THE Book to Read Right Now: “Keep Going” by Austin Kleon


For all you short-attention spanners, that’s all you need to know. Go to the links at the bottom and get your copy (and consider buying several to gift to creative friends).

If you’d rather know a little more first, then read on.

I can’t think of a better book to have, absorb slowly, and reread often than this little survival gem by Austin Kleon (a brilliant mind that connects things and calls himself “a writer who draws”). Subtitled “10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad,” it came out last year well ahead of our current fun times. In essence, if you’re a creative type–and doesn’t matter whether hobbyist or pro, or writer, sculpturer, painter, sketcher, reader, gardener, etc.–this book is a survival guide for you.

How much do I love this book? Every morning I read at two books without fail: Keep Going and The Daily Stoic. While the latter is split into 365 digestible bits, Keep Going promise “10 ways…,” but in reality, as I’m taking in bite-size, mentally absorbable bits each day, I’m getting a good 30 days of reminders and tips that are making a difference.

What will I do at the end of 30 days with Keep Going? Start back over at the front. My reading copy is marked up a lot, with many pages dog-eared to remind me of special gems.

Austin probably wrote this in 2017-2018 and published it in April of 2019, well ahead of any knowledge of the weird times we’re in. Yet it’s spot-on appropriate to help get us through these days and continue our creative work, whether simply for pleasure or as our profession.

Do it; I promise you won’t regret it. Grab a copy now via one of the links below (not affiliate links). The second one is for my local indie bookstore. I’ve been shifting away from Amazon and instead buying from Literati. Yes, books are full price there but shipping during the crisis is a mere $1, so that helps. But the extra cost is worth it to me. I want them to be there (or any local indie bookstore) once we’re out of the current phase and into the new normal phase. And that won’t happen unless we dig a little deeper and change our habits and buy from a local indie bookstore.

Amazon link to buy

Ann Arbor’s Literati Bookstore link to buy

Or buy through the author’s site.

Sunday, April 12 – Journal Snippets

Some unedited bits from my journal this week. I’m not sharing them because they’re ponderous or brilliant thoughts, but to make me accountable to keep journaling through the week. These Sunday posts will give me a bit of a review of the week’s thoughts to reflect on over time.

April 5 – Do the work (the voice in my head says).
But what is the work? (I ask.)
It’s that which you must do; that which is why you breathe the air.
But how will I know?
By not asking and just doing.

April 6 – With dawn comes a new day, a new chance for creativity and reflection. Unless you haven’t cleared out the cobwebs and baggage from your head space the night before, do that first, then enjoy a clean, empty mind to contemplate things.

Creative private space/time is more challenging at home without a means to write remotely. Con’t see why I can’t take a thermos, chair, and backpack and head to the woods for a few hours to write.

April 7 – Decided to rearrange room to add an analogue desk – always wanted that. Since I’m going to be in that room the majority of days ahead, might as well make it better, more supportive (encouraging the work). [nota bene: desk ordered; upcoming post will highlight the new studio setup]

April 8 – Enjoyed handwriting several new letters and wondering who else I can write to?

April 9 – Up too early (3:30) via weird dream. Nothing to worry about, buy lying down wouldn’t chase it away. So up and making coffee.

April 10 – I think I have an old, Scottish soul. Else why would I be so drawn to walking travelogues from that part of the UK? Really, most anything British Isles involving country life and quaint villages, and slower, time-held lives that seem immune, or at least, sheltered, from our plugged-in, distraction-oriented modern lives?…Although on my bucket list–an extended Scottish Highlands trip–part of me is afraid I would be tempted not to come back.

April 11 – Thought earlier how I’ve always wanted the solitude & experience of a monastic retreat without the religious rituals. Now I have that opportunity, via being house-bound, if I want to further sequester in to a routine of study & writing in my room.

Pandemic Paranoia and Perplexing Porch Pirates

I usually don’t get paranoid about much of anything, but you know, it’s a new world out there now. I can wrap my mind around the new norms: no shaking hands, six+ feet apart, masks in public, wash my hands so often my new friend is hand cream (not something that’s easy for a guy to accept using…a lot), and so on.

Since receiving packages at home is a bit risky for theft, last fall I got a private mailbox set up for the shop business and conveniently, a safe drop for personal packages. Mr. Pandemic wrecked that brilliant plan, so I’ve shifted everything to come to the house now.

But wait…how many people have TOUCHED these packages? Or sneezed on them? Perhaps these goodies from Amazon and elsewhere are just silent taxi cabs for Mr. & Mrs. Covid19 and their darling two million offspring to hitch a ride and then onto my hands. And even though I’ve gotten much better about not touching my face, I am a guy, so you know: takes us longer to do the sensible thing.

Rewind three weeks ago when my overly process-oriented mind developed a way to take the risk probability of package contamination so low it’s out there four of five digits past the decimal point. Here’s how the conversation went (south, some would say) in my head:

Me brain: “Wait, can’t viruses live on stuff for like, days and days?”

Inner logic-man: “No, the CDC already said risk is super low on mail and packages, and at best, they survive for 24 hours on paper, which is, in essence, your incoming packages.”

Me brain: “But how many DOZENS of people, most likely those near-zombie-like postal workers forced to slave away in the sorting centers when they should be home waiting to cut cards with the Covid devil to see if they live or die? And those UPS drivers: never trust someone who wears all brown. And brown socks with shorts? Really?”

Inner logic-man: “But even so, the risk probability is so low that it’s likely very safe.”

Me brain: “Not taking chances. I’ll develop a process to disinfectant the box outsides, AND everything inside, too!”

Inner logic-man, sighing: “Whatever, dude.”

And so I started my “keep my packages from killing me cuz I love to order online” process. I call it “Operation Armedreadon.” Here’s how it (now) works, after evolving the process through trial and terror:

  1. Waste several hours sitting and watching for the package drop, despite having an app that shows me about when it will arrive. Nevertheless, diligence is protection. Because, you know. Porch Pirates.
  2. When said package arrives, wait for the delivery person to leave the scene, based on the principle that every one of them has Covid19 and likely bubonic plague and Ebola too, just for grins. Six feet? Hell, 60 feet, please and thank you.
  3. Open front door and enter the contamination zone, armed with only freshly washed hands and a sharp knife. Occasionally I forget I’m still in pajamas and bathrobe, but that isn’t important right now.
  4. Using only the forefinger and thumb on each hand (to limit contagion, and when, er, if this rule’s violated, I have to go back inside and wash hands again and restart), carefully position package so I can slit the tape to open the box. Again, just using those digits and the knife.
  5. Now unceremoniously dump contents onto porch (remembering to be quick since contagion’s time clock is ticking a deadline countdown to absolute contagion). All this time M.C. Hammer’s “You Can’t Touch This” is my ear worm to remind me DON’T TOUCH THE STUFF INSIDE CUZ YOU JUST TOUCHED THE BOX.
  6. Again, using two of my sacrificed four hand digits, deftly carry the box to the recycling bin at the end of the building, cut the rest of the tape, and drop in the big blue box that’s helping to save the planet.
  7. Returning to the house, deftly use the remaining, non-contaminated fingers to open the door, then…you guessed it, go wash my hands. And the knife, too. I do know where’s it’s been, so…Must…Be…Sanitized.
  8. Now I go back to the porch, smug knowing that any Covid19 cooties are dead by now and retrieve my goods.

“But wait…don’t you sanitize the inside stuff?” you’re probably thinking. At first yes, but now, through countless packages and even more countless bumblings of clumsiness (you try doing something with a sharp knife and a box using only two fingers and see how your patience thrives), I figured those have gone days and days without being touched. No self-respecting virus would dare live that long.

And those ever-watchful, ever-opportune porch pirates? Ha! They cruise around looking for lonely boxes. This process totally confuses them because instead they see some new socks, a bag of Ricola cough drops, a new book or two, a bag of coffee beans, and on a good day if I’ve won the Amazon Lottery for Vitamin C, a bottle of that.

Plus, I think there’s fewer Porch Pirates roaming the high seas of empty roads these days because, you know, they touched all those boxes and surely most of them have died off from Covid19 cooties by now.

FRESH BITS 4/10: Interesting Things to Do and Read

Hope you enjoy today’s Fresh Bits: Eight juicy links to help you enjoy this weekend a three bonuses (my current read/watch/listen list).

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes–including you. – Anne Lamott

  1. Italy-based writer/artist Keri Smith started an inspiration per day creative prompt via her Exploration of the Day site, in part to help teachers with interesting student activities during the shut-in. Check out her recent ones (and you can subscribe if you scroll to the bottom). And…I didn’t click to the name at first, but she’s the author of a quite interesting (and niche) fav book of mine: The Wander Society.
  2. Some fun/timely comic art about staying inside and wondering too much. Will this ever end? Will there be a better future out there? Check out It’s Time to Start Talking to Yourself.
  3. I thought when I moved to the Midwest years ago I’d learned the last of the obscure weather phenomenon: thundersnow. Well…yesterday in Ann Arbor, after a few teasing days of 60 degree spring weather, we had graupel. What? Yup, a real thing. And now you know too. You’re welcome.
  4. Social distancing for, what, now three weeks or so? Wimpy, by comparison to this guy:  Tips From Someone With Nearly 50 Years of Social Distancing. Introverts Anonymous poster hero, most likely.
  5. Fountain pen lover? Since we have, ah, a bit of extra time on our hands, why not try ink mixing? Old post, but artist Jane Blundell has a lot of information about mixing inks, especially using De Atramentis inks ideally suited to this ink-stained rabbit hole.
  6. Those who love to travel are particularly gloomy right now. Armchair voyaging ain’t quite the same, but tough times call for clever workarounds. Like this article on Ancient Morocco and Berber ways, until your toes can get the chance again to feel some African sand in between them.
  7. Living long and enjoying life is anyone’s hope and dreams. But how? Maybe the Japanese way of ikigai (roughly translates to “your reason for living” but is more than that) could work for you. The science doesn’t lie; the ikigai-practicing residents of Okinawa have some of the highest concentration of centenarians on Earth. Ikigai intersects four elements together:  your passion, skills, how to earn a living, and what the world needs. Intrigued? Learn more about it here, or, of course, apply some Google-foo and chase it down.
  8. What an amazing time to have discovered Fresh Bits #8:  Blinkist: Weird name, amazing secret. Somewhat like a modern Cliffnotes, the service distills books into 15-minute reads or listens. There are so many non-fiction books out there I’d like to get the meat more quickly. Too often these authors spend, IMHO, way too much time name-dropping and countless stories selling the “why” of their topic. Blinkist is surprisingly deep across many topics (it’s not all business and self-help books). I’ve found their distillations to be on point with excellent, professionally recorded “blinks” as they’re called. And if you’re wondering, the answer is no:  this is not an affiliate link, just a happy user.
  9. What I’m reading this week: Escaping in a little medieval magic, murder, and mayhem at the moment (who couldn’t use a little of that?) via the late Dave Duncan’s Ironfoot, book 1 of his Enchanter General series. As usual, I stumbled onto this series by reading the last one (#3) before realizing how good it was and then subsequently ran down books #1 and #2.
  10. What I’m watching this week: Can’t seem to stop following Sir Tony Robinson through his various TV series. Found this one on Amazon Prime Video that should last me a good bit:  Walking Through History. Combine history with gorgeous British Isles natural scenery, local characters, a walking show, and Tony’s affable personality and it’s an enthralling series.
  11. What I’m listening to this week: I got SiriusXM with my new Subaru last fall and loved it, especially the Spa channel (think of the music you usually listen to when you’re getting a massage…ummm…another unfair victim of social distancing). Anyway, when I subscribed after the free trial, I also added the iPhone app. Realizing I was missing this channel since driving is a one-one-day-every-10-days 15-minute moment now, I remembered the app, and yup, it’s what I have on most of the time now, especially while creating.

Please comment and let me know what you think of this list. Also consider signing up at the right to follow and receive new post email notifications.

Early Mornings in (My) Church

I believe in God, only I spell it nature. – Frank Lloyd Wright

I’ve often felt far more spiritual and connected to that essence each of us attributes to a higher power, or universal spirituality, while being in nature.

I find it nearly impossible not to relax or quiet the mind and break from the noise of the day if I’m immersed in nature. Whether it’s walking a woodland path, wandering along a seashore searching for sand dollars, or trekking up a mountainside and arrive at the top with that breathtaking view, those are my spiritual cathedrals.

This morning’s walk in the woods at dawn provided two delights for the eyes and my spirit: a jet’s orange streak contrail against the sky bursting from the rising sun, and a mist over the pond where geese go about their early morning rituals. Combine the early quietness with walking alone on leave-covered paths, and it’s little wonder this time of day is good for thinking and gratitude.

My most striking connection to the Earth and the spiritual within and without, undoubtedly came from exploring the multi-colored mesas and lands near Abiquiu, New Mexico (see travel post here Mystical New Mexico and here More Mystical New Mexico). I’ve long ago abandoned trying to understand the why of this. Instead, I let myself be quiet as I walk there and connect to and the spirits and generations of those who trod these paths long before me.

In our digital-everything world, it’s too easy to succumb to those digital paths for everything from entertainment to solace. Yet we have, and always have had, an easier, more soul-satisfying way via the woods and deserts of the land. Although with civilizations sprawl, it’s sometimes challenging to get there, even the smallest backyard, a green spot of nature is worthy of an imaginary steeple above it and a place beneath to ponder and reflect.

Sunday, April 5 – Journal Snippets

Some unedited bits from my journal this week. I’m not sharing them because they’re ponderous or brilliant thoughts, but to make me accountable to keep journaling through the week. These Sunday posts will give me a bit of a review of the week’s thoughts to reflect on over time.

March 30 – Up earlier than alarmed for, but compelled to get up and work. These days it’s helpful to have a driver to keep going forward and stay mentally active and busy. I’ve lifted my concern that if not writing something worldly I’m not really writing. BS to that stale, rotting attitude: all wordsmithing and idea-to-paper (even if digital) is part the writing work, the exercise that leads to a better writing muscle.

April 1 – Finding more works long forgotten that I’d like to read, so pushing book orders to local bookshop Literati to help keep them alive to return after the world resumes. Feels good (right) to break from Amazon for book habits.

April 3 – Highlight today of a feel-good moment is getting three [handwritten] letters written….Be curious to see who writes back.

April 4 – The paradox of worldwide suffering matched to personal reflective and creative opportunities makes for strange bedfellows to try to find something useful in this crisis…Is there guilt in seeing the opportunity of sheltered time when so many suffer and so many more currently unaware will undoubtedly suffer?