Writing as a Practice

I make writing my spiritual practice. It takes practice.

Winding down my work days at my day job and gearing up for my new small biz, I have let my blogging slide. I want to get back into the practice.

Also, let’s face it, the Olympics are on. I watch these athletes every night. I see effortless skill and human perfection. It looks like magic. But to get into these games, they have spent at least ten thousand hours practicing.

Practice is such a boring word and is such a boring idea. It seems to bear no fruit. It reminds me of those few piano lessons I had in second grade, sitting there in our front room in Skokie, Illinois. No one to hear me or encourage me as I pounded out my drills and scales.

And it all amounted to nothing. I did not seem to get better. I still can’t play the piano. Truth be told, I spent way more time avoiding practice than practicing. I loved kickball better.

But wait, there were a few moments of fun. I remember goofing off on the piano by myself, figuring out how to play Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, not by reading the music, but by hearing the tune I loved in my head and playing it. Just playing around.

I guess if practice requires some kind of play, some kind of goofing around, it is not deadly boring. Practice, then, becomes a discovery and not a rote memory.

Practice becomes a journey, a way to pole vault you from one side of the hurdle to another.

I may never make it to the Olympics of writing, but I will practice any way. For in the art of practice, there is gold.

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This was the back of a tee shirt at the United Methodist Ubuntu Day of Service, working at the Tierra Negra Farm in Durham, NC.
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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I am a sucker for a sub genre of movies that I like to call, Learning to Love Again. The first time I noticed this theme was in the brilliant movie, Shadowlands. And now there’s an even better one — The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Each of these retiring English characters — a civil servant, judge, housewife, grandmother — heads to India as if they were put out to pasture. What they find is life and love and one another.

Walking out onto 57th Street after seeing the movie on Monday, I felt uplifted — as if I just had a deep, funny and meaningful conversation with a best friend. As I commented on my friend’s Facebook status, “The movie is cheaper and more effective than therapy.” The movie made me feel that all things are possible. Just because I’m ageing doesn’t mean my life’s over. Adventure still lies ahead.

Each character is transformed in some way. From their transformations, I offer you these life lessons.

  1. Quit with the negativity — one character sees only what’s wrong and drives everyone away. Stay optimistic.
  2. Forgive yourself — the Tom Wilkinson character believes he has ruined someone’s life, but think again. Don’t hold yourself hostage to events of your past.
  3. Work — the character played by Judi Dench gets a job for the first time in her life. Work adds purpose and a bounce to her step.
  4. Embrace your enthusiasm — the character played by Dev Patel has a big dream. And you need a big dream to infect those around you to make big things happen.
  5. Life is a privilege, not a right — there are beautiful, wise, struggling people everywhere. Notice where you are and treasure your life. Carpe diem.
  6. You can still have sex when you’re old — this is refreshing.
  7. Age naturally — what a thrill to see movie stars like Maggie Smith with furrows, wrinkles, smile lines. Thank God, she looks real, not botox-ed, nipped and tucked and fake.
  8. Travel — immerse yourself in a new culture. See your world anew. Forfeit old stereotypes.
  9. Remain open — the thing you think will be extraordinary may not be; but the thing or person you don’t expect to change your life will change you for good.

If you see the movie, and I hope you do — it opens May 4th — what life lessons did you take away?

Seeing My Life as an Adventure

the view from my office

This year I will notice the sun. My life is enshrouded in office dullness. I want nothing more than light — the shine and vitamin D of the sun.

In my sadness, in my busyness, I rush by, failing to notice the sun, the sky, the birds, the laughter, the people.

The sun is now setting; the day is gone. I noticed in a meeting earlier today how everyone ducked their head into their laptops as if their computer screens were a shield, protecting them from what? Each other? Very few of us made eye contact.

New Year’s Resolution: I will notice the color of people’s eyes.

I will be a people person, not a screen person. I will listen more deeply.

I often have something to say; I open my mouth quite easily. There is hardly a topic that you can mention that I don’t know one fact or have one statistic about. I have an opinion on everything.

I do not know everything. There is wisdom in not knowing, in noticing. There is quiet. There can be lulls in conversations. Usually when there’s a void, I tend to jump in. I hate the chasm. Like in a Harry Potter movie, a wide open space must be jumped across. But what if the wide open space simply was a place to meander, to linger.

I am so tired of being the engine that makes every little thing go. “I can’t do it, I can’t do,” I sobbed the other night when I couldn’t sleep. Yes, literally sobbed. The worries of my day multiplied, work worries times Chris’s decline times the kids growing up.

But what if I just stood at the side of the chasm and did nothing? I could stand there like a spelunker at the side of a cave. I have loved a mystery, an adventure. What if — ah, this is good — I saw my life as a quest?

I saw myself as going after something — I am Dorothy in the land of Oz, trying to find her way home.

I open to the chasm. I walk the yellow brick road. I am an adventurer at a crossroads. I am looking this way and that. I am listening for clues. For the sound of a waterfall or the barking of my dog ToTo.

I am not alone, yet I must make my quest alone. And when I come out the other side of the chasm, I can look back and think, I have come far, I have crossed that. Or maybe I’ll just fall into the fiery pit and be burnt to a crisp. That, too, happens in an adventure story.

But to see life as a journey, as a quest, this is the path to follow.

Comment, Like, Cheer

I love to like. Do I over-like? I wish there was a love button. Then I could crank my love into overdrive.

I think everyone needs a boost; everyone wants their stuff to be liked. My friend Amy once told me everything we do or say is either one of two messages — “I love you,” or “Please love me.”

On Facebook , there’s the handy-dandy like button, a thumbs up. And on Twitter, you can retweet a tweet to show your favor. On a blog post, you can like or comment.

Best of all is the cheer button at 43 Things. Here are my 43Things.

You get only 5 cheers a day. Once you start complimenting or cheering others, you don’t want to stop, so once you hit your 5 cheer limit, you have to stop cheering people online and start cheering them IRL (in real life). Being a positive person is contagious. And you’ get back as many cheers as you give.

I love making New Year’s resolutions at 43 Things and one of my resolutions will be to admire, to like, to comment, to praise, and to cheer more — online and IRL!