Garden graces

I escaped yardwork. Weeding, raking, planting, raking, sweeping — no matter the job, I could worm out of it. When all four kids and two parents spread out into each corner of the yard on a Saturday morning, I strode across the lawn with an excuse.

It’s not that I disliked invasive species, it was the act of being committed against my will that was the issue. (I was also 13 years old and disliked nearly everything.) I had to demonstrate my independence.

Today, I find excuses to spend nearly all my time in my own garden. I chase down opportunities to weed, find excuses to plant, I rake, I sweep, I stare at dirt, and simply observe small bits of life in between. All states bring equal joy: green, grey, wound, discordant, bloomed, browned, fallen — all owning their place, all participating. Without participation, there would not be the opportunity for experience. John Dewey reminds us:

Such happiness as life is capable of comes from the full participation of all our powers in the endeavor to wrest from each changing situations of experience its own full and unique meaning.

To see the greens, the reds, the browns, and love it all is what is worth staying for. In our work, to love both the dark side of one’s workmanship and the shining side of one’s craft is perhaps to experience one’s true self.

To have the integrity to respect all states — and participate in humanity — might be one definition of grace. How we use it is up to us.

Knowing when to stop is not exactly the same as knowing what to start. Determining what’s worthy is harder than simply finding something interesting.

That’s John, long-time supporter of my ideas, who wrote these two powerful sentiments years ago upon the restart of writing on this website after a long hiatus. Years later, as I emerge from what does indeed feel like an extended dormancy, I’m still seeking clarity on what’s worthy. But what I do know: time to start, it is. These handful of words mark an official commitment to an unofficial restart of writing. While in the past, I’ve collected signoffs, talked about the etiquette of endings, and thought deeply about quitting, I’m now focused on beginnings. To new chapters. And to the intentional organization of starting.

Thank you, as ever, John.

If you think about what you’re here to do in life, the answer is probably not ‘get really good at time management’.

That’s Jocelyn K. Glei after interviewing Oliver Burkeman on this unmissable podcast episode, “Against Time Management.” She adds, “Maybe getting overly obsessed about time management is really just a sleight of hand. One which we spend all our energy focusing on a difficult task that we will inevitably never succeed at – in this case, controlling time — as a distraction from the more difficult task of confronting what we’re really here on earth to do.” Take your time getting there, but do hurry to listen to the episode in its entirety.

Ode to weather

Cold weather is always a giant surprise. “I can’t believe how much it snowed!” or “Can you believe how cold it is!” This utter disbelief extends to all seasons: “I can’t get over how hot it is.” And so on.

When it comes to weather, we have a beginner’s mind. We approach each season as a blank slate, a wholesale dropping of our expectations, opening ourselves to be astonished by something as simple as temperature or precipitation.

Could we apply the same open expectations to our work? To our relationships? Perhaps then, we can be as surprised by everyday interactions as we are with the daily forecast.

I have decided that the digital watch is the perfect symbol of an imbalance in outlook in our day. It tells us only what time it is now, at this instant, as if that were all anyone would wish or need to know. …. [There] is also a clock with two hands and an old-fashioned face, the kind that shows what time it is now … what time it used to be … and what time it will become.

I often find myself explaining why I wear a small, non-digital watch and this, from David McCullough, sums it up perfectly.

With all of your light

Always go for a run even if it’s raining.

Enjoy the journey

never forget to play

and feel the joy of life.

Jump for joy when you’re happy.

Surround yourself with the people you love.

Live in the moment,

have boundless energy.

Listen more than you talk.

But when you do talk, speak from the heart.

It’s never too late to learn.

Look for the best in everyone

and be loyal.

Love unconditionally

and with all of your light, all of the time.

When things feel complex, murky, convoluted, dark, lonely, we have the unrequited companionship of our dog friends to lead us. Here, lessons from Pépite and Jolyn.

A sober list of the essentials of success and other affirmations from the journal of Octavia Butler. Read them as the necessary juxtapositions they are: “specific goals” and “adaptability,” “cooperation” paired with “self-reliance.”

Hurry off for more on the life, work, and influence of science fiction writer Octavia Butler over at Radio Imagination.

Confidence to diverge

If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next — and disappear. That’s why it’s important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.

That’s Jonathan Foer in Moonwalking with Einstein. As someone who deeply trusts routine, I admit to using it. It’s not routine I love actually, but what it begets. Routine gives way to novelty. To variation. Without homogeneity, there would be no variation. It is the mechanics of sameness in some areas of our life that allows us wild diversity in others.

Foer goes on to say, “Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it.” Without the foundation of monotony, we would not have the confidence to diverge.

The thing about long-term relationships

As we age together, New York and I hold one another up when we fall down; we finish one another’s sentences.

When we have successes together, we celebrate in the wild forests of the park, along the carousel under the bridge, in the urban ocean, next to the little red lighthouse near the north point.

See also:
This is New York

We celebrate together, the city and me, as we protect and trust our relationship like no other. I arrived, looking to the city for answers, solitude, assignment, reward, punctuation to a sentence not yet written. The city, in turn, returned untempered possibilities.

The thing about long-term relationships is: you have to hold on.

The entirety of a life

“You only get to keep what you refuse to let go of.”

That’s Jonathan Safran Foer, in his new novel, Here I Am.

Memories — more than any other capacity — inspire us, ground us, teach us, and revisited years later, provide us guidance home.

See also:

We keep coming home to memories to try to look again. What memory represents, not clearly, but in full gray tones, is hope. Hope that life moves on, that forward motion is inevitable, that we learn, that we will be.

One can only hope that one’s senses, intuitions, become sharpened over time such that they benefit the entirety of a life. Sometimes people overlap only briefly and don’t get the benefit of that acuity. But the wisdom those people impart can leave residue that brings light to an entire life.

Memories are a starting point for hope. Where they lead is up to us.

The triumph of the small

Sometime around 1995, we changed. We changed because the Internet seemed to move from the unknown and unreachable to the possible. A prosumer activity to a consumer activity. It was open. It was available. And most who weren’t already there, wanted to be there for its promise.

In 1995, amid my excitement over what could be digital, I was still reading two different newspapers over breakfast each morning and listening to two different public radio stations in two different parts of the house. While not efficient, the gaps and differences between the reporting taught me about opinion. About choice. About editorial decision-making. And about truth.

Sometime around 2007, we changed again. In 2007, the digital possible moved from our desktops to our hands. Everything was indeed possible, just as they said in 1995. While still thrilling to receive a handwritten letter or a telephone call, perhaps even more enchanting was an email. A ping straight into our everyday that did not obey the rhythms or etiquette of the postman, the workday, or dinnertime.

Meantime, sometime between then and now, people returned to craft. Amid some uncertainty out in the world, people returned to making. Retreating into handmade objects, slow processes, face-to-face friendships and pleasures, people demonstrated that while we can’t change the world through artisanal coffee, we can reinforce the human values that seemed unrequited through rectangular glass.

Sometime around 2016, we changed again. Or rather, we began a media evolution that would continue for years to come. Public blurred with private. Truth blurred with fiction. Celebrity blurred with identity. Purpose blurred with perception.

And sometime around 2017, we will change again. The new year will bring a different kind of retreat. Rather than retreating into making or craft, we will retreat into smaller and more nuanced connections. Into quality over quantity. Into the single story over collections of stories. Into the subtle over the general. Into the singular datapoint over big data. Into attention over distraction.

2017 will ring triumphs for the small and true, the richness of a single moment, and a celebration of what is, rather than what is not.

First written for Nieman Lab, Predictions for Journalism 2017.

The not yet principle

We were a healthy family. My mom would bring home groceries in paper bags loaded with newly purchased food, mostly plants. But also, more exotically: Oreos, Pretzels, Diet Rite, Golden Grahams, Little Debbie Swiss Rolls, Fritos — a weekly goldmine of snacks into the otherwise snack-less househould. And when one of the four kids rushed to tear open a package, we heard the same sound. “Not yet.”

The not yet sound effect happened not only with groceries, but with anything new. New clothes still with tags hung in every closet. Letters sat unopened. Paitence truly was a virtue, delayed gratification embodied. New snacks, and all new things, were for the future, not now.

This wasn’t the experience I saw around me. Most memorably, at 16, my best friend received a new red convertible because she passed her drivers’ test. Later, after perhaps borrowing my parents’ stationwagons one too many times, I received a trusty (old) hatchback with four speeds and an AM/FM radio. If I had received a new car at that age, my parents reasoned, what would I have to look forward to? They wanted me to feel what it was like to do it myself. The time for a new car was not yet.

They were right (of course). Some years later, as is the case with many childhood things, I got it. Practicing waiting is a lifelong practice since, as it turns out, impatience has a particular gravitational pull. But after all that waiting, finding or opening or having that once-future thing feels very much present.

And that is worth waiting for.