Musings: Dusty Books and Dustier Tapestries

IMG_0051.JPGThis post is just an article dump of a few recent readings I’ve enjoyed, with metaphors mixed in. It secondarily adds to the twenty by twenty challenge, if interested.

A close encounter with multi-colored threads is anarchy–chaotic and free
form. But from a distance, the emergence of shapes and the convergence of colors create structured images…tapestries.

Since last week’s post initiated our journey into word associations, here’s one of my favorite associations with the word tapestry:

Butler: [Answering door] Yes?
Indiana Jones: [In Scottish accent] Not before time! did you intend to leave us standing on the doorstep all day? we’re drenched
[sneezes in butler’s face]
Indiana Jones: Now look, I’ve gone and caught a sniffle
Butler: Are you expected?
Indiana Jones: Don’t take that tone with me my good man! Now buttle off and tell Baron Brunwald that Lord Clarence McDonald and his lovely assistant
[Drags Elsa towards him]
Indiana Jones: are here to view the tapestries
Butler: Tapestries?
Indiana Jones: The old man is dense, this is a castle isn’t it? there are tapestries
Butler: This is a castle and we have many tapestries, and if you are a Scottish lord then I am Mickey Mouse!
Indiana Jones: How dare he?
[punches butler in face]

–The Last Crusade

Who doesn’t like tapestries when they’re paired with dusty fedoras and boyish wit? It’s better than the usual effeminate associations.

Another association with tapestries is what I like to call “tapestry moments”. Those moments where extraneous details converge and eerily make sense together to form a bigger, connected picture. This happened recently with some seemingly extraneous details in my blog posts. I found an interesting article on personality questionnaires that suddenly forced these details from previous posts to converge:

The article is about Joan Didion, who inspired my musing on surrender. She’s responding to a questionnaire made famous by Marcel Proust, referenced in my post on beauty with his prologue quote. And that questionnaire, referenced in this article with creative repurposing, represents a Victorian version of personality assessments, ones that are essential to our work at Wellspring.

Furthermore, one of the points made on the questionnaire is useful to the twenty by twenty challenge: “Which words or phrases do you most overuse?”

As you’re working your way through the “reading list,” you may have noticed unexpected, surprising, and possibly emotional associations have emerged. If so, you’re on the right track.

In the same way, the associations you have with your well-worn words are significant. Those favorited words that we over-use represent a particular angle from which we view the world, as well as a set of positive reinforcements we’ve received for using them (a nod, a smile, increased interest in conversation, etc.). They’re carefully chosen and intentional, and often well-received, which reinforces their value to speaker and audience alike. Plus, they’re contagious. We have all enhanced our vocabularies from stealing others’ favorite words. This is why the best readers often make the best writers. They’re born to plagiarize. In the best possible way, of course.

Noticing your favorited words could be a way to deepen the benefit gained from the reading challenge. How do your associations with your over-used words fit with the emerging themes of twenty by twenty? How do the connections converge with other associations to create a significant theme, or life theme?

My takeaway about the extraneous details that converged in the Didion/Proust article?

Tapestry moments are. You can miss them or you can spot them, but they’re tangible nonetheless. If you do spot them, what next?

Oh, and by the way, for those “Fall reading list” followers who favor old, dusty books, check out the chemical romance that inspires this affinity.

Musings: Back to School

IMG_0028-0.JPG

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. –Maya Angelou

I would favor an addition to the list: the first day of school.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles that rite of passage. Parents are in mourning, children are celebrating…or is it vice versa? Teachers are bracing, ready to relive the Cold War and bunker under desks. Okay, maybe not all of them. Some teachers like the first day of school, much to the parents’ confusion.

Yes, you can tell a lot by that first day. So much of our cultural cadence fixes on the rhythms of the school year. And, I must say, so do our emotions. Those emotions, representing the collective cultural psyche, ebb and flow with the learning calendar. During the school year, routines re-emerge and the pace accelerates. We’re mostly all hurrying at the same times and slowing at the same times, with anxiety and impatience or boredom to match.

School year boredom is conquered by leaping from one awesome event to another. We’re perched precariously on the edges of our calendars to avoid landing on the unspecial days. And when there’s been too much family time or too much school time without the proper balance, there’s a palpable tension in the air, everywhere. We’re all a bit more impatient for things to reset, whether it’s for Christmas break to finally end, or for Spring break to hurry up and get here.

When we spend our time leaping from one event to another, time accelerates. And when time accelerates too quickly, we lose our bearings. We end up destabilized and anxious about lost time. We can also end up disillusioned by the special moments we’ve been living for that have failed our lofty expectations.

As we begin another school year and face the possibility of being swept up in the cultural tide, I hope we’ll each consider this. The first day of school can be a rite of passage into another year of life on fast forward, or, an opportunity to hit pause, observe, and decide: Will I show up for every single day of my life, poised and ready? Or will I discard the in-between moments and live for the highlight reel?

You can tell a lot about a person by how she handles the first day of school. But you can tell a lot more by how she handles the second day, the twelfth day, and the ninety-seventh.

Musings: Waiting

Waiting

If you want to know what it means to wait, talk to an insomniac.  They’re experts on the subject.

They’ve mapped the trajectory of the sun creeping up the curtains.  They’ve watched it flood over that one crack in the wall, a timeless marker, signaling they’re free to get out of bed now.  They take comfort in the sun’s power to liberate them from the pretense of sleep.  It means they can finally get on with their day–a day that secretly started hours ago.

If you want to know the discomfort of waiting, talk to an insomniac.

…………………………

The discomfort of waiting hits our bodies with the utterance of one word: Helplessness.

Think, for a moment, about how you hate being stuck in the slow lane at the grocery store.  Why?  You can’t do anything about it.  You have no control over the pace.  You stand there all jittery with impatience, flipping through a magazine to distract yourself from what you can’t change, from the way your plans are being disrupted in real time by the treachery of an over-populated line.

Most of us are really bad at waiting, because most of us hate feeling helpless.  Okay, so “most of us” is an understatement.

Even when we’ve decided something’s worth waiting for, it’s still uncomfortable.  While we’re waiting we summon a million anxious thoughts.  We mull over the “what ifs” and play out a variety of catastrophic scenarios, often ending with death, or destruction, or man-eating alligators.

As if helplessness isn’t enough, we feel something else that’s equally dreadful: we feel unresolved.  Maybe you’re waiting for THE phone call, or to find out if your loved one made it home safely; maybe you’re anxious for those MRI results, or maybe you need your house to sell, yesterday.  What marks the capstone events that follow these waiting periods is resolution.  Our humanity is crazy in love with resolution.  Only we want good resolution, of course.

But if we live for resolution, we disrespect all the moments in between.

I’ve learned far more from waiting than doing.  But that was only when I chose to view waiting as a discipline.  A discipline is a process of cultivating self-control and focused attention around a particular theme.  A discipline has intrinsic value when it moves us towards a meaningful goal.

When we dig in, we discover a savory truth.  The truth is we’re always waiting.  We’re always anticipating and dreading something.  Embrace it.  Waiting is omnipresent.

Pregnancy is a laborious act of waiting.  But those nine months are as necessary for mom as they are for baby.  If a woman denies she’s pregnant for the first eight months, she’ll panic at the end.  Overwhelmed by the unfinished work of the pregnancy, she can’t appreciate the miraculous outcome.  And after her baby is born she’ll be confronted with a whole new and indescribably transcendent experience of waiting.  If she tries to avoid that, she’ll miss the miracles that continue to trail behind.

We dislike waiting because we feel helpless to change what’s unresolved and we’re crazy about resolution.  The answer is to embrace discipline rather than avoidance.  If we’re always waiting, we might as well honor what we’re waiting for by anticipating it with forethought and appreciation.  When we do that, we no longer feel so helpless.  When we honor the wait, resolution does eventually come and in delightfully unexpected ways.

………………………

Even the whitewashed photograph waits.  The sun is relegated to the background, hugging a corner of the frame, poised to illuminate brick and mortar.  The bikes are idly resting on the post, an homage to the arrested development of their octagonal friend.  Evans’ sign waits to be either celebrated or torn down; the people will decide the fate of his slogan in hashtags.  Even the parking sign is waiting for a passerby to adjust it back to symmetry.

Nature waits.  Architecture waits.  People wait.

 

Musings: Generation whY

“I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me”

Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes

Each generation is a product of the trickle down beliefs of its predecessors.  I say trickle down because there’s an unintended message that drips down to the next generation leaving yellowed, patchy stains on the cultural morality of that group.  This is not to shove responsibility off on that previous generation.  There are many reasons why these cultural messages get lost in translation.

My generation is Generation Y.  We’re the millennials who feel entitled to anything we want and become despondent when we don’t get it…according to some.  The trickle down messages get communicated like this:

Intended message: “You’re special.”  Unintended message: “You’re entitled to get what you want because you’re special.”

Intended message: “You’re unique.”  Unintended message: “Others will recognize that uniqueness and immediately reward you for it.”

Intended message: “You’re capable.”  Unintended message: “You’re currently capable of doing everything you will ever want to do at 25.”

Intended message: “Seek purpose and meaning.”  Unintended message: “Structure and stability are dull and lifeless barriers to purpose and meaning.”

I read an article today describing Gen Y as mostly unhappy.  While I don’t agree with the reductionistic stereotypes, there’s some merit in considering the “specialness” phenomenon.  The article belabors important reasons for the development of discontent in my generation.  It’s worth a skim if you happen to live with, work with, or generally/specifically know a millennial.

When fellow members of Generation Y come into my office and tell me they’re special, I’m happy for them.  The knowledge that we’re all unique, purposeful beings who have something to offer is essential to actually having something to offer at some point in our lives.  So, by all means, bask in the knowledge of your special and unique giftedness.

What’s unhelpful to any of us is the pairing that can go along with this celebrated uniqueness: self-absorption in the form of entitlement.  For any generation, this trait diminishes our ability to offer what we’re uniquely capable of.  It diminishes our usefulness due to our preoccupation with the payoff (e.g. “If I’m special then…” “People will view me as awesome.” “I’ll get a raise.” “I’ll have a more fulfilling life.”).  That preoccupation distracts us from giving.  And if we’re too distracted, any awesome traits we may possess are obscured and aren’t helpful to our communities.   Not to mention the fact that our underlying philosophy for giving won’t have the community’s best interest at heart, but that’s for a separate post.

Let’s face it, in this self-absorbed state, we’re not all that concerned with being useful to the broader community.  Therefore, this approach misses a key developmental consideration: our uniqueness doesn’t prohibit our functionality, it expands it, and vice versa.  The more we use our gifts for something beyond ourselves the better we showcase our uniqueness, and the more our uniqueness develops, the more we have something to offer for a grand design.

Fleet Foxes, I’m channeling my inner millennial, here.  You can have your cake and eat it too.  You can choose to become a unique and functional cog in a world beyond your making.

Musings: The Written Word

It’s comical browsing The New York Times’ most e-mailed headlines to see a piece on the lamented end of handwriting rank #1. This particular article is worth a skim if you’re a champion of the written (not typed) word–especially to see how it ends.

I had a grad professor who stressed the importance of writing over typing, and strongly encouraged students to use the former in his class. According to the article, he may be on to something.

If true, this theory of handwriting implicitly supports the argument for mindfulness. Let me explain. The early research suggests not just any handwriting but cursive handwriting further improves learning, categorically, in the areas of reading, innovation, information absorption, memorization, and self-control. This improvement creates flexible and attuned learners. The theory being that writing, particularly cursive, requires a neurological commitment that surpasses the rote pattern recognition we employ as typists. This active involvement lights up more parts of the brain, thereby engaging more neural circuits than typing. More neural circuitry equals more expansive, higher order processing.

If we generalize to mindfulness, our active commitment to and participation in thinking, speaking, and being enhances our memory, control, creativity, and flexibility surrounding those activities (not to mention the catharsis that comes from processing our emotions in real time).

I bet none of us imagined the hours spent learning cursive Z’s in second grade would be brain-changing work.

Unfortunately for some, the implications are likely to get journaling advocates (aka therapists) excited. Clients, it’s time to dust off your favorite pens and unwrinkle your leathered parchment. Your therapists are days away from passionately imploring you to journal sans screens and in cursive. Better brush up on those Z’s.

Musings: Anne Lamott

Every single thing that has ever happened to me is mine. –Anne Lamott

“Well, that’s a double-edged sword.” I thought to myself while digging out from under a pile of memories.

I’ve been cleaning out old scrapbooks, journals, cards, etc. recently. While rifling through the stacks it struck me more than ever that there are things that have happened to me in my life that I wish hadn’t. There are events that have stirred searing emotions, videos that play in a perpetual loop in my brain, and words from past scenes that nag and pick at me. It’s important to note that when replaying memories, the bitter ones tend to linger well beyond the sweet and savory.

And, yet, the fact remains that everything that has ever happened to me is mine. And the same is true for you. Everything that has ever happened to you is yours–for better or worse, not your dog’s, neighbor’s, distant cousin’s, or closest friend’s. Your experiences are stamped, uniquely, by you. No one else has thought, felt, heard, or remembered the world in quite the same way–and they never will.

To be completely fair and respectful of Ms. Lamott’s writing, her statement is taken a bit out of context, here. Her point in the larger context is valid and helpful, it just happened to inspire some divergent musings for me. So with that in mind, what she doesn’t illuminate beyond that statement is the ubiquitous and uncanny turn of events that occurs when we live too long with the entirety of what “belongs” to us.

As time passes, as memories stick to our ribs until we feel lumpy and uncomfortable, the statement changes from “everything that has ever happened to me is mine” to, “everything that has ever happened to me is me”. Do you see the difference? In the first statement, we possess. We own it. The second statement is also possessive, but the master is not ourselves. This statement implies that our experiences are the sum of who we are. It implies that they own us. Do you want to be owned by your experiences?

I work with people who have experienced deep trauma, bone-chilling trauma. Time and again I see this theme surface. They believe they are only the sum of their experiences, AND, everything in life is colored and shaped by those experiences.

Fictional example: A woman lost her younger sister to a pool drowning when they were both little. The woman witnessed it and felt responsible for the accident. Her life since then has been centered around that trauma. She doesn’t fully realize the pervasive effects, but she doubts herself often, feels insecure, and lives with near constant feelings of guilt and shame.

In some fashion or another, we’re all haunted by past experiences or mistakes or ideas that have stuck to our ribs for so long that we believe they’re part of us.

What does it take to reclaim the story? A reckoning.

We have to settle with our memories, beliefs, mistakes. They only have control over us when we believe that’s all we are, or when we fear others believe the same. Keep in mind that this work may need to be done with help, depending on the stronghold our experiences have over us.

You are more than the sum of your fears and failures–real or perceived. Do you believe that? Really?

We’ve talked about the regression from “Everything that has ever happened to me is mine.” To, “Everything that has ever happened to me is me.” May I suggest a third statement? It is one that fits the idea of reclaiming our belongings.

The statement would be this: “Everything that has ever happened to me is.” Period.

Everything I have ever experienced is part of the story. But it is not and never will be the entirety of the story. My experiences exist in my timeline, in my narrative, but that’s not all I have. I have traits, abilities, characteristics, relationships that live outside of my most distressing experiences. I have value, purpose, worth, and a vocation that equal more than my “belongings”.

So which statement fits your life right now? Are your experiences who you are? Or do they exist, period?

If I may be so bold as to connect these ideas, the third statement leads to this ending: the dissolution of guilt and shame is an immeasurable freedom.

Musings: Seth Godin

Finally got around to reading The Dip.

Godin is sometimes considered reductionistic, but I like his white linen approach. It clarifies in all the places I obfuscate.

Case in point, he got me thinking about how I describe myself as a generalist, but he encourages specialization. So I quickly nuanced it: Am I a generalist who specializes, generally, or a specialist who generalizes specifically? They’re probably the same and both likely miss the mark with over-populated language that communicates little.

In that vein, more importantly than whether or not I’m a career specialist are all the things I specialize in that distract me from my career–and from all meaningful pursuits.

So here are a few examples stream of consciousness style. Do they resonate? What do you specialize in that distracts rather than clarifies?

1. Over-complication: Blanket apology to anyone who has ever read one of my posts. My ability to weave together a tapestry of discordant threads with hundreds of mixed metaphors is way more awesome in my mind than to any audience. Distraction meter is high on this one. And what looks like storytelling can end up as rumination, perseveration (insert your favorite jargony word, here).

2. Control: I specialize in that cement grip that crushes all conversation around surrender. But if Godin is correct, strategic surrender isn’t failure but success. To reference my previous post, it’s all about who and what we surrender to.

3. Procrastination: Yep, it’s meta. Distraction breeds further distraction. There are a number of circuitous routes I take to get there on any given day–convincing myself that this project is essential to complete before x, y, and z. All are deceptively rationalized as central, but they’re really not.

4. Doubt: The ultimate obscurifier (yes, a neologism meaning the purifier of obscurity). If we want burgeoning success to end in obscurity (deflated and invisible), the quickest way is to specialize in doubting our decisions. We accomplish this through continuous examination of pitfalls with no alternative options considered.

Since Seth talks about abandoning more for the sake of better (site), the conscious decision to de-specialize in distractions seems essential. If I do that, my likelihood of specializing in the good, noble, and just (the powerful trio) increases. At this crucial point the gravitas of nobility, justice, and beneficence creates a sustainable force strong enough to traverse even the most curvaceous obstacles.

So with the trio in tow and my compass fixed north, it looks like it’s time to take another dip in the dip….

Musings: Joan Didion

I’ve taken a week off from work to tackle a long to-do list.  I have a pile of information to absorb and as I do that, I’ll be sharing some of my musings, here.  They will be incomplete.  Sometimes there’s redemption in the unfinished and unkempt bits of life—and sometimes there’s not.  If it’s helpful to you, then it’s a testament to the belief that art can transcend the artist.  If not, feel free to discard and move on.  

A pool is, for many of us in the West, a symbol not of affluence but of order, of control over the uncontrollable. A pool is water, made available and useful, and is, as such, infinitely soothing to the western eye.  –Joan Didion, “Holy Water”

Do you remember summer days in that inflated plastic pool?  It littered yards through the neighborhood on sticky, hot afternoons.  It was filled with tiny bodies splashing uncontrollably as droplets cut across cheeks, noses, eyes, and lips, teeming with laughter.  The water was soothing to those small frames, amused and in the moment.  But those smiles would predictably disappear as the water seeped from the pool into the ground, dispersing as rapidly as it collected, unmanageable and absorbed.  The pool had sprung a leak.  It was at this point that the neighborhood moms, clustered together, would disperse like the water and begrudgingly amble over to refill the pool.  The goal was to buy them another half hour of free time knowing, all the while, that the small hole in the pool would lead to inevitable deflation.

Our attempts to control the uncontrollable share an indomitable fate with that plastic pool—they are artificial, bloated, temporary.  To soothe ourselves with the immediacy of containing such forces is to live in denial.  The energy it takes to deny the reality is beyond exhausting.  But our fear trumps our desire to escape the fatigue.  If we accept our lack of control, then what?  If we’re not in control, who or what is?  How will we withstand the outcome if we surrender, relinquish, or reset?

The real consideration is how we’ll withstand the outcome if we don’t.