Monthly Archives: September 2015

Who’s Your Butt-kicker?

I was taken aback late last night when I read of the accidental death of Scott Dinsmore — a blogger I’ve read for several years.  I never met him or heard him speak — I only knew him through his online Live Your Legend site. He died pursuing one of his passions.

He is what a I call a butt-kicker:  a guy who encourages me to look outside my box, to consider new possibilities, to put action to my dreams, and to live with no regrets.

During the night my mind recalled some of the butt-kickers in my life: the people who do what I’ve always dreamed of, the books of advice and self-help, speakers who energize me to take the next step, doctors who encourage a lifestyle change, friends who are honest in their assessments, teachers and mentors who believe I can become more.

I only have questions for you, my readers:

  • Who has encouraged you to move ahead, in spite of your fears?
  • Who has walked with you to the edge of the cliff, to help you check the view from there?
  • Who has said, “Of course you can do this” when you didn’t think it possible?
  • Who has allowed you to borrow their courage, until you had enough of your own?
  • Who has shown you the path for getting from here to there, when you couldn’t see the way?

Who are your butt-kickers?  Who is it that opens your eyes?  Who changes your awareness?  Who is it that accompanies you on your journey until have the energy and focus to make it on your own?

Butt-kicking is about hearing the wisdom of others, taking it to heart, and doing the necessary work.

Until next Tuesday . . .

Election Results

In my hometown of the 1950s and 1960s, most of my teenage friends belonged to Rainbow Girls, Job’s Daughters, or DeMolay —  all Masonic-related organizations focused on leadership, spirituality, and service. For those of us who belonged, our lives were anchored by our obligations and commitments of membership. And it was often the source of our closest friendships during our formative years.

In my organization, elections are held annually.  To achieve the highest office you must be elected to a lower position, then advance over the course of two years, to become the leader.  As a high school sophomore I decide to run for elected office — a huge decision for me and one that includes family obligations as well.

My opponent is Janet, a classmate since first grade.  She is a bubbly vivacious blonde, who from my perspective, is always in the popular group.  Her alliances form early and continue through elementary, junior high and high school.  Since third grade we’ve studied piano at the same studio.  She exudes confidence at recitals and always plays well.

The evening of the election arrives.  Ballots are distributed. Gathered.  Counted.  No majority.  Second ballots are distributed with clear instructions:  Two candidates remain;  vote for one only.  Again ballots are gathered and counted.  Tension is high as we await the results. This is my last chance for elected office.

Janet 40.  Jean 39.

Tears form in my eyes as she gushes with her win.  Applause erupts in the room.

I’ve been in competition with her for ten years and she always comes out better than I do. Always.  Just this once I thought I had a chance.

And I did have a chance.  Except for one thing: I voted for her instead of voting for myself.

It’s what I’d been taught  somewhere along the line — probably in an early classroom election. I suspect there were words of instruction like, “Don’t vote for yourself.  Vote for the person you think will do the best job.” I only remembered the first part.

If only I’d voted for myself . . . if only I’d forgotten that early admonition . . . if only I’d believed in myself enough . . . if only . . .

That evening still tastes bitter.

But that night I learned about confidence and about standing for myself.

Three years later as a college freshman, I ran in a dorm election against my roommate. Sandra was cuter, more popular, and more dynamic, but I did it anyway.  The fallout for the two of us could be disastrous.  This time 400 girls were voting.

Unlike my previous election experience where campaigning was not permitted, campaigning was a necessity in the dorm election. I plastered the dorm with posters.

The vote was taken.

I won.  I WON!!

The lesson of these events:  You and I must have confidence in who we are.  We must believe we are capable. We must speak our voice. We must not sit back, hoping someone will take notice.

Sometimes we need to take a risk.

Until next Tuesday . . .




Get Rid of the Noise

“When you get rid of the unnecessary movements, you go faster.”  The swimming teacher is coaching her student, who is perhaps six or seven years old.  Based on my observation, the goal is to swim the length of the pool a bit faster each time.  Perhaps the student is a swim team member or hoping to qualify.

Instead of breathing on every stroke, the young swimmer is learning to breathe only three or four times for the entire pool length.  Breathing on every stroke is convenient, but not necessary.  Taking too many breaths slows the pace.

After several training laps, the teacher says, “Do the same thing every time.  Don’t change.”

In other words, practice what works.  Keep practicing until you no longer have to think about every action.

I’m reminded a quote from Seth Godin: Compare the things that matter to the journey you’re on.  The rest is noise.”

The first question for each of us is: “What journey am I on?”

We have to be specific about our journey.  There’s truth in the adage, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”  What exactly are you about — or what do you want to be about?  In recent years my focus has narrowed to four things: I want to write (creativity), I want to improve my piano playing (skill), I want to read more books (literary experience), and I want to swim (health). These are my “must do’s” every day. Your list will be different, but it’s important that the list be short and focused.

The second question is: “What’s keeping me from my journey?” A thousand things derail us.  For me it’s computer games, paying bills, organizing the ever-accumulating papers, cleaning, cruising the internet, removing clutter, and watching TV.  We each have our distractions. All of this is noise.  NOISE.  When I think cleaning the bathroom is a good idea, I know I’m avoiding my writing.  Not that bathrooms don’t need to cleaned.  It’s not critical to my journey.  It can been done more quickly at another time. Filing papers should not be my excuse for not practicing piano.  The task can be accomplished after I practice. What keeps you from what is personally important?

As Rev. Canon Pat Grace said one Sunday morning, “We live in a time of great noise.”

What noise do you allow into your life — noise that keeps you from your journey?  Check your excuses for why you don’t write or paint or travel or spend time with your kids or call a friend.

You have the same twenty-four hours a day that everyone else has.  Saying you don’t have time is only an excuse — an excuse for allowing the noise to distract you from your journey.

What’s your plan for reducing or eliminating some of the noise in your life?  Even tiny efforts will make a world of difference.

“When you get rid of the unnecessary movements, you go faster.” Translation:  when you get rid of the noise, you can progress on your journey.

Until next Tuesday . . .



Lempriere’s Dictionary

I made two personal commitments recently.  First, read more books.  My change in daily routine is making this happen.  Second, read the unread books I already own, rather than buying new.

In light of that, I pulled Lempriere’s Dictionary off the shelf two weeks ago.  I have no recollection of why I own this book, when or where I bought it, but it’s been in my library for years.  The historical novel takes place in eighteenth century England and proved to be an interesting, though unintentional, followup to Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World by Timothy Brook.

To be honest, I struggled with the language, the complexity of the plot, the multitude of characters, and the plethora of mythological references.  But after reading a hundred pages I was determined to finish, even though I’m not a history buff nor mythogically literate.  I was challenged by the story line.  However, I can tell you the novel is filled with intrigue, murder, pirates, love, global shipping, frantic chases over cobblestones and through underground passageways, inheritance, and riches — and the main character gets the girl in the end.

Yes, I finished.  Did I enjoy it?  Not so much. As Publishers Weekly notes “few discerning readers will care to hack through this choked jungle of historical fiction.” Yet I am awed by a writer who creates such a story.

The next day I went online, looking for the story synopsis and perhaps some reviews.  I wanted to fill in some gaps in my literary education and know what others thought.  Here are excerpts from what I found:

  • Told with the narrative drive of a political thriller and a Dickensian panorama of place and time, this astonishing tale encompasses the Great Voyages of Discovery, multinational financial conspiracies, and a motley cast of scholars and eccentrics, drunken aristocrats, whores and assassins, and octogenarian pirates, all brilliantly depicted across three continents and the world of classical mythology. (Amazon)
  • Few discerning readers will care to hack through this choked jungle of historical fiction, fantasy and myth, despite the obvious intelligence and erudition British first novelist Norfolk displays here. (Publishers Weekly)
  • I absolutely loved the awesome inventiveness of this novel.  And although it is tremendously complicated and difficult to read I found it very interesting. (Nicolas J. Hanauer)
  • It is admittedly a slow read, but it is well worth it. Many of the events in the book were real, and John Lempriere really did exist and write the dictionary mentioned in the title. The book is one of the best I have ever read, and I would recommend it to anyone. (Jennifer Burgis)
  • His writing style is dense, with many allusive references, detailed and extravagant descriptions of background, rather heavy usage of foreign (non-English) terms and passages, and an often-intimidating vocabulary. (Joseph H. Pierre)

As with many creative achievements, some love it, some don’t. It’s a matter of personal taste and preference.  If you love history and intrigue and mythology this book is for you.

Keep reading. Expand your literary experience.

Until next Tuesday . . .

Tree Corrections

A few Sundays ago a lady greeted me after church with, “You have a lovely smile but you should smile more often.”

Then she put her index fingers at the corners of her mouth and pushed her lips into a smile.  Her expression said, “This is how you smile.”

Like I didn’t know.

I’ve written previously about my serious expression.  I know I have it and, so far, I’ve been unable to change it.  When meeting people for the first time, I’ve been known to say, “Don’t worry.  I’m not as mean as  I look.” It’s my way of putting them at ease.

What bothered me most about the church lady was her attempt to fix me.  She assumed I didn’t know how to smile and that I needed her instruction.

She was wrong.  Very wrong.

I was so taken aback by her comments that I made no response.

She should have stopped after she said, “You have a lovely smile.” Everything after that felt like criticism, judgment and disapproval. We’ve all made the same mistake: we’ve complimented someone, then said too much and ruined it.

I’d like to casually chat with the church lady after worship as we’ve done before, but now I avoid her, lest she have other judgments about my clothes, my posture, my voice, my hair.  I don’t want her assessment of my smiling improvement or lack thereof.

When I shared this incident with a friend, she offered a quote from Ram Dass as a comeback to the church lady:

When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. Some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You understand that it didn’t get enough light and so it turned that way. You don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. You are constantly saying, “You’re too this…” or “I’m too this…” That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.

As I’ve pondered this quotation, these words are more for me than the church lady.  She meant well and has no idea she struck a deep nerve with me. My avoidance response is no less judgmental than her comment about my smile.

We are two grey-haired ladies acting like teenagers.  How absurd!

We are both trees in the forest, though bent differently.  I hope the forest is improved by our appreciation of each other.

The next step is mine.

Until next Tuesday . . .