Book Review: The War of Art

Let me say straight up, this is the best book I have read in a long time. It addresses a battle that cannot be seen, smelt, touched or heard, yet is as real as gunfire in the streets of Kabul. The casualties of this conflict walk past you everyday, and if you’ve sought some worthy creative goal and failed to even start then you’ll understand it’s power. There is a very real war that rages against your noble pursuits, and Steven Pressfield does an admirable job of exposing and addressing it in this must-read-again book.

The book is divided into three parts. Part one defines the enemy, this thing Pressfield calls ‘Resistance.’ Here you’ll find punchy and humorous morsels of wisdom that will resonate with a lot of what you’ve experienced as a wannabe author, artist or musician. Part two moves on to how to overcome resistance with strategies and mindsets that move us from the world of the ‘amateur’ to the ‘pro’. Part three concludes the book with more philosophical thoughts on the origin of creativity and ideas. While not as practical, Pressfield’s new-agey ideas of god, angels and muses stimulated interesting thoughts on this whole subject.

I absolutely loved the way Pressfield writes. His writing is easy to read, witty and refreshingly honest. Somehow he manages to provide a stern reality check to aspiring creatives in a way that is thoroughly enjoyable and inspirational. If you know you’re an artist at heart, but somehow don’t find time to hone your craft, you’ll be called a wannabe, an amateur and a coward within the pages of this book. Nonetheless, you’ll put down this book feeling motivated and equipped to take up once again the battle against resistance.

I’ve come across a lot of the ideas in this book while reading Christian books addressing why humans tend to desire things that ultimately destroy us (for a good example see Kris Lundgaard’s ‘The Enemy Within’). I found this book interesting in that it tied our resistance to pursuing creative ideas to the same root cause, a concept I hadn’t really thought much before. This book unpackaged a lot of core Christian ideas of sin using fewer theological terms and more swear words, and to be honest I quite enjoyed it.

I thought about recommending this book to everyone who aspires to some sort of creative endeavour, but then realised that no matter who you are, you will benefit from this book. All of us experience the conflict of having a life we desire different to the life we live, and this book does an admirable job of exposing the issues in an inspiring and entertaining way.

Hitch-hiking Trainer Wheels

If you haven’t stood on the side of the road, bag at your side, with your thumb out and grinning disarmingly and slightly awkwardly at cars driving past, you’re missing out. Hitch-hiking has to be one of the most easily accessible adventures available to young guys, and holds great potential for building valuable social skills and abilities. If the idea of having a go freaks you out, I have just the idea for you…

Dress up like a snowboarder and hitch up and down the mountain.

In this situation any risks associated with hitching, from both the driver and the hitch-hikers perspective, are almost eliminated, and here’s why…

There’s no question of where or why you’re travelling that way
There’s only one way to go – up. The only likely reason you and your ride are going is to get to the snow, hence the chances of you being a raging psycho axe-murderer are pretty slim. My only suggestion is that you don’t wear your goggles and/or balaclava while waiting for a ride.

You can bank on getting a ride pretty quick
I waited maybe three minutes to get a ride up the mountain. On the way down I had just walked past the first row of cars in the carpark when someone pulled over. Because of the sheer number of people travelling exactly where you want to go you can basically expect not to be standing there awkwardly for too long.

You have a guaranteed common interest to spark conversation
This form of hitch-hiking carries the thrill of not knowing who might pick you up, with the added safety that you have one guaranteed source of conversation to fall back on. Aside from the obvious discussions about the weather/snow conditions, there are plenty of ways

Seriously, if you haven’t tasted the thrill of hitch-hiking, there is no excuse. You’ll meet interesting people, learn loads and experience the adrenaline of being outside your comfort zone. Do it.

The Power of Names

Next week I move up to Auckland. A new city, new job, new church and new friends all await me. There will be a heap of knowledge to learn, processes to understand, equipment to grapple with and streets to become familiar with. These are important things to be sure, but they don’t compare with the single most important feature of Auckland I can learn: the names of those I meet.

People’s names are, without a doubt, the most important thing I can invest myself in learning in those first few weeks. Learning someone’s name says they mean something to you, and is foundational in kick-starting meaningful friendships. Everything else can be picked up as I go, but getting people’s names right first time has the potential to establish the way other people perceive me, with the effects resonating long into the future.

I want to be better at learning a hundred people’s names, than they are at remembering my random-new-guy name. I’m not going to use the excuse that ‘I suck at learning people’s names.’ I’ll dare to use people’s names even when I’m not entirely positive on it. It will be hard. It will potentially be quite awkward. But if I can pull this off, it could be the difference between a streamlined move to the big smoke, or a lonely battle for acceptance.

Do you have any tips for learning people’s names? Lets hear them in the comments!

The Accidental Annual Review

I’ve long been fond of the idea of getting away on my own to review the year that’s been, and plan and dream for the months and years ahead. The problem is, I just haven’t got round to doing it…until now.

I had planned this week off in between jobs with the thought that the move to Auckland would take place now. As it panned out, we did the hard work of moving a week or two ago, meaning I had a free week. Throw in the fact that we had planned a snowboarding weekend away, and then that a friend generously offered their holiday home to me for the week, and you have an ideal window for a time of solitary reflection (and snowboarding).

It’s been an enormously rewarding experience and I will definitely be more proactive about rigging up this sort of thing in the future. Here’s just a few thoughts on what I’ve learnt and what I’ll be improving for next time:

Go into it with a plan
Be ready with a few key objectives for the review.  A couple of days actually isn’t that long to evaluate your plan for life, so you still want to be productive.  Spending some time beforehand preparing an agenda would really pay off.  I didn’t do this but wish I had.

I’m not even a high-flying executive and I appreciated the fact that the cellphone reception was poor.  I wasn’t expecting to be so disconnected, so I spent too much time trying to get signal on my phone and hence less time just enjoying the isolation.  In future making a conscious decision to disconnect would definitely help.

A cosy house was good
I’m still a bit undecided about whether it would be better to do this sort of soul searching while tenting in the wild or in a cosy house with handy access to comfy chairs, hot chocolates and blankets.  This time I went for the latter, and really enjoyed it, but I’ll do a solo camping mish sometime to compare.  This was the set-up that worked for me…

I spent a large portion of each day snowboarding.  I enjoyed it, but for future reference I think I would be better to keep snowboarding for snowboarding trips and serious life planning for serious life planning trips.  But just because I can, here’s a self-take of me at the snow, showing the glorious weather I had down there.

If you haven’t done anything like this I would wholeheartedly recommend it.  And if you have done stuff like this and have any hints or thoughts please share them in the comments!

Book Review: Babes in the Woods

People read all sorts of things in their desperate rush to learn how to be a parent in those few months before they introduce a new person into the world. Sleeping, eating, breastfeeding and crying are all popular topics. I get quite excited about books in the ‘travel and adventure with kids’ genre, and this book, carrying the subtitle ‘Hiking, Camping and Boating with Babies and Young Children,’ seemed to have pretty good reviews so I went and bought it.

This is one of those strange books that I’m glad I read, but didn’t actually find very helpful. The author’s stated intention with this book was to “not only inspire families to adventure with their young children but also to educate them so they have a safe and meaningful experience.” In retrospect I think she achieved the first side of this, but came up short on the latter.

Born out of the wilderness of Alaska, this book is unashamedly American. The author seems to have forgotten that there is a whole world that doesn’t use the imperial system. Normally this is a fairly trivial matter, except that this book leans heavily on providing advice  on things like recommended fluid consumption, travel distances and camping recipes, information that was lost on me because America hasn’t got up with the play with the metric system. Somehow this book made me feel excluded and rejected, and I was even a bit offended (in a bemused sort of way) at her assertion that: “UVB rays…are strongest in the summer months when the earth is closest to the sun.” Maybe I’m just a geek, but this wanton northern hemispherism really got me riled up.

The other downfall of this book is that I feel that the author has tried to cover too much, and hence hasn’t covered enough of anything. The needs of children in the wilderness change a lot as they progress from infants through to pre-schoolers, and this book has tried to include not just camping with these age brackets, but hiking, boating and this thing called ‘base-camping’. She has even included a section on camping with children with special needs, a worthy subject to be sure, but probably deserves a book of its own.  I guess this means it is a good book to provide an overview of things to think about, but also meant it couldn’t delve any deeper than information that is fairly intuitive if you’ve done a bit of camping before.

I’ve been a bit harsh toward this book, but in reality it did inspire me, and I’m pleased I read it. It is encouraging to read the stories of families who haven’t let young children be an excuse not to explore and discover this world we live in. The value of this book was more in inspiring me of what is possible to do with kids, rather than in equipping me to actually do it.

Weapons of Choice: Amazon Kindle

‘Weapons of Choice’ is my space to pay tribute to the devices, tools and software that I use to make my life more awesome. I’m a bit of a geek at heart, and love learning about new gadgets that I can use to improve how much I can get out of life. In no particular order, I’ll start with my Amazon Kindle e-reader.

E-readers have been causing a stir for a while now. Initially I resisted this new fandangled way to consume books, convinced that nothing could replace the actual feel of turning pages and that smell of new paper that we all know and love.  Now that I’ve owned one for a few months I am absolutely convinced that e-readers are the way of the future, and have become a raging e-book evangelist. To me, the single greatest advantage of owning a kindle is that it removes those biggest excuses not to read; cost and time.

Basically every book you will find for kindle will be cheaper than its paper sibling. This, coupled with the fact that there are often ridiculous deals offered if you know where to look and a lot of older books that are offered free, means you never have the excuse of not having anything interesting to read. The Kindle is also portable, much more than I anticipated it to be. With a decent cover I am happy to throw it in my bag and carry it around almost everywhere I go (something I very rarely did with paper books that could get bent or damaged rolling around in my bag). This means that whether I’ve got five minutes while Paula grabs something from the supermarket, or I’ve got the old awkward half an hour between appointments, I’ve got my whole library at hand and can fill my mind with worthwhile stuff.

If you’re wondering about battery life, the fact that it lasts up to a month on one charging means it has never been an issue for me. The e-ink screen is easy on the eyes and very rarely gets annoying, even in the sun.

If I have one qualm about the kindle, it is that the range of books available is still growing, and there’s been a number of times were I can’t find the books I want in kindle format and am torn about whether to splash out on an ‘actual’ book. This is very minor, however, and as time progresses I’d be picking most books will wind up being available in this format.

Quite simply, what I love about the Kindle is that it is just a no-frills reading device. In other words, I like that its a piece of technology that isn’t a potential distraction. If you’ve been toying with the idea of getting a Kindle, I would unreservedly suggest you do it. My recommendations would be to go for the non-touch version, and get a cool cover to go with it (my kindle rocks the M-Edge Holmes Jacket).