This is why I write things down (and why you should, too)

Keep a Journal

Remembering what they say is the best reason to keep a journal

I was glancing through recent entries in my journal and found this gem from March 9, 2013:

Grace: “It’s been soo long since I was swimming in a pool!”
Char: “I know, it’s great.”
Grace: “It’s so much better than trying to do it in the bathtub!”

I had no memory of this. If I hadn’t written it down, it would have been lost forever. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me.

It’s happening to you, too, whether you know it or not. So start writing things down.

For simplicity, I’m using Day One, a Mac-based digital journal that makes it simple to record little items like this and longer form entries. I highly recommend it.

I also found this tip from Michael Hyatt the other day and I’ve been trying it since I read it. I think he’s definitely on to something. His advice? Use a template to prompt your entries. Here’s the (short) article where he lays it out and provides the template he uses. Try it, it works.

This is about truth. This is about choice. This is about life before death…This is Water.

In a commencement address in 2005, David Foster Wallace told the graduates of Kenyon College that they were about to face a life of boredom, routine, and petty frustration. He said, “The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what ‘day in day out’ really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. [One of these is that] the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace (Photo credit: Steve Rhodes)

He then explains that the real value of their education is not in teaching them to think,
but in teaching them how to think, by providing them the ability to make a choice about what they think, and when they think it. He continues:

But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“This is water.”

I could go on about this, but I could never do it the justice that the author did, so I will merely provide the following and encourage you– as strongly as possible– to watch it and then read the transcript. I’m telling you, truer words may have never been spoken and few commencement addresses provide as much real world advice to graduates. This should be required reading in colleges throughout the country.

Video: This is Water

A note about the author: David Foster Wallace was an award-winning American novelist, short story writer and essayist (as demonstrated with applomb by “This is Water.” His second novel, Infinite Jest, was cited as one of the 100 best novels from 1923-2005 by Time magazine. 

Sadly, he suffered greatly from depression and hung himself in 2008, at the age of 46.

 

 

Love that dog… and that boy

Love That Dog

Love That Dog (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Jack loves to read; always has. Last night he shared with me his latest ‘favorite’ story, a delightful little book called Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. It is, appropriately, the story of a boy named Jack, his dog, his teacher, and – eventually – his words. Creech describes it like this:

The story develops through Jack’s responses to his teacher, Miss Stretchberry, over the course of a school year. At first, his responses are short and cranky: “I don’t want to” and “I tried. Can’t do it. Brain’s empty.” But as his teacher feeds him inspiration, Jack finds that he has a lot to say and he finds ways to say it.

Jack is both stubborn and warm-hearted, and he can be both serious and funny. Although he hates poetry at first, he begins to find poems that inspire him. All year long, he is trying to find a way to talk about his beloved dog, Sky, and the poems his teacher offers him eventually give him a way to do that.

In the book, Jack becomes especially enamored by the poem “Love That Boy” written by Walter Dean Myers. Ultimately, it is this work that inspires Jack to tell the whole story of his dog, Sky.

When I walked in the door last night, Jack’s first request was for the sequel to Love That Dog, the appropriately-named Hate That Cat.

I love that Jack loves to read. I’ll be absolutely thrilled when he decides he also wants to write.

Here is “Love That Boy” in full:

Love that boy,
like a rabbit loves to run
I said I love that boy
like a rabbit loves to run
Love to call him in the morning
love to call him
“Hey there, son!”

He walk like his Grandpa,
Grins like his Uncle Ben.
I said he walk like his Grandpa,
And grins like his Uncle Ben.
Grins when he’s happy,
When he sad, he grins again.

His mama like to hold him,
Like to feed him cherry pie.
I said his mama like to hold him.
Like to feed him that cherry pie.
She can have him now,
I’ll get him by and by

He got long roads to walk down
Before the setting sun.
I said he got a long, long road to walk down
Before the setting sun.
He’ll be a long stride walker,
And a good man before he done.
Walter Dean Myers

Silence speaks volumes. Are you listening?

Take time to listen...

Take time to listen…

Sabina Nawaz wrote a post today about setting aside time for silence to allow ideas to emerge and new concepts to form. I don’t think I could agree more. This frenetic pace we’re all on to do more with (seemingly) less time has caused a crises of sorts. If we’re surrounded by even 30 seconds of silence, many of us will reach for our iPhones to check email.

In her post, she talks about coaching executives:

Frequently they tell me about the sacrifices they’ve made for their work: how they’ve slept only three hours the night before, haven’t exercised in months, missed their children’s games. They’re busy because their work is important. They operate under tight timelines and competitive pressures. The stakes are high.

In response, she suggest they try something counter-intuitive: Do less. She recalls John Cage‘s seminal piece 4’33”, which consists of exactly four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but you might find it difficult to sit still that long. When the BBC aired the performance, they had to turn off their emergency systems that are designed to automatically fill silence with music. I suspect that your emergency systems would kick in almost as quickly as the radio stations. But silence is exactly what all of us need more of.

If you’re stuck on a problem and the answers evade you, silence can lead the way. If you have writer’s block and can’t seem to find the perfect word (or the motivation to look for it), try silence. If your teenager asks for a car, silence might just work wonders. (Just kidding.)

Nawaz suggest some tips for making your forays into the world of silence successful. Intention is the key, she says:

Set aside a specific time. Find two hours a week. It’s helpful to block out times that are least likely to be requested for meetings: Friday afternoons or before colleagues arrive in the morning.

Turn off the noise. This is not the time to answer emails or tackle a long-neglected project.

Experiment until you find the right format for you. Some people stay at their computers but turn off all Internet access; others journal. Some leave the office to avoid interruptions; they go to a separate building, on a long walk, or a drive into the mountains.

Keep your white space dates. Just as you don’t build muscles by showing up sporadically at the gym, perspective isn’t something you find once and then never need to foster again.

For me, I’ve turned off the radio in the car. I often ride without headphones. The hour I spend in Adoration each week is perhaps the most perfect silence I’ve found. You may find it differently… you may also find that anytime you sit quietly for four minutes you fall asleep, which is really telling you something else entirely.

To whom should I turn?

I have a friend who is sick… again. I have another friend who is jobless. Another whose marriage is failing. Another who is far, far from home. And another… And another… Each of them are facing the future with all the courage they can muster, though a shallow fear may be lying just below the surface. To whom should I turn with my concern for each?

In contrast, I have found increasing abundance. There are a myriad of tiny blessings in every moment. When I reach out and pick up my child, hold her in my arms and feel her breath on my ear when she says, “I love you, Daddy;” there are a million facets required to experience something so simple yet so profound. They  should be duly noted, correctly attributed, and faithfully called out, each in turn. And then: appreciation. To whom should my gratitude be directed for all that I have; all that I am?  To what do I owe my undeserved fortune?

To God, perhaps? I think so. And maybe this gratitude is a simple act of faith and humility, courage and conviction, and the absolute surrender of any semblance of control. I am responsible for my own actions and reactions, but certainly not for anything else… Though I may work hard to understand and appreciate, I created neither the mind nor the heart that makes it possible.

I am reminded a quote I’ve heard only a few times but remember well:

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day.”

– Abraham Lincoln

If Lincoln, accomplished and successful as he was, was driven to his knees to find solace, strength, and peace– especially in light of the crisis he was facing– that’s good enough for me, too.

[Ed. note: Speaking of Lincoln, I highly recommend this short piece by Jamie Stiehm discussing his “Farewell to Springfield.” It’s a wonderful, humanizing look at this eloquent man who could speak off the cuff as perfectly as if he’d been toiling over drafts for days… And here is yet another account of the entire day, especially noting the time spent in Indianapolis, well documented and artfully expressed by Ted Widmer of the New York Times.]