Sunday, July 31, 2011

35th Year

In my 35th year, the last grandparents' ashes successfully sprinkled in their final resting place, I find myself casting about for how to live.

I suddenly realize life is moving faster than my ability to learn from it or about it, and I can tell that for the rest of my life, I will never catch up. What to do with this expectation that life will someday make sense? That the choices you make will add up to a meaningful whole, resolve into a familiar picture, resonate on some level that means, "I've made it, and this is who I am, what it means, where I will live."

Having been a mother now for 2 years, it still strikes me more often than not as surreal, unbelievable -- sweet, yes, and deeply satisfying, yes. But not as grounding or as self-validating as I had expected somehow.

What does it mean that I love my life but can't feel that it's real on some deep internal level?

Some of it, I feel, is how fast friends spin outward from a center in the past that signaled our closeness. Time spirals people away faster than can be believed or processed. Even intense efforts at reconnection can't keep up with the days racing by or the moments that pile up when you're not watching. Who can watch everything?

I've been reading Greek and Roman philosophers and Carl Jung. Interesting that both seem to be reacting to a deep psychological need to stay on top of a rising tide of change. Marcus Aurelius -- emperor by day -- mad journaler by night, writing volume after volume of wise sayings and reminders to himself to stay calm, to stay grounded, not to let others dictate his mood or imbalance his equilibrium, even as his empire is threatened on multiple fronts, and his own rule must constantly be defended. Jung feels the same threats from his own unconscious, while watching a growing tide of world war rise up around him. Watch your dreams, he says, to understand your mind, to understand what your mind makes of you life and the world. Watch the world, Aurelius says, to understand yourself and your mind.

And inside me, a great silence but growing unease that I don't have a direction to follow that will lead me to the method by which I will know myself or my life or the world.

My laziness exceeds my ambition, so I disappoint myself daily. Self-flagellation is not enough to induce movement or effort.

Eric told me the story of our courtship and joined lives the other day when I expressed my profound feeling of disorientation. And his story grounded me for a while. It's a good one, and true. We do love each other. Our lives are good. Our life is good.

But I think about all the advice I'm not reading about how to live from civilizations long gone, from philosophers now dead, from strong men and women who were able to balance their lives to do extraordinary things, and I wonder -- how much am I wasting when I pretend to "rest"?

I believe writing makes it impossible to hide. Silence = disappearing. Years pass without comment, and they are lost to me. Lessons lost, people forgotten, places unacknowledged. To live is to pay attention, and the ultimate attention is description, documentation, synthesis. Bringing intelligence to perception and resolving it into experience and learning.

Tired of working so hard, I have been coasting so long that my abilities have atrophied. I feel weak, childish, a beginner again.

Better to begin than feel the guilt of delay.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Memorial for Jack & Judy Hart

You were hard --
so rigid you never moved an inch
from each other
fused instead like two trees into one,
trunks locked in a death-grip
that flowered into love
mostly in winter.

Your stubbornness and strength
seeds your legacy.
We remember you unbending --
straight and unwavering
like two sentinels --
stubbornness you could set your watch by --
strength we can chart our course by.

We will labor to understand
how deep your roots must have gone...
how did you weather's life's storms?

We will endeavor to wear love on our sleeves
like you did.
And someday,
more and more each day,
we'll free ourselves of the leaves of judgment
and righteousness
that you never tried to shed.

We remember your love --
strong as ice,
deep as glaciers,
sharp as your wit
and your criticisms
that broke the surface
but never your spirit.

We will remember you --
human --
our tree-trunk grandparents
so fused as to support forever
our family tree.

- Summer 2011

Friday, July 15, 2011

Working Principles

Ten Principles To Live By In Fiercely Complex Times

BY Tony Schwartz
Wed Jul 13, 2011

If you're like most people I work with in companies, the demands come at you from every angle, all day long, and you have to make difficult decisions without much time to think about them. What enduring principles can you rely on to make choices that reflect openness, integrity and authenticity?

Here are ten that work for me:

1. Always challenge certainty, especially your own. When you think you're undeniably right, ask yourself "What might I be missing here?" If we could truly figure it all out, what else would there be left to do?

2. Excellence is an unrelenting struggle, but it's also the surest route to enduring satisfaction. There's no shortcut to excellence. Getting there requires practicing deliberately, delaying gratification, and forever challenging your current comfort zone.

3. Emotions are contagious, so it pays to know what you're feeling. Think of the best boss you ever had. How did he or she make you feel? That's the way you want to make others feel.

4. When in doubt, ask yourself, "How would I behave here at my best?" We know instinctively what it means to do the right thing, even when we're inclined to do the opposite. If you find it impossible, in a challenging moment, to envision how you'd behave at your best, try imagining how someone you admire would respond.

5. If you do what you love, the money may or may not follow, but you'll love what you do. It's magical thinking to assume you'll be rewarded with riches for following your heart. What it will give you is a richer life. If material riches don't follow, and you decide they're important, there's always time for Plan B.

6. You need less than you think you do. All your life, you've been led to believe that more is better, and that whatever you have isn't enough. It's a prescription for disappointment. Instead ask yourself this: How much of what you already have truly adds value in your life? What could you do without?

7. Accept yourself exactly as you are but never stop trying to learn and grow. One without the other just doesn't cut it. The first, by itself, leads to complacency, the second to self-flagellation. The paradoxical trick is to embrace these opposites, using self-acceptance as an antidote to fear and as a cushion in the face of setbacks.

8. Meaning isn't something you discover, it's something you create, one step at a time. Meaning is derived from finding a way to express your unique skills and passion in the service of something larger than yourself. Figuring out how best to contribute is a lifelong challenge, reborn every day.

9. You can't change what you don't notice and not noticing won't make it go away. Each of us has an infinite capacity for self-deception. To avoid pain, we rationalize, minimize, deny, and go numb. The antidote is the willingness to look at yourself with unsparing honesty, and to hold yourself accountable to the person you want to be.

10. When in doubt, take responsibility. It's called being a true adult.

Reprinted from Harvard Business Review

Formula for Change

Alan Webber, co-founder of Business Week, wrote that change is a math formula.

Change happens when the cost of status quo is greater than the risk of change.

C(SQ) > R(C).