The following entries are a varied lot. Consisting of different thoughts on different subjects, and of varying length and scope, most are short essays that have yet to be placed into a larger more cohesive body of work.


Sunday
Nov202011

on focus

Every few years, when I sense that life may be evolving a bit more quickly than usual, I spend some time re-writing my personal mission statement. I spend a few days reflecting and re-working a short outline of my deepest values and goals in life. It’s about a page long, and the first section reads:

To live a simple and authentic life.
To share my interests in philosophy (wisdom) and photography (beauty) with the world.
To trust my intuition and encourage others to do the same.
To remain focused in order to develop my gifts fully.


The first line sets the tone. The second defines my areas of interest. The third reminds me of my relation to others. And, the fourth challenges me to work hard and stay true to myself.

These four goals are essentially a list of values, interests, gifts, and actions, and I’ve found it incredibly rewarding when I remember to make them priorities in my life. They do, however, require me to make a few sacrifices, because in order to do each of them well, I have to cut certain things out of my schedule.

For example, if I want to live a simple life, I have to remember that “less is more” and that mental, physical, and emotional clutter tends to drain my energy. I have to remember not to buy a bunch of things that I really don’t need or to become distracted by things that other people may want me to have. For me, creating and embracing a healthy sort of emptiness is important and provides me with room to grow. Without the occasional quiet Saturday or Sunday afternoon, I don’t have the time to let my mind wander, or let my eyes see the world in a different way. I don’t have time to digest my perceptions and plan my next projects. For me, simplicity is mostly about doing a few things well, instead of being a busy-body who never accomplishes anything substantial or lasting.

The second thing I have to remember is to share my deepest interests with others – which is hard for me at times. Somehow, over the years, I’ve developed a tendency to hide my favorite things from people. I think the seeds of this bad habit were planted way back in my childhood, and then reconfirmed and legitimized by a few miscommunications as an adult. It seems like I’ve always had competing voices in my head - one pushing me to open up, and the other coaxing me to keep things safely hidden away. But, thankfully, over the years, I’ve learned that risking disapproval or misinterpretation is the only way to find the best kind of friends, the kindred spirits who can relate and understand. I’ve also learned that no matter how self-reliant I have become, a sense of community is still important. And while I’ve slowly accepted that my writing isn’t really all that interesting to a lot of people, simply sharing it with a few friends can be very rewarding.

My third goal is to follow my intuition and to encourage the people around me to do the same. This is another hard one though, because usually when I follow my intuition, I have to be willing to do things that might initially seem crazy to other people. Maybe that’s why following it requires a willingness to embrace one’s eccentricities and risk being ostracized by people who are afraid to be different. It’s funny how, as social creatures, we all have a tendency to conform to the people around us. Maybe that’s why having the courage to follow our intuition may be one of our most powerful accomplishments. After all, what is more important than learning how to guide ourselves through challenges that lead us to making the big, pivotal decisions in life? Isn’t it better to be happy on our own true path than to be unhappy following the crowd?

And finally, my last goal – the title of this essay - is to stay focused and to commit to a work ethic consistent with the content of my writing. Staying focused is one of my primary goals because it’s about achievement, and it’s about remembering to address timeless, universal themes in a writing style completely my own. Sometimes I am amazed by how prolific some writers are, and I’m amazed by their ability to write so consistently and with such regularity. But, then I also remember that other writers may have different goals than I do. They may be trying to write an entertaining story that sells thousands of copies to people who are looking to escape into their imaginations while relaxing on a beach somewhere far from home. Or, they may be writing a blog or a journal about their daily thoughts and activities. Or, they may be writing for a newspaper or a magazine – discussing local happenings or political events. I wonder how many writers are trying to write about our deepest, most fundamental human values. I’m sure that there are more than a few of us, and I’m sure that many are doing it in their own unique way. But, I also know that none of them have lived my life or walked in my shoes, and that’s why my work seems worth it.

While I am thankful for the many different types of writing in the world, I think the kind I’m most interested in is the kind that embodies the goals I hold dear: the kind of expression that is simple, wise, intuitive, and focused. My mission isn’t to be the most popular writer or even the most successful in the economic sense. My mission, rather, is to simply be thoughtful and true, and perhaps in doing so, subtly encourage others to do the same.

Friday
Jun032011

on balance

Before I was a teenager, I was a bit of a “momma’s boy.” I was a pretty shy and sensitive little kid who loved the arts. My Mom said that when I was 5 years old, I could become utterly absorbed in the TV show "Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood" and that I could sit in my Dad’s office for hours reading books and listening to music. Even back then, I guess I was inquisitive and imaginative and perfectly at home playing by myself. (I also didn’t mind helping my Mom make peanut butter cookies in the kitchen either).

My life didn’t stay that way for long, however. When my Mom eventually had my little sister, I started to be drawn towards the activities of my Dad and my older brothers. As I attempted to keep up with them and assert myself in school, I learned to be a lot more competitive. In time, I won more than a few playground fights and turned into a pretty good athlete. When I played little league baseball, I became an all-star. In junior high, I placed second in the state wrestling tournament. And in high school, I played on the varsity golf team.

But, for some reason, as time went by and I went off to college, I started to get back into the arts. I signed up to be a DJ at the campus radio station, and I started hanging around the intellectuals and the activists. To my Dad’s horror, I ended up majoring in Philosophy; and when I eventually moved to Greensboro to get an MFA in printmaking and sculpture, I had essentially turned my back completely away from the more athletic side of my personality - the part of me that I had successfully developed as a teenager.

Which brings me to the reason why the past couple of years have felt so good. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that living a good life is all about balance.

I think that for whatever reason, over the years, I’ve always thought that most things were either/or propositions. I’ve felt like I had to choose between being an athlete or being an artist. If I wanted to be a good athlete, then I had to set aside the creative and compassionate part of myself. And, if I wanted to be a serious artist, then I had to set aside the athletic competitive part. Consequently, due to my own limited internal dialogue, I’ve felt divided, anxious, and incomplete.

I’ve learned lately however, that if you manage your time well, you really can have it all. And, even more importantly, not only can you have it all, but when you embrace all aspects of your personality, no matter how different or opposite they may seem on the surface, it’s highly likely that each aspect will actually feed the other.

For example… as I’ve been spending a lot of time running and lifting weights these last couple of years, I think I’ve also been thinking more clearly. And, consequently, my writing and photography have improved. In fact, I think that most every part of my life has improved since I’ve re-embraced the more athletic side of myself.

I’ve also found that establishing a healthy balance between other aspects of my life has become important as well.

I’ve learned that sometimes it’s good to be forgiving and sometimes it’s better to just move on. Sometimes it’s good to be patient and gently encourage your friends, and sometimes, if they really need to break out of a rut, it’s good to give them a proper scolding.

It’s funny how a single approach to everything rarely works. I always thought that becoming a better writer meant having more time to write. But, as it turns out, I’ve been learning lately that writing well is more about living a better, more enriching life.

Maybe I’ve just been learning that it’s best to be well rounded. I’ve been learning it's OK to be part serious and part sarcastic. Part generous and part selfish. Part mental and part physical. Part solitary and part social. Part independent and part dependant. Part logical and part emotional. It really is all about striking the proper balance and embracing the parts of myself that didn’t seem to be consistent before.

In the end, we all have our contradictions and that’s what makes us unique – it’s what makes us ourselves.

So with that in mind… maybe one of these days…. after I crush some amateurs during a 10k run or the next time I kick my Dad’s ass in golf, I just might go back home and watch one of my favorite French films, or maybe I’ll help my Mom bake some peanut butter cookies. I always liked using a fork to make those little lines on top.