Not all work will be meaningful. Some will be meaningful to others but not for you. Some, will be drudgery. Some, will be necessary. Some will just be the thing you have to do until the next thing you have to do comes along until finally, after so much just-stuff, something will come along that is meaningful until, eventually, you’re done with that and doing the next thing you do because it’s just the thing you have to do. The everyday meaningful work is very rare and even then is punctuated by small bursts of just-stuff that you have to do to support the meaningful. But, the true meaning of work will come when one accepts that all work is meaningful work and none of it is and that both of these are simultaneously true.
Answer the why. With every choice you make, with every thing you do, if you can’t answer the why, why bother?
It breaks my heart whenever Beatrix apologizes for asking so many questions. She’s naturally deeply curious. It’s one of the things I love most about my little girl and Bethany and I try to foster it. Therefore, I let her know that it’s what we want her to do. That it’s what she should do.
If there’s any fault in it at all, it’s that sometimes she’s so busy asking questions or thinking up the follow-up ones that she fails to to listen for the answer. I remind her that, while asking questions is a good thing, taking the time to listen and observe is important too. That, many times, the answer is apparent if you pause for a bit to hear and see it. It’s something we all would do well to learn more of.
This past year was a hard one. Everyone I’ve spoken with seems to agree with a universality that seems statistically impossible. Despite the fact that the reasons it was a tough year is personal to each of us, we’ve all seemed to have suffered a shared traumatic experience. There were good things, sure. There had to be. But they seemed to be so beset on all sides with the bad stuff that it’s hard to remember the good. The good just doesn’t stand out.
The other day, my wife dusted off a a tall clear jar. Beside it, she placed some small slips of paper and a pen. The slips are large enough only for a sentence or two. The plan: Anytime something good happens,we write it down and put it in the jar. This way, we won’t forget. This year, no matter how bad we perceive things to be, look in the jar, focus on what is good, remember these things. And, if this time next year comes and one speaks of only the bad hard stuff when we look back, one of us will point to the jar and say, "Look in there." We will judge the year by how full the jar is instead.
Henry David Thoreau, in his journals, places a hyphen between such words as to-day or to-morrow. Was this an affectation of his? Of the place or the time? No matter. I find it a delight. Perhaps something I should adopt. A simple hyphen gives such words added action. Forward movement. Makes one feel like they are going into a day or morrow with intention and purpose.
I’ll tell you how the Sun rose —
A Ribbon at a time —
The Steeples swam in Amethyst —
The news, like Squirrels, ran —
The Hills untied their Bonnets —
The Bobolinks — begun —
Then I said softly to myself —
“That must have been the Sun”!
But how he set — I know not —
There seemed a purple stile
That little Yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while —
Till when they reached the other side,
A Dominie in Gray —
Put gently up the evening Bars —
And led the flock away —
by Emily Dickinson
Here, presented in no particular order, are the online writers whose posts and newsletters almost always make my day a bit better and leave me feeling smarter by giving me things worth pondering, enjoying, and sharing.
- Nicholas Bate — Straight shooting and hard hitting. Always inspirational and never not practical.
- Seth Godin — Operational wisdom for those who want to leave a mark and make work that matters.
- Kurt Harden — Music and musings for the enrichment of your soul.
- Matthew Lang — A trusted friend, smart fellow, Scottish Gentleman, and developer of one of the essential tools that also makes my day better — Daily Muse.
- Michael Wade — Good things for smart people.
- Austin Kleon — Blackout Poet, Thieving Artist, Reader, and writer of an equally essential weekly newsletter. No boxes can contain him.
- Dave Pell — Writer of NextDraft. The only news you need.
- CJ Chilvers — The only photography lessons you need.
- Julian Summerhayes — A fellow soul traveller. Destination: Within.
- Daniel Nesbit — If we were both monastics in the mountains, we’d share the same cave.
Disclaimer: I’m sure there’s some I’m forgetting. Once remembered, they will be added.
Like many young teenage writers, I was into poetry when I was young. I even self-published a poetry book of my own, when I was 16. Long before self-publishing was a “thing”. It was horrible, of course. Short, shallow, overwrought, emotional, crap. Don’t worry, the only sole remaining copy of which I’m aware of is tucked safely away in my basement.
I largely ignored poetry after my teens. Too interested in reading other things. Non-fiction, mostly. My brain was hungry for learning facts and truths. I’d read the occasional fiction book but it was rare. I didn’t write fiction either. It was the early pre-internet days of the online publishing revolution. I published my writing in neo-punk political zines and local BBS boards. The rantings of a young ideallist. Before my world fell apart…
A divorce, loss, single-fatherhood, loneliness, and deep depression. The poetry returned. Both the reading and the writing. This time, it was dark, jaded, angry. Was it any good? No and no matter. It was a reflection of where I was and how I’d grown in ways good and bad. The pain I was in and, if you looked long enough, a glimmer of hope in the idea of new beginnings.
Then, life got better. New wife, new child, new life. I was back to writing what I seemed best at. Things that help. I also began to read and enjoy more fiction. Go figure. But, I also began reading more poetry. Good stuff. I began to write more too. Better stuff. Stuff I was willing to share.
Now, as I’ve entered my 50th year, I’ve found deep connection and appreciation for good poetry. I can read whole books of it. I copy down my favorites by hand in my commonplace book. I’ve found a desire to both read and write more of it. To truly understand how and why it works. I’ve found that poetry, at its best, gets inside you like a virus and changes the way your eyes see the world. The world and the way you dwell within it becomes a kind of poetry too.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve found it it hard to “get” poetry. You’ve tried off and on — and maybe have even tried your own hand at it. I could point you to some of my favorites — ones that speak to me deeply — but it likely won’t help. You need to be in the right time, place, and headspace to be infected with it. You need to encounter the ones that speak to you. All I can tell you is that one day, if you keep giving it a chance, it will return. Your eyes will see the world differently then too.
They no longer sleep quite as well as they did
when they were younger. He lies awake thinking
of things that happened years ago, turning
uncomfortably from time to time, pulling on the
blankets. She worries about money. First one
and then the other is awake during the night,
in shifts as if keeping watch, though they can’t
see very much in the dark and it’s quiet. They
are sentries at some outpost, an abandoned fort
somewhere in the middle of the Great Plains
where only the wind is a regular visitor. Each
stands guard in the wilderness of an imagined
life in which the other sleeps untroubled.
(via today’s Writer’s Almanac)
Fact: The Clock in Elizabeth Tower, often referred to mistakenly as “Big Ben” (which, by the way, is the nickname of the hour bell and not the clock or tower), is kept accurate by using pennies placed on the pendulum. According to Wikipedia, “Adding a coin has the effect of minutely lifting the position of the pendulum’s centre of mass, reducing the effective length of the pendulum rod and hence increasing the rate at which the pendulum swings. Adding or removing a penny will change the clock’s speed by 0.4 seconds per day.”
I love the idea — both realistically and metaphorically — that one of the most important clocks in the world, one which is relied on and trusted, is kept trustworthy and true by small change.
I would like to think that, for many of us and our lives, the same might be true.