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Austin Kleon’s Curious Elder

Image nicked off Ali’s Website

I heard about Austin Kleon’s curious elder in Ali Abdaal’s podcast, Not Overthinking, the episode entitled Austin Kleon on Writing, Creativity and the Importance of Idleness.

It’s one of Ali’s deep dives, where he talks to creative people he admires in industry. Interestingly, Ali touches upon what these deep dives are in response to Austin’s talking about what he finds to be the best thing about doing what he does: getting to hang with like-minded people from all over the world! I can relate, as indeed I will later on in this post.

Austin Kleon is the author of Show Your Work!, Steal Like an Artist and Keep Going, three books that have become very popular with artists and creative people of all types. I’ve read Show Your Work!, and just bought the other two this morning. I can’t wait to get into them!

As I listened to the conversation, I sat with Roam open on my desktop and made notes. There were so many takeaways and a lot of the conversation snippets inspired thoughts in me, so I’m going to explore that a bit here. Some of the quotes won’t be word-for-word, as I was paraphrasing in my notes, but as jumping off points, they’ll do just fine.

The Curious Elder

This is such a good turn of phrase. That guy should be a writer! Oh, wait…

I’m only 37 but I’m basically an old dad in Internet years. I’m going to have to flip the switch and be like a curious elder now.

Austin kleon

So if he’s an old dad at 37, I guess I’m a granddad, right?

I’m definitely a curious elder too, but do I really have to take my cues on what’s culturally relevant from the young whippersnappers who are crushing it in the knowledge space right now?

Well, yes and no. A LOT of what they come up with is actually really helpful, or really entertaining, or really inspiring, and is sometimes all of those things at the same time.

You do you!

Gary vaynerchuck

GaryVee has the right of it. I can take inspiration from the creators whose content I enjoy and spin it into my own thing. Austin talks about this a lot in the conversation, and he should know as he literally wrote the book on it!

So I will be doing just that: taking inspiration and filtering it through my own points of view and experience and ‘doing me’.

I’m the lucky position at having failed at a lot of things and having learned what I DON’T want to do.

I also now have the time and the support of my family to explore new ideas without being encumbered by working a job that I hate. I feel at the peak of happiness in a lot of ways, and now is the time for me to start exploring and experimenting.

That’s the kind of thing I get from listening to such conversations as Ali and Austin’s.

What else came to mind?

Guitar People

And that is the best thing. I’m in touch with all these people that care about the same stuff that I do.

Austin Kleon

Back in 2005 I flew to Atlanta for my first Little Brother Jam. I got to meet a whole load of guitar nerds that I’d only ever spoken to online and had the time of my life. I went annually for the next few years, and also started attending a similar thing in the UK.

In 2018 I flew to Krakow in Poland to meet the DDaily crew, a bunch of creators who were publishing content on the Steem blockchain and are now active on the Hive platforms.

These events have been some of the most rewarding trips of my life and they have enriched my life in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. I guess that’s what Austin is talking about too.

Writing

In writing every day, you find out what you have to say. Writing is not just a way of communicating with the world, it’s a way of communicating with yourself. You are creating space in the day to connect with what’s here and what’s going on and figure out what you really think and feel.

Austin Kleon

This ties in nicely with a fantastic blog post I read by Scott Adams:

Writing is a skill that requires practice. So the first part of my system involves practicing on a regular basis. I didn’t know what I was practicing for, exactly, and that’s what makes it a system and not a goal. I was moving from a place with low odds (being an out-of-practice writer) to a place of good odds (a well-practiced writer with higher visibility).

Scott Adams

Together, these two quotes tell me what I need to do: I need to write. So that is what I’m doing!

Life-long Learner

Take the attitude that you’re a life-long learner.

Austin kleon

I’ve always had this attitude, sometimes to the detriment of producing anything. For example I have a course on the go right now and am about to start another one, both with my eye on becoming the person I want to be and finally get beyond my own limitations.

This is something I will be exploring more in my writing and video making.

Multipotentialite

I think of myself as a writer who does other things – eg. drawing. ‘Writer’ is my identity, but you can have something that’s the core and have other skills on top that make you stand out. There just weren’t that many writers who knew Internet stuff when I started. Blogs in 2005 were still kind of new. You needed some expertise to do it then. I would draw famous writers as they were doing their readings and then send them to them. How do I keep all the things in my life that I’m interested in and get them to talk to each other? What kind of life can come out of this?

Austin Kleon

This was like music to my ears. Of late I’ve been pondering why I never became a more prolific writer, a photographer, a musician, a video maker. I’ve been doing all of those things most of my adult life. I remember actually making the decision to quit taking photos because it was diluting the time I had for my music. Austin had this to say:

Steven Tomlinson told a story that’s in Steal Like an Artist – he went to his adviser and said ‘I love God; I love theatre and I also love business and being an entrepreneur. Which one should I choose?’ His adviser said ‘if you love all these things, your work is to figure out a way to keep all these things in your life. You might not have a career, but you’ll have a life.’ There will always be a phantom limb kind of feeling if you cut something out that you’re really into.

He was right – there was a phantom limb feeling when I wasn’t taking photos and I soon picked up the camera again. Now I understand that my job is to figure out how to keep the things I love and put them all together in some way and see what comes out. I mean it seems pretty obvious now, but now that I feel like I have the permission, it’ll help me a bit with the whole mindset thing.

Cyclical Seasons

This was another bit of the conversation I really enjoyed, the idea that work and creativity are cyclical, or ‘circular’ rather than ‘linear’.

When I’m thinking too linearly about life, eg. where will I be in five years, I like to read more eastern philosophy or Thoreau. I’ve almost abandoned linear thinking. I operate more on cycles. Stories are artificial to a certain extent. Cycles are not artificial. The earth goes around the sun, the moon goes around the earth. There are natural metaphors for our lives. The structures that our culture has given us – we need a reprieve from that. Is thinking about five years from now really the right thing? Do you see a timeline or do you see loops?

This was new to me and it makes sense. A lot of the online gurus I’m studying with now or have in the past get you to start out by imagining where you’ll be in x years’ time. Austin has got me questioning that approach now. I feel like, having reached the age of 49 and had a very varied life, I can see how making five year plans will never really work out. You could ask V.I. Lenin for his thoughts on that if he were here!

Austin goes deeper still on the concept of goals and questions the metaphors that we live our lives by. This is a fascinating topic and I hope he writes more on this. But if he doesn’t, maybe I will! Why the hell not – I have enough life experience to have shown me how living according to cultural metaphors has worked out for me and my family.

He gives some examples of authors that I can look at and talks about how women work with different metaphors than men. With men it’s all about competition and war and zero-sum games, whereas women don’t think so much in those terms.

Shall I Write?

Well, yes. Listening to conversations like this one really inspires me to believe that I can actually do this. This time it feels different, like I’ve given myself the permission to do this. I know I’ve been through cycles like this before and that they have petered out, but now I know that that’s okay.

I’m also learning about systems thinking with August Bradley and that will go a long way to helping me figure out what to do between the cycles, or how to link different parts of the cycle with something new – I’ve just learned that that is called emergence, and I’m really excited to see what emerges!


Resources Mentioned

Austin Kleon’s Books

Other Resources

Creative Breathing Space

John Cleese and OmniFocus

I just watched a 10-minute video of John Cleese talking about creativity. Here’s a link:

[John Cleese WCF]

I got the link from Kourosh Dini’s book, Creating Flow with OmniFocus, in which he referred to JC’s concept of a tortoise mind and an oasis. In other words, one needs to clear from one’s mind the clutter in order that the tortoise mind of creativity thinks it’s safe to come out.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, not in terms of creativity but in terms of spirituality. I think the two mean the same thing really—the mind can be creative when it’s cleared of clutter in the same way that one can feel a connection to the universe.

This came about in reference to OmniFocus because that particular app is designed to be a repository of clutter from one’s mind, freeing it up to do some actual work or find peace.

My Clutter

In the digital age there is so much information that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. If I’m not listening to a podcast or an audiobook when I’m doing a mundane chore or walking the dogs, I feel like I’m wasting time. If I don’t get to read my RSS feeds during lunch, I’ve wasted more time.

I like to read novels and non-fiction. I have tutorials to go through on Lightroom, Photoshop and Pixelmator. I have albums to catch up on. I have so many guitar books it’s ridiculous, not to mention the practice for forthcoming gigs.

I’ve got work six days a week. I’ve got to walk the dogs before work and prepare dinner at night for the family. I’ve got church on Sundays. I’ve got to clean at work.

I’ve got the entire Twilight Zone to watch, as well as Six Feet Under.

And then there’s family. How much time do I spend with the kids? Well, almost none, because if I do that I’m going to fall behind in all the other stuff.

Does this sound familiar?

Podcasts

My weekly podcast list is at 32. That means that if I’ve not go headphones on at every conceivable moment, I’m going to fall behind, and that’s before I even consider my Audible queue. The one-in, one-out policy clearly has not worked, because I seem unable to unsubscribe but continually subscribe to new ones. Something’s got to give. All it takes is one weekend away from my routine and the queue starts to build up and up and up.

So, this afternoon I took Poppy out for a walk to the shops without my headphones and I felt my mind beginning to breathe. This must be why I always have ideas in the shower—I’ve got no device in there! And to think I was putting it in terms of: ‘how can I capture ideas in the shower?’ Hah!

This must also be partly why I feel good after an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or church, where I feel my mind beginning to wander.

I guess that the mind does its processing when I’m asleep. It puts me in mind of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation [Night Terrors], where the crew are prevented from dreaming and begin to go insane. In other words, the mind is doing its information processing in dreams. But dreams are fleeting. I need some space to let my mind breathe when I’m awake. Mindfulness and meditation would be ways to get there.

I often feel incredibly overwhelmed, like I have no time for anything, let alone an AA meeting, but that’s usually when I get the most out of going to the meeting.

Will I give up the podcasts though? It has become a habit over the years and it’ll be a hard habit to break.