Have a dog.
Your life will be better, fuller, furrier and more fun. Sure, there’s the occasional clean up (as there was this morning when I awoke to the sound of vomiting) and yes, the smell can certainly get to be offensive, but those things pale when you see your constant and loyal companion pleased by nothing more than your presence.
Spend your time with people who inspire you.
There is nothing like being around people who constantly shock, awe and amaze you with their talents, abilities and character. They are walking defibrillators who will keep your heart racing when you don’t feel like it ought to anymore. Appreciate them, watch them, learn from them and respond to them. A creative community of people is, in my book, the best of all possible things.
See old friends. Catch up.
Nothing gives you a better idea of where you are than where you have been. I had the great pleasure of catching up with a few old friends this summer and would not have traded it for anything. For those of you who I was unable to visit, please anticipate a meeting very soon. I love you and miss you.
Go places. See things.
I’m beginning to feel a bit cliche, but 2012 found me doing things and going places I have never gone and never thought of going to. Sea kayaking miles from shore in the Sea of Cortez, hiking high into the mountains of Colorado and deep into the forests of Oregon. Venturing into the grimy places of cities to talk to vagrants and vagabonds. Bon Iver at Red Rocks and singing along to “The Wolves” as the canyon walls shook. Taking nine buzzing, humming teenagers to see The Black Keys in a van that might break down at any moment along the way. Bluegrass festivals, art museums, hiking trails that wind through caves and climb into the sky. Whether alone, with someone or with many people, we are made to explore. We are created to venture. I have been rewarded every time I have done so this year.
Try new things.
Food, music, movies, culture. Try it all. Even if it’s just a little bit. You might be surprised. I even tried asparagus again this year. Nothing changed. I still loathe it. But I tried it.
Sometimes what you had is what you needed all along.
I have a guitar. It’s a wonderful instrument and well beyond anything that I could ever ask for or need. In a fit of restlessness, another guitar nerd and I swapped instruments. These sorts of trades are pretty normal within the obsessives in the musical gear world- and I am most certainly obsessive. The guitar I received in trade was a beautiful instrument. Much, much nicer than my own. Better woods, nicer specifications and generally finer in all ways.
As soon as I got it out of the box and in my hands, I hated it. It had nothing of the character of my former instrument and was unable to satisfy me in the same ways that my previous instrument had. Luckily for me, the gentleman with whom I traded was willing to trade back and my guitar- emphasis on my– is back in my hands.
Produce. Rejoice. Repeat.
Whether you are an artist, artisan, crafter or number cruncher, few things top production. Do whatever you do, however you do it each day. I have not been as good in this arena as I would have liked to have been and too often spent my time pursuing silly, trivial things instead. Everything good comes from repetition. This year, I learned more about the creative process than I ever have before. I watched artists produce and work. I read about countless writers who set for themselves a schedule, not waiting for the creative impetus to strike but doing as Jack London once said, “You cannot wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Hemingway wrote every day of his professional life from five in the morning until noon, at which point he would take his lunch and go for a long walk. Mark Twain went to a cabin separate from his home every day from eight until 4, smoking cigars and writing, writing, writing. Jonathan Franzen turns off the internet everyday from 9 until 1. Ben Gibbard goes to his studio every day, much like Twain did, and writes songs regardless of whether or not their good. In his view, songwriting is what he does. It’s his profession, his livelihood and so, he feels as though he must get up every morning, just as every professional does, and go to work.
My good friend, Jake, who is himself a successful and excellent artist, once said something that I’ll never forget. “Everyone wants to be an artist, but no one wants to do the work- and there’s a hell of a lot of work.”
Read. Read a lot. Read more and do not feel guilty about it.
It used to be difficult for me to admit that I enjoy reading. When pressed, I would waffle and evade. In fact, for a long time, I did not believe that I enjoyed writing. It was not until my roommate pointed out that I read all of the time- newspapers, magazines, essays, articles, books, subtitles to films- that I realized indeed, my genuine passion is words and reading.
This year, I tried my very best to allow myself the time to read and not feel guilty about it. It is not, in fact, idle time. Reading is not time wasted. After all, as Ludwig Wittgenstein said so well, “The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for.”
I fear that we are all losing our capacity for language. Though arguments have been convincingly made that language is simply evolving and growing as it always has, I politely disagree. It is no wonder to me that the United States is currently ranked 17th in education. We are, after all, the country that replaced “through” with “thru”, that pluralizes words with the letter ‘z’ and disdains anyone who might correct our homophone mistakes. The standards don’t need to be changed, Mr. President. It’s the culture.
If you want something (or someone) do not wait for it (or them) to come to you.
I am ashamed to admit that I spent far too much time this year waiting for someone. Waiting for letters and emails that never came, for a particular vehicle to turn into my driveway as I tended to my garden every morning or a familiar voice on the telephone.
They never came.
Initially, I was devastated. Their coming was such a foregone conclusion in my mind that, when they did not come, I suddenly found myself more brokenhearted than I had been before. My heart has hurt more this year than I have ever believed that it could. And yet, as I look back on things now, as I think about the person and persons whom I waited for, I realize that perhaps they too, were waiting on me.
It is remarkable to consider how fragile our communication and our hearts really are. Though I believed that I was offering up my heart clearly and earnestly, the person and persons I was offering it to did not see me doing so. Instead, they saw a tentative man, hiding what and who he’d like to be for the sake of damage control, should that offer be refused. I am now no longer quite so heartbroken and am pleased to say that, because of that break, I have learned that there is no “halfway”, insofar as matters of the heart are concerned.
One either offers their whole self, or nothing at all.
Draw a line in the sand. Have standards and hold to them.
My students laugh at me for referencing the Nolan “Dark Knight” trilogy so often in class. They think it’s hilarious that Batman and Gotham City come up so frequently in a supposedly academic literature class, but I am fascinated by these films because they so clearly articulate what we as a society are most afraid of- ourselves. We are afraid that we are not good enough, not strong enough, not firm enough and certainly not in control enough. It pains me to say that we are right. We aren’t strong enough, nor firm enough, nor as in control as we would like to believe. I am not, as is so often done when speaking of such things, referring to politics, religion, or socio-economical circumstance, either.
I’ll save you my own views and simply repeat what Alfred says to Bruce Wayne in “The Dark Knight Rises”, “Maybe it’s time we all stop trying to outsmart the truth and let it have its day.”
Life is not lived on the computer.
The computer is an infinitely useful tool and the internet is a powerful resource. Connections are made via the two that have never been made before. I am glad for this and glad for how our world is growing because of our newfound awareness. But, the computer is still just a tool- no different, conceptually speaking, than a hammer- and the internet is simply a reference library. We use the tool for the job at hand and reference the things that we are interested in. Nothing more, nothing less.
“I did” beats “I will” any day.
My children (should the unfortunate circumstance ever occur that I should have any) will hate me for repeating this saying to them ad nauseam. Oh well.
Having said all that…
I’d like to thank you all for reading and considering my little corner of the internet. I endeavor to produce much, much more this year and this blog will be taking on a new shape in January. Until then, many happy returns to you and yours in the new year. May we all talk a little less, listen a bit more and pursue happy, fulfilling lives.