How we spend our days

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” –Annie Dillard

A few years ago I committed to posting something on my blog every day for an indefinite time period to see if I could keep it up. And I did, for a long time. Many days I would get to the evening with no ideas for a post and simply find a quote to share with a brief comment, just to keep my commitment to posting something, anything, to keep from breaking the string.

Other days I would latch onto an idea early on, and it would suffuse my whole day, giving me something delightful to puzzle on and sparking connections and possibilities I hadn’t imagined when the idea first appeared.

The challenge to write and publish every day wasn’t as much of a burden as I had imagined. Knowing that I was committed to sharing something daily kept my antennae up in a way that made those days more engaging, more filled with wonder and possibility. I woke up each morning knowing I had a quest before me, and I seemed to move through those days with a greater sense of awareness and curiosity. And fun. Being intentional about searching and then sharing gave those days more juice.

I was writing less for some unseen audience out there than I was for my own benefit. I’ve found that actively trying to express myself helps me to see and understand in ways I don’t when I’m in my default passive mode. What’s the line—“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” And “the best way to understand something is to try to express it.”

But knowing that someone else out there might read what I write adds a bit of oomph to my efforts. As an author explained, it’s the difference between cleaning your house just because you need to versus cleaning your house when you know guests are coming to visit. Writing in public pushes me towards clarity and purposefulness in ways that merely writing for myself privately in a diary never will.

I’ve not only not been posting daily recently, I’ve just let this blog lie fallow for most of the past couple of years. Occasionally a friend will ask when I’m going to get back to it, and I’m always caught off guard that anyone actually had been reading it.

But at the heart of my drift is, I think, the general melancholy of the times. “What do I know?”, I say to myself. What can I write that would add any real value in a world that seems especially off kilter at the moment?

Well, when the world seems particularly unexplainable or even hopeless, that should be motivation to act—to write or organize movements or volunteer or make something lovely. Do something that might bring a little clarity or kindness or joy in order to stymie, even if momentarily, the relentless pull of entropy, the invincible law of physics that ultimately all things fall apart. But striving against that pull of chaos is our calling. It’s how we got here and survived to this point.

So, I’m back at it, writing here regularly for my own benefit, and possibly for yours.

Not every day will be marked by brilliant prose or moving poetry. Most posts will be forgettable. Some cringeworthy. I’ll be lucky to have even ten percent of my posts turn out to be something I’m proud of. But I’ll be proud just to put my fingers to the keys regularly again.

Making creative expression a daily expectation and a daily habit will mark my days with curiosity and wonder and probably some frustration and disappointment. A fair trade.

I want to spend more of my days than not in the intentional pursuit of truth and beauty. This little corner of the internet is my stake in the ground for that and a daily exercise in attempting to live a more excellent life.

Be wholly alive

Author William Saroyan’s advice to writers (which is good advice for non-writers, too):

“Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

But, there’s a lot of “try” in there. Yoda would counter: “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”

Wake up. Uncork the life force within. Be wholly alive as often as you can.

The happy discoverer

“When I begin a poem I don’t know—I don’t want a poem that I can tell was written toward a good ending… You’ve got to be the happy discoverer of your ends.” –Robert Frost

Just get going without concern for the precision of your ending point.

It’s in the going and the doing that you are likely to make your best art and discover your true self.

Don’t overthink it. Don’t expect to have the answers before beginning.

Be open to detours and delays and scenic overlooks.

And be open to surprise.

Just get going.

Writing that moves: Posnanski makes like Maddux

My morning in this lovely AirBnB cottage near Venice Beach has been made reading a couple of Joe Posnanski’s pieces. (This west coast time zone had me up early, watching my kids sleep as we continue on our California vacation.)

Posnanski is a sportswriter, but it’s his stuff about fatherhood and family that gets to me. 

He wrote most recently about taking his teenage daughter to see the musical Hamilton. (Go read that piece now. It’s so, so good.)

I’ve never been a big fan of Broadway musicals. I had been underwhelmed years ago by Cats (hated it) and Phantom (meh). But we took our young daughters to see Wicked earlier this year, and I was wowed and truly moved. 

Then I heard some early hoopla about Hamilton and was intrigued enough to listen to the soundtrack. I’ve since listened to that soundtrack repeatedly and can quote key lyrics. And I’ve begun reading the Ron Chernow biography that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to create a hip-hop infused stage production telling the story of an under appreciated founding father. And I know who Lin-Manuel Miranda is and have watched YouTubes of his commencement speeches and his beatboxing with Emma Watson. And I know I will regret not having seen the original cast perform Hamilton live. 

And Posnanski’s endearing story of taking his daughter to see this show resonated with me as an admirer of all things Hamilton right now and as a dad of daughters. I got all the feels and could imagine sitting in that theater with my older daughter and making a memory that endures.

I then read an older piece of his about taking his daughter to Harry Potter world in Florida. Also a delight and evocative of my experiences with my daughters. 

Posnanski’s writing sneaks up on the reader. He’s just casually unspooling the threads of a story. It’s conversational and earnest. And then—Pow!—without warning you feel something. You’re moved. It’s clear he’s been moved, and he takes you with him. 

The great Braves pitcher, Greg Maddux, my favorite baseball player, pitched kind of like that. He didn’t have jaw-dropping stuff. His fastball was average. He wasn’t imposing. But he was an artist on the mound. He was subtle and cerebral and his pitches moved in surprising, yet strategic ways. It wasn’t power or speed, it was movement and careful, precise placement that was thought through before the batter ever approached the plate. The pitch counts and the innings would unspool innocuously with lots of balls in play and runners scattered here and there. And then, all of a sudden, you had a complete-game shutout. 

Maddux was more of a craftsman than an artist. But the parallel to mastery of a hard skill seems apt to me. 

Movement. Artful placement. Beautiful stuff.  

The key in writing, I think, is to feel something that truly moves you and find a way to express it in such a way that your reader feels that same thing. 

Seems simple, but so few pull it off well. 

My next computer: iPad Pro

ipad-pro

I’ve been an iPad guy since the first version was announced in 2010. I loved it immediately and used it mostly for reading, but also for writing.

It was just supplemental, though, to my iPhone and the two iMacs I had—one at the office and the other at home.

The home iMac is old now and sits unused. I use my iPad mini for most of my computer tasks away from the office. It’s a great device for reading, and it’s so good as my presentation device. I use the iOS Keynote app and a VGA adapter to connect the iPad to a projector, and I use my iPhone as the remote. It’s a lightweight, minimal, and rock solid presentation setup.

The iPad mini is also the device that I do a lot of writing on. But that’s where the mini falls short for me. The screen is just too small. I pair the iPad with an external Bluetooth keyboard, but the canvas I’m writing on seems too constricting. The screen is too small for me to write comfortably. Inserting a cursor in the right location and highlighting text can be frustrating. I find myself writing less away from my office iMac just because it’s not as enjoyable to write on the tiny iPad mini screen.

I was intrigued when Apple introduced the new, very lightweight Macbook last year. The form factor is gorgeous. The screen looks impressive, and I was eager to try the new keyboard design. But the computer seemed a bit underpowered. However, I imagined its second iteration might be my dream writing machine.

When Apple introduced the 12.9 inch iPad Pro last fall, it seemed almost comically large to me. “Who is going to want that?” I wondered.

Now, I want that.

I keep hearing about people who have replaced their laptop (or even their desktop) with this new iPad. Federico Vittici, Jason Snell, CGP Grey and Myke Hurley, Serenity Caldwell… All are iPad-Pro-as-laptop-replacement evangelists. 

And now, even Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft’s former head of its Windows division, has written that the iPad Pro has become his primary computer.

I appreciate the simple elegance of iOS versus OS X. There’s less to fiddle and fuss with. There’s less distraction and a more focused environment. It’s a truly modern and mature operating system. 

And now, with the most powerful computing power ever in an iOS device and a screen bigger than the entry level Mac laptops, the iPad Pro may be my ultimate computing device so far. It’s at the top of my wish list. 

 

Billy Collins on finding your voice

The poet Billy Collins was speaking at a White House poetry student workshop and was asked about “finding your voice”. Here’s a portion of his response as shared by Austin Kleon:

Your voice has an external source. It is not lying within you. It is lying in other people’s poetry. It is lying on the shelves of the library. To find your voice, you need to read deeply. You need to look inside yourself, of course, for material, because poetry is something that honors subjectivity. It honors your interiority. It honors what’s inside. But to find a way to express that, you have to look outside yourself.

Read widely, read all the poetry you can get your hands on. And in your reading, you’re searching for something. Not so much your voice. You’re searching for poets that make you jealous. Professors of writing call this “literary influence.” It’s jealousy. And it’s with every art, whether you play the saxophone, or do charcoal drawings. You’re looking to get influenced by people who make you furiously jealous.

Read widely. Find poets that make you envious. And then copy them. Try to get like them.

This is so good and rings true for me, not just for poetry but for any creative endeavor.

Consume everything you can about what grabs you. Be voracious. Read and explore and scour every curiosity.

Find the very best people in the field you want to be in and soak up their insight and their style. Follow them on Twitter. Read what influenced them. Act as if you were a peer of your creative heroes.

And don’t wait to get busy making your own stuff, even if at first it seems like a derivative copy of those you’re aspiring to emulate.

Your voice will come only from using it.

Robert Frost on writing that doesn’t work

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader. –Robert Frost

via Darren Rowse

Write what’s real for you, what moves you and what delights and confounds you.

Reveal yourself, to the point of discomfort if necessary.

Be direct and clear and true, but honor the mystery and relish surprise.

Allow the reader to explore and discover and be provoked.

Art is infection.