Safely Fourth

Let’s launch the holiday weekend early! Usually, I’d look forward to kids and flags and pretzels in our town parade. Not this time around — a quieter moment. In honor of Independence Day, here is wisdom for us to ponder from our Founding Fathers about an America worth defending:

“The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men.”   Samuel Adams

“Citizens by birth or by choice of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name AMERICAN, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same Religion, Manners, Habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together. The independence and Liberty you possess are the work of joint councils and joint efforts — of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.”   George Washington’s Farewell Address

“This will be the best security for maintaining our liberties. A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins.”   Benjamin Franklin

“Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”   John Adams

“A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor and bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.”

“The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all.”

“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”   Thomas Jefferson

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Wise Owls

What wonderful news — a new bookstore! The Wise Old Owl just opened yesterday despite the pandemic! The town of Streator, Illinois now has a new community resource with a spirited, enthusiastic owner. What a gift! As the New York Times noted in a story, The Wise Old Owl’s owner Jerrilyn Zavada’s original inspiration was You’ve Got Mail, a romantic comedy that first sparked her vision of opening a bookstore. Over years and years, that spark stayed alive.

“It’s been my dream,” Jerrilyn observed. “I always thought that would be really cool.” A contributor to the “Spirit Matters” column published by the Times and NewsTribune, and a former Times reporter, according to the Times, she “wants the store to be an extension of her column, which focuses on spirituality. The store features a selection of spiritual, religious, self-help and grief books, among many other topics.”

The store is snug, but inviting. It’s cozy 12-by-18-foot-space will highlight both new and used titles, and a children’s section is already in the works. The decor showcases the shop’s owl theme, with owl paintings, photographs and statues scattered everywhere in the store. “Owls have always been fascinating to me,” Jerrilyn observed.

Jerrilyn’s family have been enthusiastic participants in her dream project and it is totally a family affair. Her brother Jeff owns the building; nephew Jordan and his girlfriend created the mural that adorns one wall; and her other brother Joe and nephew Jacob have teamed up with her to offer Schuil gourmet coffee at the shop. Niece Lexi is her assistant manager.

“Everyone has been excited,” Jerrilyn said about the community’s response to her dream taking wing amidst them. “I can’t say enough about how supportive the community has been.”

What a wonderfully inspiring story — and what a bold bookseller. Write on!

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Mission Possible

Most companies these days have mission statements. Beyond just being statements of their purpose, they also capture the company’s goals and help focus everyone on achieving them. It may also set forth the ideals it stands for. In a nutshell, it declares what a company is all about, what it hopes to achieve and its path to success.

As many of us continue to shelter in place, it seems like the perfect time to create a personal mission statement about our writing. Jeffrey Gitomer, a sales and motivational expert, considers a personal mission statement a powerful focusing tool, one that “builds your character at the same time it lays it bare.” In his book, The Sales Bible, he offers some simple advice on crafting your own.

First, think about what your personal mission statement is designed to do: It’s an affirmation, philosophy, and purpose all captured on paper. It’s an opportunity to bring your goals into sharper focus and to connect your ideals with the real world. It’s a personal challenge written to yourself and for yourself.

It can be fun to write and well worth the time you put into it. Here are some ground rules from Jeffrey Gitomer to get you started:

Define yourself: Who or what are you dedicated to?

Define your service to others: What do you intend to put your talent and time into accomplishing?

Describe how you will strive to get better, to grow, and hone your craft and skills.

Then use your goals and vision to define your mission:

Describe the example you are seeking to set.

Describe the ideals you seek to express in your life and work.

Write down the affirmations you plan to use every day to inspire you and keep you focused and on track.

All this takes time — it’s a process. Write a first draft and let it sit for a few days. Reread it and make any changes that better reflect your true feelings. Describe honestly and personally who you think you are and what you want to achieve and become.

Don’t be afraid to get down on paper what you want to do and what you believe proud talents are. You’re writing this statement for yourself, not others. Affirm everything you think you are or think you aspire to and want to become. Do it with a sense of pride. Do it with a spirit of adventure.

Once you feel happy with your statement, sign it in bold letters and put it where you can see it every day. Write on!

life and work.

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“Small Things”

“Great things are done by a series of small thing brought together.”   Vincent Van Gogh

How true this is, yet how often we forget it! We fantasize and build castles in the sky and cook up grand schemes. And then we overwhelm ourselves and the “great things” we dreamed up seem to collapse under their own weight. How discouraging this can be!

Here’s another plan: “Think big, but start small.” An oak begins as an acorn. Golden honey as a few bits of pollen clinging to a bee. Or a glorious cathedral: It started as a gleam in someone’s eye, then a plan, and then it was built, stone by stone.

I remember reading a story about a woman who who’d just had a baby and completed her PhD dissertation in a year by writing only 15 minutes a day. Or consider this: If you wrote only one page a day, by the end of a year you’d have a 365-page book.

So let’s not get grandiose – let’s get down to the basics. Let’s start small, with the building blocks of getting what we want to say down on paper. Let’s start with:

One idea that we love and can play around with until it begins to sing and dance.

One word that we keep chasing and refining until it says exactly what we want.

One sentence we revise and reshape until it’s colorful and compelling.

One paragraph that we rearrange until it flows like honey into the next one.

Let’s get down to the bare bones of what we’re trying to write and start with a sturdy framework. Then let’s build on it word word by word, sentence by sentence, and on and on. Soon we’ll see the pages and paragraphs mounting up like raindrops in a pool.

Here’s John Steinbeck’s tip: “Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.” Sage advice from a wonderful writer.

Sounds doable, doesn’t it? Instead of global and grand, let’s just get going and all write on!

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Perfect Practicing

“Practice makes perfect:” We’ve all heard this saying. But it turns out that this may not be true after all. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that “perfect practice makes perfect.” That’s what Geoff Colvin contends in his book, Talent is Overrated, which talks about the vital importance of what’s called “deliberate practice” to developing mastery in any field.

Deliberate practice, Geoff says, has eight characteristics. In his book, he explores them all in depth. A few insights:

• Deliberate practice focuses on improving performance: it requires you to get out of your comfort zone and stretch yourself — not to reach for unattainable goals, but to push yourself to get better.

• Deliberate practice requires consistency: Repetition is key. Once you know what you want to master, you must work at it repeatedly. This is where hard work and discipline come in.

• Deliberate practice requires intensive mental effort: if you’re not fully engaged and operating at a high level, then you are not moving toward mastery.

• Deliberate practice employs results-based feedback: it isn’t about abstract, pie-in-the-sky changes, it’s about making improvements that have practical impact on your performance.

The good news here is that deliberate practice is a strategy for getting to the next level that’s available to all of us. It’s not about talent or contacts — it’s about putting in serious time in an intentional, focused way with the goal of moving toward mastery. Definitely a concept worth exploring as we all write on!

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Cal Counsels

“Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not. It is the first lesso that ought to be learned and is probably the last lesson a person learns thoroughly.” Thomas Huxley, British biologist.

“Doing the thing you have to do when it ought to be done” – even when you don’t feel like it. What a challenge this is! And how many clever ways we can all devise to escape taking action – even actions we know will benefit us.

We let our feelings overwhelm us and dictate our actions. But there is a way to push past those feelings so we can do what we need to do.

Actions create attitudes. By taking action, we can actually act our way into feeling the way we want to feel.

Consider Cal Ripken, Jr., the Baltimore Oriole’s all-star shot-stop, who was legendary for his unmatched record for the most baseball games played consecutively. In his long sports career, Cal never missed a game. When asked if he ever went to the ball-park when he was aching and feeling under the weather, Cal said, “Yeah, just about every day.”

Though his casual reply makes it all sound easy, overcoming aches and pains over hundreds of games is an amazing achievement for an athlete in any sport. Over his career, Cal encountered the same daily challenges and obstacles that his fellow players did, but he pushed past them all while teammates and opponents called in sick or took days off because they didn’t feel like getting out on the field.

Cal’s dedication, drive, and enthusiasm made him a super-star in a demanding sport. One of the keys to his success had to be his ability to be comfortable feeling uncomfortable. And to absorb the simple principle: a body in motion tends to stay in motion.

So if actions create attitudes, how can we “act” ourselves into writing when we don’t feel like it? When we’re moody or tired or distracted.

“Butt in the chair” – that’s how. To write when we don’t feel like writing, we need to sit down and start writing. And once we start, more than likely, we’ll keep going. And the more we write, the better we’ll feel and the better we feel, the more we’ll want to write.

Simple, but not easy. For Cal, it was feet on the field. For us, butt in the chair. Write on!

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About karinwritesdangerously

I am a writer and this is a motivational blog designed to help both writers and aspiring writers to push to the next level. Key themes are peak performance, passion, overcoming writing roadblocks, juicing up your creativity, and the joys of writing.

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Shifting Gears

Management expert Tom Peters is known for his contrarian view about change. He vigorously disagrees with other experts in his field who consider change to be an uphill, painstaking process. Instead, he believe that all change – even massive, life-altering shifts in behavior – is enacted in the smallest fraction of a second – or never. To his mind, it happens instantly in a seismic shift – or not at all.

Here’s what he says about it in his book The Pursuit of the Wow:

“… I’m fed up to my eyebrows with execs (and folks of every other rank) who talk about how l-o-n-g it takes to achieve change. That’s pure rubbish. It takes forever to maintain change (‘One day at a time,’ according to Alcoholics Anonymous); but it takes just a flash to achieve change of even the most profound sort.

“One morning in Houston almost six years ago, I changed. I was a nonexerciser. But that day, for a lot of not very significant reasons, I went out at 5 a.m. and took my first, bumbling speed walk. Eleven minutes later (OK, more than a few nanoseconds), I was hooked. True, every day since then I’ve fretted that I’ll renege. Exercise is a lifetime pursuit, which causes pain some days (e.g., as I write, it’s unseasonably cold, rainy, and getting late). But as of that morning, I was a no-baloney, world-class, rudely dogmatic exerciser.

“Change is that simple. Honest.”

Wow! For a business writer, Tom really has a way with words: “no-baloney, world-class, rudely dogmatic exerciser” – what a great self-portrait of a committed convert!

More to the point, there’s the kicker that follows: “Change is that simple. Honest.”

Can it really be true? We all seem to send so much time hand-wringing about our ability to change, to shift gears – to do things differently. Surely we’ve all heard that old saying, “Insanity is thinking that doing the same thing will get you a different result.” And yet, when it comes to making real changes in our lives or our work, we think it’s too hard or too painful — and so we stop before we get started.

On the writing front, we all probably have a host of things we’d like to change. We may want to stick to a daily writing plan instead of being haphazard about our timing. We may want to push to completion on projects, instead of leaving them half-finished and stuffed in a drawer or computer file. We may want to launch a real submissions strategy and start putting our work out into the world instead of dithering and procrastinating about it.

Why not adopt Tom’s view? Let’s simply see change as simple – and go for it! Write on!

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Fully Alive

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually                           thrown out of the nest.”   Pema Chodron

Pema Chodron is a wise, well-beloved Buddhist teacher — and she knows the ways of the world. To be alive, to be engaged, to be fully aware of our surroundings, to be in the moment when creating, we must sacrifice the comfort and security that most of us crave.

As writers, we are both the mother bird and the baby — we literally throw ourselves out of the nest and we find the wings to fly. Being in the moment can be perilous, but for us, coming to the page with an open heart and open mind sparks our creativity.

Constantly challenging what we think and what others think is one of the tasks of the honest writer; we can never be totally content with our work: We are always striving, searching, and reaching beyond our grasp for the better word, the better idea, the better story, the deeper truth behind the story.

All this isn’t easy. Stepping out of our comfort zones isn’t easy. Always adventuring isn’t easy. Always honing our craft isn’t easy. And doing all this and then letting go, knowing that we can never attain perfection and releasing our work into the world — this isn’t easy either.

But, oh, consider the joys of it all!

Every day we enter the Land of Possibilities.

Every page is a world we create.

Every problem solved is a world repaired.

Every word is a step toward a mystery.

Every better word brings us closer to home.

Every idea reveals more about who we are.

Yes, we writers are little birds ever falling from our nests. And yet, what would we rather be? What would we rather do? Write on!

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Be Kind

“What greater wisdom can there be than kindness?”   Jean Jacques Rousseau

Just over the weekend, I was trolling or rather, scrolling through my emails when one headlined  “Productivity Tips,” caught my eye. Since, like many of us, I wasn’t feeling too productive, I decided to check out the video it featured . I’m so glad I did! Because it wasn’t about productivity at all. It was about not feeling productive.

It was an honest, candid admission by a writing coach who prides herself on being a highly productive, overachiever about how she just couldn’t pull a productivity tip out of a hat. She’d run into a technical snafu on a project, she was worried about her little son who’s especially vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus, she was feeling overwhelmed.

With all this going on, she really had only one bit of advice to give: Be kind to yourself. And that’s what she was going to do herself that day: Instead of a forced march toward a goal she’d set for herself, she was going to give herself a different day. She was going to take a break — and later that evening, she was going to call an old friend and watch a movie with her and they were going to talk about it over the phone and just have fun. How wise!

In this same spirit, along with doing our best to help each other through these trying times, let’s also be kind to ourselves, let’s also help ourselves as we would a friend:

Let’s be kind to ourselves when we’re not feeling all that productive. If we can’t push through it, let’s just give ourselves permission to take a break and go back later. More often than not, just relaxing and having a little fun will help us get back on track.

Let’s be kind to ourselves when we’re feeling forgetful. Focusing takes a lot more energy these days, doesn’t it? So if you are not on top of everything — if you seem to be more scattered and forgetful, simply be OK with it and go on. I forgot to post a poem I love for this Father’s Day weekend — it just completely slipped my mind. It’s OK, Karin. It’s OK.

Let’s be kind to ourselves when we our usual strategies for keeping anxiety at bay don’t seem to be working. Keeping busy is a way of coping with anxiety for many of us, including the writing coach I mentioned. And myself. And maybe you, too. But sometimes these tools we use don’t work. When that happens, why not admit it and try again later?

And so, because I forgot to share it this weekend, but love this poem, here it is:

My Father’s Hats
Mark Irwin

Sunday mornings I would reach
high into his dark closet while standing
on a chair and tiptoeing reach
higher, touching, sometimes fumbling
the soft crowns and imagine
I was in a forest, wind hymning
through pines, where the musky scent
of rain clinging to damp earth was
his scent I loved, lingering on
bands, leather, and on the inner silk
crowns where I would smell his
hair and almost think I was being
held, or climbing a tree, touching
the yellow fruit, leaves whose scent
was that of a clove in the godsome
air, as now, thinking of his fabulous
sleep, I stand on this canyon floor
and watch light slowly close
on water I’m not sure is there.

Wishing all fathers of our hearts and memories days of sunshine and joy. Write on!

 

 

 

 

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Something Wonderful

 

I Meant to Do My Work Today

But a brown bird sang in the apple-
tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.

And the wind went sighing over the
land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And the rainbow held out its shining
hand —
So what could I do but laugh and go?

— Richard Le Gallienne

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