Turn the Page

Thursday, December 31, 2020. I am imagining so many of us all around the world just sitting in our favorite chairs today, contemplating the year that has almost passed, ready to turn the page on 2020. Always satisfying to turn a calendar page. This year we can tear all the pages out. Release all of our aggressions toward a confounding, dangerous, stressful year. Shred the hateful year. Burn it. Bury it. Don’t look back.

Adapted from “20120605_IMG_38316” by Joshua & Amber is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tempting to believe things will be magically different effective 00:00:01 Friday, January 1, 2021. Satisfying to see the odometer roll to zero. It seems, however briefly, a fresh start. A clear demarcation line between old and new, the life we have and the life we want.

And so, New Year’s Resolutions are made with varying degrees of planning and reasoned approach. Better health, better attitude, better relationships, better you, better me, better us. Some of us will keep some of those resolutions, make them into habits that become our daily lives. Good for us. Some will break those resolutions before the sun sets on 2021 Day One. No worries. Try again on Day Two, Day Three… Day 354.

The point is the effort. The point is putting our hopes into action. Doing things that carry us toward our hopeful selves rather than away.

I don’t often make New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve got all the usual hangups that need attention. I need loose the 30 pounds. I need to drink more water, eat less sugar, exercise more. I should meditate daily and keep my public blog and private journal. I need to read and write as much as possible. All of that is with me everyday. I need that today. I need that tomorrow. I need that four months from now and forever. So, I start today with a down payment of attention. I don’t wait for the odometer to roll. I give myself a head start.

What if I fail, you ask? Oh, I will fail. That is guaranteed. And so, January 1 is not about fresh start. January 1 is about picking it back up after I fail. The failure is certain. The picking it back up after I fail depends on me.

A mind trick, perhaps, but it helps take the magical thinking out of the calendar and the turning of the page.

We wake up tomorrow with new calendars, new digits to write in our daily life tracking chores.

New calendar. Same lives. Brimming with possibility.

Wishing you a happy, safe 2021. Be well, friends.

The Other Side of the Cones

I live just a little past the halfway mark of my town’s half marathon course, so this morning I spent some time at the top of my street encouraging runners. I had a few friends running but most were strangers.

One feels a bit awkward at first, standing on a street corner yelling at gasping, wheezing, pain-stricken strangers. They need air. They need water. They need rest. I’m serving out platitudes like “Keep it up,” “Keep it steady,” and “You’ve got this.”

One feels a bit like an asshole.

But here’s the thing: I’ve run that course. I know that by mile eight, your head is buzzing with doubt and worry. You hurt. You’re tired and, having done eight tough miles, you are wondering if you can do another five. You can, but you need to be reminded.

For a moment this morning I feel like I am on the wrong side of the cones. I want to be running in this race with them, but it feels good to be on this side, observing. These people are bothering to do difficult things they don’t strictly need to do. No one is making them. There’s no prize. They struggle, each in their own way, because struggle itself has value.

I admire each of them. The runners, the joggers, the walkers.

Many answer my support with a thumbs up, a wave or a quick thanks. At mile eight, every breath becomes precious. Any acknowledgment is a gift they give to me. And I quickly feel a lot less like an asshole.

I am noticing that thoughts are like viruses. They travel easily and quickly colonize a host. Good thoughts supplant bad thoughts.

Encouragement matters. Not always big, grand gestures. Sometimes just standing at a street corner, noticing someone’s effort, giving them a better thought than whatever is happening in their head at the moment.

Keep it up. Keep it steady.

You’ve got this.

Showing Up

Whenever I feel too self-important, I think about the courage it took to walk across a bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965. Most of the people that day didn’t give speeches, address news crews or create a riot. They went for a walk. They got pushed back. They walked again. They walked until they made it.

The March to Montgomery took three tries, but 25,000 people arrived in Montgomery on March 25, 1965. The Voting Rights Act became law later that year.

Twenty-five thousand people showed up. They changed the world by taking a courageous walk. Together. I don’t know their names. I don’t know their stories. They changed the world by showing up.

2018. My country is broken. My daughter is 10 years old, and the world is nothing like the world I thought I would give her. I’m not doing enough.

I can’t be a hero, but the world doesn’t need heroes. The world still needs people willing to show up and take a walk.

Crafting Community: Impressions of Campbell Folk School

We come to Campbell Folk School to craft some thing – a bowl, a scarf, a decorative rod of forged steel, a poem. We come to study and practice our crafts and, in the learning, we create for ourselves an entire community.

Find your community, the instructor tells us. This is imperative. Make a commitment and build your audience. And we set to work.

The writing is easier and better here, more forceful and clear, in the company of others. You meet gifted artists who don’t recognize their own gifts, people, who, like you, are plagued by self-doubt. You begin to notice that the joys and challenges and struggles are universal. You aren’t doing this thing alone. People notice your work. Your specific work. A specific line. A specific tone or phrase. And when they praise, you trust them because of the specificity of their praise. And you take second and third hard looks at your own work to help it be ready to share.

And the generosity of the instructor, laying down sheaf after sheaf of poems, a riot of prompts and exercises. You meet the older fellow, a librarian like you, but struggling today with his nerves, not sure he has found the right words to say what needs saying. You work it through together. Celebrate discovery of the right words. You laugh. You share. You allow yourself to be ridiculous, to say possibly stupid things. You are excited by everyone else’s success. Their success is your success.

The meals are a community of first name neighbors. You eat with black smiths, weavers, musicians, wood turners. In their other lives they are engineers, teachers, research economists. They gather here from Tennessee, Ohio, Florida, Russia, Bulgaria. You pass the bread. You offer each other second and third helpings. You clear the table together. You bring each other coffee. The meal is locally sourced and unbelievably fresh. Michelle jokes that the salad is so fresh someone found a snail in theirs.

And you befriend the elm outside your workshop door. It stands majestically tall, like a magical giant from another age. And only as you are driving home do you realize that the archaic majesty of this mighty tree is a true thing. This tree is thing you have never seen. There are no more elms where you live. They all died of Dutch Elm disease before you were born.

We offer our poetry aloud at 7:30 morning song. People listen. They comment. They applaud.

And in this spirit of wide generosity, poetry is moving. You are writing more today than you wrote the entire month of May. And it is good, strong writing. It is connected, specific. It has something to say.

This place draws art out of you. It helps you believe you are capable of creating beauty. It helps you remember that the effort of art is worthwhile.

And the sunlight is a smiling force. And there is harmony and all is well and all is right and you are finally ready to claim the gifts you have picked up so many times before only to set them right back down again. This time, you know, you can hold on to them. You can shape those gifts into a craft and let those gifts shape you.

This is why you are here. It is why any of us are here.




Eyes Front

You do not need to accept the facts of evolutionary biology or believe in the Creator God to understand that your eyes are placed on the front of your face for a reason. We live forward. Our attention must always be forward. And yet, sometimes, we are tempted to look behind. Sometimes we need to look back. Perhaps our attention gets drawn by fear of some unseen predator. Or maybe we get distracted by the gravitational pull of some pursuing regret. Be careful. No matter the reason, you must always know that you can only look in one direction at a time. Pay attention. Our lives are lived forward. Watch accordingly.

Excellence Inspires Excellence

I watch the Winter Olympics, and I feel like writing.

I see the forceful, elegant, laser-focused precision of speed skaters and feel like writing.

I see the massively brave lugers hurtling just beneath the edge of disaster, one twinge or tickle away from catastrophe. I feel like writing.

Its the audacious, reckless freedom of snowboarders. The tightly-controlled strength and artistry of ice skaters. The ability of  skiers to lean in when their brains should be telling them to lean back. The relentless endurance of cross-country skiers.

It all makes me feel like writing.

The truth is this happens all the time. It happens when I watch So You Think You Can Dance. It happens when I watch The Voice. Excellence inspires excellence.

I notice excellence and I feel grateful. I am grateful not only for the performance they have shared. I am grateful to have glimpsed the thousand previous unseen performances hiding inside that one moment of public brilliance. I am grateful when I can see the shape of all those early mornings, late nights. The bruises and cuts and frustrations. The satisfactions delayed. The sacrifice of normal life to achieve something extraordinary.

And here’s the thing. You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete or a world-class dancer or an astonishing singer to feel the draw. There is something inside of you that wants expression. There is something inside that wants you to commit. There is something excellent that wants to get out.

When I watch the Winter Olympics, I am not watching only the beauty of that one, rare performance. I am watching the urgent, inspiring beauty of a lifetime commitment.

You have it. I have it. It is time for us to get started.


We all have our superpowers. Some people can match pants, shirt and tie. Others can dance or tell jokes. Some people always remember exactly where they parked the car when they leave the store. Some people keep impossibly white teeth no matter how much coffee they drink.

My superpower is enthusiasm.

I have the ability to become irrationally exhuberant about things I care about and remain so long after good sense and social norms suggest I cool off.

Enthusiasm carries me through my days. Enthusiasm multiplies my projects and keeps my to-do lists from ever shortening.

Enthusiasm is why I am known to sing or whistle as I move about a room.

Enthusiasm is the explanation for the soundtrack always playing in my head.

Enthusiasm keeps me positive and helps me focus on tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Enthusiasm protects me from disappointment and shields me, when necessary, from self-doubt.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about my enthusiasm. Some find my relentlessly positive outlook off-putting. Some find it grating and naive. I am sorry for them. The things in this life that are worth doing are worth doing with exhuberance and steadfast resolve.

I am not, as some might say, a dilettante. I am an explorer, hoping never to face exhaustion, never to run past the pale of curiosity. The world is exceedingly, unendingly interesting if one has only the energy and the patience and the unflagging resolve to pay attention, acknowledge and appreciate.

The world does not always require genius or brilliance or even, at times, much intelligence. What the world wants most is commitment, an honest investment. What the world requires is enthusiasm.

Better Version of Me

There is, I think, a better version of me, standing somewhere slightly out of sight. He is a little more creative, a little more active and a little more focused than I am. He wakes up 30 minutes earlier than I do so he can have time to read and reflect before he starts his day. He runs at least three times each week. He meditates. He writes everyday and always finishes what he starts, even if it isn’t always satisfying in the way he has expected.

He prioritizes well and focuses intently on the matter at hand so he can get things done.

He is 20 pounds lighter but he is isn’t vain and never gloats.

I glimpse this person from time to time. You may have seen him yourself on occasion. He is hard to pin down. He enjoys the attention that comes from standing just behind the corner. He craves the adoration that comes from not being in the room.

He is elusive. He is skittish. I have never reached him directly. I have never meet his immediate gaze.

Still, I have a plan for catching him. I will keep myself moving. I will keep him distracted by practicing those things he does so well.

I am creative. I will practice being a little more creative.

I am active. I will practice being a little more active.

I am focused. I will practice on directing my focus more quickly where it belongs.

He isn’t so special. The ingredients of his genius are within my reach. I just need to continue working with the pieces. I need to keep moving. He will, at some point, make a mistake. He will hesitate or stumble the wrong way around a corner. At that moment, he and I will be standing in the very same room. We will see each other as we are – directly with no concealment.

I will introduce myself though he already knows me so well.

I will seem different to him. Better. Stronger. More focused.

He will seem different to me. Specific. Attainable. Nothing special.

The Conditions are Always Impossible

Doris Lessing died earlier this week. I can’t offer a proper obituary. I have never read her work. The Golden Notebook is on my list of things to read. And still, I am grateful to her for the gift of this quote, which has been following me around all week:

“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.”

Her words are finding me at every turn. I find them in my tweets, my blogs and now, endlessly, in my own head. It is that song playing softly in the background, which I cannot get out of my head. It is that familiar, unnamed face I see in the hallways and on the elevators as I go about my day. It is the message inside a hundred thousand fortune cookies. It is, I think, the voice of the universe telling me something subtle and simple and true.

There is something you are meant to do. Do that thing right now. Keep doing that thing until you’ve got it figured out. It won’t get easier. Your life is never going to be simpler or more ideal. You will never feel more inspired. You have everything you need to get started. Anything else you will find along the way.