George Cochrane

Like a Creative Octopus, with a Few Fewer Arms

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

These are a few of the things I use the most. They represent the current optimum, each one sitting (perhaps uneasily) on top of a metaphorical stack of tools much like it, having bested the previous iteration through some feat of function, form, feel, or all three. Here goes: #1 - Topre Realforce keyboard This 'board feels so, so, damn nice to type on. Each key's press-force is graded to fit the relative strength of the finger that will hit it, so touch typing on it is like typing on a nicely tactile cloud. It's super-solid, stays put on the table, and is missing the vexing numeric keypad, so you can move your pointing device, and the central alphanumeric area of the keyboard, closer to the center of your workspace. This pays surprising dividends in comfort, especially if you type all day, like I do. The satisfying clack-clack-clack of its keys makes me look for excuses (like writing) to type. *Notice* This thing is stupidly expensive, so I bought mine used and cheap. There are others like it, such as the Filco Tenkeyless, that are far less egregiously priced.

#2 - Logitech Marble Mouse trackball I've written about this puppy before, but I've got to give it further props. All other mousing devices feel so clunky and horrible to me now, that I've been forced to buy one for home, work, and studio. At $15-17, you might find you can afford to do so, too. Smooth mousing, ergo hand placement, little maintenance. Lovely.

#3 - Belkin Flip KVM switch (this is just the remote, of course) The Flip is one of the cheapest and most basic KVM (keyboard/video/mouse) switchers around. It, like all KVMs, allows you to use one keyboard, mouse, and monitor to control more than one machine, switchable on the fly. Particularly nice is its ability to auto-route audio from each computer to your speakers or headphones as you switch. Also, it's got a natty little remote button, freeing you from having to assign a keystroke to switch machines- nice when using software that grabs most of the keyboard.  The remote is also rather satisfying to smash with a frustrated fist when a box crashes.

#4 - Laken Classic Bottle Simply put, it's a really, really solid aluminum water bottle with a BPA-free, thick coating inside and an opening large enough for ice. It never adds a taste to water, it takes a beating, and I love the textured finish of this model. It's like a Sigg on juice.

#5 - Composition Book I've touched on these before, too, but they still rule. Like a poor man's (very poor man's) Moleskine, only larger, a good Composition Book is a fine place to jot ideas, keep your tasks on task, and, especially, take notes at meetings. Screw a laptop. Relish in the eye contact. Each one I fill becomes a nice, encapsulated document of a bracketed period of my work- and they'll certainly burn longer than a Moleskine if you fall on hard times.

#6 - Adolfo Dominguez sling bag It's doubtful you'll find this particular bag. It was a lucky find in a Barcelona boutique last year. It goes virtually everywhere with me. It sits on my back while I bike to work, carrying lunch, a book, and everything else- work badge, pens, a comp book, a snack, phone charger, pepper spray (my neighborhood can get a little hectic), earbuds, the Laken bottle, BART tickets, keys to my studio, and so on. It also fits a MacBook just so. Say what you will about man-purses, messenger bags, and such. I don't know how the hell I'd get along without one. Modern life demands too much crap not to employ a little help.

Not called out:

Sanford Onyx pen - Great ink, smooth writing, and a solid, sure line. For some reason, I appreciate that they're made in Japan. Textured Clear Glass Marble (fished out of a Ramune drink bottle) - Something nice to roll around the desk.

Digging: The Importance of Creative Throughput

If you asked a group of people who know me what my average week was like, they'd probably list:

40+ hours at the writing job 25+ hours at the recording studio Up to 20 hours on other creative projects A couple of nights of going out An afternoon or two in the sun (or rain) Lots of cooking

This schedule doesn't afford me the kind of hit-the-bars-every-night-with-friends luxuries that I sometimes wish I had time for. It makes spontaneity in things such as travel, concerts, and even dinner a challenge, both because there is often something scheduled in the way, or simply due to the overarching feeling that there must be something scheduled in the way, and if it's not on the schedule, I must have forgotten.

What it does afford me is a LOT of creative throughput. Most days from 9:30am to midnight or later, I'm working on *something*. Some days the work is really engaging, some days it can be boring and pedestrian, but it keeps the habit of always pushing out ideas, always thinking and creating and shaping, in motion.

I've previously mentioned Anne Lamont's Bird By Bird, a book on writing and creating in general that I've found inspiring lately. There's a section in there that talks about the cruciality of writing "Shi**y first drafts". Everyone's scared to put pen to paper, because what if it sucks? Well, she poses that it has to. If you write 6 pages of trash but find a glimmer of something you love in a paragraph on page 4, then you've got things started. You've got the seed of something good, and you wouldn't have created it if you hadn't given yourself the chance to start up the ol' motor and get creating. The crappy stuff that acted as a ramp to the good? Toss it without guilt. It was a tool, and nobody ever had to see it.

Creativity seems to be seen as some intangible thing that some people have, and others don't. Genetic, finite, something that is born, not made. I've had many friends tell me "I'm not creative like that", and been compelled to shoot sparks out of my nose and drone in monotone "DOES NOT COMPUTE". The difference between you, the "not-creative" and people who seem to always have something new springing forth from them? They do their thing. It might be painful, especially at first. It might be frustrating. You might throw out the first 20 things you make, hate them, hate yourself, and curse the day anybody encouraged you to try.

But at least you're starting. Part of my creative life is really structured (the writing job). There are defined tasks and requirements, deadlines and peer reviews. This, as it turns out, is a big boon. My productivity has gained in leaps and bounds, and my tendency to surround ideas in wreaths of ungainly decoration has been tempered, somewhat. Conversely, in my music life, while I keep a weekly schedule and often have tasks to complete, there are few guidelines for what, exactly, I need to be creating.

My best music happens when I don't think- when caution is thrown to the wind and the whirlwind starts and I feel like I wake up at the end with a song. When one of those songs is good, it can feel like some kind of benevolent spirit showed up in the studio and threw some real art onto my flash drive. Of course, when there's little control exercised on process (and that's the point), the chaff to wheat ratio can be higher, especially when outside influences (lack of sleep, long hours at work, stress) kick in.

For a long while, I was very protective of my creative outputs. Each one, from an album down to a sketch, felt sacrosanct. When time or focus wasn't available to finish one, or ten, or a hundred unpolished ideas, I began to feel like a deadbeat dad. How DARE I loose these new things on the world without so much as the courtesy to give them all of their limbs, and never call, on top of that? The weight of work left behind began to really get oppressive.

Reading Bird By Bird, just that page or two, has given me a new outlook on that chaff. I still love many of these little failed jalopies, but I no longer linger with them or allow their bulk to get in the way of more throughput. They were tools, and some of them are a fun listen now and then, but diamonds they aren't.

So, we must persevere, onward and upward, hand in hand with the fittest ideas- and a tip of the hat to the brave but lesser ones that were selected out of the pool. Regular creative throughput tips the scales in your advantage, keeps the bearings smooth, and quells fear, letting you, once again, surprise yourself. Breathe.