A Man Had a Thought About Tech-Wise Families

I started an online book group with a couple of friends, David K. and Jon B. The second book we read (just finished last week) was The Tech-Wise Family, by Andy Crouch. It was pretty good, holding the football steady so we could kick off a lively discussion. I’m not going to summarize or review it here. I just want to talk about something Crouch says in the section called “Shaping Space.”

He says that his one key recommendation, his if-you-only-remember-one-thing-from-this-book recommendation, is this: “Find the room where your family spends the most time and ruthlessly eliminate the things that ask little of you and develop little in you.” Good advice. Push yourself to become skillful in things. Pursue wisdom and gain courage. When I started to think about how I would apply this is my family, however, I immediately had questions…

My wife and I are sitting on the sofa in our living room right now, she reading, I typing this sentence. The wall opposite the sofa is mostly covered with books. To the left of the bookshelves is an electric keyboard, piled with sheet music. Above that hang two guitars. Now, this seems to pass the tech-wise assessment test. Books and musical instruments ask a lot of you and develop a lot in you, right? That may be true, but that’s not why we have them in our living room. We have the books because we enjoy reading. We have the instruments because we enjoy playing them. We hope that our daughter will enjoy both activities, too, of course, and so far, she does.

But let’s imagine that we had on the wall of our living room, not books, but a giant TV (like we do in the bedroom, ahem…). And let’s imagine that, after reading Tech-Wise, my wife and I agreed to ruthlessly eliminate the TV and replace it with a complete set of Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World. Would we grow apt to pull a volume down and flip through it? I don’t think so. Far more needs to change than the furniture.

I still think Crouch’s advice is good. (And you should still read the book.) The architecture and layout of your home will affect how you spend your time there. But I think we need to spend more time thinking about the role enjoyment plays in all of this. I can all too easily imagine a father and mother who, determined to ask more of their family, make their home a place where nobody wants to be (including the two of them). If you are really trying to wean yourself off your TV or smartphone or Netflix subscription, start with something small and enjoyable. Instead of the Great Books, replace your TV with a bunch of Tintin and the Complete Calvin and Hobbes.

 

A Man Presents Some of the Most Useful Titles from the Theopolis Library

  • It’s a Gas: A Study of Flatulence
  • It’s Not News, It’s Fark
  • Flower Thoughts: A Selection
  • Arsy Varsy, and its sequel, Varsy Arsy
  • The Importance of Wearing Clothes
    • This last one is dedicated to John Steinbeck, which makes me wonder if he had a predilection towards nudism. (When I told him this, Dave said: Gives a new meaning to “Grapes of Wrath,” doesn’t it?)

A Man Goes Where Creative Work is Happening

On David K’s recommendation, I’m reading Jeff Goins’ book Real Artists Don’t Starve. Goins is attacking some common myths that hang around artistic types, like the idea that making money means you sold out, or the notion that success is all a matter of blind luck. Believe it or not, you can work things to your advantage in your pursuit of art. Goins distills his advice into a dozen principles, which he doesn’t call The Twelve Rules of Goins, but I’m going to.

Behold, the Twelve Rules of Goins.

1. The Starving Artist believes you must be born an artist. The Thriving Artist knows you must become one.
2. The Starving Artist strives to be original. The Thriving Artist steals from his influences.
3. The Starving Artist believes he has enough talent. The Thriving Artist apprentices under a master.
4. The Starving Artist is stubborn about everything. The Thriving Artist is stubborn about the right things.
5. The Starving Artist waits to be noticed. The Thriving Artist cultivates patrons.
6. The Starving Artist believes he can be creative anywhere. The Thriving Artist goes where creative work is already happening.
7. The Starving Artist always works alone. The Thriving Artist collaborates with others.
8. The Starving Artist does his work in private. The Thriving Artist practices in public.
9. The Starving Artist works for free. The Thriving Artist always works for something.
10. The Starving Artist sells out too soon. The Thriving Artist owns his work.
11. The Starving Artist masters one craft. The Thriving Artist masters many.
12. The Starving Artist despises the need for money. The Thriving Artist makes money to make art.

Some solid advice there. Take a closer look at #6: The Thriving Artist goes where creative work is already happening. In that chapter, Goins quotes a little detail from Patti Smith on why so many creative types moved to New York in the 1970s: “It was cheap to live here, really cheap.” Obviously NYC is the furthest thing from cheap nowadays. But the art scene of the 1970s is a big reason why the city still holds a flavor that so many hip youngsters find irresistible. Apparently the cycle goes something like this: a bunch of creative people move to a cheap town, meet each other, do their creative thing, and attract lots of other people who want to live in a happenin’ place.

That right there is seventy percent of the reason T and I moved to Birmingham. It’s cheap to live here, really cheap. When don’t have to worry so much about stacking the wampum, you have the luxury to spend your time on other, more creative pursuits. And when those creative pursuits do start to turn a profit, the profit doesn’t have to be enormous for you to make ends meet.

One final thought: my friend Daniel pointed out that there’s this assumption underneath these twelve principles that Thriving Artists are the real artists, whereas Starving Artists are poseurs. Goins makes that assumption explicit in the title of the book: real artists don’t starve. The implication is that, if you aren’t making money on your art, you’re not a real artist. When you get right down to it, is that any more helpful that the reverse? There’s nothing wrong with an electrician who writes music in his spare time and never makes a nickel from it.