The Hulk, Wearing Purple Pants Everyday, and Decision Fatigue


Cartoon characters–from Daffy Duck to Pooh–wear the same thing every day, right? My son smashes the day away with an Incredible Hulk action figure, and recently I found myself scrutinizing Hulk’s signature tattered purple pants. I realized that Bruce Banner must be wearing purple pants everyday when he turns into the Hulk in order for the Hulk ALWAYS to wear the aforementioned eggplant slacks.  Maybe they’re his most hated pair of pants, and since Banner knows he’s gonna hulk-out after brunch, he doesn’t care if they get destroyed, and thus purposely wears them. Maybe Banner is a genius—(he IS the world’s most leading scientist on Gamma radiation, after all). Or perhaps Banner is familiar with “decision fatigue”, and with only so many usable hours in the day to do research-y stuff, he is going to stick to the purple slacks and white lab coat.


“Hulk smash below belt!”


With our limited amount of creativity and willpower, let’s conserve it for the things that matter—your creative work, your relationships. This idea of “decision fatigue” haunted Madame Bovary writer Gustave Flaubert, who said,

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

In one of my favorite books, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Mason Currey outlines Flaubert’s austere schedule which he used while he wrote Bovary. 

The president does the same thing. Interviewing President Obama for Vanity Fair, Michael Lewis records Obama saying,

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.’ He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions.”
We can think of other creative “greats” who have latched onto a similar idea. Steve Jobs’ signature black mock-turtleneck, blue jeans and white sneaks.

Mark Zuckerburg, (while not lauded for the choices) commits to a daily grey tee.

One of my favorite comedians, Jason Mantzoukas (aka “Dirty Randy” on The League), has a whole Tumblr devoted to his uniform of white BDCO’s and blue jeans.


I drink the same coffee every morning at 8:45. Gone are the days of experimenting with alchemic variations of shot and syrup ratios. During a recent summer, ago I ate a Cobb salad every day for lunch from the little bistro counter that occupied the lobby of the First Tennessee Bank on Third St. What daily decisions can I establish as sacrosanct so that I don’t have to decide? I’ve started using templates as I demo songs in Logic X, that has saved me a lot of time. I mainly stick to the same drum, guitar, and keyboard sounds at first, and let’s me focus on writing and arranging the actual song.
The fall of 2001 I didn’t get to go away for school, and I was flipping carpets at a Persian Rug department at a furniture store. I wore a size small (yeeeesh) black Hanes tee everyday. I did like it at those times. But now, opening a closet to one outfit feels a little soul-killing–“variety is the spice of life”, they say. I’ll think about it.

Listening: Gasoline Heart, Thanks for Everything
Watching: House of Cards, S3
Reading: Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy (trying to finish the last 40 pages)
Playing: Battlefield for Xbox
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Hot Yoga, and Leonard Cohen Tells The Truth

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“I’ll be there for you”


A new Planet Fitness opened around the corner from my house, and I decided to try something new and become a member. I totally love going, and going as often as I can. Kinda surprised myself. Am I becoming a gym rat? I just like going for the drugs. Get all those juicy endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin flowing like wine. Keep away the haranguing depression and anxiety–a pox on you! This morning they actually gave out free bagels, so I made sure to replace all those beloved calories that I had just burnt off. I was a runner for almost ten years…I loved the high and the freedom of the wind blowing betwixt my whiskers. Running’s not for everyone. My wife hates running. I respect that. I hate hot yoga. No, not Bikram Yoga, hot yoga. Practicing two feet away from a lot of other sweaty, farting, bodies in a 100º room. Yoga rules. Love yoga. But I hate being hot. It’s difficult enough surviving in the Memphis summer heat, my tongue parched and pores screaming for moisture—except for the 80% humidity, ahhh that’ll do the trick. But she loves it. And since my knees staged a body mutiny, I stick to the gym machines. That is a truth.

Been plagued by this idea of “truth” in songwriting (and “regular” writing), ever since I read Leonard Cohen’s interview in Paul Zollo’s Songwriters on Songwriting. I wrote about this interview a couple of weeks ago, but this idea of truth has emerged like a weed in many songwriting conversations the past couple of weeks. Maybe it’s not a weed, but a blossom.

Cohen starts by actually stating the opposite point of truth (pg 334):
Some songs take a decade to write. “Anthem” took a decade to write. And I’ve recorded it three times. More. I had a version prepared for my last album with strings and voices and overdubs. The whole thing completely finished. I listened to it, there was something wrong with the lyric, there was something wrong with the tune, there was something wrong with the tempo. there was a lie somewhere in there, there was a disclosure that I was refusing to make.

Zollo keys into this and follows up with,
PZ: Earlier you said that you couldn’t sing an early version of “Anthem” because it had a lie in it. Does this mean that the songs have to resonate in truth for you to be able to sing them?
LC: They have to resonate with the kind of truth that I can recognize… (pg 339)

My mind’s been orbiting this thought in one way or another for the better part of this month, with (two posts ago) about point-of-view and value. Maybe that has something to do with it, as well—being authentic with your POV and your values. Bringing everything into focus, like the focus wheel on binoculars. I’m trying to strive for this…this, focal truth—I’m throwing overboard the word authentic because it stinks of co-option by marketing boardrooms. Writing songs this month committing to not having lies in them.


Reading: Song: The World’s Best Songwriters on Creating the Music that Moves Us ed. American Songwriter Magazine
Listening: Giant Sand
Watching: House of Cards, S3

Jonny Greenwood is a Fake


House of Cards Season 3 must be out because everyone at the gym is hogging the rowing machines. Also–Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood is in the news this week, cryptic and salacious statements about an incoming Radiohead record, and also performing new compositions with an Indian ensemble. The man is busy. Scoring for PT Anderson, in-house composer for the BBC, writing with an Indian ensemble, touring Steve Reich pieces, and making the new Radiohead record, the guy is a shark. He keeps swimming or he dies. That may not be so far from the truth. He says,
“I think it’s good to be a moving target… just keep moving and it also means you don’t get found out. I think everyone lives in fear of being found out, of being slightly fraudulent and kind of getting away with something.”
I don’t know why, but I’m surprised to see Greenwood saying this. Radiohead has sold millions of records, to critical acclaim, and is established as a primary driving force for their “musical collective”. (Pretentious? I know, but “band” sounded to paternal). The man has WON OSCARS, for Pete’s sake.
This idea of  “… so he won’t be found out” feeling is what psychologists call “Imposter Syndrome”. Basically, that many of us feel like a fake and we will be unmasked before all.
Maya Angelou said “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ “
We learn. We’re all at different levels of competence in our respective areas. This is ok.

Levels of Expertise (According to Gordon Training Int’l)

Unconscious Incompetence – you’re bad and you don’t know it.

Conscious Competence – you know correct technique, you just have to think about it while you do it. Think about a time when a coach helped you with an athletic move. “Three steps forward, lead with your right foot, left knee up, at the same time lift the ball to the hoop”. I’ve talked about this more here, specifically citing Ira Glass’ incredibly articulate and motivating thoughts on the subject.

Unconscious Competence – You’ve integrated your technical skills to a level where you no longer have to think about it. You now walk and don’t tentatively put one foot in front of the other, reaching out for a wall or railing, wobbling as you go.

I instruct many students who, musically, have come from towns or scene situations where they were a big fish in a small pond. They enroll in a collegiate music program and realize maybe they aren’t such a commodity.
So, what to do? Firstly, realize everyone feels like this, and realize you’re comparing your internal to others’ external. Live through the wave. Tina Fay says, “”The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.”
Have you ever felt like a faker?

Listening: John Davis (S/T)

Watching: House of Cards (S3)