The Real Lance Brown

"Thank God you aren't important." – Jake Pentland
December 9, 2011

My latest column: Are You Done Yet?

Author: Lance - Categories: Periodical Writing, The Not-So-Simple Life

Here’s my most recent column, now up at at Project Simplify:

The Not-So-Simple Life: Are You Done Yet?

by Lance Brown

She said, “It’s all about the moment,”
But I got one eye on the clock
It’s all about the moment
I got one eye on the clock
She said, “Open up a little,
You might see what you have got.”

                  -Doug Hoekstra, “Everywhere is Somewhere”

 

It is a fact of existence: most of our time is not spent achieving our goals.

It sounds sad when stated like that, but really, there are plenty of activities that we engage in with no hope of completion at all, and we don’t get sad about those.thisishowwedothewashingup

Take breathing, for example. Have you finished oxygenating your body yet? You haven’t? What’s wrong with you? Get to work! Hurry up—breathe in! Now do it again! And again! Faster! You have important things to do, and you can’t spend all your time hung up trying to get this breathing thing done.

After all, you still have to finish washing your dishes once and for all. And raising your children. And learning. You’ve got to get those things done so that you can get to all that important stuff on your to-do list!

Hmmm…so maybe the “completion” model doesn’t always work. Some things just don’t get “done”. Some things do, of course—you can actually finish washing a dish…but, like breathing, the only time you’ll truly be finished washing your dishes is when you’re dead. (On the bright side, your to-do list will shrink radically at that time too!)

So, whether we realize it or not, we’re all accustomed to engaging in efforts that will never quite bring a final sense of accomplishment. They’ll have mini-victories along the way—an empty sink, a high school graduation, another successful round of in-breath/out-breath—but then the task will immediately present itself again. You can try all you want, but you won’t ever truly get to cross it off your list.

Discouraged yet? Don’t be. Just take a moment to breathe. Ready?

Breathe in, and then out.

You did it! Good job! Another successful breath. Have you been practicing? Because you really are excellent at that.

See how that works? No, I don’t mean breathing—I mean accomplishing things. There are two ways to look at it. On the one hand, depending on your age, you have somewhere between 400 and 600 million more breaths to get through in your lifetime. Ugh, right? What a pain in the butt!

Read the rest at Project Simplify


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September 20, 2011

My latest column: Getting Back in the Game

Author: Lance - Categories: Periodical Writing, The Not-So-Simple Life

Here’s my most recent column, now up at at Project Simplify:

The Not-So-Simple Life: Getting Back in the Game

by Lance Brown

We’ve already talked about how I basically shut down or dropped all of my way-too-many commitments to projects and organizations around 5 years ago. When I discussed that time (in my column “Flashback: Shutting It All Down”), it was mostly in terms of minimizing my “to-do” load, so that I could focus on the most basic to-do item: being happy and healthy. shadowheel_thumb

It was an act of extreme simplicity, in the name of sanity and well-being. And it worked!

It also cut me off from almost everybody that knew me.

Oops!

Since that time, my main form of connecting with the outside world (aside from a small cluster of friends) has actually been right here in the pages of The Simplifier. First, anonymously writing the sections at the end, then writing a couple of feature articles and opening Notes, and eventually bringing my identity and more of my voice into my writing of the In the News, Featured at Project Simplify, and Keep Smiling sections. When The Simplifier re-shuffled after 4 years or so, I took a much bigger leap into re-introducing myself and connecting to the world: this column, The Not-So-Simple Life.

As a result, while anyone who has stuck around through the past 5 years of this newsletter would probably—nay, have to—consider me a blabbermouth, the other 99.99999% of the world hasn’t heard much from me for quite some time. (Unless you’re one of the 20 or so Twitter followers of mine who seem to be actually listening.)

On an in-person level, things have been even more muted. In any given chunk over the past 5 (or 10) years, there were maybe 2 or 3 people with whom I had enough contact that they had any real idea what was going on in my life. Beyond that there has been a gradually-growing (but still small) universe of freelance clients, but their peeks into my real world have been obviously limited.

Until this year, I hadn’t advertised, or marketed, or done outreach, or networked, for a very long time. Nor had I substantially dated, partied, “gone out”, or the like, for the better part of a decade.

Folks who met me during that time period have naturally concluded that I’m reclusive, a “hermit”, etc. But for the most part, I was just working some stuff out. (Very slowly, apparently.) After about 30 years of hubbub, I took 10 years or so of quiet time.

But I’M BACK, BABY!

Read the rest at Project Simplify


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August 24, 2011

Latest column: Defining Simplicity

Author: Lance - Categories: Periodical Writing, The Not-So-Simple Life

Here’s my most recent column, now up at at Project Simplify:

The Not-So-Simple Life: Defining Simplicity

by Lance Brown

It’s funny – I’ve written 36 columns about seeking simplicity over the course of a year and a half, and I have yet to define what simplicity means to me, and why I seek it.shadowheel

Obviously, the issue has come up indirectly more than once. Just in my last column, I talked about aspects of country living that to me represent simplicity. And many of my other past columns have touched upon the various components of simple living that I strive for: organization, control, peace of mind…but what is the real goal here? How do I define it?

Because obviously—this isn’t the first time I’ve said this—my goal is not to simplify so that I have nothing to do. While that would be a simple life, it would also be an unbearably boring life for someone like me, who has literally thousands of things that I want to do.

I enjoy having a lot of irons in the fire. It’s what I prefer. And I enjoy having a lot of work to do. I don’t know any other way. I’m constantly seeking to take more in, and constantly seeking to put more out, and there’s much about that that is just fine and dandy as far as I’m concerned.

So then what is it that I’m looking for? In this hyper-connected world of pervasively invasive technology, where everything and everyone is moving at an unprecedented pace, just what does an information-saturated workaholic mean when he says he’s seeking simplicity?

Good question.

Simplicity = Organization

Read the rest at Project Simplify

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August 3, 2011

Latest column: Deserting the City

Author: Lance - Categories: Periodical Writing, The Not-So-Simple Life

Here’s my most recent column, now up at at Project Simplify:

The Not-So-Simple Life: Deserting the City

by Lance Brown

The official story is that I did it for the dogs. “Leash freedom!” was our rallying cry.

I tend to emphasize the official story, because the real story evokes John Denver, and banjos, and maybe a pair of overalls.

When we (my pets and I) moved to Southern California two months ago, definitely the biggest change in our daily lives—besides pure geography—was that of our 2 hours of walking each day, 100% of that time was spent on-leash, and in civilization. And by “civilization”, I mean traffic and noise, sidewalks and fences and yards, highways, traffic lights, crosswalks…each of which presented challenges to my dogs, with very few accordant benefits.you are here

But to say that it was just the dogs that ultimately got us to move back out to the country would definitely only be half of the story.

About two weeks into our new life in the city—some might call where I was a town within L.A., or maybe a suburb, but it was a city by my count—I realized that I was getting particularly agitated, even on our walks. (Perhaps especially on our walks.)

While part of that was the fact that I was living in a garage at the time and perpetually looking for a new place, another big part of it was that it had been two weeks since I had taken any sort of long meditative walk in the woods—which long-time readers know is a key part of my formula for continued mental health.

For some reason, going on walks where I had to negotiate two or three dogs on leashes down noisy streets, through frequent intersections, past manicured flower gardens and yards, often while toting around a nice swinging bag of poop or two, just wasn’t bringing me the quietude and peace of mind I was used to. Go figure.

Read the rest at Project Simplify

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August 2, 2011

New column: Life in the Big House

Author: Lance - Categories: Periodical Writing, The Not-So-Simple Life

I got behind on posting my columns here.  Here is my second-most-recent column from over at Project Simplify:

The Not-So-Simple Life: Life in The Big House

by Lance Brown

Which do you want first: the good news or the bad news?

OK, the good news. I made it out of the storage trap, and in record time!

Thank you, thank you…you’re too kind. (I assume you’re applauding. If not, my bad—I’ll wait ‘til your hands are free.)

What’s that you say? Oh right, the bad news. Well, good news, because even the bad news has good news. That good news is that I now have plenty of room for houseguests!

Alright, fine…I told myself I wasn’t going to be coy again this time.

The bad news is this: I’m now renting a 4-bedroom house with a 2-car garage and a huge yard.

What’s that you say? That doesn’t sound so bad? You may not be hearing what I’m hearing. You’ve kinda got to lean in close…there’s another voice behind that main headline one, kinda sneaky and whispering. Wait—shh-shh-shh—you can hear it…listen:

I’m going to take on tons of new stuff over the next 6 months.

There it is! It’s a wily one, that little truth. Oh, shh…I think there’s more…

I’m keeping a lot of the things from storage that I had planned to give away.

Ouch, that one stung a little. Though to be fair, I fi-

I’m spending 600 bucks to truck the rest of my shit across the state.

Geez, OK, we get it! No need to get rude, little whispering voice!

Read the rest at Project Simplify

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June 14, 2011

My new column: The Storage Trap

Author: Lance - Categories: Periodical Writing, The Not-So-Simple Life

My latest column is up at Project Simplify:

The Not-So-Simple Life: The Storage Trap

by Lance Brown

We’ve all seen this scene:

There is a jungle path, down which strolls a naïve protagonist—probably wearing a pith helmet or safari hat, and definitely wearing khaki. pithhelmet

Said protagonist is ever-busy gazing at the jungle wonders, checking his trail map, and being on alert for poisonous snakes and head-sized mosquitoes. As such, it’s a coin toss whether our would-be hero will be looking at the ground with enough attention to see what is obvious to all of us: there’s a spot in the trail coming up that doesn’t look right.

Too many branches with too many leaves are gathered in one area just a few steps ahead, and from what we all know of jungle trails, that can only mean one thing. Those branches are just providing rough cover for a pit-style trap—obvious to those paying full attention to where they’re going…but for those who aren’t…a one-way ticket to being a featured buffet item at a cannibal Quinceañera.

We can all see the trap, easily. We’re not caught up in the wonders of the jungle, and the trap is really pretty obvious if you just take a second to look at it. You can see the pit’s inescapable darkness right through the branches there. Honestly, you’d have to be either oblivious or really really distracted to miss something like that.

But then again, the jungle savages wouldn’t keep making those traps if there weren’t people who fell for them. (And into them.)

All of which has me wondering: should I rent a storage unit again?

Read the rest at Project Simplify

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May 11, 2011

My new column: The Double Shake-Up

Author: Lance - Categories: Periodical Writing, The Not-So-Simple Life

My latest column is up at Project Simplify:

The Not-So-Simple Life: The Double Shake-Up

by Lance Brown

— Long Version —

Does the universe actually send us signs?shake it up baby

I really don’t know. I’m a believer in science, and as far as I know, scientists haven’t discovered the universe actually communicating with individuals (aside from the occasional strike of lightning to the head, and that piece of toast that had Jay Leno’s face burnt into it).

So no, we haven’t found tangible evidence of the universe sending humans messages—yet. But when it comes to unexplained phenomena, I like to keep in mind that it was several thousand years of human civilization before we knew about radio waves and x-rays—two invisible forces in the universe that fly through the air and convey amazing things to humans.

Kind of like trees—which also on occasion fly through the air and do amazing things to humans. Like, if the human is lucky, giving his life a nice healthy shaking-up.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you must not have been reading my column for the past two months. In which case, may the universe fling a tree at you! But in a good way, of course.

Because as it turns out, that does happen: sometimes the universe flings a tree at you, in a good way.

I didn’t think it was so great when it happened to me in February, and I had to spend all of March in my “universe-messaged” house searching for a new place, which I moved into in April. But now that I have to leave that new place also and will be moving out this May and into another new place in June, I’m feeling pretty good about the whole situation.

Read the rest at Project Simplify

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April 29, 2011

My new column: My Own Worst Frenemy

Author: Lance - Categories: Periodical Writing, The Not-So-Simple Life

My latest column is up at Project Simplify…

The Not-So-Simple Life: My Own Worst Frenemy

by Lance Brown

No one is a bigger supporter of myself than I am.

No one is a bigger saboteur of myself than I am.

Funny how those two statements almost sound the same if you say them fast."Frenemies" by Bonnie Burton

Self-sabotage is a subject I’ve wanted to tackle in this column for a while now—but let’s face it, it’s kind of a downer of a topic. Who wants to read about someone (or even from someone) who drags himself down? What’s more, how can you take seriously self-improvement advice that’s coming from a guy who admits he systematically interferes with his own advancement?

That’s a very good question. And the answer, which eluded me until recently, is this: who ever said you should take me seriously?

I’m kidding—that’s not the answer I meant. (Though it has a point.)

The real answer to why my nearly life-long efforts at self-sabotage don’t completely undermine my credibility as a student of self-improvement is quite simple: I’m awesome.

Not kidding this time. I really am awesome, and my awesomeness—and my ability to acknowledge it, which is part of the awesomeness itself—is what has allowed me to make forward progress over the years. And I’m thankful that awesomeness-acknowledging part of me exists, because right next to it is this guy:

“Forward progress? What forward progress, Lance? You and I know better…and the facts speaks for themselves. You’re all talk, and bad habits, and big dreams that don’t amount to squat.”

Hard to believe, I know. But yes, there is a part of me that uses the word “squat” as a form of measurement. And, my awesomeness notwithstanding, that part of me is kind of a jerk. It seems to revel in my failures and setbacks, so much so that it has created all sorts of self-perpetuating ways for me to keep failing and being set back. …

Read the rest at Project Simplify.

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March 16, 2011

My new column: Me Versus the Tree

Author: Lance - Categories: Periodical Writing, The Not-So-Simple Life

My latest column is up at Project Simplify…

The Not-So-Simple Life: Me Versus the Tree

by Lance Brown

In the wake of the devastating images and news coming out of Japan recently, I doubt anyone needs to be reminded that disaster can strike at any time.

Unlike most people, I didn’t have to wait for earthquakes and tsunamis to raise my disaster awareness this month. A couple of weeks ago, a major snowstorm in our area proved too much of a burden for a huge tree across the street from me, and it came crashing down onto my house in the early hours of the morning.

This may not be what they’re thinking of when people use the term “rude awakening”, but I can’t think of a better example. Taking out half my roof, and dumping most of my ceiling onto my floor (and onto my freaked-out cat)…that’s pretty rude. And very awakening.whuhuh

It was almost too dark to see anything when it first happened, and I had only been asleep for a couple hours, so at first I just stood in shock and tried to comprehend what I was seeing. And to figure out where my cat was.

Once the reality of what had happened became clear, the urge to be overwhelmed and freaked out was very strong. Very, very strong. I couldn’t even take a step around my house, I didn’t know where my cat was among all the rubble (or if he was OK), my house was now open to the sky in the middle of a once-in-a-generation snowstorm…and did I mention I had no power, no phone, no Internet, and my car was irretrievably snowed in?

In other words: DISASTER!!!

All of that zoomed up to the forefront of my mind within about a minute of my hazy awakening. (Re-enactment of that moment: “Huh, what was that? Ohhhhh…”)

I recognized right away (based on the racing of my heart, probably) that there was a serious potential to flip out over what was going on. At the same time, my past experiences with tough living told me that the situation was going to require all the resources I could marshal, with a pretty slim margin of error if I wanted to make sure my world got right again any time soon. My new disaster could very easily become a serious of disastrous days, and things still had a chance to get worse, if I failed to keep myself in a position to make them better.

So I made a decision in that moment,  even while I was still standing there staring around through the rubble, calling “Leo? Leo? Leo?!” in a daze of sleeplessness and shock. It had two parts:

Read the rest at Project Simplify.

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February 14, 2011

My New Column: Turning Mountains Into Molehills

Author: Lance - Categories: Periodical Writing, The Not-So-Simple Life

My latest column is up at Project Simplify:

The Not-So-Simple Life: Turning Mountains Into Molehills

by Lance Brown

Do you have your electricity bills from 15 years ago? You don’t? No, of course you don’t. Why would you?

The more appropriate question, though, is probably: “Why would I?” Because up until a week ago, I did.

As a matter of fact, it turns out I probably had most of my electric bills from the past 15 years. At least it seemed that way. Quite a few phone bills too. And car insurance bills. All gathering in stupid boxes over the years, for reasons which seem less clear with each day that passes.

Okay, it’s true, I’m overstating things a bit for effect here. The boxes weren’t actually stupid; boxes don’t really have a measurable intelligence that we know of. The rest, though, is the bizarre and somewhat sad truth. paperpile

I warned you all the way back in my first column that I used to border on being a hoarder right out of one of those reality TV  shows, and I wasn’t kidding. I’ve been allowing myself to be chased and haunted by what I’ve collectively labeled “my papers” since college. And while a percentage of my growing “archives” (and whatever the term for stupid boxes of old bills is) has always been meaningful and worthwhile, that portion has had to compete with the weightier and more distracting abundance of things that were being toted around simply because they weren’t being dealt with at all. (Which is the only way I can explain how I accrued a box filled with a decade-plus worth of old utility bills—and moved it to a new home, twice.)

Now the good news: I no longer have possession of any phone or electric bills from the previous century.

Read the rest at Project Simplify.

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Photo credit:
papers by fsse8info

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