Zach's PEN #1: The First One

2020 Week 32

Greetings PENpals,

This may look like a simple Personal Email Newsletter (PEN), but for me, it's much more than that. It may represent the biggest step I've taken in my creative life, if I may be so precious. That statement seems like a lot, but I think it’s true. Here's why, in the form of a brief history of how I got here:

1982: I was born. My head was inordinately large so I was delivered by C-section after 18 hours of labor. This is the dome in question:

1987: My mom died suddenly at 42.

1990: I retreated into Imaginationland and fell in love with making stuff in all types of media. My grandma and grandpa (called Geema and Gumps), and my new mom and new grandpa (called Grandpa) were all artists, as well as my new sister, so I was surrounded with people who made stuff and the tools they made stuff with, including the Macintosh. I wasn't so great at the people stuff.

1994: I learned how to do the people stuff.

1995-2000: I had tons of fun hanging out with people, fell away from making stuff, but still always thought about it. Decided to become a filmmaker because I always loved film, radio, and writing the most, and thought I might be able to get good at it.

2001: I had become really badly addicted to drugs and retreated so far into self that I was a black hole of a person and also I almost died.

2002-2009: I got sober and spent most of my 20s growing up into a decent person. I did make some stuff in college and spent years obsessively studying all of the tools and methods of my artistic heroes.

2010-2012: Now that I had grown up into a decent person, I found the love of my life, got married, and went into business as a designer/developer/writer/photographer/filmmaker and became obsessed with productivity and doing things "the best way." I pulled all-nighters at least two nights a week for some years, making stuff for people who paid me. I did a good job, and my business prospects grew.

2013: I kept talking about all the stuff I was going to make at some point but I never made any of the stuff. Just did more good work for customers.

2014: My company kept growing and the plan was that eventually we would have the resources to take a shot at making movies/series. I never got anything past nascent stages, and I began to doubt whether I'd ever make anything that I said I was going to make.

2015: I made this podcast, and I'm reasonably proud of it, though it was for a customer, a non-profit whose executive director was Ashley Biden. Ashley came over to our home in Philly for her interview, which could potentially become a much cooler story soon (God help us all). Also, Ashley is an awesome person and I loved making this podcast with her and especially with Ricky Reyes, one of my personal heroes and the most generous person I have ever met.

2016: I had been a Democracy Reform evangelist for a long time and got involved in some non-partisan get-money/corruption-out-of-politics activism and eventually got the chance to meet and work with another hero of mine on the front lines of the movement, Professor Lawrence Lessig, who can currently be seen in the new HBO film, The Swamp, which just aired this week. While I haven't had time to watch the film yet (we have two babies, oh, right, that happened too), I already wish I had been the one to make that film. 😃

2017: The more work the company got, the busier we got, the more people we needed to hire, the more money we needed to pay them, the more work we needed to get, the harder management got, the more I realized I didn't know what I was doing, but we kept delivering good work so we kept growing, and I felt like i was going to die, so when we were approached about an acquisition/merger, I decided to sell the company.

2018: Meanwhile, I got help. What I mean by "got help" is that I admitted for certain that I didn't know what I was doing in business (other than the selling and delivering good work part) and so I joined an entrepreneur support group and learned about hiring people who did know what they were doing in business. So I hired them and did my best to let them do their thing. Little twinkles of light began to appear at the end of the tunnel.

2019: I cancelled the sale and the company got a lot healthier (and happier). I am now able to do what I'm good at without the entire load of stress that came with the rest of running the company, which now has 15 full-time employees and looks like it might make it through COVID, InshAllah.

2020: I finally have the time and focus to work on some of my own projects, and I've made huge progress on them, but then I got to what seemed like the end of this road and discovered... I. Still. Can't. Press. Publish. Nothing is good enough. What do I even have to say anyway? What am I even doing this for? This problem, this core of the problem, has only gotten worse with time. There's been so much build-up: saying I'm going to make stuff, not making stuff, saying I'm really going to make stuff this time, not doing it again, until now that I'm going to finally make stuff, it had better be good, son. This way of thinking is not helpful. More on that in future PENs.

Present Day: I took a pair of courses that were totally not my style during these COVID times (yes, just one—okay two—more productivity courses, just two...). They have proven to be pretty transformative. What they've shown me, with devastating finality, is that the bottleneck is not my skills or tactics or time available to create. The bottleneck is simply my willingness to put myself out there and discover answers to all the questions including who I am through the process of creating stuff and sharing it (the intuitive thing I had already figured out back when I was a little kid).

So, here's this first PEN. I plan to send one weekly. I might not, and that's okay. Most of them won't be this long but sometimes they will be.

For me, this is actually a really big moment, because it's a really small moment that I'm allowing to be small (if that makes any sense). It’s just a little email newsletter, and I’ve also got my own little place on the web, The Great Rebellion. I’ve written a few things there. I’ll link to some in these PENs.

Some of my interests that I'll probably end up talking about (let me know if any of these interest you):

  • Filmmaking
  • The Open Internet
  • Workflows
  • Populist Politics
  • Analog Tools
  • Digital Tools
  • Thought Technologies™️
  • Writing
  • Meditation
  • Addiction
  • Culture
  • Metastuff, like...

Personal Email Newsletters

Right now, I’m really interested in the promise of this old email technology to replace something I think our culture is deeply missing, and perhaps even to replace Facebook... Check this out:

Here’s my son Wendell enjoying his first birthday and a video of him taking his first steps (this week!):

Here's me getting really angry about politics last month.

And here’s a picture of something I ate (an incredible cake that Allison made):

I've covered 96% of Facebook uses right there, but here are some other ways that PENs are far better than Facebook. I'll talk about those next week (Preview: For one, you don't have to get my political rantings or baby pictures if either of those offend you).

Thanks for being my PENpal,


P.S. If you know anyone else who would like to be my PENpal, please send them to this post or they can sign up pretty much anywhere on The Great Rebellion

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