The Art of Wandering

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Recently, someone asked me what I was planning to do during a visit London this summer.  I laughed and said, “Plan?  There is no plan!  I’m going to wander.”  The woman looked at me like she wanted to commit me to a mental institution.  It’s not the first time I’ve been on the receiving end of a “you’re nuts” look, (and it won’t be the last).  I wander a lot.  Just about everything I do involves at least a little detour off the well-trod path.  If that makes me weird, then so be it.

Wandering doesn’t mean there’s a lack of focus.  It’s a form of learning that inspires creativity in multiple realms.  This is no secret as countless individuals from Da Vinci to Edison have proven it over and over again.  They had the ability to see the world without limitation and we laude them for it to this day.  Yet, there remains a stigma over the art of wandering.   It’s considered eccentric.  Or crazy.

One writer in particular touted the virtues of wandering and I often look to him as a reminder that life is much too big for a narrow view.  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was unquestionably a pretty serious and intelligent guy as he dabbled in various fields of study from politics, the law, science, art, and literature. He even played with the study of color.  Some would call him indecisive, but Goethe was simply wandering.  He had the will to be curious of more than one calling and he gave himself the freedom to explore.   In four small lines, he offers inspiration to do the same:

Keep not standing,
fixed and rooted
Briskly venture,
briskly roam.

Funny how no one ever wanted to put him in the nut house.

Sometimes it feels like the whole point of life is to get lost just so I can find my way back.  Wandering is essentially curiosity without boundaries – there’s no endpoint or timeframe.  It’s just the moment and me having an intimate conversation.  Whether it be down the streets of an unfamiliar city, between the pages of a random book by an unknown author, or among the words of a story I’m writing there is always something to discover.  That something would be bypassed if I only followed the perfectly drawn lines of a plan.  There is magic out there, but it purposely hides in the most unexpected places.  And it can only be found through the act of wandering.

Perhaps it is easier to travel with a roadmap, but where is the spirit of living when every step is carefully choreographed?  Failure to wander is the same as standing still.  The scenery never changes and new possibilities die before they can live.   Given the choice to wander or stagnate, I’m with Goethe.

c.b. 2011

Yoda Silenced My Inner Critic

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One of my favorite quotes comes from the most unlikely of sources: a puppet from a pop culture phenomenon.  When Yoda taught (a rather whiny) Luke how to use the Force, he uttered the now infamous phrase, “Do or do not.  There is no try.”  As I emerge from a particularly brutal battle with my inner critic, (See My Inner Critic is Trying to Kill Me), this phrase has become my weapon of choice in shushing that vicious little voice.

Yoda’s wisdom may be the product of a cult classic, but he really does know what he’s talking about.  While I have admiration for trying, it only gets you so far.   If all we ever did was try, Luke’s x-wing would still be submerged in a swamp and my novel would still be stuck in rough draft mode drowning in my doubts.  Somehow that rough draft turned into a final draft and it didn’t happen because I tried.  It happened because I decided to “do” instead of “do not.”  Yoda would be proud.

But, I find myself in a funk of figuring out what to do next and its harder to find the groove I need to move forward.  I have a list of “do’s” that ranges from formatting, getting copies to some readers, and figuring out the publishing game, but it doesn’t solve the odd sense of melancholy that clouds my victory.  While there is deep sense of satisfaction, there is also a profound sadness that this particular part of my journey is over.  It’s time to let go and it hurts far more than I thought it would.  All the time I set aside each day for this little project is now free and very empty.

The unexpected grief is beginning to wane, but only because the challenge in front of me has grown into something I can’t ignore.  I’m too stubborn.  The question now isn’t so much whether or not I believe my work is good, it’s more so about how ready I am to face the next step.  The Luke in me is ready to fire up my lightsaber and hunt down Darth Vader, even though I haven’t finished my training.   My inner critic can say no more, for my true obstacle is about letting go and moving on with a final draft that I know is good, (take that inner critic!).  Meanwhile, a manuscript sits on my desk waiting for my return and I can hear Yoda whispering in his sage voice, “Do or do not.  There is no try.”

c.b. 2011

My Inner Critic Is Trying To Kill Me

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Last week, I finished the third and final draft of my first novel.  After three years of toiling over the characters, the story, and every single word, it was finally done!  My inner critic, however, refuses to let me celebrate.  She reminds me that I have no idea what I’m doing.  Worse still, she can back up that statement by bringing up the three prior false starts that can only be described as epic failures.

I remember how my pulse shot up for a brief moment as I reconfigured the last line one more time. I had only a few seconds of excitement before it all turned surreal.  Now that it was done, what was I supposed to do next?  I could almost hear the witch cackle of my inner critic as she started to toy with my confidence.  The next natural step, of course, is to let people read your work and then brace yourself for the feedback.  In the back of my mind that cruel little voice started whispering,  “It sucks, you know.”  “There are thousands of writers who can write better than you.”  “There are mistakes on every page – stupid mistakes that should not be there.”  “No one wants to read this piece of crap.  What were you thinking?”  “Everyone is going to hate it.”  I wasn’t kidding when I said she was trying to kill me.  She’s mean.

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Movement

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Archimedes once said “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”  While this statement has an admirable motivational sentiment, I tend to consider this lever-bearing scientist’s idea with a different perspective.   It’s not the world that’s meant to be moved, it’s us.

Movement is often judged by concrete fact and quantified with statistics crunched by a calculator. Whether it be undeniable evidence that someone moved from one end of the room to the other or an astronomer’s chart tracking the orbit of the earth over the last year, we like to be able to step back and say to ourselves “Yup, I can see it.”

Granted there’s nothing wrong with wanting that proof, but it only addresses one dimension of movement.  For some it’s just easier to pay attention to what’s happening on the outside and to prescribe to a norm that always has the “right” answer.  Unfortunately, that means forsaking the movement that can occur inside of us, where it cannot be seen.

Movement is more than just the act of doing.  It’s not about making sure there is a witness or recording hard data.  Real movement involves the ability to bend willingly to fate and follow its whimsy.  This is done not out of submission, but rather out of curiosity and awareness.  Don’t we always end up somewhere for a reason or meet someone for a specific purpose?  It’s never apparent until after the fact, but we are always moved by the experience.  More often than not, powerful moments are ignored because they can’t be plotted on a graph or validated by some scientific principle.  Sadly, this leads to many missed opportunities.

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