Saturday, July 29, 2017

Quote of the Day -- William Least Heat Moon

When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.
-- William Least Heat Moon

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Quote of the Day -- John Adams

Facts are stubborn things. They cannot be altered by our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions.
-- John Adams

Quote of the Day -- Kurt Vonnegut

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
-- Kurt Vonnegut

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Quote of the Day -- H.L. Mencken

The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.

-- H.L. Mencken

Monday, July 24, 2017

Quote of the Day -- Baruch Spinoza

I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, not to hate them, but to understand them.
-- Baruch Spinoza

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Power of Positive Thinking

I recently finished reading Living Out Loud: Sports, Cancer and the Things Worth Fighting For by Craig Sager. Memoirs are not my favorite genre, but Craig was a high school classmate so I wanted to read his book.

Craig was fairly well-known in the sports world as a "sidelines" reporter always wearing outlandish, colorful sports coats and ties. He was a great interviewer, and above all, he was persistent. He often succeeded in getting the interview that others couldn't. He lived an out-sized life, taking risks, spending lavishly on some things. In short, living out loud.

In his early sixties, Craig was diagnosed with a lethal form of leukemia and waged an epic battle for several years to "beat" the loathsome disease and extend his life. Doing battle and not letting enemy cancer beat him was part of Craig's nature. He was also strongly motivated by the desire to see his young children mature. Craig defied the odds several times during his battle with cancer, but ultimately, the Emperor of Maladies defeated him.

Throughout the book, Craig advocated the value of being determined and optimistic -- the importance of having the will to beat cancer. Much of what he said and did was very admirable, but I also found myself having some politically incorrect reactions as well. Not everyone has the strength or the resources to fight like Craig did. Some people get worn out and just want to end the battle, for themselves and for their families. Are they less admirable? Are they cowards?

I remember an uncomfortable moment in church many years ago (one of those moments that eventually drove me away). A couple was giving "testimony" about the power of prayer. Their unborn child had been diagnosed with spinal bifida and the prognosis was grim. But rather than aborting, as their doctor recommended, they decided to continue the pregnancy and pray. Lo and behold, their baby was born with much milder than predicted medical issues. The moral of the story being abortion is bad and prayer saves the day.

I was horrified on many levels. Most importantly, I felt profoundly sympathetic for any parents sitting in the congregation whose pregnancies had resulted in children with disabilities of any kind. What were they to think?  That they just hadn't prayed enough? Sometimes life deals you a rotten hand. You can try to think positively and make lemonade from lemons, but sometimes things are simply rotten and unfair.

Thirteen years ago, my husband had a coronary episode. He was (and is) an extremely fit man -- a marathon runner at the time. He ate a very healthy diet, drank very sparingly, and had never smoked. Basically, did everything right and yet, he ended up with major blockage and three stents in his coronary arteries. Living well could only go so far in the face of a bad genetic hand. True, the damage was minimal because he led such a healthy life, but it still did and does feel very unfair. 

I'm not advocating that we stop trying to live well and battle the odds. I'm not advocating that we think negatively instead of positively. I'm not advocating replacing optimism with pessimism. But I am advocating realism and recognizing that life is simply not fair sometimes. And we shouldn't be too quick to judge those who haven't been as fortunate as we have.

Quote of the Day -- Marshall McLuhan

A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.
-- Marshall McLuhan

Friday, July 21, 2017

Quote of the Day -- May Sarton

The constant remaking of order out of chaos is what life is all about, even in the simplest domestic chores such as clearing the table and washing the dishes after a meal…but when it comes to the inner world, the world of feeling and thinking, many people leave the dishes unwashed for weeks so no wonder they feel ill and exhausted.
-- May Sarton

What Age Do You Imagine?

I recently listened to a podcast that suggested you could discover something about yourself by considering whether you more often imagine yourself to be young (a teenager or twenty-something just getting started in the world) or whether you think about yourself at the end of your life looking back and imparting wisdom.

So I wonder what it says about me that I lack the imagination to think about myself at any other age than what I am today?  I certainly remember being young, in high school or college, being a not-so-young parent, struggling to juggle a career and kids. But I really can't imagine being any of those things again. And I often find myself surprised when my Facebook friends have birthdays to discover how young some of them are. How many years that have yet to work. Apparently, I'm in denial about age in general.

And even though I accept that I'm now the matriarch of our little clan, I don't think of myself as old. Older yes, advanced middle age for sure, but definitely not old. Like most of my friends, I joke and complain about getting older and what it does to my body and occasionally my memory. But I struggle to envision myself being really old, and all that goes with it, like perhaps losing my independence before I'm ready. People often say that one of the beauties of youth is believing that you'll live forever. I don't know if that belief ever really goes away until you're faced with a serious illness. Blessedly, I lack the imagination to envision myself as old.

I guess the bottom line is that I'm content being just the age that I am. I'll continue to do my best to forestall the bad parts of aging and be grateful for the benefits of having reached this stage of a more leisurely contemplative life.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Quote of the Day -- Old Norse Havamal

He is truly wise who has traveled far and knows the ways of the world.
-- Havamal Viking Proverb

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Quote of the Day -- Jack Lalanne

Here's another person (along with Mary Kay) whom I never expected to be quoting, but...

Exercise is King. Nutrition is Queen. Put them together and you have a Kingdom.
-- Jack Lalanne

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Quote of the Day -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Quote of the Day -- Hunter S. Thompson

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke … loudly proclaiming 'Wow! What a ride!'
-- Hunter S. Thompson

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Quote of the Day -- Joseph Joubert

Nature has made two sorts of excellent intellects; one kind to produce beautiful thoughts or actions, the other to admire them.
-- Joseph Joubert

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Quote of the Day -- Goethe

If I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I will help you become that.
-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Quote of the Day -- Oliver Wendell Holmes

Every now and then a man's mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.
-- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr

Friday, July 7, 2017

Culture of Character versus Culture of Personality

I've been thinking a lot lately about the trend for personal branding. If you have any kind of professional role today, you have to invest some of your time and effort in your personal brand. At a minimum, you need to have a polished LinkedIn profile. Beyond that, you might need to develop a distinctive social media presence. I'm glad that my career-building days are over. I understand the need for personal branding in today's hyper-connected world, but I still find it vaguely disturbing.

In her wonderful book Quiet:The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain attributes the over-valuing of extroversion in our society, at least in part, to the transformation in the early twentieth century from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality.  She cites the work of Warren Susman, a cultural anthropologist, who describes the migration from the small town (where everyone knows your name and your character) to the big city (where you need to find a way to stand out).  The traits that were important in a small community are no longer sufficient to guarantee your success in the more anonymous urban world.

Cain draws a striking, somewhat stark, comparison between the attributes that are highlighted in self-help books in the two "cultures":

Culture of Character Culture of Personality
Citizenship Magnetism
Duty Fascinating
Work Stunning
Golden deeds Attractive
Honor Glowing
Reputation Dominant
Morals Forceful
Manners Energetic

The comparison seems a bit loaded, but also unfortunately fairly accurate. And it exposes the root of my discomfort with self-branding. When is self-promotion OK and necessary? When it is self-aggrandizement and just over the top? It is a balancing act. I admire the personal brands created by several people that I "follow" -- Dan Rather, Bill Moyers, Gretchen Rubin, Susan Cain, and Daniel Pink are just a few examples. But each of them sometimes ventures over the line (in my opinion) because self-marketing is so necessary today. Contrast them with someone I've come to dislike because his personal brand is excessive -- James Patterson. And yet, his net worth probably exceeds everyone on my first list combined.

It's hard to see how we get back to a society where character is once again valued, a la David Brooks, but I certainly hope we make some progress in that direction.

Quote of the Day -- Mary Kay Ash

I must admit, I never imagined that I would be quoting Mary Kay, but I like this:

There are four kinds of people in this world: 

  • those who make things happen
  • those who watch things happen
  • those who wonder what happened
  • those who don’t know that anything happened!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Quote of the Day -- from the Inside Scoop

I receive a weekly newsletter from Harriet Lewis, chair of Overseas Adventure Travel, a company that we often use for our adventures.  It's filled with interesting articles about destinations, and it's a great source of travel-related quotes that I often share. This particular quote isn't from anyone well-known, or even known at all, but just another traveler who wrote in...

Do not delay joy, education, and adventure. One must not become a servant of regrets, saying later: I should have, could have, would have, but did not.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Quote of the Day -- Eleanor Roosevelt

To be mature you have to realize what you value most. It is extraordinary to discover that comparatively few people reach this level of maturity. They seem never to have paused to consider what has value for them. They spend great effort and sometimes make great sacrifices for values that, fundamentally, meet no real needs of their own. Perhaps they have imbibed the values of their particular profession or job, of their community or their neighbors, of their parents or family. Not to arrive at a clear understanding of one’s own values is a tragic waste. You have missed the whole point of what life is for.
-- Eleanor Roosevelt

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Power of a Mantra

I learned the power of a mantra (as in repeated slogan or phrase) long before I contemplated the practice of yoga. Our youngest daughter was easily distracted, especially in her early elementary school years. So before school, when we were scrambling to get everyone out the door, one of us said very firmly (hopefully in a gentle, loving tone) "Christie, teeth and hair." Those were her main jobs and by boiling them down to this simple, oft-repeated phrase, we had a prayer that she would emerge from whatever was distracting her and get her tasks done.

A few years back, when I evolved from dabbling in yoga to become a regular practitioner, I searched for my own mantra. I was trying to stop my monkey brain from scattered thoughts when I should have been concentrating and focusing my mind. And for me, it was also about convincing myself that yoga is a personal practice and that it doesn't matter that someone else is more flexible or has better balance. So my early mantra was "Be present in the moment. This is not a competition."

Now, a half dozen years into my practice, I'm better at concentrating and emptying my mind. And I've given up the illusion that I'll ever be as flexible or well-balanced as other members of my yoga community. So now, a mantra becomes more like a theme for the week or the month. How can I boil my priorities down into a few words that I can repeat to myself periodically?  This month, my mantra is

Books. Blog. Body.

Notice I'm posting a little more regularly? Maybe this mantra thing has legs.

Quote of the Day -- Confusius

By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is bitterest.
-- Confusius

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Quote of the Day -- H. L. Mencken

On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
-- H. L. Mencken, July 26, 1920, Baltimore Evening Sun

My Manifesto for a Full, Active Retirement

I may have mentioned a few times that I'm a Gretchen Rubin fan. I often feel guilty spending my reading / listening cycles focused on things that might make my life better and richer (instead of listening to the news), but I can only take so much (bad! depressing!) news. As part of the "know yourself better" theme, Gretchen advocates writing a manifesto about something. So I gave it a whirl last fall. So far, it seems to be withstanding the test of time... at least of 9 months of time. So here it is:

1 Savor the joys of being a grandparent. Strive to be a regular part of our grandchildren's lives on both ordinary days and special occasions.

Bask in the friendship, experiences, and challenges of our adult children and their partners. Provide appropriate support (time, money, advice) to make their lives easier.

Delight in my marriage and our good fortune that we have arrived at this stage of life with similar goals and interests.

Journey to as much of the world as possible, as a traveler, not a tourist.

5 Read, listen to, or watch something every day that stretches my mind.

6 Practice yoga regularly to keep my body and my mind flexible.

7 Move my body regularly doing things that I enjoy like a brisk walk in the sunshine.

Eat a healthy diet and maintain an acceptable weight. It's good for my quality of life and my mental well-being.

Achieve a balance between battling the effects of aging and accepting that I'm getting older.

10 Do meaningful volunteer work.

11 Nurture friendships.

12 Play the piano often.

13 Write regularly.

14 Be flexible and enjoy the opportunity to live without a rigid schedule or "to do" list.

15 Be structured enough so I don't fritter away my time on meaningless activities.

16 Treasure every day as a gift.

Quote of the Day -- Randall Jarrell

The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.
-- Randall Jarrell, poet

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Quote of the Day -- Diane Arbus

My favorite thing is to go where I've never been.
-- Diane Arbus, photographer

Some People's Lives Just Seem More Interesting

Some people's lives just seem more interesting... I don't mean famous people or people who have amazing jobs that we all envy. I mean everyday people who just seem to have interesting and humorous encounters, fascinating ideas, quirky relatives, etc.

My mom used to tell the story of a woman who said to her, "Your kids are so amazing. They seem to say such funny things all the time." And my mom replied, "Most kids say funny things. You just have to listen." And she was good at that. Listening for the nuggets, remembering them, and retelling them. Probably we would all have more interesting stories to tell if we just listened and observed more closely. And remembered. On the other hand...

I have a friend in London named Gabriela. I live in Minnesota. We've only met in person a few times, back in the days before I retired when we attended the same conferences. But we've become mutual "followers" on Facebook and our friendship has blossomed. One of the delights of checking Facebook in the morning is to see what interesting things Gabriela has been up to on the other side of the world.  Her latest saga features the adorable neighborhood kittens who insist on using her garden as a litter box. She's tried several deterrents and recently posted an advert for a product she's considering. Mundane, but so funny and quirky. I just thoroughly enjoy the world of Gabby, from the perils of remodeling to the latest tech product experiment to self-improvement initiatives. We might all have lots of interesting nuggets in our lives, but Gabriela has the gift of embracing them with gusto.

On my walks, I've mostly switched my listening from music to podcasts. I listen to Gretchen Rubin quite a bit. Her exploration of human nature and happiness make me think about small changes I might make in my own life to make it a little better. Recently, Gretchen launched a second "quickie" podcast called A Little Happier. It's a very brief, once weekly nugget of wisdom drawn from something she's read, a chance encounter, a past experience. Often after listening I think "I could do that. I could find moments in my life or things I've read that would be worth sharing every week." It's not rocket science, but it is a gift to be observant and to find meaning, relevance, or humor in the things we encounter every day.

A worthy goal -- to try to be a little more interesting by being a little more observant.