A part of the bigger picture

you want to choose a niche an inch wide and a mile deep*
(Pamela Slim)

Somewhere along the way, you were given some terrible advice: you have to choose a niche.**
(Chris Guillebeau)

“Hitchedness” allows me to make sense of both these statements from two people whose insights I value:

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.^

John Muir’s insight that everything in the universe is attached to everything else leads us into the richness of life that is abundant and beautiful and, if we conceive of peace as prosperity for the heart, soul, mind and body, peaceful too:

One is constantly reminded of the infinite lavishness and fertility of Nature – inexhaustible abundance amid what seems enormous waste. And yet when we look into any of her operations that lie within reach of our minds, we learn that no particle of her material is wasted or worn out. It is eternally flowing from use to use, beauty to yet higher beauty; and we soon cease to lament waste and death, and rather rejoice and exult in the imperishable, unspendable wealth of the universe, and faithfully watch and wait the reappearance of everything that melts and fades and dies about us, feeling sure that its next appearance will be better and more beautiful than the last.^

Life becomes a lesson – or experiment or adventure – in noticing. We cannot really notice in some hurried or forced way, and it is more than focusing hard. It is, as Nancy Kline allows, about paying attention with ease:

To be its best, Attention, from inside itself it seems, summons Ease. Ease emerges and sweeps and dips and saunters, draping itself around Attention’s focus allowing it dimension greater than focus alone can produce.^^

I can imagine Kline smiling with joy after forming these sentences because they have both truth and beauty.

It appears to be our bent to pay attention, to deeply notice what other species do not, though its ease, as with any art, will only appear though effort. Otherwise we can become distracted by lesser things that lead us into smaller lives, wasting our planet, hoarding, achievement, whilst all the time, waiting for us on the far side of this complexity, lies a wonder that will cause us to gasp and be silent and smile with joy. This joy becoming for us the most precious thing we shall ever possess.

On a personal note, I see how children and grandchild and wonderful ideas and amazing encounters with others and making beautiful things and the glory of the natural world and working with nibbed pens and reading books and playfulness and so, so many more things are all joined together and bring me joy, including these words from Erich Fromm which somehow are dearly comforting:

the highest step to which thought can lead us is to know that we do not know*^.

And all that I know and brings me joy is hitched to all you know and brings you joy, and all everyone has known and felt joy in and knows and feels joy in and will ever know and feel joy in is all tiny part of what Muir described when he saw:

the whole universe as an infinite storm of beauty.^

(*From Pamela Slim’s Escape from Cubicle Nation.)
(**From Chris Guillebeau’s Born For This.)
(^John Muir, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: The Universe as an Infinite Storm of Beauty.)
^^From Nancy Kline’s More Time to Think.)
(*^From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.)

Facing monsters

After we grew up […] we found out how unreliable these stories had been. The simple, pleasant adult society they had prepared us for did not exist. As we suspected. the fairy tales has been right all along – the world was full of hostile, stupid giants and perilous castles and people who abandoned their children at the forest.*
(Alison Lurie)

From the beginning a curator was somewhere between a priest and bureaucrat, combining the practical with the otherworldly. Either way curators had access to and master over difficult, concealed knowledge.**
(Michael Bhaskar)

There may be more than one path leading out of the darkness.

This is what the best of our religions, myths and fairy stories tell us, often finding a new-norm seeded with meaning.^

Here we must note that it is hard for humans to let go of the past and to take hold of the future. As a result we can miss the nuance which, if we turn out attention to the difficult thing we face, becomes more apparent and with it, possibility – though the path of moving from victim to protagonist is a demanding one.

Like a curator bringing the practical and otherworldly together, we apply the lighter touch of imagination to the hardness of reality:

In fighting against resistance we will become more focused on getting rid of the problem than on understanding what it is; by contrast, when working with resistance we want to suspend frustration at being blocked, and instead engage with the problem in its own right. […] Apply minimum force is the most effective way to work with resistance.^^

It is as we work with the difficult things that different paths appear on the other side.

(*Alison Lurie, quoted in Bruce Handy’s Wild Things.)
(**From Michael Bhaskar’s Curation.)
(^At the moment I am reading J. K. Rowlings’ The Ickabog and Roald Dahl’s The Witches.)

(^^From Richard Sennett’s Together.)

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day*

Figure out what you are meant to contribute and make sure you contribute it.**
(Susan Cain)

The mastery of story demands the invention of far more material that you can use, followed by astute choices of inclusion and exclusion. Why? Because experienced writers never trust so-called inspiration.^
(Robert McKee)

We live in a world that, in its turning around, brings around 29,213 new days to those who make it to eighty years of age. Of course, it’s also a metaphor meaning the total of opportunities for new beginnings goes up. These appear in many forms and through many people.

True inspiration isn’t the lightbulb pinging on. That’s just a starter. Inspiration is what comes when we capture ideas, turn up every day, work with skill and discipline and produce, produce, produce.

What we might term deep-inspiration emerges from selecting the truly important-to-us from all of the contents of our lives.

This is how it is for everyone and what really counts is noticing, paying attention, to what is really valuable to us and allows the other things to fall into the background.

Joseph Campbell helps us to notice the valuable: it’s what makes us feel alive:

We’re so engaged in doing things of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive is what it’s all about.^^

(*Accompanied by Michael Bublé’s Feeling Good – and it’s not even Christmas.)
(**From Susan Cain’s Quiet.)
(^From Robert McKee‘s newsletter: Where to Find Your True Inspiration.)
(^^Joseph Campbell, from Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)

Upgrade⁺

There are three ways to perform a repair: making a damaged object seem just like new, improving it’s operation, or altering it altogether; in technical jargon, these three strategies are restoration, remediation or reconfiguration.*
(Richard Sennett)

Things go wrong in life and we need repair.

Which of these three would you choose if there was the option?

Restoration, so you look just like new?

Remediation, so you have obtained an improvement by learning new ways of dealing with the original problems should they or similar things happen again?

Reconfiguration, so you lean into the issues, learning towards transformation and opening new paths?

(*From Richard Sennett’s Together.)

Anything can happen in the next half hour*

[Complacency] is a cousin to narcissism in expecting experience to conform to a pattern already familiar to oneself; experience seems to repeat routinely rather than evolve.**
(Richard Sennett)

Communities have often been an accident of birth. Built by geography and parentage, you established your identity and your learning long before you went to school. Now, of course, this is changing.^
(Seth Godin)

Complacency requires that we disengage from the unpredictable possibilities of life for the safety of a familiar pattern.

This also means we are in danger of becoming a cliché; what is true for the storywriter is true for each of us:

Like the weeds of repetition, clichés grow in the barren mind of the lazy writer.^^

Clichés work for the storywriter until they don’t; the same is true for us.

The thing about complacency is that it doesn’t want to be noticed. The game is up if we see our lives have become a repeating pattern closed to the unfamiliar and unpredictable.

To read is to take a stranger’s hand and plunge into experiences you want and don’t want, learning all the while to navigate the unexpected places real life will take you.*^

When we read something different, ask questions, experiment outside of the norm then we are disrupting the cliché; Robert McKee’s counsel for the storywriter works for all of us:

To create insightful, original stories, set yourself high standards and never settle for the obvious choice. Indeed, never settle for the first choice. Write it down, sure, then improvise, experiment, pour out as many ideas as your talent can create.^^

(*Thanks to Stingray for the title.)
(**From Richard Sennett’s Together.)
(^From Seth Godin’s blog: A community of practice.)
(^^From Robert McKee’s newsletter: How You Can Win the War on Cliché.)
(*^From Krista Tippett‘s letter to young readers in Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick’s A Velocity of Being.)

Life is better with focus

The spin lies in whether we identify with others in their particular circumstances and sufferings, or with others as though everyone is like ourselves; the first is a window, the second a mirror.*
(Richard Sennett)

Worry takes a lot of effort. And worry, unlike focus, learning or action, accomplishes nothing of value. […] Waiting is, sort of be definition, a waste of time. But time is scarce, so wasting it is a shameful act.**
(Seth Godin)

Withdrawing from people and activities has very much become a part of our experience in lockdown, though it was a part of normal life, too.

There are two basic kinds of withdrawal – one is positive and we withdraw in order to do something, the other is negative because we’re trying to get away from something or someone.

Richard Sennett warns that the latter can become narcissistic: in protecting ourselves we lose connection with the other.

Positive withdrawal, however, is about growing ourselves in order to then reach out to others.

Seth Godin writes about the opportunity we have to focus, learn and action something in these times of enforced withdrawal. Not in using every extra moment afforded to us by the lockdown in some kind of activity – there’s something really important in slowing down apart from the rush and busyness of pre-coronavirus. But we have been provided with a gift that may well produce something very important to us post-lockdown.

Slowing down and focusing allows us to see more. It is what artist and nun Corita Kent would do:

I don’t think of it as art – I just make things I like bigger, assuming that if I like them some other people might too. Some do. Some don’t, and that’s ok too.^

Austin Kleon remarks on this artist who is so important to him:

She taught her students to learn to see by looking at the world one piece at a time.^^

Kent’s rules for art class at the Immaculate Heart College look as if they would transfer well to our period of lockdown.

A little focus make life bigger.

(*From Richard Sennett’s Together.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: Waiting and worrying.)
(^Corita Day, quoted in Austin Kleon’s blog: Corita Day.)
(^^From Austin Kleon’s blog: Corita Day.)

It’s that zing-thing

We use our imagination not to escape reality but to join it, and this exhilarates us because of the distance between our ordinary dulled consciousness and an apprehension of the real.*
(Iris Murdoch)

The effective person is the combiner of knowledge and power, and ability to turn understanding into action.

This is not the kind of power attached to titles and roles but that found in personal integrity.

By integrity I mean connection, to others, to the world, to one’s true self and, if a person of faith, connection to god.

It’s quite something just how these connections not only allow more possibilities to take form in our imaginations, they exist because we have been exerting and building up our power

Iris Murdoch reminds us how imagination isn’t about escaping reality but is our way of joining with it.

We may be able to imagine big things but this isn’t always a good place to start. Power is something we build over time as we engage in the things we’re imagining. Instead of imagining something big and trying to start there, continue with your imagining, but this time come up with the smallest iteration of what you’re seeing.

Feel how much stronger you feel when you’ve accomplished this!

The zing-thing is how I describe connecting what we personally are most curious about and must explore, our talents and abilities, our energies or passions, and then add action.

(*From Iris Murdoch’s The Sovereignty of Good.)