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.

The encouragement of noticers

My friend Alex was a student on my staff a couple of years ago when he came to me and asked why I, at that time, posted on this site so infrequently.

I was surprised he was aware I even had this blog, much less that he cared how often I wrote. But he challenged me to write more often. He liked reading my stuff.

That conversation sparked a much more consistent writing habit for me. It’s one thing to share your writing publicly. It’s so simple now to publish and post and share on the internet. It’s another thing altogether to write with the expectation that someone actually will read it and care.

Before that conversation with Alex I had been writing without much awareness of an audience. There is great value in writing to better understand what you think, without regard to any audience. But writing with readers in mind will sharpen your thinking and your prose.

I said this last year (which was paraphrased from something I had read online somewhere):

Kind of like how you clean your house so much better when you’re expecting company, writing something with the awareness that others might read it will lead to clearer thinking and better work.

Today happens to be Alex’s birthday. We had lunch together today, and he reminded me again that he’s continuing to read my stuff. And I was reminded how potent an encouraging challenge from a friend can be.

And I’m also reminded that I need to be a more diligent noticer of the art and craft and kindness of others. I need to be like Alex more often (and Tim and Trey and Angie and Emily and other friends who regularly notice my work) and challenge those whose work I admire to offer their best.

Make art, people. Express yourselves. Do your part to make sense of it all and to enjoy the ride we’re all taking together.

On Writing Well, on living well

The author William Zinsser died recently, and his obituary in the New York Times prompted me to start reading his highly acclaimed book, On Writing Well. The book had been recommended by several writers I respect, including John Gruber of my favorite Apple web site, Daring Fireball.

The book begins with a firm exhortation to simplify:

“Look for the clutter in your writing and prune it ruthlessly. Be grateful for everything you can throw away. Reexamine each sentence you put on paper. Is every word doing new work? Can any thought be expressed with more economy? Is anything pompous or pretentious or faddish? Are you hanging on to something useless just because you think it’s beautiful?

Simplify, simplify.”

I’m two chapters in to Zinsser’s book and already more aware of how sloppy my writing is. I just went back to the post I wrote yesterday and trimmed a few unnecessary words.

Writing should serve a purpose, and anything that detracts from that purpose should be eliminated. Simplify. Do less, better.

This is good advice for writing, but it applies well to living, too.

Consider the passage above with these changes:

“Look for the clutter in your life and prune it ruthlessly. Be grateful for everything you can throw away. Reexamine every thing (or commitment or relationship) you put in your life. Is every thing doing new (or meaningful) work? Can any task be done with more economy? Is anything pompous or pretentious or faddish? Are you hanging on to something (or someone) useless just because you think it’s (or he’s/she’s) beautiful?

Simplify, simplify.”

Steinbeck’s writing advice: Your audience is one single reader

Here is just a bit of author John Steinbeck’s advice on writing, taken from a Paris Review interview:

It is usual that the moment you write for publication—I mean one of course—one stiffens in exactly the same way one does when one is being photographed. The simplest way to overcome this is to write it to someone, like me. Write it as a letter aimed at one person. This removes the vague terror of addressing the large and faceless audience and it also, you will find, will give a sense of freedom and a lack of self-consciousness.

            Now let me give you the benefit of my experience in facing 400 pages of blank stock—the appalling stuff that must be filled. I know that no one really wants the benefit of anyone’s experience which is probably why it is so freely offered. But the following are some of the things I have had to do to keep from going nuts.

            1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

            2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

            3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

This is good.

Focus on just one page at a time. One line at a time. Just the next word, even.

Don’t try to edit as you go. Just let it flow and see where it goes.

And, instead of imagining some potential vast audience or the possible impact of your work or the rewards that might come from it, focus on just one single reader.

Be the reader, in the way that director Christopher Nolan puts himself in the position of his audience when making films. But reading is a solitary affair, so you need to imagine only that one single reader.

One. Single. Reader.

Apple’s event: MacBook thoughts

I took a day off today. My kids are on spring break, and my wife is out of town for work. Daddy-daughter day included plenty of play time, a trip to the movies (Spongebob… meh), dinner out, and a grocery run. Yet, somehow, I was able to take in the entire live-stream of Apple’s product announcement event this afternoon.

Kind of like wearing a favorite UGA shirt on a football Saturday, I put on my Daring Fireball t-shirt and pulled up the event on my Apple TV to cheer on the possibilities that would be unveiled. Apple is great at these carefully choreographed events, which are filled with sharp product videos and occasionally genuine surprises. I’m a complete sucker for them. As a fan of both great presentation dynamics and Apple products, these events are right in my wheelhouse.

Today’s event was expected to be about the new Apple Watch. And it is a fascinating new product category that may ultimately change the way many of us use technology. I’m in wait-and-see mode as to whether I will ever want one.

But what I’m still thinking about hours after watching is the new MacBook that was unveiled. It’s lighter and thinner than the 11″ MacBook Air (which my wife has and we both love), yet it has a 12″ retina display and all-day battery life. Plus, it includes new engineering for a flatter, more fluid keyboard and something Apple is calling a “Force Touch” trackpad which responds to how hard you tap. There’s a bit of trade-off in that the processing power of this new MacBook is not as robust as what you can get in a MacBook Pro. This is not the machine for those doing regular heavy lifting like video editing and Photoshop.

This new MacBook, though, looks like the ultimate writing machine. The form factor seems like they’ve finally hit the sweet spot for portability and features. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling famously said a few years back: “The MacBook Air changed my life.” She felt it was the ultimate writing tool because of its size and performance. This new MacBook improves on the Air in many ways, but especially with the HD screen.

And you can see the convergence across product lines for Apple. If an iPad married a MacBook Pro, this is what their offspring would look like. This MacBook is a bit like an iPad that runs Mac OS with a killer keyboard attached.

My personal Mac is an old iMac that’s more than six years old. This new, svelte MacBook has jumped to the top of my wish list. And Space Gray? Yes, please. (Guess I need to start saving. That hot water heater we had to replace today did not help…)

The iMore crew has a good summary of the features and a glowing early assessment from their time giving the new MacBook a go in the hands-on opportunity after today’s event.

 

 

Art & Fear: The ceramics class and quantity before quality

This story from the book Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland popped up in a favorite technology blog yesterday:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Brilliant. And I’ve been having this lesson delivered to me repeatedly over the past year. Quantity leads to quality. I don’t know if I’m learning it. I still get stuck overthinking, delaying, waiting for inspiration. When what I need to do is just show up. Do work. And keep showing up.

Attempt mediocrity, even. Dare to write one really awful sentence if you have to. It takes the pressure off. And mediocre might just lead to good, which every now and then might get me to awesome. But if I start by expecting to begin with awesome, I might just sit there instead, waiting for lightning to strike. Or, more likely, start scrolling Twitter and RSS feeds.

Quantity. Hammer away at the thing you want to get good at. Not to the point of grooving an easy path or just mailing it in. You need to challenge yourself routinely with hard things, by stretching your skills. But the more you do, the better you’ll be.

Don’t wait for the muse to show up. Your showing up is more likely to summon the muse than the other way around.

The ceramics class story, by the way, has been linked in several places (Cool Tools, Herbert Lui, and Coding Horror are three I found), and then I saw that book recommended today in a Chase Jarvis post, 6 Books Guaranteed to Make You More Creative. I have five of his recommended six books. The one I’m lacking: Art & Fear. The internet, great and powerful, clearly, is telling me to get that book.

Just keep scrolling

Rands in Repose linked to Michael Sippey who linked to Anil Dash’s post from last fall, 15 Lessons From 15 Years of Blogging and this particular insight:

The scroll is your friend. If you write a bad post or something you don’t like, just post again. If you write something great that you’re really proud of and nobody notices, just post again. One foot in front of the other, one word after another, is the only path I’ve found to an overall body of work that I’m proud of. Push posts down the page, and the good and the bad will just scroll away.

Make a home for yourself on the internet. Own your URL. And tend to your site regularly, daily even. Express yourself. Observe. Analyze. Stand for something. Share what you’re learning.

Maybe no one ever reads it. But the practice of expressing yourself in public, where at least there’s the potential for others to read your words or see your art or hear your music or watch your videos, that practice is good for you, for your mind and for your heart.

And the good posts and the bad and the mediocre will line up and will fill your screen with your work and guide you to a better understanding of who you are and where you can go.

Kind of like life, a regular habit of showing up and sharing online will build, bit by bit, a body of work. Some days are better than others. Occasionally, something with truly shine. Just keep scrolling.

The value of sharing your thinking

From Seth Godin today:

There’s a lot to admire about the common-sense advice, “If you don’t have anything worth saying, don’t say anything.”

On the other hand, one reason we often find ourselves with nothing much to say is that we’ve already decided that it’s safer and easier to say nothing.

If you’ve fallen into that trap, then committing to having a point of view and scheduling a time and place to say something is almost certainly going to improve your thinking, your attitude and your trajectory.

Posting on this site every day is a challenge, and most days don’t give birth to art. But expecting myself to come up with at least a small thing to share adds a bit of juice to my days. My brain wakes up each morning scanning for ideas, more eager to learn something new knowing I need to find something to express before the day is over.

And showing up every day with an attempt to express myself moves me to better understand what I do think. “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”, right?

I recommend this daily discipline. Whether it’s a journal or a blog or a YouTube channel or an Instagram account, find a place to make something worth sharing on a regular schedule. It will frustrate and discourage you regularly, in the best way, as you grapple with the challenge of crafting something worthwhile. But it will enliven your mind and stoke your creativity and mark your days with mystery and with meaning.

Keep typing

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AP Photo/Stephen Chernin

David Carr, the New York Times writer on the media beat, died suddenly last night. He had a distinctive voice, literally, with a gravelly edge and a sharp bite to it. But his voice as a writer was just as distinctive and bold and authentic.

His advice to writers, and creators of any sort, is right on. When he was asked for “his favorite cure for writer’s block”, he responded: “Typing.”

That’s the one word cure and very much the same sentiment as Seth Godin’s take:

Writer’s block isn’t hard to cure.

Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.

I believe that everyone should write in public. Get a blog. Or use Squidoo or Tumblr or a microblogging site. Use an alias if you like. Turn off comments, certainly–you don’t need more criticism, you need more writing.

Do it every day. Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world. Or want to see. Or teach (in writing). Tell us how to do something.

If you know you have to write something every single day, even a paragraph, you will improve your writing. If you’re concerned with quality, of course, then not writing is not a problem, because zero is perfect and without defects. Shipping nothing is safe.

The second best thing to zero is something better than bad. So if you know you have to write tomorrow, your brain will start working on something better than bad. And then you’ll inevitably redefine bad and tomorrow will be better than that. And on and on.

Write like you talk. Often.

Just keep typing.

Laura Hillenbrand on using obstacles as fuel

I enjoyed this feature in the New York Times by Wil S. Hylton on author Laura Hillenbrand, who has written two great books, Seabiscuit and Unbroken. Hillenbrand suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and is mostly homebound with intense episodes of vertigo. She cannot travel to do research or interview her subjects, but she’s turned what seem like obstacles into advantages.

This portion of the article is about Hillenbrand’s research for her book about World War II hero, Louie Zamperini:

“I thought it was actually an advantage to be unable to go to Louie,” she said. Because neither of them had to dress for the interviews and they were in their own homes, their long phone calls enjoyed a warmth and comfort that might otherwise be missing. She could pose the deeply personal questions that even her father had trouble answering. “I would ask a lot of questions about his emotional state,” she said. “ ’What did you feel right in this moment? Were you frightened?’ ” The distance also allowed Hillenbrand to visualize Zamperini in the time period of the book. “He became a 17-year-old runner for me, or a 26-year-old bombardier,” she said. “I wasn’t looking at an old man.”

She goes through periods where her vertigo makes it impossible to read, so she turned to audiobooks and found an advantage:

“It has taught me a lot more about the importance of the rhythm of language,” she said. “Good writing has a musical quality to it, a mathematical quality, a balance and a rhythm. You can feel that much better when it’s read aloud.”

She could easily have given up on trying audacious writing projects. She had a pretty solid excuse. But, instead, she used what should have been disadvantages to produce remarkable work.

And, then, there’s this from near the end of the piece:

“I feel so fully alive when I’m really into a story,” she said. “I feel like all my faculties are engaged, and this is where I’m meant to be. It’s probably what a racehorse feels like when it runs. This is what it’s meant to do, what its body is meant to do.” She paused. “This is what my mind is meant to do.”

To find work, or even a hobby, that produces this kind of flow should be everyone’s aim. When are you most “fully alive”, and what are the circumstances that make you feel like all your faculties are “engaged”? What is your mind meant to do?

Claim your place on the internet

Everyone should claim their place on the internet. Go grab the URL of your choice for just a few bucks a year and own your online identity.* Why not? We are living in the future! The internet offers the chance to express and connect in a way humans have never been able to before. Don’t sit this out.

Of course, I think everyone should write. Even if you create a site that no one other than your mom ever visits, it’s worthwhile for your own benefit to have a platform to build your ideas and share your creations. The attempt to create something, to express yourself, will help you see and understand in ways that just thinking passively never can. And posting something publicly, that anyone in the world might come across, will focus your attention more finely and compel you to hone and craft your ideas with more care. Kind of like how you clean your house so much better when you’re expecting company, writing something with the awareness that others might read it will lead to clearer thinking and better work.

Writing something with the awareness that others might read it will lead to clearer thinking and better work.

Young people, especially, who are just getting started on their careers, should be expected to have a thoughtful online presence. To heck with your resume, show me what you’ve done. If you want to go into marketing or advertising, for example, wouldn’t it be more impressive to show a prospective employer your blog filled with posts analyzing marketing and advertising instead of just your grades in classes. If you’re passionate about public health, why not chronicle what you’re learning about health policy. If you’re an artist, make and share your art.

The college students I work with are getting it. From a design student to a mass media student to a fashion merchandising student, they know that they should go ahead and start acting like and creating like they are who they want to be. Sarah, the fashion merchandising student, was in a college class I spoke to a few weeks ago. After my talk she came up and told me she’d been wanting to create a web site about her interest in fashion. The next week, she sent me a link to her new site, and it’s terrific. And it’s going to help her figure out what she really cares about and what’s worth sharing and how to express her ideas more effectively. And when she’s pursuing career opportunities she will have a tangible body of work to share, not just a resume. Or maybe her web site will become a career. It happens.

Write the internet you want to read.

But don’t see your online presence just as a means to an end, as a sort of obligatory extended resume. The best stuff on the internet is created as an end in itself, for fundamental reasons rather than instrumental reasons. Write the internet you want to read. Craft and share work that delights you intrinsically without any expectation of a payoff and see if you don’t make better work than if you were trying to get some extrinsic reward.

You don’t need permission to do work you find meaningful, nor do you have to wait till you’ve earned a degree to get busy getting better at what you want to do. Even if no one pays you for it, ever, go make something and share it with the world.

 

*I use WordPress.com and pay them each year for my custom domain name. It’s a hassle-free, low-maintenance option that I’ve been happy with.

Epictetus on choices and living artfully

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My wife put a lamp by the deeply cushioned chair in our bedroom last night to make a new reading spot in our house, and I gave it a go. I sat down to read from an actual book, made from paper. It was my hardcover copy of The Art of Living, Sharon Lebell’s collection of the best of the wisdom of the first and second century Stoic teacher Epictetus.

Epictetus had been a slave who earned his freedom through his excellence as a student and, eventually, a teacher of Stoic philosophy. Nothing he may have written survives, but his students collected and saved his teachings, which went on to influence everyone’s favorite philosopher king, Marcus Aurelius. (Marcus was an emperor, not a king, of course. Philosopher emperor was beyond even Plato’s imagination.)

The single sentence on the opening page above is as good an exhortation as anyone could need. But it’s followed on the next page by this jewel of simple yet often neglected common sense:

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We always have a choice about the contents and character of our inner lives.

We don’t have much control over what happens around us and to us, but we do get to choose our response. Easy to understand. Hard, though, to own that choice standing in the often very small, poorly lit gap between stimulus and response.

I’ve got to at least be more aware that I am making these choices. I am responsible – able to choose my response – and not made to do or be anything not in my choosing. No one or no thing can make me angry, for example. I may choose to be angry in response, but it’s my choice, whether I own up to it or not.

I need these reminders regularly. Searching to share something insightful every day has been a great way to live a more adventurous inner life and to remind myself to do better, to grow and improve. These notes to self that I share publicly have become a daily discipline that I hope will keep me sharp and curious. I recommend this to anyone looking to make better sense of their own thinking and their place in the universe. Oh, that’s everyone. Of course, everyone should write.

We all are artists creating a unique life, a life that’s never been before and never will be again. Choose to craft yours as though you’re sculpting a masterpiece.

The end (of the year) is near: The ten week challenge

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The end is near. Ten weeks till December 31. The year is in wind down mode. But how can you gear up for a strong finish, so you can look back on 2014 as a remarkable year in your life?

Ten weeks is enough time to build a habit, to craft a routine, to hone a system.

Me, I’m going back to my hundred pushups plan. It will be rewarding to finish the year physically stronger than I started it. I’m also going to focus on tightening my daily habits for reading and writing. I want to aim for a bigger writing project than posting on this site daily. And I’m going to be intentional about more quality time with my family.

It’s easy to slack off as the holiday season approaches, to defer discipline and hard things to the new year. But imagine how you hope to feel on December 31. What project have you put off that would excite you if you did it? What relationship in your life needs attention? Is there a worthwhile challenge that scares you a bit? Which habit can you form that would make a big difference?

Open a document or grab a marker and some paper and write: “What if…?”

Respond quickly to that question with as many possibilities for the next few weeks as you can imagine. Then go through that list and focus on the possibilities that elicit the most excitement. Now put a plan in place to make them happen and get busy.

Schedule an appointment with yourself for December 31 to review your year and to begin planning your adventures for 2015.

How can this be your best year yet? A lot can be done in ten weeks. It’s not too late to take action and finish strong.

John Gruber tells the Daring Fireball story

Daring Fireball is a daily must-read for me. And John Gruber has one of the most consistently distinctive and quote-worthy takes on Apple and all things tech. I’m a fan and have a couple of Daring Fireball t-shirts I wear proudly. (I’m normally a plain-t kind of guy, so it’s a big deal for me to sport someone’s logo.)

Gruber has a great story about how he made his blog into his full-time career, and he told it on the XOXO Festival stage recently:

If you think you’ve missed the boat, that it’s too late for you to get in on the possibilities created by the internet, you are wrong. It’s still early. We are just at the edge of the frontier. But don’t wait around thinking about it. Claim your stake online now. Buy that domain name. Get started on WordPress or Squarespace or Tumblr. Make something you’re proud to share with the world. And keep doing it. And keep getting better.

Putting the work in

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“When writing, I adhere to the old adage that if you want to get hit by a train you better go stand on the track. There’s no substitute for just putting the work in and writing with a very concerted, focused effort. At the end of the day it all comes down to synthesizing a whole host of ideas, so you better have a lot of ideas at the ready when it comes time to put the little Frankenstein monster together.” –St. Vincent’s Annie Clark

An Austin Kleon tweet pointed to this excellent interview with the musician Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, about her creative process.

This jibes with everything I’m finding lately about creative people. Inspiration is for amateurs. Pros just do work. They show up and get busy whether they feel like it or not.

You will live more curiously if you write

A great post from a couple of years ago from James Somers that Chris Guillebeau pointed to recently – More people should write – with a challenge to all to take up a creative habit:

That’s the promise: you will live more curiously if you write. You will become a scientist, if not of the natural world then of whatever world you care about. More of that world will pop alive. You will see more when you look at it.

Somers conveys so well what I’ve experienced. When you are intentional about regularly expressing yourself it raises your antennae to life. I’ve challenged myself to post something on this site every day, so I wake up each day knowing I must come up with something worth sharing. And I see the world just a little differently than I did when I wasn’t writing every day. I’m on the hunt for ideas and insight and experiences that I can wrap these keys around.  I’m more curious and primed for searching, for inquiring, for consumption that sparks creation.

It’s how a photographer sees beauty the rest of us miss. His intention to capture images opens his eyes to marvels all around, marvels those not armed with a camera and a desire to tell a story most likely never notice.

(I’m curious, now that most of us have these terrific cameras in our pockets and ways to easily share photos, if this is turning around, if more people are intentionally searching for beautiful moments to capture and share. The Instagramification of our culture could have some unexpected merit if it means more people are opening their eyes to the world around in ways they never did before.)

The intent to express yourself sparks imagination and stokes curiosity. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike before putting the words down. It works the other way around. Just commit to expressing yourself regularly, even if you don’t know where the ideas will come from. Write, draw, speak, make music… whatever delights you, and summon the muse with your action. Start each day with the intent to express yourself, and you will end up inhabiting more mindfully aware and interesting days.

 

Maddux and heartbreak and writing with movement

This long feature on SB Nation by Jeremy Collins – Thirteen Ways of Looking at Greg Maddux – is beautifully written and heartbreaking.

Yes, it’s about Greg Maddux, my favorite baseball player and one of the most enigmatic, masterful athletes of our generation. But it’s mostly about the author coming to terms with the tragic loss of his childhood friend, a friend who was obsessed with and inspired by Greg Maddux.

Maddux was not some physical freak who overpowered batters with strength. He just out-thought and out-executed those he faced. He was a mere mortal who through his own will and savvy and plodding discipline became the best in the game. And he approached the game with an apparent detachment that belied the ferocity with which he performed so fully in the present. When he misfired, a loud profanity punctuated the moment. And then an immediate reset. Back to the moment at hand, calm, calculating. His approach was a Stoic one, dealing with only what he could control and shaking off anything out of his hands.

The story Jeremy Collins tells ties this ideal that Maddux represented, control and mastery, to the tragedy of his friend who reached for that ideal as he grasped for hope in reorienting his young, ill-fated life.

Collins’s piece is well worth the time to read it. You know when you’ve read something that was written with both heart and mastery. This bit of writing is Maddux-like in its artistry. It’s a fitting tribute to a lost friend and to an iconic, inspiring hero. Like a pitch from Maddux, it knicks the edges and moves unpredictably and so effectively.

Style + substance

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Form AND function. Both should be remarkable. Quality content can get lost in poor delivery. Details matter. Presentation matters.

I love how Apple cares as much about the package design as they do about the hardware and software engineering of their products.

Tweaking the details of a design often leads to new insights in the content for me. And if I care enough about the content, I want to present it as beautifully as I can.

Try to be alive

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via @Parislemon

This was Hemingway’s advice on writing, but it works for advice on living an excellent life as well.

I went home for lunch today and had a bite of watermelon while thinking about this quotation. As I was trying to really taste it like Hemingway suggests, I bit my tongue. (I won’t try quite so hard next time.)

Hemingway’s advice is that we should live a more engaged and aware life.

“Try to be alive.”

What does it take to NOT sleepwalk through our days? How is it that we seem to be programmed to be numb and only those who have simply awakened to the full technicolor, surround-sound experience of life shine as artists and enlightened souls? (Young children have this by nature and most of us lose it as if that’s the price to pay for becoming an adult.)

We all fear dying, yet we should be afraid instead of not living while we have the chance. Life after death is a mystery, but life before death… that should be our primary concern every day.

The creative life is a bit of an antidote to the numbness. It’s why people write and make art and sing songs and post thoughts on the internet. Your effort to capture and express your unique human experience is like telling your consciousness to send out scouts to the present and bring back prizes of delight and insight and even pain.

The intention to express yourself can awaken you to see what’s around you so much more clearly. Don’t you know a photographer sees a different world than most of us. He’s looking intentionally at the world, hoping to find something worth expressing. If we all thought of ourselves as artists, even if we never share any creative output, we might all live a more awake and aware life. It’s a good reason to start a creative habit, to begin journaling or painting or learning an instrument or building web sites or making movies.

The challenge is to inhabit the present moment as often as you can, to live deeply while you’re still alive and to taste the sweetness and, sometimes, the bitterness of the now.

But be careful not to bite your tongue.

Everything you need to know about life can be learned from a genuine and ongoing attempt to write.

–Dani Shapiro