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Writing Down Your Mind

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 - by Charlie Martin

I came to Buddhism, like a lot of people in the 60s, through Zen.

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I’ll warn you that the video is about 12 minutes long, but that’s a really good talk by Alan Watts, whose books were among my first teachers of Buddhism. There are probably a dozen columns in it, so it’s a real time saver.

Zen, as Alan explains, is widely imagined in the West to be anti-intellectual, but it really isn’t — it’s, instead, non-intellectual. It says that underneath the intellectual uinderstanding of Buddhism, there is a place where you are already the Buddha; Zen is, as Alan says, a way of directly pointing to that underlying reality that simply can’t be achieved intellectually.

So, of course, I’m going to write today about reading and writing and how my academic studies have affected my understanding.

I didn’t really start reading the sutras until … well, I guess it’s been quite a long time now, ten years or more, but seeing as I’ve been a Buddhist for something getting close to 50 years, it really came rather late in life. I started with the maha-prajña-paramita-sutra, the “Great Sutra at the Heart of Wisdom”. Fairly short, pithy, and very obscure on first reading. There are all these words for which the translations aren’t very satisfactory. So I started reading more widely, into the Pali Canon, the Tripitaka, and reading various people’s commentaries, and paying more attention to studying Sanskrit and Chinese.

This isn’t really foreign to Zen; there are lots of writings used in teaching Zen, and lots to be learned from them. I was thinking about listing some, but I think I’ll save that for another column. In the year I’ve been writing these columns, I’ve really found pretty much everything can be taken back to the Dharmachakra Sutra, the first teaching Buddha offered, directly after his Liberation. That’s where he first explains the Eightfold Path and the Four Great Truths.

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10 Rules For Keeping a Journal in the New Media Age

Saturday, January 4th, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

10 Rules for Keeping a Journal in the New Media Age #writing #journaling #selfimprovement

Check Out the Previous Steps in My Self-Improvement Series:

December 31, 2012: 7 New Year’s Resolutions I Invite Others to Steal
February 1, 2013: The Plan So I Don’t Waste the Last Year of My 20s
April 10: The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen
May 8: Every American Needs to Read Books to Understand Islam
July 6: We Must Read Tons of Books With A Clear Purpose
October 5: 13 Weeks of Wild Man Writing and Radical Reading
November 17: Half Through 13 Weeks For Radical Readers and Madman Writers, Turning Up the Heat
January 1, 2014: 7 New Year’s Resolutions for 2014 I Invite You to Burgle From Me Bilbo-Style

And Don’t miss how Charlie, Sarah, and Rhonda are staring their 13 Week regimens this  year:

Charlie Martin: 13 Weeks: New Year, New Season, New Experiments
Sarah Hoyt: Selling Your Writing in 13 Weeks, Week 13: Bringing It All Together
Rhonda Robinson: 13 Weeks: Finding My Way Back To Creativity, And The Heart of My Daughter

I have decided to accept my limitations. With the nature of my editorial work across the PJM network of sites and the unpredictability of the usual day with The Wife in her final year of graduate school it has proven difficult to stick to a daily reading/writing regimen. Some days the editorial load is heavier than others unexpectedly, other days where I intend an even reading/writing split one or the other might end up predominating. If I’m in a research groove, finding new connections across books and finally beginning to grasp difficult concepts then I’m going to run with it. Likewise when the writing muse bestows her blessings you don’t tell her to shut up.

There’s a factor in all this scheduling and productivity planning work that often gets overlooked: moods. So much of being a creative person is about learning to channel one’s emotions into art, writing, and communicating. We have to learn to recognize what state of mind we’re in at any given time and then take advantage of it. Reading, writing, editing, and publishing are all four different processes. And I’ve found that circumstances and subjective moods lend themselves to each task differently. The state of mind one needs to edit an article is not the same as for writing or for researching.

One thing I’m going to try and do more this year is focus on each individually. Helping me do that will be a closer focus on using the handwritten journal as a catalyst to organize the day and facilitate more writing. Here are 10 ways that I’m going to do it, in the style that I’m going to explore this year — creating combinations of photographs, blogging, and embedded video juxtapositions.

Nothing Sacred – links to titles in the photos will be featured at the bottom of each page…

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7 New Year’s Resolutions for 2014 I Invite You to Burgle From Me Bilbo-Style

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

I am now going to announce my 2014 #radical #book reading plan, in preparation of my new year's resolutions post coming shortly today.

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My wife and I flew back to Indiana last week to spend Christmas with the family. We had a ball! Among the highlights was when we all went to see The Hobbit part 2 on IMAX 3-D. The whole family is pretty religious about Tolkien, the movies especially. Dad is the expert, capable of explaining the changes from book to screen while assuring us that Peter Jackson’s changes still make for an extraordinary film without messing up anything major.

Ever since I was a kid first encountering The Hobbit as a cartoon and as my Dad read it during bedtime I loved the scene of Bilbo talking with the dragon Smaug, buried amidst the endless piles of pilfered Dwarven gold. That fantasy of limitless wealth to swim in seems a recurring one from childhood. I loved how Scrooge McDuck had a money bin that he’d dive into and pass through as though it were water:

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I kind of imagine myself doing that these past few years editing PJ Lifestyle except instead of gold coins it’s the amazing writing of the PJ columnists, freelancers, and the authors in the books I’m researching. From family advice to tech news to TV and family commentaries to history/religion/ideology debates PJ Lifestyle has been accumulating a diverse range of exciting ideas and cultural challenges. Here was my attempt to organize this some last year via an ever-evolving self-improvement routine inspired by Charlie Martin’s 13 Weeks program:

December 31, 2012: 7 New Year’s Resolutions I Invite Others to Steal
February 1, 2013: The Plan So I Don’t Waste the Last Year of My 20s
April 10: The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen
May 8: Every American Needs to Read Books to Understand Islam
July 6: We Must Read Tons of Books With A Clear Purpose
October 5: 13 Weeks of Wild Man Writing and Radical Reading
November 17: Half Through 13 Weeks For Radical Readers and Madman Writers, Turning Up the Heat

To give Lifestyle some degree of structure I’ve sought to organize some of the themes each week by day — when the story isn’t a timely, breaking news piece. I’ve applied this also to my daily reading plan, drawing from a different pile of books and shifting subjects to try and make fresh connections for stories to assign to PJ’s writers and work on myself. Here’s my reading plan for the next 13 weeks cycle — join us starting the week of Sunday, January 5 for week 1 — and then how they’re inspiring me to make changes in my own life.

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I tend to hate Game of Thrones for the way it blends cruel violence with soft-core porn and romanticizes sex slavery but this meme is tolerable, I suppose, given its parenting subtext.

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13 Weeks of Wild Man Writing and Radical Reading

Saturday, October 5th, 2013 - by Dave Swindle

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Check out the previous installments in the evolutions of my 2013 Self-Improvement Experiment:

December 31, 2012: 7 New Year’s Resolutions I Invite Others to Steal

February 2, 2013: The Plan So I Don’t Waste the Last Year of My 20s 

April 10: The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen

May 8: Every American Needs to Read Books to Understand Islam 

July 6: We Must Read Tons of Books With a Clear Purpose

September 28: The 20 Books in My New To-Blog-About-and-Review Pile 

Well, the past few weeks I’ve fallen off the wagon with my 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen. I tried to blend my daily reading/blogging series with my book reviews and favorite author promotions. But my challenge as an editor has remained the same: it can be real rough to try and balance editing and writing. Each day will be different and new challenges will emerge that need attention. So the focused time to try and integrate a serious analysis of an author’s book with the news of the day often did not materialize.

But I think I’ve figured out a solution. To define and implement it I’m doing what I mentioned in last week’s preview of the new 13 Weeks Season – stopping the last experiment early and starting new to align with Rhonda, Sarah, and the turn of the seasons. For your own 13 Weeks experiment I recommend trying to start with the seasons and shift your goals according to each season’s opportunities. 13×4=52, BTW.

So for this new attempt to organize my book research, I’m emphasizing a few new components of the strategy. Most important: I’m going to schedule some writing time into the mix — so-called “wild man” writing time. This is when one tells the internal editors and proofreaders to take a coffee break while you focus on writing as much as possible, as quickly as possible, legibility and spelling be damned. Just get the raw, uncensored version of yourself out there and you can rein yourself in and edit when typing later.

One of the ideas that I’ve gradually come to accept and now will attempt to institutionalize is that reading, writing, editing, and publishing are four very different tasks. With the rise of New Media now all four have been squished together. Many writers and bloggers today have grown accustomed to creating media in a perpetual rush to keep up with the gushing news flow and the demands to maximize web traffic for hot stories. These four tasks have been blended together and in today’s tech world one must learn to shift from one incoming task to another every few minutes.

I’ve decided that in order to increase both the quality and quantity of my writing I have to divide up these four tasks so I can intensely focus on each. I’m influenced in this by both Sarah Hoyt and Charlie Martin and their adoption of the Pomodoro technique. They’ve found success in focusing on single tasks for 25 minutes at a time, then taking a 5-minute break, and then after 4 cycles taking a 20 minute break.

In pursuit of this method I base my 10 revised rules from the foundation Charle established with his original 4 13 Weeks Principles:

By accident, however, I’d noticed a process, or pattern.

  1. Decide there’s something you want to change.

  2. Find ways to measure your progress.

  3. Decide on some small unthreatening things you can do that should affect those measures.

  4. Track the results for 13 weeks and see what happens. It helps to pick appropriate tools and techniques for that tracking, but something as simple as a Seinfeld calendar, where you just draw an X on a calendar for every day you do something can be very powerful.

So for me, in revising my 10 rules (amended last in July here) I’ll keep in mind Charlie’s mold. My answers to the four points:

  1. I want to change both the quantity and quality of my reading research and daily writing.
  2. I will blog 5-7 days a week and rather than doing a round-up 5 days a week, I’m just going to do a daily reading journal of the day’s PJM content and other links around the web that jump out.
  3. I’m hoping that the Pomodoro approach will be the small change that can improve the results.
  4. In addition to my daily blogging about progress, I’m formalizing a practice I’ve experimented with for a few weeks now. The Wife recommended a new journal — this 600 page whopper. I’ve kept it open throughout the work day and tried to notate more how I spend my time. Some days are more detailed than others…1377587_10101463255780688_488261950_n

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A Boy Does Not Become a Man Until He Chooses Fatherhood

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013 - by Dave Swindle

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The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013 - by Dave Swindle

Today I am joining Charlie Martin and Sarah Hoyt in attempting a 13 Weeks Blogging Self-Improvement Program. I invite others to join me and assist in the continued development of what we should call The Charlie Martin 13 Weeks Method. (Has a nice alliterative ring to it, methinks.) Back in February Charlie laid out his approach:

By accident, however, I’d noticed a process, or pattern.

  1. Decide there’s something you want to change.
  2. Find ways to measure your progress.
  3. Decide on some small unthreatening things you can do that should affect those measures.
  4. Track the results for 13 weeks and see what happens. It helps to pick appropriate tools and techniques for that tracking, but something as simple as a Seinfeld calendar, where you just draw an X on a calendar for every day you do something can be very powerful.

So here’s my 1-2-3-4 for The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen:

1. The problem that I’d like to change is the one that Sarah identified in her PJ Lifestyle article yesterday: being buried in books for research. Over the past year I’ve tried to figure out how to organize the various subjects that I want to study in order to best make sense of them and find the connections across the disciplines. I want to read more books and do a better job of staying organized with the ideas and research that I find in them for my future writing and editing projects. I want to continue to explore connections across disciplines, reading both novels and a wide variety of nonfiction, both very serious philosophy and absurd satire.

2. I will continue to share the most interesting nuggets of my research in one daily PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf post that features an excerpt. Additional snapshots from my research will appear at my Instagram and Twitter accounts which can be followed here and here.

3. I will only create seven piles of books, one for each day, and then base each day’s reading on the titles from that pile. I won’t have to think about which books I’ll read each day. I’ll just draw from each pile. Each day will be based on 1-3 authors and 1-4 related subjects that I want to juxtapose together. This will not be a hard rule that I can only read from that day’s pile. If a book on another subject has caught my enthusiasm then I can still read it after dong the day’s necessary reading.

But I need to find at least two excerpts worth Instagramming and at least one of them should appear as a PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf selection to inspire debate and discussion. (That’s the purpose of those posts — for the regular readers who have complained, asking why I don’t take a few paragraphs to spell out my opinion of each excerpt offered. They appear because I am more interested in hearing reader feedback on them than pontificating my own ideas.) These seven piles will then flow into the six categories that I created in my original Counterculture Conservative book list from back in October. The seventh (and last) category I plan to add will be based on my list of the The 15 Best Books for Understanding Barack Obama’s Mysterious Political Theology. (This will be the basis for Friday’s  systematic exploration of evil ideas.)

4. I will create a calendar on a page of my journal broken up into 13 weeks and at the beginning of each day I will notate which page I am on in the books that I am reading associated with that day. I will photograph this calendar and blog about it each week, noting and analyzing my results on Tuesdays (the PJ Lifestyle day focused on writing, media, and technology). At the end of the 13 weeks I will see the progress I made on each author and subject. Then I will decide how to adjust each day’s reading focus, maybe taking a break from an author for a bit or adding another writer whose ideas are worth juxtaposing with the other thinkers of the day.

So what will the reading subjects be for the seven days of this “first season,” as Charlie calls it, of the The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen? I’m doubling down on the authors and subjects of previous self-improvement plans, but focusing some plans and expanding others. As always, your recommendations for additional books and authors that I need to read are sincerely appreciated. Please leave suggestions in the comments or email me.

And publishers, authors and publicists: any and all paperback/hardback books received by mail will be photographed and blogged about. (And e-books that are especially interesting may also be featured. But actual books are of course more photogenic.)

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So I Decided To Write This Blog Post By Hand And Then Just Photograph It

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 - by Dave Swindle

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Related at PJ Lifestyle:

The Plan So I Don’t Waste the Last Year of My 20s

Can iPad + iPhone + Macbook Pro + Real Book = An Organized Life?

5 Technology Books To Read This Year

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The Best Journal In the World

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013 - by PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf

 

(For assisting with New Year’s Resolution # 2 – Do a Better Job of Sticking to a Schedule)

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Click to submit suggestions for books for the new daily feature at PJ Lifestyle.

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