2001 is the year in which the iPod changed my life. At the time, I lived in South Kensington, London and worked in Mayfair, making my commute a 45 minute walk through Hyde Park during which I would listen to music. 1.5 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year added up to 23,400 minutes when I was awake, alert, and wasting time.
I hadn’t truly appreciated this obvious fact until one night a friend confided to me that he wished he could play the guitar. I know people make this kind of statement all the time, but for some reason, this time it stuck in my head, replaying over and over again. By the end of the night, his comment had grown into irritation.
Wishing should be reserved for things beyond your control, like winning the lottery or your kid getting into the college of their choice. Learning how to play the guitar, on the other hand, can be accomplished with absolute certainly. All you have to do is put in the time. In other words, you either want it and accomplish it, or you don’t. If I was being totally honest with myself, though, it wasn’t my friend’s wish that had really irritated me, it was all of my own wishes that remained unfulfilled.
Thanks to Steve Jobs, I could redirect that irritation, immediately. I purchased all 33 cd’s in Series 1 of the Pimsleur German Language program, ripped and downloaded them to my iPod. When I had listened to each of them at least three times, I ordered the next 33, and the next. After 10 months, I had completed the entire program. I’d never seen a written word of German nor spoken it to anyone, except myself when repeating after the recording (yes, I attracted my share of funny looks), but was hungry for more. I opted for an intensive course in Berlin.
16 days where you are completely immersed in the language. You live with a German family and attend classes all day long where only German is spoken. By the end of the course, Berliners on the streets were responding to my questions in German and I was thinking auf Deutsch rather than translating everything in my head to English, and back.
Just 10 months after making the decision to stop wishing and start achieving, I was back in Berlin with my son, speaking to locals in their language. He was astonished, but what was truly amazing is that there was nothing amazing about it. I had made the simple decision to live my life deliberately, and nothing would ever be the same again.
I began selecting other items from my “wish” list, and ticking them off one by one. I raced cars, learned aerobatic flying, snowboarding, and ice waterfall climbing, to name just a few. Then I took it to the next level, formalizing the process through New Year’s resolutions.
In 2007, the year I moved to Santa Barbara, although I’d never been on a hike in my life, I publicly pronounced my goal to hike every trail in our mountains. I bought a map, marked them off one by one until I’d done them all at least once, and even kept a log of each hike on a website for all to see. Of course, the website didn’t get many hits, but the possibility that someone might read it kept me motivated to keep going.
2009 was the year of Biblio-Inspiration, in which I would attempt to read 50 books. Again, I kept a blog with reviews and excerpts I found interesting from all 50, and again, very few people took notice.
For 2012, I set 12 learning resolutions and 12 giving resolutions, chronicling my progress on the website, 12for2012.com. Learning resolutions were defined as “quirky, seemingly difficult things that most people marvel at, yet could be accomplished if you just make an effort and have the discipline and tenacity to stick with it.” The Giving Resolutions were defined as “12 charitable things that don’t involve writing a check.”
On the charitable side, among other things, I built homes in Arizona for those in need, fostered a pitbull set to be put down 12 hours later, and registered to be a marrow donor. Not all of my attempts to give were received quite so well, though. My blood was rejected because I had lived in the UK, my sperm because of my age and my hair because it is grey. So much for feeling good about myself.
Some of the things I learned that year were, how to unicycle, play the drums, ballroom dance, and on my wife’s suggestion, knit. Initially, the plan was to knit a scarf, but to be honest, I wasn’t very inspired. Since the 2007 resolution to hike every trail, I have continued hiking 3 or 4 times a week, logging over 1,000 miles a year in the mountains. One day, while sitting under a 40 foot tall eucalyptus tree, 2.6 miles up the Cold Spring Trail, it hit me. Inspired by my childhood in South Florida, when Christo wrapped 11 islands in Biscayne Bay with pink fiber, I decided I would attempt to wrap that tree in knitted yarn. It turned out, the 2nd Annual International Yarnbombing Day was just 82 days from that moment, so I hadn’t any time to spare.
If you’re interested, you can read the details of this endeavor and the rest of the resolutions from that year at 12for2012.com. For brevity’s sake, suffice it to say, I accomplished my goal by knitting often and recruiting help through social media. In the end, I had 400 square feet of knitted pieces which I donated to WarmUp America, a charity that converts it into scarves and blankets for those in need.
When I shipped off that yarn, I thought I was done with it forever, but a funny thing happened, something I hadn’t anticipated. Suddenly, images of my tree started popping up all over the internet. Blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and business websites had not just pictures of the yarnbomb, but stories about how it made people feel to have seen it in person.
A non-profit in South Africa tracked me down, asking if I would help them do something similar in order to raise money and awareness. Another, in Stratford-on-Avon, England, included images of my work and noted me as the inspiration for their own project, in a presentation they were using to raise funds. Then a woman who had contributed a piece to my project was asking for help with her own yarnbomb installation. She needed contributions to be crocheted, though. So, I watched a video on YouTube, crocheted 27 pieces and shipped them off to her. I was hooked.
Over the next few months, I covered a massive boulder atop the Saddlerock Trail, weaved a giant spiderweb at Sasquatch Cave and created a huge Starfish which I hung 40 feet above the pools at Seven Falls. In May 2014, I wrapped 18 large boulders at Lizard’s Mouth, with knitted and crocheted yarn sent to me by 388 fiber artists in 36 countries and all 50 states. (Details at Yarnbomber.com)
The feedback has been phenomenal and with each installation, interest in my hobby has grown. The National Forest Service was quoted in the newspapers as saying the Lizard’s Mouth installation was “one of the most positive things to happen in the forests in a long time.” There have been multi-page and cover stories in all the regional newspapers, television news and even ArtNews Magazine, the oldest and most widely read art publication in the world did a full page story on it all last month. Sullivan Goss, one of the most prestigious galleries in America now represents my work and is funding the next installation. Red Heart Yarn, is sponsoring my attempt to set the Guinness World Record for the largest granny square. Perhaps most incredible of all, I have 25,000+ followers on social media and more than 15,000 unique visitors a month to my website, YarnBomber.com. All of which has been accomplished without the assistance of a public relations firm or much of an effort on my part.
In addition, I have had the privilege of speaking at corporate events and colleges, not so much about the artwork, but on the process of pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones, to realize our true potential. I’m often asked how it is that one person can occupy two seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum, investment management and large scale installation art in the wilderness. What is it that connects these two pursuits? The answer lies in the process. I believe that to be successful in global macro investing and to produce memorable, unique artwork requires an ability, and willingness, to see things differently, the tenacity to press on when others tire of asking “Why?” and “Why not?”, and the courage to venture out beyond where the majority congregates.