Dreams Aren’t Hash Browns

Dreams aren’t hash browns. You can’t just walk into Waffle House and order your dreams “scattered, smothered, covered, topped, and chunked.” Unless you dream of hash browns. Which is understandable.

For most of us, realizing our dreams takes vision, ideas, focus, work, luck, connections, Divine Intervention, or some combination thereof. And it’s a lot easier to put them off, defer them, without even realizing it. Distractions abound. I have yet to find that dream menu.

When we drug ourselves to blot out our soul’s call, we are being good Americans and exemplary consumers. We’re doing exactly what TV commercials and pop materialist culture have been brainwashing us to do from birth. Instead of applying self-knowledge, self-discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work, we simply consume a product. – Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

Forgive me my soapbox. This stuff all strikes a pretty deep soul chord for me. I’m a carpe the diem guy. I try to make the most of each day and not miss opportunities to kayak, paddleboard, or catch a sunset. I try to remember, store, and appreciate those experiences in and for themselves, as well as transmute or translate them into something I can pass along.

2016 Sept TT article

Sometimes carpe’ing the diem means forgoing the sunrise to think and write. The September issue of Tidewater Times is online, and it has a book review I got to collaborate with friend and former teacher Father John Merchant to put together. Father Merchant sent me a copy of Yann Martel’s “The High Mountains of Portugal,” so it seemed fitting to turn it back around on him. Sometimes carpe’ing the diem means putting in the work (planting the seeds) to make something happen later.

Some of my dreams require trail running shoes. Coming up with fun outdoor challenges, doing them, and writing about them helped me land a cover feature story for Trail Runner Magazine in June 2008 and I’ve been looking to create more of those kind of adventures, both to experience and to write about.

RUR AT logo FINAL

The next adventure, running-hiking-walking the Appalachian Trail across Maryland with trail running friends, is in the planning phase to take place this fall (a shout out to Craig Behrin for channeling the spirit of the adventure into a cool logo). That is the kind of experience where so many of the things in life that I dig all come together.

I can dream things up all day long. Anyone can. It’s when I start to do things about them, come up with ways to make them happen, and start acting on them, that life gets interesting, and maybe God smiles.

Whom can I ask what I came to make happen in this world? – Pablo Neruda, “The Book of Questions”

2016 Feet Up OP

A Writer Writes: The Gameplan

At any given point you can look back at your life. Hopefully you see things that make you proud: the kind of person you are, how you treat people, maybe you have kids and see who they are becoming, personal accomplishments, relationships, etc. But, if when you look back, you continue to not see something you thought you would see; meaning you haven’t done something you wanted to try; it might be worth taking a closer look at it.

For the past 18 years or so, I have had jobs that required me to write. And that’s great, I enjoy it. But only sometimes did those jobs send me after the kind of writing that I would choose to do on my own. I’ve been able to find chances here and there to pursue writing on the fringes, but never a sustained attempt. I’m trying to change that.

pressfield-and-book

Steven Pressfield sees what gets in the way of me, or people in general, going after those things that make up our dreams. He wrote “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” which became a movie, and you’ll recognize a number of his other books. But it’s “The War of Art,” that has my attention at the moment. Pressfield calls it “Resistance,” that thing that stands in the way of people trying to achieve their dreams:

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

He points out Resistance as that force that stops us from doing something–from starting to workout or diet, to trying something new, to going to church, starting a business, painting, writing, from the simple to the profound. It takes the form of procrastination, excuses, it can be inviting or intimidating or rational. But it stops us, by whatever means. Until it doesn’t. And hopefully it doesn’t take a near death experience, or a mid-life crisis, or something of the sort to make us want to get past it.

When I looked around at myself, at how I spend my time away from work, my mornings, my evenings, I saw some things I liked. Spending time with the girls, running, trying to make the most of the mornings. And I saw some things I didn’t: like week day happy hours in the evenings after work sapping momentum, creativity, motivation. And not much writing. It seemed time to make some changes.

2016 Aug TT cover

The August issue of Tidewater Times is out now. You can pick up a pocket-sized copy of the coolest, carry-with-you magazine on the Eastern Shore from a number of different places. Or you can read it online here. On page 177 in the online version, is the first of an ongoing series of articles and book reviews I’ll be writing there. It helps to have friends like Jim Brighton, who are doing remarkable things like the Maryland Biodiversity Project. If you are the Facebook type, they have more than 5,700 folks following awesome photographs and natural history posts. Regular articles in Tidewater Times is one part.

Getting this site rolling is another. I’ve got others in mind. Stay tuned. It’s also about surrounding myself with other like-minded folks, a creative community of people exploring life and their passions, and making the most out of each day. Some of it will be interviewing and writing about those folks, with Jim being one of them. People have different passions and talents. It could be giving up an office job and opening up a restaurant; it could be starting your own landscaping company and happily spending your days surrounded by nature. When someone’s passion becomes their story, that’s a pretty cool thing to see happen and to share with others.

2016 writing books

There are writers out there whose lives and books inspire me daily. Peter Matthiessen and his environmentalism and spirituality. Tony Horwitz and his ways of tying history to the present in ways no one seems to have looked at. Thomas Merton and Frederick Buechner and their callings by God to follow Him and write about it. Gary Snyder and his seamless synthesis of words, nature, the Cosmos.

It’s a big world out there, full of remarkable people doing stuff that no one else can do in just the way that they are. My sense is that each of us has something of that in us.

The writer Will Durant summarized Aristotle by saying, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” That’s a habit I’d like to make. It will make for much better happy hour conversations on the weekends.

The Head, the Hand, and the Heart

I don’t know much about John Ruskin. But maybe he knew something about living. Ruskin said:

Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together.

I’m not so much worried about fine art as about living fully, deeply, integrated, connected to God. And I’ve been thinking about when you get two of three of those things–the head, the hand, and the heart.

In church we’ve been talking about the head (beliefs) and the hand (actions) going together. If you believe something, truly believe it and hold it to be important, then your actions should show it. That seems wholly true to me. If your actions don’t show your beliefs, what good are your beliefs? But there seems to be something missing. I think it’s the heart.

If you put the head and the heart together, you get a band. One I’ve been listening to a bit lately.

the-head-and-the-heart

Their song, “Lost in My Mind” gets stuck in mine. It’s a great song. Getting lost in my mind is an easy tendency.  “Oh my brother, your wisdom is older than me.” There is a notion in the song I dig:

How’s that bricklayin’ comin?

How’s that engine runnin?

Is that bridge getting built?

Are your hand getting filled?

Won’t you tell me, my brother?

Cause there’s stars

up above

We can start

moving forward

It’s that notion of work versus dreams. You are working, making a living, but are you filling your heart, your soul, with the good stuff? The wonders of the Universe. The deeper aspects of life that we miss entirely if we don’t pay attention: raising kids; watching a sunrise on the beach with someone you love; playing an instrument; staring at the stars; writing a book; whatever it is that fills your heart.

But if you have just your head and your heart, you are missing your hand: you are holding your dreams, but not acting on them. Not trying to build them.

It’s not easy to yoke those three things together and drive them forward. For me, thinking and dreaming come easy. It’s building that takes work and effort. And attention.

At 44 years old, I’m not one to let go of dreams. As a father, I’m not about to wildly chase a dream that doesn’t help, include, or provide for my girls. A conundrum? Maybe.

Sooner or later, if we’re lucky, we come to learn a pretty big lesson: it’s not all about me. Though I try to shape them, use them, and do the best I can with them, I didn’t make or create my head, my heart, or my hands. I have to admit there are bigger things, bigger hands, hearts, and minds at work than mine. And if I want to put mine out there and try to make something of them, it requires a couple things: faith and risk.

I get a daily e-mail to contemplate every morning from Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest, Christian mystic, founder of the Center for Contemplation and Action. This morning’s musings came together like this:

This is probably why Jesus praised faith and trust even more than love. It takes a foundational trust to fall or to fail–and not to fall apart. Faith alone holds you while you stand waiting and hoping and trusting. Then, and only then, will deeper love happen. It’s no surprise at all that in English (and, I am told, in other languages as well) we speak of “falling” in love. I think falling is the only way to get to authentic love. None would go freely, if we knew ahead of time what love is going to ask of us. Very human faith lays the necessary foundation for the ongoing discovery of love. Have no doubt though: great love is always a discovery, a revelation, a wonderful surprise, a falling into “something” much bigger and deeper that is literally beyond us and larger than us.

We need our heads–our thoughts and our beliefs. We need our hands–our actions. And we need our heart–love, passion. And love is something that goes beyond us, is bigger than us, involves a letting go, a surrender; involves faith; involves God.

I’ve still got more questions than I’ll ever have answers. But I like to think about living life the way Ruskin describes fine art. And I like to think of giving my head, hand, heart, over to faith, to love, to God, and trying to build dreams, to build life, with a little Help.

2016 Hammock Swing

 

* The photo at the top came from Living Outdoor. It represents something of a dream for me–living and writing outside in the woods, in a simple cabin.