Making Peace with Increments

Successful discipline in any field is the art of making peace with increments.  Whether writing a novel, losing weight, learning guitar, studying for a master’s, or driving in a traffic jam heading home on a Friday afternoon, if you can come to terms with where you are at, you’re on the right track to success.

Humans are famously impatient. We like results. Like yesterday. How many diets go awry because tangible progress has slowed or because discouragement sets in thinking how much further the journey is?

How many stalled novels have bit the dustpan of obscurity over the years because 4000 words seems much too far away from 50,000 words?

But if we can make peace with increments, rejoice in the small, be happy in the seemingly insignificant, EVENTUALLY, your goal will be reached.

Guitar. I’m not a musician, but I love music and I have always loved writing lyrics and thinking up melodies to match.  About fifteen years ago, I watched a friend learn guitar. I was intrigued. I asked him what he did. He said he practiced for thirty minutes everyday for six months. At the end of those six months, while he wasn’t Eddie Van Halen, he was capable of playing chords fluently and even joined the worship band at his church. I was impressed, so I said to myself that I would try it. I got a basic guitar book, a guitar, and  cleared aside 30 minutes a day, and I started playing. It was painful, figuratively on my ears and literally on my fingertips. But as the daily thirty minutes went by, my fingers started to develop callouses and my chords started to develop some attributes of musicology. Six months later, he was right. I could play the guitar. I plateaued at that point because I achieved what I wanted. I wanted to play enough guitar to help me write songs. Success. And I owe it all to increments.

Novels. I’ve said this before. I was a failed novelist who never wrote a novel. I always wanted to write one, and about seventeen years ago I finally started. I wrote three pages, destroyed it all, cried inside, and abandoned all hope of ever writing a novel. About ten years later, through my renewed interest in writing prompted by a new pursuit in drama, I tried again. I wrote little by little. I tried to enjoy the process. I tried to understand the long-haul mentality. I enjoyed where I was in the process.  I counted every word every day. Literally. And before I knew it, I had written a 61,000 word novel.  Then I tried to write another. Now I’ve written eight, and I’m still at the early point in my journey.

Whatever you are trying to accomplish, don’t get stuck lamenting how far away the finish line is.  But DO focus on two things:

  1. The daily increments. Have you done what you can today in your journey? If you can say ‘yes’ to that, then be proud of yourself.
  2. Look back at progress. Look where the increments of the last two weeks have taken you. The last month. The last two months. Remind yourself of where you came from and let it reaffirm that you are on the right track.

I write this for myself, because I’m on other journeys as I write. Perhaps I’ll share another time. But I hope this can be a small reminder to those on a journey of accomplishment that if you make peace in the increments, you will find your way.

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A Student of Mine is a Columnist at Arab News

I have a student. His name is Sami. He’s a go-getter.

Last year, he was a stabilizing force on my theatre tech team.

This year, he is my improv partner, as he pops into my room during break and we do these quite creative improv sessions which are funny and enjoyable.

He signed on to be the producer/manager of my upcoming black box experimental piece.

He is an actor who will be in my future productions. No doubt.

He’s the type of kid you love to pick on simply because you love having him around.

Oh, and this eighteen-year-old is also a columnist at Arab News.

Yeah, pretty cool stuff. A couple weeks ago, he sent me an article he was writing and I gave him a few pointers. He goes off and sends it to Arab News who sent him a contract to be one of their opinion columnists.

How awesome is that?

His first piece “Sheltering Children from the Real World Only prepares them for Failure” was just published.

Check out this ARAB NEWS LINK to read it for himself.

Congrats, Sami. Well done!

Now get my show ready!

Even Writers Need a Day Off

I have a three day weekend from my day job. This typically means that I’m burning the midnight oil with all types of writing projects, trying to take advantage of the extra time to concentrate on plot twists and dialogue and all the other important things in life.

But today, no.

I don’t know why. It’s been the most non-productive writing day of my life.

I can’t even process what I actually did today. Now it’s 6:38 in the evening and what have I accomplished?

I took a walk this morning. Music attached to my ears. It was nice.

I ironed my shirts. Something I rarely do. What’s going on here?

I cooked some lunch.

I transferred music from the cloud onto my phone.

I spent too much time scrolling through my Facebook feed.

I took out the trash.

I didn’t have one writing thought today. No creativity whatsoever. It was just one plain old nothing.

And you know what? I think I needed it.

We all need down time, and perhaps, writers need it more than most. The brain that is typically swimming in a thousand directions doesn’t mind sitting as a toad staring mindless into a stream, focused more on the skimmer on the surface than the indigo blue overhead.

A little mindless me time might just be what I need to get back at it tomorrow.

So whatever you do in life, take a day, at some point, and do nothing.

Then be ready to get at it tomorrow.

(Now would you look at this. I just wrote a blog post about doing nothing on the day I did nothing. So does that mean I actually did something? Hmmm.)

Choose a Mindset: Growth or Stagnation

Half full. Half empty.

Pessimistic. Optimistic.

Toxic. Encouraging.

Complaining. Uplifting.

Wallow in pity. Wash, forget, and start anew.

Where do you fall of the scale of daily ups and downs in this life?

Whether a situation is best described as half full or half empty actually doesn’t change the situation in the slightest way. It is what it is. It’s what we choose to do about that half-empty or half-full cup which will determine if our life is on the trajectory of growth or stagnation.

Think of a trying situation in your life. Will you be toxic about it, spreading rumors and causing discord? Or will you be the encouraging voice in the room, spreading hope, constructive ideas, and solutions?

Will you wallow in self-pity because “this shouldn’t be like that” or “things should be done differently” or will you put aside the messy, dirty stains you picked up along the way today and wash, rinse, forget, and re-boot anew tomorrow?

We make choices every day which will not only affect our demeanor and the demeanor of those around us but will ultimately affect the trajectory of our life.

Whether it’s dealing with the ups and downs of being a writer, a situation with a difficult child, or a difficult work environment, we make our own stars in a lot of ways.

What’s your trying situation that you will need to navigate in the near future?

Mine revolves around a quickly approaching school year with a new campus that’s not quite ready, new teacher apartments that are not quite ready, piles of boxes and furniture in our old apartment ready to be moved but nowhere to move them to. Unanswered questions about where I will be teaching, how my dramas will be affected if our new theatre isn’t built on time, etc… It’s a stressful time for a lot of people around here, so how am I going to react and respond?

Here’s a few reminders to myself: The situation is as it is. There’s no changing the past. Complaining in the present isn’t going to better the situation. Participating in gossip or destructive conversations about “how things should have been done” also won’t change anything. Negativity accomplishes nothing, but it can hold back progress.

Our school has some unique challenges in the weeks ahead. But challenges are opportunities for growth. The important thing to remember about growth, however, is that it doesn’t come easy. Growth takes time, hard work, stubbornness, resiliency, and grit. A growth mindset builds into others. It seeks solutions to improve situations. It’s a learner’s mindset, because to grow we must change. Change our attitude. Change our talk. Change our behavior.

But if you don’t choose growth in whatever situation you are currently facing, what are you choosing?

One of the antonyms of growth is stagnation. Stagnation doesn’t take any time. It requires no hard work. It comes easy. There’s no need to bounce back from adversity and you’ll need to stick with nothing in order to achieve stagnation.

So what will it be? Growth or stagnation?

I’ve Been Hiding in Italy on Vacation

My poor blog. It has lost the fight against ancient relics and priceless cuisine. I’ve been on the most amazing tour of Italy the last week plus that I forgot there was a world out there I used to know. Way to much to show and tell on this one little post, but I thought I’d drop a few photos to show what I did just yesterday. Lots more to come. Consider this the primo.

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Magic Square in Pisa. Okay. Too many people diss Pisa. I’ve heard them say there are so many other places to go. Skip Pisa. Well, no. Magic Square as they call it is rather magical. Of course the leaning tower gets all the glory, but the cathedral and baptistry (foreground) are stunning. Absolutely gorgeous. Well worth a trip from Florence.

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Look at this. Stunning, isn’t it? This is the library ceiling from the Siena Cathedral. This is just the ceiling. Original fresco never restored. You are looking at the colors as they were applied back in the 13th century. Stunning. My old church had a library, but I think it had a matte-white Sherwin-Williams finish. Not quite the same thing.

2018-08-02 12.35.06Tuscan country side. So beautiful. This is actually a view from a restaurant where we had lunch. If you look way in the distance, you can see San Gimignano – the so-called “Manhattan of the Middle Ages.” See below.

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Here’s the square in San Gimignano. There are many of these towers which are visible from far off – making a stunning medieval city on a hill. This town was one of my absolute favorites. A must see surrounded by the incredible Tuscan countryside – grapes, olive trees, lavender, etc…

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That’s what I’ve been up to. Oh, and tomorrow I go to Venice. Last week I was in Rome. Yes, I am spoiled beyond belief. I’ll get back to writing one of these days.  I hope you are enjoying your summer as much as I’m enjoying mine.

The and Teh: How My Brain Teases Me

I spend a lot of time punching out words on a keyboard. I am a fairly fast and accurate typist, thankfully. It was the best skill I ever learned in high school, and the only one I still remember. I took a business class and during one six-week period we studied typing on those lovely old electric typewriters. I never would have suspected that the burgeoning era of personal computering was right around the corner, but when it arrived, I already knew how to type. I couldn’t be happier especially after I’ve seen my fair share of hunt and peckers throughout my days.

But, even on a good day, any typist will make mistakes. One mistake which I have been making a lot lately is I’ve been typing TEH for the THE. Now any general observer might thing that’s a just a mistaken switch of two letters rendering a meaningless word that I must swiftly correct. However, if you have ever visited Malaysia, you will know that ‘teh’ is not a random word. It means ‘tea’ and it forms the beginning of one of my favorite drinks in the world – a drink so luscious and rich that I think about it all the time – now literally all the time when my ‘the’ becomes ‘teh.’ What is this lusciousness called? teh ais

Literal translation is ‘tea ice’ but this is not your standard ice tea of America. Ha. I scoff. It is the wonderful Malaysian pulled-tea (teh tarik) with ice added to it. It is a tempting blend of black tea, ice, and sweetened condensed milk, blended to an incredibly satisfying concoction which couldn’t be a better compliment to the spicy and fragrant dishes which used to accompany me every lunch in Malaysia.

Every typing mistake ‘teh’ brings me back to the hold and smoldering lunch stalls with fans buzzing wickedly overhead and so much sizzle and smoke in the air that it was sometimes hard to breathe. Ah, I miss it!

I don’t know whether to thank or scold my typing skills. Are my mistakes trying to taunt me, or are they bringing back the good memories for me to savor?

Ah, teh ais. Here’s to you:

A Teh Tarik Master

 

Dear Facebook Feed, Why so Political? (aka: bring back the cats)

You’ve probably noticed it too: Facebook has once again become overly political. I haven’t noticed it this bad since the 2016 election cycle. The uproar this time is about immigration and families and children and … you know, all that other political stuff that shouldn’t be in my Facebook feed.

Yes, we are friends, and I wouldn’t mind talking with you about politics, you know, like sitting down and actually chatting back and forth like a dialogue, of two people, who use logic, and reason, and discuss, even if they don’t agree … I wouldn’t mind that, dear friend, but what exactly are you proving or doing or saying by putting that politically charged article link or meme on my Facebook feed?

Are you trying to persuade someone? You aren’t?

Are you looking for a hopelessly purposeless argument? You may get one.

If you really want to affect change or convince people to act, then do it in an appropriate forum.

HINT: Facebook is not an appropriate forum.

What is an appropriate forum? Well, hey, go argue with someone in the comments on HuffPost or Fox News.  Go to a political rally. Go walk around with a sign in front of the White House. Preach all you want, yell all you want, show everyone how smart you are and how informed you are. Do it.

Just not on my Facebook feed.

Seriously, why are you preaching to your friends? If your friends agree with you then you aren’t changing anything only preaching to the choir. Amen!

If your friends don’t agree with you, you are just causing them angst that their feed is filling up with stuff they don’t want to see. And, no, you won’t change their point of view.

No, you won’t.

So really, my friend, your political posts on Facebook serve no purpose. None. Except possibly annoy people.

So from now on, please …

  • show me what you had for dinner
  • let me see the cake you baked for your daughter’s birthday
  • tell me about your trip to Spain
  • share with me your heartaches and what I can do to help
  • tell me where you are, maybe we can meet up
  • cats, go ahead, post stupid cat videos

I prefer a Facebook to be about friends, not politics.

Now, I do love talking politics. I’d be happy to meet and chat with you one day. But let’s do it face-to-face as adults.  We may not agree with each other on everything, but that’s all right. We will still end the evening as friends.

But if politics continue to show up in my Facebook feed, I can’t make that guarantee.