Monday, November 30, 2009

Tiny Indulgences

"I can never bring you to realize the importance of sleeves, the suggestiveness of thumbnails, or the great issues that may hang from a boot-lace."
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I bought a 12-pack of Mountain Dew at the grocery store today. Exciting, isn't it? Just stick with me on this one...I normally don't like to drink pop anymore (or soda, whatever you want to call it), but I felt inclined while strolling through the aisles of Giant Eagle. I picked it up about halfway through my aisle-filled adventure, so I had the other half of my shopping spree to ponder my impulsive choice. I hadn't bought a 12-pack of the Dew since college. So why now?

A large part of my evolving philosophy throughout my life has been to notice the smaller happenings, the minute developments throughout any given day; to appreciate the moments that can in no way be replicated by anybody else in any other situation via your perspective. When I graduated high school, and even college, I was not ecstatic. I didn't jump for joy. I stayed on my even keel of free-spiritedness and rolled with it. To prove my small point, here's what I specifically remember from my graduation:
  • The drinking fountain was out of water
  • Not sitting next to Barnes because the usher messed up the count
  • The smell of the girl sitting next to me (she smelled good)
  • The first bad joke of a great keynote speech
  • A soon-to-be co-worker I saw right after I walked
  • Not standing on the right spot when my picture was taken
  • Not moving my tassle over because I didn't want to...it's the small victories that count :)
For those of you who are married (or divorced), what are the things you remember most about your wedding? For those of you with kids, what do you remember most about them growing up? For those of you that have served in the military on the front lines, what do you remember most about a battle?

Sure, you'll have a recollection of the major events in your life, but chances are the major share of them will be lost in the wheel of time as your brain keeps turning and your body keeps moving forward. You'll remember the look your soon-to-be life partner gave you before you kissed on the altar. You'll remember the fear you felt when your kid rode his bike without training wheels for the first time. For the soldiers, you'll remember the first cigarette you smoked after your first gunfight. It's not the grand affairs that you'll vividly recall, but rather the small occurrences that happen within them.

Every day at work, one of my co-workers comes into my office and performs two back kicks. Weird? Maybe. Awesome? Quite. It's a small inside joke between the two of us, and it never gets old. Because one day one of us will quit, get fired or switch departments to where our offices won't be close enough anymore. But the back kicks, for as long as they're there...now that's a memory that will stick with me.

The real memories we make, the important, lifelong ones, belong to the unexpected, to the roll of the dice.

My 12-pack of Mountain Dew is something I remember from my college years. It was a small comfort, a tiny indulgence, and still is. It brings me to a place, much like a song can, that I can be content, if only for a moment, or a few minutes, or an hour.

What's your tiny indulgence? Your distant memory upon which you can reflect and smile.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Live Like We're Dying

"We only got 86, 400 seconds in a day to turn it all around or throw it all away."
-Kris Allen, "Live Like We're Dying"

(I knew where I was going when I started this blog post...just not sure where I ended up. Enjoy!)

One of the most prominent themes in my life, paraphrased at first by Tim McGraw when he spoke those words I first heard at the intersection of Lorain Road and Great Northern Boulevard: "And he said 'One day I hope you get the chance, to live like you were dying.'" Now brought back to light by Kris Allen in his first single. When compared according to quality, we're talking apples and oranges. Funny how two totally different things have the same end-result.

I wrote a short (very short) poem a couple weeks ago:

Live wild, live free
For what has come, let it be
For what will come, will be
Live wild, live free

Is this what it means to live like you're dying? I think it pitifully scrapes the surface, but it's a start. The way I look at it, you just gotta let it go. This is impossibly hard sometimes, but that's why we have the likes of Muhammad Ali to let us know that "Impossible is nothing!" Seriously, just...let...it...go.

It reminds me of a post I wrote more than a year ago: here.

Most anybody can understand the concept of living like you're dying. However, very few REALIZE how to do it. There's a very distinct difference. In order to realize how to live as if your life might end literally any second, I firmly believe you have to achieve Nirvana. But for us unenlightened fools, we can take a look at eastern philosophy (Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, etc.) for a start. You don't have to buy into it all, but trying to understand it is a good first step.

If you don't want to bother with eastern philosophy, go ahead and try this one for size:

Breathe the stale, breeze-less mid-afternoon air. Watch the cold, naked branches of trees caught in the clutches of February. Feel the cotton sheets as they stick to your sweat-soaked skin while you toss and turn during a sleepless night. Read a terrible book. Smell the worst gas you're significant other has ever emitted. Feel the itch of two-day-old sunburn in the middle of your back. Bend a fingernail backward. Listen to a baby wail in Denny's after you get cold food that turns to ash in your mouth because you're terrified of a phone call you have to make later that day. And above all......

......revel in it. For it won't happen again. You are alive. For such a brief interlude in time. A brief flicker of a candle among a roaring forest fire. That's all you are. Just make sure to burn.

With desire, with passion,
with your hatred for fashion.
With purpose, without answers
no one to help when your hands hurt.

With freedom, self-reliance,
with painstaking compliance.
With direction, with strides,
that stretch a mile wide.

Be powerful. Be humble. Be present.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

A Little Creative Spirit

"The opposite of war isn't peace. It's creation."
-Mark, from the musical Rent

We all have a little creative spirit in us. Whether you consciously or unknowingly tap it, it's there. The hard part is learning how to foster it. How to cultivate it. How to nurture it and watch it grow. And because it's hard is what makes it so worthwhile.

Of one thing I am convinced - you will never accomplish anything noteworthy unless you tap into this creativity and listen to the voice that speaks to you and you alone. This creativity can manifest itself in countless forms - literally countless.
  • A campaign slogan
  • The Post-It Note
  • A marketing plan
  • The light bulb
  • A stand-up comedian
  • A one-liner you create on the spot
  • The cotton gin
  • A new filing system for purchase orders
  • The comb-over (I mean really, who thought of that?)
  • A dick in a box
  • A simple sentence, with all its commas, prepositional phrases and direct objects
  • A dance routine
  • Mathematical equations - bringing to mind the concept of creativity within a set of rules
  • A different way of saying something that's been said a thousand times before
Clear your mind of the useless mental chatter. The creativity will flow through you if you can do your best to stop unconscious thought. It sounds hard because it is. You must learn to think literally of nothing, or at least of nothing besides what you're creating (and even then, limit the number of thoughts).

When I write, I let the pencil guide my hand. I'll begin a scene and have a general idea of where it's going to end up, but the details along the way are decided by the characters, not me. I've had a scene change its course entirely because of one hand motion from a minor character. I've had a good character turn out to be evil because of something she said. And I've had one minor character take on a leading role because I discovered, during a battle scene, that he was in love with the main female protagonist.

Messed up, I know. But each twist and turn happened when I let the pencil in my hand move of its own free will; when I started the idea and ran with whatever popped into this ol' brain of mine. Only because I was able to clear it and focus on nothing but my writing. On nothing but what I wanted to create.

The greatest minds are the ones with original thought. But originality requires creativity. And creativity represents part of the essence of what defines us as human.