Listen. Think. Speak. Write.

Monday, January 30, 2012


Whew, by the skin of my teeth, it's January which means I can still get away with a beginning of the year post.  I love beginnings.  One of the best parts of my job is that I get at least two new "starts" a year.  Every semester, I get the thrill of new students, a fresh chance to get everything right.

Inevitably, after a month, things stagnate, and most professors begin the semi-annual "Is it the end of the semester yet?" lament. Just hurry up and get here already so we can move on. 
I suppose my love of beginnings is why I have the starts of four novels but have only completed two.  It's fun to develop new characters and plots.  It's less fun in the middle—where everything is more complicated and murky.  I get bored.  Then, I want to rush to get to the end, but I tend to be disappointed when it's over. I've been thinking what a common phenomenon this is.  Think about how often we end up finding the end of the series to be the most disappointing—Star Wars, Godfather, Harry Potter, Hunger Games

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Noticing the Universe

I am a bit obsessed with death. There I said it.  I often struggle to fall asleep because I can't quite get my mind off of it—when, how, and then what? Obviously, it doesn't stop me from actually living, but I just have so much to do, so many things to see, you know?  I think you do. I continue to blame it on my mid-life crisis, and I hope it'll fade soon. In the meantime, I blog about the purpose of my life and share all my struggles with you. Enjoy! 

A few months ago, a friend posted this blog link on Facebook, and I believe she linked it in the comments of my blog at some point, too.  I found the message that the universe doesn't care about about me and that I should do epic shit as a result to be equal parts depressing and inspiring.  Perhaps, that's why I've been so focused on lists and what I have yet to do.  It's certainly one of the reasons I hope to publish my fiction.

Then comes John Green.  He makes me think maybe how I'm defining epic shit is limited. I've enjoyed his work for a while, but his widely popular The Fault in Our Stars was released this month. Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief which I contend is one of the best books of all time, said on the back flap, "A novel of life and death and the people caught in between . . .  You laugh, you cry, and then you come back for more."  Yup, sounds about right to me.

It once again raises the question of the relationship between humans and the universe, something not taken lightly when the main characters are terminally ill.  Near the end, Augustus sums up the most valuable messages I took away from the novel.  He said, "I want to leave a mark." Sigh. I identify with that sentiment. That little piece of immortality despite the inevitability of our mortality. But then he argues that leaving a mark does as much to scar the universe. He says of Hazel:

People will say it's sad that she leaves a lesser scar, that fewer remember her, that she was loved deeply but not widely. But … Isn't that the real heroism? Like the doctors say: First, do no harm.

The real heroes anyway aren't the people doing things; the real heroes are people NOTICING things, paying attention. The guy who invented the smallpox vaccine didn't actually invent anything.  He just noticed that people with cowpox didn't get smallpox (p. 312).

What I love is the idea that to do anything worthwhile in this life, you have to pay attention first.  You must listen more and see more and feel more.

I don't think it means you stop doing, but it changes why. Doing something because you noticed it needed doing usually turns out better than doing something because you wanted to be noticed for doing it.

Then again, in today's world, paying attention may well be epic in and of itself.  I invite you to put yourself on notice with me.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Forget the list. Fill the bucket.

I love lists. Currently, at least a half a dozen of them populate my desk on scratch paper, old envelopes, and notebooks.  Things to do, groceries to buy, menus to plan, candidates to interview, and places to travel.  My hard drive contains lists of chapters to revise and writing ideas to … well … write. 

Last week, in honor of my 40th birthday, I began construction on a new list.  A big one. I planned to name forty accomplishments in my life and then to identify forty more I still plan to achieve. On Saturday morning, I opened a file, fully intending to use the quiet of the morning before anyone has awoken to complete my task: write something meaningful regarding the lists and post my blog entry for the week.  Easy peasy.

Except I only got to 16.  Hmm.  Really? 

A bit dejected and not wanting to spoil the birthday buzz I'd worked up, I closed the file rapidly.  A few days later, I tried again, adding only five more items to the list.

I spent a couple of more days kind of beating myself up over it.  How could I not have more to write down? Had I not done anything worthwhile or is my memory so bad that I just can't remember it? Why bother with a list of 40 more things I want to do when I haven't managed much in the first place? And what the heck am I going to write about in the blog now?

After stewing a bit on that, I came to a pretty important conclusion.  Screw the list. Perhaps, I've overstated that.  I do still have a desk full of lists, after all.  It's just that maybe this particular list is less important than I thought.

I can't really live my life by whether or not an accomplishment is list-worthy. In part, I realized that the list was so hard because I spent too much time analyzing what would sound like an accomplishment to other people. I don't believe for a second that I haven't done many more than forty good things.  It doesn't make all those unremembered achievements less valuable because they didn't make it onto this oh-so-irrelevant blog posting.

Just like the novels I write are worthwhile even if they're never published.

I found this article which argued that a bucket list keeps you on track—helps you see the big picture.  Sure.  I agree.  But I think I liked the sentiment in the picture more.

 Time to stop making lists and fill the damn bucket. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Are you a lone nut?

The end of the year comes with a hodge podge of thoughts.  No talk about goals or resolutions right now.  I'll save that for the other milestone coming this week (how many of you know what it is?).

Instead, I want to share a little speech with you that I adore.