Bummer: What a Flat Tire Taught Me About the New Year

January 6th, 2017

On Christmas Eve, we were on our way back from my parents house after celebrating Christmas with my parents and my sister’s family. About halfway home, we noticed the tire indicator light in our Toyota Sienna minivan came on. We thought it was probably no big deal and continued on to the Christmas Eve service at church.

Of course, once we got home, I saw that the rear driver side tire was just about flat.

Oh great. This was not the way I wanted to spend Christmas.

Well, on Christmas Day, after the kids opened their presents, I went out to the garage to remove the tire and put the spare on.

The flat tire had a screw right smack in the middle of the tread. Maybe this can be fixed without too much trouble, I thought.

So far, so good, right? We will just have to get to Costco first thing in the morning before it gets crowded and get the tire fixed. We’ll be out maybe a hundred bucks or so.

That afternoon I went upstairs and discovered that the commode was backed up.

My first thought was:

You know how things happen in threes? Maybe number one was the flat tire. Number two is the commode being backed up (no pun intended). And what’s next for number three?
Pessimistic thinking, I know. Just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So I get up the day after Christmas wondering what the third bad thing that will happen is going to be. We get loaded up in the car to celebrate Christmas with the in-laws.

Guess what?

The van won’t start.

The battery has been drained because a door was left open all night (the van was in the garage). So I was kind of bummed since it delayed us in getting to Costco as soon as it opened to get the tire fixed.

But here’s the thing.

With all of these situations I have been fully equipped to handle everything.

  • I know how to change a tire. The most challenging part was getting the spare out from under the van and I’ve done this before. (The worst was on a country road long after dark in July when it felt like the heat index was a thousand degrees.)
  • We have a plunger. So the backed-up commode was not the end of the world. Once you have a two-year-old stuff an entire roll of toilet paper in the commode, you keep a plunger on hand.
  • I have jumper cables. I was fortunate enough to have the other car in the driveway. I managed to get it close enough to the van to use the jumper cables.

 

You may not be spiritual, but…

The point of all this is I have a feeling that God is trying to tell me that in 2017 I will have challenges, but I am fully equipped to take them on.

I will have inconveniences and momentary setbacks. But I have everything I need to manage them. I have the tools. And it and if I don’t have those tools right now, I have the means to obtain them.

So I feel pretty good about 2017.

How about you?

(PS: Costco replaced the tire at no cost to us since it was still under warranty. Hooray!)

Photo Credit: Imthaz Ahamed

Year-End Review: Reflecting on 2014

December 23rd, 2014

Clark Griswold's Moose Mug

Well, it’s the end of the year, and that means it is the perfect time for looking back and assessing the year that has passed. When you’re not spending holiday time with family or sucking down eggnog (whether in latte, alcoholic, or nonalcoholic form — I’m not a fan of it in general), you’re probably reflecting on 2014 as well.

Year-End Review: Reflecting on 2014I recorded this at the beginning of the month on my way home from my day job one night. Just some thoughts about 2014 and how my year reflected (or didn’t) the 3 words for 2014 I wrote about at the beginning of the year.

Did you set goals or themes for 2014? How did you do?

Notes:

Some quick notes regarding my voice memo, along with how I did for each word for the year.

Intention - 70%

  • Intention is the foundation for everything else, really. Until you form habits that become instinctive, you have to be intentional about what you do. Create habits and you are on your way. It’s about being proactive instead of reactive. I’ve laid a decent groundwork for this this year
  • My focus has been mostly on how I spend my time. I largely kicked the Netflix-late-at-night habit. I ran out of things to watch! Plus, the habit of getting up at 4 a.m. to get in the studio makes me unable to stay up late anymore. I’m an old man now, and that’s perfectly OK.
  • My Ideal Weekly Schedule experiment has worked really well. HUGE hat tip to Michael Hyatt and Dave Delaney. (Really, go check them out if you haven’t already. Subscribe to their podcasts and blogs.)

Boring - 85%

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” — Gustave Flaubert

  • The Ideal Weekly Schedule ties in really well with this, since it’s not fun or exciting to get up and paint at 4 a.m. It’s kind of boring to not stay up and watch silly shows on Netflix. But I’m making myself get in my “chair” and work at being creative, instead of being “creative.”
  • normcore.
  • I gave up social media for Lent. It was boring, but not in the right way. Don’t think I’ll do that again. I’ll probably do something more traditional in 2015, like give up a certain food and focus on the spiritual aspects, not just the asceticism.

Listen - 20%

  • Listening is the hardest thing for me to do. Probably for any of us, really. We all want to focus on ourselves instead of others.
  • Intended to listen to my “tribe,” but I haven’t really gotten a very big tribe yet.
  • Learned to “listen” to my canvases. Learning to not impose my own way on my art.
  • Also wanted to focus on my inputs, but I’ve largely ignored that. At least I gave up the junk Netflix habit.

One of my biggest takeaways for the year has been to be flexible and be okay with the fact that it may take 11 months (or more!) to reach a goal, but that’s why you write down your goals.

Well, we are about to celebrate Christmas over here, and you’ve got audio to listen to above, so I’ll wrap this up. Next week I hope to have some thoughts for you regarding plans for 2015. I think it’ll be a great year. What about you?

Year-End Review: Reflecting on 2014

Why Fog Keeps Coming Up in My Art

September 16th, 2014

This time of year in Nashville we have a lot of foggy mornings. The sky is gray, and it feels like the sky is just a few feet away from you. In a sense, it is.

The world seems to disappear and reappear right before your eyes. Landmarks and skylines disappears.

My drive into Nashville looked like this one morning recently.

It was pretty and quiet.

Instagram | Morning Fog Driving into Nashville - @bradblackman

I think fog has been such a powerful metaphor for how I’ve felt the past 10 years.

I’ve fallen in and out of love. Moved in and out of my parents’ house several times. Dated a bunch. Finally met someone I thought would be perfect for me. Married her and a year later I became a dad. Six months later, the economy took a “downturn,” I lost my job, and we moved in with my parents for a year. I got a job I couldn’t stand, we bought a foreclosure, and then we had another baby. Eventually I quit the job I didn’t like and tried my hand at freelancing full-time. Then we found out we were having a third baby, nearly lost the house more than once, finally landed at another job.

Whoah.

During it all, everything has been up in the air, unclear. I’ve felt like I was on the road, headed… somewhere. At full speed.

And even now, though things aren’t that bad, there’s still uncertainty in the air, and I don’t really know where I am going just yet. You probably don’t, either.

While things grow more stable (wait until the kids are teenagers!) nothing is completely clear, but that’s okay.

I know it is just fog. There are solid objects out there that I have to watch out for, so I use caution.

I just keep my headlights on to help everyone else out.

Be a light in the fog.

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Be a light in the fog.

Tribes

August 26th, 2014

Andrea Marutti -  Memories of a free festival #6 - Tago Mago Lounge CafèSeth Godin has a fantastic ability to take ordinary words and give them new, charged meaning, bringing us a new vocabulary to talk about marketing and business. One such word is “tribe.” Meaning, your group, your people. The people who like what you do and have to say and support you and your work. (Godin wrote a book about it.)

This of course is important for artists, who, lacking the old patron system made up of wealthy kings and church officials as in the Renaissance or the gallery/patron system that flourished up until a few years ago, have had to take marketing into their own hands.

Artists have to pay attention to their tribes. It’s no longer the job of a gallerist or a Pope to champion your work. We artists are in charge of that ourselves.

Now, I’ve noticed that I tend to have a somewhat black-and-white attitude toward my own tribe: I divide it between those who buy my art and those who don’t.

It’s really not fair.

It’s not fair to the people who don’t buy my art.

There are a couple of reasons why they might not buy my art.

  1. They like it, but they can’t afford it. Pretty straightforward. They want it, but they don’t have the money or don’t think they can afford the purchase.

  2. They like it, can afford it, but it doesn’t fit into their collection. There are clothes out there that I like but would never wear simply because they are the wrong color for my complexion.

I need to consider these things carefully, and not ignore the people who aren’t buying my art. I want them to champion me, even if they aren’t buying my stuff. Because even if they aren’t buying my artwork, they can still talk about me, and recommend me to someone else.

For example, I have no need for a huge lawnmower, but I might be able to tell a friend that I know someone who owns a certain model and says it is great and he should check it out, just because my other friend loves his.

It really comes down to listening and helping. This is just a start, but what are other aspects of your tribe to consider, especially as it concerns art?

Photo Credit: Andrea Marutti via Compfight cc

The Case of Too Many Inputs

April 1st, 2014

"Stop Noise Pollution" by Josef Müller-Brockmann. One of the best public service posters and a classic International Typographic Style poster. Muller-Brockmann uses typography combined with studio photography to make the point loud and clear.I often have way too many inputs. I think I need to put myself on a mental diet with the constant barrage of information online, mostly coming from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, RSS feeds, email, email, email.

Too. Much. Noise.

I can’t hear myself think. And it’s not just the kids running around in circles breakdancing around the house. (Yes, I made the mistake of introducing that term to them. Now it’s all they want to do. “Daddy, we’re going to breakdance in the kitchen.”)

On the flip side, there are so many great resources out there. So much to learn. I don’t want to miss out on any of it. I know I need to get better at listening, and there are so many ways to listen nowadays. We live in the age of Big Data. It’s a blessing and a curse. The information is overwhelming, and so is the information about the information (which makes it metadata).

Of course, we all know that iron sharpens iron. We learn best from interacting with other people. From listening to them. You can’t listen only to your own thoughts. My own thoughts get old after a while like a broken record.

You can’t operate only on your own.

If you never listen to anyone, your ideas get stale after a while. You have to test them, share them, grow them by rubbing them up against other ideas. Watch what happens. Maybe there will be an amazing chemical reaction. Or it will fizzle and die. Maybe your idea isn’t as good as you thought. Or you are stuck with an idea and it isn’t going anywhere. Or too precious with your ideas, unwilling to share.

It’s the old existential question: if an idea is never shared, did it ever exist in the first place? It applies to art, and it applies to ideas as well. After all, art is just another way of expressing an idea.

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So get out of your own head and talk to people! Two are better than one, for sure.

Back to the problem with too many inputs.

Your brain needs a bouncer.

In this day and age there is such a glut of information, so much noise. Total silence isn’t good, either. So what do you do?

You have to be very selective about what inputs you let into your life. Listen to anything and everything with discernment. The internet is a veritable buffet line. You can sample from just about everything there is to learn.

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The key is to take stock and get rid of anything that is unhelpful. Be picky about who and what you let stay with you. Your brain needs a bouncer. Is this information really getting you where you want to go? (Do you know where you want to go?)

See, I find “Family Guy” entertaining, but I don’t need to keep watching it. It’s crude, juvenile, and degrading.

And I probably subscribe to too many RSS feeds and email newsletters. It’s not that many, compared to some people I know. But it’s overwhelming to me. I’ve lost interest in so many. Maybe you need to unsubscribe to mine. It won’t hurt my feelings if you do (yes it will but I’ll get over it.) It’s okay to delete what is just slowing you down, what has become just another thing to do, an item on a checklist. Or maybe some input is a negative influence. A few years ago I used to enjoy listening to Rage Against the Machine. Great music, but it always made me angry and start kicking things. So I had to quit that. Honestly, I haven’t missed it.

What inputs have you had to get rid of over the years? Or what inputs do you need to get rid of now?

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Pin this post: What do you do when your brain is overwhelmed by overstimulation?

Unplugging for Lent

March 4th, 2014

Last year I read an article by Baratunde Thurston about how over the December and New Year holidays he unplugged from the Internet for 25 days.

I thought it was a neat idea. Then I put it away in the back of my mind for a while.

It wasn’t until I heard Eric J. Fisher interview Baratunde on Beyond the To Do List that I gave it more serious thought.

baratunde_fast_company_cover_200wThen, cleaning up my home office right after Christmas, I found the issue of Fast Company that I had misplaced. Baratunde’s head was on the cover, kind of small and toward the bottom, with big letters floating above him: #UNPLUG.

So I re-read all the articles about unplugging. Baratunde had been living like he was running for President of Planet Earth, going from one speaking engagement to another, promoting his book and checking in all sorts of places online. By the end of the year, it had burned him out and made him cranky, and he needed a vacation.

He considered going to some remote island paradise, but that wasn’t what he wanted. What he needed was a vacation from the Internet.

He stayed in his adopted hometown of New York, but he completely disconnected from social media and email. He did a lot of socializing — offline.

This was the holiday season, so business slowed down anyway. Yet I’m sure he was tempted to check in on Foursquare and say he was at such and such a restaurant with these friends at a Chrismtas party, and post a picture of himself and said friends at said restaurant. Like anyone else with social media habit would do, right?

But after the first couple of days, he says the itch went away.

I did something similar last year for Lent.

And I’m thinking about it again this year. Last year, I gave up Facebook for Lent. However, I stayed on the other social media sites.

But this year, I will be off social media from March 5 to April 20. That’s six weeks and four days. 40 days.

40 days of no Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Netflix.

128141157_c2ce281543_oI might check off books I read on Goodreads, but that may be it. I know Netflix isn’t really a social network but it sure eats up too much of my time.

A lot can happen in 40 days on the Internet. Then again, on the Internet, not much changes in 40 days. There’s always sensational news about this or that celebrity. The weather is too hot or too cold. People complain about the government. People share pictures of funny cats and their kids or grandkids.

But 40 days is a good time to set aside to focus on something important. To cut down on the noise and listen. To really form a new habit. It takes 21-30 days to form a new habit, depending on who you ask. It seems to me that 40 days would really cement it in place.

I’ll keep blogging and emailing. I still have to pay the bills so I’m not in a position to shut down completely, and I have no assistant to notify me if there is a fire I need to put out. So I’ll still be checking my email every day. But I won’t (and don’t) live in my email. (Never have, never will.)

I’m not Catholic or Orthodox. I grew in a household that’s about as evangelical as it gets. So the idea of Lent or fasting was never really brought up. But a few years ago, I started hearing of “tech fasts.” And I got it, seeing how things like email can overwhelm a person. And then social media got popular. And social media overwhelm became a thing. Slowly, the idea of tech fasting started to grow on me. Now that I’ve done it in smaller increments, I’m ready to do it more fully.

The whole point of the exercise is to take a break from all the noise that happens online, and focus on reading, writing, making art, and spending time with my family.

Do you have plans to give anything up for Lent? I’d love to hear about it.

PS: For those about to #Unplug, here’s a bonus freebie.

I’ll be changing my social media profile pictures to one of these just so people don’t think I’ve disappeared off the face of the Earth. If you want to use one, feel free. Just click on the image you want and you’ll be taken to the big version.

UnplugLent14_black

UnplugLent14_corroded

UnplugLent14_white

Photo Credits:
Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc
eflon via Compfight cc