Use all your time

Wow, that was something you just created — meme worthy at least, maybe something timeless.

What else you got?

It’s easy to look at what you’ve just written and say, “There! Done! Mission accomplished!” and go back to life. But there are still hours in the day, or at least minutes in the creative time you carved out.

What else you got?

The Beatles had a few minutes left in the studio time they’d purchased to record an album. So they did a couple of takes of “Twist and Shout,” which is a legendary recording. Or am I mixing that story up with the story of Barry McGuire and “Eve of Destruction”?

The point is, if you strike genius midway through and still have time left, keep going. You still have gas in the tank, so keep burning it. Don’t let the knowledge of one bit of wonderfulness sit fat and sassy in your ego while another bit goes sailing past undiscovered.

If you said, “I have a half-hour to create something cool” and you have something cool in eight minutes, don’t rest on your laurels for 22 more minutes. Maybe you’re on a roll and something cooler is about to emerge. Maybe your story will be “that day I created three of my most beloved pieces in a half-hour.”

You already know you’ve got “that day I created something amazing in eight minutes,” so why not? Finish the session. Spend your allotted time. Give all you’ve got in the time that’s left. You might change the world again, and there’s your story.

Schedule a time to listen

The schedule is showing up every day. Ain’t that the truth?

Show up willing to be a receptacle for the words calling you from out there, and you will hear them, sure as the breeze is bouncing those wind chimes around outside my window just now.

The chimes are a constant metaphor for me, musical chaos singing nature’s song, or is it God, who created nature and is nature, sending me a melodic reward for showing up today to listen and take notes?

Watch and listen for the metaphor; watch and listen and take notes. Next thing you know, you’ve transcribed a book or books.

Eagles fly like, well, eagles

I remember the first time I saw an eagle flying overhead at our retreat not far from the shores of Green Bay, a few years ago now. It was heart-stoppingly beautiful, that majestic bird fighting back against extinction and soaring along.

Friday afternoon I sat down on the bench in Willow’s Field and looked up to see nine of them. I think they were all eagles; I only spotted one white head among them, but it takes quite a bit of time for a young bald eagle to attain that distinctive look.

They were dancing in the wind, sometimes flying near each other, sometimes spreading out, always following the breeze or using it to soar higher or slide lower.

“Huh,” I said, “that’s a lot of eagles.”

I realized then that they have become commonplace in our neck of the woods, so commonplace that I don’t stop to watch unless there are a whole bunch of them playing together in the sky.

How wonderful it is that I have misplaced my sense of wonder over the miracle of these majestic beasts.

The pelicans have not returned yet from wherever they go during the very cold weather. I look forward to seeing them again. It wasn’t so very long ago that you didn’t see pelicans around here at all.

No doubt some political-minded someone will claim credit for bringing eagles and pelicans to the Green Bay area with some rule or another. I’m just glad to see eagles and pelicans cavorting overhead.

Would you rather be safe or free?

(It’s funny what 22 years can do to something you wrote. This chapter, incorporating two newspaper columns I wrote back in the day, may be the most chilling bit in my book Refuse to be Afraid.)

Would you rather be safe or free?

It’s been the central question in the United States of America for two decades now.

In April 1999 a couple of kids at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., committed an atrocity, shooting 35 students and teachers, killing 13 of them, before turning the guns on themselves. In the days immediately after, there was much talk about clamping down on the possession of guns and adding great layers of security to the classroom experience.

I wrote this in my newspaper column in the aftermath:

Continue reading “Would you rather be safe or free?”

It comes in waves

The dog up and died; he up and died —
After 20 years he still grieves.

I have always choked up a little bit when we get to that line in “Mr. Bojangles,” and I knew that after three-quarters of a lifetime, I had experienced the love of a dog as deep as that about Jerry Jeff Walker wrote.

I was a basket case again for a little while the other day. I took a walk along the way Willow and I used to walk, and I broke down sitting on the bench we often shared in her field. I would sit down on the north end of the bench and drape my arm over the back, she would climb onto the south end, and we would watch the world go by for a while.

Will there come a time when I can walk that way without welling up? Ask me again in 20 years.

I am grateful to have learned to be conscious of the great pleasures as they are happening, thankful for remembering, “Savor this moment. You will never pass this way again,” because I have 12 years of memories of a puppy turned dog turned cherished companion.

They are moments to be held in gratitude and sweet memory, moments that are painful at first when we reach the point when they are gone forever, but the memories comfort and counteract the sorrow. We love, and the memory of love drives back the darkness.

It’s only a week, I tell myself, and I’m still adjusting to life with only one canine friend, just as Red is, just as Dejah is adjusting to being an “only child.” The occasional wave of grief is as overpowering as the occasional wave of love for that sweet beast used to be; she made me smile right down to the bone.

And you know what, those smiles have lingered in my bones and wrapped themselves around me these past few days. As much as it hurts, I am so glad to have had a dozen years together with that dawg. The sadness isn’t half as deep as the happiness was, and I know in the end that the happy will continue longer than the ache.

The choice that unblocks the soul

Writer’s block is too many “what ifs.” Not “I don’t know what to write,” but “there are so many ways this could go, which way do I want to go? I want to try them all, but I have to pick one, and which way is the best?”

So many potential twists and turns, so many choices. What if I choose wrong?

Just pick one.


Embrace the choice.

And the words will flow again.

It’s not just a writer’s thing. Dwelling on the “what ifs” can paralyze a soul. So many choices, so many potential twists and turns.

Choose, and embrace the choice, and life will move on.

She taught me joy

As the author of a little tome called Gladness is Infectious, I decided to look inside my grief and be glad for the just shy of 12 years with the beautiful golden retriever I have told you about, Willow The Best Dog There Is™. (This Sunday, March 28, would have been her 12th birthday.)

If you’ll indulge me for one more day, I want to recall the life I celebrated here just last week, not realizing everything would change the very next afternoon.

Long story short, Willow and I were outside tending to her business when she suddenly fell down, thrashed and yowled in pain – I never want to hear a sound like that again. She couldn’t put any weight on her back leg when we coaxed her into the minivan for the ride to the doggie ER.

After a restless weekend, we went to our regular vet Monday morning, where we learned something had gone permanently wrong with her back legs that could not be fixed without things like surgery and extended hospitalization and other things you shouldn’t force on an elderly canine. And so, after a peaceful but agonizing goodbye, I am trying to get used to her absence.

When Willow was 2 years old, I wrote A Scream of Consciousness, on the theme of focusing on the present moment to experience the joy of it all. I hit upon the idea of making a video of Willow romping in the snow and using a frame from the video as the cover shot.

I grabbed the Flip camera — remember those wonderful devices in the days before phones did everything? — and followed Willow as she danced through a freshly fallen snow. Playing it back frame by frame was frustrating, because as much fun as she was having, I didn’t think I’d managed to capture her in quite the right “scream of consciousness” moment, until the very last frame of the video: “THERE you are, girl,” I said, and had my cover.

Here’s what I wrote about my beautiful puppy then:

“Willow, our golden retriever companion, is a remarkable example of how to live a joyful life. At 2 years old, she seeks out joy with the curiosity of a child and the wisdom of the joyous.

“When I follow her lead, I achieve an unmatchable warm and peaceful contentment. Therefore, any time I am in her sphere of influence, I make sure I throw her ball or her orange disk, rub her belly, hug her with all my strength, or whatever else the moment requires.”

I am so grateful she taught me to savor those moments, because as much as her passing leaves a hole in my soul, the memories will sustain me for the rest of my life. My God, what a wonderful creature she was.