My cat Foxy is small, but fiercely independent. She knows what she likes when she likes it.
For this afternoon nap, she chose to sleep crossways in this cat basket with one ear completely covered, even though, clearly, the right way to do it was just the opposite. But who is to say which might be more suitable for her?
I learn a lot, watching my cats.
Men wanted for hazardous journey.
Small wages, bitter cold. Long months off complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success. ~Sir Earnest Henry Shackleton~
I love books where I sense the amazing complexity of human experience. RACING TO THE FINISH, a memoir by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., NASCAR racer, is such a book.
Let me start by saying I’m not a NASCAR fan. I’ve never been to a race, although I’ve seen them on television. Who can forget the sight of those cars zooming around the track at the Daytona 500?
There are crashes galore in this book. For example Dale describes this one at the Talladega Speedway in Alabama:
“It started a chain reaction that would end up wrecking twenty-five cars…Tony got sideways, fell out of the lead, and slid helplessly up into our pack. He was hit simultaneously by two oncoming cars and flipped into the air…He sailed by me as I started braking to keep from hitting anyone too hard as cars were out of control and all over the place right in front of me. As we all kept sliding and other cars kept smashing into each other…
…When you’re in the Big One, you’re just like a boat stuck in a storm. You can react and steer and dig all you want, but really, you’re just praying for the best. You have little or no control. It’s just screeches and smoke and chaos. What you don’t want to hear is that crunch, that smack that tells you that you’ve been hit.”
What spectators miss is what happens next. Like heavy-weight boxers or professional football players, race car drivers are at extreme risk for traumatic brain injury. And, like other professional sports players, these injuries often go unreported for fear of losing jobs or being considered a coward or weakling. It’s a strange world out there.
The motto from his family seemed to be, “just put a washcloth over it,” or “tape an aspirin to it” and keep on racing. Dale was different, though, in that he started keeping a journal on his iPhone of the symptoms he was experiencing after these crashes that were considered part of his job.
Through the book the reader experiences both sides of his physical and emotional world: the extreme highs of fast-speed track racing and the aftermath of pain and confusion after a bad crash.
In journal entries Dale describes the post-race symptoms:
“Thursday I felt hung over and frustrated all day…Friday, I seemed to wake up really slow and feel groggy and not sharp…The three different hits into the wall that Sunday were 20, 13, and 23 Gs…There’s a lot of things I do today that frustrate me. Mid-sentence, not being able to find the words to finish. ..when in vocal conversation I choose the wrong word or can’t find the word to complete my thought, that makes me so sad and scared.”
Dale gets the help he needs to retrain his brain, but then re-injures it and has to start over again.
He was unstintingly honest about what he did, and why. When he eventually retired, it was to a celebration of people who loved him.
An uplifting book with a strong message for all of us. I thoroughly relished going along for the ride.
Sometimes I trip over my own feet, because I am staring at the sky.
This day, the clouds were giving some very clear signals. The background white ones were fair-weather clouds saying don’t worry, everything is fine. The lower, darker clouds, rapidly moving in, were saying, don’t believe those guys. You are in for some baaad weather ahead!
I’ve learned to pay attention the clouds. The weatherman may sometimes be wrong, but the weather never is. You just have to know where to look.
Every Thursday night our local Wendy’s donates their lot space to a classic car show. The guys (and it’s always the guys) arrive in the early afternoon, bring out their dust rags and start polishing ol’ Betsy for the show. Most of these vehicles get driven oh, fifty miles a month, back and forth to car shows.
My father-in-law, though, was a Master Mechanic during his lifetime. He had one vehicle, an old ’47 Chevy pickup, that he drove back and forth to work, on late night call-outs, and down to the parts store. He used to brag he’d never have a Ford in his driveway (Fix-Or-Repair-Daily he called them), but that he’d installed three engines in this Chevy and it was still running like a well-tuned watch.
He said that if you took care of things, they took care of you.
Recently, a family member took her computer in for repair, again. The tech told her that any more there is a “planned obsolescence” in computers–that if they last two years without turning into a boat anchor, you should consider yourself lucky.
I wonder what my father-in-law and his old truck would say to that.
I’d like to be a truck driver. I think you could run your life that way. It wouldn’t be such a bad way of doing it. It would offer a chance to be alone. ~Princess Anne of England
This is a commercially planted group of golden barrel cactus, also known as mother-in-law cushions. I know this because no self-respecting barrel would choose to grow this close to another, just like a wise mother-in-law (without the thorns)!
Barrels have a single blossom in the spring. You can see the remains here. What I like is their representation of both the short-term represented by the fading blossoms and the long-term potential of life. Living beings often grow slowly in the desert, taking time to put down roots. Under the right conditions, barrels live to be over a hundred years old.
These cacti remind me that we do not need a reason to exist–sometimes it is okay to just sit there and look beautiful.
Observe the space between your thoughts. Then observe the observer.
~ Hamilton Bordeaux
Bird flight is a miraculous event. I once had the privilege of watching two golden eagles in mating flight over the Red Rocks of Sedona. They swooped and swirled, and at the very last moment the female turned on her back in mid-flight and they joined, the male carrying both of them with his strong wings. That numinous vision has remained with me to this day.
I sat on the back porch at dawn the other day, watching the sparrows dive in to the feeder, while the hummingbirds performed aerial acrobatics overhead. Even the pigeons, so clumsy on the ground, soared and gyrated in the morning air.
As a species, humans have always wanted to fly. It’s the only motion of the animals that we can’t do ourselves: we can walk, crawl, swim, climb—but not fly. And we want to. But it is a particular type of flight—the flight of the angels. Not for us the flittering, bare-skinned flight of bats and pterodactyls.
No, we want wings! And feathers! Or better yet, nothing at all. Think of the magic when Peter Pan first shows Wendy how to fly, just by holding on tight. Or when Superman gives Lois Lane that first breath-taking ride over the city.
My heart stopped at that sword fight among the bamboo branches in Crouching Tiger, Flying Dragon. They had to be sorcerers, to stop time that way, in midair. Yes! That’s what I wanted, too.
We’ve tried to copy it the best we can, through airplanes. But traveling enclosed in a metal cocoon with windows that don’t open is like comparing a sedate freeway bus ride to swooping down Highway 1 along the coastline of California at 90 mph on your Harley with no helmet!
We know what we want: That startling adrenaline rush of being in total control of our own destiny. We yearn to soar through the air on the wax wings of Icarus, and yet we crash just as inevitably to the ground. We want the ability to fly. And that’s just what we can’t have.
Some people cope through complacency and forgetting. Peter Bruegel once painted a picture of Icarus plunging into the sea while a plowman nearby focused on his fields and the ships continued to sail by as though nothing important was happening.
Some people cope by dreaming. We fly only in our dreams, in our imagination, in our flights of fantasy and creation.
Maybe wanting what we can’t have is a good thing. And maybe that’s why we can’t fly.
That inability becomes both a lesson in humility and a rainbow to the future.
As long as that desire exists, the hoping and the wishing that is the most quintessentially human of virtues continues to vibrate through our species.
It pulls us forward, helping us to grow, allowing us to dream of the someday when perhaps we can fly!
As a writer, I use the month of January to reorient my life after the craziness of the holidays. That’s when I plan what I want to do during the coming year and renew my resolution to be as nurturing to myself as I can be.
I visit these eight authors to find new inspiration for the coming year:
VICKI ROBIN. Even though each year I resolve to lower my holiday spending, I’m not always successful, and as a result January can be depressing! That’s when I turn to Robin’s seminal work, Your Money or your life. It’s been called, “the best book on money period.” I like it because it is practical and not preachy. It talks about the best ways to get out of debt, saving money through being more mindful, living well for less.
(Although the mountaintop wouldn’t be bad, either!)
PADRAIG O’MORAIN. Meditation calms me down and gives me clear thinking, which is absolutely essential for good writing. O’Morain is a master at giving ways to be more mindful, even on days when I am crazy-busy. According to the author of Mindfulness on the Go, inner calm can be found “on your morning commute, during your coffee break, or in line at the super market.”
And he’s right!
MIRIAM NELSON. Strong women stay young. Sometimes when the words are flowing, I spend long hours hunched over a computer keyboard, barely breathing, much less moving. I get up hours later moving like a jerky robot!
I’ve found much better way is to intersperse—with a timer set way across the room so I have to move—periods of writing with short bursts of physical activity.
Strong women stay young describes just six exercises using a straight back chair and a set of hand weights that can keep you limber, strong, and young.
I’m a stress eater and a comfort eater and a convenience eater when I’m on a roll, plotting a new novel. Set something in front of me and I’ll eat it. Especially if it contains caffeine or chocolate, or even better, both!
Michael suggests instead, “eat food, not too much, more plants.” I agree.
Finally, I’d like to leave you with a brand new one just out, The Healthy Writer. Joanna knows all too well the kinds of stress that creative people subject themselves to in the pursuit of their art.
Here she teams up with a medical doctor to give some practical tips for escaping the unhealthy habits we sometimes construct for ourselves.
A positive read!
And that’s my favorite eight writers on best practices that help me start my New Year in a nurturing way.
What about you? Who are you reading for inspiration right now?
Have you ever listened to the dialogue you have everyday with yourself?
For example we’re all familiar with the Critic: Youidiot! Why did you think that would ever work? They’re all laughing at you.
The “you” in this case often doesn’t talk back, but simply cowers in a virtual corner, taking in, and worse, accepting the negative judgments as being earned. Totally.
We also run into this negative evaluating side of ourselves when we don’t do something we know we should, for example, exercise: You are lazy. Youshould get up earlier. Or overeating: Why did youtake that extra piece of cake? You know better.
That system doesn’t always work too well, and in fact productivity plummets as we use valuable emotional energy to battle those negative, self-induced feelings within.
There is a way to change this.
Are you listening yet?
We can encourage and praise, rather than critique or judge when we do something difficult that we didn’t want or have to do, and did anyway: When we have that one in a thousand day when the to-do list got vanquished. When we tackled mind-numbing paperwork at the beginning of the day. When we not only made our step goal, but actually we were 57 steps over.
Some folks take this to mean, I need a BIG reward. When I do this hard thing, I’ll reward myself with a Godiva chocolate. (Who ever ate just one?) Or when I lose this weight, I’ll schedule a massage. (Find time for massage, schedule massage, get dressed, get in car…) Or if I finish the laundry, do this report, file my taxes, you name it–I’ll “let” myself read a fluff book. (Choose book, acquire book, don’t read it yet…no, not yet, either. If it’s a good book, it is already on my nightstand, half finished!)
There’s a more effective way. And it uses tools you always have at hand.
The key is that your rewarding action must be easy to do, short in duration, and it must be immediate.
Two ways to do this are the following:
IMMEDIATE PHYSICAL REWARD
Have you ever watched little kids on a playground? They do something difficult such as swoop down a slide for the first time, turn a hand spring, kick a goal. What do they do? They celebrate physically. They jump up and down. They hug themselves. They do a little dance. Their fist rises in a pump of victory.
Well, we all have a little kid inside that still wants to celebrate. The next time you accomplish something really cool, announce it physically in exactly the same way. And if you are in the middle of an office, head outside or into the restroom or a quiet place, and just do it. And then notice how you feel. Better?
SHORT VERBAL PRAISE
The second is by using small words of praise. My fitbit does this for me. When it notices that it is vertical rather than horizontal, it wakes up and rewards me: “Way to go!” it says. Or “Woot!” Or “What’s up?” And I have that little fillip of good feeling. Someone, or in this case, something, noticed my actions in a positive way.
You can do the same thing for yourself. On an index card, write down 10 short phrases that sound familiar to what you might say. The key is short. For me, the list includes, “Wow!” “That’s great.” “Look what you just did.” “That’s amazing!”
I practice saying these phrases in my mind, with as much enthusiasm as I can, ingraining them into my memory so that I can call them forth when I need them. And then I commit, to using them as often as I can, as soon as I can after a task is completed.
Try it. And then notice how you feel. I think you may be surprised.
If a system isn’t working, it doesn’t hurt to consider a change. Perhaps it is time to turn in those sticks and add a few more carrots to our lives.
What works for you? How do you reward yourself when you do something hard?
The familiar phrase comes from an ode written by Thomas Gray, a poet who lived in the 1700s, The full quote is, “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”
The impetus for the poem was some joyful children playing near Eton College, with no thought of what future catastrophes their lives might hold. The poet lists a few: disdainful anger, pallid fear, grim-visaged, comfortless despair. He describes an icy soul that watches a slow-consuming old age approach.
The poem was written when Gray was 26, perhaps a bit young for a midlife crisis, but consider that he died at 55. Later Romantic poets had even a worse fate, with Keats dying at 25 and Shelley at 30.
I’ve been blessed with good health, but these words of 300 years ago were prescient of events this past week.
On the advice of my wellness coach, I acquired a Fitbit and a blood-pressure cuff. (Also a thermometer that takes my temperature by touching my forehead, but that’s the topic for another day.)
Using these new wonders of technology, with additional inputs into my computer, I can tell exactly what my blood pressure is upon rising (comatose) and what percentage of fiber I have ingested for the day (not enough).
I now know if I’ve had a restful sleep or whether I’ve been sitting too long in front of the computer. It cheers me on if I’ve accomplished my step goal or allows me to “taunt” a friend if she has not achieved hers.
There are other intrusions on the horizon: Smart refrigerators that alert you if the milk is going bad. A beep on your phone to tell you the traffic is heavy this morning and you need to leave five minutes early for work.
About ten years ago, the futurist Ray Kurzweil wrote a book entitled, The Singularity is Near, in which he predicted a merger between genetics, nanotechnology and robotics to create a new humanoid species entirely unlike anything we ever known.
We are indeed close. I find it exceedingly uncomfortable to be jerked into the future like a puppy raised by the nape of the neck and unceremoniously dumped in the back yard. I’ve had that feeling several times this past week.
Maybe Thomas Gray had it right all along. Perhaps ignorance is bliss, and we don’t want, or need, to know what’s coming.
How do you feel about the merger of technology and humankind? I’d love to hear from you!
We deal with change all the time. Day changes into night. Our body changes from hungry to full. Seasons change.
But if the cycle is predictable in many ways it may be comforting. Change can be, in the wider scheme of things like fractals. The farther away is your perspective, the more the overall pattern emerges.
Change within sameness in comforting. Change, anticipated, is satisfying.
As we move from summer into fall, I’m ready to break out the new school-year crayon box. I’m swinging into Starbucks for the pumpkin spice latte. I see geese flying a V overhead and feel a crispness in the air.
So when you say, “I hate change,” figure out what it is that is so disturbing. You may be surprised.
What does change mean to you? What is the most terrifying change you’ve ever experienced? The most satisfying?