A glyph for 2015

Over the last couple of years, my way of processing life and pondering the world around me has increasingly been mediated through symbols. Writing systems, pictograms, allegories and icons are the currency of my imagination. With symbols I can do more than words allow. I have a developed a personal pictography, a kind of shorthand, drawing from many sources and referenced to particular meanings.

I’m well past making new year’s resolutions but I’ve always taken time to focus on taking stock of the passing year and feeling out the themes of the coming year round this time. In prayer and contemplation for 2015, it seemed three things and a fourth were being emphasised.

Having worked out glyphs for these emphases, I noticed that each of them had a common element – a cross – enabling me to combine them into a single form.

So here is the glyph I mark upon the doorposts of 2015.

2015
2015

It’s component parts are thus:

Finishing
Finishing

Finishing

This is the symbol for Saturn. In esoteric systems, Saturn has a very complex variety of correspondences. But, to keep it simple Saturn was the Greek god of agriculture and the symbol contains two elements: a cross (or sword) and a sickle. It can be taken to represent the harvest: things must die and come to an end but in that moment seeds are gathered for sowing in the next cycle.

Of course, to be saturnine is to be gloomy, but, to borrow from the Christian imagery of the cross, the words of the Son of God are appropriate.

I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop.” (John 12:24 HCSB)

I’ve noted that the last few years have been characterised by a lack of finishing. I enter 2015 with so many projects begun and not completed. An unfulfilled intention, a work half done, can become rotten. I need to put the sickle in and finish many things so that new life can come. 2015 is to be a year of finishing.

Truth
Truth

Truth

Encapsulated here in one of the many alchemical symbols for gold is something I need to bring back to the centre. Truth, like gold can be tested by fire, bears no combination with other elements and stays unchanged.

I’m a people pleaser. This means I all too easily try to give others the answer I think they want to hear. That’s not always realistic. I’ve a creeping habit of white lies: “Of course, it’s no problem.” “I’ll be there at six.” “It will be fine.” “I’ll be thinking of you.”

These are not loving, respectful interjections unless they are true. Even if it arises from the best will in the world, I need to curb my optimism at times and let my ‘yes’ actually mean ‘yes’.

Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.” (Leo Tolstoy)

Praxis
Praxis

Praxis

This is a symbol I’ve invented to use for the concept of praxis – an antidote to inwardness. It depicts a sword, internally rooted but driving outwards to act externally. For me, Praxis doesn’t oppose contemplation but means something like a ‘contemplation by doing’ and it’s closely allied to the philosopher’s ‘techne’ – practical craft.

I owe this new emphasis to the lessons I’ve been studying in alchemy over recent months. The alchemist performs processes – burning, boiling, distilling – all the while observing diligently the transformation of substances without missing the correspondences with his own soul-work.

I’ve written before in this blog on the experimental approach to life, and this seems to be back in focus for this year.

It’s surprising I never really took to science at school. I don’t think I ever made the connection between what we did in the classroom and the fact that my den in the garage hosted a fossil collection and pendulums that hung from the ceiling to study gravity and waves. I had exercise books full of notes and measurements of such things as the landing positions of sticks thrown at random. I tried to replicate the experiments of Mendel in my flower bed. I was just a little Issac Newton, but schooling cast me as an ‘arts person’.

I don’t think our education system encourages the formation of a renaissance mind, and more is the pity.

In 2015 the world and my self will be my laboratory. I want to do real stuff in the real world and watch it closely and learn all I can from it instead of from books.

And the fourth thing

Although not depicted, this underpins all of them. It’s ‘momentum‘.

I’m poor at keeping momentum. If things are going well, I cruise or put my attention elsewhere, so they grind to a halt. This goes for creative projects, relationships, work and home life. Things are not finished. Wishful thinking swallows up reality. Praxis collapses back into theoria.

It’s easier in the long run to keep the wheels turning with tactical doses of effort than to be repeatedly frustrated by inertia.

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Thinking and Creating at Ground Level: learning from a 9 year old

Watch this:

It’s no surprise, this clip has gone viral on YouTube. I don’t think we should be surprised to hear evidence that a 9 year old thinks deeply about the meaning of life and the universe. I’m prepared to take it at face value and, even if he’s repeating verbatim material from overheard adult conversations. That’s not the point I want to bring out in this post.

What is the important difference between this and a TED talk?

At a TED talk, the speaker doesn’t roll around on the floor scratch the ground, swing a baseball bat, shred twigs and stare at the sky. At some point in our development, an adult tells us,

Stop fidgeting!

Stand still!

Sit up straight!

Look at me when I’m talking to you!

Right there I think we start to lose something.

Last Autumn, I spent a total of about thirty man-hours at floor level with primary school kids. No furniture, just crayons and paper and our imaginations. I was co-authoring a storybook with them. Although I used muscles I’d forgotten I had, and I ached every night, I rediscovered the joy of creating at ground level and fidgeting incessantly, and I began to experience an awakening of creativity and a shift in perspective that I suspect had something to do with going back to a 9 year old’s way of working.

I have begun to incorporate ‘floor time’ into my creative practice. The floor is bigger than a desk and offers so much more potential for spatial interaction with ideas.

When I was about 11, I was so impressed with the idea of the ‘Bayeux Tapestry’ that I sellotaped together a long line of A4 sheets and drew the story of the stuff I was into at the time: frisbee battles, water bombs, balloon helicopters, forts with heavily defended ramparts, and various inventions such as my toothpaste-powered boat and the perpetual motion machine I was certain would make me famous. I never finished the ‘tapestry’, I just kept adding to it until it went a few times around the room.

I have never been able to dismiss my curiosity about how life might be without furniture, ever since I heard that living on the floor (eating, sleeping, learning) was the norm at Gandhi’s ashrams. In fact, for most people outside of the West, it is still a way of life.

The positive implications of floor living and fidgeting, for posture, bone and muscle, economics and energetics, are probably fruit for a few more posts. But, for now, how might some floor time benefit your creative practice?

Ten Things in a Small Corner of my Desk

As someone once said, “Writer’s block is what gets the housework done.”

I suppose that would be true if Twitter and Pinterest didn’t exist.

I often fall prey to the thinking that if I could only rearrange my personal workspace to be more perfect, then I would be more productive. In real life, the most productive phases of my work are more likely to be associated with utter chaos on my desk  – like today.

What the picture below does not show are the two other empty coffee cups and the two empty Powerade® bottles, an assortment of neckerchiefs, several books, more sticky labels, an empty wine glass, two egg timers, a letter opener and some pirate stickers. Nevertheless, in the spirit of “Desks of the Rich and Famous: Workspaces of Highly Creative People“, here is a small corner of my universe:

desk1

Freelancing: a Time Management System that Works for Me

Freelancing: a Time Management System that Works for Me

As a natural procrastinator and date-phobe, deadlines do nothing to lower my blood pressure. In the last two years of trying to get established as a freelancer I have tried every single time management strategy available. I have probably spent as much time re-structuring my diary and prioritising to-do lists as I have spent actually working. More recently, my growing workload has made it an imperative that I get this thing nailed down – pinned down, to be precise.

All my experimentation and money spent on index cards and software has not been in vain. I’m going to share with you the system that I have evolved to suit my way of working in the hope that it might help other freelancers like me.

You will need

  • A large cork board
  • A large assortment of different coloured pins (I have about 50 of each colour)
  • A marker
  • Some labels
  • Possibly some coloured tape or sticky notes that are the same colours as your pins (these are to indicate deadlines)

    It should start to look something like this.
  1. Take the marker and divide the board into eight rows (for days of the week and a label) and as many columns as you can fit across it.
  2. Label the bottom seven rows Monday to Sunday (or Monday to Friday if you strictly don’t work weekends …  as if!)
  3. Use the top row to add labels for each coming week. These will need to be removable so you can update it with fresh weeks every so often.
  4. You are ready to go.

How to use it

There are a few simple principles to grasp:

  1. Each pin represents an hour’s work. When you take on a new job you need to estimate how many hours it is going to take you and set aside that number of pins (I write at about 500 words an hour and copy edit at about 1,500 words an hour).
  2. Use different coloured pins for different clients or jobs.
  3. Populate the “calendar” with the pins, showing when you are going to do each hour’s work. Each of my days has space for nine pins (nine working hours). Loosely, the first pin is 8am-9am and the last pin is 5pm-6pm (with an hour off for lunch).
  4. Use a specific colour (I use white) to block out days when you are not available and hours when you have appointments or non-work commitments during the normal working day.
  5. Indicate your deadlines with a piece of tape (or even a dedicated pin) in the colour for that job.
  6. You can play with the pins as much as you like but there is one rule: red pins can’t go past the red deadline, and so on.

Advantages

This system works for me because there is something about physically moving pins around that really helps me to understand how my time is distributed in a way that paper or a computer screen never does. I can tell at a glance if someone phones me up and says “can you do it by Tuesday?” If a job takes less time than I expected I can just subtract a few pins. For each hour of work completed, that pin gets removed and put to the side so progress towards completion can be seen instantly (and taking a pin out is a nice feeling). If something else needs to be slotted in, it is very easy to arrange the pins around it.

Handy tip: take a photo of the board with your phone camera and set it as your screensaver/background so you can carry it around with you.

There is lots of flexibility and scope for creative variation, but here are the basics.

It is not until you start using it that you realise the elegance of the system. Give it a go!

Are You Creative? Send Me Your Card!

I’m a sucker for business cards. Collecting them is like playing a grown-up game of swapsies. Even though we live in a digital age of networking, there’s still nothing quite like taking home a pretty little piece of card with someone’s details on it.

So here’s a thing I’m going to do: If you are a person who works broadly in the area of creativity, art, writing, music, performing arts or that sort of thing, send me your card (either a scan or a “hard copy” – email seymour@seymourjacklin.co.uk for my snail address) and I’ll feature it on this blog and link it to your website … simples!

I have started with a few that were already in my wallet:

Java Apps that Make my Little Nokia (almost) a Smartphone

I have had a Nokia 6303, described as “no-nonsense easy-to-use handset” for about 3 years now. I have looked at upgrading to a Blackberry, iPhone, or high-end HTC but I’ve never found a good enough reason to switch to something that costs three or four times as much as this reliable classic. I’m quite sure that some people who think they need a top gadget to do what they want to do don’t realise the potential of these Java enabled handsets running on Symbian 40.

Here’s a few things that give it the edge over  the buggy rushed-to-market do-everything other phones that I have come across:

  • It’s cheap to replace and free on a lot of low monthly tariffs.
  • It’s frightfully robust. I have dropped it on hard floors and in wet grass countless times.
  • The battery life is exceptional. I charge it once a week, which is usually more of a top-up than a full charge. Although I use it only occasionally for longer conversations, I use it constantly for browsing and for twitter, texting and email.
  • GPRS coverage (although a lot slower than 3G, of course) seems to be available absolutely everywhere in the British Isles.
  • There are a huge range of Java apps out there for any purpose and they are generally very reliable.
  • Memory card slot gives me more storage than I need for music on the go.

Here’s my pick of Java apps that give me an almost-smartphone – all of them are also FREE:

Browsing: Opera Mini.

With the slowness of GPRS you need a light and lean browser that is perfectly adapted for a smaller screen. Of all the ones I have tried, Opera wins by a long way. It is very customisable, you can specify the quality of images or eliminate them altogether for faster browsing. Tabbed browsing is supported, too, and works well. Bookmarks can be synchronised online with an Opera account on other machines and it has a built in feed reader – sweet!

Social Networking: Snaptu.

Snaptu has an iPhone like menu of icons and a number of its own internal apps. I use it all the time for Twitter as it handles lists and multiple accounts very smoothly. It’s great for Facebook, too (although I’m not on there any more). Multiple useful tools within Snaptu also include several feed and news readers, a weather app which can be set for multiple locations, and a neat little Google Calendar interface.

Calendar: Gsync.

Synchronises the internal calendar with an online Google Calendar.

Task management: Mobile Task Manager.

This little gem by Tommi Laukkanen has become the final answer to my list-making habit. A lightweight and simple app that manages any number of lists embedded (if you want) to three or four levels. I have my daily to-do list on here as well as shopping lists, gig set lists, project planning outlines e.t.c. It is elegant and unfussy and does the job very nicely thank you.

GPS: Mobile Trail Explorer (MTE).

Again, although these phones don’t have built in GPS, they will connect to a bluetooth GPS unit (of which there are many to choose from) like the BN901S. Mine cost £16 on eBay and I keep it in the car. Mobile Trail Explorer is a fully featured and very flexible GPS tracker once again by the brilliant Tommi Laukkanen. It uses OSM or Google Maps if you need them, caches maps to save data calls, allows you to record and save KML files and various other waypoints systems as well as having a navigation function.

QR Code Reader: Bee Tag.

Using the phone’s built in camera to read QR codes. Seems to work 90% of the time and is certainly adequate to the job although it struggles with tiny codes, this may be more a limitation imposed by the 3.5 megapixel camera.

E-Reader: WattPad.

Thanks to the adjustable smooth scrolling screen, I use WattPad to plough through classics that are free to download (in the public domain). Perfect for reading after lights-out. Most of the contents of Project Gutenberg are available, no shortage of good stuff.

Bible: YouVersion.

Most people I know with Android use this but, the marvelously handy YouVersion is available for Java, too. Unfortunately it doesn’t cache so can be a bit slow sometimes, but there are a wealth of translations to use.

In addition, for email, most of these S40 phones have their own email reader embedded with the texting and messaging menus and they can be set up to synchronise with any POP and SMTP accounts for sending and receiving. Synchronisation can be scheduled or on-demand.

So … er … yep – I don’t see why I should bother putting up with the sort of trouble (and expense) that smartphones have been giving people lately.

Mingling Business and Personal Stuff in Social Media

The question is, “to what extent should I keep my personal and business life separate when using twitter, facebook, and other social media?

The answer is, “It’s up to you.” There are no rules and everyone works out their personal approach to this one, which is one of the beauties of the “Wild West” that is Social Media.

One of the great strengths that social media have brought to business networking is an amplification of the importance of the personal touch and, in my humble opinion, this should be kept in mind. It is one of the strengths of the scene, so the ideal is to exploit that rather than crowbar the old ways of doing things into this rapidly-growing new field.

It is probably going to be simplest to outline some of the decisions I have made and why.

My Personal Brand

There is a rising sector of employment that I and many of my friends are engaged in. What are we selling? Ourselves. We are marketing our unique sets of skills but also our quirkiness and personal attributes that all go together to make a personal brand.

It may sound like an awful sell-out, to reduce myself to a product, but I don’t see it this way, it is more of a natural consequence of doing what you love and what is essentially “you” for a living. Isn’t this what we all long for?

I carry on a number of activities under the broad umbrella of freelance writing and editing, although a more accurate description would probably be “freelance creating” as lately my work has included forays into performance and consulting and I have not ruled out bringing more photography into it.

I don’t take on any old project that will pay, I work on stuff that accords with my principles and values, exploits my strengths and helps me grow as a person. I’m working for myself – in every sense of the word.

Also, very importantly, at this stage almost all (100%) of my work comes from people with whom I have a personal relationship of some sort, or who I have at least met face-to-face. For anyone starting out, the strength of existing networks of relationships cannot be overlooked. This is why I keep “trading” under my own name. I don’t mind potential “customers” knowing that I am a Christian or a Vegan, for instance, and in my experience this is helpful as it helps people to identify the kind of niche that I work in and heads off the requests to write copy for leather handbag sales or to produce erotica, while still opening the way for a diversity of potential projects.

The places where I am “me” are on this blog (which is a shop window where people can sample my work and where I can advocate for the stuff I am passionate about) and on twitter.

LinkedIn and ReferralKey finds a middle ground for me as it is specifically aimed at business networking, so I tend to keep my personal jibber jabber away from them.

Pros (for using yourself as the main brand)

  • Potential customers are encouraged to form a relationship with a person who has a face rather than a machine providing a service.
  • I can openly bring everything that I am to my work.

Cons

  • My tweet stream contains a certain amount of “noise” that is not of interest to clients, as I chat to people or post links that are personally interesting.
  • Some people may be put off by my stance on certain issues.

Other brands

However, under the umbrella of Seymour Jacklin, there are a couple of distinctive brands that I am developing. The first of these has it’s own twitter account and identity. It is called “Mindspective” and is the compartment where I am specifically emphasising my healthcare experience and special interest in mental health. This is primarily an information based project where I am doing writing in a specialised niche. I am less interested in hooking people on to me as a person, here, and it is more about providing something that stands alone, people are attracted by the niche rather than by my skills or personality. Very few of my everyday friends know about Mindspective.

At some point in the future, I my develop Mindspective to involve other contributors or I may sell the site on, so it makes sense to keep it separate from my personal brand.

The second brand is “Stories from the Borders of Sleep.” However, this is a much more personal project, and I use my “me” channels on social media.

I would say that the choice you make over whether to form another social media stream around a specific product will depend on the answers to the following questions:

  1. Will I employ other people in the future?
  2. Will this be set up as a charity, business or NGO in it’s own right at some point in the future?
  3. Am I thinking of selling this on to someone else one day?

General comments

I follow a number of streams on Twitter that are organisations or companies. It is mildly annoying when these are used, by whoever is managing the account, to say “hi” to their friends or carry on protracted correspondence in 141 character bites. I am generally following them because I want news and information.

I know one or two people who simultaneously broadcast exactly the same tweets both on their personal and business accounts and this feels a bit spammy (ahem). I do tend to re-tweet Mindspective from my personal account but never post identical tweets from both. I would say, “don’t do this.”

Many people use different forms of Social Media to do different jobs and keep a sense of separation. For instance, Flickr, is about photography – it overlaps with other stuff I do but it is its own thing. I don’t use MSN, Google Buzz, or any other chat streams for business purposes but I do do business on Skype, LinkedIn, Qype and Referral Key. This enables me to preserve a few corners where it is just about me and my mates chatting on.

It is important to be aware of what you do post and that “Google” forgets nothing. It is worth “googling” your self to see how you look to the online world and think if that needs to be managed or tweaked in any way that it is within your power to influence. Luckily the idiot stuff I posted on forums as a student 10 years ago is now so far down the page ranks as to be negligible.

Having abandoned facebook a few year ago, the only thing that would possibly drive me back there is the potential to use it purely for business.

It can be a nuisance (especially with twitter) having to log in and out of different accounts depending on whether you are in business or personal mode. I make things simpler by using different browsers: Firefox for personal, Chrome for business – it works really well.

In this day and age, quirks, personality, authenticity are the currency of new media, so keep them in there if appropriate.

Well, there’s just a few thoughts from the top of my head, hope it helps …