10.11.11 When Machinating Blurs The Day’s Contours

Spend eight hours in front of a computer, on the telephone, texting, and figuring out technical problems, and your mind becomes a blur.

Do this five days a week for several years, and your eyesight constricts, your skin hardens, your nose dulls – and a keen memory rich with emotional palettes becomes a thing of the past.

Machinating is what we do when we let the mind spin with little more intention, flexibility, or creative openness other than to “get things done.”  It’s not the same as thinking. Or musing. Or imagining. Or creating. Or experiencing.

A day of machinating blurs the day’s contours into a mush of gray. By day’s end, your memory has captured little because not much has awakened keen, nuanced emotions and senses – the velcro of memory.

At dinner my wife said, “You seemed to have had a good day.” She said that because I stayed locked to my desk almost the whole day in online software training, in refining documents, in researching technology platforms, and more. I barely saw the sky. She meant I was productive and focused, which I was, but I’m less certain about the day’s quality.

Still, there are highlights, and having such a day reminds me to shift the shape of the next day.

What about you? Did you evade machinating? Share your day’s three highlights and let us know where you’re writing from.

See you in the woods,
The Three Highlights Guy


10.10.11 Sell the Cart and Start Anew

Donald Hall wrote a poem called “Ox Cart Man” about a man who each October counts and packs his dug up potatoes and his spring-sheared wool and walks for ten days into town where he sells his goods. (The poem received the Caldicott Medal as a picture book a few years ago.)

“When the cart is empty he sells the cart,” Hall writes,

When the cart is sold he sells the ox,
harness and yoke, and walks
home, his pockets heavy
with the year’s coin for salt and taxes,
and at home by fire’s light in November cold
stitches new harness
for next year’s ox in the barn,
and carves the yoke, and saws planks
building the cart again.

This season, I’m trying to harvest the year’s rewards and simplify. Still, I find it hard to sell the cart, to let go of old patterns and of comfortable modes of being, of being broken down into the earth and simplified, made simple, made into dirt.

But I’m trying.

Today a client broke free of old syntactical patterns. A new client saw her radiant self. My father-in-law and I cracked black walnuts on the screened porch, and I heard him moan with boyhood memories of black walnut ice cream. My daughter and I greeted the harvest moon as it inched its way up over the willow tree. And then there was story-telling on the front porch while we waited for Mama. And then dancing in the living room and a lulling call-and-response. And dinner. And a wave good night to the moon. And bedtime. And simplicity. Yes, simplicity in greeting these moments and then waving good night.

Good night, day of moments. Good night, each moment. I look forward to building the day again tomorrow.

What about you? Any luck on harvesting or simplifying? Share your day’s three highlights below and let us know where you’re writing from.

See you in the woods,
The Three Highlights Guy

10.6.11 Running in Place

I’ve started running. Bought the running shoes from Zappos. Got the running shorts. That sort of thing. I’m not the runner type, though. If I played sports as a boy, I did so to play not to exert. Swimming, yoga, these things I can engage my body in. They’re pleasurable. But running? Why bother? Where’s the joy?

But this body has changed. It’s creaky. The energy slogs more on some days, especially as the temp drops. So, just as thirteen years ago when my body whispered “Find a yoga class,” I’ve listened to it now as it’s said in no uncertain terms, “Run!”

Yesterday morning, before my yoga-writing flow, I sported the shorts, the running sweater, the shoes, stretched, and bounced off. Two minutes in, I didn’t think I’d make it past the next house an 1/8 of a mile up the road. But I did. Then, I thought, “Okay – just to that next house past the meadow.” A few barriers fell away, the crisp air coursed through this body, and the feet felt lighter. I reached it and thought, “Okay – maybe, maybe to the House Of Jill” (with Rose and Petal, if you’ve been keeping up). By this time, as my body moved with a steady beat my mind played out ideas for my writing projects. And, sure enough, I made it to Jill’s. Probably an embarrassing mile, all told – but an utter victory for this guy.

But this morning the cold deterred me. So, I still geared up, went into my study, and ran. In place. Luckily, my wife was still asleep else she would’ve laughed at what a hamster in shorts I might have looked like. And, sure, my mind didn’t trip into some “zone,” per se.

But no matter. The world wasn’t passing me by. The world was right here in this moment, in these lungs, the sun inching up over the trees, the birds flying around the feeders outside, and the girls upstairs still snoring. And for a simple ten, twelve, fifteen minutes I felt ridiculously alive as I ran in place, in this place where I am at home.

What about you? Any “running in place” moments? What were your day’s three highlights? Share them below and let us know where you’re writing from.

See you in the woods,
The Three Highlights Guy

10.5.11 The Girl Effect One Spoon at a Time

1. The Scope of a Day
Sometimes, I try to find ways to break out of only my perspective, my experience. For if there’s one tenet I’ve tried to abide by for twenty-plus years it’s that writing is more self-expansion than self-expression.

And so today I have thought about girls and their choices and their self-images and their circumstances. That focus started in part because of two women – Tara Mohr and Jen Louden. Tara, for her project and gumption. Jen, for her daughter and heart.

And so today I have thought about my daughter and I have thought about daughters around the globe.

A Girl

Anita grew up in India’s caste system, poor and with limited options. So it seemed. Her parents wanted her to do what any “respectable” girl should do: Get married. Serve her man. The unspoken assumption: Perpetuate her family’s poverty.

Anita saw another way. Maybe she spoke with a girl from Bombay who had her own business. Maybe she read a book about opportunities. Maybe she saw on one of the few televisions in the village a program that showed a girl embracing life.

Regardless, Anita had an idea: Go to college. Get more from life. Offer more to her loved ones. No girl in her caste had ever been to college. Her parents balked. Hungry for more, she went on a hunger strike. They complied. She worked her way through college and today she has her own business. She repairs her parents’ home and pays their medical bills.

Now she has choices.

Now she feels power kindle inside.

Now she has freedoms she can pass on.

Now other girls in her village want to go to college.

Now she’s part of The Girl Effect.

2.  A Prison
Maybe you were the first person in your family to attend college. Maybe you faced great odds to be where you are today.

But imagine you’re a girl, and no girl in your high school and no girl in your town had ever been to college. Imagine several hundred million girls in your country are expected to or forced to get married by 14 or 15 or 16 or are forced into prostitution and likely will contract AIDS within the next ten years.

Well, guess what? That’s the situation around the globe and right at home. Girls’ prisons of cultural limitations exist in India and Bangladesh and China. And on some level they exist in England and Mexico and the United States.

Those prisons are built by

  • parents’ expectations and impositions
  • teachers’ expectations and assumptions
  • friends’ influence
  • dire poverty
  • limited access to alternative ideas
  • discouragement from thinking and imagining
  • an imagination and spirit impoverished by the above

There are at least a hundred ways to break out. And The Girl Effect offers options.

3. Another Girl & a Spoon
At dinner, my two-year-old daughter often looks at my plate of home cooked nut loaf or pilaf and greens and at my wife’s plate, too, to be sure we’re eating enough. Sometimes, she scoops food onto her plastic spoon and holds it up to my mouth and says, “Here, Papa.”  And then she does the same for Mama.

After dinner each evening, she walks over to the music box placed in her play corner, puts in a CD of Jai Uttal’s music, and dances.

She is squeals and giggles and hugs. She has sunshine for hair and blue skies for eyes and salves for hands.

I write this for her and not just for the freedoms she has but also for the freedoms she will create and pass on for others.

I write this for the 39-year-old woman in a small upstate New York town – who, at 18, insisted she travel to India on her own and after working with a man who operated a clinic that served dozens of people a day – returned home with a dream to help heal the poor.

I write this for the 52-year-old woman in Texas who, while reading Tara Sophia Mohr’s blog and with little money in the bank and no sure plan, left her deadbeat, heartless husband.  I write this not only for her freedoms but for the freedoms she will create and pass on for others.

I write this for the girl I will never meet in a village whose name I will never know raised in a way hard for me to fathom who will take a spoon and dig her way out and so make a path for other girls to follow.

I write this for any girl or boy hungry for more and who needs to know there is more to this world than the walls imposed around and within.

Ideas spread. When they include good decisions, smart actions and skills, and compassionate support, ideas change lives.

And The Girl Effect is all of that.

4. Three Highlights
So the day closes. And there is a globe of moments inside to be appreciated. However small, however grand, what were your day’s three highlights?  Share them below and let us know where you’re writing from.

See you in the woods,
The Three Highlights Guy

10.4.11 How the Meaning of Life Comes Down to a Squealing Pig

A good part of the day I spent on my studio floor mapping out plans for next year – events and services and offerings and webinars and travels. Yadda, yadda. I have to admit that with all my sketchbooks and markers and Miles Davis waxing in the background, I feel like a big kid playing with his big boy tools.

But then I think about the word “services” and wonder, Just who am I serving? And how am I serving? And what is the meaning, real meaning, of all this service?

Psychologist Martin Seligman suggests that the meaningful life comes from being connected to and serving something larger than yourself. And I suspect there’s a lot that’s larger than myself I’m connected to.

This evening my toddler girl, wife, and I strolled down the road to the house where Jill and her husband live. Jill’s the hamlet’s dog officer who also gathers orphaned horses, goats, turkeys, geese, dogs, peacocks, and pigs. She has two pigs, a little one named Rose and a sow named Petal. Petal is huge, a pink rain barrel on tiny legs.

As we approached The House Where Jill Lives, we heard a squeal like death and glee, of squeeze and slurp churned in the same bin of a throat. “He’s not killing her,” Jill said to us as we walked up. “He’s feeding her. She gets excited.”

Then another squeal lit up. The pink toddler girl lurched from her stroller, excited with arms flailing, and flew down the path to see Petal, the grand sow, devour nectar in the form of feed. Girl met sow. Pink met pink. Squeal met squeal.

Galway Kinnell writes,

…Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fouteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them;
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

And I think of my neighbors and their daily blessings.

There is meaning in laying out the days, sentence by sentence.
There is meaning in serving others’ dreams to them on white boards and white pages and white screens.
There is meaning in bringing a girl face-to-face with “the long, perfect loveliness of sow.”

What about you? Where did meaning surprising arise today? Regardless, share your day’s three highlights and let us know where you’re writing from.

See you in the woods,
The Three Highlights Guy

10.3.11 Early Harvest Moods

Image: Sanguine

I want to sing tonight not of harvest moons but of harvest moods, of the ways just this morning the leaves’ lips spelled the sweetness of mortality beneath a little girl’s boots, of early light fall that sends a work horse to the barn before he wears out, of the promise in wood burning stoves hinted at in stacks shaped neat like browned books on their sides, of sentences that fall without discretion across the page’s lawn without apology.

Reap it, reap it, reap it all in. So much this year to harvest. So much this year to remember. So much this year to let go.

How about you? Did you harvest any moods or memories today? Regardless, share your Monday’s three highlights and let us know where you’re writing from.

See you in the woods,
The Three Highlights Guy


9.30.11 Each Minute the Last Minute

This evening, we – my little one, wife, and I – sat down for dinner, and I reached for Garrison Keillor’s collection Good Poems, and I found “Living.” We have about five or six books of poems at all times stacked on the dining table because for at least one meal a day either my wife or I reads a poem before – or at least among the first few bites of – a meal.

I opened the book to Denise Levertov‘s poem “Living.” I have been reading Levertov’s letters to and from William Carlos Williams lately but have never encountered this poem:

The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the lat summer.

The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.

A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily

moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.

Each minute the last minute.

I read it aloud. The little one seemed captured more by tomatoes on her tongue than words in her ears and so groaned more than grinned. And one eye of my wife seemed to humor me while the other seemed to watch the waddling little one swaying in her chair, fork in hand. And there it was, this moment of dinner and poetry and being together.

And so I’m trying to remember the last minute, but it slips away before I can finish this sentence, and this sentence is little more than an urgent, creative run to hold off the period, the final period, the big period of periods. Yes, that one. And Levertov, in her simple beauty, has made sentences that last beyond the last minute. Each sentence the last sentence.

Our lives are measured in minutes, and if we’re lucky those minutes will have some rhythm, some cadence, and some meaning.

And ritual, like reading a poem before a meal or reading a story before bedtime or kissing your lover on the cheek when you awake, is some small way to shape minutes into meaning and let them slip into memory.

So what about this Three Highlights Habit? Take a minute to reflect upon your day, and share here your Friday’s three highlights. And let us know where you’re writing from.

See you in the woods,
The Three Highlights Guy