Monthly Archives: October 2013

“Don’t break the chain!”

Said Jerry Seinfeld, summing up his simple motivation technique. From a LifeHacker article:

[Jerry Seinfeld] told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

“Don’t break the chain,”1 he said again for emphasis.

Yoda had something to say on this, too (spoiler alert, Luke: “Aaaallright, I’ll give it a try.” Yoda: “No—try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”).

It makes doing your daily thing visible—red marker Xs over calendar numbers or not. There is a simple motivation—not to break the chain. And it is clear whether or not you did that thing—yes or no, X or no X.

I’ve meditated for 16 days straight, which is AWESOME. Part of my motivation in meditating is to show myself I can actually keep up with a new thing daily, along with an intent to cultivate curiosity, awareness, and mindfulness.

Don't Break the Chain app

I’d also like my dentist (and my friend Alex) to know that I’ve flossed thirteen out of the past fifteen days.

Try the technique out! There are some iPhone apps for it; I’m using the one screenshotted at the top, Don’t Break The Chain!. Might design/develop one myself, too. (Another technique in my arsenal: Pomodoro Technique, where you split tasks into 30 minute chunks, 25 of which are work—the last 5 are a break; every fourth one you take a longer break.)

  1. Reminds me of the GI Joe YouTube, Give him the stick! Don’t give him the stick! (NSFW, profanity.) 

This specific waiting room

If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing. – Sherman Alexie

I recently saw Sherman Alexie speak at Skylight Books in Los Angeles. I liked his shoes and he was taller and bigger than I expected.

Andy and Sherman Alexie at Skylight

Airplane seats became a topic during his talk, probably between “How do you refine your craft?” and “Ze is totally the proper pronoun.”1

He flies often and passengers sometimes ask him to switch seats. He said what audacity2 a person has to ask another to give up their seat, because “You don’t know what they have gone through that day—emotionally, physically, mentally—let alone in all of their life, to get to that specific seat in that specific airplane going between two or more specific destinations. To earn that specific physical space.”

I connected with that. Hard.

Moorpark College Hill Lawn

In 2009, four years after graduating high school, the year I was supposed to finish my undergrad work, I signed up for a creative writing class at a community college. All my required books were purchased used, online, at the most student friendly price. The book for creative writing was full of pencil underlines and yellow highlights.

The teacher set a good tone for discussion and, thanks to a concurrent Italian class, I could pronounce her last name. She was clear at the start of the semester about the numbers of poems, stories, and total pages required. Along with that implication of regular writing, she assigned regular reading, neither of which I regularly did.

One day, frustrated by a lack of student engagement, she grabbed my heavily marked book, held it up, and said, “This is how you should be reading and taking notes!” Chastised by myself at what I knew of my reading habits I said, “Those aren’t mine. I bought it like that…” She looked surprised—I did try to make helpful comments and engage at a level appropriately above none—but she let the point stand. (That semester I felt a surprising and unexpected amount of anxiety every time just before the possibility of contributing in any class, which was strange.)

The number of required pages stayed the same no matter how long I waited to write. Three weeks in, thirteen weeks in. A number not more than 100, but far closer to there than me being finished. Sure, I could write more and make that number smaller, but…

I put the work off. While writing can be as simple me typing this now, I or something in me refused to give the poems and stories hiding just beyond my fingers a chance. Instead, anxiety, not one to procrastinate, kept me in its firm, rigid grip.

Ominous Moorpark Library

The final date to drop with a “W” was on my calendar. I took the simplest control of my success or failure in the class, before both the “W” and the page count deadlines, by clicking a few buttons on the registration page. I was out. No need to stress or worry anymore. I emailed the teacher.

She was shocked.

We talked the next day, agreed on penalties if I turn the portfolio in late, and reverted my withdraw by Friday. During a final class session she asked me if she could share my withdrawing story. I nodded yes.

I’m not sure if it helped anyone in the class. I’m not sure if anyone else remembers. But I remember that moment of expressing my anxiety and the possibility of failure due to inaction, the sense of hiding, and a slight sense of relief after connecting with the teacher. After acknowledgement.

If I stayed withdrawn, I could not have taken the next level of creative writing. That means me and some of the best people I still now know four years later, we would never have met.

The Word Slingers

In fact, dear reader, I may not be sitting in this waiting room chair writing. Perhaps I would have never met Sherman Alexie and made him laugh, or been as involved and leaned-in as I could manage at my final university.

But I was. And I did. And I am.


  1. Neither of these things were literally said, but were definitely alluded to. 

  2. This is something he always does for couples, or “for love,” as he said. 

Inevitable unexpected transformation.

In a slow, rumbling growth of self-awareness, last night I realized that my life is different since the end of May.

Where I want—need—to grow, focus, and explore has changed. What, who, and how I need to support this shift has changed. There’s a possibility that the things, people, and behaviors I want are not the same as the things, people, and behaviors I need to support and foster whatever my endeavors now are.

I’ve moved on—but still need to catch up to myself.

Maybe this precipitated from consistent meditation and regular flossing. Could be spending ten hours in the car with my mom, half of the time before 8 am, over the past three days. Or being fed up with the pain and numbness that comes from holding on.

sunrise action

It’s scary. I feel healing, of things I didn’t even know needed balm—or existed. A start to vulnerability, risk, and their associated learning. There’s action to be taken, grasped.

Then ran. Then to be ran.

Ran toward its furthest possibility with sinewy vitality. With the happiness and glee five-year-old-me had running through sprinklers and leaves. With my blood-beating, open heart.

Why photos happen

Today I’m down in Long Beach for a sales conference. The sun has just set and I am above the marina, can see a lighthouse lit up blue and the idle dock cranes in the distance.

Wedding Photo Background in Long Beach

Walking here, past the city’s convention center, there was a couple taking selfies in front of this same view. They probably wouldn’t have minded some assistance, but I didn’t want to be too forward and just walk up to say, “Want me to take your picture?” I went around a staircase, sat down on a bench, looked over and then asked, “You all want some help?”

They said, “Yes!” and were very excited about it. I took a couple shots and they liked their pose in the second one. Mark introduced himself first, then I did, then Rochelle. They are out here from Vegas, just got married, and are taking a cruise to Ensenada for a three-day weekend honeymoon.

They’ll keep that photo around awhile, I bet.

At my friend’s 21st birthday a couple weeks back, I ordered a grilled cheese and tomato bisque. About ten seconds after being served, I took my phone out and snapped a picture. IMMEDIATELY after, I looked around at my friends and told them that I’m not going to Instagram it, post it to Facebook or anywhere, nor do I plan to look at it ever again. I pocketed my phone with a tinge of shame.

There is a tension between the permanence and transience of photos and images.

Continue reading

I put more time into these keys than studying for some tests

Over the past few months the number of keys needed for my day-to-day functioning has increased. Fewer than others use, but an amount that becomes a hassle when it’s dark and I need to unlock a door. I wanted to devise a solution to make low-light—even no-light—use of my keys efficient and accurate.

Key Arrangement
There are five single keys, my car keys, and a bottle opener.

The two round-topped keys are for P.O. Boxes, which never have low-light problems and are easy to identify.

My car key fob busted when I stepped on it after a run, but a friend fixed it with cloth, epoxy, and Gorilla Glue. (I really appreciated that. Shout out to Sam.)

The keys at the bottom left of the picture, next to the bottle opener, are the real challenge.

Three keys. Two different locations.

If there’s good lighting, which key goes to what lock is simple to distinguish—the silver keys are for the same door, gold is for a door at a different location.

The middle silver key has a black plastic cover. I use it the most, and—because of that cover—it is the easiest to find; this holds true during the day, but the cover becomes particularly useful at night because its distinct texture and feel make it easy to pick out.

That black plastic covered key is the… “keystone” to figuring out the two keys on either side of it. The other silver one—that works on a second knob on the same door—faces the same direction as the covered key. The gold key faces the opposite way, establishing it as for the door at the second location!

Before sitting down and figuring this out I would take my phone out for lighting and squint at the keys, but this required two hands so it became a hassle when I was carrying things from my car. The feel and relative locations/directions of the keys was a solution with the least amount of work and the most convenience.

Life hacking. It doesn’t have to be about Getting Things Done or Doing All The Things. Sometimes you just have to find the right key.