health, learn, lifestyle

How Often Do You Consider Your Potential for Magnificence?

In order to do something meaningful, you have to have an aim, and in order to strike your target, you have to believe that you can hit it enough to try. So, what do you think you’re truly capable of?

There is magnificence to be found at the heart of everything meaningful. The phrase, “what you’re capable of” doesn’t just refer to lofty career goals. Your own goals and greatness are often best applied in even the smallest of ways, but I feel like you have to be thinking about it. You have to be aiming. You should set your aim even in the most menial aspects of your life. How well do you think you can live? Do you think it’s unreasonable to aim high? To expect greatness in every area of your life?

Are you as great as you could be? And more importantly, do you think you have a responsibility to chase that?

How do you stay focused? How do you hold yourself accountable, on a daily basis to be someone you’re proud of? These are things I think about. I can’t speak for anyone else, but by simply deciding that it is my responsibility to chase these things, I can’t say I’ve ever been happier.

Often, you hear great athletes and achievers speak of “obsession.” They point to this word more often than others when trying to explain the reason for their success. But it’s not just about games, that word applies to every aspect of your life.

At the heart of obsession is focus, and that’s where I think many people (including myself) get lost. Because to achieve something of value, you have to focus. You can’t try to do everything and be everything at once. You have to look at your life, optimize it, and orient it towards your goals. To truly be great at something, you have to practice it a lot. Everyone knows that, but think about your life and ask yourself, “what do I want to be truly great at?” You can’t have it all. You have to distill your ambitions down to what’s most important. You can’t focus on seven different aims at once. I think our minds can only handle three or four at a time.

The human brain can make a finite amount of decisions each day before it stops operating efficiently. You can only process so much, you can only work it so hard. Successfully reaching your goals has more to do with budgeting energy and brain power than anything else. You have to expend your best self on what’s most important to you.

I’ve been fighting this lately, so I guess that’s why I’m thinking about it. I’m trying to be an aspiring writer, a straight A student, a fitness enthusiast, a good boyfriend, a son who visits his parents, a good friend, to lose weight, to read a book a week, to keep my house clean, to put in over time at work, and still for some reason thinking I can have time to myself too, along with all my other interests and hobbies.

Now, it’s not that I’m saying I have too much, but I am saying that with so many hands in so many baskets, it’s growing ever harder to focus. It’s harder to be proud of one thing, because with each aspect of life that pulls you away from another, one of them suffers.

If I was smart, I would break down my routine to focus on three or four things, just like I said. My priorities should be school, work, relationship, family. Everything else should be peripheral until this semester ends. So, I guess I should take my own advice, but it’s hard. Especially when what you have to do doesn’t align with what you enjoy the most, or what’s fulfilling.

What I need is obsession. Not for all things, but for a few things. It’s what we all need. It can be a career, a passion project, a lifestyle or philosophy. But we need to focus. Because being so-so just isn’t enough. It’ll never be enough for you.

It starts with a seed. The seed is your initiative to seek what you’re capable of – to believe that you’re capable of something magnificent, and focus your life around that. Choose the three or four things that are most important, and devote yourself to making them the best they can be.

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health, learn, lifestyle, responsibility

Distraction

Focus is a finicky thing. Sometimes it can be hard because you’ve got too much on your plate, or even too little. Regardless, the struggle to focus and optimize your time can often end in distraction. You might end up getting very little done, but finding yourself on social media, or watching TV, or whatever other eye candy is set before you.

Now, it’s not so bad to have a little relaxation time – to mindlessly scroll through Twitter as you wind down; at least, it doesn’t seem that way. But I can’t help notice that it is. That’s my experience in any case.

See, you don’t really notice the negative effects of social media while your consuming it. You don’t always remember all the ways in which you could be better spending your time in that moment. It’s just so easy to slip away.

But how often do you consider the potential brilliance of your life? Of your aim? Of what you could become? Then, how often do you consider the uselessness of mindless activity in procuring that brilliance?

Now, you can’t just go about never taking a break. Never taking a moment to shut your mind off and watch a movie. That’s not what I’m saying. But a good question you might ask yourself is, if it’s not enriching an interpersonal relationship, if it’s not a responsibility I owe to myself, my future, or someone important to me, if it’s not making me a smarter or better person, why do it?

I’ve been working on this as of late, and though I’m far from perfect at it, I notice significant improvements to productivity, but more importantly, general fulfillment.

I finally broke and downloaded the Kindle app for my phone. So now, when I’m drawn to throw idle minutes into twitter, I just read a book instead. I’ve read an extra book per week as a result. Similarly, since I’m in school, I’ve started logging onto my homework portal from my phone and consuming as many resources as I can, or doing minor busy-work. There are so many ways to enrich your life on your phone, social media just isn’t one of them. There are resources all over the place that can help you become better and smarter, you just have to choose to use them.

It’s not just about your phone though. Take a look at your nights. What you do after work? One thing that’s helped me optimize my post-work free time is keeping a daily planner that’s broken into hours. In the morning, I make a list of things I need to get done after work. They don’t always have to be menial chores or projects either. Sometimes, you need to just schedule time to watch a show, or play games with your friends. It’s not just the content that matters, but the structure. You don’t have to collapse into bed after work. Grab a book and read while you eat. Turn on a podcast while you cook. Then, schedule time, it could be as simple as one hour each night to work on your projects.

If you don’t have projects, take a look around, the world is brimming with interesting things to learn and ways to make yourself better, as well as the people around you and your environment. You just have to be looking for things.

It’s not about stuffing your life with busy-work, or being hyper-productive and never taking a break. It’s about the fulfillment that you get – the meaning your life can take on when you chase after good things. Your satisfaction will skyrocket when you feel yourself moving constantly in a positive direction.

Maybe it’s just me, but in a lot of ways, I feel like I owe it to the people that don’t have the privilege I do, or sacrificed their own lives to procure the world and life that I get to live. I don’t know, it just feels disrespectful to waste even one second – to not live up to your potential. Because being a better person and living up to your potential makes the world a better place, and plants many small seeds that will grow and affect your environment in far more positive ways than that angry virtue signaling Facebook post will.

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health, lifestyle

What’s a Bad Day, Really?

I actually can’t remember the last time I had a bad day. It almost haunts me. It feels like I’m forgetting something, or better yet, like things are too good. At this point, I’m scared that I’ve just had a really long streak of luck (2+ years to be exact). I’ve had so few “bad” days these past few years that I feel like I’m living in a dream sometimes, and the worst part is, things keep getting better.

Everyone has bad days though, right? You can’t just get off being happy all the time. That’s not fair to anyone, but it seems to be the case. It’s gotten to a point where I can almost smell disaster around the corner. As if something bad is coming. Sickness, injury, lost job, emotional trauma, some sort of monster is lurking. But maybe I’m just paranoid? I’d like to think so.

But I don’t know that I deserve to be this happy. So, I’ve thought about this a lot. Now, obviously, there are things that could really ruin a day, or even weeks, or months. Life disasters that can incapacitate someone. But what I’ve found, is that my life isn’t actually void of problems, annoyances, or major obstacles. I still have financial stressors, my future plans are in flux, some days I have too much to do, and quite frequently, there’s drama at work. When I put life under a microscope, I actually find there’s plenty that a different me might find to complain about. Plenty of circumstances that I could allow to inhabit my mind and fester, ruining a day. That’s what led me to realize that it’s not just my life that’s different, but me too.

My body and mind are healthier. I’m far more focused on doing things the right way and keeping things positive. Instead of living in my head, I try to act on whatever obstacles the day puts up, and when things go a little south, I don’t let them last. I always remember how thankful I am for what I do have, and how insignificant my problems are in contrast with the bigger picture, or others who are in far worse positions than I am.

I guess I realized that the biggest player in this game is perception. It’s how your mind processes your circumstances that truly shapes your day. Nihilism isn’t cool, it’s hell. And if you look upon your problems with apathy and anxiety, your feet won’t move. You’ll begin to live in them. Instead of a passing moment, they become a lingering week. It always comes back to the little things. When my body and mind are prepared and tuned up, former big things seem small. From a healthier place, it’s easier to react calmly and think critically. I think that’s why I don’t have many bad days.

You have to get your sleep, keep your body clean, and your wheels greased. That’s how you keep a bad day away. Some things might still be big enough to overcome the fortress you’ve built and crack your armor in places, but it’s a hell of a start.

I guess I’m just hoping for my own sake that maybe I’m right. Maybe bad days are just that hard to come by. Maybe I’m doing something right. Because the alternative scares me. Maybe there’s a storm ahead and I’ve had it coming for a while, but I sure hope not.

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create, culture, educate, health, learn, lifestyle

Thought vs. Action

If you ask just about anyone if they want to be a good person, I think they would say yes. I think most people would say that they want to have a positive impact on the people around them, and give something worthwhile to the world. But if that’s the case, why is there so little proof? Why are we so mean? So negative? So greedy? So self-absorbed? So lazy?

Maybe it starts with that last one. I don’t know what’s certain, but I can’t help but think we like to think a lot of good thoughts but the actions seem to be a little lackluster. What I see are pretty ideals, but no practice, and a blindness to cornerstone elements of life that can bring you to fulfill those ideals. It’s like we look in all the wrong places, and ignore the things in front of us.

We ignore the fact that our hearts, bodies, and minds are part of the same machine. If you want to achieve something, you would eliminate the obstacles in your way for the clearest path to the goal, but we don’t do that with ourselves.

I always used to consider myself a good person; a thoughtful person, but in truth, it wasn’t always evident. I was spiteful, I lashed out, I was lazy. I didn’t do the things I should because I was afraid of being uncomfortable. I can admit that now. It’s still a struggle, but whenever I talk to people about what helps you become the person you want to be, nobody seems to be taking the little things seriously, and I think it’s evident everywhere you look.

How often do you correlate your sleep schedule with your varying levels of irritability? Your nutrition with brain efficiency and energy levels? Your physical exercise with stress relief? Do you know how much sleep you need? What your macronutrients should look like? How much exercise you need each week? And most importantly, are those three areas receiving attention in your life? Are they on the back burner? Or do you ignore them completely?

It’s just so easy to think about what you want to be, but also, so easy to be blind to what you are. To most of us, being the ideal of a person that we want to be seems incredibly hard, but I can’t help but feel like we make it harder on ourselves. We don’t set ourselves up for success. We act as if simply thinking about it enough can will our ideals into existence.

Most people know that it’s the little things that count. They know that the foundation is always most important, but too often we don’t apply that to our own lives. We stuff our days full of things that don’t matter and ignore the things that do. And the worst part is that we feel like we don’t have a choice.

So I guess what I’m thinking is maybe we should give more time to our bodies? Because it changes your life. You quickly find that when you are mindful of your sleep, the food that goes into your body, and the exercise you will yourself through, it changes your mind. You think clearer. You’re more productive. You’re less anxious. It primes your mind to shoot even higher. You want to read good books and learn more and foster better relationships. But so long as your machine lacks the oil it needs, all these things seem so hard. Even the basic things become struggles, and that’s how your life gets infected with toxicity. Your body enables your mind. They’re one and the same.

Take it from me, your family will like you better, your co-workers will like you better, and you will like you better. The key is that you have to start at the foundation. So many emotional problems, lifestyle problems, and interpersonal problems can be traced back to the ways in which we talk to people, the ways we react, and the ways we view the world. If your body isn’t primed to handle these obstacles, you just might make the wrong choice and get upset over silly things, or snap at someone who didn’t deserve it. These things build and fester.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that ignoring your body makes it so much harder to be kind, thoughtful, creative, and hardworking. It doesn’t have to be that hard. When you create a healthy lifestyle, those things come naturally, as opposed to fighting an uphill battle each day, grasping at some semblance of a happy life. Don’t ignore the little things.

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books, create, fantasy, fiction

Should you trust yourself?

There are all sorts of success stories out there about creators who bucked the system and did their own thing. They marched to their own beat and defied the rules of craft and market.

There are a lot of rules to all creative industries. This makes them sort of gross, to be honest. As a young writer, everywhere you look, you’re told how stories are supposed to go. Not only exactly how to tell your story, but also, how not to tell your story. You’re supposed to bend your work to contemporary market trends.

Now, I’m not here to give my opinion on what’s right and wrong, because I don’t know. In fact, that’s exactly why I’m writing this: I don’t know. There’s so much out there, so many “experts” throwing their advice and opinions into the void of the internet that it’s hard to take it all in. Sometimes they encourage you, sometimes they fill you with doubt. All the while, you can look to many of the greats – your own idols – and see that they weren’t particularly worried about any of those things. You rarely hear about a masterpiece coming to life through a new author watching seminars by literary agents talking about what pop genres are looking for these days.

No, much of the greatest work seems to come when you put your head down. You bury yourself in what you create and follow the thread to its end. Then, you step back and take a look. That’s when you decide whether you like yourself – whether you’re happy with what you’ve done.

Sure, you should do a lot of studying. You should immerse yourself in the craft to the point where you develop an eye for quality. You want to be able to trust yourself. That’s the goal, anyway. But see, that’s where it gets tricky. How do you know when to trust yourself? What if your story doesn’t have the happy ending with the bow on top that YA readers are supposed to want? What if your protagonist doesn’t end up with the guy that all the romance readers are supposed to be rooting for?

What if things are a little off beat? Are you too violent? Too philosophical? Is your hero more of a villain than the reader is comfortable with?

Where are the lines? How do you know whether you’ve strayed off the path and are wondering through the dark wood, or if you’ve simply paved your own road to a place that readers can still love/still connect with?

Many veterans of story will say that you should know the rules of craft well before you break them, and I wholeheartedly agree. The part that I can’t figure out, is how you know if you’ve broken them in the right ways? Should you bend over backward to tailor your story to some market? Or will you make your own? I think this struggle can be found in any creative industry.

I think I know when you should trust yourself. I think it’s when you wholeheartedly believe in what you’ve made. Maybe you have to trust that if you’ve written what you would want to read, there’s someone else out there that wants to read it too, because there’s always someone else out there like you.

Unfortunately, that revelation doesn’t make it any easier.

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books, fantasy, fiction

On Whimsy

“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.

The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.

The street door was still open, just a little, where the knife and the man who held it had slipped in, and wisps of nighttime mist slithered and twined into the house through the open door.” – The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (page 1)

Whimsy is a difficult thing to put your finger on, but it’s something you feel. Where do you find that whimsical sway in modern prose? Because I’d like some more of it.

I have the softest spot for whimsy in fiction. Done right, it feels like a delicacy these days. It’s something that can’t always be captured in the 1st person narrative style that’s common in Young Adult fiction (and permeates many literary works) these days. I’m talking about the way some authors can provide the raft on which you float away for a while to a place of odd magic. The story doesn’t have to be fantastical, but it’s a way in which the prose injects a magic of its own; its almost eccentric.

But I’m not talking about magic just for children. I’m talking about that distant place that tugs at the hearts of adults too. It beckons you to go there. C.S. Lewis captured it, as well as J.R.R. Tolkien. Modern giants like Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, and J.K. Rowling carry the mantle.

For me, it’s a tone. You can’t put your finger on the words, but you feel it in the structure; the way the sentences roll. I’ve tried to work out why this whimsy speaks a different language in my soul, and it’s in that idea of “speaking to my soul,” that I think it starts. What these authors have in common, is that for the most part, they tell stories for children that adults can get lost in too. But they use a third person omniscient-seeming narrator that perfectly captures the feeling that you’re sitting by the fire and listening to an old, dark fairy tale. Their voice fills the room and captivates it in order to bend it to their vision of a different place entirely.

Each author has a different style, but they all find the same thing in their own way. It’s an elegant, quirky language that flows like silk through the mind and off the tongue. You see, there’s something to the prose that feels slightly older, or rustic. It might be why British fantasy is so successful.

I guess this is why I don’t love 1st person limited, or present tense narratives. Sure, everything has a place, and a use. Stories have all sorts of shapes and sizes, and each has its own set of tools, but the classic storyteller will always have the throne in my heart. Because it feels like that’s where it started – where it was meant to be.

Whimsical prose is like a song that only some authors can hear. They pluck it out of the air and scribble it down.

The quote with which I began this post is one of my favorite opening pages. It’s one that I never forget, and I’ve tried to figure out why. I think it’s because it signifies exactly how I want to write, and what I want to read. There were many ways Gaiman could’ve said what happened, but the way he chose isn’t simply elegant, it feels quirky. He could’ve said, “there was a man holding a knife in the dark,” but he didn’t. It could have been, “a gust of wind that blew through the open door,” but instead, it was, “wisps of nighttime mist that slithered and twined into the house.”

You could dismiss this as simply good prose – a master at work, but for me, it’s a specific lens through which the story is told. It’s characteristic of the author and many of the greats within the genre. You see, there are ways to make all sorts of stories all sorts of ways. You can make them hip and fresh, old and rickety, grim and dark, mature or youthful; the list goes ever on. I guess what I’m saying is that authors like Gaiman are a novelty. Some may try to do what they do, but only a few succeed.

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books, fantasy, fiction, Tolkien

A Love Letter to Fantasy

I think things have grown a bit too real; a bit too human – in modern fantasy, I mean. I’ve watched the books of my generation slowly draw the magnifying glass closer and closer to the page in order to reveal the rough, blemished surface of the modern story. Now, theres nothing wrong with that. There’s room for all sorts of stories, but I think I’m not so keen on the way the word “literary” has infiltrated the ranks of genre fiction. I think that word was better off in those stuffy universities, coming from the mouths of those haughty english majors that were either too dull to see or too prideful to admit that Tolkien struck gold when he willed Middle-Earth into being.

I think what I’m pondering is the utility of reality in modern fantasy; or maybe just that it seems a bit overhyped. I might be exaggerating the terms a bit, but I guess I just miss Tolkien. His work set the trend for decades to come, but no one ever quite did it like him. But I’m not just talking about the uniquely flourishing world he created, or the scope of his vision. That’s been replicated to an exhausting degree. What I get from Tolkien that seems to be lacking in modern fantasy is purity. Maybe that’s not the right word. Maybe I’m romanticizing my own childhood perception of epic fantasy? But maybe that’s okay.

I think that’s what I’m getting at. I’ve seen critics of giants like Tolkien complain that The Lord of the Rings just isn’t realistic enough. That the characters are cardboard, or the lines between good and evil too starkly drawn. Philip Pullman (one of my all time favorites) calls Tolkien frivolous, and having, “very little of interest to a reader of literature.” He thinks the characters aren’t human enough, and there’s not enough sex. Its nihilistic to a degree. It’s a lens through which many people see the world.

This is a trend, it seems. It’s evident in the success of authors like George R.R. Martin with their grim-dark takes on epic fantasy; a focus on gritty realism. A story in which the good guys don’t always get what they deserve and very few characters are truly evil. I don’t dislike this form, but I also don’t know that it could ever truly change someone like Tolkien could. I don’t know that it could inspire a generation.

You might think this is somewhat inconsequential for us grown-ups. I mean, there are all sorts of stories out there to satisfy all sorts of fancies. This lane of heroic, epic fantasy works great on kids, and it should. Kids need it. But I think we could all use it. I think there’s a need for romance in our adult lives. The romance of good vs. evil and stories with happy endings and characters we wish we could be.

Fantasy is an escape, and I guess I’ve just always felt like I wanted my escape to look nothing like the real world. I want my Luke Skywalker to be that pure, hopeful farm boy that never gave up on his father. I want Aragorn to be the king we all wish we had. Characters don’t always have to be full of flaws to be real. Things don’t have to be so cynical. And maybe Tolkien just did it too well, but I haven’t found a cast quite so iconic in anything coming out these days.

Lately, when I’m submitting short fiction to publications, or querying a novel, there seem to be an awful lot of people looking for literary work; and I guess I just thought we were past all that. I thought we’d left the snobbery behind, but it seems as if that dreadful word has re-emerged and rather than being at odds with genre fiction, it’s trying to taint it.

Maybe I can’t speak for you, but I want to be half the friend that Samwise Gamgee was. I want to be self-sacrificing and kingly like Aragorn. I want the good heart of Gandalf, and the boundary-breaking friendship of Legolas and Gimli.

You see, these characters aren’t cardboard, they’re good. And they’re good for us, because we don’t live our lives striving for realistic things, we strive for ideals, and that’s what keeps us going.

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