Make Good Art

Preface: My primary purpose of this post is to convince you to watch this Neil Gaiman commencement speech – one of my favorite presentations of all time.

In 6th grade a friend taught me to draw a simple maze, and since then I’ve drawn mazes on chalkboards, envelopes, sidewalks, and any other surface I can find.  For this 2-week experiment I drew a maze every day, producing 14 little pieces of art.

Day 1. I decided to draw a maze on a Post-it Note. It’s small so I can create it in just a few minutes. Also, I have to think ahead a bit, because there isn’t much room for messing around. Third, the Post-it is the perfect size and shape to scan and upload to Instagram, which seemed fun, so I tried it. Here is Maze #1.

maze2

Day 2, 3, 4. By drawing mazes on Post-It Notes, I developed a quick idea, executed it, and 3 minutes later created a thing to share.

Day 5, 6, 7. I added another Post-It Note maze over the weekend, and then began thinking about other maze-related art to create, like larger art projects or something related to the process.

Day 8. As I was cleaning up some old journals today I found mazes I had drawn years ago, so I posted them. After uploading, I wasn’t sure what to do with the hard copies of papers and Post-Its. Keep in a drawer? Throw them away? Stick them on a wall?

Day 9. I have never had formal training in “maze design,” and I don’t even know if there such a thing. So today I tried to figure out how to make an effective maze in a very small space – a 6×6 grid. With only 36 squares I created this.

maze3

It was not the most challenging puzzle, but maybe a good start toward “basic maze theory” (again, I think I made that up). What are the fewest number of grid squares to make a truly challenging maze? What makes a maze fun?

Day 10. As I figure out how many 6×6 mazes I can make, I felt like I was learning something, and I had a feeling I might’ve stumbled upon actual design principles with real names and rules and stuff. Or maybe I’m just a big nerd. Probably both.

maze4

Day 11. I got some new pink Post-it Notes! Woohoo!

Day 12-14. I found and scanned a few more older mazes. I also thought about some fun ideas for the future, like sticking the Post-It notes randomly in public places so people could work a maze if they wanted to, or just take it with them.

For now I’ll keep messing around with it, posting mazes as I make them at @littlemazes on Instagram.

maze5

Advertisements

Coffee Break

coff

During most of my life I did not have interest in coffee. My college study sessions were fueled by Jolt Cola (All the sugar! Twice the caffeine!), and – somehow – my infant-induced sleep deprivation did not drive me to drink (at least not coffee).

Then I moved to Seattle.

Now I am a java junkie, like my father before me. The first pot in the morning has become unconscious ritual. Coffee is a normal part of my life. Every day.

So I got an idea. An awful idea. I got a wonderful, awful idea. “I know just what to do!” I said with an evil Grinch grin, “I’ll skip coffee for two weeks and see if I become a monster.”

So that is the experiment – no complex rules, just don’t drink coffee. No decaf. No Sanka.

Day 1: And so it begins. My first “replacement” attempt was Celestial Seasonings Blueberry Zinger. It did not go well.

However, I was surprised that a few hours into the day I did not feel my body was missing the caffeine.  I wasn’t groggy or comatose – just annoyed by the disruption to my normal.  Then 3:00 happened.  Headache. Advil.

Day 2. Woke up with an increasingly-strong headache behind my eyes. I have a bad feeling about this.

Day 3. For the past two days I continued making a morning pot of coffee for my wife (I know, I know – partner of the year).  I assumed this might make it harder to not drink it, but I found the opposite to be true. Keeping some of the experience, the ritual, eased the pain.

Day 4. Today I miss the can-do attitude of Coffee. When I turn to my mug for an afternoon caffeine boost, Tea stares back at me like a grandmother, with kind eyes and wise counsel. Tea is patient. Tea is kind. But Tea does not care about my deadlines. Tea does not share my fear of failure.

But Coffee! Coffee is my partner in crime. My encourager of deeds. My “Yes, you can do it, but you need my help. Drink up, Tasky McTasker, and get the job done!”

Day 5. I’m feeling dehydrated today, realizing a significant proportion of my fluid intake is usually – you guessed it – coffee.

Day 6. Oh, Saturday morning, waking slowly, pouring a cup-o’-Joe, watching my wife drink it as I jealously try tea again.  Discovery: green tea tastes like water, but worse.

Day 7, 8. Guess what? There are more flavors of tea than black, green, and Lipton! Last night a friend introduced me to Lapsang Souchong, also known as “gun powder tea.”  This stuff is smoky, strong, and bitter. Maybe we’re getting somewhere!

Day 9. I went into a coffee shop! A Seattle. Coffee. Shop.  I breathed through it, ordered an interesting-looking, fancy-ass tea, and liked it almost as much as coffee.*

* That is not true.

Day 10-13. Through all the internal (ok, and external) complaints during this experiment, the headaches subsided and I feel better – especially in the afternoon – without coffee. So I’ve started researching decaf in an attempt to make the switch. I cannot believe I just typed that sentence.

Day 14. The transition is complete. I found a decaffeinated coffee to try and carefully informed the household.

warning

Epilogue. So, I tried this decaf idea for a few weeks, learned more about tea, and then discovered something very important.

I really, really like coffee.

Upper photo credit: Rafael Saldaña, https://flic.kr/p/Tub7ea

12 Minute Workout: It’s easy just kidding

joan

This year I’m conducting a wide-ranging series of 2-week self-experiments. This is Experiment 4.

As a 10-year-old I borrowed a Joanie Greggains workout cassette from my mom, and then spent the summer with Barry Manilow as my soundtrack, Copacabana-ing myself from husky to slightly-less-husky.

Fast forward 30 years, and my life involves mostly sitting in a chair looking at screens of various shapes and sizes. I sometimes get inspired to go for a jog (not true – running is death) or hunt down the old dumbbells in the garage (pretty much never).  An experiment to get more active seemed in order.

I didn’t want to to join a gym or buy equipment. So I did a little research and found another way.

Minimum Effective Dose (MED) is the smallest quantity of anything that will produce the desired outcome. Anything beyond MED is wasteful. For example, heating water above 100 degrees Celsius is a waste of energy – it’s already boiling.

High Intensity Interval Training  (HIIT) applies MED to the body through short, intense workouts. The Experiment: Using the 12 Minute Athlete smartphone app, workout 12 minutes per day, with the caveat of taking a rest day if I get too sore (spoiler alert – I got too sore) and write about the results.

Hypothesis: I expect to see minor-but-noticeable improvements to body composition, energy, and mood, and that the exercise will bleed over into other health-related actions like healthier food choices and increased general activity.

Day 1, 5:30am. It was not easy to climb out of bed, but it felt easier knowing that I only had 12 minutes of work to meet today’s goal. It was fun. Here is the Day 1 workout: 3 rounds of these 6 exercises for 30 seconds each, with 10 seconds of rest in between equals 12 minutes.

At 7:00 my abs ached. Pretty bad.12min

Day 2, Welcome to Burpees. As a high school basketball player, I was introduced to Bear Crawls – a barbaric activity that played a significant role in my journey to adulthood. Having lived a pretty sedentary life since then, I hadn’t really experienced much pain in a while.  Enter Burpees.

I took Day 3 off.

Day 3, Sabbath. No HIIT today, and it rained outside so I didn’t walk much, either. Everything hurt, including the bottoms of my feet.

Day 4, Workout Buddy. My 13-year-old son joined this afternoon. Keeping up with him was harder than I expected. Also, today’s randomly-generated workout added Pike Jumps, which I think were invented by the Burpee guy.

Days 5 and 6, Change of Plans.  I changed our schedule to an every-other-day workout. On Day 6 we pistoled, reptile-push-upped, and dive-bombed our little hearts out. Then we ate ice cream.

Day 7, Week 1 Reflection. After 4 workouts totaling 48 minutes, I felt as sore this weekend as I have in a long time – a testament to my mediocre physical condition and the potential effectiveness of this strategy.

Day 8, 50 Seconds of Hell. The randomized HIIT workouts had followed a pattern of 30-second workouts with 10-second rest periods. Today the HIIT gods selected 50-second workouts, which were way, way, way, way harder.  Full disclosure for peer reviews of the experiment protocol: When 50-second sessions randomly popped up later in the week, we “randomly” re-rolled until we found 30-second intervals. 

Day 9, Rest Day.  I felt much less sore than last week, which surprised me after yesterday’s workout.  Am I getting accustomed to this already?  Is my body getting stronger?

Day 10, Back at it. Today was summed up in a single quote from my son:  “If my legs were my mouth, I’d be vomiting.”  I can think of no stronger testimonial.

Day 12, Super Basement Bros. My son has joined me for most sessions, which as been really fun.  And we stink up the basement bad. And the basement is my office. Oops.

Situps felt easier today than they did a week ago.  It’s working, it’s working!

Day 14, This is it!  I managed to twist my ankle on the first set of high knees today. I rested through the next interval, and then tried squats. The ankle felt ok, so I pressed on. Strangely, the pain went away halfway through the workout and didn’t come back.

I am superhuman!

6113035626_44032eddc6_b

Conclusion. For the first time in years I saw muscle definition in my shoulders, after only a few minutes of total exercise. I think this HIIT thing is legit. Also, the computer voice in workout app is my new Joannie Greggains – a high honor, indeed.

For more info on the topics of MED and HIIT, and more high intensity exercises, see The 12-Minute Athlete by Krista Striker and The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss.

Image credits (order of appearance): Joannie Greggains; Krista Striker; Brett Curtis (via Flickr Creative Commons). 

Experiment 2: Experience Tranquility

zen

Image: Blizzard Entertainment via icy-veins.com

As I shared at the beginning of this year, I am conducting a series of 2-week self-experiments. In the first, Address Book Lottery, I connected to others. In Experiment Number 2 I have turned the focus inward.

The Experiment: Meditate once each day for 2 weeks.

Hypothesis: Daily meditation will reduce stress, improve mood, broaden perspective.

Equipment: Calm smartphone app, YouTube videos, a floor.

Following is a description of my meditation experience through present tense narrative, reflective analysis, poetry, and poop jokes. You’ve been warned.

Day 1, 10am Ok, here we go. Day 1, this is gonna be great. Headphones in, firing up the app, music is calm… Whoa, super-loud voice, too loud!

Turning down volume, that’s better, here we go. My back hurts, I never sit this straight, my foot is tingling, the poodle jumped in my lap. Focus, focus. Breathe in, breathe out.

I’ve had my eyes closed for a while. what if I were blind? Is it inappropriate to think about being blind – or to write about it? Breathe in, breathe out, in, out. I have a LOT to get done today,… this is boring… did I fall asleep? Breath in, breathe ou – wait, it’s over?

Observation: Mid-morning is distracting – too much activity. Maybe I should shift to an earlier time, and then try a little harder to “just let the thoughts pass by like clouds” tomorrow. Wait, is trying harder bad? I’m getting confused already.

Day 2, 6am. Alright, Day 2, this is gonna be great. Here’s the poodle again, hi buddy, no problem. He’s licking my fingers. I just showered, what could he possibly be licking? It’s ok, relax, breathe in, breathe out. Did I hear someone on the stairs? Did they just laugh at my puppy-and-me meditation? 

Day 3, 5pm. I just couldn’t get it done today. I felt exhausted and like a failure for not even completing three sessions in a row. I attempted again at 9pm in the high school parking lot, which felt public, dark, and awkward.

Day 4, 7am. This morning I moved to our basement laundry room for quiet and privacy. I did not prepare for the cold.

Laundry Room Meditation Haiku
Smells of dirty socks,
Toes freezing, frostbite likely,
Solution is clear.

Day 5, 6am. Ok, today I’m ready for high-quality meditation. I got up early, took a shower, walked and fed the dogs, and secured a comfortable spot in the living room. Here we go!

Crap.

Literally. There was dog poop on the floor right next to me. How did I not smell it?!? I cleaned up, sat back down, then heard a series of dings. Oh boy – 6 text message from work – I better call to sort this out. After clearing up that issue I tried to meditate again, but the magic was gone.

Day 6, 6pm. I attempted a 5-minute session while waiting in the high school parking lot, but my daughter got out early and interrupted the session 3 minutes in. Tranquility is hard.

Day 7, 8am. During this session I had a really, really great idea – a “million dollar idea” – that I completely forgot by the end of the session. Sorry, heirs.

Day 8, 2pm, Taking the meditation experiment on the road, I brought by zen to Juneau, Alaska. I attempted using a random YouTube meditation. It was terrible, but it did include this philosophical gem: “Your ears are made for hearing.”

Day 9, 6pm, After a full day of work in Juneau, I got settled at the airport preparing to meditate before the trip home. There were lots of distractions – announcements, people nearby talking. Wait – those people were in my workshop today. Should I say hello and talk to them? I was exhausted and dressed like a 90s teenager, so I did not go over and tried to avoid eye contact. I refocused on my breath, and then… “Welcome to Flight 66 to Seattle…”

Day 10, 9am, Today I tried ambient sounds only (no guide) for 15 minutes, and it felt pretty great. I had visions of outer space in the midst of the session, which helps me with perspective. Today’s list of tasks feels less daunting when compared to our eventual demise from a supernova.

Observation: Over the last couple days I noticed how the Hawthorne Effect is affecting me. One the first things I think about during meditation is writing these post-session reflections, which obviously must alter the results. Time to kiss that honorary Ph.D. goodbye.

Day 11, 9am. I was very distracted today, so I started counting my breaths from 1 to 10, and then started again. Once I hit 43 before realizing I’d forgotten to start over. Counting is hard.

Day 12, N/A. I literally forgot.

Day 13, 9am. Today I was joined by Otis, the feline master of our domain. He entered the room wailing the sound of painful death. He was not dying, but rather hungry or bored or he noticed I was sitting on his favorite piece of carpet.

Day 14, 5pm. I had a little epiphany while thinking about the past 2 weeks. Alongside purposeful meditation, I’ve found myself pausing more often – sometimes only for a few seconds – throughout the day. This evening I approached a traffic signal changing from green to yellow to red, and instead of cursing my bad luck, I welcomed the 90-second break in the day. A red light meditation.

Breathe in, breathe out.

rocks

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons, joseph140178

2017: The Experiment

2436610506_4578827d42_o

The Problem: I have approximately 17 million ideas that I typically don’t follow through to completion. Instead, I spend much of my life in the daily loop of tasking, numbing, and tasking.

The Idea: Live 2017 as a series of two-week experiments.

I intend to try new things, and I even start some of them, but I habitually get bogged down in the middle. I have a deep love for beginnings, so part of this is series of experiments is to give myself something new every two weeks – a year of beginnings!

Experiments may include daily practices (cold exposure, meditation); finishing partly-done projects (board game, website); learning new skills (Spanish, ukulele, javascript); removing a habit (coffee, social media); or weird ideas just for fun (wear the same outfit every day, watch every Spielberg film).

In some cases I may love the “new thing” and want to continue it. That’s fine, but it will be important that I don’t require myself to stack experiments. If I’m learning Spanish or Elvish (both potentials for this year), I want the freedom to skip meditation sessions or eat red meat or check Twitter 37 times a day.

I hesitate to claim any goal or purpose to this little game, but if there is one, it’s to learn a little bit more about myself and how I respond to trying something new.

Photo courtesy of Keene Public Library, Elliott Community Hospital, https://flic.kr/p/4HjgpY