Tag Archives: gratitude

Don’t Write Angry

 

“Asking your work to prove anything only invites doom.”

Art & Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland

 

I have detractors. It’s good. Everyone needs at least a few. I’ve been saving them up for a while now.

my writing spotAll my life I’ve collected resentment for people who tried to keep me down, tried to control me, tried to use me for their own ends, teachers, principals, administrators, classmates, their parents, church people, playground kids, neighbors, and several so-called Christians in big offices and some who shop in Christian bookstores and some I’ve met in conference halls.

What I’d like to say to them is, You didn’t know me. You didn’t know the first thing. I was foreign to you, younger, smaller and easily misunderstood. Well, now I’ve grown up. And though you aren’t likely to read this, I’ve been secretly writing to you for many years now. Truth is, you’ve controlled my life a bit and made it pretty rough, writing and working to express what’s lived inside me for so many years.

So this is my revenge. Or something.

So many things I’ve written, they’ve had an element of this anger, of getting back at you, of proving myself and showing you how wrong you were about me. Of course, I didn’t realize I was only using this (hobby/habit/obsession/addiction) and I’d have denied it too, but what else could drive someone so much, push them on when they don’t want to keep working, maybe even make them a little bit great?

pink petal carpetThe true achievers are always a little bit about the revenge, aren’t they?

Sometimes I’ve used other things—work, whiskey, donuts. But for years this book I’ve been writing was my masters degree, my doctorate, my post-doctoral residency in misery. I practiced a low-level rage. And it was my deeper reason for writing because I thought it was my strongest fuel.

But inspiration struck last week while I sat on the deck eating lunch. It was on the head of a bee.

Insects are plentiful this year with all the flowering things. And a few bees are clearly the miscreants of the hive, buzzing around us, shirking their duties while their family does all the work. So I watched this one bee come to the same spot on the same chair and bonk his head over and over again. Eventually, he’d fly off only to come back and conk his cranium on that same spot.

I even got a picture of the little brainiac.

bee
bee brain

I’d noticed something in one of the several books I’m working on, and the timing of this little illustration couldn’t have been more perfect. I wondered if sometimes it just takes a while until you can see what you’re doing, and how all you’ve been writing has been banging your head against the same old deck chair. Maybe it takes a long time sometimes to see you’re not really succeeding in doing anything but giving yourself a headache. Maybe you even thought if you gave up that fuel for your work, what could possibly replace it?

But there is something else just beyond that stupidity. You won’t make things right by showing them, or proving you’re better, or just making them pay. And when you realize it, you have to give that up now, finally once and for all, and to start really writing for the one true goal: that ever higher purpose.

You’ll write better for a different reason entirely.

Every week, I write knowing I’m not alone in this. So this is what I did and I believe we all must do this, to look at the work clearly, without fear and without need. All the things we need our writing to do for us—to bring us acceptance, approval, understanding. These are universal needs, but they’re horrible task masters. They’re anchoring weights to the work. Instead, “Ask your work what it needs, not what you need. Then set aside your fears and listen, as a good parent listens to a child.” – Art & Fear, p. 36.

If you carry resentment, this is how you can save yourself. You might say to those enemies,

I will not write another word for you. I give up. You will not get me to respond—you were never the point. You were obstacles in my story, plot points the Writer was using for a greater purpose. That’s right: you were just tools all along! And I don’t need you anymore because I’m done making anyone pay for what they’ve done to me. I’m not angry. I like myself and I’m happy for my struggles, the things I’ve suffered in my life. It’s all taught me and made me who I am. And now I have a job to do.

Without opposition, without injustice, we couldn’t grow. And without seeing that and embracing it, we’d never learn to stop banging our heads against the deck chair and shake it off and laugh at our failures. Without punishing ourselves we’d have been too proud, too defensive, too important to fail.

Would I have found this without that bee? The empathy I needed, the compassion for myself and others? I don’t know. And if I hadn’t been stuck in life like that, would I have any deeper understanding or words of wisdom? If life had been perfect would I even know what it meant to be here, in this place now, this life, with this beautiful, brilliant woman who loves me, these children who think I’m Sir Galahad?

It makes me cry to think of it. Who would I be? Who would I be?

So thank you, God. Thank you, thank you for my sufferings. Thank you for every second of patient learning and suffering you endured as my parent, to watch me fight and kick and argue against you, and allowing all you knew would ultimately grow me. Let the learning never end until that great day I’ve finally become the broken vessel you intended to create, to carry, however poorly, your glorious higher purpose.

This has been, and is now, and always will be forever for you, my freedom from revenge.

In Him is all we need. And He is more than sufficient.

For the Higher Purpose,

Mick

What’s Really Left to Say?

“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”
– Graham Greene

It’s Saturday and I’m still working. I’m tired, worn out.

Tea, I think.

Lord knows, I’ve had plenty of coffee. And still the words on the screen are blurring.

Seems I’m never not working these days. Even now, I’m on my computer.

I head into the kitchen to put the kettle on.

I know too well the strain of a too-crowded mind. Maybe I ought to take that long walk.

The kettle snaps and cracks under the heat.

I’m lucky to have this job that allows me mid-morning tea. Gallup polls show one-fifth of American families struggled to afford food in 2013. As of January of this year, almost 50 million Americans live in poverty, by some counts the largest number ever….

Living out our belief in the messages of these books I work on, it’s a wonder we make it. The bills may have to go on credit cards again this month.

The reasons for this are numerous, of course. The trade off for my investment of time and attention on books is a difficult commodity to charge for. But it’s our income, our livelihood. And hence, the source of my untold stress.

Heat pours from the burner and I hold my cold hands over it. Thank you, God, for this inexpensive natural resource and the incredible investment it represents. I think such things to remember how fortunate I am. I need to remember.

The kettle whistles and I turn off the heat, find a hot pad, pull the stopper. Steam rises and the mug warms quickly in my hands. How many times have I performed this ritual since beginning the book?

Truthfully, this book has always been too much for me. I’ve felt this burning passion to write this story for well over a decade. But I knew I didn’t know how to write it. And it seemed no one could help me.

I find Charlotte in the living room and carry my weight silently and sit.

What really is there left to say?

I sit with my tea and look out the window. The best books are all written. Each of them a work of singular perfection, of perfect culmination. The best stories, the best subjects. So much more than my little contribution.

I can’t possibly add something useful. It’s all been said already. What’s the point of writing at all?

When all the stories you could tell have been told more eloquently and completely, what’s left to be said? Regardless of the details, there are few truly worthy in the end.

How can anyone think their words merit mass interest, faced with the glut of worthier lives?

I watch my Charlotte read by the window and pick up the book next to me, the one by an author who knows this struggle to find meaning in the word work. Bird by Bird. 

“You simply keep putting down one damn word after the other, as you hear them, as they come to you. You can either set brick as a laborer or as an artist. You can make the work a chore, or you can have a good time. You can do it the way you used to clear the dinner dishes when you were thirteen, or you can do it as a Japanese person would perform a tea ceremony, with a level of concentration and care in which you can lose yourself, and so in which you can find yourself.” 

Charlotte looks up from her book and suggests we go outside later to play in the sunny side yard. I smile and slap my knee. “What a perfectly fabulous idea!”

She smiles and goes back to reading, happy and oblivious.

And the thought comes: has she just provided my answer?

Maybe in the end, there’s only one thing left to do: to forget it all. 

Forget about all those other books, other people’s lives. Forget the result of someone else’s work and tireless effort. They too faced this fear and kept going. And now their work stands as a testament to the boundless human spirit just as mine will be. As untamable as the will behind all creation.

In the end, what else is there to be said?

To write, to be free, is to be alive. Maybe I need not work so hard to remember this, but only to forget everything I know, like a child with a book and not a care in the world. Would we call her stubborn? Would they say she’s “bad” for expressing her interests so single-mindedly?

Of course not. We’d know there’s play to be done. This play. This adventure will be had.

I watch her and think, Can I forget all my reasons, my excuses, and leave it all behind once again?

Don’t I know this by now: that I am the only one who can get me to forget?

“I love you, Dad.” She peers over her big book at me.

“You do?” I tease. “I love you too, kiddo.”

What is writing, in the end, but this very letting go of every other thought but the one that sits loosely in the open hand, the one that trusts that the words to speak will be there when we need them, whether anyone ever reads them or not?

What you’re writing, if it matters to you, it is good. And you will say that to yourself when you’re done: “That was good.”

Good. 

And it will be.

Wouldn’t I love the book more and give it my all if I wrote for this higher purpose? If regardless of all that’s been said, when I’m through, I simply wrote for the sheer unbridled pleasure of it? Then there might be this record of a journey to freedom to enjoy. And maybe, hopefully even the suggestion of freedom in a true companion, a lifter of our heads.

Maybe only when I do reach that land, that far distant shore, then, and only then, will I be able to say that I—myself—have said all there is to say.

The tea done now, I squeeze out the bag. Having given it all, it’s set aside. Nothing held back.

I blow and sip. And it’s perfect–strong and full, just how I like it.

“To participate requires self-discipline and trust and courage, because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, as my friend Dale puts is, How alive am I willing to be?” – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

What might live if you can just forget all that limits you today? Will you go for it and write free?

For the Higher Purpose,

Mick

Some of the Best Byproducts of Writing

 

“How often it is difficult for most of us to give solitude any sort of priority in the kind of life that we live today. How we avoid it; how we are frightened of being alone; how easy it is never to let it happen; there is always something or someone to fill the void, even if it is no more than turning to the radio for company. I guess that it is a question of inner conviction as well as external pressure. The world simply does not understand this need to be alone.”

– Esther de Waal, Living With Contradiction

The best thing about trying to write, I’ve often thought, is the byproducts.
DSC_0003

Solitude. Silence. Peace. Joy…

And writing forces you to be patient. It also forces you to grow.

In our world, these are so important, and so hard to come by.

But writing also makes you focus on what you really want. And often, I’ve found it reveals where I’m still coming up short….

I’ve always told people I have to write before I know what I think about things. But it’s more than that. I have to write because it shows me where my heart is and how much progress I’m making in the real categories that matter.

Today I helped a homeless man. At least, that’s what he told me he was. Experience said not to believe his story about needing gas. But how many times have I been asked and not helped? This time, here he was, obviously in need, whether or not his story was genuine.

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In writing I’ve been learning to value the quiet voice that speaks above the other voices of cynicism, of bitterness and impatience.

He came up as we stood in line to order. His name was Kevin. He had a $20 gift card he’d trade us for cash. I could verify it with the cashier. He just needed gas. We had no cash, but I asked him to wait and I ordered our food and asked him to follow me to the station so I could fill his car. He tried to give me the gift card, but I said I knew how it was to be down. He showed me his duffel in the trunk and said he was living in his car and had been staying in the Walmart parking lot.

He thanked me and as I pulled away, his got into his car, and put his face in his hands.

It’s below freezing tonight.

fall house

It’s a wonder any of us survive this world. We have a house full of food but here we are at a restaurant after church. Can I ignore and not surrender to the truth that my heart would not survive the hypocrisy, the cancer that would eat me from the inside if I didn’t at least try to see, try to help, try to give just something? Even the least I can do?

It’s Christmastime, after all. And the need all around us is suffocating.

Advent is upon us, the time of waiting. No one wants to wait for anything in our world. Even the moment of silence following the prayer in church needs that purposeful description “moment silent of reflection” to be accepted. And still we get restless if it goes on too long.

God forgive me the times I fail to see because of rushing by so fast. Help me to give up more than an undisturbed lunch. I plead for my own sake, but let me plead, too, for the least of these.

How is it that in solitude, in writing, I’m learning to be grateful, to give thanks and be my full self, fully available and in the moment with others? It’s a paradox how this solitary pursuit brings patience, makes us better companions, more aware of others and their needs.

Isn’t this learning to be truly thankful the continual work of higher purpose writers? Writing is my way to maintain a thankful attitude. It undergirds and empowers the work, my faith and my life. And it does so through teaching me patience.

If you aren’t good at this yet, join the club I guess. I’m learning that no one who doesn’t practice daily can be good at thanksgiving. Maybe like musicians, the key to pretty much everything is learning to slow down. And aren’t all things worth doing difficult before they become easy?

It sounds true what someone said, that patience tastes bitter, but its fruit is always far sweeter because of it.roadnottaken

 

I already know there’s virtually nothing in this whole green earth that can’t be made greater through delaying your possession of it. But it’s head knowledge. I know it isn’t the object of our desire that’s made better but us and our perception of the thing.

I know nothing worth having comes without cost, and it always costs work, patience and sacrifice. Money can’t buy these things; they only come through patient work.

I know Ben Franklin said that “he who can have patience can have what he will.” He knew too—patience is the key to everything.

But it’s in practicing it–in solitude maybe first, and then in helping others–that we truly come to know it.

Maybe what we can’t see yet with eternal eyes, what we have yet to accept about our lives, our selves, our situation, our gifts, our place, our relationships, our possessions, our failures and weaknesses–all these things in unison–we simply need to understand that just because we can’t see what’s really there doesn’t mean a thing. We’re all blind to what’s good and true in life. If we can’t accept the things we have are good, maybe we can at least accept that it’s because we simply can’t see that they are.

There’s something good in everything we tend to label “bad,” “wrong,” “failure,” “empty,” “useless,” “evil,” “broken,” “ugly.” W have weak eyes. We can’t see because we’ve never exercised our eyes. And maybe if we asked to see and waited patiently for opportunities to help others, it would eventually be revealed.

Maybe we could redeem the time and create beauty by trusting that waiting will magnify and define what’s truly good and beautiful.

In that way, maybe only patience can create our new eyes…

I believe God will work if we let him have all we consider unredeemed. And I already believe there are some things no other force in existence can resolve but patience.

But today, I hope I came one step closer to putting that faith into action. I’m tired of knowing things and doing nothing. Maybe writing is helping me finally learn I also have to live what I believe.

I don’t know what will happen to you tonight, Kevin, my new homeless friend. I wish I could have helped more. I hope you find that shelter. I pray you get that new job you mentioned. I hope you can know how much your future depends on holding onto that faint flicker of hope you have.

God make you truly grateful and keep you in his love.

 

For his best in your life, in your work, and for his highest purpose for you,

Mick

“We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.”

– Helen Keller

The Last Morning in September

This morning the last one in September, I woke early to finish an edit and got sucked into simply reading.

As I read, I listened to the quiet house waking and the sounds of the day starting. At first there was nothing, then a twittering songbird, whistling briefly until silence again. Then a distant crow, and eventually, the kids’ on the street screeching outside while they grab the last moments before the school bus arrives.

IMG_5817In the hue cast by the closing pages of this novel, it’s become a morning that proves the day can be full of magic moments—if we pay attention and don’t ruin them. So many things can ruin them. Sometimes the days become worried by nothing we’ve done, simply the day’s own trouble. But mostly, it’s our own willfulness, our unwillingness to slow down and recognize what we’re really seeing, what’s really happening, what this chance before us really means.

And a day like this can bring me back to all the things our hearts and souls truly long for—the bright sounds and rich colors and bits of memories that pierce through it all. So many hidden little reminders of why we love this place we get to live in, and how full and happy it can be in the earth’s slow turning.

I needed this book because I need these reminders. I didn’t know it, but I do now. Life will pass and time will be gone and I could have known love in these moments that are ours to inhabit. Or I could still. Even in the moments that at first seem inhospitable, there’s the endless possibility of God’s great, boundless joy.

And we can feel it rising in the waking daylight like the best dare, like an invitation to unwrap the biggest gift of all….

[p.s. I’ll share the book soon….]

For the higher purpose,

Mick

And I’m Grateful…

waiting-dog

Editing. Again.

And sorry again for how long it takes to edit a book.

Loving is such hard work. I’m reminded again how we always say love is active, not passive.

But now I see that patience may be the most active part.

And how long has it taken me to learn that? And can I become patient enough to receive it?

And thank God for those who’ve been so patient with me….

And thank God for his unending patience, waiting for me to finally see this truth about my gratitude today….

And to speak it.