Monday, April 20, 2015

Beautiful Self Help Books

One of my favorite things to do is sit and stress about what I am doing with my life. Isn't that everyone's favorite thing to do?

Over the winter my friend sent me a book called, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyways, which did help me sort through some of my feelings about my current life situation. But I also had some negative reactions from the book such as getting mad at other people in my life for the choices that they make, which didn't really make a whole lot of sense. I realize now that these were both defense mechanisms that I used as an excuse to not live up to my own life choices. In short, the book didn't exactly have its intended effect on me.

A few months after I finished reading Feel the Fear, I noticed that a website I follow called Roadtrip Nation was also putting out a self help book called Roadmap, which is a comprehensive guide in alignment with their with their mission of helping people all over the world to live meaningful lives. I preordered the book in the midst of winter blues and waited for it to come.

Finally, about a week ago, it arrived.

I didn't waste any time in starting to read it. I was very ready for some soothing direction and guidance. I was first struck by the beauty of the book and the illustrations that accompany the sound advice of its authors.

The book definitely appeals to visually-oriented people, and I appreciate Roadtrip Nation's commitment to creating a beautiful object that is a guiding tool and a keepsake.

I am taking it seriously as I read it, and performing all of the activities that the book lays out, no matter how silly they might seem. My favorite activity so far was an exercise that was inspired by a Roadtrip Nation visit to a school. During this visit they asked a large group of students what they wanted to do with their lives, and one class clown in the back yelled that he wanted to be a "turtle walker." Without flinching, the representatives from Roadtrip Nation called him up to the front and put the words "turtle walker" into a search engine. The student was shocked to find that there are people who work for zoos and museums that actually do have to walk turtles in order to maintain the livelihood/well being of the animals. 

An accompanying exercise directs you to pick a few things that interest you (I picked cats, chocolate, and travel), and put them into a search engine. I discovered that there are people who give chocolate tours in the city of San Francisco, and that I should probably never feed my cat chocolate. 

The point of this exercise, and other exercises like it, are to show you that you have the freedom to live out the "craziest" dream you can think of. The book perfectly balances a bit of playfulness with the underlying seriousness of its message of creating a fulfilling life based on your interests. 

There are also testimonials of former Roadtrip Nation participants who roadtripped in an RV across the country, interviews with famous people like Tony Hale (better known as "Buster" on Arrested Development), Ira Glass from This American Life, and countless people around the world who are living healthy and rewarding lives outside the corporate or traditional ladder. 

From a participatory perspective, the book is totally doable. Most of the exercises are right there in the pages, like this one that prompts you to identify your interests at their very basic core.

Once you have these interests identified, you use them throughout the book in various exercises. An activity I found to be particularly helpful was creating a "mash-up" of my different interests in venn diagrams that allowed me to see all of the different paths my interests could take me. Another exercise asks you to write down your absolutely wildest dream and I was surprised that I came up with "owning a hostel or B&B in Milwaukee for artists." I guess this is something I didn't even really know I had in the back of my mind until I allowed myself to bring it into my consciousness.

Roadmap also does a great job of leaving you with some helpful one-liners to use as guiding quotes throughout your life, as well as some well-crafted vocabulary words that they use to replace old worn-out words that don't apply to life anymore such as "career."

Some vocab examples:
Noise= The pressure and expectations from your peers, parents, society to live a life that isn't right for you
Assembly Line= The traditional career/life path, the one that Roadtrip Nation really wants you to avoid
Living in Beta= Continually building a better version of yourself
Foundation= The ultimate driving force of all of your decisions, your supreme, dominating interest, and the anchor that you will always come back to when you feel like your life is off track

And some of my favorite quotes:
-"Build a life around your interests."
-"Choosing a career forces you to make decisions about something when you have limited experience about what that something really is."
-"Change is life's only constant."
-"Recognize and honor the different phases in your life and let them go when it's time."
"Success is self-defined. It shifts from person to person and even within yourself as you age and gain experience."

Overall, I would call this book, as well as the entire Roadtrip Nation philosophy, a radical new approach to the changing landscape of America. I definitely feel like I received some very constructive guidance from this book. Reading Roadmap has made me realized that if you're not lost, you're probably not exploring enough. As long as I continue to learn and search for my true fulfillment, things are probably going to work out all right.

"Life is a lot like improvisation. What happens is
 more interesting than what you've planned, 
what you planned will never happen, 
and if you think you know what's going to happen, 
you're doing it wrong."

- Charna Halpern, founder of ImprovOlympic, Chicago, Illinois
Roadmap, pg. 77

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hey, I wrote that page!

I had every intention of making business cards for the opening at the Museum of Wisconsin art last Saturday. My plan was to order some cheap ones from Moo or Vistaprint before the opening, but it just didn't happen. Suddenly it was April 11th and I was at MoWA and I didn't have any.

This left me with the daunting task of telling anyone who cared to listen, "Hey, I wrote the first essay in the exhibition catalog!" which is relatively annoying, and not easy to interject into a conversation unless it is already going the direction of, "So, what are you doing with your life these days?"

To give a little background on what exactly I am talking about right now, I had the super cool opportunity to write a short essay for the exhibition catalog for the show "There's a Place: Photographs by J. Shimon and J. Lindemann" which opened on April 11 at the Museum of Wisconsin Art. It was a learning experience for me, as I have never written an essay of this nature before, and have grown accustomed to writing exclusively on this blog in which I have 100% control over the creative direction of the editing and the voice of the text. I was forced to tone down my piece to the bare minimum of expression that is considered appropriate for an essay in an academic catalog. This was ultimately a positive experience for me, however, and I am glad that I got to work with Julie and Johnie as well as the staff at MoWA to create a piece that I am happy with and fits in well with the other essays. If you haven't seen the catalog yet, here's a link to a downloadable version: There's a Place PDF.

If you think this online version of the book, designed by the legendary designer Dan Saal, is incredible, make sure to check out a physical copy of the book, which can be purchased from MoWA's website. I myself have not seen a physical copy of the book yet because they happened to sell out entirely before I got to the museum store! Bummer! (Although, in some ways I feel like this may have been the only business card I needed…).

As for the exhibition itself, well, this is one of those moments when I'm going to tell you to: Go see it yourself, dummy! It will be up until June 7th. If you live in Milwaukee, you have no excuse to not go, because, as I learned on Saturday, it's an easy and peaceful drive out to West Bend from the city. It may even be better that you missed the opening, because you will have more time to spend with the work in peace and solitude. I can't give an exact estimate of the number of visitors who attended the opening, but the museum was packed. Keith and I had to park in an over flow lot and wade through the packed crowds. Unfortunately, I didn't photograph the day very well, but the dedicated Art Elkon posted a beautiful 148-photo album on Facebook (in which I am somehow conspicuously absent. I'm not mad Art, but come on, I went out and bought a new pair of tights specifically for the event!). Here's the album: There's a Place: Photographs by Art Elkon.

And, just for proof that I was indeed there and wearing awesome tights, here's a picture of me and Deborah in front of a photograph of Julie:

Go to MoWA, read the catalog. Thanks : )