• Matt Morrell

I'm currently reading the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, right on the tail of reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

Both books cover similar terrain - getting creative people out of their own heads and coaxing them to do the work. Both are also from authors with self-described long roads to success and both are from the perspective of after the success has been achieved.

Consistent work over time. Success is an illusion. Don't quit your day job. Don't listen to other people. Build the creative life you want, one day, one word at a time.

I haven't read Eat Pray Love but I remember it being everywhere for years. I also remember the sense of over-saturation - that this was an idea being pushed on everyone through Oprah's book clubs, stranger's bathrooms and coffee tables, the "Staff Picks" shelves at Barnes & Noble.

It's nice to see that the author felt that too.

In Big Magic, Gilbert tells a story about a fan coming up and thanking her for writing the book that would allow her to leave her abusive marriage. But when she described the book, she was talking about violence and abuse that wasn't actually in the book. She had either not read it or misattributed it to another book.

It must be so crazy to have the existence of your thing occupy more space in this world than the thing itself. Maybe that's what fame is in general and why famous people seem so unhappy. The meaning detaches itself and becomes something else to other people. Meanwhile you are still you.

Ultimately it seems like the conclusion is the same - stick to the work, build the thing, make the stuff. Forget about the rest. And don't quit your day job.

  • Matt Morrell

I learned last week that Tom Petty's song Wildflowers came into the world fully-formed. The home demo is almost indistinguishable from the record.

That song has always had a special place for me. I stumbled on it when I was learning to play guitar. I learned it properly with a band in college, finding the swing and the feel much harder to replicate than it initially appears. The high capo, the upper strings ringing out - it always felt more approachable for me than anything else in his catalog, but still just out of reach.

And to know he just made it up all on the spot, it just resonates even more.

For a while, I made making up songs a part of my show. The trick is you think of a line and then rhyme "towards" that line. You build up a little tension and then release it with the rhyme. It can kind of be anything - the audience can feel it when you are really making it up and it infuses just enough tension in the room to make everyone relax a little when you stick the landing. And even if you miss it they will usually go along with it. It's a bit of a gimmick, but it works.

The songs are usually disposable. That way of writing doesn't really translate to recording. The filler becomes more obvious.

Maybe it's just that Tom Petty's filler is so far above everyone else's that it holds up. In Tom Petty's hands, improvisation feels... pure?

Little glimpses of a genius at work. So grateful to be able to hear all of it.

  • Matt Morrell

A few months ago, I realized that I had let the world get into my head in a way that was no longer serving me or my goals. At the beginning of 2020, I was enrolled in an MBA program. I was making progress toward my financial and physical goals. I was reaching a year in sobriety from alcohol and I had clarity in my career trajectory. I was going to the gym three or four times a week and had reconnected with swimming laps as a way to stay in shape and calm my mind.

I was turning in the final project for the first class in an MBA program when the lockdown kicked in. Panic in the grocery stores, moments of confusion, a deep primal need to have enough food at home to feed my kids.

I put the MBA on hold. I indulged in learning to make sourdough. Dormant genes in my physiology seemed to activate, whispering to me to prepare for the unknown.

A few months later, I realized I felt terrible. I had gratitude for my life - my job, my home, my community. But I was letting fear drive me. My hands felt swollen from the bread and evening ice cream. Eating M&Ms by the handful.

I was waking up in the middle of the night in a panic and dreading waking up at 2AM, watching the clock until the kids woke up at 5. I couldn't get to sleep at night. Scrolling through the news in bed on my phone. Dread. Anxiety.

4 months 24 days ago, I decided to make a change. I know that because that was the day I added "Sugar" to the "I am Sober" counter.

In the morning, I started little habits. Listen to a few minutes of motivational speakers on YouTube. Nothing crazy, just some positive reinforcement. Drink some water. Walk the dog for 30 minutes.

After a few weeks, I stopped craving ice cream and sweets.

I added a new counter for another bad habit - taking my phone to bed.

The first night without my phone, it felt like an eternity before I could fall asleep. I still woke up at 3AM and just laid there, thinking about going to get my phone from its charger in the kitchen.

The next night, I brought a book to bed instead, and when I woke up at 3, I read with a little reading light. I started finishing books. Unlike the eternal scroll on the phone, finishing a book actually feels good. I brought more books up and started looking forward to reading before bed. The 3AM wake-ups became less frequent. The reading time became shorter.

Now, after two months or so of doing this, I've only had to reset the counter once, when I was staying in a hotel and gave in to the proximity of the phone in the room. I scrolled through the usual suspects until past midnight. It felt gross. I reset the counter in the morning.

Of all the little habits, I'm not sure which one has had the most impact but I feel more in command of my mental and physical health. I can't really read anymore at night because I fall asleep within a few seconds of getting to my room. I feel a tangible sense of gratitude, purpose, and meaning in the morning that was lacking before, even before the pandemic.

Small changes, one day - one moment - at time. Stringing together all these little bits and pieces to build a life.

© 2020 by Matt Morrell