The Key to Change

Imagine if you woke this morning, and one of your biggest wishes came true. The weight is gone. The money is there. The relationship is fixed. There is one catch: you can’t replicate it. You are still out of shape. You don’t know how to save or earn more. You still have behaviors and emotions that are damaging. In short, you didn’t go through the process.

We all want the prize, the end goal, but we fail to see how necessary the process. This is why shortcuts are so prevalent in our society. We often just want to be done with it and move on to the next project.

I teach writing at a community college. Most of my students are beginning writers. They either struggled in high school or are returning to school after entering the workplace. Each semester I receive over 500 essays. A small portion, let’s 1 percent are plagiarized. A greater portion like 10 percent have been heavily edited by friend who has better writing skills, and about 15 percent are just shiny first drafts where there is little sign of revision or thought beyond just typing it. In each case, they avoided the process. 

When I asked them why they did one of these three things? The answer is simple: time and effort. “I didn’t have the time.” or “I was too hard.” Writing is not easy. In a recent tweet, writer Ben Greenman wrote, “Writing is a form of translation where you’re not allowed to see the original text.” So often we can hear or see in our head, but it seems impossible to get on the page or screen. 

My admonition is not to just love the process and not the product or end. The project is what drives the process, but we need what we learned in the process when we begin again.

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The Posture of Interruption

Yesterday between coming in from errands and starting supper, I pulled out my phone to check email or Twitter. I clicked on a video of a favorite artist of mine doing an acoustic performance. My two boys were playing in the sun room, and the door was open to keep an eye on them. My oldest, who is five, said that he wished that we could play catch. I asked why we couldn’t. He told me that he didn’t want to interrupt me. I told him that nothing was more important than him and that he could always come to me.

The truth is that it is not the words that he could “interrupt” me that mattered: it is the habit. I was not looking for a pressing email from work. I was not doing much of anything except the passing the time. Our habits not only form our daily lives; they also form the image that we portray to the world. It relates to how our loved ones see us, how our co-workers see us, and how our muses see us.

I am strong believer in muses, not the actual Greek type that floated around granting creative wishes. I believe in the genius in all of us, but they often will not bother us if we seem busy filling the time. I have seen the quote that the muse needs to find you at work to come visit you. I wholeheartedly believe that we need just begin tasks for inspiration to often kick in, but our work is not always directly on a project. Blaine Hogan says it this way, “An artist’s job is to see well and to do that you must have slow and steady eyes to see.” Seeds of the things that we do are often found in observation or “to see well.”

I need to be still and present to do my work each day. I don’t mean to denigrate the pleasures of down time filled games or social media. I just want for me to recognize the posture and message that I send when I, not the world, busies myself. I need to remind myself that almost everything can be beneficial and restorative if I approach it in that manner and to remind myself of my posture to the world, so that it remains open to interruptions. 

Limit to Grow

“The human race built most nobly when limitations were greatest, and therefore, when most was required of imagination in order to build at all.” Frank Lloyd Wright

Limitations are everywhere. We often see them as negative. The word can something substituted by disability or a problem. In truth, limitations are the thing that make things work and even make things better. 

Many of us wish for a day that is completely ours. In truth, we are saying that we want a day that we set the limitations. What time we get. How we spend our time. What level interaction we have with the world. And as much as this dream day appeals to us and is needed once in awhile. We don’t grow from days like this.

I once read a book about Psalm 23, which the chapter of the Bible that begins, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want…” In this book, the author looks at the piece through the eyes of a shepherd. One thing that he mentions is that the shepherd leads his sheep in the lush valley to feed. Vegetation does not grow well on the top of mountains, so the sheep will need the strength and food from the valley to climb. We often have a negative view the term valley. It is seen as low point: the farthest distance from the mountain top. 

Limitations, be it from a boss, client, or even just lack of time, can feel like valleys. We want the time and work that make us feel like be on top of the mountain, but we must feed on the limitations and get stronger. 

A few weeks ago, I told my wife that I wish that take the discipline that I had to learn by going to graduate school while having a job and raising two boys and go back in time to reclaim those days, months, and years that I misused. Obviously I could not. All that time suffered from little limitation on my time, and growth only came from limitations. 

Limitations come in many forms, but they are not what should stop us. They are there to help us grow. Remember the shepherd didn’t just happened upon the valley or was forced to go the valley by circumstances. He led his sheep through the valley in order to be successful.

Question: Where can I limit myself in order to grow?

I’m not a good…

My oldest son will often say the phase, “I’m not a good” then add -er to whatever action he is doing. (Thrower, catcher, helper). Comically he creates new words like spoon user or toy picker upper. Most times what he needs is time. Time to grow up, but more importantly, time to practice. With a little instruction and a lot of practice, the skills will come.

In our house, we do not allow him to use words that speak negatively to his identity. He can’t say, “I’m a bad thrower,” but “I made a bad throw.” We don’t want him to build up the identity of being a bad whatever.

In our own lives, we put these identities on ourselves. When in truth, it is practice and time that we need. We tell ourselves the we are good writers, artists, programmers, salesmen. We should add the word “yet.” I’m not a good at this yet. “Yet” tells that we will not stay this way.

“I’m not a good…yet.”

Panjarue

20130709-201623.jpgEarlier this summer, my oldest son wanted to get some books about how to make books or how books are made. We went to the library got two books. They sat on the shelf until I was going to return them. He saw the books in the bag and said that he wanted make a book. I took some legal-sized copy paper and folded it in half and stapled the side. I handed the book. He pondered for a minute for a title. He said one but that wasn’t it, then he said “Panjarue.” I wrote down my spelling of the word and showed him. He transcribed it and drew a picture. A book was being published.

We often associate a book with a finished product. Publishing is one of the last thing that you do in the process of writing something. In truth, we make too much of it at the cost of beginning. He had no grand plans for the piece. He just wanted make a book. That is the desire that we all start with: to make something, so let’s remove the burden of the publishing and start with the joy of discovery.

20130709-201650.jpgHis first page and only page of the day (He had Dino Egg Oatmeal to eat) said: Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Hanna” (the “a” got cut off). This is the beginning of almost every great fable. A couple days he added, “who lived in a nice village called Panjarue.” He also told me that the picture was of Hanna’s dad leaving to go get something. I am sure that if I asked him now he might tell a different story. The writer in me thought how great this was. I know who the protagonist is and I love the term “nice village.” Will she leave home? Is it really so nice? The father in me couldn’t wait to see what he would come up with.

20130709-201735.jpgThe great thing about project should not the fear of the blank page, but the joy that awaits us when we just begin.

Just this morning as I wrote this, he woke up and came up front. I told that I was writing about Panjarue. He thought that I meant that I was writing in his book and told that it was his story. A true writer.

Let’s not worry about the story and just make up something and begin.

The Goal Not the Role

I am blessed to have my first summer completely off since my oldest wasn’t even one, which is five years ago. Between workshops and working on my Masters and teaching summer school, there was always something. I looked forward to this summer for lots of reading and writing. While I have done a good bit of reading and some writing, I still struggle for my role of being a full time “Mr. Mom” during the day and even some nights (as my wife works full time and is getting her Masters as well). 

I was reading a John Maxwell daily devotion book, and he wrote about the goal of an organization and not just your role in it. My wife and I’s goals are to raise great children and love each other. This is my goal for the summer (and beyond). I have to focus on the goals and not just the role. I often get jealous of wife’s chance to leave and go to work. That seems crazy since the boys and I go swimming most days and they normally take two to three hour naps in the afternoon, but the drudgery of the everyday can wear on me. Washing dishes and clothes. Picking the house. 

Yes, I want more time to myself, but I need to use my time better. Yes, my boys need my attention, but I can use it learn to focus on others and be present. Being present is probably one of the greatest lesson that I can learn this summer. It teaches my boys that I care about them. It forces me to let go of what I think I should be doing and focus on what I am doing. It can also bleeds into my writing and other areas. I am one person and each decision that I makes me into who I am. I can decide to focus on my role as “Mr. Mom” and not “Mr. Writer,” or I can focus on my goal not just as a father but as a writer: to be present in the moment.