Review of How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny ODell.

How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention EconomyHow To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an important book that needs to read and savored. Now that I’ve finished my first “quick read” I’ll be going back through it with outlining and highlighting. I’ll be suggesting it for my book club as I think as Odell covers themes we’ve been talking about over the past couple of years. I love the themes of art, public space, and bioregionalism.

And birds! I’ve become bird crazy over the past few months. It started by learning more about herons from my friend Kathleen Atkins (who currently has a show at the Miller Library). Then looking at the beautiful watercolors by my friend Charlene Freeman which prompted me to take her Nature sketching class where I learned more about our native birds through classmates. Next thing I know I’ve sketched birds, bought some bird feeders, and learned the names and sounds of my backyard buddies. I was talking about this on Saturday with my friend Val who immediately named a list of my favorites which she also enjoys and felt an immediate further kinship with her.

Odell writes about spending time in the Oakland rose garden which took me back to my parent’s rose garden and also the joy I felt living near the McKinley rose garden in Sacramento.

This book is so much more and I’ll be spending more time with it. I want to thank @jemsandhu for recommending it!

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Ideas for Artist’s Dates around Seattle and the Eastside

I found and later sketched this mushroom on an Artist’s Date along Coal Creek Trail in Newcastle, WA.

Sometimes you need to refuel your creativity well, and an easy way to do that is go on an Artist’s Date with yourself. If you aren’t familiar with this idea, it comes from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. The idea is to get out by yourself and experience the world around you, and in return, your creative juices will flow. This is not only good for working artists, writers, and other creatives, but I would say this is also a good idea for anyone needing a source of inspiration for work as well. Innovation comes from creativity and inspiration, and you don’t get that from staring at a screen full of email in your office or on your phone.

The hard part of this is that you are not allowed to bring your partner, family, or friends with you. You have to do it alone. Now I know I have been railing in person about getting away from “bowling alone”, however, in this case, especially for those of us who spend a lot of time caring for family, an Artist’s Date alone can be a godsend and a way to recapture a “room of one’s own.”

Not sure what to do for an Artist’s Date? Here is a list of ideas for the Greater Seattle and Eastside area.

Any ideas to add this list? Have you done any of these as an Artist’s Date? Leave a comment below.

I’ll be facilitating an Artist’s Way workshop at the Cloud 9 Art School in Bothell this fall.

Let’s Stop Learning Alone

The Coffee Klatch. Sketching People in Real Life at Third Place Commons in Lake Forest Park.

We live in a golden age of learning. Pick any subject you would like to learn, and someone has posted a free video on Youtube. You can join a massive online (or MOOC) class at Coursera or EdX and learn from the best professors at the top Universities. You can pay a subscription and have quality courses from experts at Lynda.com or LinkedIn Learning with courses that are available 24 hours a day to teach you how to analyze a spreadsheet or give a business presentation. You can join Master Class to learn film-making directly from David Lynch or Storytelling from Neil Gaiman. The possibilities are endless, and I’m proud to say that I’ve done my part by working on democratizing learning.

We have a feast before us. And I would never want to go back. I think about my process of starting a business. In just the space of a couple of weeks, I’ve watched small business marketing courses on LinkedIn Learning, a video on tracking your business expenses on Youtube, and attended two webinars on products. These quick online learning lessons were exactly what I needed to understand a technology or business problem at the moment.

However…while online learning is great for a lot of things–I’m going to say that learning in person is even better. It is time for us to stop bowling alone, or learning alone, and get back out there in small community groups and learn from an instructor, learn from one another and engage with our neighbors.

If you aren’t familiar with the term bowling alone, it comes from the title of the essay, and later a book by Robert D. Putman that spoke about the loss of Civic Engagement in the United States. Published in 2000, and seriously, if Putnam saw that things were bad in 2000, remember this was the time before smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix binging, etc. The year 2000? 2019 is calling and asks you to hold their beer.

I think it is time to meld the best of both worlds again. Keep the options from online, but add a little real-life interaction into the mix–especially if you want to learn a craft or become an expert on a topic. For myself, that came in the form of Cloud 9 Art School in Bothell, a small art school run by my long-time friend Charlene Freeman. The school sits in an older building at the edge of Bothell and is light and airy with two floors of classroom space.

What I’ve found there is that third place. Third place is a term to describe a social space that is separate from home (the first place), and work (the second place). I started by taking a course on the Artist’s Way with Charlene. I spent twelve weeks with a small group of wonderful women talking about our creative lives and spurring one another on. I could have just read the book, but being in a group together, going through the chapters, and holding one another accountable was key for the experience. On our last night together, the class met at the Beardslee Pub in Bothell to celebrate with one another and to pledge to meet back up in a few months to see where we were on our Artist’s journey.

I didn’t stop there. I decided to take a Nature Sketchbook class from Charlene. You can learn more about why I thought that class was the push I needed here. But here I want to stress again that when I entered the classroom, there were women there who had taken courses at the school before and the class felt more community. While I learned about watercolor and sketching techniques, I also learned more about the women around me. Some were working artists, and some were naturalists, and some were newbies with no connection like me. My favorite part of each session was where people would share their sketches from the previous week. Did I mention there were working artists? It would be easy to be intimidated, but instead, it was inspiring.

My sketch from Bothell Landing of a fence post.

I recently finished a Sketchbook Journaling class, and while the people are different, again there were many repeat Cloud 9 students. With each class, this place feels more like home. We even went to Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park (get it third place?) to sketch people in real life. Our last class was spent roaming around Bothell Landing, and I spent a nice hour sketching with others at a picnic table. While learning, I’ve had good conversations with other students and feel more like I’m part of a community.

This isn’t to say that I’ve completely abandoned online learning or plan to. For my artwork, I like cruising Youtube channels with watercolor artists. Sometimes I run them in the background while I’m working and I’ve learned some things from them. I watched filmmaker David Lynch’s Master Class to learn more about how he creates. But I tell you, having the person next to you tell you that they like a palette you used or the bird you drew is much more rewarding than 1000 likes on a twitter or Instagram post. Having feedback directly from the instructor about your work is far more instructive than reading comments below a Youtube video and never getting direct feedback.

Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People also published The 8th Habit. The 8th habit is to find your voice & inspire others to find theirs. With that, I’m taking what I learned in the Artist’s Way workshop from Char and my fellow students, and I’ll be sharing that with others by facilitating the next session of the Artist’s Way workshop this fall at Cloud 9. I hope you will join me and others from our community there.

The Common Good Quick Review

I’m reading Robert Reich’s book, The Common Good, and I skipped to the end to see the call to action. I found it in the final paragraph, “We have never been a perfect union. Our finest moments have been when we sought to become more perfect than we had been. We can help restore the common good by striving for it and showing others it’s worth the effort.”

It is time we start asking all of our institutions–our work, our schools, our government, and measure them against this standard once again. I was particularly struck by his use of the Broken Window syndrome and how he lays out how our trust in our institutions has been eroded over the past five decades.

I’ll write more once I’ve finished.

Review: Where the Crawdads Sings

Sunday morning sketch of Where the Crawdads Sing book cover

“Marsh is not a swamp. Marsh is a space of flight, where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky. Slow-moving creeks wander, carrying the orb of the sun with them to the sea, and long-legged birds lift with unexpected grace–as though not built to fly–against the roar of a thousand snow geese.”

Delia Owens, first lines of Where the Crawdads Sing

Abandoned by her family, Kya Clark, lives alone in the North Carolina Marsh. Kya learns to survive and thrive on her own. This is that classic fantasy tale of the wolf-boy who survives on his own in the wilderness, apart from man and society. Or really, it is the tale of the witch–the woman who lives apart and is shunned and ignored by the community. Kya has a love of nature and is a collector of shells and feathers. As with any fable of the siren, two young men from town are drawn to her with tragic results. The town will sit in judgment of her.

Where the Crawdads Sing will be the book of the summer. I had hoped to wait until my copy at the library came up (currently number 1290 on 382 copies), but then I passed an autographed copy on a table at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park and had to pick it up. I decided to read a few pages, and then the book drew me in and I read it over the weekend.

Kya Clark is one of the most fascinating, strong characters created that I’ve read in a long time. Delia Owens makes her crafty, interesting, and yet always so wounded and shaped by the isolation and tragedy in her life. Despite that, Kya finds her own purpose. She dedicates herself to learning the world of the marsh around her. There are other characters (all interesting in their own right) who give her gifts–they teach her to fish, read, and eke out a living. In the words of Kya, “nudging her to care for herself, not just offering to care for her.”

I also like the way the book was plotted. There is a murder mystery at the front of the book, and the book jumps between the time before and the time after one of the town’s young men is found at the bottom of the Fire Tower. The stories move forward until they meet and merge.

There is also the naturalist piece to the book as well as poetry. Owens herself is a wildlife scientist and the author of several non-fiction books that sound equally fascinating to this, her first novel. As I mentioned, Kya is a collector and a naturalist. She’ll go far with this–but I don’t want to spoil that. The book also contains poetry, some Dickinson, and one other regional poet. The book reminded me a bit of one of my favorite collection of short stories, The Shell Collector, by Anthony Doerr. Others have compared her to Barbara Kingsolver. I hope to read more from Owens.

Dinner at How to Cook a Wolf

Dessert at How to Cook a Wolf

When we travel or golf, we usually meet other couples, and it has become our habit to ask them for restaurant recommendations. A few years ago, we were in New Orleans and met a couple over sazeracs at Muriel’s in Jackson Square. This couple from the Midwest had recently visited Seattle and ended up giving us a recommendation How to Cook a Wolf in Queen Anne.

How to Cook a Wolf has since become our favorite spot to celebrate our relationship including our engagement two years ago. We went the other night to celebrate the anniversary of our first date. We’ve been inseparable for six years now thanks to eHarmony’s algorithm.

MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf

Their menu changes and the emphasis is on fresh food–the restaurant is an homage to food writer MFK Fisher who wrote a cookbook of the same name and from the cover has a 1,000-yard stare. The food is always spectacular, and the presentation of every portion of dinner from drinks to dishes is theater-worthy. We had the sea wolf sourdough with fennel-honey butter and roasted garlic, along with our favorite Polenta Fritters with ricotta and chestnut honey butter. We then shared the San Juan Island Spot prawns, Ravioli with nettle and ricotta, and pine nuts. And then we finished off by splitting two desserts, a lemon berry tart, and a malted mousse.

There is no evidence here of the famed Seattle Freeze. The restaurant is tiny–and the tables close, and it promotes interaction as people “ooh!” and “ah!” over other’s drink and menu choices. So in a way, it gives us that giddiness we experience when traveling, suddenly becoming extroverts, asking complete strangers what drink they ordered.

I was so eager to eat my dinner that I forgot to immortalize it with my camera for later sketching, so instead enjoy this sketch of our almost empty dessert plates.

All in all, a fun evening. Before dinner we popped into Blue Highway Games and put our name down for Wingspan, and then bought a couple of other board games, because we may eat well, but we also nerd well. Afterwards, we popped into Hilltop Ale House.

I have a plan for us to try every single Ethan Stowell restaurant with John. I’ve been to a couple, but I want to complete the entire list. Maybe we’ll get a badge! Up next is Staple & Fancy.

If you haven’t yet, check out the Artist’s Way course I’ll be teaching at Cloud 9 Art School in Bothell this fall. Food is art, so chefs and foodies welcome!

Morning Rituals and Routines

My morning desk mess

Do you have a morning routine or rituals to get you started for the day? I’ve always been a morning person, and I’ve learned that in starting a business I need to guard that morning time with all I’m worth. I recently started to guard that schedule by avoiding any appointments or meetings before noon. There is no way to work around that completely–right now I have a Wednesday morning class at Cloud 9 Art School on sketching which gives me joy, so at the moment, that is the one exception.

I usually wake up between 5:30 and 6:00. I really hate alarm clocks, and so I’ve managed to train my body clock to wake up on its own. I feel like waking up to an alarm is the worst possible thing for your body–to be jarred awake from whichever sleep cycle you are in.

That first hour is for me. I get up, take the dog out, and then fix my first cup of coffee in the morning. I then take a long bath with a book or the latest New Yorker or Vanity Fair. Me-time. Me, glorious fricking, me-time. People always ask how I find time to read as many books as I do, and this is it. I don’t meditate, this is my meditation.

I love the smell of book ink in the morning.

Umberto Eco

After getting dressed I head back downstairs, feed the cats and dog, and then open up my journal and start a new page for the day. On one side I write up my schedule for the day. I learned this trick from Cal Newport’s Deep Work. By hand, I write down the times of the day and then I first pen in appointments and meetings (allowing travel time), and then I block off time for deep cognitive work–for me right now, that is focusing on getting my new business off the ground. I’ve always been a little absent-minded about my calendar, so the act of writing out appointments from my Outlook schedule into this notebook is a way for me to acknowledge each scheduled item. Since I’ve been doing this routine, it is rare to miss or be late. I try to leave open space in the schedule for changes and to work on my “action list.” I also list out my morning routine.

Around this time is when I have to wake up any kids in the household for school prep and then drive them to the bus stop. A good day is when everyone makes it to the bus on time, and if I have to drive them in, they owe me an hour of my lost productivity.

After the bus stop I pop in at the Starbucks down the hill for a latte or flat white. Some days I bring my journal with me (no laptop), drink my coffee, and write my Artist’s Way morning pages. That is three whole pages of writing. For me, I’m usually acknowledging the work and schedule for the day ahead and sometimes musing and recording what has happened in my life since I last wrote in the journal. I leave the laptop at home because if I have a screen near my morning pages and journal, I can easily be sucked into the black hole of lost time. And I don’t like email to be the first thing I deal with in the morning–another black hole of lost time.

When I return home it is time to hit the list. I strive to work non-stop until noon. I work on my business, and alternate it with my morning routine around the house. For the business I usually have one or two priorities for the day. For example, today I’ll be working on a mini-marketing plan for an upcoming class I’m teaching and then want to get started on planning a course around Digital Minimalism.

The business work is always changing, but my morning routine is fairly stable. It involves:
*morning pages
*clearing my desk
*a load of laundry
*cleaning the kitchen
*anything else

Afternoons are for appointments, errands, meetings, sketching, writing, and whatever suits my fancy. Sometimes that involves a nap after lunch. So refreshing and I may sneak in another chapter or two in the book I’m reading.

My morning routine is never quite finalized. What I need to work on next is completing a couple of items before bedtime, so I have more time in the morning to hit the ground running. The two I need to work on are making sure the kitchen is clean before bedtime and clearing my desk. I hate a messy desk, but I always seem to make my desk messy.

What is your morning routine? Have you posted your morning routine on a blog? What tips do you have for getting your day started right? What about tips from night owls?

Make sure you check out my upcoming class on the Artist’s Way. It starts Fall 2019 at Cloud 9 Art School, but registration is open now.