The story of now

And the story of now is the critical pivot. The story of now enlists the tribe on your journey.*
(Seth Godin)

This now is what matters, young reader. The moment we’re all living in us what counts – how will this moment, and the stories we’re living inside change us … forever?**
(Jacqueline Woodson)

Seth Godin outlines three stories developed by Marshall Ganz: the story of self, the story of us and the story of now.

The first two echo Joseph Campbell’s personal myth and societal myth, necessary for us to find our bliss and know we are alive.

I feel that the story of now ensures these are lived out fully.

Daphne Loads points out that the word anecdote means “unpublished” in the original Greek (a-necdote). The story of now ensures that our personal and societal myths or stories do not go unpublished.^

I want to be playful with seven reasons Loads offers for why she loves anecdotes – the words in bold font are hers, the explanations are mine.

Anecdotes are:

Short: lots of small expressions of our stories every day are better than waiting for something big to come along;

Funny: make sure these are also fun and that you get to laugh a lot;

Particular: embrace specific, avoid generalising;

Personal: keep checking that what you’re doing matters to you;

Memorable: they should become a part of who you are, defining you;

Distil insights: through failure and success let them teach and guide you for all that lies ahead

Don’t have to be true: this is the one to avoid – if we get the first six right then we’re really living them and avoiding this one.

(*From Seth Godin’s This is Marketing.)
(**Jacqueline Woodson’s letter in Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick’s
A Velocity of Being.)
(^From Daphne Loads’ Rich Pickings.)

Where imagination and reality meet

It is up to the wanderers to remake the city into something that ignites the imagination.*
(Keri Smith)

All types of skill teach us the same deep truth: that the more we can immerse ourselves into the forces at play the more freedoms we have.**
(Bill Sharpe)

We don’t have to just get through another day; Seth Godin asks:

What if we saw opportunities instead of tasks? Chances instead of risks?^

It’s a different way of seeing, and how we see is a choice.

I began my day trying to be more mindful of the things I do not want to take for granted: electricity, a shower, clean clothes, clean water … .

I take this into being more open to the things that prime my day, such as the readings that lead into this blog and the story I came upon from Barry Yeoman who was told that although he was a really good writer he would never be able to become a reporter:

Years ago, an editor told me outright that he wouldn’t hire a stutterer, even though I was the best-qualified candidate.^^

This story connects for me with seeing, Yeoman choosing to act upon rather be acted upon, developing a sensitivity in his reporting to those who have their own struggles, and he would also become a better listener rather than an interrupter:

The other lesson my stutter has offered me is simple: Shut up and listen. I don’t particularly like the physical effort of speaking. So I’m content to ask others to tell me their stories, then sit back, take notes, and make eye contact. I don’t feel compelled to fill the silences; I know someone will fill them, and I prefer it be the interviewee. By listening intently, then following up with gentle questions about missing details, I often wind up with richer, more nuanced stories.^^

Today could be another day to get through or we can change the day, but without the pixie dust:

Only because do not understand everything and because we cannot control the future is it possible to live and to be human.*^

Wallace Stevens wrote about how we must bring the power of our imagination to the pressure of reality. When we get this right, neither overcomes the other but something new is formed. We can choose to notice more and find ourselves more than able to act upon our day.

(*From Keri Smith’s The Wander Society.)
(**From Bill Sharpe’s Three Horizons.)
(^From Seth Godin’s blog: Just getting through the day.)
(^^From Barry Yeoman’s The Saturday Evening Post article: Finding My Voice.)
(*^Iona Heath, quoted in Bill Sharpe’s Three Horizons.)

Tales of the unexpected (or, adventures in servanthood)

The starting place for change is accepting oneself and taking an interest in one’s inner world.*
(Edward Deci)

So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done for you.**
(Jesus of Nazareth)

There’s a difference between being treated like a servant and acting like a servant. This about the latter.

It is likely that the better world we hope for will only come about through our servanthood. Here’s a good question for the would-be servant from Seth Godin:

What change do I seek to make?^

Here’s something else really helpful for the servant who doesn’t come as an expert – indeed, it could be their lack of expertise that is most disturbing to those who wish to be served rather than serve:

The secret to being good at anything is to approach it like a curious idiot, rather than a know-it-all genius.^^

Servanthood can mean we’re more open to discovering things about ourselves, things we hadn’t known before. We’re connecting to our story, our myth and to the greatest story of all. Notice what is happening here when we step outside of our known and into the unknown, something Joseph Campbell wants to suggest has mythological proportions:

Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to have found an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the centre of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.*^

We will come to what we have longed for, overcome the real enemy, understood our true worth and have found ourselves both belonging and contributing.

In a statement of simplicity beyond complexity, Charlie Mackesy has his character the boy ponder:

Isn’t it odd. We can only see our outsides, but nearly everything happens on the inside.^*

All the time we were thinking that we were helping someone – and, of course, we are – something significant was happening inside of us.

The path of the subversive servant is found in our ancient stories but is still so important for us today:

Sophistication may bring increased knowledge and, perhaps, a refined sensibility. But it may also encourage a cult of experts, dull sensitivity, and may reward flatulence in thought and language. Every society needs a barefoot Socrates to ask childishly simple (and childishly difficult!) questions, to force its members to reexamine what they have been thoughtlessly taking for granted.

We know how remarkable it is to be served by someone, taking more care and paying more attention than we expected. Every day we have the opportunity to bring the unexpected to others:

Think about an instance of great service you experienced in the past week. I can guarantee what made it special was how it was delivered, not what was delivered.⁺⁺

(*From Edward Deci’s Why We Do What We Do.)
(**Jesus of Nazareth, quoted in John 13:14-15)
(^From Seth Godin’s This is Marketing.)
(^^Mike Monteiro, quoted in Austin Kleon’s blog: Teach your tongue to say I don’t know.)
(*^Joseph Campbell, from Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(^*From Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse.)
(⁺Robert Spaemann, quoted in Austin Kleon’s blog: Teach your tongue to say I don’t know.)
(⁺⁺From Bernadette Jiwa’s The Story of Telling blog: The Unexpected.)

Your output yet to be discovered

Pay attention to that ratio. Double to triple time spent on input vs. output.*
(Austin Kleon)

Always work (note, write) from your own interest, not from what you think you should be noting or writing. Trust your own interest. I have a strong interest, at the moment, in Roman building techniques. … My interest may pass. But for the moment I follow it and enjoy it, not knowing where it will go.**
(Lydia Davis)

Each of us inputs different things in a variety of ways.

Yesterday someone was sharing with me how they needed to walk and connect with nature. Every morning, I enjoy sitting down and working through a number of diverse sources with my journal in front of me and my pen in hand.

I desire to become a better person: to discover, to learn and then to play by trying things out for myself and sharing them with others – this primarily in my one-to-one work.

Lydia Davis encourages following our interests as a starting point, something I’ve been doing for many years now – one thing leading to another.

To do this is to break out of the straightjacket we can find ourselves wearing from inputting the same things or not inputting widely enough. Winston Churchill spoke about how “we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

James Carse writes similarly:

To use the machine for control is to be controlled by the machine. To operate a machine one must operate like a machine. Using a machine to do whatever we cannot do, we find we must do what the machine does.^

So, as I write these words, using my computer, I interact with the keyboard and screen in a repetitive way – I am now part of this machine. I cannot move from here as long as I want to use the machine.

Carse’s words could describe other things, too, including our systems and entertainments, and the very shape and content of our days.

We need to make sure to break out of these so we don’t become old before our time, when we can remain youthful in our discovering until the day we die.

Something amazing happens when we input.

Inside of our imaginations and values and hopes, all of the things we’ve been reading and viewing and practising becomes something else, something more. We remember we are generative beings capable of making new things for one another.

We’re waiting for your output yet to be discovered.

(*From Austin Kleon’s blog: Your output depends on your input.)
(**Lydia Davis, quoted in Austin Kleon’s blog: Education is not a race, it’s an amble.)
(^From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)

The path

The truth of the matter is, true differentiation – sustainable differentiation – is rarely a function of well-roundedness; it is typically a function of lopsidedness. The same can be said of excellence.*
(Youngme Moon)

There are many reasons why you have chosen your path. You knew it wouldn’t be easy and there are many obstacles and challenges, but we need you to keep going.

Yes, change and adapt as you go, but don’t turn aside. You transform the landscape and the lives you walk through.

This is your beauty.

(*From Youngme Moon’s Different.)

Status-seekers

[T]he status that comes from the community. […] is the status of respect in return for contribution, for caring, for seeing and being in sync with others. Especially others with no ability to pay you. […] The goal isn’t winning; it’s being part of the group.*
(Seth Godin)

Some can only feel good if they’re higher up the pile, if there are more people below them than above.

Others, though, feel very good by enabling others – which, by its nature, involves ennobling others. The thing is, this person is also ennobling themselves.

How do you see them? The former are probably lowering themselves in your eyes, whilst the latter are most likely lifting themselves up.

We can all be ennoblers.

(*From Seth Godin’s This is Marketing.)

The decision

Human freedom is not a freedom over nature; it is a freedom to be natural, that is, to answer the spontaneity of nature with our own spontaneity.*
(James Carse)

But extraordinary contribution is rare. It’s when we surprise the system, and perhaps ourselves, by showing up with something unexpected, far beyond the common standard.**
(Seth Godin)

One of the killers of our spontaneity is indecision, trying to be two or more things.

Who are you?

What is your contribution?

Be spontaneous.

(*From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: What is extraordinary contribution worth?)