A Curious Outpost

The Art of Listening

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I heard a quote the other day: “Store your grain in the belly of your neighbor.””  …Is your neighbor hungry for grain?  Are they hungry at all?  I know it’s just a figure of speech, but think about it.

A couple days ago, a reader named Marion commented on a video.  She said, “Creativity is like a ship, you can use it as a way to transport you places, but it decides, manipulated by our subconscious but also by nature, by side elements out of our control, by external vibes, where it actually takes you.”

When Marion left the comment, she was talking about the journeys she didn’t know she could take within the confines of her own reality.

Now more than ever, from outside ourselves, people are inundated by creative projects from other people, and also by desperate pitches to believe or do or feel so many different ways.

Marion said something else in her comment.  She said, “Creative success for me is when you can decide on the route to first start taking, get lost momentarily (but without fear) between where you think you’re heading and where the elements want you to go, enjoying the ride, and discovering a destination you had not initially thought of but are so glad you ended up finding randomly. Or is it random..?!”

I don’t think it’s random.  I think you can even pay attention and figure out where you’re going before you arrive, but to do that, you need to do something critical.  You have to listen.

On one level, this means to tune into your sphere of influence and be quiet for a while, try to erase your plans from your mind, and do not just chime in with some preconceived sales pitch until you get a sense for what people really need or wish in the moment, the present moment, in the real world.

On an other level, this means to listen to individuals, including yourself.  Not just the standard active listening and psychology tricks, but like literally, analyze the words people tell you about what’s happening with them, and even listen to your own subconscious narratives about your own projects.

I’ve had a number of friends call me lately to tell me they’ve been cancelling projects, projects they were totally fired up on, because they are realizing there’s just no need for them.  Nobody cares. 

And it’s awesome, because not only are those same people going to move on to new projects, better ones, but they’re going to do that with a sharper attention to the course changes on the way to their own unknown destinations.  The name of the game these days is listening first, then making your moves based on what you actually hear, not what you expect to hear.

If you enjoyed it this week’s video on the art of listening, do me a favor, go to the comments at the bottom of the page, and let me know what you’re hearing when you listen, either to yourself, or to the outside world, tell me what you feel your real creative opportunities are.

If you want to stay in the loop, check back next week here at, or sign up for the newsletter at the top of the page.  In the mean time, I look forward to reading your comments below, so thanks for tuning in!  See you soon

Setting daily intentions and avoiding productivity pressure

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First off, major thanks to those of you that left such thoughtful & in-depth comments last week about your creative successes and obstacles.

One of the comments was from Elisha, who shared something she’s been doing at home about setting daily intentions and avoiding productivity pressure.

Over coffee in the morning Elisha and her boyfriend sit down and talk about what they want to get done that day, sharing and confirming each other’s list, from little things around the house like laundry or whatever & what they need to get done for work, to personal or creative projects.

This activity, stating your personal list each day, helps clear mental clutter first of all by making you say out loud what your priorities are, and it also gives you the extra advantage of having whoever you shared with be able to encourage you throughout the day. Try it and let me know what details you notice.

If you live alone or don’t have anybody around to try it with, try just writing the things down on a whiteboard or even sending them in a message to a friend. If you have a mellow list you’re trying to work through – nothing too crazy – it can help you keep going instead of getting sucked into the news or the fridge, both of which are total traps for me lately since we’re stuck at home so much.

An other trap worth mentioning is what Elisha called “productive pressure” in her comment. Maybe you’ve already heard of this, but it’s worth remembering. It can be tempting a lot times to try and measure our progress, as if there’s some kind of critical level we need to achieve each day in terms of answering emails, checking boxes, or maybe even clocking hours if you’re working remotely.

None of that matters if you aren’t taking care of yourself and your priorities first. Think about it, what good does it do you to have answered all your new emails and done whatever busywork they were about if you didn’t take any time to work on your own list? Are you going to stay up super late and do a worse job at whatever you’re up to?

I know personally, if there’s only so much time, I feel better when I’m conscious of the importance of everything on my list, and I’m able to work first on the things that are either due sooner, or are simply more important to me.

Try ignoring your email until after lunch, and see what you get done out of your own initiative in the morning. I think the best description I heard anybody give of emails was something like, “emails are just other people’s to-do lists for you”.

Leave a comment telling me what you found most helpful and why, and especially tell me what are your big projects that you’re trying to make some headway on?

If you’re into this kind of content and you want to stay in the loop, you can follow me on Instagram or LinkedIn, or sign up for the newsletter at the top of the page, I’ll look forward to talking to you again next week!

What are your creative successes and obstacles?

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The family and I are in isolation this week at the lake, feeling super grateful that we have the opportunity to be here at this critical point.  We are also really blown away by all the supportive chat groups, virtual DJ sets, Zoom parties, invitations to writing projects, and intense professional collaborations that are springing up.  Since we have our hands pretty full with remote projects all of a sudden, and the internet here is actually faster than it is at home, I decided to do a quick video to pose a question: What are your creative successes and obstacles?

What are you doing now where you feel like you’re succeeding creatively and everything is working, and where do you feel like you’re either blocked, or there’s something in your way? 

With your answers, I’m planning to steer future posts in useful directions where we can highlight and analyze what’s working, and find alternative ways to look at some common road blocks.  I’ve been working together with artist & entrepreneurs on parallel tracks across the map to develop an educational program aimed at accessing deeper creativity in art, business, and life in general.  More on that soon!

For now, if you’re interested in where this goes and want to bring it your way, drop a a quick comment below and let me know one thing you’re doing where you feel like the creativity is flowing, or tell me about your creative obstacles, even things as simple as “taking care of the kids” or “staying motivated.”

Lastly, I appreciate the suggestions people sent for the pandemic reading list, I’m looking forward to checking out House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski and Earth Abides by George R. Steward as soon as I can get my hands on them!  Don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter at the top of the page if you’re into it, and check back next week.  Stay safe everybody.

A pandemic reading list for a fresh perspective

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Three creative books to hide out with while we ride out these weird times

This week, as a virus is spreading, I want to acknowledge that this is uncharted territory. The long and short of it is that something is afoot, and it’s remarkable to see how our world reacts when everybody has to answer the same question at once. I can’t think of the last time that happened, at least in my lifetime. The weather here has been dramatic on top of it all, we have 50mph cold winds and dark skies, a perfect day for curling up with a book.  So cue up the Ambient Atomic Orbitals, tell your people you love them, and let a story carry you away for a while.

These are some books to lend a creative angle on what we’re all staring at, what we can’t avoid, no matter how hard we wish.


by Neal Stephenson

Written in the early nineties, this book stars Hiro Protagonist, a pizza delivery guy in a vaguely fictional future that feels revealingly similar to the real world today. It’s one of those books that predicted dozens of details that actually came true, or at least close enough to true make you turn your head and wonder what Stephenson was tapped into when he wrote it. Hiro leads a dual life in the real world, as well as in virtual reality, and a number of scenes superimpose action in both realms simultaneously while still managing to make sense and advance the story.

The book balances a plot involving a computer virus that has deadly real world consequences with story about xenophobia and border control, touching on race, women’s rights, terrorism, Sumerian linguistics, and even fake news & nuclear weapons along the way. In the world of Snow Crash, like this world, it’s not just a matter of killing the bad guy, but a question of telling a story for everybody when we all live in separate realities.


by Stephen Batchelor

Published in 2020, this book is about the slippery meanings of the term “solitude”, especially in the presence of other people, such as you might find in times of voluntary social isolation (or any other time really). Helpful for contemplating one’s own identity and personal message, he draws upon stories of artists and philosophers of the past, combining them with his personal stories of expeditions into liminal realms both with and without the influence of formal meditation, ritualized psychedelics, and time alone in nature.

Comparing solitude at one point to the feeling of grasping a fist full of water, Batchelor is a self-described asshole who writes books, ingesting information, digesting it, and shitting it out. While he claims the book is not a Buddhist book, and takes issue with the rigidity of canonized traditions, his tone may sound most familiar to readers familiar with Buddhism, while not coming off as alienating to the rest.


by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance are the titles of the three books in the series, which came out in 2014. The story deals with a remote coastal region called Area X that is under the growing influence of a mysterious transformative force. Centered around the experience of a biologist exploring the area, the bureaucracy that fumbles to control the situation, and the lighthouse keeper who lived there before the change, The Southern Reach is a story about struggling with problems that are bigger than we can even understand, and which we might have even played a part in causing.

VanderMeer is a master of imaginative fiction with a unique awareness of the strange relationship between nature and our limited experience of it as humans. Annihilation, the first story in the series, was made into a movie with Natalie Portman, and while it diverges from the text, it’s still worth watching if you can’t get your hands on the books right away. As we contemplate solitude and social distance, the series is a reminder that natural world and its incomprehensible designs on us are worth considering as we seek the clarity to choose our next steps.

Leave a comment below and let me know if you’d suggest any others!

The point of this project is to seek and discover new passageways to the inner space we each possess, those places you see before you fall asleep, or perhaps in certain heightened states of awareness, and how to dart through them bring something back when we’re done. It’s not just as simple as saying “OK, now do something creative,” (despite the title of this blog). I’m not an expert on creativity, but I’m looking for a deeper understanding about it.  Check back next week, or just sign up for the newsletter at the top of the page.  Thanks for reading. -SK

How to be creative now, right where you are

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First, some quick background on “creativity”

A lot of the current research on creativity suggests that it’s linked to knowledge & inquiry, and involves sharing some kind of message through a particular form, or combination of forms.  Creativity researchers aren’t shy to use obtuse phrases like “psychic metamorphosis” and “imaginary memory” when they write about it.  Maybe that’s the type of thing that speaks to you, but don’t let it rope you into thinking you have to be complex or mysterious.  For all that’s said about it, it’s worth noting that there’s no universal definition of the word creativity, which I happen to think is a good thing.  What really matters isn’t what creativity is, but how to be creative right now.

Curiosity cat

You could be just as right on as the researchers if you said something like, “It’s crazy the way animals look at you,” which is what I might guess my brother-in-law was thinking when he took the photos I’m using in this post, for example.  The bottom line is that being creative is a lot easier with a message that you understand and care about.  If you’re worried people might disagree with you, or that nobody will understand, stop and take a step back.  In terms of making a provocative piece of art that people might talk about or share, those are actually good things!  Whatever you do, keep it loose at first and keep moving without second-guessing yourself, go with whatever comes to mind, and edit later.  Iterate!

A super basic activity to be creative right now:


What do you know?

Take a minute and write or sketch if that’s your thing, or go for a little walk and be in your own head until you have an idea about a piece of information that you are sure you know.  It can be literally anything, big or small, there’s no wrong answer here.  It doesn’t have to be factual, but it can be, and don’t worry if it’s provable.  It can be something personal, small, or even imaginary.  You might know that you like the sound of gravel when you step on the path, or that you aren’t sure if you saw a ghost when you were a kid.  You might even know that in your dream last night, you were a blue cube that moved through a pattern & grid world just by thinking, and poof, off you go.  Hold your piece of information in your mind’s eye.  Obsess about it a little bit.  Indulge in knowing it.

Knowledge dog


What do you wish?

You might wish you knew the truth about a question that’s on your mind, or you might wish that somebody else knew what you’re thinking about.  Taking a minute to think about what you want to know is the same as wondering what lies beyond the furthest point you’ve traveled from home.  You recognize the limits of your knowledge, while at the same time you can’t help imagining what’s around that last curve in the trail, just past where you turned around.  To be creative right now, jot this wish down, this thing you want to know, along with what you decided you knew in step one, to formalize them as a mission statement for the next step.

Thoughtful dog



This is where it gets real.  To be creative right now, you need to manipulate some pieces of the world around you into a position that means something, even if only to you, about the thing you know, and your wish.  While we are conditioned to think big here, the scale and intensity of your arrangement isn’t the point.  If you’re a painter, sure, paint.  Or if you’re a sculptor, bang on that chisel man!  But if you’re at a desk, maybe you just bend a paper clip into the shape of an animal or sketch a cartoon on a post-it note.  Which way will the eyes gaze, and how will you show that?  If you’re in nature, you might arrange the leaves and sticks into a shape that represents the path you traveled.  You might double-expose a photograph (there’s apps for that since most of us don’t shoot film anymore), wondering what it would be like to have ducks swimming in your kitchen.  Use what’s around you and don’t stop even if you think you don’t have the right supplies, training, skill, or even the right idea.  Improvise.  Change something in the world, no matter how small, with your knowledge and your wish in mind.

Kitchen ducks



This is the easiest part, but you can’t skip it.  You can post a phone pic of a poem you wrote to social media, or leave the napkin it’s scribbled upon pinned to a telephone pole.  Maybe you take the wooden fish you just carved with your pocket knife, and shout its name as you throw it from the bridge into the river to biodegrade with only the real fish as witnesses, in the hopes they’ll become aware of their own impermanence.  Whatever you do, this is where you deliver your message.  Don’t expect a response or praise, that’s not the point, but do this step to let people around you know two things:  1.)  You know something, and you’re willing to be creative right now to show it.  2.) You will notice if they share what they know, the same way they noticed you.  The more we are open to sharing and receiving thoughtful information in our communities, however you want to define them, the more we can hope to understand each other.

Even if you don’t have the time to do this today, I hope it gives you a sense that you could be creative right now, or any day, and that nothing real is stopping you.  If you did take the time to actually do this activity, leave a quick comment below about how it went.  On the other hand, if you thought post was garbage, let me know about that instead!  Finally, if you want to get on the mailing list, type your address in the sign up box at the top of the page, and I’ll keep you in the loop from time to time. 

Is learning creativity possible?

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This is a blog about closing the gap between our dreams and capacities, and how to live with a little extra spark.

At all stages of life, from students to mature professionals, people are coming around to the idea that it’s important, and even cool, to strengthen their ability for learning creativity to undertake all kinds of projects that don’t fit any kind of preexisting mold.  Which reminds me of one of the best definitions of artistic creativity I’ve read: 


“The main element of art is the uniqueness of the transmitted message. A Masterpiece is the correct execution of a unique and unrepeatable creative idea…

The artistic creation involves the realization of two disjoint processes: the generation of a message to convey and the execution of the work of art.”


How could there be a mold for that?  Is learning creativity even possible? Whatever you answer to that, working to live and support yourself, and your family if you have one, doesn’t have to be enough, or all there is. 

Think of people in corporate jobs, which are often great jobs, who want to paint but have no idea where to start.  Or a working teacher with young kids who has no extra time but wants to start a new writing project.  Or a high energy entrepreneur who wants to be able to think more flexibly to overcome new business challenges.  None of these people have the time to go back to art school full time or anything like that, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take the leap and fully commit to creative projects of any scale, and finish them.

Most of us aren’t on track to be career artists,  living off the sale of our artwork.  But learning from those types of people can teach us how to bring that energy into our lives.  This blog is about building a bridge across the gap between our ideas and our abilities, in real terms.   You can’t just manifest this type of thing, but you can cultivate it.

Let me know in the comments one thing you wish you could do if you only knew how, or what you wish you knew about learning or creativity in general, and I’ll write about that, or maybe even make you a video.  In the mean time, stay tuned for posts about the details of this project, and the research behind it.