More about Having a Thing

More about Having a Thing

One of the strangest things I think I’ve seen on social media is an almost rage from some when someone shares with them something they associate with that person. By this I mean…let’s just say someone is really into flying kites. Articles about kites are written every spring and people share the articles with the kite flyer…who’s probably seen the articles because they’re really into kites. Instead of a polite, “Thank you,” and moving on, it becomes this:

People, I am really into kites…do you not think that I haven’t seen the things you share with me since that is my thing?! I see these articles weeks before the rest of you — there’s no reason to keep sending me these things, so stop!

The Horror!

If the New York Times, Forbes, or someplace else has an article about podcasting, chances are several people will share it on my Facebook wall or email me the link. The rare juggling article: I’ve probably seen it weeks before the people forwarding it to me, sure…but how hard is it to say, “Thanks,” or even — if one feels the need — “I’ve seen this already, but thanks for thinking about me.”

Because that’s why people share some things, and why I can never get mad when someone sends a podcasting article I’ve already seen 10 times: it means in the minds of people who share these things that I am what they think of when they think about podcasting.

Stuff about Amtrak’s writer residency program I received, recently, means people think about me when they think about writers they know.

If a juggling video shows up on people’s feeds, it’s often sent my way because people associate me with the juggler they know.

The Thing(s)

I recently wrote about the power of having a thing. These are the things that mean the most to me in life:

  • Being a good husband, son, friend
  • Being a good writer
  • Being a good juggler
  • Being a good podcaster

So if people send me articles about writing, juggling, or podcasting, it means I’m doing my job on some level. It also means if they hear about an opportunity for any of these things — chances are — they will come to me with the opportunity before others.

Really…how bad is that?

Chasing Things

Chasing Things

Statistics for this week’s Men in Gorilla Suits podcast about reality television are already good…even before my partner, Shawn Kupfer, has shared it with his followers. A recent podcast about movies was one of our most listened to shows to date. It seems clear people would rather listen to podcasts about television and movies vs. podcasts about health and things more philosophical.

Many would look at the stats and say, “Must make more shows about movies and television!” But there are already plenty of podcasts out there focused on movies and television, and we like talking about a wide range of topics.

It’s more important for us to do the show we like best — not the show that would get us the most listeners by chasing what’s more popular.

The Offer

I’m fortunate enough to know people who make a living doing the creative things they always dreamed of doing. Most of these people create comic books, video games, or work in book publishing. One of these friends offered to pass along my writing to editors he knows, except I don’t write the kind of stories this friend deals with (genre fiction).

Many people would hear about the offer and say, “Write a genre series, then! Duh!” but it’s more important to me to write the novels I like best — not chase after a possibility.

Chasing Things

I understand the logic behind chasing the thing that has the best chance of selling. Success often leads to more success, and we should consider ourselves lucky to have any kind of opening to better things, even if it means not doing what we want to do. But when I think about the creators I like the best — when I think about some of the most revered creators of all time — they are the people who did their own things.

They didn’t chase what sold, and because of that, they became much more than a trend.

How To Do Something New

How To Do Something New

I recently mentioned that the weekly podcast I do with a friend reached its 25th episode. If you’ve read anything here or on The Juggling Writer, you know I write and juggle. I like photography, hiking, canoeing, and many other things as well.

And I do these things because I simply started doing them.

Don’t Begin with an Excuse

I’ve met people at jobs, at conferences — even in line at the grocery store — who are terrified to try new things. If they aren’t terrified, they still try talking themselves out of trying something new for a variety of reasons.

It’s sad that so many people begin with an excuse.

Old Tennis Balls

Juggling’s not necessarily an expensive hobby, but some of the props aren’t cheap — especially when you begin juggling many things. I’m sure I’ve spent well over $1,000 on juggling props over the years. But that spring day in 1981 then I taught myself how to juggle, it was with three used tennis balls found around tennis courts in the park behind my house.

It cost me nothing to get started doing one of the things I love most in my life.

Podcasting on the Cheap

I look forward to the day Shawn and I get better gear for the Men in Gorilla Suits podcast and we sound like a radio show, but if we went into it feeling like we needed to build a full-blown recording studio, we’d probably never have started. We record using my Zoom H2n recorder as the main sound, with Shawn’s Zoom ZH1 as backup.

Shawn’s recorder cost about 100 bucks. My recorder — about $175.

Zoom Recorders

The Exceptions

When I talk about things in this manner, people sometimes say, “Well, if you were trying to get into racing cars or yachting, you couldn’t afford it!”

If I wanted to race F1 cars or command a huge sailing yacht — true — it would be long odds that I’d see myself do either regularly. But…I know a guy who races his VW Golf on parking lot tracks made with traffic cones — and a small sailboat for one or two people isn’t out of financial reach for many people. So there are even ways around the exceptions.

Where There’s a Will…

Sure, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” is a cliché, but it’s with good reason: it’s true! If you want to do something badly enough, you find a way to do it.

I like photography, but more expensive gear is out of my budget. Thing is, I’ve taken photos good enough to sell with articles I’ve written using $100 cameras. The best camera in my bag (a Nikon Coolpix P7100) can be had for $350. I’ve seen people take photos with pinhole cameras they made out of recycled material that I liked more than images captured with cameras worth thousands.

Most of us aren’t planning to buy our own LearJet and learn to fly; most of us want to do something that’s within our reach on some level. It may not be the ideal start due to budget or time restraints, but it’s not impossible unless you believe it is.

Still not convinced? Watch this:

Making Do

Making Do

My wife is an artist. Since moving into our apartment years ago, she really hasn’t done much art. We are very limited on space. (Being on the second floor, I don’t juggle as much, either.)

It would be really easy to not do much at all in our one-bedroom apartment. And yet, we make do. (Because really, we have it good — even in our small space…)

Always Art

My wife and I met in 1992, when we both worked at a tiny independent comic book company. She always had an art table set up…until we moved into the apartment. Her other big creative endeavor is sewing historical costumes. When she shifted her focus to sewing, her old art table went into our storage closet on the balcony.

That always bothered me because I knew her as an artist before I knew her as anything. She knew my writing before she knew me. So…there was a bit of sting in my gut the day she put her art table up. And…a bit of an excitement in my heart when I saw her pull her table out of storage.

Ideal Conditions (Are Overrated)

Sometimes the ideal conditions don’t exist. I’ll go as far as saying for most of us, ideal conditions don’t exist.

Cynthia’s art table is in the living room, right in front of the fireplace. She sits on a little cube storage cube when she draws. No side table for her ink…she wheels out a cart full of fabric and sets ink on it, hoping for no spills because fabric can be expensive. The lighting isn’t ideal. The spot is in the noisiest part of the apartment.

Yet, in this less-than-ideal spot — after years of not doing art — her second piece since her return looks like this:


Thorin Oakenshield: Weight of the World by ~cfgriffith on deviantART

Making Do With What You Have…

The image above doesn’t do the piece justice. My wife’s old scanner is not compatible with any of our current computers, so she had to take a quick photo. The lighting in the spot is poor, and the camera — while decent — isn’t going to get the best image.

But that’s what you do when making do…

And moving forward…

How to Create a Body of Work

How to Create a Body of Work

Yesterday I posted the 25th episode of the weekly podcast I work on, Men in Gorilla Suits. It’s not a huge milestone, but it’s still 25 weekly episodes…on top of the writing and other things I do. The person with whom I do the show is also busy. Yesterday’s show represents the beginning of a body of work…

Making Things

Making things is often its own reward. Most novelists have written a novel or five that went nowhere before finally breaking in. My wife is an artist, and I can’t tell you how many pages and canvases she’s filled over the years, but I know this: one day she threw away a huge garbage bag full of art (sketches and finished work) because she was tired of the clutter.

For me, all the pages I stack up eventually becomes a novel or a technical manual. It’s not much different than when I worked in factories and warehouses — when the day began with empty bins and eventually overflowed with what we made. Once we had enough full bins, we loaded them on trucks that filled other warehouses…before going off to fill shelves in stores.

The Importance of Piles

I’ve known people who provided heat to their home with wood burning stoves. A tree would come down and be cut into smaller pieces — then it came time to go out back and split those pieces into smaller pieces and pile it up for winter.

It’s not much different than making podcasts, painting, or recording songs. The work is more physical, but the act of making piles is the same. Cut enough wood, and you have enough for winter. Record enough songs (work) and you can fill an album. Record enough albums and people will eventually argue over which one is best. It doesn’t happen with just 2 – 3 albums though, it comes with a body of work.

It comes with making piles…

For the Love of Drudgery

Writing isn’t always fun. What I mean is it’s not always an inspired act. (I find even the drudgery fun.) More times than not, it’s like chopping wood. It’s repetitive.

It’s repetitive.

It’s repetitive…

Sometimes the logs are stubborn and take extra work to reduce into smaller pieces for your stove or hearth. Some mornings you just want to sleep in and ignore the wood pile. Other days you think, “Not again…”

Some mornings the words don’t flow. Some mornings I just want to sleep in and not write. Some days I really do think, “Not again…”

But in that drudgery comes something remarkable: something bigger taking shape. Knowing that in the end I will have a finished book, I keep at it. The times I’ve helped friends chop wood, fill a barn with hay, or do other hard work, there was always a certain satisfaction as the light of the day faded and I knew I was a part of something bigger than me.

Sustaining Work

There’s something nice about a big pile of wood ready to provide heat. There’s a satisfaction in knowing you worked hard to make sure you’ll be warm all winter. There’s a warmth that comes with finishing something that may not have been all fun in its creation. In the end, though, the slog is rewarded by something finished.

Cutting joints for drawers isn’t the most exciting task, but when you have enough drawers to fill the dresser you made by hand, it’s worth it. All those hours of practicing a song on an instrument eventually results in a perfect run through something truly beautiful. Getting up early for a run creates a body more open to running and the reward of health. The effort of it all sustains us. And when something sustains us, like the changing of seasons and the need to chop more wood, it’s a never-ending cycle that — over time — results in something wonderful.

It’s called a body of work for a reason: it takes effort. But it’s more than worth it once you look back over the years at a huge body of work you may have never believed you’d create had you not actually done it.