Category Archives: How do you define success?

Choosing to go uphill

Most work days I go for a lunch-hour walk around one of Canada’s iconic sites—Parliament Hill.

I arrive at the east slope of the hill and descend to where the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal meet. The view of the water and of Nepean Point where Samuel de Champlain holds his astrolabe aloft is motivation enough to descend, even though I know eventually I will have to ascend.

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I discovered something interesting during this daily walk. Like me, many people choose to go down and up this hill every day, but unlike me, they choose to do it over and over again.

Down, up, down, up, down, up.

Some of them do it as part of a torturous “boot camp,” so they carry a medicine ball, or drag a sled with a heavy weight behind them, or tote a heavy pole over their shoulders. Down, up, down, up, down, up, with extra weight to make it more difficult.

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The decision to make life more difficult when we have the option of coasting seems counter-intuitive. Don’t we all long for the easy ride? Life is challenging enough, one would think. Do we really need to make it harder?

We do, actually, because choosing the easy road early in life leads to a hard road later in life. If we want to run and jump and bend and stretch in our later years, we have to run and jump and bend and stretch in our youth. Life requires hard stuff early on, so we can enjoy good stuff later.

Life is full of ups and downs—some chosen, some thrust upon us. Training for the uphill grind is a good idea.

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A tiger and the villagers; An owl and the cows

Strange bedfellows make great stories, don’t they?

This week, CBC news reported the unusual friendship between a red-tailed hawk and some cows. In case you don’t live in Canada, or have somehow not seen a weather forecast in the past few months, the Maritime provinces on the east coast of Canada experienced crazy, knock-your-socks-off, don’t-leave-your-house-for-days snowstorms—repeatedly. In early February, Charlottetown, PEI received five feet of snow in a two-week period, and the storms just kept coming.

Unusual weather makes living creatures do unusual things. To escape the wild snowstorms, a red-tailed hawk took refuge in a barn. The storms were so frequent and of such extended duration, the hawk and the cows became friends.

(Awww . . .)

A few years ago I read about an Amur tiger in the Russian Far East Primorye who actively sought out human assistance. Sadly, human activity caused him to need help in the first place; the tiger had a paw caught in a poacher’s trap. Weakened and in pain, the tiger cried out as it approached people.

(A red-tailed hawk is one thing, but a tiger?)

If only we could figure out a way to discover the kinship of strange bedfellows before a crisis. Wouldn’t that be fantastic?

The universe conspires with you

 

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I love the book The Alchemist, and I find its author, Paulo Coelho, inspirational as a writer and a human being. 

Many people don’t agree. I made a visit to the “1 star” section of the Goodreads reviews of The Alchemist and discovered myriad variations on the “What a load of tripe” theme.

Those readers didn’t fall in with the fabled story of a hero journey. They didn’t buy the life wisdoms like the one quoted above. After all, since when does everyone in the universe get what they want? And what about good people who end up suffering?

Coelho recently responded to those concerns with this:

“I realized that despite the fear and the bruises of life, one has to keep on fighting for one’s dream. As Borges said in his writings ‘there no other virtue than being brave’. And one has to understand that braveness is not the absence of fear but rather the strength to keep on going forward despite the fear.”

I think he means this: If you have the ability to complain about NOT getting what you want, then that means that you’re still breathing, and your story is not over yet. There’s still time. 

Get busy. Work hard. Stop whining, because if you don’t, all you’ll get is more of the same. Fight past all those things you fear. Don’t let them paralyze you into inaction.

If you do, you might be amazed at the machinations of the universe. 

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Consider Paulo Coelho’s 25 Important Points. Read them here: http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2014/09/03/25-important-points/

My 500th post: What better time for Calvin and Hobbes?

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Calvin and Hobbes Comic Strip, April 16, 1991 on GoComics.com

I’m celebrating 500 posts with a little of Bill Watterson’s genius. This is one of my favourites.

Carpe Diem. Make the most of your precious few footsteps. 

Happy New Year

Adjustments and appreciations

I have started a new writing contract, and this one requires me to make some adjustments.

My home is my usual base of operations. I wear comfy clothes, I take frequent breaks, and when I read my writing out loud to myself no one around me questions my sanity.

But for this contract, I need to put on nice clothes, walk to a bus stop early in the morning, and commute to downtown Ottawa. I don’t have access to my email at my office, so I feel untethered. It makes it more difficult to do things I love to do but don’t get paid for, like this blog.

Shock. To. My. System.

I know, I know—what’s the big deal, right? People do this every day. True, and I’m making the adjustment.

And I look for things to appreciate. The work is interesting, my boss is fantastic, and my co-workers are positive and supportive. The experience allows me to build my writing skills in a lucrative area. I learn to juggle domestic duties more effectively.

Best of all, I don’t have a work life like the one described by a woman on the bus. (Yes, I was eavesdropping.) She said:

“I break my day up because it’s the only way I can deal with it:

8:30 to 12:00 is work;
12:00 to 1:00 is waiting for lunch;
1:00 to 1:30 is lunch;
1:30 to 3:30 is work;
3:30 to 4:30 is waiting to go home;
4:30 is home.”

Wow.

I’ll adjust, and I’ll appreciate. And I’ll try not to let the blog slip . . .

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Morning pages: Dredging out of a creative primordial soup

Lots of people ask me where I get my ideas.

Stephen King answers the same question this way:

“. . . good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, interviewed the American poet, Ruth Stone. During that interview, Ruth Stone spoke of feeling poems:

“. . . coming at her from over the landscape like a thunderous train of air.” She said that when this happened, she felt the poem coming, it shook the earth beneath her feet, and the only thing she could do was run like hell to the house, chased by the poem. She had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Sometimes, she said, she wouldn’t be fast enough and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and it would continue on across the landscape looking for another poet.”

Wouldn’t that be exciting?

I’m helped by Julia Cameron’s morning pages. In The Artist’s Way, she recommends the daily practice of writing three pages every morning. Weird and wonderful stuff comes to me on those pages. The ideas feed this blog and my other creative writing. The ideas arise out of a creative primordial ooze; I dredge them out of the muck, and they rise to the surface with a sucking sound, brand new and unevolved.

Without fail, something comes up. Almost always I think: “I could never have thought of that on my own.”

Out of the empty sky, barreling across the landscape, or rising out of the primordial soup—however we choose to describe it—the ideas come from somewhere, someone, someplace, something outside of us.

We just recognize them when they show up.

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