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February 19, 2014


Not the kind with teeth.

My comrade-in-arms (or “fellow knuckleballer” as he calls it) Austin Kleon has a new book coming out soon called Show Your Work. It’s a wonderful book, with good solid advice about how sharing and showing are as essential to creativity itself as they are to making a name for yourself. Austin is a big proponent of teaching what you know as part of that sharing, as a responsibility to your community. He’s also a very astute observer of the trouble with egos and creative community.

Austin’s got a word or two about vamipires. The kind that drain your creativity instead of your blood.

“There’s a funny story in John Richardson’s biography, A
Life of Picasso. Pablo Picasso was notorious for sucking all
the energy out of the people he met. His granddaughter
Marina claimed that he squeezed people like one of his
tubes of oil paints. You’d have a great time hanging out
all day with Picasso, and then you’d go home nervous and
exhausted, and Picasso would go back to his studio and
paint all night, using the energy he’d sucked out of you.
Most people put up with this because they got to hang
out with Picasso all day, but not Constantin Brancusi,
the Romanian-born sculptor. Brancusi hailed from the
Carpathian Mountains, and he knew a vampire when
he saw one. He was not going to have his energy or the
fruits of his energy juiced by Picasso, so he refused to have
anything to do with him.

Brancusi practiced what I call The Vampire Test. It’s a
simple way to know who you should let in and out of your
life. If, after hanging out with someone you feel worn out
and depleted, that person is a vampire. If, after hanging out
with someone you still feel full of energy, that person is not
a vampire. Of course, The Vampire Test works on many
things in our lives, not just people—you can apply it to jobs,
hobbies, places, etc.

Vampires cannot be cured. Should you find yourself in the
presence of a vampire, be like Brancusi, and banish it from
your life forever”

The metaphor is so sharp and apt, and it made me mournful. There are people I love to spend time with, and who I admire, and they aren’t malicious, they are lovely and vibrant and even generous. But I leave them and feel that exhaustion. They bring out my own anxieties, they inspire me to measure myself against things besides my own ambitions and standards. They are vampires all the same.

August 5, 2013

Interrupt the Program

Spoiler alert: I am about to tell you what to do.

1. Talk to a stranger

It’s simple, and harmless, and generous, a beautiful interruption. You can do it without even slowing down your pace. Catch someone’s eye, smile in passing, say “have a good day,” or “how’re you doing.” These are mundane utterances that are also deeply profound. They say to someone: I see you there, we are both people walking down this street or through this lobby, we are both real and it’s worth a nod to that. If you are still smiling for two seconds after you pass by, you are doing this right. You have created a moment of street intimacy.

2. Fall down a rabbit hole

Ignore the kerfuffle about what the internet is doing to your attention span. There are kinds of distraction that are deeply focused. There are many clicks involved in this. Someone, somewhere on your internet has posted something that intrigues you, that you want to know more about. Read it, watch it, wonder about it. What questions does it leave you with? Dig deeper into it. Or, what does it remind you of? Follow unexpected tangents. You are not scattered, you are on a quest. You are looking for answers. If what you find are more questions, you are doing this right. You have been distracted from what you were doing when you started all this. You have been curious.

3. Do nothing

Sit by yourself somewhere in public for 7 minutes without looking at your phone. It has to be somewhere without a TV. Neither of these are bad, I like them too. Do it anyway. This may make you uncomfortable. Do it anyway. Unless you choose to sleep, you will find that you are forced to look at something. What is it? Are you reading signs or looking at things in store windows? Are you looking at other people? Are you looking at trees? Water? Sand? Cement? If you start talking to yourself in your head, you are doing this right. I should have said at the beginning, take a pen in case you want to write something down. You can write on your hand, it’ll wash off. You have been awake.

(Also posted on Medium, if you read there and want to comment).

June 6, 2013

Ed Tech Innovators, Start Here

Online education at a massive scale has become commonplace, and that makes me worried—for learners, for the higher education industry, for the public good.

Let’s assume that’s not going to change. And for now, let’s set aside the hard questions about access, quality, the role of higher education, for-profit education, the value of professors and the curricula they develop in concert at individual schools.

For learners, there is another critical issue that hasn’t been put solidly on the table. It’s simple. Classrooms are conversational spaces. Learning happens through student collaboration, community and conversation, far more than it happens in lectures and tests. MOOCs replicate a lot of the worst things about traditional school, and the one thing they fail to reproduce is the only one that really matters. Online learning in whatever forms it takes needs well designed conversational spaces too. That means, at minimum, attention to group sizes and composition within large populations, useful moderation, an innovative conversational structure that doesn’t rely on threaded comments. This is a non-trivial problem, and it’s the most important one for technologists to tackle.

The real promise of online education is the idea that we can design educational experiences that put collaboration at the center, that let students connect meaningfully, whether they are working through established learning channels or in collaborations of their own making. This is a chance to do something amazing.

C’mon technologists. Bring it.

April 4, 2012

Speaking at the Skillshare Penny Conference

I’ll be talking about my research for Don’t Go Back to School at Skillshare’s Penny Conference on April 20.

Here’s a discount code for tickets!

And here’s a description of the conference and other speakers:
Skillshare will be hosting its first education conference, Penny Conference at The Times Center on April 20th (1-5PM). Penny is an intellectually-charged experience where people and ideas come together. A space where curiosity, discovery, and collaboration will challenge the status quo of institutions like education. Speakers include Adora Svitak (Child Prodigy Writer), Charles Best (CEO of, Zach Sims (Co-founder of Codecademy), Kio Stark (author of Follow Me Down), Baratunde Thurston (Director of Digital for The Onion), Tony Wagner (Co-founder of Change Leadership Group), and Adam Braun (Founder of Pencil of Promise).

January 2, 2012

Still want a copy of Don’t Go Back to School?

The Kickstarter campaign is over–and wow! Over 1500 copies are going out as rewards when the book is done later this year.

If you missed the Kickstarter but still want to get a copy, give me your name and email here, and I’ll let you know when it’s ready for purchase.

Many thanks to all the backers and to the Kickstarter community team for giving the project so much love.

November 9, 2011

New book project: Don’t Go Back to School on Kickstarter!

I’m putting together a handbook for independent learning called Don’t Go Back to School, and funding it on Kickstarter. I’d be so grateful for your support. Please check it out and spread the word.

September 20, 2011

upcoming event–reading at KGB Bar

I’ll be reading at KGB Bar this Sunday at 7PM, with Lynne Tillman and others from Red Lemonade.

September 2, 2011

upcoming events–book party Sept 6, reading Sept 11

My publisher, Red Lemonade is throwing a book party for Follow Me Down–everyone’s invited! Words, special Red Lemonade fizzys, and music.

Tuesday Sept 6
The Bell House
149 7th Street, Brooklyn

I’ll also be reading at Sunny’s in Red Hook on Sept 11, at 3PM.

July 16, 2011

Follow Me Down ebook available (Kindle & Nook)

My novel Follow Me Down is now available for the Kindle!

And for the Nook!

June 9, 2011


I now have a person page on Facebook for book-related news. Go there to check out the time-lapse video of Ian Crowther shooting the cover photo for Follow Me Down. You can use the Like button for the page if you want to get updates in your stream.