I Need Help

"I Need Help"

That was the subject of an email I sent a couple weeks ago to the SmallBox leadership team. I'd had a tough week. My stress levels had been high for several months, along with my blood pressure. Various health issues were perking up asking for attention. I was ending every day pretty wiped out. Things had to change. 

Although I often tell my team that they should ask for help I'm not very good practicing what I preach. The craziness of reinventing SmallBox along with numerous other commitments pushed me to a breaking point and I had no choice but to reach out for help. The problem is that I had waited too long. It had already negatively affected my health and happiness. I shouldn't have waited. I was becoming a "heroic worker".

My pride was getting in the way. Asking for help requires vulnerability which is seen in our culture as a weakness. Of course, asking for help isn't a weakness but I still struggle with that cultural construct every day. 

Asking for help means you can't do it all, you have limits and you are not a superhero. This is a truth we all know but many of us buy into the illusion that we can do it all. That we can say "yes" to whatever is asked of us. We also live with the fear of admitting that we can't do it all- appearing weak. The question becomes, what wins? Too often fear and illusion trump the truth.

There are limits to our abilities. We all need help. Hopefully I get better at asking for it. 

Growth Is Annoying

“ I want to grow” I’ve said it many times. But do I really want to grow or do I just want the byproduct of growth? When it’s happening I feel sore and a little beat up. I don’t look forward to it. If I could I would probably just leap to what’s next. But growth is in the way.

“Growth spurt”. When this happens to kids you can see it, measure it. But as an adult it is hard to measure growth. For instance, in my life right now I'm struggling with vision in some areas, business things mostly. Moving between clarity and confusion on a daily basis. Maybe I’m growing. But it’s hard to tell in the moment. In the past when I’ve looked back on these times I saw growth. 

I know, I know. This is how you learn, this is how you go from good to great. I get all that. But it doesn’t make it any easier. It still sucks when you're in it.

In Ed Catmull’s book “Creativity Inc” he talked about the tunnel. He explained that the creative process is like going into a long tunnel and the only reason you keep going is because you have been in tunnels before and know they have an end. I feel like I’m in a tunnel now. But like Ed's story, I've been here before so I'm not too freaked out. 

But I will say that sometimes I can feel a little manic during these tunnel times. Oscillating between highs and lows. I can feel like a car stuck in the mud suddenly sputtering forward. It’s not just a mental thing, it’s all of my energy. 

When you start working out they (those trainer people) tell you to take off a day in-beween workouts. To let your body rest, for muscles to build. What if our mind needed similar intervals of activity and rest? It's basically a muscle, right? Maybe these stops and starts are natural and healthy. Light and dark, winter and summer. Growth may work in a similar way- stops and starts. A cycle. Maybe I can come to see in the stops a natural cadence, something to expect and respect. Maybe then I will see the beauty in the process of growth. But right now it's just annoying.

Why The Medium Matters

Some have scratched their heads at the recent vinyl record resurgence. Why would all these “kids” want to spend $20-30 for a record when they can just get it free or cheap online? Isn’t it the same music? Add to this a rediscovery of cassette tapes as a cheap, effective way to release music. Yes, people are buying cassettes again. Even VHS has some diehard fans. Millions of DVDs and CDs are still being made and purchased. Essentially taking digital files and putting them in a box and upping the price. Why not just download the files? There isn’t a real difference in terms of the viewing experience. Why bother with buying the “thing”? Aren’t we trying to de-clutter and get rid of all our stuff?

Here’s the thing, the medium matters. The medium can change the experience, it can make something more “real”. Sure, sometimes the medium is a nostalgic one, it can take you back–listening to cassettes on your Walkman while lying in bed as a teenager. But it isn’t just a nostalgic experience. It is a visceral one. It deepens and expands the experience. I know from years of experience that listening to a vinyl record is altogether a different experience from streaming digital files. Sure, if you blindfolded me I might not be able to tell the difference half the time but that misses the point. My eyes aren’t closed when I listen to a record, I am looking at the jacket or browsing other records to find what’s next. Listening to a record is a tactile, sensory experience. There is no separating the two.

Physical objects can act as bridges, companions and bookmarks. They can bridge our past and present, they can connect our senses, they can bring together people, they travel with us. An effective object demands presence and focus. It whispers in our ears “take care of me and I’ll take care of you.” It is a constant companion as we navigate all the changes in our lives. The object externalizes and bookmarks our journey. Our brains are wired for recognition and struggle with recall. Every object we own has the power to trigger memories that might disappear otherwise. 

Humans have always been fascinated by the flickering of a fire or the song of a bird. We spent millennium finding ways to capture and reproduce those experiences. It wasn’t just to play the experience on repeat but to own it, to touch and feel it. The power of a vinyl record is as much the visual of seeing the sound in those grooves and marveling at how the tiniest diamond in the world could so wonderfully bring a sound back to life! The magic of  “motion pictures” wasn’t just on the screen, it was the film we could hold in our hand, looking at the individual frames, marveling at how they could somehow turn back into motion. We weren’t just looking to capture sound and vision to reproduce it. We had to hold and touch it. We needed to feel it. The medium matters, almost as much as the content it holds. 

My Constant Companion: Tinnitus #thinkkit

in response to today's ThinkKit.org prompt: Do you hear what I hear? Tell us about a sound. What do you hear in your house or at work?

I remember the first time my ears rang. I was 15 or 16 and had just finished my first band practice. I lay in bed and listened to my ears ring that night. It was something of a novelty and I didn’t think much of it. As I got older, and played more live music at high volume, I got to know that ring even better. It usually showed up around bedtime and was gone in the morning. Or at least I didn’t notice it in the morning. But in the last few years the ring hasn’t gone away in the morning. It’s always there, sometimes quiet in the background and sometimes impossible to ignore. Although I do still play live music and go to concerts I almost always wear hearing protection. Even a loud voice can set it off now. Sudden noises are the worst. I can be easily startled by a sharp, loud noise. It definitely has an impact on my nerves and stress. It can make it hard to be in public sometimes, especially at night, since crowded, loud places can be very hard on my ears. 

This condition is called tinnitus. I assumed it was caused by years of playing and listening to music. Which probably has something to do with it. But the weird thing about tinnitus is that no-one really understands how it works. Recent studies have even suggested that the sound doesn’t originate in the ear but in the brain. I’ve done a ton of research on it and experimented with different supplements and diets. Some days the ringing dims, so I know this is fixable. I need to get to the source and begin controlling my diet and environment towards a future where I don’t live with that constant ring in my ears. The most I could move the needle was when I quit caffeine/coffee for a week. I’m back to a cup in the morning and when I cheat and have some in the afternoon I can generally expect increased ringing that night. 

Pretty much all of us live with some constant companion in our lives. It might not be in our ears, it could be a knee that hurts, or emotional or physical abuse that lingers. There really isn’t any human being walking this earth that doesn’t carry with them some kind of companion like my ringing ears. Although these companions can be burdens they can also be teachers. Teaching us to listen to our bodies, know our minds and begin owning our existence. My ringing ears keep me in check. They let me know when I get too out of whack and veer towards unhealthy activities. So I try to be grateful for the ringing, it is a reminder that I must actively care for myself. ut I still plan to show tinnitus the door as soon as possible. 


Sweat and Sound #thinkkit

This post is part of the SmallBox Think Kit project. An annual month long (January) blogging event where people from all over the world reflect on the past year and the one to come. Get a prompt every day and blog as much or little as you want. Learn more and sign up at thinkkit.org

In response to the 1/3/15 prompt: "No screens, no technology – what did you do with your hands this year?"

This past summer I took off the month of July to see what would happen. I wanted to rediscover my natural state of being. What would I do with my time when I didn't have a calendar or business to answer to? It turns out I tend to gravitate towards mechanical, manual, analog activities. 

I spent a week working on my house. The hard work, and sweat, felt cleansing. I ended long days feeling tired and ready for sleep but not drained. While my body did the "work" my mind was free to wander. Ideas appeared, connections were made. Sometimes clarity arrived. I felt strong, mentally and physically. 

I also spent a week alone in a cabin in northern Michigan. Well, actually two cabins. My intention was to use this time to work on a book. But I kept being drawn to my guitar. By the end of the first day I'd written and recorded three songs. Another three came the next day. I felt guilty for not getting much done on the book. But I couldn't stop the songs.

Songwriting and recording used to be a huge part of my life. But between family and business, the last 10 years haven't had much space for it. And it needs space. Wide open solitary space. At least for me. I need to be alone and know that I won't be disturbed. It's a pretty vulnerable experience to write and record music. Especially if you are using your voice. I don't have a great singing voice so it's particularly challenging for me to get into that safe space. I love my life but it doesn't have many solitary spaces. People are always around. 

Back in the cabin, around day 3, I gave up and accepted that the project I was there to complete was an album not a book. Over the course of that week I wrote and recorded 16 songs. They formed something of a song cycle. I was processing new ideas from Alan Watts lectures I was listening to during that week- Alan was my only companion, so to speak. I was working through my relationship with my dad, my wife, my kids and, most of all, my "self". I shared the recordings with a few friends when I returned. They are pretty primitive since I didn't have much more than a guitar with me. I plan to re-record them this year. I decided to post them online despite my hesitancy in sharing something as personal as this. Maybe other people might find meaning or beauty in them. I certainly have. It was like having a much needed conversation with my self. One that continues. 

I end this year knowing a little more about what brings me joy and happiness. It's working with my hands and creating things. It's long conversations with fascinating people. I find great joy in seeing others do what they love, to stand on the side of the stage and see them shine. To know I had a hand in helping them do what they love. But I also enjoy building the stage, setting up the sound system and getting everything just right. I love manual, mechanical work. Work that I can see with my eyes and touch with my hands. Laying a physical foundation for something new is what I love the most. The more virtual something is, the harder it is for me to care. I need to feel to feel.