Tag Archives: growth

Wherein Cereal Makes Me A Better Writer

Image by kasiya @ Flickr

Image by kasiya

I just had a funny thought: “I really want a bowl of cereal.  Surely some Lucky Charms will make me a better writer.”

Mostly, I think my brain is craving cereal.  And yet.

When I was a kid, I held the unshakeable belief that a pair of new shoes made me run faster, jump higher, and altogether much cooler.  As if, during the manufacturing process, they put some kind of mojo in between the layers of leather and rubber.  Or perhaps some fairy godmother or wizard on loan from fantasy epics blessed each pair as they rolled by on the conveyor.  Heck, I don’t even know that I had a reason why it was so.  It just was.  Unquestioned.  Pure, iron-clad, unshakeable kid-logic truth.  And when I laced those suckers up–or tightened up the velcro straps (yeah, I was that cool)–the world knew to watch out.

As we age, we lose the strength of our convictions, invariably replacing ours with those on loan from people who feel they know better than us.  Since when is it unnecessary or uncool to believe in ourselves?  Marketing, too, is driven by this idea: use their product, and we’ll be better/sexier/whatever. And, oftentimes, the marketing and products work.  We feel better/sexier/whatever.  But the magic isn’t in whatever doodad they’ve sold us: the magic is in belief.  And so if we can separate belief from money, and remind ourselves that the latter does not beget or validate the former, then we can recapture some of that kid-logic.  Putting on a lucky shirt, a flattering pair of pants, morning affirmations in front of the mirror, and other daily rituals tap into whatever shreds of our childhood remain.

If we believe something enough, does it become true?

When it comes to things like science and politics, absolutely not (despite what various organizations say).

But in the realm of the internal?  For sure.

Internally, belief is a fuel to create all kinds of realities.  It freezes ambiguous intentions into the solid form of truth and helps you figure out what the heck you want.  In the landscape of the mind, if you believe it, writing enough stories will make you successful, that new haircut does make you look better, five minutes a day spent in reflection does make you a better person, cereal does make me a better writer, and new shoes do make the young version of myself run faster.

Quote on Boldness and Actually Starting Something

“Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.'”

W. H. Murray. The Scottish Himalayan Expedition. J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London 1951.

About Me (2012)

Note: this is the latest text for my About page.

When it comes to things I do, I write fiction and am a musician and beginning composer, among other things.

My general interests in no particular order are:

  • myth and folklore;
  • writing and storytelling;
  • health and medicine (both physical and mental);
  • thinking, organizing information, and making connections between ideas.

I avoid taking on new hobbies whenever possible.

The limit, you see, is time and energy.  I’ve been an English major, pre-med with emphasis on neurobiology, a middle school science teacher, a programmer.  They’re all interests of mine that I would pursue if only I had the time.  But there are (at minimum) two true things about the world and life in it:

* We have to make decisions
* Life and time will move on whether we make decisions or not

I can either float along, paralyzed with indecision and a fear of deciding, thus accepting by default whatever comes my way and kicks down the door, or I can make the effort to pursue something more.  Greatness and happiness are not passive affairs.

In the past, I wondered and worried about making the “right” decision, but now that I’m on the other side of about ten years of worry, I don’t think there’s a right decision at all.  Instead, what I’m left with is the responsibility to choose what I feel is best for me right now.

I’m working on accepting that I’m not limited to doing one thing ad nauseum for the rest of my life.  Not only is the workplace changing and people are turning over through companies and careers at an ever-increasing pace, but I’ve found that the “one thing” approach isn’t a fit for my personality.  The core of this new idea is that I can devote time to a passion, and then move on to another passion, without feeling like I can’t commit to anything or have failed or “wasn’t serious”.  Or I can work on two or more things simultaneously, and, given enough work, reach a level of happiness in each.

In this new world of mine, there is no more guilt about not sticking with something or “killing my darlings”, said darlings being all those projects I want to do, things I want to learn, and careers I want to pursue that will suffer when my attention turns elsewhere.  Moving in a new direction does not mean I don’t care about what has come before or that I can never return to it.  After all, each “right thing” felt like the right one at the time, and each contributes to “me” as a whole and hopefully helps me become a better person along the way.

When I started this blog, I intended on writing a new “about” page for each new year–and fell short of my goal in spectacular fashion.  This update is another attempt to start a habit that I tried to form a few years ago.

When I wrote my update in 2010, I was set in a creative space (as my many updates about writing will attest).  2012 will be a year of change and new directions.  I’m still working on what that “right for me right now” decision will be and where it will take me.

Pay Yourself First

There’s a very common rule in personal finance that says: Pay Yourself First.  It applies in equal measure to goals.

The thinking behind it, financially speaking, is that we can’t waste what we don’t have.  When we pay ourselves first, we set aside our savings before we pay any other bills or spend any money.  It’s priority.  Then we pay bills.  And if, after paying ourselves first, we don’t have enough money for your bills?  Then we have to work harder to ensure we can (and double check our spending habits).  That simple. We’ll usually work harder to pay bills than we ever would to set extra money aside.

When people wait and pay themselves last, they often don’t end up saving at all because there’s nothing left for the last person in line. Do it first, and succeed. Do it last, and fail.

In many interviews with successful writers, buried within talk of their inspirations and so forth will be some variation on a theme of “I got up early every morning and wrote ten pages”  or “The first thing I did when I came home from work was shut the office door and write 2000 words.”  It varies, but usually it’s there.

They paid themselves first.

For a while, I woke up around 5 in the morning so that I could get my work done before arriving at the office at 9.  I felt that my writing was the most important thing to me, and so I would give it the first hours of the day, before the daily routine sapped my brain power and energy.  I paid myself first, and it worked out.  I might have been tired when I came home, but it was a satisfied, content kind of tired, because I knew I’d already accomplished something that day and there was zero guilt involved in frittering away my evening hours via lazy entertainment.  I’ve since gotten off that cycle and need to return to it (a case of “practice what I preach,” for sure.)

There are ways to apply this to any goal.  Want to learn a foreign language? Go over your materials and practice while drinking your morning coffee.  Starting a new business venture?  Do your research before your day job, or block out inviolate evening time before dinner or after-dinner movies to ensure that you’ll do it.  It’s not even so much the time of day wherein your effort occurs as it is your attitude that’s important.

So many goals start with “One Day…” and stay there.

You’ll never find time.  Extra time does not come knocking at the door.  You make time*.

* Or kidnap it off the street, transport it via unmarked van to your residence, and then drag it in to your office… but the former is usually easier and raises less suspicion with authorities and neighbors

Look At Your Past Without Guilt

A friend and I were talking yesterday, and she mentioned how so-and-so had done such-and-such by the age of somewhere-in-the-mid-20s.  This, she said, made her feel lame in comparison.

I replied with a few thoughts, and then, as usually happens, thought to myself, wait a minute.  That was a Thing. I usually forget stuff if I don’t write it down, so I tried to condense what I was thinking into a tweet:

Look at your past without guilt over what you haven’t accomplished. If you don’t like what you see, use that as fuel to change going forward.

The problem is that we often make the mistake of comparing ourselves to someone else and letting that form into a type of self-judgement, whether that someone is another person or some image of what we want to be or think we should be but aren’t.  What I was getting at in my responses to my friend and that tweet is that our past has passed, is water under the bridge, spilled milk, and so on.  When it comes to the accomplishments of yesterday, there’s no room for guilt. Any time spent sighing over what we could have or should have accomplished is a waste.

We also tend to underestimate our past accomplishments, but that’s the subject of another post.

What our past does give us, though, is fuel for changing our future.  If you look back and find yourself lacking in what you’d hoped you would accomplish, let that drive you to change what comes next.

Did you write that book / run that marathon / start that business?   No?   Then it comes down to the playground question: what are you gonna do about it?

Do you wish you would have painted more, photographed more, written more, traveled more, or, hell, I don’t know, collected more garden gnomes?

Now is your chance.

Our actions speak clearer than hopes and wishes. If you’re committed, you can do this.  It might hurt to give up whatever has consumed your time (ahhh, but something tells me you might not miss it as much as you think), but that’s where the whole fuel thing comes in.  Take that “Damnit, I wish I would have ________” feeling, and ride it like a rocket.  That “I wish I would have” feeling is what will help you cut loose from whatever holds you back.  Direct your efforts ruthlessly to your new pursuit.

Time will go by no matter what.  How will you spend it?