead-end job, generally being miserable, and then one day they're filming a movie in town.

The long and short of it is this: He manages to escape from his tedious life as part of the crew, thanks to the movie star. There's something sinister afoot, too, but I'll leave that bit to your reading. The important lesson here is that our protagonist does really well in the industry by listening to an internal voice tell him how these things work.

It's his intuition that directs him, and he chooses to listen to that and it helps.

OK, so that was a novel, but the other book I read recently was Mind Reader, by Lior Suchard, that guy up at the top irritating Jay Leno and freaking out Kim Kardashian.

He writes about intuition as well, and specifically about the appearance in the video – he was looking for something to do on the show that was different from his previous appearance, and a few days before the appearance he learned he would appear with Kim Kardashian and boom! his intuition gave him the answer.

The lesson here is listen to that voice inside you. It knows something.