How many words should your blog post have?

posted by Jonathan Frei On Thursday, February 11, 2010 View Comments
In the digital world, space is unlimited. Writers in the digital space do not have to deal with the constraints of the newspaper or the pages of a book. They can write thousands of words on a page, and have thousands of pages on their sites.

The constraint however, is the attention span of the reader. When the content gets longer than that you've lost.

The Paradox of Routine and Freedom

posted by Jonathan Frei On Friday, November 13, 2009 View Comments

Routine works. Establishing one does not make life boring or formulaic, but it does set up guide posts where true freedom and excitement can take place.

A routine I recently established was getting up at 6 a.m. This guide post has given my days structure. It has established a time where I can write this.

With the responsibility of fatherhood, I have had to change my focus from myself to my family. And having a family is a sure way to confuse and throw a wrench into any established order or normalcy in life.

However, I established this routine months after my son was born. It opened up the possibilities of being a great dad while still caring for my own needs.

The last several mornings now I woke up two minutes before my alarm was set to go off. Each time I glanced at my phone, and it showed 5:58. It's only been a few weeks since I started, but already the routine is freeing me from the annoying buzz of the alarm.

Before I started working on this I'd be sleeping deeply and when my alarm would sound, I'd hit the snooze button two or three times. The idea, of course was that "10 more minutes and I'll be rested and ready for the day." But snoozing three times adds up to a half hour of frequently interrupted sleep.

On the other hand, getting up and getting going shakes off the sleepiness much faster than laying awake in bed between pressing the snooze button.

Routine has given my day something new--a beginning. Rather than drifting into the day from a haze of sleep and snoozing, establishing a routine has created a clear delineation between night time and day time.

Also, my wife and I have been working to establish a routine for our baby. We're starting to see the first fruits of our efforts. The last several nights now, he's slept soundly from when we laid him in the crib until after I got up.

These routines do not diminish the freedom and spontaneity of a day. It is exactly the opposite, yet still a paradox. Fixed and strictly adhered-to routines create more freedom in a day than an open schedule.

I haven't established strict guidelines for what I'll do when I first get up. I try to read, write, or exercise, but sometimes I surf around on the web, play with the baby if he's awake, or spend some time in prayer.

However, no matter what I decide to spend the time doing, it is something I wouldn't be able to do if I didn't have the routine established to get started.

By setting up a few starting guide posts, I was able to establish much greater freedom in my day. And now I'm searching for similar opportunities in other possible routines.

The Myth of Self Reliance

posted by Jonathan Frei On Saturday, November 07, 2009 View Comments

Self reliance is a myth. Humans are social creatures that need interaction for emotional well-being and sustenance. The concept of self reliance, however, implies that we can make it alone.

True self reliance would involve a complete withdrawal from society, a Thoreau-like retreat to Walden Pond or a John-the-Baptist-like wandering in the desert. However, even there the fish of the lake or the locus of the wilderness provided what they could not provide for themselves.

Spending a dollar admits that I need what someone else has. Working to earn a dollar admits reliance on either an employer or on customers.

Since pure self reliance is impossible, we must all be dependent. However, there is good dependence and bad dependence. Learning about the good and shutting out the bad is the way forward.

Bad dependence is reliance on others. Good dependence is reliance on others--and yourself. In the second, the difference is learning to count on, trust, and rely on those around me. This is difficult, since it's easy to mistrust people. However, this skill is critical to forming well balanced relationships with the people you know and encounter.

Driving on the highway, I need to trust that the car I'm passing won't suddenly swerve into my lane and run me off the road. I rely on the driver's competence. However, in this situation I also rely on my own driving skills and knowledge to not pass on the left and to avoid cars that are weaving in and out of their lanes.

I work in sales. I rely on my employer to pay me each period, but I also rely on myself to perform. My employer also relies on me to perform. The action it takes to secure my performance is to pay me each period. There we have an example of a well balanced mutually reliant relationship.

A pure reliance, on other hand, is out of balance and even harmful to the individual. Reliance on a person or entity without that entity relying on you is dependence. It plants and nurtures an entitlement mentality. The feeling that you deserve something without earning is a direct result of this one way reliance.

This is why welfare is so damaging to individuals. They receive benefits from the government that they are trained to rely on. The government does not receive any reciprocated benefit. This one way relationship of giving is not generosity, and it does not promote a society built on balanced and mutually reliant social relationships.

When the cycle becomes one of take take take instead of give take give take, the relationship shifts from that of two people to that of a house pet. I'm not calling welfare recipients animals. Many people truly need assistance to survive. However, when dependence replaces mutual self reliance, it diminishes a distinctly human.

I'm learning the beauty of mutual self reliance. It reveals the deeper value the people in my life have, and shows me my own intrinsic value which I provide through our relationship.

Photo by Nicholas T

'Better' is between where you are now and perfect

posted by Jonathan Frei On Friday, October 30, 2009 View Comments

It's easy to get down on yourself when you're not perfect. Being less than perfect admits a shortcoming, a failure. It's humbling.

A common cliché used to make someone feel better after a failure is to remind them that no one is perfect. However, this condolence provides little or no consolation. That's probably because it doesn't take a perfect person to avoid the particular screw up that's getting you down. It only takes a better person.

It is accepted that perfection is impossible, and it is. That being the case, the proposition also needs to be acceptable. However, it can be so difficult to accept not being perfect, that we sometimes forget perfect's younger sibling: 'better'.

It's okay to not be perfect. However, this cannot be cause for complacency. The premise that nobody is perfect does not justify not trying. 'Better' is a great alternative to perfect because it's situated directly between where you are now and where you'd like to be.

Also, each time you take a step to be better, you're that much closer to perfect, and there's another 'better' in close proximity for you to move towards.

Small steps in the right direction are acceptable. They are not preferable to lasting radical overnight changes, but they're a good start. Besides, for most, they are far more realistic.

Some people are are able to make drastic changes overnight, or even over the course of a year. Here I use the word 'some' to describe a very small minority of very special and talented or very weird and crazy individuals.

For the rest of us, the walk towards perfection will be a long one. It will take a superhuman perseverance. This will mean committing to a daily goal with clear action items to become a better person, to change bad habits, to start good ones, to develop the way you think about things, and to inspire those around you by your actions.

And if perseverance, commitment, desire, endurance, and patience are not traits that you either possess or can develop, then it will be better to look for some quick overnight fixes. Unless you're part of that 'some', they won't work, but even a quick fix is better than no fix.

Can a husband and father be a radical lifestyle designer?

posted by Jonathan Frei On Wednesday, October 28, 2009 View Comments
Consciously or not, I've found myself drawn to a number of lifestyle design blogs over the past few weeks. They're filled with stories about individuals actively pursuing unconventional ways of thinking and living.

Part of this desire may stem from feeling that my life is becoming to ordinary, too formulaic. I want something drastic, something radical to break up the mundane. There shouldn't be anything ordinary about life.

However, if I'm going to jump on this lifestyle design bandwagon, I'm going to have to come at it from a very different angle. First, I have a family who I am very much in love with and committed to, so I am , to a small degree, limited in the radical lifestyle choices I can make. My lifestyle affects others, and I must always keep them in mind.

Spending time with my baby and being a good husband are the most important things to me. This involves time and support that I must provide.

Also, I work full time in a conventional setting. I'm not as adventurous as I'd like to be and do not have a strong enough desire to be an entrepreneur to strike out on my own. Actually, I still consider myself an entrepreneur, but I only have one client: the company I work with.

Despite all these factors that seem to point to the conventional life, I think I'll still be able to participate in extreme lifestyle design during bit of time I have left over. And that may be what makes this journey and set of experiments unique.

Can I be an unconventional thinker and passionately pursue my ideal day and life while still fulfilling my duty in what is most important in my life: loving my wife and baby?

This is a difficult question to ask. As a husband and father, there are sacrifices I must make to care well for my family. However, I have 'me' time in the cracks, and I don't think that I am, right now, the best possible version of my self. And this is because I am not making full use of the cracks.

So, my goal and mission will be to use that extra time to become the best possible version of myself. I know that writing this, and the fact the my wife reads it, will mean that I'll have at least one person to hold me accountable and to be able to witness my progress.

Photo by Ben Zvan

Remember Memory

posted by Jonathan Frei On Tuesday, October 27, 2009 View Comments
(The following is from my 2005 book of poetry, Ordinary Time, which provided the inspiration for the title of this blog. I will be republishing the poems here over the next several weeks in their original order)

Remember Memory

The water, turning over on itself,
the shifting of a formless mass, swirling
in and against itself, and refusing

to cease is safe, between the embrace of
the arms that hold it dear, and know the folds,
and all within by name, and how to bend

the resistance at the edges, and pull
the waves on the receding tide into
the deepest ocean’s heart. When the ear’s sense

can finally hear the sound, the harmony,
then truth will enter in the hollowed space
and take a firm hold, deep where it belongs,

where it can grow. The plane beyond the shore
is restless and will never sleep as long
as the pockmarked moon forces it to keep

wrestling with the land. Love cannot rest
in the sleepless thrashing waves. Remember,
the strong momentum of the sea must stop

eventually—when the spinning earth rests,
When the moon drifts away, and when the sun
begins to swell up red—but until then,

on the darkest shore that strikes land, forget
the words. Remember the revolutions
of reality’s struggle. Remember

the sounds that lined the edges in the dark,
the soft returning and the withdrawing
of the slow waves at night and the way they

can drag a pebble out to sea and drown
it in itself. Forget the words spoken.
Forgive the lies. Forget the truth and listen

to the sounds dragging in the waves. Forget
that waves have washed the shore before. Forget
the sound remembered. Listen to the sound.

For only the sound can tell what is there,
and only what is there can uncover
what is not, and separate memory.

Encouragement available

posted by Jonathan Frei On Tuesday, October 27, 2009 View Comments

There seems to be no shortage of encouragement available if you look for it hard enough.

However, words from other can be, at times, in short supply. This can lead to one desperately fishing for encouragement from friends and family, which can cheapen what is caught.

I am fortunate that when I am uncertain of myself or lack the full confidence in what I am doing, there always seems to be well timed words of encouragement from my wife or co-workers, or at least some external signs that I am on the right track.

However, when encouragement is not readily available in the form of words from others, there are plenty of places to find it or create it in yourself as needed.

You can look for encouragement in past accomplishments. The current failure does not negate the good things you've accomplished before. Be encouraged by what you know you can do, and what you have done. This is more indicative of what you'll be able to do in the future than any one setback.

Remember the obstacles you've overcome in the past and recognize that you'll be able to overcome others in the future. What encouraged you to overcome those obstacles? It may be possible to rediscover those past encouragements and apply them to the present.

However, don't always look back for encouragement. Also think about the ways the current difficulty will help you to learn and grow. People develop through their experience, and the experience of difficulties and hardships can be the most effective teachers. Try to recognize, in the present, how what is happening now will help you grow as a person, and be encouraged by it.

Also, you can look for encouragement in what others have done. There is no shortage of stories of people accomplishing incredible feats. But what do the great people behind those stories and I have in common? We're all human. We work with the same limitations and potentials.

Be encouraged by what what you know you can do well, and don't allow things that you're bad at to get you down. You can find encouragement in your own talents, understanding that even if you're having difficulty in your current endeavor that you still have the things that you're good at.

I am a lucky man. Never lacking in my family cheering on all that I do. I also have very supportive co-workers, who are equally invested in my success. This is a great benefit to me. If it's not something that you have in your life. I highly recommend it.

Find a few people who can light up your day. Invest yourself heavily in those relationships. Reap the rewards, and enjoy them for their own sake. Not much else is important when a few people close to you are able to fulfill you social needs for love.

I am so fortunate to have the support I enjoy both at home and at work. It makes me thankful to know that there are people who are there for me when I need it. I hope that I can be there for them too, to be for them what they are to me.

But I am also thankful that I am able to encourage myself, when I find myself alone.

Issues with unfinished business

posted by Jonathan Frei On Saturday, October 24, 2009 View Comments
I have a problem with unfinished business. 

I had some issues with my computer a few weeks ago. It was late but instead of letting it go, calling it a night and saving the trouble shooting until morning, I felt an uncontrollable urge to fix the problem. Nothing could distract me from my desire to fix the problem and make things right again. 

I can see how this trait could be harmful. Stubbornness can easily distract me from what may really be important. 

Could this be good?

When I have a problem, all my energies go into fixing it. This is only true when something was fine but then broke or stopped working. Sadly, this does not seem to be the case for things that are wrong, that have always, or at least for a long time have been wrong. It seems like the urge is more crisis control or a desperation to maintain the status quo.

If only I was able to harness that "I have to fix it now" energy into changing bad habits and developing new behaviors. It really could be a powerful force for good in my life.

Converting bad habits into good ones

How do you take a bad habit and focus those negative energies into something positive? I feel like I try to do this. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the benefits of distractions. Distractions, a bad habit and a weakness, can provide the needed brain break for me to accomplish real work. An uncontrollable fixing urge, could, I suppose, be applied to something that was broken long ago, rather than just the recent break-downs.

But the energy just isn't there for the long cherished faults the way it is for the newly discovered broken parts. I want to learn to deal with both with the same vigor and passion, but one is by nature easier than the other. Why is it that we learn to accept our faults, just because we've had them for a while?

Feeling ready to take control

I do feel ready for radical changes. It's about time for some internal ones to keep up with the break-neck speed that everything else has been subject to. I live in an ordinary time, where many things are familiar to the universal experience, but I think it is time to make a clean break from my own linear motion and take real control over my life, actions, and outcomes.

I am a man, and I have control over my life. Each day I am offered so many choices, so many opportunities to act, and act with the brain. Just writing this probably brings me a step closer. Publishing it here does provide some level of accountability. I wouldn't want anyone to read this and six months down the road see me and realize that I still have not grown up and that I still have not taken control of my actions and choices.

I have a lot of potential, as does everyone my age. There are still years and years worth of things to learn and do. I'm starting now so that I won't miss out on a single chance to find what I'm looking for. It's getting late, but tomorrow will have more for me, so I can wait. 

Besides, the computer problem I mentioned at the beginning is resolved, so I'll be able to sleep easy. The momentary crisis is averted. 

However, I'm still not sure how I can rest so well knowing about my other issues

Not yet a writer

posted by Jonathan Frei On Saturday, October 24, 2009 View Comments

I understand I have a lot of work to do to become the writer I want to be. Words and pages are not enough. Although, that would be a good start. No, thoughts and well expressed ideas are what I'm after. I am not sure that I am prepared to think like a writer. I know I don't have the habits developed yet. One step at a time, I know. But I have in mind what I want to be: I want to be able to sit quietly and think to myself about my subject and then open up a blank document and write what I think. 

Right now, I don't think much or write, but I am actively trying to change that. You see, I believe the world's greatest thinkers were skilled writers, and the greatest writers were deep thinkers. It may be a chicken and egg situation, but my plan is to attack both fronts at once to make myself into what I want to be.

Parts of these first few posts are going to come across like pages from a journal, which is not what this site will become. However, I also want my writing to come across naturally, without forcing too much onto the page. And if I'm currently an immature thinker, then that will be what comes out until my mind grows up.

I'll develop a mature voice, I'm sure, as I write more regularly and think more deeply before and during my process. Until then I'll have to put up with the silly kid that thinks he has something to say. My hope, though, is that this site will provide that linear path of a voice maturing. 

A World of Mind’s Creation

posted by Jonathan Frei On Friday, October 23, 2009 View Comments
(The following is from my 2005 book of poetry, Ordinary Time, which provided the inspiration for the title of this blog. I will be republishing the poems here over the next several weeks in their original order)

A World of Mind’s Creation

A world of mind’s creation stands
unhindered in a darkened sleep,
while night hours fall to morning,
and dawn gives breath to day,
but first, the cloud must hover
upon the veiled mystery of dreams.

A ghost upon the heart endeavors
to consume the free flame’s heat,
now cold, now dead, now still
as brittle ash on a windless morn.

Waking, we find that all is well,
that none of the horrors passed
into the waking hours of day,
that the ghost of sleep now sleeps,
hidden like the stars on a warm afternoon,
and as our eyes open, and as the memories fade,
all seems lost; all the memories fade
back to the mind from where they came…

and as smoke comes off a fire,
as raindrops fall in the sea,
so too do dreams fade and diffuse
and get lost among the mass of memory—
the collective thought, the spirit of the world.