Bigger vs. better

There is a very human tendency to equate size with value. Take the thirty five-inch TV screen in my living room, for example. Before I bought this screen, I viewed all things digital – movies, websites, photos, etc. – on my eleven inch netbook. There was never any point at which the netbook screen was too small; after all, I’m not reviewing detailed documents or editing high-resolution photos. Despite the adequacy of the laptop, I was under the distinct impression that my life would be much better if I had a larger screen.

Well, now I have that larger screen. Oddly, life doesn’t seem remarkably better because of it. The extra size does make it easier to share the screen with others, but otherwise my view is virtually the same. When using the TV, I sit across the room from it, which means it takes up roughly the same amount of my vision as the netbook would. This also limits my uses to watching video, since I’m out of reach of the keyboard.

True to my nature, I’m still tempted to think that this screen isn’t quite big enough. If only it was fifty inches, life would be noticeably better. Seventy five would be euphoric. Never mind the fact that I rarely use the screen I have now; it’s too much of a pain to plug the netbook in and get it all set up. Something, somewhere in my mind, tells me that bigger is always better.

Too often, we attribute fulfillment to physical objects, like my TV screen. Not surprisingly, that fulfillment rapidly vanishes after we acquire those objects, and transfers on to bigger, more expensive things. Fortunately, we’re far more fulfilled by the intangible things in life, like giving someone a hug. Thanks for reading!

Why I don’t read the news

I don’t read the news for two reasons:

The news doesn’t affect me. When was the last time your favorite major news network reported on something that directly affected your life? As a general rule, if I need a reporter to tell me about it, that probably means I never needed to know in the first place. Reading about the tornadoes in the Midwest? That probably means I’m not close enough for it to matter. Reading an article on the price of tea in China? I don’t even drink tea. The events and news that do affect me reach me through other channels; my family, friends, business associates and mentors.
I don’t affect the news. Almost every story reported by national news networks is a story which I cannot personally affect. Stories of tragedy, suffering and death are stories of past events, things over which we have no control. By taking in a regular diet of violence and pain, but having no way to act, we grow callous to the suffering of our fellow human beings. Because we know “it happens every day”, we are less likely to reach out and make a difference in the places where we do have influence.
This isn’t an original idea: many of the world’s most creative people avoid the news. Here are some other great reasons why you should put down the paper, ironically published by a major news network. Thanks for reading!

On purpose

As the end of the month approaches, I’ve been anticipating the end of this writing project. Coming up with new material every day has been a real challenge. I was thinking it was a big deal. And then I noticed that Seth Godin has been writing every day… for several years now.

At first I felt overwhelmed by the sheer weight of that achievement. Writing every day for a month has left me feeling like I’ve done nothing but write. Every day has been a struggle to come up with a topic, and then to get started. Many days I feel like I’ve written only to fill my obligation. Why would someone do this indefinitely?
Then it hit me; writers like Seth Godin have a purpose. Their writings have a common thread running through them, a central point or topic that unifies the parts for a greater purpose. Writing is more than an exercise or a good habit. It is communication, and good communication is purposeful.
A few of my readers have asked whether I would continue writing after May. I don’t have an answer for you yet, but if I do it will have to be on a central topic that I care about and stand for. In the meantime, here’s a short video explaining why ‘x’ stands for the unknown. Thanks for reading!

Changing trains

Twenty two hours on a train is a long time. I shift in my seat, trying for the umpteenth time to find a comfortable position. At times like this I begin to wonder, will this ever change?

Of course, it will change. Life is funny like that. In the moment everything seems more permanent. We grow impatient, wondering whether our situation will always be this way. We worry and fret. Time seems to drag on. But eventually, everything changes. All of those moments that seemed so interminably long pass by, and something new comes to take their place. Truly, the only option we have is to accept change, to embrace it as a part of life. We can only enjoy the present as it is, and accept the future as it arrives.

The train slows, then stops. I step through the doorway and into the open air of Williston, North Dakota. The train is now a memory. Change has come again.

Think I’ve written enough about trains? That’s all for tonight. Thanks for reading!

Evening

A beautiful blend of oranges and reds burns on the horizon. Slowly, yet inevitably the deeper blues and purples of evening advance downward, chasing the sun as if to snuff it out forever.  The clouds, the armies of the heavens, massive and dark, look on in silent expectation.
The battle is set. The resistance glows bright, fighting valiantly to stay the fated course. The splendid hues reach the assembled clouds, forming a sort of skirmish line against the approaching darkness. Against this last bastion of the day, menacing and confident, the soldiers of the night launch their assault.
The struggle cannot last. The nocturnal forces drive forward relentlessly, taking no prisoners, giving no quarter. Day’s strength is gone, its battalions of brightness retreating below the horizon. The final pockets of resistance are overrun. Night has arrived.
I’m headed home from a long weekend. The view from the train was so captivating, I just had to share it with you. Thanks for reading!

The legend of Draft

Once upon a time there was a text editor named Notepad. Notepad was a very nice, decent and well-behaved text editor. It wasn’t fancy, and didn’t have crazy amounts of menus or toolbars; just a few simple but essential features like Undo, Save and Copy/Paste.

All too soon, people began to tire of Notepad. It didn’t have enough formatting options, it’s feature set was too limited and the font was hard on the eyes. So Bill Gates invented Microsoft Word.

As Word grew up, it began growing in other ways too. Some thought it was muscling up, but really it began taking on excess weight in the form of unnecessary features, too many formatting options and frightening fonts like Comic Sans. The toolbars took over the window space, and people began to feel lost in their own text editing program! It was a dark time for word processors.

Then Sergey Brin at Google had a word processor baby named Google Docs. Docs was much smaller and more agile than Word, having lost some of the more cumbersome features of it’s predecessor and gained some new, flashy skills, like real-time editing and cloud storage. Still, it had it’s quirks.

Then, from a single seed of awesomeness, watered profusely with the tears of a thousand designer souls killed by Comic Sans, sprouted a little munchkin named Draft. When people saw it, some wondered if Notepad had been reincarnated as a beautiful maiden, but no – it was better than that. Draft took all of the goodness from Google Docs and left everything else to moulder in the grave. All that was left was perfection: golden brown, just the right temperature and with a little whipped cream on top. Finally, the world was right again.

This month I’ve been using Draft for much of my writing. It’s a neat little tool that I’ve come to appreciate for it’s simplicity. If you do any writing, you might try it out and see if it fits your workflow. If you don’t write, I hope I made the writing entertaining enough to appreciate it anyway. Thanks for reading!

Drift trikes

I knelt backwards on the passenger seat , my torso halfway out through the sunroof of the sedan. I gripped my iPhone firmly and did my best to steady myself against the roof of the car. From this position it was hard to see the screen, but I did my best to keep subjects in the video frame.

Behind us on the winding downhill road, hunched against the wind, rode four young men. Their three-wheeled conveyances look like something from a redneck Olympic event: low-slung tricycles welded together from old bike frames, tractor seats and scrap metal. The rear tires consisted of small lawn tractor tires inflated inside short lengths of PVC pipe. This allowed the driver to spin or slide the back end at will while traveling downhill at high speeds.

My role as a cameraman made me the storyteller of this strange adventure. It’s a role I’m familiar with, and a role I love. The story I was telling today was one of youthful ingenuity and adventure. The wind in the face, the sun on the blacktop and the living in the moment; the simple joys of adventure, original and unedited.

At times I feel that my role is unnecessary and even a bit foolish; no amount of storytelling can bring you to this place or allow you to experience the day the same as these young men did. But the task of the storyteller is more than documentation of facts. We are the interpreters of time and space, bringing meaning and purpose to a slice of existence. We do not seek to show you everything there is; but we draw your attention to the things we value, in hopes of showing you what we have seen.

If you’ve never seen drift trikes before, there are some great videos on YouTube. What stories do you see that need telling? Hit reply and show me. Thanks for reading!

The deepening of beauty

I lived on the West Coast for more than ten years, but it wasn’t until I moved to North Dakota that I noticed some of the best features of the area. The trees, the Columbia River, the wildlife all take on a surreal beauty. The cleanliness all around is a pleasant contrast to the dust and dirt of Williston.

It is strange, the way familiarity changes beauty. To be sure, it draws out the irregularities, those details that the casual observers overlook. For some, those irregularities are blemishes, detracting from the wonder of the first encounter. For others, the details merely add to the complexity that makes up beauty.

As my train slowly weaves its way through the Columbia Gorge, I begin to think there is a third aspect to beauty. This is  the reuniting of old friends, the rediscovery of forgotten joys. It’s listening to your favorite song one more time. It’s the return home after a journey.

What do you feel when you come home?  I’d love to hear about it. Thanks for reading!

All aboard!

The muted sound of clacking wheels goes on and on, fading to a soothing rhythm in my head. I’m on a train headed west.

Riding a train is a bit like stepping back in time. The one I’m on is certainly up-to-date as far as amenities go, but when you ride a train, any train, you step back to a time when people are in less of a hurry. I’ll be on this one for a total of 22 hours – plenty of time to reflect, read a book or make conversation with fellow passengers.

I’ve already met a few characters, and it’s not even supper time. There are the two young ladies who are traveling from the East Coast to seek adventure in the West. Their voices ring with excitement as they tell their plans for the vacation. There is the inactive Marine, loud and braggardly as Marines tend to be, full of war stories and hunting stories and most any stories you’d like to hear. There is the retired railman, knowledgable about the comings and goings, the timing of trains and the tales behind local scenery.

Being unavoidably close to people for this long makes it difficult to avoid familiarity. Some make a point of telling you their life story, like the gentleman a few rows back; others do little more than swap polite formalities. With so much time to kill there is little to do but chat.

It’s an unusual experience, but not an unpleasant one. I find myself wondering what happened to this part of social interaction. Within all of the digital interaction, the likes and shares and viral videos of cats, we seem to lose touch with the inherently human aspect of social. Maybe it’s time we look beyond the statistics to the individual, personal interactions that make memories and change lives.

Have you ever rode the train? I’d love to hear what you thought. Thanks for reading!

Evil despot rulers

“Here’s something to keep in mind, for when we’re evil despot rulers of third world countries.”

Alex and I are sitting at the kitchen table in our apartment. I’m writing, and Alex has his headphones in. I safely assume he’s listening to another audiobook.

I’m sure a perfectly reasonable thought spawned this bizarre comment. Alex is good at introducing subjects of conversation without a thorough briefing as to their origins. I’m not really sure whether he’s talking to me, or just thinking out loud.

Moments like this make me wonder: does human interaction make any sense at all? Most of the conversations I hold with those around me, if taken in isolation, would be nonsensical to an uninformed onlooker. And yet my mind is able to take in subtle clues, tie them together with the memories of past interactions, and make perfect logical sense of it all… most of the time.

“If a general ever gets a bit unhappy, be sure to kill him off right away.”

I’ll keep that in mind.

Tomorrow morning I’m taking the train west to spend time with family and friends. Not to worry, I’ll be keeping up on my writing. In the meantime, did I ever tell you that I’ve been writing for a while? Here’s a blog post I wrote many years back. Thanks for reading!