Crayon collisions

We used to make these crayon mashups as kids. They were combinations of all of our favorite crayons in the box. Choose a couple of most-loved Crayolas, bake them together in a cupcake tin, let them cool, and you had a super-giant-crayon combo of favorites. A paraffin disc of possibility. You could draw with that thing for what seemed like forever.

I think the length of happy can be sort of like that crayon mashup: you get to color only with your favorites with no end in sight. But the hard part is choosing your favorites, leaving most others behind. And if you knew when it would end, you might stop drawing, speed up drawing, overthink the drawing. But when you have only color and paper and tomorrow, you keep on sketching.

Who you hang out with determines what you dream about and what you collide with. And the collisions and the dreams lead to your changes. And the changes are what you become. Change the outcome by changing your circle.” That’s Seth Godin in a passage I learned from Tina Roth Eisenberg in an unmissable Guy Raz interview about her journey to human mashups, CreativeMornings, and happiness.

The trick to the super-crayon was to keep adding new favorites back into the tin, baking, and repeating, for many tomorrows to come. Combining favorites to make new life happinesses.

The city as something else

Are you alright?” It was Hanna calling my mobile phone in the middle of July. I had left my Brooklyn neighborhood for upstate New York that summer month “to write” and Hanna, my neighborhood dry cleaner was calling to check in on me — never having called before — worried that something had happened to me since she didn’t see me walking by daily with my dog.

This is New York.

It was on this day 23 years ago that I moved to New York City, intending only to stop here on my way to something else. It seems the city has become my something else, many times over, its pedestrians upon dog parks upon stoops upon protesters upon subways upon heat-lamped dinners becoming the backdrop and material of my world.

Today, I enjoyed looking back on some of my city accounting since:

Am I alright? I am indeed, for I have known what it is to have been a New Yorker.

Month One

January has been Month One of something unknown. “All human beings are invited to have a friendship with the unknown,” shared poet and author David Whyte.

This is my formal acceptance of that invitation.

This month, I’ve intentionally wandered into opportunities whose dimensions are unknown. “How long will this last?” a friend asked, listening to what I’m doing. That is unknown, of course, I replied. That is the point of Month One, and all months going forward.

I accept.

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.