How Calligraphy Clears My Mind – Focus From a Pen Nib

Fingers stained with ink I set the fountain pen down.

An hour has passed.  My mind is clear and aware.

Alphabets are arranged over and over again down the sheet of paper.

I have been practicing my calligraphy.

No pen, no ink, no table, no room, no time, no quiet, no inclination.

James Joyce

fountainpen How Calligraphy Clears My Mind   Focus From a Pen NibIn an age of fonts and typography (including the wonders of kinetic typography), there is something very simple about calligraphy that takes me out of time and place.  It is practicing my penmanship as if I were six years old. It is mastering the easy flow of my hand across the page. It is sculpting each letter to form as if carving letters of stone. It is sitting in class and doodling my name every different way I can see it.

When I sit down with my notepad and fountain pen my focus is scattered and often I am feeling stuck.  Unable to move forward with action whether it is writing, choreographing, or editing a design.

Setting nib to paper the letters take shape.  I become active.  Each stroke draws me in farther and soon pages are full and an hour has disappeared.  My mind is clear of distraction and my attention is sharper.  No surprise, I am happier.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes this as a state of flow.

Mihaly, a prominent psychologist on creativity and happiness, explains the power that challenging creative activity can have on our sense of being.  With a high level of challenge in an activity which you have a corresponding level of skill you can enter a psychological state of flow.

Flow is described by athletes, composers, programmers and artists alike as a state of being where action flows without needed direction.  The focus is so intense time and the feeling of self fall away so that there is no barrier between the actor and the activity or the artist and the art.

“Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Interview for Wired

Practicing calligraphy pulls me into a state of flow.

When I am struggling in ennui, a moment of adversity, or just scatter-brained, taking up an activity which is single-minded and purposeful, one that can always challenge me, and pouring myself into it clears away all the obstructions.  I forget about the bad day, the pressure to write, the calls I should make or the lack of ambition I have to get out of the house.

I come out focused.  Ready to move.

What is your focus activity?  What do you do to find clarity and calm?  Let me know and comment.

How Twitter Helped Me Connect and Why You Should Follow Me

I have been a sluggish adopter of Twitter.  While I had an account for quite a long time the notion to use Twitter in a productive, conversational and outreach manner wasn’t there.

Why would you use Twitter to post up useful bits of information about your day?  Let’s see what that looks like:

Let’s not do that.

The more I reach out into the Twittersphere and connect with other like-minded individuals the more resources I have at my disposal.  Some of my favorite bloggers are on Twitter (Chris Guillebeau, Clay Collins, Problogger) and I enjoy reading what they read and I’ve managed to find other excellent bloggers through them in this way.

Throughout the day I get a feed of interesting links that some of the most creative and off-the-wall people are reading or looking at.  I re-tweet (lingo for repost) the ones I find useful or inspirational in hopes that others I am connected to can find something valuable as well.

So, you should follow me on Twitter.  If you don’t use Twitter, I don’t necessarily advocate starting unless you are going to get involved with it.  It is easy to over-reach in the social networking world and if you can’t keep on top of your Facebook or even your e-mail, twitter might not be for you.

If you want to learn more about Twitter there a number of resources out there but one of my favorites is Twitip also by Darren Rowse over at Problogger.

Accepting Adversity – Making the Difficult Look Easy

Wrecked Car - AccidentOne of the things I’ve had in the past few years is a variety of personal setbacks or struggles which most people are amazed at.  (This is in context of being from a 1st world country and not having the hardships of war, extreme poverty, famine, etc.)

I’ve been excluded (for a year) from the country I called home where my entire life revolved.

I’ve moved to the biggest city in the U.S. without a job or place to live and found work within two days.

I’ve had more relationship difficulties than I would care to expound upon (people have said it would make a decent hollywood movie).

Despite all of this I’ve turned this into one of the most productive and creative periods in my life.  I take setbacks relatively lightly and consider most of my struggles and difficulties ahead as a learning experience.

How have I managed all of this?  Here are some things I keep in mind.


When you smile there are actual reactions which will improve your mood. Your body is wired in a particular way that when you smile you’ll often feel happier.  So when they’re out of your favorite ice cream smile and try something else instead.


In my opinion even better than smiling.  When the world hands me a downpour and I’m out for a walk I’ll probably laugh rather than cringe and run for cover.  When my luggage doesn’t show up or my bicycle gets stolen I’ll often chuckle or laugh at the sheer nonsensical nature of things.  It takes the weight of the situation off.

Plus laughter is a good workout (who hasn’t pulled a side-stitch cause they laughed too hard) and has positive health effects mentally, physically and emotionally.

Appearance vs. Reality

Does it appear worse or feel worse than it actually is?

Taking a moment to step back and evaluate the consequences of the situation or why you are feeling the way you are will give you a bit of perspective.  Losing your job can feel worse or appear worse than it actually is, perhaps it is just the catalyst you needed for you to change out of the boring 9 to 5 you’ve been enduring for the past four years (that’s what it was for me).

This is a recurring theme in literature, philosophy and is often the focus of a large body of humor.


When you always look at the end point you’re living in a mode of expectation rather than a mode of action.  When things don’t necessarily work out like you had expected you are doubly hurt by the event itself and by your failure of expectations.

When you are focused on acting or doing the result is just another part of that process.


The worst experiences I’ve had with adversity are when I bury my reactions to them with distractions (work, alcohol, women, or dancing).

When I take the time by myself without distractions and understand that I’ve been hurt or disappointed I can come to terms with it. Being honest with myself and admitting my pain and understanding my part in the issues at hand help me take the weight of a situation off.


Always taking the easy route in life is a sure fire way to be exceptionally disappointed when you don’t succeed.  Sometimes making the hard choice, whether it is painful or uncomfortable, is the better choice even if it means we admit to failure.

Failure is the key to learning and growth in a lot of ways.


The Buddhist in me advises me to live in a manner which lets me smile, laugh, focus, feel and fail.

This is living in a mode of nonattachment.  Simply speaking, don’t attach your personal esteem to the things around you.  When they are out of soy milk it is not a slight against your lactose-intolerant person, it’s just the way things are.

How to Be Eccentric: Engage

Part of living an unconventional, or as I like to call it eccentric, life is to culture habits that stand out and shape your world view.  This is a mini-series on habits of eccentricity, the second is Engagement.  Check out the first part in this series on Awareness.

Be Engaged

Engagement in the world is important to being eccentric.  It is a commitment to each moment that we live, the actions that we take and the responsibility that comes with the freedoms we create.

love life, engage in it, give it all you’ve got. love it with a passion, because life truly does give back, many times over, what you put into it

Maya Angelou

Being engaged is taking an interest in people.

Ask about their interests, their life, their work – take a moment and actually listen and inquire on topics they are excited about.  Ask for peoples names who help you out or provide a service and give thanks for their assistance.

Engaging in our relationships requires time and devotion.  We may have to cut down on the amount of time we spend on casual relationships, but in terms of the 80/20 rule having a small core of close friends enriches our lives far more than a flighty network of acquaintances.

Taking an interest in casual acquaintances introduces us to new people, develops broad social networks, and enriches our own personality.  Reaching out to others, even if only for a moment, teaches us far more about ourselves than engaging ourselves only with those who are like us.

Being engaged is having focus.

Cultivate intensity in your interests and activities.  When you commit to a class, arrive and be aware of what is going on, give feedback and ask questions.  When you subscribe to a hobby immerse yourself in it: seek out exemplars to learn from, carry it with you and practice constantly.

Developing focus empowers us, teaches us discipline, and often leads to a more productive existence.  Our goals and aspirations become clear and attainable when we focus our energies.  With focus you can cut through the fog of distractions and minutiae that sap our energy and time and make a visible difference.

Being engaged is taking responsibility.

Your actions and choices are yours alone.  Scapegoating or blaming other people and circumstances disengages you from reality.  While your actions may not always have the outcome you desire and the world may not present the best for you, it is still you acting and being in the world.

In my own life I have often taken my freedom for granted.  While the freedoms I have, whether financially, in relationships, or educationally, have benefited me – taking those opportunities without taking on the responsibility that comes with them has taken more from me than I gained.  Understanding that my spending, my friends, my actions, and decisions are my responsibility to engage with is a frightening yet empowering aspect of life.

The weight of freedom is responsibility.

Being engaged is being present.

Imagination and daydreaming have their place but they should not take over your life.  Live now rather than for a dream of the future or a memory of the past.  Find immediacy. Waiting for the future to happen or trying to relive the past lead to disappointment.

Living now can be difficult when we have goals that we are striving for or pasts that haunt us.  When I get wrapped up in these things it is best that I take a moment and perform a physical action.  Whether it is practicing calligraphy, working out, dancing or going for a walk, engaging in a hands-on trade or activity takes me out of my head and forces me into the present.

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.

The Buddha


brings you closer to the world.  You have more investment in the things that are important to you.  Those activities give greater meaning to your life.  Live a richer experience, live now.

Tweet to Beat: Tim Ferriss Raising Money for American Public Schools

Tim Ferriss has just announced an effort to raise money for the United States public school systems.

Ferriss has participated in other fundraising efforts with exceptional success raising $250,000 dollars for LitLiberation in a month to spread literacy worldwide.

It is called Tweet to Beat and you can read the full explanation in Tim’s words here.

How it works:

Here’s how the Tweet to Beat campaign works:

1) For every new Twitter follower in the next two weeks, I will donate $1 to, and an anonymous supporter will match $2, for a total of $3 to U.S. public school classrooms per follower. For now, the matching limit is tentatively capped at 50,000 new followers, though I’m open to increasing it later. 50,000 new followers would mean $150,000 to U.S. public school education, and I hope to double or triple this total with a few twists.

The goal is directly helping 25,000 U.S. public school students in low-income and high-need areas in two weeks. This timeline is half the time dedicated to LitLiberation. My current follower count is, at the time of this writing, 22,782, so we’ll round down and begin the count at 22,500.

2) There is a simultaneous competition for those who would like to spread the word. Just do the best you can (Facebook, blog, e-mail friends, FriendFeed, etc.) and detail what you did in the comments here. Tell your friends who are teachers and encourage them to do the same. Bonus points go to people who act sooner vs. later. Deadline for comments is March 23rd at 5pm PT.

Try to spread the word as far as you can, grand prize is an Around the World trip on Continental Airlines and second prize is a brand new MacBook Pro.  Help me out by spreading the word and this link:

Share it on Facebook, StumbleUpon, Twitter, DiggIt, or on Google.

Follow Timothy Ferriss on Twitter and help out America’s education, we’re far behind where we should be.

How to Be Eccentric: Be Aware

Part of living an unconventional, or as I like to call it eccentric, life is to culture habits that stand out and shape your world view.  This is a mini-series on habits of eccentricity, the first is Awareness.

Be Aware

Awareness is imperative if you want to be eccentric.  Being aware of details others miss or pass over as commonplace gives you the advantage of seeing the world in broader perspective and sharper detail.

If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.

The Buddha

Be aware of details.

Make an effort to notice the little things that are overshadowed.

Think of it like cooking.  While the main ingredients are obvious, say chicken, rice and vegetables, what truly seasons the dish, what makes it stand out, are the pinches of spices and herbs.  Each little bit of rosemary, pepper or garlic fills out the experience of the meal.

Details in our environment or the details of a friends life are what gives fullness to our experience.  They add depth to our understanding and our relationships.

Be aware of difference.

Differences challenge our assumptions.  They expand our horizon of experience, broaden our perspective by contrasting the norm.  We often assume negatives from difference when it should be an opportunity to look for understanding.

Be open to difference in life and people.  Don’t overlay your expectations.  Noticing the differences from prior situations or acquaintances frees you from the burden of the past dictating your perceptions of the present.

As Albert Szent-Györgyi, discoverer of vitamin C, noted: genius is seeing what everyone else sees and thinking what no-one else has thought. Recognizing differences in the normal is how we can reshape our perspective of the world.

Be aware of minutiae.

When the train schedule actually reads 8:44am instead of 8:44pm and you miss the 8:30pm train and have to wait 45 minutes till the next train that one letter makes all the difference.

When that $1.99 8-piece chicken nugget deal isn’t actually the deal you think it is when a 5-piece chicken nugget costs $.99 (I noticed this on a Burger King menu once).

Minutiae are the typos that are missed when a writer rereads his work, the flipping of time from AM to PM, the misplaced apostrophe, the forks in the spoon drawer, and all the other little things that are seemingly insignificant.  Sometimes those minutiae make all the difference.

Be aware of everyday.

When the sun sets over the city, or when the smell of fresh cut grass permeates your office, or how milk swirls when poured into tea, these things give value to simple things and enrich our daily lives.

Taking the time to sit in quiet and observe the world as it is.  Tea ceremonies, Vipassana (walking) meditation, are all methods to cultivate this simple awareness.

On my roughest days the simple act of sitting outside or going for a walk and just taking in everything around me without judgment breaks me out of the rough patches and shows me how connected I am to the world.  It is this choice of simple awareness which gives me that gift.

Be aware of yourself.

Know thyself as Plato’s creed goes.

Being aware of what drives you, what upsets you, and what habits you have developed is essential to being eccentric.  The lack of self-knowledge equates to having a map but not knowing where you are on it.  You can see the world around you and pick a direction but we might as well shoot into the dark for all that matters.

Understand your own vices and virtues.  Reflect on your being and your actions.  You are the center of any eccentricity and without that center you can easily become lost.


(the lack thereof being a pet-peeve of mine) shows you the world and your life in richer detail.  When you upgraded from a regular T.V. set to an HDTV you noticed the crispness, the clarity of the images; when you upgrade from living on the world to living in the world you notice the density of experience all around you.