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The practice of writing is making remarkable communication. Remarkable communication is making meaning. Living a meaningful life is contribution.

Getting In Tune

Pablo Casals’ cello is playing a Bach solo in my living room right now. He’s considered the greatest cellist of all time. I first discovered him from a college class I took called Classical Music Appreciation.

Class met three days a week. Each class period our instructor would espouse her passion for these dead men who mastered classical music. Then we’d listen, write our emotions, and later read aloud small sections with a brief explanation about how it evoked such a response.

The final exam was a 20 minute one on one “walk and talk” around campus discussing our favorite composer with the instructor. I chose Pablo. Not only was this the most enjoyable 4.0 I have ever received, it was also profound in that I acquired a taste for classical music, and deepened my understanding of practice as a mechanism for staying “in tune” with my writer-side self.

Pablo was quoted as saying,

“If I don’t practice for even one day, I can tell the difference when I next cradle the cello in my arms. If I fail to practice for two days, my close friends can tell the difference. If I don’t practice three days, the whole world knows.”

I understand completely. I haven’t been writing for a couple weeks. The few times that I have sat with journal open – the pen didn’t glide, the hand didn’t swim, the thoughts arrived out of tune. Nothing dreamed out loud, nothing powered out from the chaos that swirls in my mind.

I’ve lived with guitars throughout the last 25 years or so since leaving home. This I know to be true: that guitar will die if not played daily. Same goes for djembe drums. In the years when I was playing, or the people I lived with were playing, that guitar was picked up already resonant. Somehow quietly boisterous when first lifted down, ready to sing at first strike of the strings. Yet if not played, the wood of that guitar seemed to lay inert, as if the microscopic ripples of the wood simply flattened.

I know this to be true with our physical bodies too. I once went four years without a single workout. The blood stops moving, fat collects in places caught by gravity.

So I write you today out of tune. My pen isn’t shouting, my hand isn’t poised and my creativity is rusty. I am out of practice. This week, I will write and I will click send. A small piece of my best work will be ready for you each morning at 7 a.m. for seven days. I’m putting myself on the hook – without excuses.

Writing from the Core

The first day at workshop, John said something unusual.

Our instructor asked us why we’d chosen to enroll ourselves in such an endeavor. What we hoped for?

John told us he was dying of a rare form of cancer.

At that time, he was still feeling good. He said he was here to finish up something before he passed. He’d written several love letters to his wife. He wanted our help to get them “right.”

This was a three part writing workshop that I attended for those in transition with change, divorce, loss, grief and growth. This was about three years ago. I wanted to explore my life story: all the tales, myths and metaphors so I could better compose what I saw when I looked back, and so I could redeem my story up ’til that day, and so I could look in the mirror and re-imagine the future.

In order to do this work, we gathered from poetry, stories, free writing, silence, discussion, participatory exercises to stimulate reflection, self understanding and our own depth of healing and hope.

Powerful stuff. Important, worthwhile work.

That’s when it dawned on me that writing isn’t exactly about writing. It’s about remarkable communication. It’s about accomplishing something with language that is important in our precious lives. Writing is a means towards something bigger no matter how poorly we feel. That writing workshop was a place where we gave one another our fullest attention. The act of doing so is one way to advance dreams.

I have always said that writing is life work not desk work. This means that writing from our core and listening from our core is an act of optimism, it’s a way for us to clarify what we need to do. Then use writing to move in that direction.

No “writers workshop” required. Most people will never go to a writers workshop, but we all have a life to live. We all collect the small bits of life, add thoughts and responses then declare it precious. We all do even if we don’t realize we are. We do. We are meaning makers.

Life work is about finding the reason a particular encounter stayed with us. It’s narrowing our way deeper until we understand what happened there. Because it’s not random that you forget so many things throughout a day but specifically remember others. There is something in that which reveals who you are and what you are here to do.

That’s what I believe. That’s why I have a healthy practice of writing from my core almost every day.
If you’re the type of person that doesn’t necessarily like lots of white space and no directions, here is a short step by step start to find your first ink mark on the blank page.

1. Make a list of all your encounters from the day. Include the encounters you’ve had with your self. For whatever the reason, write it down fast. Keep sentences short.

2. Put a star by the item on your list that summons to mind a story, a conversation, anything memorable.

4. Write “the story of your thinking” of this encounter. You may begin by describing your understanding of why this encounter stayed in your mind. It might be something in particular that someone told you. It could be a description of an interaction you had.

One way to think of this: You’re home at dinner time gathering with friends, family and/or loved ones and find yourself telling about your engagement with this encounter. Something worth telling happened. What is it? What did it reveal that you know to be true?

I believe the world needs what only your stories, your poems, your voice and your vision can provide? I am amazed at the influence personal stories of others help me understand and experience human connections. I can’t get enough because I don’t think the whole story will ever get told without your voice.

Lastly, if you hear a voice telling you that you aren’t a writer… Please!

Understand that you have what you need. We all do. Whatever your experience – if you’ve written a note, a letter, a postcard, a Facebook status update – you can share your story.

Or like John, you can work with others to get the communication “right” and have something to pass on.

I want to be the strongest version of myself so I have a checklist every day that includes physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. I know that if I just mark the boxes off this checklist, I’ll be okay

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May We Be Like the Poets

May we all be like the poets.
Like Thoreau watching ripples on still water.
Like Emily distilling her days into verse.
Like Basho learning pine from pine and bamboo from bamboo.
Like Whitman bearing poems like children.
Like Homer, a life’s work in two poems.
Me? … unknown, wide eyed, big hearted, listening, hungry and writing to stay tuned – perhaps a gift for a great great grandchild who will someday find something I wrote and put it on the refrigerator, nodding, “mmmm, truth!”

41 Blurbs for Our T-Shirt Business

I’ve always wanted to have a t-shirt business. Now’s our chance. I’ll get us started.

Let’s use thin, organic cotton V-neck shirts. I despise logos. I never want to wear a shirt that has a Nike swoosh on it. Or Polo. None of them.

Instead of a logo, imagine a short blurb stitched across the upper left pectoral like where a pocket might be. Instead of a pocket, it’s a blurb. Let’s call the T-shirt line “One of One.” Every T-shirt will be unique. Truly one of one. We’ll just have to keep coming up with more blurbs. Maybe a social site for “Blurb Makers” to come up with blurbs or take selfies with their One of One t-shirt. Maybe an eBay-like online store for collectors of One of One to buy, sell and trade.

We could then extend the idea to the backs of jeans, the back pocket. Just a blurb. How about “Blurb on Your Ass?”

To get us started, I’ve come up with 41 blurbs. This is mental exercise. This post is more than I can handle and I’m mentally sweating and stretching. Now I’m getting mentally stronger.

Can you do the artwork? Artwork for some of these might be cool too.

For each blurb, I’ve added a short description. Read them below

These blurbs are mostly an inventory of sayings I’ve been saying to myself and friends & family all my life.

Give these a quick (fun) read and let me know which of them you like.

1. Love is the law. No limit! – This was a mantra of mine when I was full of anger and hate and I beat it with love. If I was to get a tattoo, this is what I’d have across my back.

Love is the Law. No Limit!

2. You are your own rescuer – I say this to myself now. “You are the hero who helps you become found. No one else.”

3. Run the stint, make the poetry – It’s my way of saying “go the distance.” Or I say it when I’m having a night on the town.

4. I’m not afraid of being tired – I say this when I’m running the stint, making the poetry and I have an early next morning.

5. One of one – Some folks say, “He is an OG (original gangster). I say, ‘That dude is one of one.’

6. Embrace the mess, but keep the dishes clean – I say this because life can get messed up. Situations and scenarios can fall off the rails, but there’s still the daily upkeep. You can follow up “Embrace the mess” with just about anything… Embrace the mess, but “mow the lawn” …”tuck the kids into bed” … “wash your armpits.”

7. Oh well, oh well, 3 coins in the fountain – This is what I say when I throw my hands up in the air, exasperated and defeated. It means “I quit” for today. Tomorrow I will wake ready.

8. The first step is a commitment. All the way is a promise – This is my mantra for parenting.

9. Fuck the world. Grow a flower – I say this now to our grower at the greenhouse. He’s depressed, dislikes his job, dislikes his wife, feels trapped and stuck. It’s kinda like, ‘Look on the bright side, bro – you’re growing flowers.’

Or Fuck the World, Eat a Hot Dog

10. Better men have done worse things – My friend Dave said this to me after I confessed how bad I screwed up my marriage and my relationship with my newborn son. Between a sip of bourbon and a drag on an American Spirit black, he said, “Better men have done worse things.”

11. Physically Relentless – This used to be my mantra toward fitness.

12. Brevity – Keep things short.

13. I love you. More than yesterday, less than tomorrow – I say this to the one’s I love.

14. I love myself – Because your life depends on it.

15. Never let go of the thread – Whatever it is, don’t let it go. It’s why you’re in the world.

16. Escape Velocity – i.e. Getting out of the rat race nine to five daily grind BS.

17. Everyone needs a story to reign in the facts – What’s your story? I just agree with this statement.

18. Are you selling shit? Or do you give a shit? – This is my definition of giving value.

19. What I do is what I seek – Kind of like “fake it until you make it.” Right now, I’m single again after two years. I have to love myself. Be in relationship with myself. I’m going through the motions.

20. I’m happy just smoking a doob – Don’t get hooked on smoking marijuana. I more so mean that if you need to lower your expectations to find simplicity, do it.

I’m just happy smoking a doob

21. The second day is the hardest – Because it is. Sure, you can show up on day one, but to come back on day two?!

22. Do it before you have to – Especially true of health, fitness, nutrition, taxes or getting any type of important affairs in order.

23. Life happens to the ready – I say it to myself when I’m up at midnight doing something I don’t necessarily want to do, but know that I have to in order to get something desirable in return.

24. Compatible geography – This is when you have a job that isn’t bound by location and you travel around to work.

25. Seek wise people – Every day I seek out mentors: people who have great experience to help me, particularly in areas I am new to, excited about, and know nothing about.

26. No one asked Hemingway what kind of pencils he used – The tools don’t matter, it’s the content that matters.

27. Nurture the sweet spot – Build on strengths not weaknesses.

29. Character within range – Sometimes my romantic partner would look at me and question whether it be in awe, love, disgust, anger, etc, “Who are you?” I’d reply, ‘A character within range.’

30. People like me and you… – We share similar values.

31. The struggle is worth the effort – Always! Even if you fail, you learn.

32. Burn black holes in dark memories – Make amends with your past.

33. I believe in you – I do.

34. Passion is clean, our reason. Instinct is drive, will be messy – I don’t know… This was my excuse for leaving my marriage.

35. Do over – If I have a bad day, I say, ‘I quit.’ Then when I wake the next morning I call a “Do over.” We all need ’em.

36. Let your freak flag fly – Fitting in will only slow you down.

Let your freak flag fly

37. Sink sandwich for sale – I make sandwiches so big and so yum and so juicy that you have to eat them over a sink.

38. NO! – I started saying “No” to people who weren’t right for me. I started saying “No” to everything I didn’t want to do. My ex-girlfriend said “No” to me every time I wanted to talk to her after we broke up. Her “no” to me was a “yes” to my life.

39. Gonna to look you right in the face – Whatever it is, look it right in the face. Hold your power.

40. Understandings not answers – I used to exclaim to my 5th grade students when they did math, or explained the plot of a book. There are no answers, there are only understandings. That’s life.

41. “Boy you’re going to carry that weight. A long time” – It’s from a Beatles song. I say it to my fellow younger men peers who are experiencing something I know (from experience) will impact them for a long time. Forever.

42. Put your ass where your heart is – Nike has “just do it.” I have Put your ass where your heart is.

Tell me what do you think?

Writing For You Today

For you who’s ever been through shit. For you crying on the floor, feeling hard in your pain. I’m writing this post for you. Read this little piece and vibe on it. This moment, right now, is for you to seize. Freeze it, own it, call it golden. Your suffering will make for better days. Your spirit has another day toward its destiny. Take the next step.

I write what I almost know and you already sense. Subscribe here.