Ash Blankenship

Writer / Geek

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How We Read

On a recent weeknight, as I sat in bed reading The Martian on my Kindle, I realized that I missed paperback books. For me, turning pages had become a lost art. I missed the feel and even the smell of books. It was at that moment that I decided to purchase a paperback version of Andy Weir’s The Martian the following day.

When I arrived at Hudson News, a small nondescript store nestled between the Amtrak terminal and a fast food restaurant in D.C.’s Union Station, I made my way to the bestsellers section. The book I sought was on the bottom shelf, just below the latest Nicholas Sparks novel. I picked it up and fanned through it, letting the pages blow air onto my face. A familiar and comforting smell met my nose. I was immediately transformed back to a time when I read paperbacks, a time before impulsive ebook purchases.

I once believed that ebook readers would transform the way I...

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Books As Friends

Last autumn I moved and in the process I got rid of many books. It made the transition easier, but as a result I lost a few friends.

Books, those simple bound pieces of paper we seem to have either too few or too many of, are often more valuable to us than we realize. Take, for example, my copy of The Catcher in the Rye. It’s a book I never read as a kid, but I feel in love with it when I first read it two years ago. It was not a book to be culled. Though somehow it was lost during my move. Tossed out among old bills, magazines and unused tax forms, perhaps.

There’s something sentimental about books. They bring back memories, whether good or bad, set forth influences and even help us overcome hardships. The Alchemist was a source of inspiration to me. Coelho’s masterpiece was a beacon in a smog of fear and desperation that helped me find my true self and allowed me to gain hope along...

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In Praise of Slowness

I used to believe that the key to success was efficiency. I would work through a task as quickly as possible, then move on to another and repeat the process. It felt good to mark items off my to-do list. So good, in fact, I got a high from it. Working quickly became an addiction, but over time I realized that the quality of my work suffered as a result and I was left feeling exhausted at the end of the day.

To overcome this anxiety, I knew I needed to slow down. I needed to perform a task to its fullest and to do so mindfully. Making the decision to savor my work was easy, actually slowing down was a challenge.

Breaking the habit of multitasking and speed required special attention to my work. I had to be mindful of each task and be aware of my work style.

Once I learned to slow down, I began to not only improve my work, but get more done in the process. I also experienced more joy...

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When in Doubt, Write

During the past seven months, my life has been full of uncertainty and doubt. With so many changes taking place, I felt little security, but I had one thing that helped me move forward in the face of challenges: writing.

Writing is not only a task I enjoy, it’s part of who I am and no one can change that or take it away. I find comfort in this fact.

During times when I feel lost at sea, unable to find land that will offer comfort, writing acts as my paddle. It is the tool that allows me to make my way to land once again. It is also a source of hope. It saves me every time.

I know this from experience. A few years ago, I went through similar challenges and writing was the driving force that led me back into the light. And I’m not alone.

Even some of the most famous writers did their best work during challenging times. Emily Dickinson struggled with depression and possibly bipolar...

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Writing is Easy, Until it is Hard

Screw prose. Screw complete sentences. Screw political correctness. I often write because I can’t find the right words when I speak. It even takes many taps on the delete key for me to find the correct way to share my thoughts and ideas on the screen. And often when that develops, it fails to meet the standards of what is expected of good writing. But that’s okay, because I’d rather write from the heart than to focus my attention on proper writing.

This is the first draft, it’s the part of our writing that doesn’t have to be done right. In fact, throwing your thoughts onto the screen is the only way to write a draft. There’s no need to worry about prose or sentence structure. This is the easy part of writing. This is our moment to type our thoughts as fast as we can. It’s akin to running through a field of flowers on a summer evening. We don’t think about the proper way to run, we...

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The Pursuit of Money

Money may not buy happiness, but when you don’t have it, life can feel quite gloomy. It’s stressful to not know how you’re going to make ends meet; when you’re uncertain as to how you’ll make rent payments or buy groceries.

Suze Orman writes in The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom that “[t]here isn’t a part of our lives that money doesn’t touch—it affects our relationships, the way we go about our everyday activities, our ability to make dreams reality, everything.”

The importance of money in our lives is apparent. All of us know this from experience.

We go through cycles of prosperity and loss. A new job may lead to greater wealth, but a job loss creates insecurity. For this reason, our views toward money often change. We love it when we have it, hate it when we don’t. But how we think about money often affects our relationship with it.

There are those who always think they’ll never...

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The Essence of Nature

John Muir once said that “[i]n every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

Anyone who has spent time in nature understands Muir’s words. To be a wanderer among trees, fields, plants and wildlife is to experience the world as it is—in its natural beauty.

Having grown up in a rural area, I spent many days as a kid wandering through the woods. I hiked, sat in fields to watch the sun set and climbed trees to get better views.

At the time, I was truly immersing myself in nature, but things changed and a few years ago I moved into the city. I was lured by the promise of having coffee shops nearby, access to public transit and the appeal of not having to own a car.

These days, most of us are urban dwellers. We commute to work via rivers of pavement, live in stacked apartments that offer skyline views of the city and walk to bars and pubs that encircle our places of habit....

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Simplifying: My Massive Spring Cleaning Effort

I’ve been performing a massive spring cleaning process lately.

Earlier this week, I cut up two debits cards and a credit card. I took action to not only cut my future spending, but to reduce the number of cards I carry. I also closed two checking accounts. I’m left with one checking account, one savings account, and one credit card.

I’ve also downsized my wallet, carrying only a Supr slim wallet (now with only three cards!). Earlier this year, I reduced the number of clothes in my closet, tossing aside all the shirts and shoes I no longer wore. I also went through over a decade worth of papers, receipts, and letters, tossing out all but a few.

I’ve downsized my digital life as well. I unfriended half a dozen “friends” on Facebook, unfollowed about 100 folks on Twitter, and closed unused accounts including Google and Spotify. I deleted apps on my iPhone and Mac, removed hundreds of...

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How We Write

Last month, I had a conversation with the user experience team at Medium. I’m a frequent writer on their site and they wanted to know how I was using the platform to share my work.

They were also interested in learning more about my writing process. When I was asked to explain this procedure, I stumbled to find an answer. “That’s a great question,” I said, unsure what to say next.

I quickly gathered my thoughts and stated that I often find influences in the things I read. This is true, but after more consideration of my writing process, I realized that my personal experiences influence my writing more than the articles I read.

Over the past few years, I’ve written about rejection, happiness, creativity, and many other topics. All of these stories were in some way related to my own personal experiences.

Our experiences, both good and bad, shape our writing. They influence how we...

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How I Became a Fanboy

My first computer was a Gateway PC. It was an unattractive beige box, which allowed me to access the internet, supplied me with a inadequate word processor, and gave me an opportunity to learn to code. But what my PC didn’t do was gain access to my heart.

My personal computer was anything but personal. It was simply a device that allowed me to work differently. I could have lived without it.

It wasn’t until my second computer that I began to gain a personal affection for the device that took up so much space on my desk. It was the original iMac.

Its colorful transparent casing was “cool” but it was also different. It was a statement as much a it was a computing device. The iMac’s focus on design was proof that we could have a personal computer with great looks.

The original iMac had its flaws. Mac OS 9 froze often, it lacked software I needed to do my work effectively, and for...

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