Book: "Slowing Down to the Speed of Life"

I picked up this book in Kenosha on my vacation, and it jibes well with Michael Neill’s The Inside Out Revolution. This is not surprising as both describe the 3 Principles, which was conceived of and taught by Sydney Banks. But Slowing, written by Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey, was originally published in 1997, long before the Web and podcasts made it easier to disseminate Banks’ spiritual and psychological teaching. Carlson and Bailey focus on a rather narrow piece of the 3 Principles philosophy, without ever mentioning the principles by name, and citing Banks only once. Neill’s book, by contrast, was published in 2013; he discusses all the principles and frequently cites Banks’ words and teaching stories. That sounds like I’m sniffing at the book, and I don’t mean to. Slowing Down to the Speed of Life is quite good at emphasizing a few key points and then reiterating them, ringing changes on them, showing how they can apply in many different areas of life. The section on Work and Office is terribly skimpy, though the chapter on Family Relationships is terrific. It’s quite readable and I sped through it on the train to Chicago and in my spare moments.

Instead of writing an exhaustive and exhausting review, here are the key things that got my attention.

Key Takeaways

  1. It’s not what you think, it’s that you think. A lot of self-help books, methods, and training – such as cognitive behavior therapy – teach you to dispute the contents of your thinking and disprove them. However, what’s most relevant is that your mind is kicking up a thoughtstorm of beliefs, feelings, expectations, etc. When an event happens, the feeling you experience is not about the event; rather, what you’re experiencing is your feeling about the event. It’s as true for internal moods as it is for any external event. When the water in a pond is agitated, you can’t see to the bottom – it’s doesn’t matter why it’s agitated. When the water in the pond is still, it’s easier to see to the bottom.
  2. We have two primary thinking modes: analytic and free-flowing. The analytic mode is our typical Western habit of thinking it through, figuring it out, and so on. It works great when the problem is well-defined and logistical. But it’s a tool we use to solve most every problem we see (if we think that what we see is a problem – it’s all thought, remember). The free-flowing mode is the slower, deeper, not-much-on-your-mind thinking that is where you should stay as much as possible. This is where all of your good ideas come from when you’re in the shower, while driving, etc. When you put things on the back burner, the free-flowing mode is where they’re processed until you pull them out to examine them again in analytic mode. Know which mode you’re in; you’ll feel better in free-flowing mode. Trust it.
  3. Thinking=feelings. As Neill says often, we don’t live in the feeling of the world, we live in the feeling of our thinking. If we’re feeling anxious, we’re thinking anxious thoughts. If we’re feeling stressed, we’re feeling stressed thoughts. Using analytical thinking to figure out why you’re feeling crappy will only make you feel more crappy. You’re stirring up an already agitated system. Realize that your feelings are like the weather – wait a while, let your mind and thoughts calm down, and your feelings will also settle down. With those distracting feelings settled, your free-flowing thinking has a better chance of offering you a solution to your problem.

Key Action Steps

  1. There are no action steps except to stay in the moment, notice your thinking, and calm down. Isn’t it frustrating to read a book only to find that there’s really not much you can do? Neill’s book avoids any prescriptive advice. Slowing provides a few bits of simple advice, but the message is consistent in both books: the key is in recognizing when you’re caught up in a thoughtstorm. When you recognize that you’re thinking, Carlson and Bailey repeatedly say, you’ll almost instantly feel better; the storm will subside and your internal system will reset. I’ve not found that to be consistently true in my case. I can recognize that I’m in a low mood, I can know my thinking is causing it, but it will still take a week for the cloud to pass before I  feel better.
  2. Practice gratitude. They don’t mention this one, but it’s one I use to interrupt my low moods. I used to write a daily gratitudes list and tried avoiding the easy ones like “my loving wife” and “I have a job.” The lower the mood I’m in, sometimes the deeper I have to dig. It turns my attention outward and interrupts the thought spiral.
  3. Set aside time to just sit, with no input. Feel your breathing. Listen to what you can hear in your house, in your backyard, in the world. Feel where the weight of your body is pressing against the chair and the ground. This is like meditation, but maybe a little more natural. When I feel my thoughts about the past or the future, I know I’m not present in the moment. Calming down and being present in the moment can mean simply focusing on doing one thing at a time rather than multitasking.  I’m trying to get out to the back porch more to just sit and look at the yard, the birds, the garden. I leave the iPod and Kindle inside and let my brain and mind relax from all the input I stream into it.I find this can extend time for me, and life slows down, in addition to my thinking.

 

 

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Movie: "The Way Way Back"

Jim Rash, Charlotte NC-native and UNC-CH alum – best known to the world as Dean Pelton on Community – has been exercising other talents the last few years. He and his co-writer Nat Faxon won an Oscar for their screenplay of The Descendants (with Alexander Payne) and the pair have created a great, light, summertime coming-of-age comedy, The Way, Way Back.

An interesting nugget from this article about the film is that the opening scene was drawn from a conversation the 14-year-old Rash had with his own step-father. Which is pretty appalling all on its own. Another appalling fact is that this pleasant, funny,  innocuous screenplay sat on a desk for years because, though it was admired, no one wanted to invest the money to film it.The_Way,_Way_Back_Poster

The movie follows the adventures of the sullen Duncan as his mother, her boyfriend, and his daughter occupy a summer cottage near a Massachusetts beach area, in an attempt to foster a “family holiday” vibe. The boy’s awakening to his own potential is charmingly done, and I liked that the almost-romance with the girl next door was part of the story but not the whole story.

The all-star cast members – Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Amanda Peet, Maya Rudolph – show relatively little of what they’re capable of (except for Jim Rash, who gives himself a colorful cameo). The movie is largely driven by the other characters’ reactions to Liam James’ brooding Duncan or they’re behaving in those baffling ways lost adults do when they want to torture their sensitive offspring. James walks around like a slumping caveman; his knuckles would drag the ground if his arms were long enough. So when he starts to look around and participate in the world around him, his delight and excitement is warming to watch.

That said, two performances really got my attention: Allison Janney’s brash and boozy next-door neighbor and Sam Rockwell as the fast-talking, mouthy owner of the Water Wizz amusement park where Duncan finds a haven. Rockwell’s character is a lazy slacker, but he’s accepting of all the misfits who drift through the water park. His needling, cajoling, and ribbing of Duncan bring the boy out of his shell; his loyalty and support of Duncan are quietly done and deliver exactly what I want in a feel-good summertime movie.

Article: Oscar-winning Charlotte native plunges into directing with ‘The Way Way Back’ | Movie News & Reviews | NewsObserver.com.

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Hence my official position: it’s fine to abandon books or other projects – but you’ve got to really abandon them, not let them fade amid vague intentions to finish them some day. “It cannot be said often enough that one should not postpone; one abandons,” said the management expert Peter Drucker. Give the unassembled bookshelf to someone who wants it; throw the beach-read into the sea. Make abandonment a positive choice.

The Rise and Fall of Mr. Zip

Informative and fun little article on the US Postal Service’s push to get Americans to add a 5-digit ZIP code to their envelopes and post cards. The effort started in 1963 and it took almost 20 years before Americans changed their habits – or knuckled under, depending on your point of view. Mr. ZIP promoted the use of ZIP codes for the ...

Interesting slice of Americana, with a special role played by an, at one time, iconic – though now largely forgotten – cartoony character.

The campaign began with the name itself — ZIP. It was a good name. ‘ZIP’ sounded a lot friendlier than Zone Improvement Plan, the Orwellian phrase for which ZIP was an acronym. At the same time, ZIP said speed. Mr. Zip — a hand-drawn, wide-eyed little postal guy — became the face of ZIP code promotional efforts, the embodiment of the harmless yet zippy quality of ZIP codes. (‘Mr. Zip’ was also a significant improvement on Mr. Zip’s original name “Mr. P.O. Zone”.) Mr. Zip was speedy and clever, like other American cartoon heroes: Bugs Bunny or Speedy Gonzalez or the Road Runner. After July 1, 1963 Mr. Zip was everywhere. Americans would turn on their radios or televisions or open a newspaper and there was Mr. Zip, banging the drum for ZIP codes.

via The Smart Set: Happy 50th Mr. Zip - June 12, 2013.

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Occasionally, just writing without a plan is a worthwhile exercise, especially early in the conception so you can hear the voices of your characters. But I’d leave writing any actual script of an episode until you know how it ends. You’ll think of a better ending as you write the script. But if you don’t have any ending when you start writing, you almost certainly won’t think of one.

Pretty much a perfick day

Several memories and ideas bubble to the top of my brain and collide: this is an opportunity to try out ideas in a non-judgmental space, what can it hurt to put myself out there a little, follow the energy, one of Mike Uhl's early urgings to me to become a time management coach, since he'd benefited from our frequent conversations about his workflows and habits at the office, if the next thing I say isn't interesting then I can tweak it for the next person, oh come on what could it hurt.

So I tell Heather that, well, if I were to sell a service, it would probably be something like this (dredging up the old marketing template of "I help X do Y so that they can Z): "I help artists and creative entrepreneurs solve their time management problems so they can get more of their creative work done." Her eyes widened, she smiled, she leaned forward -- I'm on to something! I mention it again later to an artist who we talk to; she's immediately enthusiastic and suggests a few venues where I could hold small roundtable discussions on the topic with artists.

Met a few of the vendors and talked to one fellow who's part of a non-profit that helps veterans get their own businesses started. I rattle off my spiel to him. He nods his head, leans forward, says I could register as a government contractor to teach stuff like that.

We go in to the keynote and receive some fabulous information on Durham's "Creative Vitality Index": in short, compared to the rest of the state, similar cities of our size in the Southeast, and the US, Durham is incredibly energetic and vibrant as more artists settle here and more revenue is generated from arts and culture activities. I don't know how they gather their data. I note that technical writers count as a creative jobs category and the numbers of technical writers in this area have decreased markedly since 2006, which confirms my observations.

I heard one of the vendors say that way more people showed up than they expected, and the second-floor theater was indeed packed. The keynote speakers were entrepreneurial gurus who have started their own organizations and teach at Duke. Their aim appeared to be to introduce common business  concepts and jargon to the artists, with their core message being that with the decline of traditional industries and revenue in this geographic area, the arts and culture are taking up the slack by bringing in increasing levels of revenue; therefore, more opportunities may arise for profit/non-profit collaborations.

It wasn't the first time that day that we would hear about how artists need to manage their work as a business. Fred Hathaway of Entredot gave a presentation on the basics of business, with the (to me) comforting idea that there is a method here and no one needs to create a business plan from the start. He echoed the keynote speakers' advice to stage lots of small experiments, fail quickly, and iterate often. Plan while doing and do while planning.

For me, the star presenter was Tivi Jones of Tivi Jones Media, who gave a great talk on creating a marketing plan. She called on people at random and asked me, "Sir, what is your business?" I cheerily waved my hands and said, "I don't have a business. I'm just observing." She moved on to  someone else and I was instantly besieged by thoughts: Why did you do that? This is the perfect place to try out the pitch. The energy in the room is great. You're never going to get a better opportunity than now. Just do it.

So after she posed the next question on her worksheet -- What problem does your product or service solve? --  I raised my hand and said I'd changed my mind. I said something like, "I help artists and creative entrepreneurs figure out custom time management solutions so they can end their days feeling more productive rather than tired." (In talking with Mike about elevator speeches, we'd noticed that the most memorable ones included a built-in duality or contrast.)

Even before I finished my pitch, Tivi sort of yelped and said, "I need this!" The woman sitting beside me asked for my contact information. A man asked me later for a card (I didn't have one! I was only going to explore!).

And oh, my brain is buzzing.

I'd already decided to take the rest of the day off from work. I check out a book from the library. I go by Parks & Rec to pick up free tabloids and giveaways for our Sunday neighborhood association meeting.

It's now 2pm and I've not had lunch. I grab a hotdog and eat it in the parking lot with my windows down. A woman in scrubs asks me to help her get a traffic safety cone unwedged from under her car. Why the hell did she run over the cone in the first place? Nonetheless, I crawl around on the pavement and somehow wrestle it out.

I go home, prune some tree limbs, and cut the grass, since light rain is being forecast every day for the next week and I hate cutting wet grass. I shower and nap.

Liz comes home and we go to a new restaurant for us, Dain's Place, which has awesome hamburgers. I debrief Liz about my day and show her the stack of papers, business cards, leaflets, etc. that I collected.

As we walk out, we see Peggy Payne walking down Ninth Street in a cobalt blue sequin party dress and cape, handing out cards advertising her new novel, Cobalt Blue, and inviting us to a reading she's giving with her friend Carrie Jane Knowles, whose novel Lillian's Garden has also been released. (Peggy and I were both in a creative writing class taught by Lee Smith in the mid-80's.) Liz and I agree: when you're invited to the party, say "Yes."

To pass the time before the reading, we go to a near-empty Francesca's and get ice cream. Thence to the Regulator Bookshop for the reading, which is very well attended and entertaining. I also see David Halperin there; I'd last seen Peggy at the book launch for David's novel.

What a rich, bizarre day for me. I met more people today than I normally meet in a week. I made a list of at least three new people I want to take out for coffee and a door has opened for me to ... do what? I don't know. But someone was knocking, and I opened it. I did some hard physical work that also made the house look good. We went to a new restaurant on a Thursday night (!) -- very out of character for us -- and diverted ourselves to an impromptu book reading.

Thence home, where I checked my email for the second time that day and saw that there really was not a lot worth spending my time on at all.

Thence here, where I wanted to write up the events of this day before their freshness faded.

And so to bed.

And this is basically the viewpoint underlying Miles’s criticism: it doesn’t matter what Gatiss meant because the episode itself is horrifically xenophobic. But let’s peek forward and see if any of the subsequent eighty years or so of literary criticism has provided anything useful. Spoiler: it has, of course. The main one being some of the fruits of reader-response criticism, particularly the idea of the implied author and implied reader. (The former was formulated by Wayne Booth in The Rhetoric of Fiction, the latter by Wolfgang Iser in, of all things, The Implied Reader. They’re odd recommendations, but if you want to know how narrative structure works, read those and Aristotle’s Poetics and you’re basically set for life.)