Tuesday, October 13, 2015

My 500 Words, Day Two: What are my goals?

So the prompt for day two of this writing challenge (which unfortunately is not following on the heels of day one, but let's not get mired in the details) is to set some goals, or more specifically, to identify the change I want to see manifested as a result of my writing over the next month. There's nothing especially mysterious about this for me. I want to unshackle myself from whatever has kept me from writing over the course of my life. I don't even particularly care if the true reasons for my lack of inspiration ever become known to me. I suppose some self-reflection might be part of this process, and might lead to a better understanding of my fears and motivations, but honestly this isn't about me.

I know, you'll believe that when you see it. If there is one thing that's resonated with me in Jeff Goins's teaching, however, it's that the only way you'll succeed as a writer (whatever that means to you) is if you get out of your own way and use your writing to share your unique worldview. Seems simple, but if you think about it, it really has profound implications. Whatever kind of writing you do -- even the work-related or academic writing I bemoaned in my last post -- it won't bring you any kind of satisfaction (and certainly won't gain you any readers) if you aren't putting something of yourself into it. Though it might sound self-serving, the value that comes from your writing is in direct proportion to its uniqueness, and that uniqueness can only come out of the authenticity of your message and your affinity for your subject (some, including Goins, might say passion, though I'm reluctant to throw around that much overused term).

I think what resonates about this idea for me is that you can see this thread of meaning throughout entire bodies of work of great writers, even when that work takes many different forms. Poets who are also essayists, playwrights who are are also novelists, journalists who are also bloggers, it doesn't seem to matter what form their words take -- that worldview persists, sometimes lurking beneath the surface, sometimes yelled from a mountaintop, always moving their ideas into being.

I guess if there is a self-reflective goal I would co-opt for this challenge, it's just that -- to figure out what my unique worldview is, what I can offer a reader with complete openness and authenticity that might provide some value. My secondary goal, one that I hope would follow naturally from success in achieving my primary goal, is to feel a compulsion to write that keeps me going no matter how jaded, uninspired or insignificant I happen to be feeling. Part of me knows that those negative feelings are as much a reason to write as any other, to process them, own them, and channel them into written words that gain an entirely different kind of power once they've been uttered to other humans.

Who knows? Maybe I'll succeed ...

Friday, October 09, 2015

My 500 Words - Day One

Well, here we go. For the next 31 days, I'm committing to write 500 words per day. My intention is to write them in this blog, but I reserve the right to publish somewhere else (or nowhere else) if I so desire.

What I'll be writing about, I have no idea. I was inspired by Jeff Goins's My 500 Words coach.me challenge, which is going to provide me with a new prompt for each of the next 30 days (today's prompt is to commit to this challenge). Whether I'll stick to those prompts is yet to be seen, but Lord knows I could use some external motivation to help me develop the writing habit.

I guess I can fill out my 500 words today by contemplating what has kept from writing these last 30 years. Yes, it's been at least 30 years that I've imagined myself as a writer struggling to find his voice. I'm not using the term in its vague literary connotation, but rather in a very literal sense. In these 30 years, while I have written hundreds of thousands of words that I was compelled to write by work or school, I have written practically nothing for myself. Yes, there's been the odd poem, and every once in a while I've shaken the cobwebs off of this blog, but in no way have I written enough unsolicited material to claim my voice as a writer.

So what's been holding me back? Certainly nothing extraordinary. The typical self-doubt about the value of anything I'd see fit to write; an unwillingness to take the risk or show any kind of vulnerability; the fear that I'd bore myself to tears, let alone another reader. Logically, I know these fears are irrational, or at least irrelevant. I know that a writer writes, and if that writer has any notion of art being a factor in the words materializing on the screen or page, then these misgivings should be put to rest without much of a fight. And yet I still don't write.

I'm not going to belabor the point any more tonight. Hopefully the next 30 days of writing will do more to dispel my fears than any amount of navel-gazing ever could. I guess we'll find out.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Summer Ends

I spent the last week soaking up nature with four lovely women, and occasionally worrying about the most important man in my life, who we left to face his first week of college alone. It was one of those weeks that seems long and mundane while it's happening (though in this case interspersed with moments of sublime beauty), but ends with a shock, and the realization that something has profoundly changed.

My daughters, seven years apart in age, seemed closer than ever during this trip. For the first time in my memory, flawed as it is, I could see a friendship emerging between them. Patience and genuine affection made not only fleeting appearances, but sustained visitations. They appeared to delight in each other's company even to the point that the adults were kept at arm's length for extended periods, the privacy of which makes me hesitate to write about it here. It was clear to me that, for this week at least, they were sisters in every sense of the word, and I loved every minute of it.

This wasn't their first trip without their brother, but knowing that he was at a turning point in his life might have brought them a little closer together. Even though he's still living at home, it's possible that they both sense that his life is starting to diverge from theirs. I think we all felt a little in awe of the fact that Cody was breaking new ground while we were tracing footsteps that we had laid down many times before. And for Maddie, there is also perhaps the realization that her sister is only a couple of years away from heading down the same path as her brother.

Despite any misgivings we might have had about leaving him to face this week alone, Cody survived it relatively unscathed. He is now officially a college student, and seeing his excitement is extremely gratifying, especially in contrast to the abject terror he seemed to be feeling before we left. He seems to be settling in just fine, and as parents, we're settling into our role as auditors (a class cancelled in the first week of school??).

So maybe profound is too strong a word to describe the change this week ushered in. This weekend, after all, has been fairly ordinary. Doing yard work with Cody, making dinner, other chores around the house, family movie night, the usual sibling rivalries back in full force ... all seems back to normal. Something is indeed different, though, which makes me wonder if the change is more internal than external. I can sense that something in our family dynamic has shifted ever so slightly. I can't quite put my finger on it, which is a little unnerving, because if there's anything more uncomfortable than change, it's ambiguous change.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Three funerals and a graduation

My life, or at least the periphery of my life, has undergone momentous change in the last few weeks. Three deaths and a high school graduation are a lot to process.

And yet, on the surface at least, little has changed. My parents are both orphans, and my father is short one brother. My son will start college in the fall. The most profound impact will be on my mother, who is no longer the caretaker of two elderly women and one ailing brother-in-law. On a personal level, however, time just keeps marching on at its normal, uninspired pace.

With so much external change, it seems like something should be happening internally. If nothing else, I suppose a creeping sense of my own mortality is lingering there just beneath the surface, nudged into a less dormant state by these events. Even my son's graduation is a not-so-subtle reminder of the fleeting passage of time. His childhood marks the span of my own passing from young and stupid to middle-aged and perplexed, a period of sublime transformation for him, and an unremarkable progression for me.

This awareness might be more pronounced, but the existential angst one might expect is noticeably lacking. No dread, no panic, no spiritual crisis. If anything (and this is the one thing that scares me), there's more of an acceptance of the path I've taken, and a kind of fatalism regarding the future.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Doing what you love, loving what you do

My oldest child is currently in his senior year of high school. During this very strange time, I'm having difficulty remembering what it was like to be in his shoes. Granted, my son and I are quite different, with his aspirations falling squarely in the performing arts, where I ended up pursuing my adolescent fantasies of being a fighter pilot by starting my college career as an aerospace engineering major in a Naval ROTC program. Nevertheless, with application deadlines looming, I'm more than a little perplexed by his apparent lack of resolve to move beyond high school and embrace this next phase of his life.

Given the outcomes of my own aborted first attempt at college life, however, my feelings about how best to approach my son's apparent apathy are conflicted and nebulous at best. Pushing him into a corner and forcing him to make life altering decisions at this juncture could be disastrous. This is one of the most vulnerable times in a young person's life, a time when fear and self-doubt, along with confusion and the expectations of others, can converge to undermine personal goals and self-determination. This is not the breeding ground of well-thought out, intentional decisions or behavior. It can be the catalyst for a series of irreversible decisions that  alter the course of a person's life in profound and sinister ways.

A couple of weeks ago, I sent a link to Steve Jobs's well-known commencement speech at Stanford University to my son. I don't know if he watched it, but my hope was that he would take to heart Jobs's message about the importance of finding what you love to do and then doing it well. My son is in the enviable position for a 17-year-old of knowing exactly what he wants to do, and already being quite good at it. Which makes it all the more frustrating on some level that his ambition isn't translating into a concerted effort to find the right school and do everything in his power to make sure that school is within his reach. Then again, another point Jobs makes with something short of subtlety is that a traditional college education is exactly what he didn't need to find his niche and make his mark on the world. So maybe my son intuitively understands what it took Jobs several semesters at Stanford to discover. I know I'm grabbing at straws, but if there's one thing I have come to realize about my son, it's that I can't presume to be either smarter than him or, in some areas, wiser than him.

So how do you guide your child at such a precarious and potentially costly turning point without the whole scenario blowing up in your face? I'm a firm believer that our children need to be allowed to fail, but I also believe that our children can and should learn from our mistakes (or can they?). I guess the best thing I can do at this point is share my own experiences with my son and then let him draw his own conclusions. The key is I have to have a heart-to-heart with him, and soon ... before it's too late.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Prezi project completed

My final project for the Instructional Systems Technology certificate I received from Indiana University: