Social media, love letters and being real

I strongly believe that one of the points of being on earth is to make connections with each other. To feel belonging and understanding. To grow together.

Right now, social media communities feel really draining.

There’s a tipping point where a social network moves from being a safe place for a small-knit community that shares what makes us human, to a larger venue filled with people standing on pedestals.

There’s a mental shift that happens from “This is what I am feeling, this is what I’m doing” to “How do I get my community’s attention? How can I angle myself in such a way that I get nods of approval?”

What we end up with is a composite of highlights; food, friends, babies and booze.

I can see that Facebook and Google are trying to recreate that safe community feel through private groups, hang outs, close friends that are auto-selected, but the overarching product association of “Look at the fantastic stuff I’m doing” is a powerful thing to break once it starts.

When we are creators in these mediums (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram etc), we create content that is easy to consume, that is designed for a skim format. For example, a picture of a smiling person will get more recognition, more pats on the back, than a photo focusing on shadows or an image that requires more than a glance.

Does that mean we unconsciously create our content to be easy to digest? Does that mean we stop digging deeper, stop presenting gnarly, tangled things that require more thinking and pauses?

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it”

Henry David Thoreau

What’s the cultural, macrocosm effects of this?

I want to celebrate the little day-to-day amazing things, like drinkable running water, a smile from a stranger, a kiss from a friend. The way the sun feels on your skin.

How can we have a culture that is geared towards more self-exploration rather than self-promotion?

You can’t truly explore who you are, what life is, until you’re in a safe environment. How can we have a community that says:

“Come here to talk crazy ideas without judgement. Come here to be vulnerable. Come here to belong, not brag.”

I try to foster this in my love letters, a sense of vulnerability, belonging and digging deep. You let me know if you have your own way of doing this and how I can get involved.

Three pens I use every day

Here’s three pens that I use all the time, for writing, drawing and sketching. I carry them around with me everywhere.

Three pens I use every day

For writing

An old out of stock parker pen.

My Dad was gifted this 20-odd years ago and he lent it to me on a whim. I’ve had it for the last 10 years and use it for all of my creative writing.

It’s all the more sentimental because of I’ve had it for so long and used it for so much of my best work.

Funny story, I thought this was a cheap $20 pen and recently got it repaired for $60 (the lid had gotten loose and the nib was scratchy). As I was walking out, I commented on the difference and the pen dude said it’s actually a $150 pen.

Have a look on eBay for cheap, nifty parker pens. I can write for hours with mine.

For sketching

An extra fine lamy pen.

I use this pen for sketching and note-taking at work. It’s a great pen to get an idea drawn out fast.

The extra fine nib means you can get in alot of detail, and can build up big lines.

I got a blue plastic body, but after shoving it into spiral notebooks and general banging it up (my stuff gets a proper work out), I’d pay the extra amount for an aluminum body.

For colour:

I use copic markers for adding colour to my sketches. So does the rest of design, it seems.

Every time I went to the U.S, a friend that’s a comic book artist would ask me to bring back colours for him. And if he can do this with them, I’m in.

And guess what? Totally refillable. Almost everything on the pen can be replaced so yay for longevity!

A general note on pens

It’s great to get high-quality, refillable pens. Not only do you work with better materials, which causes you to respect your craft – you also save the planet from some more landfill.

Fountain pens are a sheer delight. They’re not that hard to use at all.

One of the joys of my life is opening an ink pot and refilling an ink cartridge. When most things are prepackaged and automated, there’s such a satisfaction that comes from drawing ink from a well into a cartridge and refilling something. It’s on par with replacing your own tyre.

What’s your favourite pens and tools of the trade? Get a love letter and tell me more.

Writers enter the same creative flow as musicians and athletes

Neuroscientists have started using fMRI scanners to track the brain activity of writers as they create a piece of fiction.

The professionally trained writers had brain patterns that were similar to other artist that required complex actions, like musicians and sports people.

Which makes sense. Writers do have to practice hard at their form until they reach a point where they hit flow. They do get tired after a good writing spree. And they do feel absolute bliss when they get into a groove*.

During the thinking process in the MRI scanners, the visual-processing region of volunteers lit up, which means they are visually imagining the scenes they’re about to write about.

The hippocampus, the part of our brains that holds memory and spatial thinking, light up as well. The writers actively weave bits of their facts and memory into their stories. It makes sense when you think about how certain writers have flavours. I’m thinking about how John Grisham, a lawyer, writes legal thrillers. Or Stephen King writing about the same kind of person.

The interesting thing is the study found that new writers think in visual patterns while experienced writers think in regions that involve speech, as if they’re narrating the story with an inner voice. Cool huh? You can read more about the study in the New York Times.

*Side note: I love the idea of getting into a groove. I always imagine how a record player feels against your fingers when it slots into the right place and music starts pouring out. So enjoyable.

How to revive energy and focus by moving locations for each task

Idea-creation needs space and time. When you just need to get shit done, break down your ‘doing’ sessions into tasks and try a method called ‘workstation popcorn’.

It’s super simple. For each new task, move to a new location. It doesn’t have to be down the road, it could be as simple as the next room, or the couch.

Here’s the thing: move your ass to that couch and don’t get up or do anything else until that task is done.

When it’s done, move on. On to the next one.

Designer James Victore does something similar as well.

“[I do all my sketching on] paper, and not in the studio. I’ll go to a bar or a restaurant. When I did my book, I left the studio every morning and I went to the park and sat for an hour, hour and half. I brought an idea, and I wrote longhand in one of these big sketchbooks. Then I would come into the studio and work during the day. Afterwards, at 4 or 5 o’clock, I’d go to my bar, sit with a beer or two, and refine it. Or write on a new idea. So it became this really nice process of every day. And it became a habit.” (source)

When I’m at work, I do my sketching somewhere with natural light so that I can stretch out. My desk is for talking to people and mock ups.

At home, I go to the kitchen table or anywhere else that’s not a usual procrastination area to get writing and editing done.

All you have to do to make this work is only do that one task when you’re in the new environment. Move. Repeat.

I’m beginning to think that it’s these productivity ‘tools’ that work best, the ones where we focus. There’s no app involved. There’s no real process. It’s just an idea that you carry out.

Which is funny, because it’s so deceptively simple.

You just pick something to do, you commit to it, you move to a new spot and promise yourself that you won’t do anything else until it’s done.

Then you get up and (literally) move on to the next thing.

The meditation experiment: the conclusion


I try five week experiments to get more creative juice into my life. For this experiment, it’s 20 minutes of meditation every day.


I made a vase out of a discarded lightbulb I found in a pool room. Surprised at how easy it was. A couple of minutes bashing away with a screwdriver and viola! Nature and recycled glass.

Five weeks of meditation is done!

Unsurprisingly, it’s starting to become a morning habit. Like brushing my teeth in the morning, it just feels wrong to leave the house without meditating.

Morning meditations work best for me. In the night I’m too sleepy and distracted and things go all up in the air if I go out after work.

This does mean that I have to wake up earlier, which is not easy for me.

I’ve resorted to setting my alarm down the hallway out of the bedroom, because if it’s on my bedside table, I snooze until the very last minute.

I read that guided visual meditations are best for thinking out of the box and counting breath meditations strengthen your willpower.

Given how I have to leave my alarm 5 meters away from my bed, my best bet right now is to focus on the willpower-enhancing breath meditations (If you wanna go all fancy yoga, the breath meditations are called pranayama).

Some random notes during the experiment:

  • I leaned heavily on guided meditations and am slowly getting self-sufficient with time and experience. I imagine it’s like learning ballet without actually going to a class. Lean on other people’s experiences for the first bit.
  • Yogaglo has the best range of meditations
  • iPhone apps are largely shit
  • I talked to a friend that went on a 10-day vipassana retreat and the teachers recommended he practice for 2 hours every day. He’s the second person I know who went on this retreat and found the 2 hour commitment unsustainable and now doesn’t meditate at all. I’ll stick to my 20 minutes until I feel the need to add more time
  • I’m still working on trying to fit a 20 minute yoga practice in during the morning as well

Does this make me more creative?

Well, it makes me worry less, which means I have more space in my mind to be creative.

It also sets me up to prioritise my most creative, most important stuff first during the day. And I think I’m turning into a better human, which is a good thing.

Will I continue with it?

Fuck yes. It’s breaking down rigid thought patterns and opening my way of thinking. Why wouldn’t you want more of that?

Breaking down the daily routines of creative folk

Podio has put together an interactive graphic on what creative folks do each day. If you go over to the site you can hover over each section for more information. For example, Mary Flannery O’Connor, a novelist, spent most of her afternoon on hobbies, painting, friends and taking care of birds.

It’s interesting to see how much eating and leisure is involved. I’m all for more of that!

Oneness, obsession and creativity

There’s this in-depth, vulnerable interview that I’ve been reading over and over again. The great discontent talked to Jonathan Harris, an artist and computer scientist.

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Jonathan Harris portrait by Jess Scully (source)

He spoke about creative vulnerability, introversion and at the same time, belonging. There’s a bit about spending less time in front of screens (which I feel really strongly about), but the bit that really struck me was the way he described oneness (warning – this gets hippy, fast):

“We’re all living our own lives and caught up in our own dramas – all of which are totally valid – but there is also another scale of life that’s happening, which is the scale of our planet and all of our consciousnesses together…

“You can look at that from metaphorical standpoint in terms of the Internet and all of us being users and blah, blah, blah; or you can look at it from a more mystical or spiritual standpoint. If you read into Zen philosophy or any mystical tradition, they all basically point to the same idea: there’s just one consciousness and we’re all expressions of it, and everything is connected because it’s all emerging from the same source.

“If you accept that premise, then one way of seeing every human being, animal, tree, or anything else in our world is as specific expression of a more fundamental universal consciousness. Each of those expressions – each human, plant, or animal – has something unique to it. The way the whole entity can become more conscious is for each of those expressions to embrace what they do uniquely. People should embrace their obsessions because that’s what they’re naturally programmed to do in this world”

Fucking-A! That’s what I’m all about.

It’s important to obsess about your projects, the stuff that you make just for you.

Follow that wild rabbit without asking a lot of questions. That’s something I’m hungry for. I like how Jonathan sees this as part of our consciousness, our being.

It’s almost like we owe it to embrace our obsessions.

Just fucking go with it and see what sticks.

“A good starting place for discovering [what is unique to you] is looking at your obsessions and embracing them…I’ve tried to embrace this obsessive, cataloging, organising, labelling impulse that seems to exist in my family. I’ve channeled it in my own way through working with data…Everybody has obsessions, and the nice thing about obsessions is that they give you an innate advantage regarding certain activities, because others wouldn’t want to do those things”

Read the article. It’s worth your time.

Sarah Wilson’s story: in sketch note

I made a sketch note from a talk I attended by Sarah Wilson, a NY Times best-selling author, journalist and wellness coach.

It was a great, honest talk about how she changed from a straight-laced journalist to someone that speaks her truth and runs a business that helps people eat well.

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The notes:

Sarah Wilson started in journalism. She was doing that for 20 years until she got this odd, debilitating illness.

It forced her to let go and live in a Byron hut for a little while. During that time, she researched health and thought she’d give cutting out sugar a go. She told her people on her blog.

The idea took wings and flew off and Sarah chased it to a blog post, then an e-book, then a book, then a business.

Really, her story is about feeling ok with the uncomfortable and the unknown.

“If you’re feeling uncomfortable, you’re on the right track. Trust intuition, not advice. Use it for motivation.”

Blunder your way around, you never really know when you make it.

She says that all of life is an experiment and to treat it as such.

Get into stuff, throw lots of ideas into the internet and see what happens. The ideas that you juggle never really land, you have to keep on experimenting.

When you have a community, foster it and care and act on how people react.

Sarah follows a Seth Godin philosophy of being generous with your work first, then business will follow.

Share freely.

Start small and then invest back into the business when you’re making money. Always, always, have 3 months worth of wages in the bank for your team.

Have a morning routine that includes meditation and exercise. Make space, not time, for the stuff that matters. All successful business women do this.

What you’ll find is that your wellness expands to all areas of your life.

If you have a problem, take it for a two hour bush walk. It gets the thoughts flowing and out of your system.

And a health note: Get cooking to make a difference. Eat foods that make you feel alive.

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The meditation experiment: Brain rejigging and creativity – Week 1

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I try five week experiments to get more creative juice into my life. For this experiment, it’s 20 minutes of meditation every day.


The first few days of getting into meditation is rough. As I sat there, with my eyes closed and the rustle of the leaves in my ears, I resented finding the time to meditate. I dreaded the next four weeks.

Then slowly, slowly, thankfully, I began to see the point of it all.

Slowly, slowly, my mind is getting clearer.

First thing in the morning is best, preferably before anyone talks to me.

After one week, the routine is set, so much so that when I couldn’t find the time to meditate this morning, it felt like I was going throughout my day without brushing my teeth. Something felt wrong, out of place.

But I’m not going to be able to wake up early every day to meditate, and that’s ok. The World Cup was worth it.

I’m using a mix of self-meditation and guided meditations. I feel a little uncomfortable doing self-guided meditations only, mainly because I end up thinking of what I can cook with what I have in my fridge. It’s good to have the infrequent reminder to come back.

Am I feeling more creative this week?

I’d say I’m more dedicated to my creativity. Because I’m waking up earlier, I’m able to do half an hour or so of work that I feel is important to me.

I’m also starting to realise that alot of stuff that I think is important, isn’t really as important as it seems at the time. The little stuff is making way for me to work on the big projects without freaking out.

Interesting titbit: If I check my phone and assorted apps before I meditate, it takes me what feels like forever to still my mind.