Feb 24 • 9M

Sweeping The Shop

Algorithmic Wind Whims

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More Carrots, Less Sticks
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Hello, Donkey Thoughts Community. If you need a brief distraction from the bleak news of the day, here are some clumsy musings to cleanse the mind-palate.

Céline R. from across the pond asks, “As a fellow creative, how do you make enough space to stay away from all the noise (people, media, even friends sometimes) and keep true to your own voice?”

Céline, thank you for this excellent question. 

My legendary bride and I talk about this frequently, and I’m grateful to have a partner with whom I can navigate the “noise” of which you speak. Now please hang on one sec while I pause my podcast and check my likes, my half-likes, my verified likes, and my emails…

What with all the myriad channels of distraction available to us these days, I find that I have to consciously curate my time on a daily, sometimes even an hourly, basis. We have all become our own constant traffic directors with regard to where we are paying out our attention from minute to minute. 

For me, this just means that I keep things as simple as possible. I make pre-emptive choices so that I’m not at the whim of the distractions all around me. For example, I’m working on a film set today, and I leave my phone in my trailer or at my set chair so that for the entire time I’m on set engaging in my scene work. I’m also engaging with the other human beings there, simply interfacing socially with a throwback technique that I like to call “making friends”. I’m amazed at how much more charming I am when I don’t have a segment of my attention split off, focused on some app or other. 

The more choices we have, when it comes to entertainment, the more I adore eschewing shopping for content, and instead sitting down and digging into just one book. I recently heard Johann Hari on Ezra Klein’s podcast talking about how much less effective we are at all of our tasks when we split our focus among more than one objective at a time. In other words, multi-tasking makes us suck. When I’m not on my guard, I’ll likely dip into assorted articles, music albums, random videos, three podcasts and five different streamers across a week. Making thoughtful decisions to maintain the course I want my ship to sail, instead of leaving my navigation to the whims of the algorithmic winds, requires my constant vigilance.

The simplest answer to your question would be, I suppose, to just physically make the space you seek. When I go for a long walk or hike or run without any music in my earbuds or other sensory input other than what nature has on offer, my brain is left to its own devices and it does the most remarkable things. I find that I am able to maintain my focus for entire seconds, or even minutes at a time, and so I am able to assess my participation in the greater overarching narratives of my life – my marriage, my family, my woodshop, my different avenues of making stuff. I create the space, or the effective silence to reset my entire mechanism back to a place of equilibrium. And, without fail, every time I “clear my head” thus, I’m amazed and relieved to recall something important that had slipped by—“you never called your Mom back. Did you get results from Doctor Bob about that heart stress test? It’s Wednesday—you should bathe.”

A good analogy for this “reclaiming equilibrium” technique would be the great comfort I derive from a clean woodshop. Sure, it’s magical in there when the gang is all bustling away, making our web products and commissioned pieces, when there’s boisterous, controlled chaos and noise, with tools and materials and hardware scattered hither and yon. There’s plenty of sawdust, wood scraps and piles of shavings everywhere you move. But when all the machines are turned off and cleaned, and the floor has been properly swept after everything is put back in its place, it foments a flush of contentment that I relax into and deeply relish. The shop (and therefore, my brain in this analogy) is now ready to blossom anew with the details of the next assignment, and nary a moment will be wasted looking for a tool or implement.

Of course, it doesn’t always work. I mean, come on. I’m a human animal, and I can fall into a lazy pattern through any number of consumerist traps, like if I’m on a long, hard job, it’s easy to relax my healthy diet habits and suddenly pack on some extra pounds, or when I find myself with an unexpected hour to kill without something good to read, I’ll lay into the smartphone version of fast food by mindlessly scrolling. Cumulatively, I just keep trying my best to simplify every aspect of life that I can, by paying attention every day to my overall balance or lack thereof. By and large, this seems to work.

Thom Lange, from a mysterious location, asks,“Why do birds suddenly appear?”

Thank you, Thom, and I can confidently answer that the birds in question present themselves because they, similarly to myself, have a simple hankering to be in your proximity.

Although, it depends on the time of day. If it’s early, I reckon they might be getting the worms?

Smallz & Raskind/Contour by Getty Images

Devin Bradley, also of murky origins, but who could very well live near Thom Lange asks,“Does Nick Offerman refer to himself in the third person? And bonus Q: does he drive stick?”

Devin, thank you for your questions. He rarely refers to himself in the third person--Nick Offerman--I mean, lest he be mistaken for a competition reality show contestant. As in “If those buttholes over at Team Mahalo think they can blindside Nick Offerman, um, I’m so sorry to inform them that Nick Offerman has not one but two immunity idols and one advantage from Exile Island, so it’s Nick Offerman who is going to be “Nick Offerman-ing” their Mahalo asses under the bus at tribal, if they even make it to the merge.”

For the bonus Q , you can bet your sweet bippy Nick Offerman drives a stick – his Dad and his uncles and his Grampa taught him to drive a bunch of different breeds of bikes, cars, trucks, tractors and even a couple of combines—and this was back in the 70’s and 80’s. Not like now, when the Cloud™ drives your equipment for you, and you can fully kick back with your eye most certainly not on the ball. My Uncle Ray watched every episode of Gilmore Girls while harvesting 2,300 acres of corn last fall. Not for me, thanks, despite the confectionary quality of that program. I’ll take five or four on the floor, three on the tree, two up the wazoo—hang on that’s not my gearbox.

Please and thank you,


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