The youngest old person I ever knew was my grandfather. He was a lifelong learner. When his children left home, he started painting and even sold his work. He became a master gardener after he retired and learned how to swim when he turned eighty.
He was big on healthy eating, exercising, vitamin supplements, and the healing benefits of massage and reflexology long before any of that was a thing. Benjamin Franklin’s maxim of early to bed, early to rise, was a practice he adopted. And he read. I remember him saving articles for me and recommending fabulous books to me. One of his favorite authors was Louis L’Amour. The latest acquisitions he stacked next to his chair.
His example touched everyone who met him, and it leaves me inspired to be like him. I have seen people get stuck, who have given up, lost hope, and let their dreams slip away. The light in their eyes fades, and they drift, shuffling through daily activities, aimless, afraid, and beaten.
Life can crush the unwary, and dealing with trials and tribulations test our resolve. Reading exposes us to stories of heroes. Those rare individuals who persevere, triumph over difficulties and forge meaning and joy from whatever circumstances dealt them. In doing so, they maintain their youth and live forever.
Keys fascinate me. A bolted door piques my curiosity, and my imagination runs wild creating untold treasures. I concoct amazing stories about the object’s origins, imbue it with symbolism and lore, and develop a seemingly impossible history for how it came to be in the current owner’s possession. I don’t understand the logic of hiding cherished pieces from prying eyes. Shrouded in darkness, sealed tight, the owner prohibits even themselves from enjoying the beauty of their hoarded cache.
People hold deep-seated feelings and valid reasons for bolting their homes or leaving them unlocked. Ironclad defenses prevent theft, some say, while others profess criminals will find an entry by picking a lock or breaking a window. Locks only deter the honest.
Contrary to popular belief, having wide-open doors is not a brazen phenomenon unique to rural homeowners. One thirty-year New York City resident admitted never locking her apartment. Another individual stated they didn’t have a key. Founded or imagined fear is a great motivator.
I treat security a bit casually. I like when friends stop and let themselves in without knocking or ringing a bell. It symbolizes home and conveys trust and love. There is an uplifting joy inherent in sharing with friends and family. That feeling is more important than the possibility of losing precious possessions. You can replace material items.
I feel the same about concealing talents and passions. It makes me sad when someone says, “Oh, I have always wanted to do that, but I can’t.” They have locked away a passion and prevented their authentic inner gifts from shining. They rob themselves of joy and deny everyone the pleasure of connecting with the charm of their genius.
Everyone believes leaves change color based on temperatures, but science says chlorophyll production depends on the amount of daylight and photosynthesis. With shorter days, the tree replenishes less chlorophyll, the vibrant green fades, and familiar fall pigments become visible. This weekend, my windshield captured a small yellow leaf, and I realized autumn had arrived.
Asters and chrysanthemums are beginning to bloom, and an evening chill encourages me to search for a warm sweater. According to the lunar calendar, we are in for a special treat. I always note the date of the annual Harvest Moon, the first full moon after the equinox, so I don’t miss it. This year it falls on Thursday, October 1, and sets the stage for a Halloween Blue moon on Saturday, October 31—Halloween night. Doesn’t that sound perfect for Halloween?
It is time to turn off the air conditioning and throw open the windows. My garden begs for pruning and trimming, and I will relish the last fruits I can gather before a frost ruins them. I have scheduled the chimney sweep and ordered a face cord of firewood. Marshmallows wait to be toasted, pumpkins will transform themselves into scary jack-o’-lanterns or tasty pies, and caramel apples compete for attention. Everything urges me to sit at my desk, soak in the inspiration, and write.
The next item on my schedule is rewriting/editing a piece I hate. I consider it a fail. Surprise, surprise, it has been languishing in my short story draft file. I don’t hate the premise, but the story’s execution is weak. There are words, sentences, ideas I may salvage. It requires me to roll up my shirt sleeves, prepare for construction dust, and do Atlas-style weightlifting.
I considered hitting the delete key, but I can’t bring myself to do it. It is funny. I have burned entire notebooks, filled with handwritten stories, without hesitation. But deleting a file is anathema. From a logic standpoint, the pen, ink, and paper creations should be more difficult to destroy than impersonal electronic I’s and O’s. Perhaps it is the fact that those files don’t clutter my desk, occupy real-life space, and are easy to move to my “Fix Someday” Folder.
I have several of these files in that folder. A few stories have merit, good ideas, a likable character, conflict, the stuff you want in a compelling story. But they lack the spit and polish needed to shine, and for me to declare the tale good enough for prime time. While I may like these stories, the prospect of dissecting, cutting, reworking, and rehashing them, is unpleasant. However, I want them finished, which leaves me little choice on what I must do.
Do you rewrite, edit, delete, or file for someday?
Admit it. You have had horrendous, awful coffee, and you have had coffee so divine you swear you hear angels singing as you sip. This weekend’s cooler temperatures are the vanguard announcing the official start of fall on Tuesday. Increased ragweed pollen and leaf mold trigger itchy eyes, runny noses, and the ever-present headache. I have tried every allergy medication on the market with varying benefits and many undesirable side effects. My go-to home remedy is my morning cup of Joe.
I’m not a coffee snob, and I have drunk my share that is anemic and watery, or so strong it almost required chewing. I have had vile, bitter brews that induced full-bodied shudders, and foul-tasting stale, metallic, or burnt, crude crud. The worst insult is when they serve coffee cold. Still, terrible coffee is better than facing the day empty-handed.
Mornings pose countless challenges, especially when you factor in my inability to function well until after the first jolt of caffeine hits my bloodstream. Long ago, I learned the best strategy is to idiot-proof the preparation by staging for a resounding victory. The night before, I prep the kitchen counter. Clean pot? Check. Filtered water? Check. Beans, burr grinder, and measuring spoon? Check, check, and check. Is everything staged and ready for the decaffeinated zombie me? Perfect. With any luck, it won’t be an epic fail.
The poor unicorn is a much-maligned and misunderstood creature. Whether you believe the unicorn is a case of mistaken identity, and it is a rhinoceros, a narwhal, a long-extinct beast, or merely a myth, he has survived for centuries. Accounts surfaced in ancient Greek mythology and circled the globe. From the Mediterranean to India and China to Chile, it is the stuff of legends.
For me, magic and legend present as two sides of a coin minted with equal parts history, and fantasy, mixing reality with imagination. The stories depict a ferocious brute who refused capture. When hunted, it would jump off a high cliff. The unicorn allowed the power concentrated in its glittering head ornament to absorb the impact and let it escape unscathed.
I like the idea of collecting negative energy in an enchanted chalice can save a unicorn’s life. It is easy to pretend I am a unicorn when confronted with self-doubt, the dreaded imposter syndrome, or when well-meaning friends take potshots at my goals. I collect the distressing thoughts, deposit them in my sparkling, magical unicorn horn, and watch them disappear. Then, I open my document and write.
Please don’t force me to wake before daybreak, turn on a bright screen, and create. I am not a morning person. I bear no resemblance to anything remotely human until after my second cup of coffee. My grunts and groans are unintelligible, stringing two words together is an impossibility, concocting a coherent sentence — well, that’s not happening. I have learned to avoid my weaknesses.
Before the pandemic, Friday night dinner plans were a ritual. I looked forward to an enjoyable way to mark the week’s end. I met my friends, enjoying wonderful meals while we discussed the latest happenings and shared juicy gossip. We told jokes, laughed, and celebrated the highs and lows of what was once normal life. Many nights I came home to my laptop, and with a burst of energy, I would write dawn tinted the sky.
On the rare occasions when our schedules conflicted, I considered it a small sacrifice to stay home and write. It was pure bliss. Ordering carry-out was a decadent, self-indulgent treat that let me write to my heart’s content. No cooking or cleaning meant I could kick back and indulge my passion for writing.
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and tonight I am missing the joy of dinner with my dear friends.
Do you rejoice on Monday morning and sigh when Friday afternoon arrives? Or have I got those days flip-flopped? Letting work’s negative aspects wheedle their way into daily life can happen without us realizing it. We have all been there. Seeking success, we let our job consume every waking moment. We fill hours with “doing,” toiling at positions we detest while we dream of being free.
Imagine a sphere containing duties and an endless list of assignments, tasks, jobs, and obligations. Requirements we feel we must do. A second circle encompasses fun, pleasure, laughter, and wonder. This world is filled with free will choices and playful options. If we are lucky, those two areas intersect like a Venn diagram. The intersection blends the two worlds, and the differences between work and play merge. Struggles become an exciting challenge, and enjoyment creates a light workload.
Discovering meaningful employment that makes you happy is a difficult task. Making enough to eke out an existence is easy, and it is the reason many opt for the security it offers. Minimum risk yields little delight.
I possess a kingdom like Alcott’s. It is a hidden kingdom, full of deep thoughts, raw emotions, and heartfelt feelings kept under lock and key. The kingdom’s inhabitants are unruly. They laugh uncontrollably, they weep, they scream in anger and frustration, and they love with every ounce of their souls.
The warden of the kingdom has a daunting task. The warden must keep them contained, quiet, and hidden. Perhaps the warden should let them run free, their reward for good behavior. Released to the wild, we can observe their reactions, capture, and capitalize on their emotions. These emotions, thoughts, and feelings are brilliant fodder for when I am writing.
Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci represent two exceptionally creative minds. Masters, geniuses, prolific renaissance men, they were also famous for abandoning their work and leaving potentially more impressive masterpieces unfinished. A pair of monumental frescos commissioned for the great hall of Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio are prime examples. Leonardo’s The Battle of Anghiari and Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina were started in 1504 and abandoned a year later. They never completed the frescos.
Every writer, architect, painter, and entrepreneur has experienced failure. Failing teaches us, even if the lesson is how not to create. The title Master implies we finish what we start. Finishing, calling a piece complete, might prove to be more difficult than admitting defeat. Creating masterful art is not for mortals or weaklings. Anything crafted by humans will be flawed. Some critics argue flaws accentuate beauty. Flawless execution, whatever that is, they say, leaves the viewer bored.
How do we decide were incomplete ends and masterful imperfection begins? How many drafts do you endure before a story is polished? When do we edit the unique voice and soul from our novel? There is no easy answer, and passing time compounds the difficulties. Your best work from years ago can feel worse than your first draft today.