Yesterday I spent most of the day working on a difficult writing project. I'm having my website, as well as the blog here, completely redesigned from scratch. When I started the project with John David, I didn't realize quite what I was in for. Turns out, he's not just a web designer; he's a marketing guy too, and he's chock full of good ideas. So he sent over this Creative Brief that was a few pages long, with lots of questions written out in italics having to do with my objectives, my audience, and their demographics, and some particularly difficult questions about brand character and the competition (!)
During our initial conversation about the Brief, I had to have him explain the concept of brand equity to me. After a little simple math, I calculated my brand equity at about $1.95. So, it turns out there's lots of room for improvement around here in the Online Personal Brand Development department -- and now I have a Pro on the case! As we wrapped up the conversation, I thought he would be ready to get off and running, but he managed to turn the tables on me at the last minute. "Why don't you take this document and write out your responses and send it back to me," he said. It seemed like a completely reasonable request at the time, but in reality it was a challenging assignment, to say the least.
I've been working on it over the past few weeks, sort of off and on, when I haven't been sick with the pneumonia or drowning in student work to grade. Yesterday was my self-imposed deadline for getting it done and back to JD. This coming weekend is ATLOSCON, and I absolutely had to get the Creative Brief out of my hair before then, otherwise it would have been 2 more weeks of delay.
My writing-a-difficult-essay process works like this: I write a bit, maybe for half an hour or so, then get hungry or thirsty. So I allow myself to go to the kitchen and get some noms. Then I come back and write some more. Then I decide to put on some music, but usually have a hard time finding the right thing in my iTunes. Sometimes I can write to music but it usually has to be something I'm not that familiar with, or it will distract me too much. The late Beethoven piano sonatas can be good to write by, as they are more contemplative, I think -- except for the Hammerklavier. Then I write some more. I have given up being bothered by my wandering mind's interruptions. I think my subconscious just needs some breathing room sometimes, and it lets me know, when the flow of ideas gets interrupted.
After a bit more writing, I will have a sudden realization about a particular passage in a Beethoven piano sonata, and have to go look up the Wikipedia article to get an answer. Yesterday's Beethoven distraction had to do with the structure of the second movement of his Piano Sonata #5 in C minor, Opus 10 No. 1. (Wikipedia describes the movement as having sonatina form - meaning a simplified sonata form with no development section.) I've been studying that sonata lately; it's an interesting one because it is an early work, and it foreshadows many of his future compositions in C minor, like the Grand Sonata Pathetique, the 5th Symphony, and his lesser-known 32 Variations in C minor (among others). Now that I'm sitting here thinking about it, I've had to put on the Coriolan Overture (also in C minor) to see if I can find any similarities there. (Coriolan always makes me feel like I'm in a spy movie. It has a dramatic element that sounds like Jason Bourne doing parkour over the rooftops of Berlin, alternating with a tender, somewhat more romantic (but still dramatic) second theme.)
See? I'm doing it right now. I'm trying to write this blog post, and Beethoven has me completely under his spell. Anyway, I finally got through my writing project yesterday, reread and edited it, and sent it off. Then I shifted gears around dinner time and took the dogs for a long-ish walk over in Echo Park. We don't tend to go over there for walks, but I like that area, and my thoughts of moving out of this house have returned (along with recent reports from neighbors that the dog that attacked Paul and I last year has been seen loose in the neighborhood again). So, you could say we were doing a bit of reconnaissance towards the idea of possibly moving, perhaps next year sometime.
All afternoon, I'd been hitting the coffee pretty hard. After our walk, I was pretty excited about all the good work I'd gotten done, and my brain was still snapping along pretty well, so I resumed working on my ATLOSCON talk. This involved going back through old photos, deciding what images to re-scan, and realizing that I had my own new photographs of Louis Sullivan's Auditorium Building, as well as his Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room, which was installed at the Chicago Art Institute after the Stock Exchange was tragically torn down in the '60s or '70s.
I just worked right on through until about 1:45, and finally decided I really should go to bed if I wanted to be at all productive today. By the time I finally got into bed and watched a couple of videos online to help my brain turn off, it was 2:30. Somehow I woke up at 7 feeling good. I was expecting to be completely dragged out and hungover feeling, but I'm surprisingly refreshed today. I even tried going back to bed after feeding the dogs, but it just wasn't working for me.
Since I felt pretty good, I decided to started my day with a relatively light dumbbell workout, which I have done a few times over the past few weeks, now that my thumb has returned to mostly-normal after my surgery back in early February. Working out first thing in the morning always gives me a tremendous sense of efficacy, and it really is the best way I can think of to start the day. Perhaps today will mark the start of the return of that excellent habit.
Then I was checking out my Google Reader feed, and saw this excellent post from Trey, on the objectivist virtue of integrity. It's really a solid, thoughtful bit of writing. He observes,
The simplest possible definition or explanation of the virtue of integrity that I can offer is this: consistency. Integrity is about always always always pursuing your values in the same way according to the same principles.
Reading it really helped me resolve a lot of the things I've been wrestling with over the past few months. Basically, since the middle of January, I've felt completely down and out, first from the hand surgery and recovery, which was closely followed by the bout of pneumonia. This has definitely been one of the most depressing periods of my life; I think it has rivaled 2004, which I refer to as my Dark Year. At least this latest experience was relatively short-lived by comparison.
Towards the end, Trey sums up with, "Integrity is about serving your larger goals. This is why when I stop to think about my career, I am always absolutely ruthless. " This just completely hit home for me.
I've had a clear sense over the past couple of weeks, as I've returned to work and seen some new opportunities opening up for me, that the clouds were parting and the sun was coming back out again. But there were nagging doubts lingering in my mind, just like the cough lingers as your lungs work to get all the junk out after the pneumonia has cleared up.
But today is different. I'm through indulging in any more self-doubt. It really is an indulgence that I simply cannot afford any more of, and am no longer willing to engage in.
Today the sun is back out, and it's shining down on me. And it's the same sun and same blue sky that shone down on Louis Henri Sullivan in Chicago the 1890s when he was at the height of his powers, and it's the same sun and blue sky that shone down on Ludwig van Beethoven in Vienna in the 1790s when he was writing that early C minor sonata that planted seeds for those future masterpieces.
And now, I'm going to go out and be absolutely ruthless.
5/24/11 Update: Link added for John David
5/24/11 Update: Link added for John David