“Practice puts brains in your muscles.” (Sam Snead)
Daily, I am inspired, entertained, and even challenged by the thoughtful posts of my fellow bloggers. Recently, the wonderful Jennifer Balink at Jenny’s Lark set me off on a journey of recollection and recognition. Her lovely post recounted an experience where, as a teenager, she witnessed a friend’s mother react with grace to a situation where most of us would have a meltdown. It took years for Jenny to realize what it is that gives someone the ability to instantly respond to a setback with poise and perspective.
It isn’t virtue, or superhuman patience, or even piety. It’s practice. Tedious, mundane, sometimes even annoying, practice. As lackluster as that word may be, I believe it’s one of a dozen or so secrets to living one’s best life.
Practice is one of the most undervalued traits or actions that we humans have at our disposal. Given a choice, we’d much prefer innate genius, instantaneous transformation, or magic to make us better at some pursuit—or simply to become better humans—when the answer is practice. Just keep doing it. Just keep showing up.
“Don’t you have something a bit more wondrous . . . something, I dunno, maybe kinda sexy? Like enchantment, or sleight-of-hand, or maybe something I could buy with cryptocurrency?”Continue reading →
“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” (Jorge Luis Borges)
Lately, I’ve been purging a lot. No, not the stomach-heaving purge of despair or disgust (though ask me again on November 4), but merely the welcome elimination of excess paper, emails, and detritus surrounding me.
While thus engaged, I came across a wonderful article I first encountered in 2017, “The Man Who Doesn’t Read Women.” This is a meaty article—definitely worth your time and attention—but I will only address one part of it here.
The author, Lorraine Berry, describes a conversation she had with her neurologist while he was treating her for severe migraine headaches by injecting Botox into the muscle next to her eye. Knowing that Berry was a writer, the doctor engaged her in chat about books and authors—he being a voracious reader. During the conversation, she was shocked to hear him admit quite matter-of-factly that he had never read a book written by a woman.
Then he corrected himself to say that oh, yes, he had read one: Charlotte’s Web.Continue reading →
“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be.” (Abraham Maslow)
I have collected quotations for many years—inspirational quotes, humorous ones, profound, wise, and enigmatic ones. Hundreds of them are tacked onto cork board that lines one wall of my home office. Many are yellowed with age or so faded that I can barely read them. I often find myself standing in front of this assemblage and reacquainting myself with wise thinkers and thoughts, with ahas that speak directly to the heart of an attentive life. It’s always a pleasure to find a new quote and squeeze it onto the wall. There will be no Marie Kondo-ing of this space.
One quote that found me a couple of years ago, and was also immediately given both wall space and a spot on my writing desk, is by Sean Thomas Dougherty:
“Right now, there is someone out there with a wound in the exact shape of your words.”
“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” (Anna Quindlen)
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” -Albert Einstein
The incomparable Neil Gaiman usually posts a New Year’s message as one year closes and another opens. I love those annual wishes. They are inspiring messages of hope and optimism for the year ahead. You can read many of them here. I was thinking recently about a few lines from his 2011 New Year’s edict: “I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes . . . . Make new mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.” (Read the full message here.)
I think we often undervalue our mistakes. We try hard not to make them, and when we do make one, we often avoid thinking about it and perhaps even deny that we’ve erred. Do we fear others will think less of us if we are not perfect or if we admit our imperfection . . . or will we think less of ourselves?
Perfectionism is a terrible burden—and not something we should strive for. Gaiman further says, “…if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world….”
“I think the deeper you go into questions, the deeper or more interesting the questions get. And I think that’s the job of art.” (Andre Dubus III)
Recently, I was invited to submit a guest article for the SheWrites.com author blog. They suggested that I write about the connection between kindness and writing.
Over the last four years, I’ve explored kindness from every angle I could think of—and some were a bit of a stretch (baseball, jazz, cats). But I hadn’t thought much about kindness and writing, even though they’re two of my favorite things.
I’m pretty happy with the resulting article. Since it wouldn’t be proper to reprint the entire post here, I’m including the first couple of paragraphs and then a link to the full article on the SheWrites site. I hope it resonates for you.
What do writing and kindness have to do with one another? Why not conflate writing and prudence, or kindness and water-skiing? Is there more than just a passing connection between these two wondrous endeavors? Could it be that there’s an important place for kindness in the writer’s life and process?
In my multi-year exploration of kindness, I’ve noticed that some of the principles of living a kind life can also be applied to living the writerly life. There are skills that must be cultivated to extend kindness: learning to pause, learning to stay present and pay attention, withholding judgment, and employing curiosity, to name just a few. These same skills power a good writer. Where would we be without the capacity to wonder why, or notice details, or allow our story to unfold without judging our writing or our characters too quickly? Kindness also requires that we be patient, that we take the time necessary to achieve our desired goals. Writing? Ditto. And kindness asks us to overcome inertia and our own innate laziness to extend ourselves outside our comfort zone. Writing? Yep, that, too.