I'm still really digging the digital album project from jviewz, and I just stumbled on to this. Amazing.
Step by step. One foot in front of the other. Over and over and over again. Every day until the end.
For about four years now, I have been steadily maintaining a list of things people say. They could be really brilliant things or really nonsensical things. But when I hear something that catches my attention, I jot it down.
I have been using this list as my repository for working song titles. I make music in my spare time, and when inspiration strikes and I quickly record something to capture the idea, I use the latest addition to the list as the working song title.
This has worked out exceptionally well, especially since most of my music is instrumental.
Sometimes the music is actually evocative of the title, like this one:
But most of the time, they are musical non sequiturs. Lovely random juxtapositions. Like this one:
The Song Title List is my collection of life snippets. They remind me of people, places and moments. I have a terrible memory, yet a lot of these still stir scenes in my mind. Each one kicks up a little dust to remind me of someone somewhere.
Last month, I was in Singapore with my IDEO friends and I overheard a particularly interesting turn of phrase. I fired up my iPhone Notepad (where I have kept the same list going this whole time) and POOF.
It was gone.
The whole list. Gone.
SHIT DID I JUST DELETE IT?
I actually had to sit down. How could be so STUPID? Why didn’t I back it up? Wait didn’t I back it up? It’s got to be up somewhere in the cloud, right? RIGHT?
Ran back to my hotel room to check if my Mac Notepad had preserved a backup. Turns out it was more like Dropbox: if it’s not on my phone, it’s not on my Mac. It’s in sync. So no Song Title list.
I panicked for about five minutes, drank a glass of wine then Googled for apps which could recover deleted backups from Notepad. There was one I straight up bought for $80 and was lucky enough to recover the last backup of the Song Title list. I’d lost about a month of work, but it was worth it. From the looks of it, I broke Notepad with the thousands-long list I'd created. The file was corrupted.
So yes, I’ve started backing it up in multiple places. Evernote is my new favorite thing.
And I’m also going start posting them up here, for you to enjoy.
I've added a section called Song Titles that will be my running list of musical non-sequiturs, starting with the ones I capture in Tokyo. Will also be linking ones that I actually record.
Check it out, and stay tuned for more!
Getting an apartment as a gaijin is a bit trickier than I expected. Barring the language, there are so many little details to consider. If you are ever interested in moving to Tokyo, here are a few key pieces of advice you’ll need to have under your belt:
1. Speak Japanese.
2. Don’t have a cat.
3. Shrink yourself.
And when I say “little” I mean you’ll have to get used to the idea of small spaces.
My apartment in Shanghai was fairly sizeable. I got used to a three bedroom, two bathroom apartment overlooking Xujiahui. I was paying around $2000 for about 170 sq/m, and yeah that was a deal. For almost the same amount of money, we’re tucking into a 47 sq/m box. And that’s pretty reasonable.
There are plenty of nice, small places to be had, for sure. But when you say you have a cat in tow, your options become severely limited.
Basically, the landscape looks like this:
It's also tough to find a good place in Tokyo now because so many people move this time of year. In Japan, April is the end of the fiscal year, so people find out a) they have a new job because of a re-org b) they have a better job because they got a promotion or c) they have no job. So there’s movement.
Luckily, Ann and I landed in Shimokitazawa, a super cool neighborhood just 15 minutes from Shibuya. It’s full of awesome. Even among the sea of cool places to live in Tokyo, Shimo is quite unique: it has a village vibe with an almost painful hipster sheen, but it’s actually a lot less pretentious than it seems. It’s pretty real. (Ok fine, Bear Pond Espresso is painfully hip. But it’s because they care, man.)
The view from our place is spectacular:
The neighborhood is awesome:
There’s so much more to explore and to share, but we are quite happy to finally be here.
Japan is magical.
I've only been here for a month now, and I'm still trying to find the words to describe what it's like to be here. Magical fits.
Magical means "beautiful or delightful in a way that seems removed from everyday life."
Magical is also unexplainable, incomprehensible and baffling.
This video captures the blur of just some what we've seen here and what lies ahead. There are so many nooks and crannies of weirdness all over the place, and I can't wait to get lost in it. And the best part is, the weirdness is normal.
When I moved to Shanghai in 2008 I was so overwhelmed. As in, "OH SHIT I KNOW NOTHING" overwhelmed.
Now in Tokyo, after seven years in China, I'm in "Well shit I know nothing" mode. I'm not overwhelmed. I'm a lot more curious and generally OK with rolling with the unknown of everything here, because this place is so desirable. Everyday life seems removed from everyday life.
I feel like a kid in a candy store. An ADD-addled, sugar-starved, overstimulated kid in the most endless alien candy store in the world.
Been thinking a lot about the mechanics of inspiration. IDEO's Chief Creative Officer Paul Bennett always says that it's our job as designers to be inspired. And at IDEO we try to not only inspire ourselves, but get our clients and partners inspired, too. We'll go to great lengths to expose them to new ways of thinking, new things to experience and reframe their thinking around the problem at hand.
But how does it actually work?
It boils down to neuroplasticity. This article from Lifehacker does a bang-up job of explaining it:
To oversimplify it, neuroplasticity simply means that your brain can continue to form new connections and neural pathways even into adulthood (which, prior to around the 1970s was not thought possible). When you make a new connection between two ideas, it's not just a metaphor. Your brain is literally restructuring itself to accommodate new processes. Because our memory is associative (meaning we sort and connect pieces of information based on their relationship with each other), the more "plastic" your brain is, the more you're able to form creative or inspirational thoughts.
So basically, the more flexible your brain is, the more you can create new relationships to the stuff already floating around in there accumulated from your experiences. And for me, getting inspired means filling up that mental tank with as much interesting, stimulating things everyday. So when something new enters my field of experience, there's plenty in there to hook into which could lead to something awesome and new.
From a science standpoint, it is fascinating and makes a ton of sense. From an artists' or designers' standpoint, that "eureka" or "aha" moment is still tough to articulate. This feeling drives what we do. It's exhilarating. And while It may not be easy to explain, it is super fun to talk about.
Last night, I had the pleasure of having dinner at the awesome d47 Shokudo in Shibuya with Andrea and Sam from Paloma Powers, a budding creative talent and experience agency based out of NYC and LA who recently curated the AirBnB Arthouse at Hong Kong's Art Basel event this year, and my friend Herman Mao, a great architect visiting from China who redesigned our Shanghai studio last year. Over broiled mackerel and sake, I asked about how they understand inspiration. It was a lovely chat, one I wished I actually recorded (next time), but my favorite description was this:
"It's like falling in love."
Yeah, it kind of is. There's an instantaneous, but vague realization something amazing is right in front of you. You aren't quite sure what it is, exactly. But you are willing to act on it to find out.
And I think that's what I want to find out from you. How does getting inspired cause you to commit a creative act? Once your tank is filled, once your neural pathways bend themselves to link together in a new way, what do you do about it?
Walking into work today, I listened to Alec Baldwin’s interview with Ira Glass on Here’s The Thing. Hearing him with Baldwin is a treat: Ira’s smiley, nasal lilt tangling with Alec’s husky gravitas-laden baritone is good radio. But it also highlighted one of the early points in the interview, where Ira talks about literally finding his voice on the radio, against the standard of the world-weary “announcer” approach.
Alec: I hear so many people now on the radio who are the opposite of what I grew up with.
Ira: I think it comes down to what you think authority comes from. Back when we were kids authority came from enunciation, precision. A kind of gravitas you are bringing to the character you are playing. But a whole generation of people feel like that character is obviously a phony - like the newscaster on The Simpsons - with a deep voice having gravitas. And so I think a lot of us just went in the other direction. For me, any story hits you harder if the person delivering it doesn’t sound like some news robot but in fact sounds like a real person have the real reactions a real person would, and be surprised and amazed and amused.
It’s interesting to listen in on just how conscious Ira Glass was when it came to growing his craft. In addition to structuring compelling narratives, he figured out a way to create his own version of “broadcasting.” He kept his voice and approach real, authentic and very much personal.
Ira: At first when I tried to be on the radio, like most people, I tried to be the ‘official thing,’ and at some point I trained myself out of it because I thought it’s not as effective.
At the beginning of any journey, especially a creative one, there’s pressure to feel like you need to hit some kind of standard. That "good" looks like something very…specific. And there is a maddening life-long hunt to try to get yourself up to that standard, while simultaneously trying to figure out what the standard actually is.
But the more I connect with people who inspire me, the more I realize they actually don’t give a fuck about “the standard.”
This takes time, trials and a bunch of self-awareness, to come to terms with "the standard" and then blow it away. Working on it.
But really, who wants to be the standard?
Wouldn’t you rather be the exception?
If you’ve known me for a long time, you’ll recognize the title of this blog. If you don’t, it’s taken from my first foray into blogging back in 2000, when I lived in San Francisco and documented my time working at a startup and finding out what I was made of (meat, it turns out).
After fifteen years (!!!) I thought I’d give it another go.
Since then, I moved to Seattle where I worked for Microsoft and shot a bunch of music for KEXP. I got married. I moved to China. I saddled up with IDEO. I traveled more than I ever did in my entire life, living and working in Japan, India, Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. I got divorced. My mom died. I got married again. I moved to Tokyo.
A lot has happened. There’s a lot to say. But somewhere along that journey I got scared of writing. I used to be super prolific. I wrote almost everyday on adcm, and made so many friends and learned so much. I felt brave, open and honest.
And then the era of social media dawned on us. Suddenly, I was limited to 140 characters. Suddenly, I was “oversharing.” Suddenly, tl;dr.
So I stopped.
The other day my wife asked me to write something. Anything. For 3 pages. It’s something she does every morning, to clear her head, to jog inspiration, to put it down on paper. “It doesn’t have to make sense,” she said. “Just write something.”
I was sitting at a basement whisky bar in Shinjuku at that moment. We were texting on LINE. It made me realize that while I don’t write so much anymore, I definitely type more than ever. WE ALL DO. We are texting machines now. On our phones, on our computers, in emails, in documents. We type a shitload. But it doesn’t mean we’re writing.
I wrote my three pages into my little notebook at the bar with a Yamazaki on hand and a small bowl of edamame. And it felt amazing. I haven’t done it since.
This morning, I felt bad about that.
So, here we are. This will be my morning pages. It will be more than 140 characters. I will be oversharing. It will be too long, and you may not want to read it. And it may not always make sense.
But I just want to write something.
Additionally: Big ups to Mike Peng at IDEO Tokyo who inspired me to write more. He put up his first published essay on inspiring places to visit in Tokyo last week. It’s a good reminder to be brave and put yourself out there.