Thursday, June 24, 2010

How do you feel about (your own) birthdays?

Today is my birthday. I'm never quite sure how I feel about that. This year I am 49, and thinking about 50 next year. Aside from the decades thing, 49 seems like it should be more significant: 7 sevens seem to carry some vaguely magical significance.

I have had lots of birthdays and so I have celebrated them in many ways. This year, I am announcing some key projects to a special group of friends who have also been my clients. My work is my playground, and this is the best way I can think of to celebrate the year that is upon me. My work is a gift: it feeds my spirit and shapes my personality and challenges me endlessly. It is not something to flee but something to ride. I am eager to see where it will take me this year, knowing that the road is sometimes windy and bumpy and often breathtaking.

My favourite birthdays are not the anniversary of my own birth but the days when I remember holding a small new-born in my arms and looking into his eyes for the very first time. Those birthdays remind me that life is amazing and wonderful. My own birthdays remind me that time is passing and that while some days seem much too long, the years are seeming much too short.

Everyday is somebody's birthday. Remember that life is amazing. Remember that life is short. Carpe diem.




Sunday, June 20, 2010

Three things my daddy taught me

1) If you are going to really learn to golf, you require permission to say "shit" once in a while

2) Believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, but only expect to see fluff from the Easter bunny's tail caught on your window

3) When you get the wind knocked out of you, lie down and breathe till the tears stop.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What good is there in reading fiction?

I promised myself I would blog a response to this question, although it was offered rhetorically when it came up in a recent class. Someone was saying that it was easier to make time to read non-fiction because there was clearly a purpose to reading it: but what good is there in reading fiction? Fiction, I would have liked to say, feeds your soul.

That's not a very good response since it assumes that everyone believes in the soul and also might understand how fiction feeds it. A better response is that fiction allows you to pretend, and pretending is the way we predict where complex situations are likely to move next. When you read fiction, you practice moving from the suggestions provided by the author's words to a richly imagined experience that relies largely on the details you supply yourself. To read fiction is to collaborate in building an elaborate model of experience.

When you read a novel, you make sense of the patterns it holds by imagining the experience it describes as though it were unfolding in your own mind (which, of course, it is). This is the same thing you do when you imagine yourself in a meeting or making a decision or facing bad news. It's the same thing you do when you imagine what you will say to someone the next time or meet, or how you would like to change your hair or your body type. Imagining in detail is the foundation not only of fiction, but of nearly every important decision you make.

Reading novels feeds rich and meaningful patterns into your brain so that you can compare them to real-life strategies, personalities, and relationships. It engages many areas of your brain so that your brain forms new connections and becomes healthier. It interrupts the patterns of your daily life and makes room for new thoughts, attitudes and states. It reinforces the complicated, wonderful connection that you have with other human beings and helps you see that seemingly random events and emotions can generate satisfying meaning.

That's what I mean when I say that good fiction feeds my soul: it wakes up my brain and offers me meaningful patterns I use to enrich my lived experience.

What are you doing that produces more benefits than reading a good novel?



Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Travels and the life well lived

I was speaking to someone who just returned from a three week cruise that including visits to a number of really amazing cities. She was mostly bored - not entirely by the cities but by the rhythm of travel. Her real life was on hold and three weeks was too long. I confess to some sympathy with the idea that real life happens where we have real relationships.

On the other hand, my son set off for eight weeks of backpacking in Europe precisely as a way to live his life, to discover not Europe but the parts of himself that wake up in the presence of new places and new people, and in the presence of old, old thoughts. I encouraged his trip because I believe that he will be living his life as he explores.

Paradox is a big part of thinking about what it means to live our lives well. It's possible for our "real" lives to be in the place where our closest relationships happen and it's also possible that our "real" lives are carried inside our skin and go with us wherever we go.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Airport goodbyes

It can be hard to say goodbye at an airport. I did it Saturday (bravely) when my son left for eight weeks exploring Europe. It's hard because the sense of possibility is almost tangible at an airport. You can step from the ticket window and move towards almost anywhere in the world. It's a little strange to give someone a hug, knowing they'll wake up in an entirely different place and you'll wake up the next day back where you started.

I remember when it was a big deal to watch planes take off. When I was a kid, we would watch while my dad flew away on business trips. Did we cry because he was leaving or because we were staying behind? As you watch the plane lift off the runway, your heart might lift a little too, pulled upwards and outwards by the thought of flight.

Of course, the world has changed and in Toronto, there's no way to watch the people you love walk onto the planes that will fly them off to places where difference is possible. Difference is never certain: many people seek the familiar wherever they go. Business travelers move from one conference room to another. The green highway signs in Toronto look like the same signs in California or Tennessee. Still, a trip in a plane tells you that the world is wide and difference happens.

I wonder what happens if you drive away from the airport and imagine instead, just for a moment, that you have just stepped off a plane and into new possibilities. What differences might you find as you made the trip to your now unfamiliar home?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Spirit of Hope, Wiesel & Rushdie & interesting questions

On Monday evening this week, I attended the Spirit of Hope benefit where Salman Rushdie and Elie Wiesel discussed a variety of questions related to freedom, hope and peace. Rushdie made points that I believe to be true. He said, "We all live in and through and by telling stories."

Because of this, he also said that the first victim of a dictatorship is language. Dictators know that power means the ability to change the stories people tell.

Wiesel made a related point. He said that there was no point in pressuring Israel because the Jews, as a people, can withstand pressure. He said they have less resistance to seduction.

The implication is that there are at least two ways to change the stories people tell, and one of them is harder to resist. No one at the Spirit of Hope picked up on this thread and applied it to other stories that need to change if the world is to find a measure of peace in the Middle East. No one said that the answer to Iran and Palestine is seduction.

And yet, the stories of Iran and Palestine must change if the world is to find hope in the Middle East. And seduction seems to have helped elsewhere. Seduction - the potential for prosperity and pleasure - lures young people away from suicide (whether it comes through gangs or drugs or terrorism). Seduction - the ability to offer to replace pain with pleasure - is hard to resist.

What are the arts of seduction? Maybe it's time to study them more carefully.