Zen Meditation 1 Revisited

Three years ago, I posted Zen Meditation 1 to my Soundcloud page. As outlined in my initial blog post about it, the piece almost didn’t exist as anything other than a stream of consciousness noodle, soon to be forgotten. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t see a lot of value in it and assumed that nobody else would either.

 

Over the last several years I’ve come to realize that the music I’ve written only for myself, the tracks that I didn’t think anyone else would connect with and that had no identifiable market or audience, is the music that people almost universally latch on to and enjoy most. I suppose it may be the most “true.” That truth comes through in the music in a way I don’t necessarily understand.

When looking at my page today, I noticed that Zen Meditation 1 had a play count of 500. Five hundred! It’s not a platinum album. It’s not even a blip on a chart. But for something that I didn’t think would be listened to at all, 500 plays is nothing short of amazing. It also has the widest global distribution demographics in my listening stats.

It is the single most-listened to track I have on Soundcloud.

Clearly there’s a lesson here, not just for me, but for anyone creating something that they want to release to the world. Write things that are true. Paint things that are true. Create for yourself, because those are the things that will connect. Maybe not with the audience that you thought you were looking for, but with the audience that’s looking for you.

When I Was a Child

Once or twice a year, I get the urge to install some variant of Linux or Unix and set something up. What something? No idea. Which is why, of course, the experiment is typically abandoned within a week or two.

Well, that’s not always the case. Abandonment still occurs, but sometimes it’s because I discover that my project, let’s say “build a super secure personal firewall using OpenBSD,” wasn’t worth the effort given other tools I already had in place. Ok, maybe also a tad over-ambitious.

Other times, I have some vestigial Silicon Valley idealism resurface, making me want to move away from Mac OS or Windows, angst-ridden over all of the things going on that I don’t know about. I’ll compile my own kernel! I’ll run wireshark and review source code! I’ll shut down all of the unnecessary services! I’ll make a personal media serv… no I won’t.

It’s not that I don’t have the desire. It’s more that the *n?x communities I end up in still haven’t moved away from the Nick Burns stereotype. There’s an elitism that permeates much of the culture, despite the best efforts of some really helpful distro teams and well-meaning benefactors. It’s hard to RTFM when you don’t know where TFM is or even what it is that you don’t know. There’s more often than not a tone of “I’m not going to hold your hand” in the community forums.

It's the email that's stupid, not you, right?

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate and agree with the underlying sentiment. Point someone toward the bait store instead of handing them a plate of sushi and they’ll be better off in the long run. But many of the experts I’ve come across online are just that: experts. They’re not teachers, mentors, or guides. They have the knowledge, but they came by it via years of effort and struggle, value it highly, and often hold onto it like a dying Skeksis emperor.

I am... still... emperor...
I am… still… emperor…

Years ago, I was a decent programmer. I only knew one language, BASIC, and I only wrote for three platforms: Apple II, TRS-80, and my beloved Commodore 64. I even wrote an assembly program once to see if I could do it. I know I have the aptitude, the creativity, and access to the necessary tools. What I no longer have as much of are time and dedicated focus.

So how do I resolve those self-imposed limitations, an arcane ecosystem with a long history, and a cultural group that values DIY and distrusts tourists, with my goal to learn a new programming language? As usual, there’s a quotation that applies.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

This time, however, I am reversing the lesson. What is needed is not the abandonment of childish ways, but rather the adoption of them. I need to forget what I’ve learned over the last 25 years, to abandon what I “know.” I need to ignore the tweaking and the tribes and, above all, to seek out the education culture instead of the expert culture to help me learn.

In recent searches, I rediscovered the Raspberry Pi’s simplistic beauty. It’s powerful, but accessible and affordable, just as my Commodore 64 was. More importantly, the communities are full of projects and lessons geared toward the beginner. Toward the new mind. Of course, a new model has just hit the market, so everything is sold out, but that will pass.

This time, there won’t be a nebulous project. I know exactly what the end result should be. The project is to learn.

From the Ashes…

There must be something about the city of Phoenix that puts me in the mood to evaluate and take action. This is my second time visiting, both times to attend the Gartner CIO Leadership Forum. It’s one of the most informative and energizing things I get to do all year.

While attending the conference last year, I woke up in the middle of the night with my brain already in 6th gear. Many things were going right in my life, but so many other things were at best unsatisfying. One thing the GTD methodology has taught me is that writing things down is a great way to get your brain to relax, so I grabbed a notepad.

I’m not sure if I was being overly literal or overly dramatic in the wee hours, but I titled the page “Dark Phoenix.” I then wrote down thirteen changes that I wanted to make in my life. Some were habits to break (“more disciplined work hours”), others were aspirational (“learn any modern programming language – Max?”), and some were more targeted at things I was fundamentally unhappy about (“lose 2 pounds / month to 185”).

This list was the culmination and expansion of many things I outlined in my Let’s Try That One More Time post, written about two months earlier. Clearly, the ideas were still running around in my brain to the point where my brain said, “I’m tired of thinking about this. Wake up and do something about it.”

A year later, my estimate is that I’m running this list at about 65% efficiency. I got most of my productivity burrs ground down, put a hard stop to perpetual crisis mode at work, and focused on establishing healthy habits to take me into the second half of my life.

The most successful change was the weight loss. I started working on this in earnest last July, walking regularly and changing my diet. The changes were sensical, not radical. The exercise was moderate, but regular. I feel great and have more energy than I have in decades. And last week, I bought new dress shirts that have the words “slim fit” on the tags. I had some “Biggest Loser” emotional moments in the dressing room.

Other areas haven’t seen quite as much progress. I haven’t learned a new programming language yet, but I’m working on VBA for Excel, more for personal satisfaction than for any professional need. My artistic side also was a bit neglected, though that was due in part to moving to a new house and having to get things set up again.

There were some purges – Facebook and Google+ haven’t seen me since December unless it was for work. Most social media interactions are now on Twitter and LinkedIn, but even those are less common than they once were.

More things are now bubbling up, and the “Dark Phoenix” notebook in Evernote keeps getting new bits and pieces and clippings. I’ll be interested to see what changes the city of Phoenix inspires this time around.