Hold Fast

Mushrooms from a nature walk with my brother and sister-in-law, nieces and nephews–a memory worth holding!

If there is one bit of worldly wisdom I wish I could convey to my younger self, it is this: don’t be afraid to spend your time and money on experiences.

It’s something it has taken me far too long to learn. It just seemed almost wrong to spend money on trips or concerts or other intangibles that left you with nothing–nothing, that is, except memories.

There is a paradox there, however: it may seem that experiences are fleeting while objects endure, but in our memories, it’s just the opposite.

On top of that, things can weigh heavily on our homes and minds, especially as the years go on and despite our best efforts, they accumulate.

I’m at a point now where I’m concentrating on letting go. Part of this is yet another attempt to work on my poor organizing skills. But another part is realizing there’s a certain peace, a certain freedom in only having what you need, only buying and using things you really want.

I’m not really a materialistic person, I swear. Yes, I like beautiful instruments and other objects. I appreciate good tools. There are things worth having.

But as I pass into another phase of life, I want to pare down, concentrate on what matters, spend more time and money on making memories, not on gathering things.

Unfortunately I can’t go back in time to straighten myself out:

I can’t tell myself to buy fewer instruments/guitars (except that one, because man…) and spend more time and money on camps and festivals and lessons.

Take the younger siblings camping.

Take more road trips, just to explore and appreciate.

Take a cooking class, just for the fun of it.

Take lots of classes just for fun of it.

Find ways to take trips, even if I have to go alone.

Try that restaurant, even if I have to go alone.

Buy flowers once in awhile, even if they’ll fade away.

Pay attention.

I’m a little late to the ball game. But I’m trying to embrace experiences a bit more. Don’t let week after week after week slip by unlived in. Call people more. Spend more time with family and friends. Observe the seasons. Check out nearby places. Do things. Learn, even if what I’m learning isn’t “useful.” Stay curious.

And remember.


Music of the Spheres

I listen to classical music quite a bit. I’m not really as knowledgeable as I’d like to be with regards to history and styles and terminology, though I’m always learning, and we’re fortunate to have a truly, truly excellent classical public radio station in Classical King FM, based in Seattle, WA. In addition to broadcasting on FM radio, they also stream on-line, in a few different flavors.

I just started listening to their Evergreen channel a few weeks ago. It’s made up of relaxing pieces, great for while you’re reading or writing or otherwise trying to focus.

Well…this one piece kept grabbing my by the heart every time it came up. Over and over. I love it so much. And then…another piece did the same thing, and it turned out to be the same composer: Ola Gjeilo, a young (only 38 *now*, and he’s been writing for some time!) Norwegian composer and pianist, now based out of New York.

I love his music so much I’ve been sharing it all over the place this week. I love it so much I had to buy his self-titled CD. But this piece is still my favorite.

Again, I don’t know the right terms, how to describe in words the way the chords shift all as one, intersected, woven together, and the way the music is at once harmonious and dissonant.

But I love the depth of it. It’s so emotional it is almost pain as well as pleasure, the kind of joy that aches.

You know what it makes me think of? Have you ever been out in the middle of nowhere on a clear, cold, winter night when the sky was lit by pinpoints of stars, and stars beyond stars until the whole of it glowed and you understood why they call it the Milky Way? And oh, the daunting timelessness of starlight: ancient light, newly arriving for our eyes, making one feel so small and yet touching eternity. This is like that put to music–there are notes behind notes, tangled, spinning around one another, pulling the listener into a spellbound dance. I’m sure the title is part of why my head goes there, but really, that’s how it feels.

And then, on top of that, we get the Kyrie Eleison. “Lord, have mercy.”

The whole thing just gives me chills.

Check it out. Do.

Beyond the glow of the city lights, a universe awaits. (9193084187)

Are You Good Enough?

Rose 1
A rose I drew awhile back, and almost immediately hid from public
 view, because it’s…shoddy. But you know? Shoddy is OK.

This post by Stephanie of Rhodia Drive really struck a chord with me:
Art Making is Accessible to Everyone

I am afraid to mess up. More than that: I am afraid of being found inadequate. In many ways, I’ve always felt like this. While my brothers happily doodled away as kids, I would set the bar impossibly high, and give up in frustration when I couldn’t reach it.

To some extent, I’ve gotten past this in writing and music–especially music. Yes, I do have moments of frustration. I wish I’d started younger. I wish I was more consistent. I wish certain aspects came to me more intuitively. But I enjoy music within my own limitations, with full knowledge that I’m never going to reach stratospheric greatness.

Writing can be a little more challenging. There are times when I wonder why I work at it at all, because I will never be able to write in the ways some of my favorite authors write. I don’t have Vernor Vinge’s scientific mind, therefore “I can’t write.” I don’t have Ralph McInerny’s grasp of theology and knowledge of academia, therefore “I can’t write.” I’ve never suffered extreme poverty or pain, I’ve not traveled to exotic places, I’ve not done x, therefore “I can’t write.”

Getting beyond that, to find my own voice, to accept my own style…this is difficult. But, at least on an intellectual level, I know “all God’s creatures got a place in the choir.” I’m not, for example, Gene Wolfe. But neither is David McCullough. Neither is Elizabeth Berg or Terry Pratchett, or Jasper Fforde, or Elizabeth Moon, or a multitude of other authors (or bloggers) I’ve enjoyed. Some writers create extravagant and scientifically perfect worlds. Some expose, through meticulous research, a particular period in history. Some simply make you laugh. Some help you to see plain old folks just a little more clearly. Somewhere in that spectrum, there may just be room for me. It may not always be the room I’d prefer at given moments, but…there’s room.

Art–as in visual art–has been more challenging still. And I think it may well be key to overcoming what is really a false sort of pride: this fear not even of complete failure, but mere inadequacy. Because it’s OK to create art for fun. It’s OK to create art imperfectly. It’s OK to create art with no larger purpose than simply creating art: for the joy and childlike wonder of exploring artistic expression.

I like this quote from the post on Rhodia Drive. “…they learn to be OK with the quality of their expressions and do it anyway. This was my path. I wanted to make art and so I did.”

This post was originally posted on my old blog on 6/8/13.

Three Good Things

3 Blue Flowers

I admit, I tend to skeptical of anything that has even the slightest scent of  feel-good pop psychology.

A few years back, I stumbled across a thread on a pen forum I occasionally frequent wherein people were sharing “three good things” from their days. Many stopped by every evening to share the good moments from their days. Mentally, I scoffed. Silliness, I thought. People just patting themselves on the back, or whistling in the dark. Meaningless.

But even amidst my scoffing, I filed it away. I supposed the idea might be worth saving for those days when I was desperate to write something, but had nothing. It’d give me something to scribble on paper. Something to think about.

During one of those dry spells, I started taking a few minutes before bed to think back over my day, good and bad, and write down my three good things. To my surprise, I found I could winkle out a few bright moments even in the days I’d felt most useless, most downtrodden, most sad. Maybe it was something as simple as an e-mail from a friend, or as God-sent as a rainbow. Maybe it was a particularly good chapter in a book.

Some days, the good things were mostly the bad things I survived: the near-accident on the way home that didn’t happen, the catastrophe at work that could have been worse, locking myself out on a day when the landlord was not three states away.

Maybe looking back at days this way is a little feel-goody. Maybe it’s as silly as I once thought it. But I’ve found it changes my whole mindset. I’m more likely to notice little moments of joy and beauty, more likely to shrug off the darker moments, or see the silver linings in my clouds.

In the old days, they might have called it “counting your blessings.”

I’m a believer.

Time Unwise


Red Clock
I am a totally hardwired morning person. Even on the weekends without an alarm clock, it’s rare that I wake up after seven at the very latest. I remember being a kid, staying overnight with friends, and both liking and dreading the mornings–because I was generally up well before anyone else in the household, which gave me both time to myself and an awkward social situation. Am I allowed to get up and prowl the house? Or do I have to wait for a grownup to tell me it’s OK? Maybe I’d better just hide here and read.

Back on topic: mornings are when I find it easiest to get things done, when I can make habits and routines and keep to them. I have more willpower when I’m just getting started with the day.

Therein lies a problem: I start my day job at 8:30AM, and it takes about half an hour to get there (a paltry commute by many standards, I realize). Which means, getting up at my normal hour of 6AM, I have about two hours of free time to work with. Continue reading


Devils-Food-Birthday-CakeI’ve stumbled across several interesting articles on the science of willpower recently. This is a good example of the genre (though I’d take issue with the “plant based diet” item, and I confess I haven’t yet had a chance to watch the video): The Science of Willpower.

Just to summarize some of the ideas that stuck with me:

  1. Willpower is a limited resource.
  2. Your willpower is generally strongest earlier in the day.
  3. You also have better willpower when you are well rested (preferably eight hours of sleep), not hungry, and not under stress. (And good luck with all that!)
  4. Long term exercise of willpower can increase your reserves.

This was the first time I’d encountered the concept of Ego Depletion: this notion of willpower being expendable. I’m not sure it’s quite so clear cut as all that, as if you have a willpower bank with exactly x willpower minutes to withdraw per day, but looking at my own patterns, I can totally buy into the idea that willpower can be sapped by too many demands.

Which may well be one reason New Year’s resolutions fail: you suddenly put all sorts of new demands on your willpower at once, and this right after you’ve almost certainly spent the holidays encouraging your willpower to atrophy into flabby mush. It’s a fine recipe for failure.

Continue reading

Starting With a Dusty Slate


My year got off to a bit of a rocky start. I woke up on January 1st with a cold, so my planned resolutions–pray more, exercise, write daily, eat right, practice music, etc., etc.–all pretty much dissolved as I devolved into a miserable ball of soggy Kleenex and sneezes. I’ve spent much of the year thus far curled up on the couch, binge watching police procedurals on Netflix and sniffling.

So much for shiny starts.

I’m disappointed in myself and in the year. But you know, it may be just as well. Most years, I start off tiptoeing into the year, determined to keep it as perfect as possible as long as possible. This year–not to mix too many metaphors–I started straight off camping with 2015. I’ve seen it in its unwashed early morning state. I know it occasionally snores or chews with its mouth open.

Expectations have been lowered, perhaps. But I’d like to think they’ve just been stripped of artificial glow, my goals parsed to a core that’s solid and true. OK, so maybe I won’t have a perfect track record for the whole year, but that wasn’t going to happen anyway, was it? What matters is that I get up at least one more time than I fall.

Onward and upward.