Something good

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“If you smash into something good, you should hold on until it’s time to let go.”

-Marcello, Under the Tuscan Sun

These words are one of several ideas to remain with me after watching Under the Tuscan Sun. To me, they represent the acceptance of a gift and the willingness to live in the present. So I felt sadness to find they were uttered as a precursor to an affair. Heavy with the weight of inevitability. All affairs must end.

At another point our lead declares her fears aloud. With tears she lays out her hopes for a home, a wedding and full rooms. Hopes she doubts she’ll ever see. And the man who is quite possibly my favorite character in the film tells her the story of a train from Vienna to the Alps, a train whose tracks were built before they had a train that could make the trip.

Finally, from the lips of a care free and enigmatic actress comes a story from her childhood. She spent the entire day searching for ladybugs. She found none. In the end, she fell asleep on the grass only to awaken covered in ladybugs.

Each of these moments is a lesson in itself. But I think each of these moments is a part of the picture that it took an entire story to paint. Juxtaposed they gain a greater meaning.

It is a gift to live in the present, to take hold of good things and hold on until it is time to let them go. But a life lived in the present without care for the future is dangerous, both to ourselves and others. It is in looking to the future that we build the foundation capable of holding and manifesting our dreams. And if we are willing to commit to the tracks, trusting in the train to come, it sets our present on a set of tracks that will lead us toward our dreams. But this too is something to be wary of. In looking too closely for one particular future – one job, one relationship, one mission, we may find that we miss it entirely. Maybe by returning to the present, even at times having fallen asleep, we will awaken to find we have found the very thing we’ve been seeking.

To be honest, this is a path I am learning to walk. It is messy, and full of as much pain and hurt as it is comfort and joy. And as much as I feared it in the past, I think it’s supposed to be that way. I’ve come to realize that I don’t regret mistakes nearly as much as I regret chances not taken. I suppose we’ll see how that turns out.

 

My ugly baby & what comes next

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Tonight I gave birth to something special. As I finished out my shift, the final lines fell into place and a song was born. Now I won’t lie to myself, it’s not a pretty baby. In fact, it’s pretty ugly. But I’m proud of it. It’s got a lot of character, and I have the feeling it’s going to grow up into something amazing!

This past month has been an experience in discovering my process. First and foremost, I’ve seen the value of consistency. Every day, guitar in hand, and recorder, pen and journal in reach, I sit with whatever lyric, hook or idea I have and play until inspiration strikes. And step by baby step the music takes shape. I have come to love those baby steps. They have kept me going! And last night, my baby took a sudden leap forward as the story fell into place. The realization caught me mid verse and tears hit me, choked me up for at least one line of the third verse before I got control and continued. The struggles of a month were nearly over!

And here I sit with my ugly baby! Proud even as I know it needs a little (or a lot of) work.

So, what now?

Well, I intend to use a little trick I learned from writing stories. I’m going to set my song aside for a week and try to forget it. I’m expecting a battle. My fingers kind of like playing it, but I need fresh eyes. I need to step away so I can better see the flaws I’ve grown accustomed to and help my baby grow up. I can’t wait to see what it becomes!

In the meantime, I’ll see just how ugly the next kid’s going to be.

Some days are like this

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I’ve been up for just over four hours as I write this post. I feel as if I’ve accomplished little despite knowing the opposite is true. Thus far in my day I’ve completed my morning pages while enjoying breakfast at Brother Juniper’s, written two haiku, made headway in the song I’m working on, spent some time studying the Psalms, and found a pair of pants that fit. The last alone stands as a feat worthy of mention. So why is it that I feel an empty desperation?

Before I begin, I must first emphasize the word “feel”. Feelings don’t always match up with reality. And today, my feelings have waged war against me. I won’t deny them. I’m done playing that kind of game. Instead I hold them up and try to learn from them. Today they tell me that I hold something so dearly I am unwilling to let it go. Should it come to pass, even for mere seconds, my entire day will be filled with a sense of fulfillment. By contrast, fear of losing it projects me into an imagined future and borrowed pain.

I know enough to recognize my enemy. I know enough to engage him. But I don’t know if I’ll win this battle where anxiety seethes just below the surface. I find myself with the Psalmist crying out, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” And with the Psalmist I remind myself to “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” It is a declaration. It also, I note, makes no promise on time of delivery.

How then, do I fight this battle in the meantime?

First, I borrow another lesson from Psalm 43. I pray, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me.” Lead me into the presence of God – to his ‘holy hill’, his ‘dwelling’, to ‘the altar of God’. There I will strive to lay my desire for control on the altar of sacrifice and take up my song of praise.

Next, I align my actions with my goals and my purpose. I am on a journey, and I am deeply thankful to know where I am going. No matter how I feel right now about what the future might hold, I have agency to invest in what I hope the future will hold. So I will continue to write, to play and to invest in shaping myself right now to become the man my future will require.

My goal is to end my night with the assurance that I courageously moved further into the unknown future. So long as I can see the slightest step forward my day is a victory, even if I lose the emotional battle. While I hope for deliverance or the sweet mercy of God choosing to answer my desire, I know that even if it does not come I am the better for it, having been forged in the fire and having forged my way ahead.

Take courage

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“Real courage is moving forward when the outcome is uncertain.”

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Yesterday’s wisdom is the crystallization of weeks of thoughts, ideas and actions. To dare great things is to court risk, and to court risk is to walk alongside the unknown. Monsters still hide in the darkness. Great workings of the imagination still turn cast off clothes into scaly hides, or a dull reflection into menacing eyes. We still fear a moment’s inattention will bring us to ruin. Our monsters have merely changed form.

Failure, Loss, Hurt… these are some of the monsters we face when we dare big dreams. They hide in the unknown waiting for us to let down our guard. And just as they did before, our monsters paralyze us with fear. And fear turns our imaginations against us.

The answer is courage. But what is courage? I believe courage is what we choose to do even when we are terrified. It is a step forward into the unknown future when we aren’t sure what awaits us there.

But how?

Here’s a few ways I’m learning to be courageous.

  • Turn your imagination against your fears instead of using it to serve them. I was reminded that I conquered my nightmares as a child by turning myself into the hero and destroying them. It’s the same idea. Imagine the future that strengthens you to carry out your goals in the present.
  • Set goals and lay out a path to get there. This helps in imagining a future that spurs you on. It also gives you day to day tasks to carry out that bring you closer to your goal. Every night I sit down with my guitar in the silence before bed. It’s one of my little steps into the unknown. Every night I’m rewarded with something new in the song I’m working on right now.
  • Trust little steps. When we were kids, that first great act of courage may have simple been to free our voice so that we could cry out for help. The same is true now.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help or join hands with like minded dreamers. We’re stronger together.
  • Make time to recount all the things you have to be thankful for each and every day. Gratitude is an extremely powerful tool! It makes it hard to give in to despair when you see what God is doing in your life as you chase your dreams.
  • And sometimes… just take a step.

Take courage! The future is unwritten, and that is in your favor!

The Journey of the Free

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“I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.”

Red, The Shawshank Redemption

If you’ve ever tuned a guitar, you’ll know that when the string is in pitch you can hear the other strings resonate with it. When I heard this quote yesterday, I felt a deep resonance.

To put it in context, you have to understand the importance of hope in The Shawshank Redemption. At first, Andy is warned off by Red. “Hope is dangerous,” he says. “Hope can drive a man insane.” For those who aren’t familiar, these are the words of a man who has long been a prisoner. You may be able to identify. I know there have been times in my life where it seemed wiser to abandon hope and simply accept my present existence, painful as it may be. I am thankful. To date, I’ve never manged to abandon hope.

Neither did Andy. His words, written in a letter left for Red, give voice to the life he lived prior to his escape. He writes, “Hope is a good thing, may be the best of things, and no good thing every dies.” I think that these words were a lifeline to Red who chooses to act on them by breaking his parole and going to meet Andy in Mexico. He exercises the right of a free man. The right to choose. It reminds me of words I heard many years ago. There is but one thing no man can take from us, our right to choose.

It is on this journey to Mexico that he utters the words that prefaced this post. Those words continue filled with hope for his future. “I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”

I am reminded that freedom, real freedom, does not guarantee us an outcome, only a journey. Not every hope will be fulfilled. Pain and suffering will also await us on the road, but the journey is ours. And while the conclusion of the journey may be uncertain, it is an adventure filled with excitement and hope. Excitement at the thought of what lay ahead, and hope for the fulfillment of our dreams.

Such is the journey of the free. I hope that you are living yours as I am striving to live mine. May we all find courage to set our feet to the path, hope to keep us on it, and the “excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.”

So, where will you go?

The Gift of Presence

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“The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”

Alice Morse Earle

Imagine with me for a moment Christmas morning. Children charge the tree in search of gifts. Before long they are surrounded by wrapped packages and tear into them with wide eyed anticipation, but no sooner is one unwrapped than its contents are unceremoniously set aside. They reach for the next package and begin again, only offering thanks or time for a photo when pressed. Before long, every gift is opened and laying about as they toss wads of wrapping paper across the room.

I feel like this is an apt description of how many of us live our lives. Each day surrounds us with gifts of all shapes and sizes. We tear through them without consideration, moving quickly from one to the next until we’re done. At that point our day is over, and at best we’re tossing about wrapping paper thinking about what we’ll get tomorrow, or a week from now, or a year from now.

It may be that we’re looking for a specific gift with expectation, passing by everything else until we find it. It may be that we think too little of the gifts we’ve received. It may be that we get so caught up in tomorrow, that we stop seeing what’s right in front of us and miss it. It may be that the gift makes us uncomfortable or reminds us of pain in the past. We may well leave some gifts unwrapped underneath mounds of torn paper and discarded ribbons. The reasons are many and varied.

The point being, each and every experience is just that, a gift. It is special. It is unique. It is valuable. And when we take time to live it, it can be magical. Living in the present is not easy, but when I manage it I find my life to be fulfilling, and that is truly amazing!

So may we make the most of today and live in the gift that is each and every moment. May we be present!

Cheers.

A Different Kind of Success

As I write, my eleven and a half hour double is drawing to a close. I sit here thankful for such freedom. One of the privileges of coffee shop life is time. At least it is here. It’s not difficult to weave creative play into the dance of cleaning and customers. And on occasion, as happened today, I am reminded just how precious and rare this gift of time is.

This year marks year two of what I hope will be a longstanding tradition at Qahwa. We, and a few of our customers, decorate the shop with milk jug jack o’ lanterns, jug o’ lanterns for short. What begins earlier in the month always ends in a mad dash to finish before Halloween. So between each and every customer, I took up sharpie and brush pen and went to work. Somewhere in the play we fell into quoting Monty Python. With that first slip, several amused eyes looked our way. I can’t help but think they wanted nothing more than to drop what they were doing, leave their work, and join us.

That small moment reminded me just how lucky I am to work in a field, and in a place, that gives me such freedom. Time to create. Time to draw. Time to play guitar. Time to study. Time to write. Time to grow in the fields that bring me the most joy, and people to share it with. I hope the money will follow in time, but, as I think on my past, as I think on cubicle world, I am reminded that having more never gave me this much satisfaction.

I think it a worthwhile endeavor to seek success. I just hope that I never forget what I experienced today is also a mark of success.

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Today’s Monty Python Holy Grail inspired jug ‘o lanterns.