I catch myself staring at the ceiling on occasion. Combatting the problem of having too much decision in front of me. There is something to be said about the routine of the work week because most of my day is already planned for me. Certain weekends the mentality of “seize the day” fall by the wayside and it becomes let’s just ride the day out by staring at the ceiling. Ok, it’s not that bad. I’m up, editing photos, looking at my stack of to be read books, and writing this post.
Cheryl Strayed’s book Tiny Beautiful Things sits beside me now finished. It was the first book I’ve marked up in ages. There has been something hardwired in my brain for as long as I can remember to not mark up the books I’m reading; it seems an odd problem to have considering many of the books I only read once anyway. Why not mark them up? Why not underline and make notes in the margins? Maria Popova who runs Brain Pickings, commented on her own note taking to Tim Ferriss and always writes in the margins while using a table of contents at the beginning of the book to keep track. So I tried it and I must say it does work wonders vs. the old post-it note method. Not to mention I save hundreds of post-it notes! It’s a curious feeling to write a book for the first time. As if you’ve not entered the story somehow with your own thoughts and stamped all over it. That’s a bit extreme.
As exciting as the topic of note taking is this book is one of the most intense and authentic books I’ve read. I recall my days in University taking English 201 (Introduction to English Literature) and never really grasping it. The stories we read seemed so obscure and outside of the things, I personally found interesting. A book on a woman struggling with an eating disorder and another one covering letters written to an English teacher. Fifteen years later it dawned on me that the lessons were not so much the topics but the authenticity of the writing. The openness with which these books or letters were written stands out to me now even though the books themselves are a distant memory.
My note-taking incorporated the following sophisticated abbreviation “BL”. Beautiful language as stolen directly from Maria herself. Maybe my system needs time to grow. Beautiful language in this case fit. Cheryl has a way of allowing words to flow that feel as though they are completely unedited. The subconscious filter we apply in her case ignored. Consider this reminder to someone who has lost their way:
“Nobody’s going to do your life for you. You have to do it yourself, whether you’re rich or poor, out of money or raking it in, the beneficiary of ridiculous fortune or terrible injustice. No matter what is hard. No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things have befallen you. Self-pity is a dead-end road. You make the choice to drive down it. It’s up to you to decide to stay parked there or to turn around and drive out.”
Having just listened to Adam Robinson challenge the listeners on the very same thing this one stuck with me. There is honesty behind every word and moments that were incredibly heartfelt. The boy who stole the camera case and his feelings of loneliness. I’m often left wondering myself where does this authenticity reside. Is it in the moments where we are writing to just ourselves or in this case to someone very specific. Those seem to be the moments where we can find purity in the language used before our editor can step in and filter.
I was also drawn to her honesty to many people on deciding what it is they want to do with their lives or were stuck at some decision. We are all faced with decisions that we attach levels of importance too. Her book reminds me that the decision of what to do on a Sunday afternoon probably falls short of someone who is struggling with the ultimate decision in their lives. I imagine the same mechanisms in our brains would not necessarily see that difference.
“…that who we become is born of who we most primitively are; that we both know and cannot possible know what it is we’ve yet to make manifest in our lives.”
and goes on further to say, to the same struggling writer:
“You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life.”
I’ll take Cheryl’s advice in this case and remind myself that even at this stage I can’t possibly know what will manifest in my life although I’ll also recall Adam Robinson’s voice in my head to make sure that the life we live is filled with enthusiasm, connection, and the belief that things will turn out magical.
The ceiling has a knockdown texture that at times looks like a map of the world to follow along. Picking out certain distinct features knowing that I’ll never be able to find it again. Writing, in this case, was the decision. Picking myself up off the floor, heading downstairs, and writing. Reminding myself that self-pity is a dead end road and to write from the heart unfiltered.
- Write from the place of deepest authenticity. Write as if everything is only going to be read by yourself and allow for the words to simply flow from your pen or fingertips. Oddly I find myself entering a flow state more often at a keyboard vs. with the pen yet love the feeling of morning pages in a notebook.
- Reading a book like Tiny Beautiful Things reminds you that life is full of so much wonder, love, hurt, pain, and every other human emotion. As bad as it gets, and despite feeling like no one will understand, there are people right now feeling the exact same way. You are not alone.