Save the day

The industry of distraction
Makes us forget
That we live in the universe.

We have become converts
To the religion of stress
And its deity of progress.*
(John O’Donohue)

Remembering writing outdoors at Hedgebrook and elsewhere, I think about the human pace of longhand, and how one is constantly looking away from the notebook at things around it, near or far, changing position as one sits, doodling in the margin while working on a transition, half-consciously noticing the slant of the sunlight, the advance of shadows, the colour of the sky: fully absorbed in the work, and yet open to the surrounding world, as we are no when working at a computer screen.**
(Ursula Le Guin)

Where we are, this place, isn’t half-bad.

Who we are AND what we can make happen, are more than enough.

We just need a way or ways to explore more, to save ourselves from distraction and noise and busyness, and writing may be that way.

After all, the thing we are writing is our life.

(*From John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us: For Citizenship.)
(**From Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter.)

It was the fire of the gods and it was burning in their hearts

Straightness is not natural. […] It is technological.*
(Kosuke Koyama)

Become subtle enough
To hear a tree breathe.
See your imagination dawn
Around the rim of your world.
Succumb to warmth in the heart
Where divine fire glows.**

John O’Donohue)

We are wild creatures, but not in the ways we might immediately think.

It is a wildness of imagination and creativity in love and joy and peace in patience and kindness and generosity in faithfulness and gentleness and self-control,^ a wildness in sheer goodness we may not have thought possible from our early hominid origins.

These things we come to explore as we traverse the curving path we each find within our lives, a way of many surprises.

There are no surprises on a straight path.

(*From Kosuke Koyama’s Three Mile an Hour God.)
(**From John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us.)
(^Galatians 5:22-23)

Just another six years

Your work […] must be well made within the principles that shape your art.*
(Robert McKee)

Culture is born when someone shows up authentically as only he or she can, leaving his or her mark and encouraging other people to do the same.**
(Bernadette Jiwa)

Is it enough to turn up and make something better and more beautiful so that others are enabled and inspired to do the same?

I’d like to think that this matters more than anything else in the world:

Is it good? Really good? Do you like it? You can also focus more on what the work does that can’t be measured. What it does to your soul.^

I came upon these words, too, this morning:

If you work on something important for 20 years, it will transform everything around you.^^

I had been counting up how long I have been on my slow journey in the same direction. 21 years. More specifically, though, I have been on a journey of 14 years from when I came upon something I really loved and began exploring.

Only another 6 years to go.

How many for you?

Keep going. Here’s something for the slow journey in the same direction. I’ve dedicated a whole website in support of this.

(*From Robert McKee’s blog: The Substance, Structure, Style and Principles of Storytelling.)
(**From Bernadette Jiwa’s The Story of Telling: Culture Creation.)
(^From Austin Kleon’s Keep Going.)
(^^Dan Sullivan, quoted in Ben Hardy’s article These 20 Pictures Will Teach You More Than Reading 100 Books.)

Art for life’s sake

Right under our noses Homo sapiens is transitioning into Home techno. And the change is happening not over millions of years. It’s happening in single human lifetimes, by our own inventions and technology. We are modifying our evolution by our own hand. We are remaking ourselves. Nothing could challenge the permanence and constancies of the Absolutes more than our own evolution and change.*
(Alan Lightman)

What is it that is eternal: the primal phenomenon, present in the here and now, of what we call revelation? It is man’s emerging from the moment of the supreme encounter, being no longer the same as he was when entering into it. The moment of encounter is not a “living experience” that stirs in the receptive soul and blissfully rounds itself out: something happens to man.**
(Martin Buber)

While we are evolving at our own hand, we still need something from beyond us, something other than us, to move towards a more hopeful future, a more beautiful possibility.

Technology has us more and more looking at life and the world through small screens, yet we need to have the largest screen, with which we need to have different means of interacting.

One such way is art.

More than thirty years ago, I drew a simple pencil drawing of my father and my three children. It remains my favourite piece of art.

My father was never an easy person to get on with but drawing him helped me to notice more about hime, helped me to notice the frail human that could so often wrapped up in his way of always being right. Maurice Sendak wrote accurately about drawing:

It’s sublime. It’s magic time, where all your weaknesses of character, the blemishes of your personality, whatever else torments you, fades away, just doesn’t matter.^

Art provides us the possibility of exploring our humanness. I had taken a photo of my father and my children, but I was able reflect slowly as I worried the lines onto the paper, finding Henri Cartier-Bresson’s insight to be true:

Photography is an immediate reaction, drawing is a meditation.^^

These last two quotes come from Austin Kleon’s Keep Going. Here are two more, well worth pondering. The first is from a curator at the British Museum where pencils and paper have been made available to visitors from 2018 after it was noticed people dwelt more on the art if they were drawing it:

I feel like you dwell on an object a lot more if you have a paper and pencil before you.*^

And this from E. O. Plauen that fills me with hope for who we will become:

If you draw, the world becomes more beautiful, far more beautiful.^*

Everyone can draw; don’t believe anyone who says you can’t, especially yourself.

(*From Alan Lightman’s Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine.)
(**From Martin Buber’s I and Thou.)
(^Maurice Sendak, quoted in Austin Kleon’s Keep Going.)
(^^Henri Cartier-Bresson, quoted in Austin Kleon’s Keep Going.)
(*^From Austin Kleon’s Keep Going.)
(^*E. O. Plauen, quoted in Austin Kleon’s Keep Going.)

A compelling story

The substance of story is the gap that splits open between what a human being expects to happen when they take an action, and what does happen; the rift between expectation and result, probability and necessity. To build scenes, sequences and acts, we constantly break open these breaches in reality.

As a charge of electricity leaps from pole to pole in a magnet, so the spark of life ignites across the gap between the self and reality. With this flash of energy, we ignite the power of story.*
(Robert McKee)

Robert McKee outlines what is a writer is really up to when creating a compelling story.

A compelling story has the power to reveal to us things that are true about our lives but we may never see unless we enter these breaches in reality when they present themselves to us (order is but a thin veneer covering randomness), where new and surprising possibilities exist, often only encountered between where we are and where we want to be.

(*From Robert McKee’s blog: What is the Substance of a Story.)

The fear of being heard

A listening person is your collaborator and your opponent. […] A listening person can reflect the crowd. He can do that without talking. He can do that merely by letting the talking person listen to himself.*
(Jordan Peterson)

Because without time, there could be not reactions to actions, no consequences. Without time, decisions need not be considered for their implications and effects. We had all been drifting in a comfortable void with responsibilities.**
(Alan Lightman)

It’s time to do something.

We can carry on through life as though we have “all the time in the world, and then we look again and it’s almost gone.

A true listener is one who helps us to make the most of our time before it vanishes.

They not only know how to listen but also how to ask questions.

A question when it’s important to explore why the thing they are sharing has come about.

A question to cut “across the bows” of is being shared because they’re direction needs to be interrupted.

A true listener also knows that most things are far more complex than we allow, and they are there for the long haul, willing to listen, with their questions, from the beginning to the end.

A true listener knows the person they are listening to has some amazing things to share, though that person does not know it, yet.

Only the questions will make it possible for these things to appear.

Of course, life is simpler if we don’t have anyone really listening.

(*From Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life.)
(**From Alan Lightman’s Mr g.)

Helping 2.0

What if real help is not what someone brings directly to us but what takes form in the space between the helper and the helpee.

We may say, “This is what I need,” but something more happens when the person helping listens deeply and begins to ask questions we’d never imagined.

Helping is an art.

All we have to work with

Each society and each individual usually explores only a tiny fraction of their horizon of possibilities.*
(Yuval Noah Harari)

a life of ease is how you get stuck and confused in life**
(Ben Hardy)

It’s not what’s on the outside that counts, it’s what’s on the inside and its potential is largely unexplored.

(*From Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens.)
(**From Ben Hardy’s These 20 Pictures Will Teach You More Than Reading 100 Books.)

Time for A&Q

Your real work is play.*
(Austin Kleon)

But reason falls in love with itself, and worse. It falls in love with its own productions. It elevates them, and worships then as absolutes. […] The totalitarian says, in essence, “You must rely on faith in what your already know.” But this is not what saves. What saves is the willingness to learn from what you don’t know.**
(Jordan Peterson)

As we got to the end of the book launch for Daphne Loads‘ Rich Pickings,^ there was a Q&A time. I found myself wondering about switching this around, being playful with an A&Q session: the audience coming up with answers for us, and Daphne and myself responding with a question.

Then the question came from my friend Glen in the audience. Had I ever tried doodling with my other hand?

I sensed a challenge.

I hadn’t. I usually encourage people to go with their strengths and to develop these, to see their other “hand” as supporting their preferred “hand.”

But what if Glen were offering me an answer and I had to pose a question in response?

Here goes?

It is critical to look beyond the familiar and the preferred:

See ever so far … there is limitless space outside of that,
Count ever so much … there is limitless time around that.^^

To be most playful, we need to encourage our lives to have borders rather than boundaries.

Boundary-dwellers focus life at the centre, the boundary is out there, not to be crossed.

Border-dwellers explore where their lives touch others and the Other:

To be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous. […] On the contrary, when we are playful to each other we relate as free persons and the relationship is open to surprise.*^

I include these words from James Carse because the surprise he anticipates is not only surprise in the other but also surprise at ourselves.

The border-dweller doesn’t wait for a border to appear but knows they can create one whenever they need to:

If you’re struggling to make a transition, create a defining moment that draws a dividing line between the Old You and the New You.^*

If this is all an answer, what’s your question?

Thank you to Daphne and Glen for encouraging the left-handed doodle from a right-handed doodler.

(*From Austin Kleon’s Keep Going.)
(**From Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life.)
(^See Daphne Loads’ Rich Pickings. Daphne asked me to illustrate her wonderful book about different ways to be playful with text – a fun experience in itself.)
(^^From Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.)
(*^From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(^*From Chip and Dan Heath’s The Power of Moments.)

Any more questions?

I always think that the question is like a lantern. It illuminates new landscapes and new areas as it moves.*
(John O’Donohue)

The capacity of the rational mind to deceive, manipulate, scheme, trick, falsify, minimise, mislead, betray, prevaricate, deny, omit, rationalise, bias, exaggerate and obscure is so endless, so remarkable, that centuries of pre-scientific though, concentrating on clarifying the nature of moral endeavour, regarded it as positively demonic.**
(Jordan Peterson)

We know what Jordan Peterson says is true because, if we go through his list, we’ll come up with examples for each – though, hopefully small ones.

We need to question our thinking in an ongoing and consistent way.

We will be enabled in this if we gather a tribe of questioners to help, those who will help us pose the kind of questions that cut through all the garbage we can come up with. People who think differently to us, who throw us some koans each day and make us look differently at our own thinking and behaving.

Since the inauguration of printing, these people have not needed to be in the same room as us. This is truer now than ever, but people we can get together with and explore thinking with are the best kind of questioners of all.

(*John O’Donohue, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: A Gentle Corrective for the Epidemic of Identity Politics.)
(**From Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life – my main read for August.)