I was scrolling through my blog archives a bit and noticing that you can really tell what's going on in my life by what I'm writing. I know that sounds common, but I rarely use this space to diarize. Instead, I've used the space to give myself motivation by attempting to give you motivation. Those times when I tell you to go out and create? I'm feeling creatively stifled and am really telling myself to go out and create.
So this week, I'm passing along some steps to help you get focused. To help me get focused.
I haven't even picked up a book in almost a month.
Things are finally settling down a touch. We're able to reconnect with the people who matter to us (we even wound up having an impromptu barbecue the other night, with no stressful preparation or cleanup). We're able to get back to activities that matter to us, and to really find a little more time to focus on things like laundry and holding hands, instead of things like painting ceilings and moving beds.
I was out on the golf course for the first time this season with a friend. We're not good golfers. We enjoy the sun and the fresh air and the sound and feel of hitting a good shot, which, you know, comes occasionally. And sometimes that occasional good shot comes after pulling up on the ball and taking four strokes to hit the ball 10 yards. You keep your head down and knees bent and the next swing sends the ball 115 yards to the green.
"This is a great game," I said after such a stretch on the 12th fairway. "There's an opportunity for redemption with every shot."
It got me thinking about things like mistakes, and grudges. That every time we make a mistake, we shouldn't beat ourselves up over it — instead, we should take a deep breath (or two, or eight), and figure out the steps for finding redemption, and then follow them.
And we should learn a lesson from our finding redemption: Offer it to others. If they make a mistake, forgive them, reach out to offer an opportunity for redemption.
One of the more interesting and worthwhile endeavors I've undertaken recently is becoming a Freemason. I'll be raised to Master Mason (3rd degree, for those not in the know) on April 15 – any brothers reading are certainly welcome to visit for the degree ceremony (meeting at 7 p.m., Lodge details here and the usual visiting rules apply, of course).
I have a family connection to the Fraternity: both of my grandfathers were Masons. While I didn't really know my paternal grandfather, Milton Shear (he died when I was 2), I was close with my maternal grandfather, Bernard Tuttle, who I knew growing was a Shriner, but I didn't recognize his connection to Masonry until he died. He was a 32nd degree Mason, and I was recently sent his degree certificate, which is an interesting artifact, as well as an heirloom, which I'll of course have framed.
I also have, through Freemasonry, a connection to some great people throughout history, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, a total of 52 signers of the Declaration of Independence and at least 16 U.S. presidents (including Gerald Ford, who was a 33rd degree Mason, the highest degree).
Groucho Marx is famously credited as having said that he wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have him for a member, and when I was at the other end of that spectrum – looking for a club to belong to that wasn't actively seeking me as a member – I went looking to the Freemasons.
I first wrote to my local Lodge in application over a year ago, in March of 2013. I didn't hear from them for a couple of months, when several Lodge members came to the house to interview me, and then I didn't hear from them again for almost six months, when I was told the initiation ceremony for the first degree (Entered Apprentice) would take place in December. After being initiated, it was again six weeks before I was contacted, and mentored through the degree work; I was passed to Fellowcraft in March of this year.
There seem to be few things, these days, that take preparation, time and work, and largely take place through the mail and in people's living rooms.
Since I've told some friends that I'm undertaking this endeavor, there are two questions I get a lot:
(1) Didn't you at one time actually have to be a mason to become a Freemason? and
(2) Aren't the Freemasons a secret society? Why are you telling me?
To answer the first, yes. Operative masons – people who built buildings – were the first Freemasons, and Speculative Masonry, which is what Freemasonry is today, can be traced back, at least on paper, to 1717, and still uses as spiritual tools common operative masonic tools, like the square and compasses, which are prominently displayed on Lodge buildings and pretty much everywhere throughout the Freemasonic world.
To answer the second, well, kinda sorta not really. Question mark? You can always tell a Lodge by the square and compasses on the side of the building. Masons are not asked to keep their membership a secret. Many of their works are public, from appearances in parades to Shriners hospitals and circuses to (in some states, like New York) the Child Identification Program (CHIP) to places like the Masonic Care Community in Utica.
And there's plenty of information on the Web, and of course in books, many of them written by Masons, so they'd know.
Some people look at the names of Freemasons – Washington, Franklin, Adolf Fredrick (18th century king of Sweden), Salvador Allende, both Leopold and Wolfgang Mozart, James Naismith, Gene Autry, Count Basie, Simon Bolivar – and think with all that power and celebrity, there must be some conspiracy at hand. I looked at the list of Freemasons and said, hey, if all those great people wanted to be a part of this, I want to be a part of it, too.
Anyway, that's the long version. But it's one of the things I'm up to these days.
We're starting to be able to get outside here in Central New York. It occurs to me that, with today being April 2, it hasn't actually been a longer winter than others, it's just been a little more brutal — no thaws to speak of, and extra cold.
It also featured something (two things, depending on whom you ask) called a polar vortex. I still don't really understand what that means, but I didn't like it.
It's time to be running outside, waiting on the ground to dry a little so we can get some yard work done, and of course I'm back to watching parkour videos. These inspire me for a few reasons:
(1) While there must be a healthy dose of fear involved, freerunners by and large don't show it. I heard a freerunner say something about a 15-foot gap once, and I look around at my 12'x12' home office and think, "If I had a full running start, I could maybe come close." But to think about jumping between roofs 15 feet apart and 10 stories up is just— I don't have a word.
(2) Although a lot of parkour videos look improvised, the truth is a lot of rehearsal tends to go in, especially for people who cover ground. It's one thing to improvise some railing swings on a wheelchair ramp, but it's another entirely to know what's around the corner or over a wall. You can see some of that practice going on here:
I've just read two books back-to-back that largely teach about intuition. This wasn't intentional; I picked one ebook up while it happened to be free, and I just happened to be reading at it the same time I visited the library and picked out another book based solely on its title.
They both happened to be about the same thing, so maybe it was the universe just telling me I need to listen to my gut more.
The first was Trialogue by Colin Wright, still a deal at $2.99, by the way. It's about a small-town guy, working a dead-end job, generally being miserable, and then one day they're filming a movie in town.
The long and short of it is this: He manages to escape from his tedious life as part of the crew, thanks to the movie star. There's something sinister afoot, too, but I'll leave that bit to your reading. The important lesson here is that our protagonist does really well in the industry by listening to an internal voice tell him how these things work.
It's his intuition that directs him, and he chooses to listen to that and it helps.
OK, so that was a novel, but the other book I read recently was Mind Reader, by Lior Suchard, that guy up at the top irritating Jay Leno and freaking out Kim Kardashian.
He writes about intuition as well, and specifically about the appearance in the video – he was looking for something to do on the show that was different from his previous appearance, and a few days before the appearance he learned he would appear with Kim Kardashian and boom! his intuition gave him the answer.
The lesson here is listen to that voice inside you. It knows something.
I haven't done one of these in a while. In fact, my circumstances were different last time I did. Right now, my circumstances are such that the only place I really have to go is the grocery store. Since I work from home, I only leave the house if I want to go somewhere or see someone.
So these are the places I'm going.
Freedom of Espresso, Fayetteville. This is the closest locally owned coffee shop to me, and I consider myself lucky, because it's comfortable, usually not busy the times I'm there (1pm or so weekdays), and has some gorgeous ornamental windows. It's also next door to a walking path, so if it's nice out and I'm not sitting there writing (oh yeah! free wifi!) or reading, I can take my coffee for a stroll.
Tavern at the Ridge. This is the venue we'll be married at in July. Previously a nondescript clubhouse at the Skyridge golf course, my fiance Jenny's cousins bought it, placed it adjacent to a great non-profit for veterans, stripped the clubhouse and rebuilt it as a cozy cabin-style restaurant with amazing food, a nice beer selection, craft bourbons and a very pretty nine-hole golf course. They're open somewhat limited hours until it warms up (Wednesday through Saturday from 4pm until dinner's over), but you should definitely give it a try.
World of Beer. I know, this is surprising. It's a chain, and it's in a mall. But they have an extensive beer list of about 50 taps and 500 bottles — including some of our local microbreweries, both on tap and in bottles — and the staff are really knowledgeable about the products, which is amazing considering the amount of product (and the fact that they can only try so much at a time). Last time we were there, we even let a staffer in on a bottle she'd been hearing a lot about. The food is pretty good, but be prepared to order a lot of it, because portion sizes are, shall we say, a little inadequate if you're someone like me (that is, someone who eats a ton).
Frustrated with the dogmatic bent of the Presbyterian Church — which always seemed to him to be looking for more Presbyterians instead of making good people out of the Presbyterians it had — Benjamin Franklin sought to define the most important virtues in life for himself outside the boundaries of Church language, and he did so with the idea in mind that the Church's virtues were few with wide definitions, so he wrote more, with more narrow definitions.
From his autobiography, Franklin's 13 virtues (with his explanations) are (in the spelling of his time):
1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i. e., waste nothing.
6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. Moderation. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
11. Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
I've written about moderation before. It's one of the hardest things to achieve in our world as it is, I think. Even now, while I'm concentrating on writing, I have the television on and eight browser tabs open, with my tablet to the right of my laptop and my phone to the left.
I've also written about quiet and needing to shut up once in a while. Every now and again I get drawn into a stupid discussion, but for the most part, in both real life and online, I'm getting much better about not saying anything unless I have something to add to a discussion. I won't raise my voice to be heard, so if I do have something to contribute but the conversation isn't civil or at a normal tone, I keep out of it.
Basically, I think Franklin got it right. Be good to people, live as simply and as calmly as you can. It's interesting that he paired Jesus and Socrates as representatives of humility. I believe it's clear that it has nothing to do with Jesus's divinity if he's paired with a very early scientist.
I'm a big fan of the writer Steven Pressfield. I've not read any of his novels (it occurs to me I should probably correct that soon), but his non-fiction really explains something I think is in all of us.
In what can really only be described as a trilogy — The War of Art, Do The Work and Turning Pro — Pressfield notes that the thing that keeps us from our calling, our love, whatever you want to call it, is Resistance. And Resistance can come in any form. Your family keeping you away from your easel. Your day job sucking up all your energy. Your overwhelming desire for a Big Mac being one more excuse to not sit down and write.
Anything that prevents you from doing what you really long to do, that's Resistance.
I was thinking about this in terms of Platonic ideals. If you're not familiar with this concept, here's a brief simplification. If you picture a tree, you form a picture in your head of a tree. You will probably never see a real (physical) tree that looks exactly like the tree you pictured, but based on the tree you pictured, you can classify real trees as being enough like the tree you pictured to determine they're all trees.
The tree you pictured was your Platonic ideal.
Pressfield imagines Resistance as a dragon, and you, as artist or entrepreneur or whatever, must slay the dragon to do the work you want to be doing.
I feel less Resistance than I used to. I'm certainly writing consistently. I've taken on some projects that I'm actually accomplishing. My money's being better spent than it used to be. I'm not sure what Resistance looks like to me, but it's getting weaker, or smaller. I don't know, maybe I don't need it to take on a form in order to defeat it.
What does Resistance look like to you? How can you defeat it?
Here are a couple of take-aways we can apply to everyday life.
Touch. Watching the dog sniff around, I know that he understands his world by smell. If he doesn't recognize a smell, he'll taste or touch, and if he can't figure out the origin of the smell, he'll look around for it. I've thought, though, that in the way that he understands his world by smell, we understand by sight. I was wrong. We understand by touch. A tiger doesn't appear dangerous if you don't know what torn flesh feels like, but once you know what that the touch brought by a tiger is dangerous, you only have to perceive a tiger is present to get the hell out of Dodge. You're unlikely to stick around until it bites you to find out if it's a hologram or even just an audio recording.
Similarly, we only understand a coffee table's utility because we touch it and place something upon it; if we merely see it, it's useless to us – it could just as easily be a reflection in a mirror if we don't touch it.
Your starting point is arbitrary. You can start from wherever you want, or more accurately, you can call your starting point whatever you want to call it. We generally start counting at 1, but we could start at 496 with the same consequence. If you're walking 15 yards, you can start at 0 and get arrive at 15 yards, or you can start at 7,236 yards and arrive at 7,251 yards and have traversed the same distance.
Apply this to your life; let's say you're broke and want to make $1,000,000. You can call your zero point $1,000,000 and have the goal of reaching $2,000,000, as long as you understand your scale in relation to the scale everyone else uses. That sounds like a useful self-confidence boost.
Sun Tzu's The Art of War has long been a manual for field battle, and, for not quite as long, a manual for management in the business world and even sales. But reading it recently, this is what stood out to me:
7. There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.
8. There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red, white, and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.
9. There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted
We have, of course, found notes beyond the pentatonic (though not many), and now understand white and black not as primary colors but as, respectively, the combination of all colors and the absence of all color.
But take this point to heart. All of the wonderful variety in life can be drilled down to a few basic attributes. When these simple attributes are combined in various ratios, we get all the beauty in the world. Start with small pieces, and let it grow.