Personal Development

Declutter like an investor

When I look around a cluttered room, I can see it as a physical manifestation of hope. Seriously. Each item that I’m unwilling to part with – it’s there because of hope. I hope I’m going to use it someday. If unconstrained hope can lead to a bloody mess, what’s the lesson? Must we kill our hope if we want to free ourselves from unnecessary stuff?

I don’t want to kill my hope, so I’ll frame the situation a bit differently, and see if a different lesson emerges: Each item that’s cluttering my room – it’s there because I’m avoiding risk. I’m avoiding the risk of regret. I’m avoiding a scenario where I throw the damn thing out and then wish I had it back, only to find it can never be retrieved.

The hat that doesn’t go with any of my clothes? It’s there because of risk avoidance. The folder of old notes? The camera lens I never use? Risk avoidance.

It can help to think of decluttering like investing. You’re investing time and effort in creating a cleaner environment that will serve your future.

What’s the best way to not succeed as an investor? Avoid risk. Be unwilling to lose money, unwilling even to accept the temporary appearance that you’ve lost money.

The same is true of decluttering. Want to fail at decluttering and keep all your unused stuff? Simply refuse to make any decision that exposes you to the risk of regret.

Of course, if you find yourself in tears after a decluttering project, missing everything you gave away, then you were probably too aggressive.  

Moderation works. At the beginning of your decluttering project, aim to miss maybe one or two things when it’s all done. When you experience this moderate dose of regret, take it as a prize, because it shows that you were willing to accept the risk that created the possibility of reward.

If you had taken less risk, you’d still have that old hat – maybe it’s something you loved – but you’d have a pile of other stuff preventing you from finding it.

Personal Development

What is procrastination?

Procrastination is pain avoidance. 

If something makes you feel good, you’ll do more of it. So if you’re struggling to complete a task, then it’s not making you feel good; it can’t be. It’s causing you some kind of pain and you’re avoiding that pain.

What can we learn from this view of procrastination as pain avoidance?

First, we can see that procrastination is natural. Avoiding pain is natural. It’s as natural to avoid pain as it is to seek pleasure. 

But avoiding pain and seeking pleasure are two behaviors that cause trouble if they’re not constrained. Procrastination is what happens when our natural tendency towards pain avoidance continues without a limit that’s firm, immediate, and external to the self.

We procrastinate on a task when nothing forces us to do it right now. There’s no predator darting towards us that makes us jump into action. We know we can get away with sitting idle another moment, so we do.

Often, we’ll try to simulate that predator. We’ll growl at ourselves. “You must do it, now!” We’ll promise ourselves that we’ll be very angry and upset if the thing does not get done by us.

Those words never have much of a chance. They are just words competing against our primal instinct of avoiding pain.

What more can we take away from this view of procrastination as pain avoidance?

We can see that there’s hope for breaking the cycle.

Anytime we find ourselves procrastinating, we can consider it as an opportunity for self-improvement. It’s a chance to improve one of the most important relationships in our life: our relationship with pain. 

Instead of saying “I’m procrastinating,” say “I’m avoiding pain.” What are you going to do next, having admitted that?

Yes, you can work on increasing your pain tolerance, learning to grin and bear it, so to speak. But you can also look closer at the pain itself. Why does it hurt so much, or does it? How does your response to the pain make it worse, or better? How much of the pain are you actually creating for yourself? If you knew you were inflicting that same pain on another person, would you stop?

Let’s take a closer look at the kinds of pain that are often involved in a “case” of procrastination.

Maybe the most common trigger for procrastination is boredom. But what is boredom? It’s the pain we experience when we crave stimulation and don’t receive it.

If we use social media, we’ve cultivated an intense craving for stimulation. We scroll through our feeds, looking for the next item that will excite or enrage us. When we don’t get the titillation we been trained to expect, we keep scrolling. Of course, when we try to turn away from social media to do something like writing an essay, we experience a loss of stimulation. Writing the essay isn’t as exciting. It’s slower. It’s harder. It’s more solitary.

If the essay and the social media feed exist in two competing panels on our screen, of course we’re going to keep returning to the social media feed. We tell ourselves to stop slacking off, and when this barked command doesn’t work, our self-esteem is damaged. We think we should be authoritative enough to tell ourselves what to do and have it get done. We should be virtuous enough to concentrate and keep our word. Breaking our word time and time again makes us feel ashamed.

We begin to fret over how much time we’ve wasted and how delayed we are on a task that could have been quick. We feel guilty about the waste. We compare the way our efforts were supposed to turn out with the way they’re actually turning out and we can’t bear the disappointment.

Observing our ineffectiveness, we begin to fear failure. Ditto if we have a high standard: we fear that we won’t meet it. This fear becomes part of the bundle of pain we must now avoid. 

Some tasks are large and complex. If we feel confused, indecisive, unsure how to proceed, this feeling of confusion becomes part of the pain.

As we try to work on a given task, we know there are other tasks we could or should be doing too. Are we spending too much time on the current one? Would it be better to switch? Could we be more effective working on something else right now, or should we stick it out? Our indecision around time management becomes part of the pain.

And so a mild pain like the pain of boredom can grow, through our avoidance of it, into a big tangled knot of different kinds of pain including the intense pain of self-doubt or even self-hatred. And our avoidance of that pain will intensify along with it.

The key observation is that most of this pain is self-created. The guilt, the fear, the frustration, the doubt, the anxiety – these are all emotions we’re experiencing in response to our own behavior.

We would surely hesitate to inflict this much pain on another person, and yet when we do it to ourselves we somehow have the idea that it’s necessary. We think that by feeling this guilt, by calling ourselves names, scolding ourselves endlessly, our suffering will grow so great that it will be greater than the pain of doing the task. It will serve as the counterbalance that finally snaps us out of our avoidance behavior and forces us to get to work. 

But our self-inflicted pain can’t serve as an effective counterbalance because it is not independent from the task; it’s tangled up with the task. There’s no clear, easy choice between guilt and work because the guilt doesn’t evaporate the moment we get to work; in fact, we feel it more strongly as we try to re-engage with what we’ve been avoiding. The shame that’s supposed to nudge us to confront the task actually repels us from it.

What is the solution?

Forgiveness.

Positivity.

Flexibility.

Bravery.

To start, forgive yourself immediately and absolutely. Realize that self-imposed pain is not helping you. Your likeliest path to getting the task done is to regain self-esteem. It’s to feel better, not worse. If you think that you’ve wasted so much time and slacked off for so long and fallen so far behind that you can’t possibly forgive yourself, think again. You can forgive. If you’re alive, you’re a survivor. Be proud of that. Start there, with the acknowledgment that you had to do a lot of really hard things to get to where you are right now in your life and you got through them and you’re here – amazing. 

Be a cheerleader. Listen for the critical voice in your mind that’s saying “No, this isn’t good and you’re not doing a good job.” As soon as you hear that voice, drown it out with cheerleading. Don’t worry if the cheerleading seems contrived; trust that it’ll work. Say “Yes, this coming along. Great! Keep going!”

Try to summon so much positivity that you look forward to getting to work on the task because of all the nice things you’re going to say.

Think about the pain you’ve been avoiding. Is it the pain of boredom? Try meditating to reduce your craving for stimulation. Is it the fear of failing? The fear of not meeting your standards? Not being good enough? Not being effective? Envision yourself creating a “shitty first draft” and feeling great about it. Be flexible. Consider it a badge of honor that you’re willing to take the risk of reducing your standards to get something done.

When you’ve released yourself from all the pain that’s self-inflicted, when you’ve shedded the baggage, decluttered your mind as much as possible, now look at the pain that’s left, the smaller core of pain that’s intrinsic to the task itself. Is the pain of the task really that bad or is it something you can face? And if you do face it, what good things will be unlocked?

How much could a little more bravery contribute to your life? How much happier would you be if you could learn, through the task at hand, a better way of conceptualizing and responding to pain? Now’s your chance to practice.

Photography

Visual Sentences

When you make art it can be a challenge to find the right language to explain what you’re doing. One might say that an artist needn’t ever explain him or herself. But art is a good conversation topic precisely because no two viewers or listeners share the same perspective. And since a viewer doesn’t share the artist’s own perspective, since a viewer isn’t intimately familiar with the history of choices the artist made in pursuing a certain visual result, the artist must offer the viewer a stepladder for reaching a vantage point that allows a work’s potential to be seen. That “stepladder” might be a word or phrase, a bit of language that gives the viewer a suggestion of where to look, how to begin understanding the piece at hand.

I’ve been describing my effort in photography as “photo pairing.” That’s been my language so far. I’m looking to create pairings or marriages between images that give rise to a kind of contrapuntal dialogue, where each image gains from being situated next to the other, where the viewer’s eye is guided seamlessly back and forth between the two images in such a way that no one image steals all the attention.

Some new language occurred to me the other day, as I was trying to make a video. Each photograph in a pairing can be thought of as an individual “word.” Together the two photographs combine, like words, into a “visual sentence.” The sentence draws out a deeper, and more specific meaning than each component word or image would convey on its own.

So instead of saying I’m working to create interesting photographic pairings, I’m going to try out some new language. I’ll say that I’m working to compose “visual sentences.” Sentences that mean more than the words they consist of. Sentences that teach us something. Here’s a video where I’m using this new terminology:

Photography

Photo Pairing

As a photographer, I strive to create pairings or marriages among disparate images. The goal of photographic pairing is the same as the goal of musical counterpoint. In counterpoint, we take two independent melodies and play them at the same time, hoping to discover something new in their dialogue, hoping the melodies may express something in conversation with each other that they could not or would not express on their own. When we take two photographs of different subjects, captured at different times and places, and position them side by side, if we’re lucky, we may achieve the same result — a conversation might arise, a dialogue between the two images where each individual seems to be enhancing the other, helping the other realize its full potential.

The idea of pairing photographs occurred to me sometime during the Covid lockdown of 2020 when I was contemplating my next steps as a photographer. I have been pursuing the same “thing” as a photographer since I first displayed my work publicly in 2011. In some sense, my style hasn’t changed or evolved in all that time. In a decade plus, I have been seeking better and better examples of the ideal that has captivated me since I first began.

I take closeups of everyday subjects — a chain link fence, a shriveled leaf — using them as raw material for graphic abstractions. I’m interested in these subjects both for what they are, and for what they offer visually, for what lines, textures, and colors they provide. I want the image to look like the thing itself, not like a photograph of the thing. When I print the image, I want to feel amazed, almost afraid to pick up the print, because it looks so real, so palpable, because its texture is so boldly accosting, because it seems to be alive and in motion even though it portrays a still subject. I want the image to delight in its squareness, meaning that it should be a dynamic square, with a sense of motion or activity throughout, addressing all four corners of the frame, in such a way that the composition breaks the symmetry of the stable, solid, unbudging square while still appearing balanced, harmonious, proportionate inside those walls.

Every once in a while I’m successful in achieving these goals that I’ve just begun to describe above. Every once in a while I’m left with something perfect. A photograph can be perfect, this medium lends itself to perfection, I don’t mean to toot my own horn. The flaw of a perfect photograph is that it is too perfect. Sometimes I want more variety, more diversity from a perfect image. My biggest revelation in my past couple of years of photographic works is that when I’m unsatisfied by a “perfect” image, I can sometimes find what I seek by pairing that image with another. Through coupling, through marriage, a photograph can extend beyond itself, becoming something bigger and greater than it can be on its own. My personal library lends itself to this kind of coupling because, again, my style has remained the same over ten years. An image from 2011 can find a partner in an image from 2022, with them both appearing to have been shot on the same day.

Since I began pairing my images in 2020 I’ve accumulated a few dozen examples that excite me and that I would like to share with you in time. To begin, I’ve made these two videos about what I’m pursuing:

Music

Album Update

I’ve been very lucky in the past five years to have had the time, the focus, the health, the overall life circumstances that were necessary for writing music. When I consider that I’ve created a sampling of the music I dreamed of creating, that I’ve given shape and substance to the music within me, I feel a sense of peace.

My goal now is to set up a context that might allow listeners — that’s you — to experience some of the same joy that I felt in writing this music. That means planning an official album release. Commissioning artwork. Making videos. Doing interviews. Planning events. Sharing the stories behind the notes.

In the meantime, I invite you to preview all the music in my new album, Meteorite.

The music is complete, but the music is only part of the album. The album itself, in the larger sense of what an album can be, is still evolving. If you leave me a comment, ask a question, tell me what moves you, what you want to know more about, you can be part of the evolution of this album. I’d love that.

Here is the music:

Personal Development

A month of essays

In March and April I took on the challenge of writing a 300-word essay each day for 30 days. And then I wrote a few more. If you’ve heard of “Ship 30 for 30,” that’s the challenge/course I was doing. Common themes are music and personal development. I posted these essays to Twitter each day. Here they are all together:

Music, Songwriting

Song: Drifting At Sea

Drifting at sea
No land I see
All that I see
Is sky and sea

Hull’s got a crack
Main sail is torn
Compass has lost the will to spin

Seagull above
Gliding with ease
How does it feel
To fly so free?

Someday perhaps
I’ll be reborn
I’ll be a seagull flying free

Trapped on a boat
Hope is remote
Inside a jar I’ll float my note:

Sweetheart I miss you and
Mother I love you and
Father I thank you for my life

Dolphins at play
With me, please stay
Show me the way
And I’ll obey

Seagull above
Soaring so sure
Guide me along
To my destined shore

Words & Music by Rudi Seitz, 2020

Life

May Update

Friends, readers, anyone who stumbles on my blog, here’s a brief update:

  • I have new music that I’d love to share with you. My upcoming album Meteorite is a cornucopia of musical ideas that I’ve been developing for the past five years. Perhaps these ideas could excite, challenge, or please your ear as well? You can hear the first track and preorder the album here. It will release this summer and I will post again here when the date is finalized.
  • I’ve started publishing guitar improvisation videos. In March and April I posted improvisations to YouTube on a daily basis. The breakthrough was finding a way to transform the material from the experimentation that I’ve been doing on guitar for as long as I can remember into “short stories” that I can conceive and record in under a day, sharing them as little pieces with a beginning, middle, and end. You can follow my channel here. I hope you find something there that inspires you as a listener, a creator, or both.
  • In March and April I participated in an online writing challenge/course called Ship30, where I wrote a 300-word essay each day for 30 days. All my essays were published on Twitter. I’ll be getting that material up here on my blog in due time, but for now the best way to check it out is follow me on Twitter and look at my history there. Here’s a summary of the writing theme I’ve been pursuing:
    • Many of us are drawn to music and other arts because they bring us joy. We seek fulfillment through creative expression. But the more serious we get as creators, the more pitfalls we encounter. Greater aspirations bring stress, confusion, blockage, and disillusionment. How can we pursue creativity in a way that actually delivers the fulfillment we seek? If art can help us learn about ourselves, connect with others, and experience the infinite or the divine, how can we realize those possibilities, growing as individuals by making art, building community by making art, connecting with “God” by making art? What ideas, practices, and tools can help us stay on track to growing more whole through our creative endeavors?
Guitar, Improvisation

How To Improvise With A Detuned String

There are many ways to incorporate a detuned string into an improvisation. You might want to try this if you’re interested in making sounds that you’ve never heard before. Here’s one improvisation template or schema that worked for me this morning. If you play guitar or another string instrument, you can apply this template too. It goes like this:

  1. Use palm muting to play a punchy rhythmic phrase that’s comfortably anchored to a tonic.
  2. As you keep playing, make a transition from palm muting to a clear, sustained tone, using nail. Let some of the open strings ring after you strike them, to create a background resonance. Slow down.
  3. End the gesture by striking a detuned string and letting it ring, stealing focus. You’ll need to have detuned one of your strings to do this part! You should generally avoid the detuned string in the previous steps so that it comes as a surprise here and captures all of the listener’s attention.
  4. Now use your right hand fingers to gently and slowly mute the open strings at the bridge (possibly skipping the detuned string) to create a gradual fade out. Practice doing this as slowly and gently as you possibly can.
  5. Keep repeating Steps 1 through 4 until you feel ready to stop.

Here’s how you can make your improvisation different from mine while still using the same template:

  1. Use a different instrument.
  2. Use a different tuning and detuning. I’m E A D G C E-half-sharp.
  3. Choose a different string to detune. I chose the highest string.
  4. Use a different muting technique.
  5. Use different rhythms and melodic motifs.
  6. Be a different person 🙂
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