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.

Maybe the squirrel is not the problem

I started to write something along the lines of “Quit whining about everything that’s wrong with the world and set your mind free,” and I caught myself up short.

Who am I, after all, to tell other people how to live their lives? When I’m thinking straight, I refuse to “tell” other people how to live their lives, and I am no good example anyway.

All I can say — all I should say — is that when I turn away from dwelling on the stuff that alarms me and outrages me — and let’s be clear, there’s plenty of that to be found — and when I instead turn toward seeking the stuff that is good and honest and beautiful — I realize there’s a lot more of that to be found.

Who benefits from my alarm and outrage? Who benefits when I am alarmed and outraged and offended to the point of distraction? Why would someone want me distracted, as if I am a watchdog to be sidetracked chasing a squirrel?

Actually, a squirrel is not a very dangerous fellow, but apparently he is fun to chase.

What is a greater danger than the squirrel? Perhaps it is the person shouting “squirrel” and making sure I am alarmed and chasing around — you know, the person who keeps me on a leash …

This is a muddled message, I know. It’s about not listening to the people who want me alarmed and afraid and offended, and instead listening for the beauty in this life, but it’s also about watching out for the people who want me alarmed and afraid and offended, because they are the truly alarming ones.

So where I am going with this? I began by looking for a gentler way of saying “Quit whining and set your mind free,” because a free mind is in its purest state, released from anxiety and fear and anger and all that mess. Then I had to acknowledge that there are reasons to be anxious and afraid and angry, but among the biggest reasons are the manipulators who want to keep people in a state of anxiety and fear and anger.

I think the smartest dog is the one who looks back at the person who shouts “Squirrel!” to figure out what’s really going on. And then sits back down to enjoy the view.

Turn the page

Yes, that’s right. Turn the page. You filled up the last page and life goes on, so turn the page and keep writing the journal of your life.

There is always another blank page waiting, but first you must turn to it. Oh, you can just sit there staring at the old page, the filled page, but you wrote it all in ink and it can’t be erased and you can’t change it, so: Best practices? Turn the page.

You need to keep going. Reading back over past regrets, OK, you can resolve to have learned something and do it differently next time.

But the sun set last night and a new day is here. Turn the page. Turn. The. Page.

You will find what you seek

If this be the new Dark Age, greet it with sunshine.

If this is the time of anger and hate, greet it with peace and love.

If this is the time of “give me what I deserve,” be generous.

Resentment is a dime a dozen; gratitude is precious and eternal.

Seek out reasons to be glad about this life, and you will find them.

Seek out reasons to be bitter and entitled, and you will find those, too.

I can tell you life is sweeter when you search for the light in the darkness, not the other way around.

The morning news

In the last 24 hours …

Thousands of couples around the world celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary with family and friends.

Millions of business transactions occurred smoothly, with buyer and seller both satisfied. Millions of charitable acts also took place.

Billions of people shared a laugh — or at least a chuckle — or maybe a gentle smile — with a friend or loved one.

Hundreds of thousands of flights landed safely. A few dozen Democrats and Republicans even managed to say something nice about each other.

Of the billions and billions of interactions among the 7 billion of us that occur every day, a trifling fraction make the morning news, which is a compilation of the aberrations, the exceptions, the awful things that go wrong or have been perpetrated by some people against other persons and property.

It’s been said that to make the world a little brighter, one thing you can do is turn off the morning news and look around at all the reasons to be thankful.

As someone who has always made his living in the news business, I can’t say that this is sound advice.

But I’m thinking it.

What’s out there

I am smitten by, and have quoted before, author Christopher Morley’s last message to his friends when he died in 1957.

“Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.”

Something is always out there, waiting to be found.

Go find it!