“…like the Doo-Dah man…” Grateful Dead
Long damn trip, too. Kept my chin up, my mind focused, and my greedy “experience gland” on full power — I wanted to suck up every trace of fun, adventure and just plain hard-edge living available.
Have you ever tried to live for 11 days on the road out of a single suitcase? (And I had to bring a sports coat and slacks and good shoes, too, because I spoke at a seminar in South Carolina mid-trip.)
Quite a feat, I’m here to tell you.
And yet, I arrived home with one pair of jeans un-worn, and an extra pair of clean socks. I over-packed. Boggles my brain.
I had a bit of an epiphany, too, about living well with limited crap to haul around.
I mean, I’m a World Class Pack Rat at home. The manuscripts and notebooks make sense to keep — these are my legacy (should I ever attain one).
But I’ve also kept nearly every book I’ve ever read (or meant to read).
And the knick-knacks… yowza. I’m living in a combination antique/goodwill store here. (I kept the freaking bag they gave me at the Empire State building three years ago when D. Deutsch and I followed King Kong’s trek across NYC and I bought key chains.) (Cool bag, though, black with a nice art deco representation of the skyscraper on it. I tossed it, then retrieved it. It’s on probation right now, mocking me from the shelf across from my desk…)
There are banker’s boxes crammed with floppy discs (both the hard-shell 3-14 and the actual soft ones), cassettes, cassette players, vinyl records (including the first 45’s I ever owned) (“Lightning Strikes” by Lou Chrisie, “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians, and “Doo Wah Diddy” by Captain Beefheart), and high school text books. (Scary to see how outdated my basic education has become.)
(Side note to self: Why are all those floppies and cassettes and files so mysteriously marked? I can’t tell WHAT the hell I thought I was doing by labeling stuff “Mutterings, late in the decade”, “Non-jazz jazz”, “Work file, ’89”, or the classic “Important stuff”.
I should be shot.)
And then there are the racks of clothes I’ve forgotten I owned. Shoes I never wear. Camping equipment. (My last camping expedition: 1995. Ten mile trek into the wilderness, in August. Snowed three feet the first night. In August. I haven’t unrolled the sleeping bag since.)
It’s not good, people.
On the road, I had everything I need — clothes, computer, phone, access to files, easy contact with the virtual office, shave kit — in one carry-on plus a backpack.
Who needs all that… junk… in their lives?
So, when I got home, I got vicious.
I’m not being stupid about it (cuz there are some books I want to have around just because I enjoy knowing they’re nearby) (Kerouac, Jung, Hopkins, Kesey, the I Ching…)
But the rest are on their way to recycling heaven. (And I’m gonna fire up the Kindle, which may mean I’ll never actually need to buy a new paper-and-ink book again.)
I blew through my office bookshelves and closets, attacking each pile and hidey-hole and box, and making the hard decisions. We’re talking mutliple trips to the Goodwill.
I’ll bet I dispatched half the crap I’ve been hauling around for decades. (I found SIX cassette players. SIX!)
And I still have too much left.
Just before I began my freelance career, I was living out of my car. (That beautiful Celica orgre.) There were a few other boxes of books and tidbits stashed around the state, but not much.
I was “clean”. Two guitars — one acoustic (which travelled with me) and one electric (hidden safely away in a trusted girlfriend’s closet). One duffel bag of clothes. (I currently own more tee shirts, alone, than existed in my entire dorm back in college.) Dopp kit. Small box of tools. One hat. Two pairs of shoes, including the sandals.
Zero kitchenware. No electronics. (I used the car stereo.) No bookshelves. No phone. No pictures on the wall. No Rolodex.
One fold-up camp chair. An icebox (leaky). One coat, one sweater, one spare pair of glasses.
I’ll tell you what — I’m getting misty-eyed just thinking about it.
I was almost a Bodhisatva, living by my wits with a small trundle of gear to get by. Almost, anyway. (I’m not gonna go into it here, but when I was 19 I hitchhiked up and down the coast with a half-full backpack, no money, and no plan. And yet I lived like a king in many ways, or at least like the hero of a rollicking adventure story that never seemed to hit a lull…)
I go into the garage today and see three sets of golf clubs, sixteen storage boxes crammed with things I can’t remember packing (or ever owning), stacks of Ramparts magazines (last published: 1972) and National Lampoons (last issue: March 1980), and enough gardening tools to stock half a lane in Home Depot…
… and I get to thinking.
Certain things are irreplaceable, I suppose. Though, you can put all your old photos into digital thumb drives (or store ’em online via Picassa). I have a Drinky Crow model still in the box — they don’t make those anymore, so it’s rare and I’m keeping it. My Homer Simpson dressed as Santa singing doll is staying, too.
Hey — I even have a brick from the old pub in my college town where I used to play in bands. They tore the joint down ages ago, and a buddy grabbed a few bricks and notated ’em. You can’t store that kind of shit digitally.
Maybe you don’t need it, either, though. A brick is not the building, and that building is still standing in my memory.
And I have more than a few long-lost friends I’d give up all this treasure for, just to be able to hang out with one more time. Shared memories beat flippin’ through photo albums every time.
Tim Ferris, in “The 4-Hour Workweek”, challenges you to consider how you’d work if you had a health crisis that forced you to work just two hours a day. Then just two hours a week. What would you do?
What’s really important?
And what’s just plain old bullshit?
It’s worth thinking about, hard.
One advantage of getting older, you know, is that you get to finally jettison those dreams that require youth (or at least naive stupidity) to go after. I’m not gonna bike across Europe (and may never have really wanted to… I just thought I did). Not gonna be a novelist. (I can still slam out a couple of novels, but they’ll be hobby stuff — I have no interest in a career like that anymore. No money in it, for one thing.)
The rock and roll career thing is on permanent hold, too.
It’s actually a relief to unload goals like that. (As long as you’re fulfilling the main ones.)
Life is short, but you don’t realize that until it’s too late. When you’re pressed under deadlines, and your calendar is booked through next year, you can trick yourself into believing you HAVE to live forever, because otherwise you’ll never get everything done.
That illusion will rob you of the good things in life.
It’s summer, dude.
Are you having fun yet?
This road trip was a joy from start to finish, because we kept an eye on having fun while getting lots of solid work done. (Always helps to travel with a friend, too, of course. Doubles the fun opportunities.)
(And no, I’m not gonna tell you about how we went off-roading in a rental car at midnight in South Carolina dunes, one step ahead of the federales…) (Sebring hard top, if you must know.) (No one got hurt.) (Though we did break Stan’s GPS…)
We saw a Yankee game from fabulous seats. Saw old friends, and made new ones during networking orgies. Worked, played, navigated planes, subways, taxis and long stretches of city sidewalk like pro’s, and slept the sound sleep of vagabonds each night.
I never even turned the TV on the entire time.
I WAS the Doo Dah Man.
And now, to settle back in here after nearly two weeks on the road, I just wanna give a shout-out to some folks, and leave the deep insight crap for later.
First: I LOVE reading the comments section to this blog.
If you haven’t been following the various threads, you’re missing out on half the fun here. Comments on other blogs tend to be short, boring, and self-serving. Yawn.
On this beast, however, the writers come out of the woodwork. Good stories, great insights, lots of thoughtful posting goin’ on.
Now, I kinda fell off the grid during the trip a little bit. I surfed the Web for half an hour or so, but I never found time to post or reply to anything.
So, belated “Howdy” to the old friends whose emails I missed: Garf in SF, Parris Lampopolous in NY (dude, I got your email after I left town — next time, we’ll set something up beforehand), Harlan, Lorrie, Joe Polish, the Halbert boys, and the Irish Hell-Raiser Caleb (couldn’t track down your phone number while I was in the Big Apple).
And, no, Steve, I’m not gonna start Twittering. All my buds are into it, but not one of the top marketers I spoke with in Vegas (Filsaime, Walker, Casey, Houston, Starak, et al) could produce a shred of evidence that Twitter has any true business potential.
Besides, it’s just one more opportunity to send something into the world that should have stayed a secret. (I like to sit on most things I write, to make sure I really want a million people reading or seeing it.)
I can just see me in the House of Blues some late evening, after a third Guiness, Twittering some inane piece of info that will require the rest of my life to live down.
And I’m just the guy to do something truly stupid like that, too.
Brian (of copyblogger.com fame): We have a lot more to discuss about the blog-o-sphere, and I’ll be contacting you soon. You’ve inspired me yet again.
Fred: Great story about your ’72 Monte Carlo coming back into your life after decades away. I have a recurring dream where my ’62 Impala (first car) shows up in my driveway, Stephen King-like, and the door opens, inviting me to drive it again.
The cars and guitars in my life have played huge roles… nearly as central to who I am today as the people I’ve known.
Always nice to hear from Ken and Lorrie.
And Sindy, over at Rodale, knows exactly where I’m coming from. (Sindy, are those books on classic rock albums gonna continue? Please tell me that project wasn’t shelved…)
Jay-Mo, as always, cracks me up with his stories. This guy, when you meet him, doesn’t reveal any hint about how prolific he is with his writing. He’s still a kid, really, and yet already has a remarkable legacy of video and written material worth studying.
Of course, I am majorly pissed-off that he’s down in SD surfing and partying with Kern, while I broil in Sierra mid-summer heat. Ah, the consequences of our choices…
Okay, I know I’m missing a few folks, but I gotta hop offline for now.
We’ve got something BIG to share with you, in a few days.
And we’re all hot on the final prep stages.
So for God’s sake, stay tuned.
And, of course, stay frosty,
P.S. All right… there IS one little thing. We’re overhauling the www.marketingrebel.com site (where I offer all my junk for sale)… and the big news there is this: We’re decommissioning The Bag of Tricks package (probably soon after Stan comes back from Europe — he’s at the North Sea Jazz Festival).
That package is just too generous.
However, until we officially take it off that site, we will honor new orders.
Even better… you can upgrade when we bring out the new packages. So you get the benefit of the great former deal, and you can slide right into the new stuff (when it’s ready) knowing you got a spectacularly screaming deal.
To see what the fuss is about, go here: http://www.marketingrebel.com
"11 Really Stupid Blunders You're Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now."
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I know EXACTLY how you feel, dude!
We just got back from a 10-day road-trip with a few days of “fun” in Las Vegas sandwiched between a seminar on each end – and I had the same epiphany about “do I have too much shit at home”.
How cool would it be to minimize my “stuff”, move into a home about half the size, and really get “back to basics”?
The problem is – I like my stuff. So I’ll probably just continue my struggles for now, and instead of streamlining my life I just won’t stay gone that long again. Until next time anyway.
I did make a little eBay stack.
Hopefully it won’t still be sitting there this time next year.
Man, I just wrote a WHOPPER and lost it to the math somehow. (Man, that aches like hell for the first few minutes.) (Oh well.)
Anyway, welcome back, John!
John Carlton replies:
Sorry about that, man. I’ve gotten in the habit, whenever that bell goes off inside my head telling me I just wrote something great that I don’t wanna risk losing, to right-click copy it. Takes a second. Saved many a well-crafted email that would otherwise have been lost to the ether. Once it’s safe, the copied copy can be overridden.
WordPress is a great utility, but it has its bugs. Especially when we use math on writers — not always a good combo.
Thanks for the post.
“What’s really important?”
That’s such an awesome question.
Stuff… It accretes. I try to maintain the policy that if I bring one shirt home, another has to go. It works great except for silk. I have more useless silk dresses than a DC socialite.
The last couple of times I moved I had a feng shui guy come in and give me advice on how to maximize harmony in the house. He objected to my plan to store my stuff under the bed. Now now I try to throw half my stuff out every year. I actually hire someone to come in and help me winnow. (The feng shui also almost got me arrested for stealing river rocks from the local botanical garden, but that’s a different story).
On the other hand, helping people sort their stuff is a bonding activity. I went over to my girlfriends house two weekends ago and just lazed on the bed while she spent 5 hours going through her room and organizing. My job was to mutter – whenever it was at all appropriate “throw it out”. More often than not, that nudge was all she needed to dump it.
We had some excellent “quantity time”, and she got through mounds of junk relatively painlessly.
there’s another easy way to get rid of your stuff. I used to go to people’s homes and help them sort out their stuff (for free), and then sell everything they didn’t needed anymore on ebay for a percentage of whatever it got on ebay.
This way you don’t have to do anything (not even drive your stuff somewhere), and still get a couple of bucks, and you help some minipreneur who’ll be happy about your business too. (Since you want to give it away anyway, you can tell him to keep the profits – sometimes I had nice chaps who told me I could keep the money and I was as happy as a dog who got a bone).
You can find an ebay trading assistant here: http://pages.ebay.com/tahub/index.html
(Yeah… I’ve learned that lesson on forums. I should have known better. But here’s a testament to the power of your writing. I just reread your post and it sparked me all over again…)
A random contact by an old friend sent me down memory lane last week. I was amazed to recall that, in my 20s, I moved from Tampa to Chicago … Chicago to L.A. … and L.A. back to Fla with all I owned (or needed) crammed into the trunk of my ’84 Delta 88 each time.
And that includes 2 boxes of journal notebooks, and an acoustic guitar I could only play “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” with, but liked how it felt pulling it from the trunk and into the motel room. (Like inspiration could hit at any moment and those 4 chords might form a new path altogether.)
They were great times. My stand-up comic friends and I criss-crossing the country like Gypsy jesters, playing all the same clubs, but never the same week. (Club owners knew – or learned the hard way – never to book us together) We would stray 6 hours off path if it meant one night just to hang out.
No cell phones, no GPS, no Internet… Just 5 minutes on a payphone… “there’s a jazz joint in Uptown called ‘The Green Mill’… be there Tuesday night.” And that was all it took.
Everything seemed relevent then. Roaming the nomad’s path, free of clutter, you could read the signs…
The way an uncommon song would rise from the jukebox at just the right moment. And you’d say, “Who played Waits?” … 3 hours later you had a new friend, a new story.
Fifteen years and a family later, it plays in my mind like a movie I saw once. Sort of like a Kubrick film… No clear plot, but many classic scenes.
Just glad I got to live it. And through it. And past it.
Anyway, missed the blog. Glad to have you back and sparkin’ thoughts again, John
John Carlton replies:
Great story, Kevin. The 88 was a boat, wasn’t it? Sometimes, during a late-night drive (maybe around hour 4 or 5), I’d feel like I was drifting along some river, surrounded by lit-up fellow cruisers and Peter-Bilt monsters. Or it all became Star Wars-like, or (when I really needed a nap) I recalled that Carlos Castenada riff with Death riding the car far behind you, catching up fast.
I used to hop in the car and do 8 hours without a second thought. On strange roads, too. Late night truck stops, lonely burgs with the only gas station closing early, a familiar car passing you again and again like a loop. You start to appreciate the consistency of a Denny’s.
And through it all, the radio and tape deck providing soul-fuel and a soundtrack varying from memory-lane to Weird City (Art Bell coming in faintly from a distant AM station).
Your treks — and especially the comraderie — sound like the stuff of a life well-lived. I can tell you that — if you stay alert — those moments can happen again, in different situations and with different people. And they do happen — if you don’t get so caught up in shit that you miss them. On your own terms, too. You don’t need to be a footloose bachelor.
OK, so now you’re back… I jumped the gun on the last comment.
You’re a true road warrior… I thought I was cool for hanging out in Vegas a few extra days. 🙂
Congrats on getting past your stuff. It’s really hard especially when you’re staying in the same house and have no real reason to get rid of anything.
I overcame my pack rat tendencies by living on a boat for 6 years. Over the course of sailing 17,000 miles with mostly Mother Nature for company, you quickly learn what’s important to you.
We’d originally planned on doing dive charters in Curacao off our boat while maintaining a land base there. However, when we arrived in Curacao after sailing there from Connecticut, we met some wonderful folks who were cruising the world on their boats. For the uninitiated, cruising is sailing to some of the most beautiful places on earth, stopping whenever you want for however long you want, all the while living on your boat.
Sounded good to us but we first had to sail back to Connecticut and pay a visit to the houseful of goods we had in storage. In 3 days I reduced 10 pallets of stuff to just enough to fit in a 9 x 12 storage space. That was without a doubt the most liberating thing I’ve ever done.
Now that we’re land-based again will the stuff start to accumulate? Nope, because we’re planning on going right back out there on a bigger, better boat as soon as we have the funds. Out there every day is truly an adventure.
Thanks for an inspiring post, John.
Just wanted to let you know that you are prominently featured in the latest New Marketing Comic, just in case you might be interested. There’s an even funnier one featuring Eben.
jKlehe, Boerne, TX
PS: I lost Diane’s address otherwise I would have emailed.
I still like being of pack-rat bent, what makes it hard to stop is when you have a big house (4k sft) and a monster big basement that hollers “store your stuff here!”… back when living in a small highrise condo in Waikiki for years, I had to keep it lean, no extra stuff… now in the big house, it all just gets trucked downstairs to the endless basement for storage.
Heck I have rooms I don’t event go in… having a big house is a curse and a blessing… mostly a blessing though.. it’s fun to get lost in one’s place, after living in apartments most of my life… Moving though, that’s what gets me to clean house, I use the “have I touched in in the last 3 years?” rule, to help decide what to keep vs toss…