Category Archives: Passion

Bernard Malamud on what first drafts are for

“First drafts are for learning what your novel or story is about. Revision is working with that knowledge to enlarge and enhance an idea, to re-form it. D.H. Lawrence, for instance, did seven or eight drafts ofThe Rainbow. The first draft of a book is the most uncertain—where you need guts, the ability to accept the imperfect until it is better. Revision is one of the true pleasures of writing. ‘The men and things of today are wont to lie fairer and truer in tomorrow’s memory,’ Thoreau said.” – Bernard Malamud After the first step of a project or fulfilling a passion, there’s a pause. And you either go on or you don’t. You either persist or you don’t. You need two things to begin: gutsand the ability to accept the imperfect until it is better. The imperfect is where play lives. Failure is the only option here. After you’ve begun, you either keep going…or you don’t. Continuing after the first initial burst of inspiration can be a slog – joyless persistence.  Or not.  Malamud obviously loved the rewriting process. He called revision “one of the true pleasures of writing”.I believe him. He only published eight novels. He wrotenine novels – he burned the manuscript of his first book in 1948. His first published novel came out four years later – it’s called The Natural. You may have seen the Robert Redford movie adaptation. Passion sparks. Play welcomes the imperfect. And the joy that can be found in persistencelets us “enlarge and enhance an idea, to re-form it.” That certainly sounds like true pleasure.

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What to do if you’re not a genius (and what to do if you are)

The Pulitzer-prize winning writer Bernard Malamud, in an interview in The Paris Review, had some advice for writers. This advice applies to all of us. First, for those of us who are non-geniuses. He said, “if you’re not a genius, imitate the daring.” This is pretty specific. Artists of all kinds – painters, musicians, writers, etc. – are routinely advised to imitate the great artists in their field. Ironically, this imitation, when fully learned, provides the technical skills and foundation for real originality. Malamud goes further. Don’t just imitate the great ones. Imitate the daring. Daring is what is required. Leaps into the unknown are not for the faint of heart. And leaps into the unknown are the only actions that can move your life closer to what you dream of.  I’m endlessly inspired by people that are daring. They might be musicians or other types of artists, or they more likely are living a quixotic life. When in doubt, us non-geniuses could use more daring. But what if you are a genius? Malamud has different advice for you. “Assert yourself, in art and humanity.” No need to imitate anyone or anything. Just assert yourself and your passion. Don’t hide any longer. That is of course its own form of daring. Assert yourself in your craft and your work. And assert yourself in your everyday life, your interactions at home, in the shop, everywhere.  There you have it – two bits of advice for everyone – geniuses and non-geniuses alike. Although I suspect we all have parts of us in each category. So we might as well follow both pieces of advice.   “…if you’re not a genius, imitate the daring. If you are a genius, assert yourself, in art and humanity.” – Bernard Malamud, Paris Review interview

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Tolstoy shows us the difference between being civilized and a savage (hint: it’s not what you think)

“Why, of course,” objected Stepan Arkadyevitch. “But that’s just the aim of civilization—to make everything a source of enjoyment.”  “Well, if that’s its aim, I’d rather be a savage.” – Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina We can see from this little quote how the dark side of civilization betrays itself and betrays us. We’re all trying to enjoy everything.  What if that’s not the true aim? What if the hedonic treadmill that chasing after the pleasures plops us on isn’t the point? The Buddhists pinpoint that all suffering comes from trying to make everything a source of enjoyment. What if the peak moments in our life aren’t ‘pleasant’?  What if we’re at our best when we’re downright uncomfortable, a little scared even?  And we welcome that experience in, become good friends with it? How might that revolutionize how we move through this precious life? What if we stop trying to make everything a source of enjoyment and get a little more wild, a little more savage?

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Leo Tolstoy gives us the universal solution to all questions

“There was no solution, but that universal solution which life gives to all questions, even the most complex and insoluble. That answer is: one must live in the needs of the day—that is, forget oneself.” – Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina Tolstoy shows us the antidote to the misery that accompanies what David Hinton calls ‘the relentless industry of self’. There are two parts.  First, live in the needs of the day. What is this day calling from us? This is a different question than asking ‘what can I get done today’ or ‘how can I have fun today’ or ‘how can I get away from what’s troubling me’.  Second, forget oneself. One day alone is larger than our little ego could ever be. Forget yourself. Forget your plans, your worries, how you’re perceived, if you’re making the right moves or not. Passion helps with this – we can get lost in flow. And purpose helps with this – do what we do today for someone else’s benefit, not our own.

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Hermann Hesse on what he needs to be happy (Hint: twenty books may be needed)

“I would give my left hand if I could again be a poor, happy bachelor and own nothing but twenty books, a second pair of boots, and a box full of secretly composed poems.” – Hermann Hesse In 1919 at age 42 Hesse made that move. He went to Montagnola, a small village in the foothills of the southern Swiss Alps. He stayed there the rest of his life. It was here that he wrote all of his major works (in order of publication): Siddhartha, Steppenwolf, Narcissus and Goldmund, Journey to the Eastand The Glass Bead Game. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature for these works. When we are young, simplicity can happen without us even choosing it. When we are adults, it has to be chosen. It isn’t just given. The complexifier part of the brain (not yet scientifically proven, but I’d bet money we have one) keeps adding layers of interest and desires for accumulation and gathering. When were you happiest in your life? I’ll make another bet – it was when you were following a passion and had relatively little – little money, little possessions, little number of entanglements. It might have been when you were a kid, it might have been when you were a young adult. It might be right now.  For example, I was happiest as a kid out in nature, with a few books. Or listening to music on the radio. I was happiest as a young adult living out of a backpack, and then again studying music in college, so poor that I remember my friend Emily giving me a chocolate bar one afternoon. It was the first food I had eaten that day because I didn’t have money for food. Poor, but happy. I’m happiest as an adult once again out in nature, or with music in me. I don’t need much. The spirit of play needs the immediacy and focus of simplicity to thrive. And purpose needs the space that simplicity provides to slowly grow. And the internal force that quietly, relentlessly drives you to being at your best doesn’t love money, or stuff. It wants more from you – it wants you too to be happy.

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One man, one hundred years of joy

“If I live to be 103, then I will have skied 100 years.” – Klaus Obermeyer “My sentence was a thousand years of joy.” – Robert Bly How do we persist? What helps what we care about stick? It’s a question that I’ve lived with for it years now. Some observations: We persist at what we love.We find something special in the act of persisting, something that feeds us like no other.We don’t let the rest of life fill in and obscure a passion. Life is not often what you would call “easy”. We find our inspiration where we can. Klaus Obermeyer is a font of inspiration for us. For example, he’s turning 100 years old at the end of 2019 and is still skiing. And he’s smiling while he’s doing it.  Don’t ski? No problem, me neither after tearing ligaments in my leg (while skiing). Let these quotes wash over you and provide a foundation for you to play your particular passion. And to lay the groundwork of delight that will enable you to persist at what uniquely feeds you. (all italics mine)  “You apply the extension of energy in skiing… You love the mountain. You’re the center of your own universe. You’re given all these choices and opportunities—where to turn, how fast to go, how to enjoy it. You have a positive energy; you cannot fear or have negative energy.”  “It doesn’t matter which mountain it is or which run or what conditions there are. I do not discriminate between them. Some are longer; some are shorter… but they’re all fun! I just love skiing.” “I ski whenever it’s nice and you can see where you’re going,”  “The days you don’t ski, they don’t come back.” “I used to ski my age — 82 mph when I was 82 years old. Now I still enjoy skiing but don’t try to go that fast.” “At this point of my age, it’s easier to ski than it is to walk.”  “The beauty of nature in winter, it’s like a fairy tale. The other part is that you are connecting back with speed and zero-G and weightlessness. It gives you a natural high somehow. And to be able to enjoy that speed coming down after climbing the mountain is absolutely marvelous.” “Skiing has been my life. Everything that happened was because of skiing somehow.” I stumbled across 99-year-old Klaus Obermeyer during my 40 Days to Change for Good‘first 50 years alive transitioning into last 50 years alive’ retreat. Born in 1919 in Germany, he moved to Aspen, Colorado in 1947. He formed the company that he still oversees today(!), Sport Obermeyer, in 1950.  Over the last seventy years, he has changed how we humans play outside in the winter. Here’s a partial list of his innovations: the first down parka from a goose down comforter his mother gave him before he moved to America, the first waterproof-breathable fabrics, high alpine sunscreen, nylon wind shirts, mirrored sunglasses, double-lensed goggles, two pronged ski brakes, lined ski boots, turtlenecks with elasticized collars.  He’s also an inspiring guy – enthusiastic, energetic, cheerful, healthy, strong, fully alive. I began collecting what he had to say about how he has managed to enjoy ninety-nine years alive. Let Klaus inspire and guide you to be ‘happy from here to a hundred’. Note: Most of Klaus’s quotes are from his 99th birthday interview. (He was born Dec 2, 1919.) A few quotes are from his 98thand 96thbirthday interviews, among other sources.

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Feathers in the cereal: from a comforter with love

Do you use a quilted parka to stay warm in the winter?  99-year-old Klaus Obermeyer created the down ski parka from a goose down comforter his mother gave him for his move to America from Germany in 1947. “I thought it would be nice to have something you could put on and ski in. So I cut up the down comforter that my mom made me take,” Obermeyer said. “For three weeks I had feathers in my cereal.” What will you create today from the love you’ve been given? “And what is it to work with love? It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth. Work is love made visible.”  – Kahlil Gibran

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John Steinbeck on why you don’t need a plan

In 1941 at the beginning of American involvement in WWII, John Steinbeck reflected on the Nazi regime in a letter. He wrote: “It is interesting to watch the German efficiency, which, from the logic of the machine is efficient but which (I suspect) from the mechanics of the human species is suicidal. Certainly man thrives best (or has at least) in a state of semi-anarchy. Then he has been strong, inventive, reliant, moving. But cage him with rules, feed him and make him healthy and I think he will die as surely as a caged wolf dies. I should not be surprised to see a cared for, thought for, planned for nation disintegrate, while a ragged, hungry, lustful nation survived. Surely no great all-encompassing plan has ever succeeded.” Thankfully, he was right and four years later the Nazi regime was over. Companies are obsessed with efficiency. Six Sigma, lean, these are efforts to be more efficient. The factory system of productivity that ruled the last century adored the machine model. We’re still trying to fit that old square peg in the new round hole of the chaotic, ever-changing modern world. Emotional intelligence will get a leader worlds further than eradicating some small inefficiency in a system.  No moment is created equal. We manage our energy, not our time. Maybe you don’t need a better plan.  Maybe you just need to let out a little more of your passion.

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Arrive alive

A peer asked me before a meeting the following week what goal I wanted to achieve between now and then. First thought, best thought: “arrive alive.” It’s a busy time. Lots going on, lots of traveling. Just showing up to things can be a triumph. And breathing is an amazingly wonderful thing I want to keep doing as long as they’ll let me. But it also means metaphorically “alive”. This is deeper. Real life takes so much out of us it’s easier to deaden and put away our vitality. Nope. I want to arrive alive. To whatever I show up for, let me be fully alive. In a world of going through the motions, if you want to be the difference-maker, arrive alive. It may freak some people out. And it will also light up someone who needs to be reminded of what it means to truly be alive.

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Selfish or selfless or self-filled?

People who have a passion to help others are often known as selfless. People who narcissistically focus on themselves are often known as selfish. If you’re a selfless person, that help you automatically want to provide may leave you burned out and off-center. You give so much that there’s nothing left inside. The temptation is to go 100% in the opposite direction and say, “I’m just going to take care of me now. I deserve it.” It’s not going to work. It’s not going to help you and it’s not going to allow you to contribute the best of you. In between good and bad, right and wrong, black and white, 100%/100% thinking there is a middle way. Instead of selfish, instead of selfless, try self-filled. Fill yourself up with what you need to recharge well. That can be seen as selfish of course. But this time do it with the intent to fill yourself up so well that more naturally bubbles over the upper lip of the container. Fill yourself with the intent to help others with this goodness. Depletion is no longer a problem. “self-less” might mean: no sense of self, only of the other. Self-filled might mean: start with you and move out from there into the world, helping with your unique passion.

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