The Daily Creative To-Dos

Chris Michel, a dear friend and an amazing photographer recently went on a trip to the North Pole. An explorer at heart, he shared his journey to the top of our planet through many different social networks including Instagram. But on the first day of his trip, his laptop failed and now he has to process 30,000 or more photos. It is a daunting task — especially for someone who takes his photos and processes them in Lightroom pretty much every day, if not multiple times a day.

I can see why. As a photographer these days, you need to process the photos as quickly as possible because most of us tend to take a lot of photos. Digital makes us all dip our toes in the chimera of excess. I personally have about 1000 photos from my recent visit to Iceland. Add to it another 1000 from a recent visit to Paris and Virgin Gorda, I am falling behind in my processing of photos.

My idea of processing — I shoot in RAW — is to modify a handful of settings in Lightroom and occasionally apply a Fuji Provia film preset from VSCO. I mostly use a Leica M-P with a Leica f/2 35 mm Summicron lens — though sometimes I opt for a Zeiss f/2.8 25 mm Distagon lens, though I don’t like it much. I really want a a 24mm Leica for my landscapes, but my eye is really comfortable with a f/2 – 35 mm combination which I got used to on my Sony RX-1.

Sticking to just one tool for creating is actually helpful — you have to do minimal adjustments and program the Lightroom for quick and easy processing. When I make photos with Zeiss I use a separate memory card so I can process the photos by importing them to a Zeiss-only catalog. But all that takes time — about an hour a day at the very least. When I am traveling overseas, the jet lag makes it easy to handle such tasks, though on this trip I didn’t feel any jet lag and didn’t feel energetic enough to open the laptop.

I have often wondered how much of creativity is actually drudgery. Maybe that isn’t the right lens to view creativity — perhaps it is the velvet fist of discipline which gives us the luxury of offering the ultimate creativity to the outside world. When I was a full time blogger and writer, I knew I had to write something every day and my mind was trained to do as much.

It has been about 18 months since a career shift and my mind has stopped working in that fashion. It works now on a three or four day cycle. Any attempts to rejigger that have failed. I suspect it is because I have lost the daily rigor and as a result can’t compress the act of observing, thinking, reporting, and writing into the daily arc of the Sun.

When ruminating about all this — inspired by an email exchange with Chris, by the way — I remembered an interview with Ernest Hemingway, the most adventurous of all writers in The Paris Review.

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.

What is good for Hemingway should be good for everyone else, though I don’t know if my daily work accords me the luxury to do the same, but I do believe that having a daily routine is a good way to create. I also like his approach to leave something behind for the next day — it is a wise move for those who prefer blogs as a writing medium.

As for Chris, I am twisting his arm with the promise of a nice Brunello de Montolcino. I want to see his images in HD on a big screen TV.

July 11, 2015, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands

#winning

Recently I had lunch with Chris Michel, an entrepreneur, investor and Silicon Valley’s one true renaissance man, at one of his favorite San Francisco restaurants, the Cavalier. The food is British-inspired. The conversation, however, was inspired by a friendship that spans over a decade. I was introduced to him by Abigail Johnson, one of the finest people in the “communications” business. She is a connector who eschews attention, and she is the polar opposite of today’s fly-by-night public relations carpetbaggers. “You and Chris will love each other,” she said.

She was right. Chris founded Military.com and had a lot of stories to share when I started Gigaom. We got to know each other better a few years later through my ex-Forbes colleague Carleen Hawn. She was editing one of my new ideas at that time, WriteRead, a founder community that was a mishmash of Medium, Quora and Hacker News. It was about giving founders a place to share their wisdom. Like a lot of things we did, it was too early and the software wasn’t really there. But the outcome of that effort was a deeper friendship with Chris. For me, that is a win.

Chris has become a close friend and a constant source of encouragement when it comes to my amateurish attempts at photography. He is an amazing photographer. His landscapes are sublime, but his portraits are what make him exceptional: He looks into the soul of a person and somehow captures it on film. He does this all the time. “You give us the gift of time, Chris,” I told him. “I hope you realize that.” With his photos of people in Silicon Valley, he is writing a beautiful story and giving us back these special moments to re-live.

At lunch we talked about my trip to Iceland. We talked about the role of a board member. We talked about Chris Anderson and his drone company, 3D Robotics, where Chris is a board member along with my True Ventures partner Jon Callaghan. We talked about the deep and continued sense of mourning I am experiencing for Gigaom. In the end, we talked about Silicon Valley, the idea of success and the cult of “winning.” We talked about winning in terms of money. We talked about a (faux) sense of winning or losing we get when startups “exit.”

And then he asked me, “What is winning to you?” Hard question, but without thinking too much, I pointed out that if I can have a day that starts with more questions than answers, is spent doing things I love and I go to sleep early, tired, smiling and thinking of new questions — that to me is #winning. And if I can have one in five days like that, it amounts to a winning life. In his own sweet way, Chris was doing what I have tried to do in my writing: holding up a mirror so I see myself better and move forward.

P.S.: What is your definition of winning? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook, or email me.

June 2, 2015, San Francisco

Photo of Chris Michel by Chris Michel, courtesy of Chris Michel