on being your own archivist

Some part of me is deluded enough to think people will care when I’m gone.

They’ll riffle through my desk drawers and file cabinets and papers and books. They’ll wonder how I spent my days and pore over my mad scribblings and doodles and insane notes in an attempt to understand the river of madness that once flowed from my mind.

Maybe this is a cocktail of ego and vanity, but I’ve done everything I can to be a good steward of my work, to archive my creations as they spring out of me. Each collage is dated. Every written page is filed away. Every notebook, once filled, is marked with the date, then placed on a shelf in my office, like a volume in a set of encyclopedias.

my library of pocket notebooks, dating back to fall of 2012
(featured alongside a collection of playing cards, a collection of zines, and a bottle of prayers)

If you’ve been reading my blog for the past few years, you no doubt know how much influence Austin Kleon has had on my creative work and practice. Watching how he uses a variety of notebooks to capture his memories and ideas has been an indispensable tool for me. With Kleon’s guidance, I’ve cultivated a unique approach to how I use my notebooks.

At any given time, I have three (sometimes four) notebooks going at once, each with a different function and purpose.

The first is a pocket-sized Moleskine, similar to the notebooks Hemingway, Picasso, and other artists used to carry. This notebook includes a ribbon bookmark and pocket laid into the back cover, where I carry a few personal and creative tokens (my vaccine card, my custom Michael Jordan Basketball card, prayers scribbled on scraps of paper.)

keepsakes tucked in the back pocket of my portable Moleskine

This notebook is for field reporting. It never leaves my side and is often tucked into the interior pocket of whatever jacket I’m wearing. It’s the vessel for catching stray bits of conversation, ambling doodles during periods of prolonged waiting, and the first drafts of many a harebrained scheme. This notebook is often my only companion on the nights when I take up residence on a stool at the neighborhood watering hole.

My second notebook is a sketchbook, a home for drawings and creative ideas. This notebook is typically a 5.5″ x 8.5″ spiral-bound Stathmore Sketchbook and is often where all bets are off. It functions as an empty sandbox for all manner of things: sketches before bedtime, drug-induced ideas jotted down while watching movies, notes taken during business meetings.

I started using Stathmores back when I was a kid, the first one a gift from an aunt who fostered my love of drawing. It’s only since college (I say that like it wasn’t almost ten years ago) that I’ve made a regular practice of keeping a Strathmore within arms reach. These notebooks typically take between six months and a year to fill and often function as the bucket where I collect ideas, one drip at a time.

The next notebook functions as a logbook, a place to simply record the activities of my day: the who, the what, the when of it all. Typically a Moleskine daily planner, this notebook serves as a kind of record of how my time is spent. Tracking my days this way proved a magnificent tool during the pandemic, as quarantine slowly ate the days.

I first started to keep a record of my days in the Fall of 2017, during a period of major upheaval and transition in my life. Tracking my daily routine has provided a sense of scope, allowing me to pore over previous entries for the sake of recognizing how my life has changed over the years.

May 23rd and 24th, 2020

Early in this practice, I added a dream journal component, tracking my subconscious expeditions as I recalled them each morning. While I’m not always great at keeping up with this, folding my dreams into my daily activities has allowed my waking and sleeping hours to exist side-by-side in my own personal record.

The final notebook is yet another Moleskine (What can I say? I’m a brand whore…), this time the larger variety. This is the place to archive ideas for a specific large-scale project, be it a novel, stage play, or screenplay. While ideas and sketches are often generated and stored in one of the other various notebooks, this is where ideas specifically related to the project are collected and allowed to exist side-by-side.

Each notebook is commissioned prior to its first use, with the lyrics to Twenty One Pilot’s “Kitchen Sink” serving as the invocation to my private muse. It’s always been my belief that creativity is a spiritual practice. Blessing each notebook with a private prayer has always been my personal equivalent to blessing a home before moving in.

While I’ve neglected to mention the Note app on my phone and the legal pad I use for morning pages (per Julia Cameron), these various volumes of once-blank pages have accrued into a record of not just my creative practice, but the shifting tide of my life.

It’s easy to imagine a future where someone cracks one of these notebooks and connects the dots between parallel ideas. Again, perhaps it’s ego to believe this, but I’m working diligently to make sure my work and my life is well recorded, even if the only person who cares enough to look back some day is an older version of me.

“We All Say God”

Last year, I wrote and directed a short film called We All Say God, which is currently available on YouTube.

The film was also recently accepted into the Marina del Rey Film Festival and placed at a finalist in the Malibu Film Festival.

A special shoutout to the entire cast and crew who made this project possible!

a letter to my future self

Dated February 10th, 2017:

Dear joshua,

I’m sure you have plenty to tell me, but it will have to wait.

You’re at an advantage. You’ll read this letter someday. I recently finished a letter to myself as I was before. He won’t get to read the words I sent him. At least, not for a long time. By then, he’ll be the one writing them as he reads. You, however, will read these words. You may even remember writing them, because yes, it was you who composed them once upon a time.

I’m writing from a scary place. Maybe you remember. The future seems dark. It’s hard to hope for the world as it is. I can only see so far from where I’m sitting. Your vision affords you hindsight I don’t have. I’m willing to bet there are hardships ahead and you want to warn me. But, if the future is anything like the past, and I’m sure to some extent it is, I imagine there have been blessings too, tiny as they may seem.

I’m fighting, or at least I’m trying to do so. I’m fighting for you, so you’ll get to read this letter one day. But I’m fighting for what we’ll make too. What I will make and what you have made and the world we get to create together.

All I can ask of you is that continue you to fight. Stay true to who you are. I have goals and I hope you’ve done me the service of seeing them through. I know life is fluid. Nothing is certain. Everything changes. But please, stay the course. Take what you’ve learned and use it. Keep your head straight and your eyes up. You’ve always been delusional in the best way possible and I hope you remain so. Stay crazy. Stay awake. Keep creating.

Regardless of what has happened, I want you to know I’m proud of you. I pray this letter finds you. If and when it does, write to yourself down the line, just as I do now. Keep writing. Keep going.

Being alive is the bravest thing to be. You know this and so do I.

Stay awake. Stay alive. I’ll see you when I get there.

peace and understanding,


lessons learned from houseplants

Early in the pandemic, I started collecting plants in my living room. Surrounding myself with green things helped provide peace of mind during a period of so much upheaval and tumult. Here was something I could control, something I could care for. All I needed was a little potting soil and some water from my kitchen sink.

As time has worn on, I’ve accumulated more and more plants. While my gardening knowledge remains minimal, there are a few things I’ve learned, simply from caring for these living things, day by day.

  • First and foremost, you can’t coax a plant to grow. It sprout and flourishes on its own time.
  • Occasionally, there are leaves and vines that will need pruning. You’ll have to snip and cut here and there, trimming down the short-term expansion for the sake of long-term growth.
  • Repotting a plant will allow it to flourish and stretch into more than it was, provided you continue to fulfill its basic needs.
  • Some leaves and chutes and vines will die on their own. Despite water and sunlight, they’ll wither for no particular reason. And there’s nothing you can do, but prune the dead parts to make space for the living ones.

Austin Kleon closes out his book, Keep Going, by reminding us that creativity–and indeed, life itself–is filled with seasons. Things come and go. There are periods of growth and expansion, followed by hibernation and constriction, then growth once again.

In my own life, I’ve seen this to be true. I’ve had many a creative project that withered on the vine. I’ve cut opportunities out of my life for the sake of creating most space to grow. Moving from the midwest to Los Angeles was a repotting of sorts, a self-inflicted trauma that provided an opportunity to flourish.

With all the talk of climate change, we often forget that we humans are ourselves a part of nature. It only makes sense we would follow its most basic rules.

cut your teeth

Malcolm Gladwell’s Principle of 10,000 hours is well documented, but for those of you who aren’t familiar, the idea goes like this: achieving mastery of a specific skill require an estimated ten-thousand hours of practice. Backed by research studies and social experiments, Gladwell asserts that “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.”

And now let’s turn our attention to greatness.

In my mind, Aaron Sorkin sets a standard for great screenwriting. From his work on The West Wing to The Trial of the Chicago 7, Sorkin’s mastery as a writer of dialogue and circular scene structure is unparalleled. The open ten minutes of The Social Network prove as much; it’s a masterclass all on its own.

Here’s the problem: in order to develop the skill to write a scene this tight, this well-crafted, this perfect, Sorkin write an awful lot.

And how did he do so? He spent years writing television. Not just any television mind you: he was writing The West Wing (not to mention his early work on A Few Good Men, The American President, and Sports Night, and the much-overlooked Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.)

Sorkin wrote every episode of the first four seasons of The West Wing, a nearly unimaginable feat. “No human being will ever write 22 episodes a year for four years ever again,” said West Wing alum Bradley Whiteford at a 2016 cast reunion. “That’s 11 feature films a year. It will never, ever happen again.”

It’s daunting to realize the only way you wind up writing the opening of The Social Network is to cut your teeth writing The West Wing. But as Macklemore says, “the greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint, the greats were great because they’d paint a lot.”

Additional Notes: In a recent interview with Brian Koppelman, when asked why he didn’t let someone else write The West Wing, Sorkin explained, “for the same reason Martin Sheen doesn’t let someone else play Bartlett from time to time. This is my part.”

Words cannot express how much I love this mindset. Know your place on the team. Show up and do what you’re there to do.

all you can do is the work


I’ve fought with my desire to control for years.

We’re all hurtling through the world, like pinballs ricocheting off one another. While it’s reasonable to expect today will look a lot like yesterday, the truth is we’re thrust head-first into the unknown each morning.

This is something I’ve always struggled with.

I don’t like change. I don’t do well when forced to wriggle around in unknown circumstances. I will kick and scream and drag my feet, insisting life meet me on my terms. It’s a desire to control how everything turns out, propelled by my deep-seated fear thing won’t turn out the way I expect them. It’s an impulse, a bad habit, a pattern of thought.

Truth is, this isn’t any way to live a life. And it’s something I’ve been working to change. Making art has taught me about the process of letting go. The work takes on an entire life of its own when you stop worrying about how you’re doing and instead focus on the act of creating. All you can do is the work. The finished product will be what it will be. And often times, it’d better than you could have ever imagined, but only because you let go of your expectations.

This practice works on a small scale, but I’ve been trying on implement it into my life as a whole. Instead of constantly worrying about how I’m doing, I’m trying hard to live my life. The work of life is living. And all you can do is the work.

Trust the rest will take care of itself.

tell the story

A while back, I wrote a play.

I was in conversations with a theater company about producing this play when the world shut down. A lot of things happened after that. You know what I’m talking about.

Now, theaters wants to produce plays with a message, plays that say something about the world we live in. That’s fine. That’s good. That’s important.

However, I recognize, as a storyteller, the message is secondary. Yes, every story has a message. That’s how stories work. That’s what stories do.

But at the same time, my job isn’t that of a messenger.

My job is to tell you a story.

Everything else is secondary.

tunneling to the other side

Last night, I watched If These Walls Could Sing, a documentary about Abbey Road Studios, on Disney+ and had an absolutely ball.

What resonated more than anything was the number of musicians who spoke about Abbey Road Studios with a sense of spiritual awe, as though the space itself is a portal to where creativity itself lives.

I’ve written previously about thin spaces, physical locations where the threshold between the physical realm and the divine realm seems thinner. It’s my belief these places emit a certain feeling, an energy you can pick up on. Sometimes they’re churches or temples, other times they’re recording studios or theaters.

I’ve encountered a few thin spaces in my life, most notably the summer camp where I was camper and eventually a counselor and the apartment where I lived my last two years in college. Part of what made these places so special was the history surrounding them.

the summer camp where I spent
some of the most formative years of my life

With summer camp, the land itself had been donated to the Episcopal church during the Depression as a place for inner-city youth to experience nature. The camp had a rich history of providing spiritual sustenance to hundred of kids. This created an energy on the property, a sense that it was a special, sacred place. Further enhancing this energy was the culture generated by campers like myself, who would go on to become counselors to the next generation of kids coming to the property for the first time.

302 Kiefaber, my college apartment, had a similar vibe. Passed on by a group of upperclassmen, 302 had previously functioned as a communal space, a venue for parties and concerts and late-night music making. I’d often come home to find friends playing music in the living room or actors rehearsing a play in the kitchen. I wrote short stories to the glow of Christmas lights while my roommate fiddling with electronic music on his Midi keyboard. 302 itself seemed a factory for all kinds of creativity.

302 Kiefaber, the apartment where I lived
during my last two years at the University of Dayton

While some spaces are innately thin, I think it’s possible for us to wear at the fabric between physical and metaphysical spaces. Any place can become a thin space, with enough creative and spiritual work. The more time we spend trying to tunnel our way to the other side, the thinner the space becomes.

Like people, places carry energy. Walk into a space like the one where The Beatles recorded “A Day in the Life,” chances are you’re going to feel the weight of all the creative history, emanating from wherever ideas come from.