“As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.” – Seneca
Suppose you are getting ready to start a really big project––a project that will require an immense amount of time and effort, a project that has so many parts and components that you are certain that you will lose your way and make mistakes. It is just that big. And yet the one thing you can be certain about is that the materials for this project are precious and you will not be able to re-start the project once you begin––you'll have to keep forging ahead even if you make mistakes. It will be the summative production
I spent some time last week making a few DIY journals, and it made me think a bit about why I always have a stack of them filling my shelf. After looking through a few in the pile, I decided yes, they're definitely worth the effort. Here are a few reasons why.
Why It's Important We Still Print Our Own Photographs...and Why You Should Be Taking More in the First Place
We live in an era when everyone has a camera in their pocket at all times. One that would have cost $500-700 a decade ago. And you can use it literally with a click of button, and chances are, you'll get a decent exposure.
So it’s easy to see our photographs as only pixels on a screen. This is why a community like Instragram works so well: it makes photography special again. When you can take a photo of anything at any time absolutely free and be able to send it up into the cloud with zero effort, editing, curating, and capturing become the new acts of care that give smartphone photos a new sense of meaning.
“… my landlady, by the way, doesn’t like the Germans because when some playful Nazi pilots lived in her house some months ago, they threw a hand grenade into her chicken coop, and they had to eat the winter’s supply of chickens all at once.”
This is one of my favorite lines from our family's treasure: my grandfather’s back-and-forth correspondence letters during World War II. Frank T. Waters was an editor of the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes. At several instances during the war, he sent correspondence back home to his mother, family, and friends sharing daily life overseas and fighting the biggest war of the 20th century.
Going through these letters is a truly amazing glimpse of a soldier's life during war-time Europe in the 40s. I counted 207 letters, official correspondence, orders, postcards, etc, so far. Reading these, I discover my grandfather was smart, curious, and pretty funny. Here are some of my favorite bits:
It happens. Going about your life, you come across memorable sayings. In movies.. books... pasted on top of inspirational images on your friends Facebook feed. And every once in a while, one of them sticks.
If forced to pick one, I suspect my greatest fear is regret. You know the image: an old man sitting in a chair, thinking back over all the the chances he never took. And that's why this quote hit me. It goes like this:
If you’ve attended elementary school in the last 30 years, you’ve heard of haiku: three-line poems with a 5-7-5 syllable pattern, usually about nature, often cutesy. I’m happy to report that despite some grains of truth, you’re wrong. Haiku is a lean, muscular form of thinking, and the discipline of writing haiku is a rich addition to a full life.
When I was a kid, my parents' old Mr. Coffee broke. Because money was tight, it wasn't replaced for some time. I remember waking up one morning and finding my mom making a cup for herself by perching the brew basket from the broken maker over a mug and pouring boiling water from a kettle.
For me, seeing this bit of kitchen MacGuyvering became a truly paradigm-shattering moments. Until then, I thought coffee required an electric drip machine — that it was the only way coffee could be made at all. But seeing this patient pouring of water over grounds, it became clear that the machine wasn't necessary. Some things you really can make yourself.
More than seventy years ago, folk singer and activist Woody Guthrie opened up his notebook to write down a set of "New Years Rulin's" his own self...complete with illustrations.
I burned out early on Halloween movies this year. I watched mostly duds with a few mediocres sprinkled in, and realized I'd spent enough time in shakycameraland for one season. Not being even remotely ready for the annual sacrament of candy cane-fueled holiday classics (it's too early, even for me), I decided to spend this season of limbo - cold enough to need to be inside at night, but too early for Christmas merrymaking - raiding the public library, and watching that list of films I've been meaning to see for twenty years, but simply hadn't gotten around to it.
It hasn't gone as planned.
Earlier this year, I agreed to complete a woodworking project for my wife. Actually, I offered and volunteered myself to do it. She has a particular storage need in her office, and because of the weird layout, access issues, scale, etc, it's not something that exists anywhere. It has to be custom built, and installed in the space.
The truth is, I've been avoiding it. It's a big project, and it was easy to move to the bottom of the project list when it was the height of summer. We had houseguests coming in and out of our home, and the days were long and full of activity.
But now, that season is over, and it's time to start building. I realized this week why I've been putting it off: I'm afraid. It's beyond my skill level, and requires a lot of moving parts that need to line up, just so. In any other situation, this wouldn't be something I'd agree to do, because it's too big of a leap; I need to learn to do too many new skills inside the same project.
You know the ones. Those classic, advice-supplying stock phrases that might be from Shakespeare but could be a religious text and/or folk wisdom, yet we all seem to absorb nonetheless. Those almost-too-simple lines that are always shared by well-meaning people in sometimes appropriate, but usually irrelevant, situations that don't actually apply.
But, I suspect that we all have a few of these that actually do make sense to us. True, "a penny saved is a penny earned," doesn't really resonate with or motivate me. But I know it's a code that many people organize their lives around. Nor do I agree that you should "never go to bed angry."
These are thoughts, the artwork, the news stories, the tools, the food, the conversations, and whatever else we just can't get out of our heads this month.
Newsflash, amigos. Sometimes we mess up, and sometimes we need to say we're sorry. But if offering an apology starts with the line "I'm sorry if you," then you're not actually apologizing; you're simply expressing your own regret that you and the other party are not on the same page....namely, that they don't agree with you. In fact, we're deeming the word "if" inappropriate for apologies altogether. The other person can never be the subject of an apology.
If you're apologizing, you're the subject not just of the opening clause, but the whole paragraph: it is you that is sorry, you who owns the responsibility for the conflict in the first place, and therefore you who needs to put things back together again. An apology is not an opportunity for you to move past the other person's offense in an argument so you can return to making your same point as before. The apology is a pivot point that changes the nature of the conversation altogether.
It's the classic finish to every story. The hero overcomes the odds, beats the villain, and rises victorious from the ashes of his enemy. But is that how life really works? The real world doesn't seem to support such a clear-cut approach to how we "win". My experience so far tells me a very different story, and we'd all be better off if we marched to a much different rhythm.
A few days ago, I listened to a eulogy for someone I didn't know. He was a friend of a friend, and passed away much too young. But it was clear from the message at his service that in his short life, he made an amazing impact on those around him. He was dealt a truly short hand in life, with serious obstacles, but through the words of others, his story made me, someone he never met, experience amazement and ultimate respect. His short, hard life was thoughtful, impactful, and a direct challenge to me to spend my time well. Here are my thoughts on how I plan to be remembered.
The older we get, the harder it becomes to start new habits...and break old ones. We begin in earnest, but soon we fall back; the good seem to slip, and the bad seem to creep in. The best way to keep yourself accountable is to ask yourself this simple question (looking into a mirror is optional):
Am I doing what I want?
Let your big goals be long ones.
Don't think: "I want to write a book."
Instead think: "I am going to work on a book this year, and next year, and the year after that."
It's empowering to shift your timeframes this way, and I encourage you to try it. Here's why:
Long-term goals are commitments
Short term goals are small aspirations. They're about things you want, not about the person you want to become. When you let yourself to approach something over a period of years, or even decades, you make bigger choices and commitments about who you want to be.
I used to hate when things were the same. I grew up in a family where everything was always changing. We never ate the same thing twice, we had no hallowed holiday traditions, no yearly vacation spot, no alarm clocks, no bedtimes, no church, no chore chart or laundry days. We did everything ad hoc, on the fly, winging it from sun up to sunset.
Sometimes, on a weekend morning, we'd leave the house, all of us together, with some vague destination in mind – maybe a museum or a park – and end up somewhere completely different (a cemetery or a different state). If we went out to dinner to celebrate a birthday, we usually chose the
If you're a morning person — congratulations. Seriously, we're legitimately happy for you. The ability to sleep well, feel rested, and then be ready to get going nice and early is a real gift, and you're lucky to be wired that way.
For the rest of us, mornings can be rough. Especially in the wintertime, when it's dark, and cold, and tens of thousands of years of natural selection are encouraging you to stay hibernating so you can protect your genes from freezing off.
But, of course,