What I Believe Right Now

I believe that there is an order to the universe. I call it God, but not everyone does. Some call it Allah. Some call it karma. Some call it science.

I believe helping others is the most important action people can take.

I believe there is nothing more valuable than helping a child to grow.

I believe collaboration is more than a buzzword, it’s a basic tenet of society—and it’s constantly under attack from overzealous self-interest.

I believe self-interest is more than greed, it’s the primary function by which we care for ourselves and our families.

I believe that people crave shared experience and a sense of community—and that the world is always pushing us away from that connection through our efforts to meet those needs.

I believe self-actualization is a myth created by over-achievers who want the rest of us to feel inferior.

I believe in the power of media and the power of journalism. And I believe there are few things more dangerous than confusing the two. One of those things is an effort to define journalism.

I believe that’s a catch-22.

I believe that every new technology since the printing press has faced the exact same criticism, and that it’s all counter-productive stalling by self-anointed leaders unwilling or unable to adapt. I call this “the Gutenberg Principle.”

I believe numbers always tell the truth, and that people quoting numbers rarely do.

Let’s call it a new year

This weekend, my wife and I ripped apart the whole apartment. We’re redecorating, but we’re doing so much more than that. We are re-focusing and putting a new order in place. When we’re done, everything will have a place and we’ll have a lot less clutter to clean up (read: hide) when someone comes to visit. 

And I’m doing the same thing to my mind. 

I am ripping out and reordering everything from job expectations to the apps on my phone screen. Because I’ve been on the edge of discontent for too long and it’s time for a change. Everything has been fine, but I’m going to make it awesome. 

This is going to be my biggest year yet. 

Not necessarily 2015, but by this time next year.  I’m putting my energy into what matters most to me, and trying to let go of everything else. I’ve finally learned that I can’t be good at everything, and I’ve decided not to let that bother me anymore. 

I guess that’s my resolution. 

Rules of Conflict

It has always been curious to me that the first rule of improvisation is that you have to agree and the first rule of playwriting is that your characters have to disagree…

—Sarah Ruhl

REstriction draws out my creativity. InIf you’ve ever known improv people, I’m sure you’ve heard about “Yes, and.” It’s a wonderful tool, one of the foundations of the art of improv, wherein you accept whatever is given to you and then add to it. When you’re acting out a scene without a script, it’s important to know that your fellow performers will build upon your contribution as long as you do the same. When executed correctly, it’s hilarious.

If you’ve ever worked with improv people, then you’ve definitely heard about “Yes, and.” It can be useful as a business tool, helping to develop creative ideas (rather than imaginary scenes). It’s most often used for brainstorming sessions. And if you work at an ad agency, every meeting (and conversation at the bathroom stall) is liable to turn into a brainstorming session, full of the phrase “Yes, and.”

But my brain isn’t wired that way. Narrow parameters and conflict draw out my creativity — the critical thinking and loophole searching that nearly drove me to law school — and the notion of endless possibilities paralyzes me. But if you give me rules to bend, break, and borrow, I will find a solution. I might find you three. Restriction draws out my creativity. In a room full of people saying “Yes, and…”, all I want to say is “Yes, but…”

When I revealed that to a colleague at work, one with a background as a professional improv instructor, she helped me marry the two concepts together. The concept behind “Yes, and” is that you can’t reject anything outright, but you can always offer up a restriction without saying no. Restriction is useful as long as it isn’t dismissing everything that came before it.

I left her office trying to grasp how that would play out, and it finally happened today. I used a phrase that helped me to contribute restriction without interrupting the flow of the more adept business improvisers around me. I struck the balance needed to free up my own creativity without choking someone else’s with a variation on the theme: “Yes, but what if…”


The quote above comes from an essay by Sarah Ruhl from her book “100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write,” which I was just introduced to from the blog of Austin Kleon. After reading that excerpt, the first thing I did was order the book from Amazon. The second was to write this post.

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Staying Up Late

There’s something familiar about leaving the house at 10:30 p.m., walking away from my front door instead of heading toward it, already regretting tomorrow’s alarm clock.

Flashing back to the time I spent as a production journalist, trying to fit in with the anarchist poets in Gainesville, 10:30 feels early. 

I’m on the train now, riding into O’Hare to pick up my brother’s girlfriend from her semester studying in Fiji. Her phone is still deactivated from being out of the country, so I’ll have to find her the old fashioned way — showing up to baggage claim. My phone’s only got 19% battery life, so it’s probably better this way.

Alone in the L car, I can almost imagine the posts surrounding the airport fence holding the traffic lights I used to watch direct empty roads out my apartment window while I stayed up writing. The same lights I used to imagine Against Me! sang about.

It’s gotten hot in the city, even this late. There’s another song I know about that, but I think they were talking about something besides the weather. Aren’t we all.

It’s hot in the apartment since I don’t like to run the window units all day. Three isn’t quite enough for 1,200 feet anyway, so we rely on the fans except for when we sleep. Then we only need one.

The window units remind me of my second apartment in Gainesville. I moved into a smaller, cheaper apartment to save up for an engagement ring. I never turned that window unit off, and that apartment never got cold. Probably because I lived in a swamp. I’d wake up sweating when my alarm went off at 11 a.m., but I got the ring.

My alarm for tomorrow is already set for 5:30 a.m. When I get home, I’ll set a second on my phone as a backup. Even with the late night, I can’t miss an early morning in the office.

But on a night like this, I miss that life. I miss the poets. I miss those nights. I even miss the swamp.

Posting an old poem on the eve of war

I was going to post this without comment tomorrow for September 11, but I’ve been overwhelmed by the news tonight, so I’ve moved it up. I don’t think I can process where I’m at on this new war right now, but this is a close approximation. Deja fucking vu.

 

The Day Bin Laden Died

I have never been able to write a poem about
September 11, 2001, a day remembered
more than any other in my 8th grade year.
I’ve tried to join the body of American work
representing how scared and pissed off we were,
but the words failed me, too short breathed
from the suckerpunch we suffered. Every attempt
at a 9/11 poem is a blur, just like every poem
or song or essay or speech – a bunch of
fancy words and chanting bullshit – has been
a blur to me. But that day never has been.
And now, Osama Bin Laden is dead, shot twice
by a Navy SEAL in a military operation
that my mind wants to questions but my gut
wants to vomit relief. And kids my age took
to the streets in celebration of a death.
The death of the boogeyman of the younger
generation, the news said, the boogeyman
of my generation. And somebody stronger
and smarter than me went into my closet
in a Pakistani city and took care of that
son of a bitch once and for all. I watched
the celebration around me as I walked
home from work, and I remember all the times
I’ve taken my shoes off to get on an airplane.
I remember dozens of prisoners tortured
in Guantanamo Bay because they hail from
the same country as Osama Bin laden.
I hail from the same country as George Ryan,
Jim Jones, and Ted Kaczynski, you should take
me to jail, too. But most of all, I remember
the number of times I’ve been called a traitor
because I try to be a pacifist. Try, and often fail.
And I can’t help but wonder if he’s already won.

by James Patrick Schmidt

National Poetry Month 2014: Call When You Get In

Call When You Get In

Jai alai ball sized hail slams
against the tattered sheet in the hall,
making a sound somewhere between
eyelids and shoulders
sopping up blood from the stairs.
Perhaps if the door weren’t open
and the windows weren’t smashed,
tangerines might have survived zealous
relocation among the emotions and books
inside my overnight bag. Conditions
change like the colder autumns of childhood,
killing the grass still green between the sidewalks.

Misunderstood calls for help were actually
offers to intercept self-actualizing destruction
through back-channel negotiations
hosted by coping mechanisms
everyone but me was born with, or at least
rented from their therapists.
Funny, I thought enlightenment meant
understanding the hokey-pokey,
captured in shaky revolutions
known to picket wedding dance floors,
immortalized in the dusty videos
neglected once the first anniversary
gifts are exchanged with freezer-burned cake.

Still images are the only calm
cast on the hallway walls,
half covered in bemused shame
made into shadow puppets
illuminated by the lone light bulb, reflecting
demons committed to escaping
the eager note on my door.

by James Patrick Schmidt

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Hiking in the melting snow

Last Sunday, I decided to go for a hike. It was the third or fourth warm day that week, topping out around 40, so I ventured into the forest preserve near my home. I didn’t have a planned route or an objective in mind, I just wanted to get outside and walk.

 

For years, as a member of the Boy Scouts, I considered hiking to be my least favorite outdoor activity. I always said I’d rather canoe or build camp structures or complete compass work, but I didn’t want to go for a plain old hike. In my early teen years, I always wanted to be achieving a goal or serving a purpose, and whenever a “hike for hike’s sake” came along, I decided that it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable.

Looking back now, and even as an older Scout, I know that many of my favorite memories come from plain old hikes. Since you weren’t rushing to do anything else, that’s where you could stop for whatever you found on the trail that interested you, or how you found the best places to stare off the top of a cliff into the Mississippi valley. And when hiking alone, or at least in silence, it’s the best time to think.

And that’s what I did last Sunday, traversing the still half snow covered trails in Busse Woods, I had a thinking hike. I was able to clear my head and make plans for the next days, weeks, and months. I let my mind wander into the minutiae of nothing in particular in a way that I can’t, or at least won’t, during a weekday or another time when I’m trying to get things done.

After hiking for about an hour, head clearer than it’s been in weeks, I was glad I took the time. And the funny thing is, I feel like I really accomplished something.