So you want to write…let your brain loose!

August 29, 2014

I get emails or comments to my blogs quite often asking for advice on how to write a blog post. These requests are usually from people who say that they’d like to write, but can’t think of anything to say. While
the specifics might vary from reply to reply the underlying theme of my answers is always the same – let your brain loose.

Our brains are amazing things that house unbelievable amounts of data, information, stories and man with key to mindexperiences. Writers apparently have just found a way to tap into that storehouse and let it work. At least that’s what I think I do. Quite often, in this blog in particular, I will play off the thoughts of the day from my favorite source Jack Freed and his Jacks Winning Words blog. Jack is the retired pastor of my church and he writes a short post each day (Monday thru Friday, only) that is always a quote of some sort and his take in 2-3 sentences on that quote. Jack usually ends by challenging his readers to think about their reaction or answer to the quote. I take that same quote and riff on it for 4-5-8 paragraphs, sometimes in directions that are completely different from where Jack went with it.

digital thinkingSo, how do I do that? The answer is that I tend to turn my brain loose and see where it takes me. I write in a stream of consciousness mode by asking myself questions like “what do I think about that?” or “maybe what experiences or stories do I have about that?” Sometimes I’ll just see a completely different meaning in the quote that Jack saw. Sometimes I’ll take off in one direction and end up going to a completely different place. I often have to edit and abandon earlier sentences or paragraphs altogether. Many times I may stop to look up something, maybe another quote that might fit and express what I’m trying to say. During those searches I will often find other quotes that I like and save or future posts. I have a whole list of topics for future posts sitting on my Desktop on my computer.

Many times I will find that I’ve somehow gone down a rat-hole with my thought process and have to back up and start off in a new direction – more paragraphs go into the bit-bucket when that happens. I try to stay positive in what I write, but occasionally will explore the dark (or cynical) side of a topic. I find more facing new daypleasure out of writing upbeat posts than I do from venting on a topic or taking the negative approach.

If the topic is one that I’m trying to give advice about, I will try to draw on my own experiences or stories. Such experiences and stories are all in there, in your brain, you just have to let them loose. I try to avoid rendering my own opinion of topics, especially controversial topics, although I’m sure that it comes through in the tone or content bias of the piece.

So, how do you get started? You could scan the daily news for stories that interest you. Why do they interest you? Do you have an opinion about that topic? Is there a story about a cause that you also support? Why? Do you know someone afflicted with whatever the cause is trying to prevent or help with? Have you helped in the past? Let your brain loose and write about it. Maybe you see a quote on the wall in a poster or in the paper or on the Internet somewhere; what does that quote mean to you? How do you relate to it? Do you have a story or experience that relates to it? Let your brain loose and write about it. Maybe a cartoon or a quote that you see triggers some thoughts in you. Run with it. Get those thoughts out and then look for more. Let your brain loose.

snow globeGary Larson is the creator of Far Side, one of the more offbeat and funny cartoons that appears in daily newspapers. Being able to create single panel cartoons that express such humorous thoughts is a real talent and one that he gets by letting his brain loose, or as he puts it –  “You know those little snow globes that you shake up? I always thought my brain was sort of like that. You know, where you just give it a shake and watch what comes out and shake it again. It’s like that.

So, for those who write to me asking how I come up with things to write about, maybe the answer is that I just shake up my brain, too, and watch what comes out. You might amaze yourself. Startuncage typing and see what your brain creates. If you go off in the wrong direction back up, hit delete and start again. The real secret in that is to let your brain loose.


Stay in control of your life…

August 27, 2014

“Regardless of what’s going on around you, make the best of what’s in your power, and take the rest as it occurs.”  (Epictetus) – from Jackswinningwords.blogspot.com.

According to Jack’s comment, Epictetus believed that all of what happens around us is fate and thus out of our control. What is in our control is how we react to what is happening around us or to us. I have posted several missives on that topic here is the past. Today let’s look at the strategy of understanding what control you have over things and exercising good judgment in how you react.

TV interviewTV news people love to rush into situations of stress or tragedy with the important question (at least to them), “How do you feel about that?” They hope to evoke an emotional reaction of some sort that will make good viewing – tears or anger or hate. They are after ratings more than news coverage, since TV news is now presented more as an entertainment segment than true news coverage.

While there may be no newsman rushing up to you with a microphone in hand, when life happens around you there is often an expectation (perhaps your own) that you will somehow react to what’s going on. Will you get fearangry about something that someone did, even if they really didn’t do it to you? Maybe they ran a stop sign or made an illegal turn. How does that affect you? If they didn’t almost hit you by doing that, why do you have any reaction to that at all? I tend to get a little peeved at people doing those things, mainly I suspect, because it shows a general lack of respect for the laws that we are all supposed to live under and that we generally all accept. Those are acts of contempt; of thumbing their noses at our laws and saying that they don’t have to follow them. It is somewhat offensive (at least to me).

But, those examples aside, the next best thing to do when things are occurring around you is to quickly assess which of them you have any control over or the power to change. Perhaps the only control you have is to control yourself; to control how you react to the situation. In recent rioting in Ferguson, Missouri not everyone joined in on the looting or destructive behavior. In fact most of the protesters decided to exercise control over themselves and not take part in those activities. They made the best of what was in their power to control.

arguingThe hard part sometimes is recognizing the difference between those things that we can control and those that are beyond our control. Allowing yourself to react to things beyond your control can quickly lead to frustration or worse. Since you cannot see a way to control things, you might be tempted, as the Ferguson rioters were, into taking retaliatory or destructive actions. Once you step onto the slippery slope it is all downhill into looting or burning or shooting or doing other stupid things. It usually ends badly and the consequences are made worse by the fact that one often is destroying the very things that are needed around them – relationships or the stores and merchants that make a neighborhood viable.

Some people have the ability to ignore much of what is happening around them; things to which other might react. They may be totally oblivious, but more likely they are actually making quickly, sub-conscious decisions on the question, “What does that have to do with me?” If they decide that what just happened really has no real direct impact on them they just ignore it, even if it was aimed at them. That would have been a better strategy for the Tigers relief pitcher who let booing from the home town crowd get to him. He reacted poorly to the events going on around him, rather than just ignoring the booing. After all, people booing posed no real threat to him.

I often run into people who say things like “he/she knows all of the buttons to push to get me mad”. What’s angry coupleinteresting about that is that the person recognizes that someone else is able to control them and their reactions through some simple acts or words, yet they seem unable to take back control. Somehow they are really admitting that they are an accessory to this situation; that they are allowing that to happen, instead of exercising restraint and self-control. They could stop that cycle of actions and reaction any time that they really wanted to. Maybe they enjoy getting mad at that other person.

How do you react to the things going on around you? Do you allow the events to control you or do you stay in command of the only part that you have complete control over – your reaction? If you are the sort of person that others may say of, “He flies off the handle a lot”, then you need to be particularly aware of and careful of your thinking hardreactions to things. The old saw of counting to ten before you react may be especially useful for you (you may need to count even higher).

So, be aware of the things going on around you; but, be even more aware of how you are choosing to react to them. I am reminded of that line from the poem Invictus that was used in the Nelson Mandela book and movie as representing good advice – I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul. You are only the captain of your soul if you stay at the helm. Don’t let event or others take the helm of your fate.


Don’t just get wet; sing in the rain…

August 26, 2014

Reposted from the Jack’s Winning Words blog – “Some people walk in the rain.  Others just get wet.”  (Roger Miller)  Go to YouTube and watch Gene Kelly do “Singing In The Rain.”  It’s a perfect example of being in the rain and not caring about getting wet.  The resilience of some people is amazing.  Even with the bad “raining down” upon them, they can see the good.  Do you know anyone like that?  They are an inspiration, aren’t they?    😉  Jack

rainyA little rain comes into all of our lives, sometimes in buckets, and we all have the choice of how to react. You often see the sad, shocked and tearful reactions to bad events on the news, because the media believes that we want to see people suffering misery and not people coping in a positive way. It is often hard to find anything positive in a bad situation that has just occurred and the media doesn’t help by shoving microphones in the faces of the people involved and asking how they feel about what just happened.

Sometime later the media may go back and find those same people in a more upbeat mood, now able to find or see the good that was there all along. Many times that “goodness” has to do with the realization that much of the loss in natural disasters is just about material things and the things that really matter the people in their lives are still with them. Other times, when someone has left our lives due to a lady under clouddeath, it is the shift from the shock of their death to the celebration of the life that was lived while that person was alive.

Of course, situations that might “dampen our spirits” aren’t always about disaster or the loss of a loved one. The rain in our lives may come in many forms – our team losing an important game, getting turned down for a hoped for date, facing an unexpected bill for a home or car repair; the list goes on. Life throws a little rain in here and there all the time. How do you react to the rain in your life? Do you find a way to sing in the rain or do you become a “gloomy Gus” and mope around? Do you look for the silver lining or the rainbow in things or let those things
overwhelm you and drag you down?  Try to be a little more like Gene Kelly and find things to sing about when life rainbowhands you a rainy day.

Happy people tend to be healthy people. There are tons of studies that have been done about the positive health effects of being able to cope with adversity by “singing in the rain” (figuratively speaking). People who have that natural tendency seem to always be happy (much to the annoyance of some people who are usually unhappy) and healthy. For those of us for whom it is not our initial reaction to sing in the rain, it is a trait worth working on developing. Maybe you have to stop and make a conscious effort to find a positive note, happy thought or some other way to overcome the urge to slip into glum; but, just making that effort is a great way to stop the slide into despair or depression.  It stops you from just getting wet.

A little trick that I use sometimes is having a little tune to call up in your head (singing in the rain) that can help you refocus away from thinking about the trouble at hand.  There are two or three little songs that we sing in happy in rain
church every week during the service that are easy to remember and once started will bounce around in my mind for hours. I call them up as a distraction when I need to sing in the rain. What songs do you have that you could call upon?

Have a bright and happy day; but, if some rain enters your day today, don’t get wet; find your song and sing in the rain.


Take time to say, Hi…

August 25, 2014

Jack’s post today in the Jack’s Winning Words blog – “Today, why don’t you look up and say: ‘Hi, God!’”  (Noodles du Jour). Jack went on to write –One thing I like about Tevye (the Fiddler) is how he talks to God.  It’s like conversing with a good friend.  “Am I bothering you too much?”

My wife and I went to Stratford, Ontario to see Fiddler on the Roof last summer; an enjoyable day trip and a wonderful musical. We returned this summer to see Man of La Mancha, another great musical; although both have sad endings, as did Camelot two summers ago. If you live within driving distance to Stratford, Ontario,  I’d recommend it. We always spend the rest of the day and the night in Canada, which makes it feel like a mini-vacation. Maybe next year we’ll find a musical that has a happy ending.

tipping hatYou might also find value in a somewhat shortened and more secular version of Jack’s little quote – “Today, why don’t you look up and say: “Hi.” Just say, “Hi”, to the people that you meet. You’d be surprised how many people for whom this simple act of acknowledgement is a very powerful and positive start to their day. Too many of us don’t look up. We are busy these days staring at the screens on our smartphones (phones which have had the unintended effect of numbing our interpersonal skills), as if somehow the world and what is going on around us can be found on that tiny screen. We may be in the process of texting a reply to those seemingly important questions, “? r u” or “? r u doing?” Instead, why don’t you look up and say, Hi!

You might be one of those people for who taking the initiative to say,” Hi”, is difficult; I know that I am. I think it was the old “don’t speak unless you’re spoken to” thing that I got at home as a kid that might have caused that and it is something that I have to work at to overcome. I have discovered that most people will respond to a friendlyfriends at school greeting of, “Hi, how are you?” and sometimes even stop to chat. You can meet lots of interesting people that way; some may even become friends. So, today, take the time and make the effort to look up and say, Hi!

There was a story in the news this weekend about a mentoring program within a local school district to make incoming high school freshmen feel more welcome and help them get acclimated to the new surroundings. What a great idea and one that the school reports has had a very positive impact on their student body. The story related that the benefits of the program were felt by all of the parties involved, both the mentored and their mentors. If you don’t have such a program in place in your school, just take the initiative to seek out those incoming students wandering the halls with that “deer in the headlights” look and stop them to say, Hi. Introduce yourself and ask them if you can help them locate anything or answer any questions that they may have. They’ll be relieved that anyone from the upper classes even talked to them and you’ll feel better that you’ve done the right thing; because you stopped and took the time to say, Hi.

cheering upOf course, on a Monday you also have the built-in conversation starter, “How was your weekend?” Everyone likes to talk about themselves and what they did or maybe what they did with family over the weekend. You may discover a lot about that person just in hearing about their weekend activities; and, of course, they’ll want to know about your activities, too. So, there you go. You’ve started a new relationship and maybe even a new friendship, all because you took the time to look up and say, Hi.

And if you happen to look up a little higher, you may notice that God is looking back and He is smiling. Have a great week and if you see me on the streets, stop me and say, Hi.


Crying time will pass…

August 23, 2014

I was ask the rhetorical question “Will I ever stop crying?” recently by a client going through a divorce. It may asremorseful
well have been someone who had just experienced the loss of a life-mate. The obvious answer was yes, but at that moment more was needed. A hug was needed. Sometimes a good cry is a wonderful thing. It lets out the tension. It drains away some of the emotion and frustration of the moment. It is cathartic.

Unfortunately, many seem to use crying as an entrance into the realm of being a victim or worse as the slide into depression. Those are doors best left closed. You are not a victim unless you let yourself become one. Read or re-read my post on “Be a victor, not the victim” and/or “Make happy memories today.” But, eventually one must end the crying and get on with life.

Sometimes things change so fast in our lives that it can make our heads swim and become overwhelming. The person who used to do so many of the shared tasks of living is no longer there and all of a sudden it is your responsibility to think of everything, to do everything to be responsible for everything. For people whose long-term life mate is suddenly no longer there, even simple things like paying the bills or the taxes or cleaning the gutters or preparing meals or hundreds of other day-to-day tasks can suddenly start piling up.  In times like that it caringis often the help of a friend or relative that gets you through. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. Many times you will find that there were people just waiting and wanting to help, but they didn’t want to offend you by “butting in.”

So, go ahead and have a good cry; but, when crying time has passed, put away the Kleenex, put on your big girl/boy pants and get on with life. I’ve posted several posts about that – facing reality and finding a way to survive and then thrive. The point of all of them is that life goes on, no matter what we may think or feel for a short while; and we must find a way to go on, too. Keep in mind, too, that there are people in your life who are standing ready to help. Ask them to help, accept their help and then thank them for their help. You’ll feel better and they will, too. Crying time will pass. Life will go on and so will you.


The power of words…

August 22, 2014

From a recent post on Jack’s Winning Words – “There’s a great power in words, if you don’t put too many of them together.”  (Josh Billings)

I certainly agree with the power of words and enjoyed doing the series that I posted here on “Three Little Words”. I have the problem of using too many words most of the time. I sometimes call it the Thomas Wolfe syndrome. Wolfe was a major novelist of the early 20th Century who wrote very length and wordy novels. I’ve seen reviewers who words wordswrote that Thomas Wolfe never met a word that he didn’t like and want to use.

I’ve also had some feedback that some of what I write is like encountering a “wall of words”; so, I’ve tried to place a few cartoon pictures into the text for the amusement of those who need visual; stimulation. Like Wolfe, I enjoy the flow and turn of words strung together well, sometimes perhaps too much.

But, enough on that. The power of today’s little quote is learning to say something profound and meaningful in a few words and then letting it alone to sink in. Saying “I love you”, for instance does not need to be accompanied by a lengthy explanation. Just put it out there and let it sink in.  Saying “I forgive you”, does not require a rehash of whatever it was that you are now forgiving the person for having done.

There is a fine line between being perceived as profound and being taken to be a know-it-all blowhard. That line is not drawn in the sand it is made up of the many words floating in the air that the blowhard uses to tryGandhi to impress others.  Great thinkers and leaders seen to have that ability to say things in short, very quotable sentences and phrases that live forever. Google the quotes of people like Mahatma Gandhi or The Dahlia Lama or Martin Luther King and you will see a great many quotes of very short length but huge meaning. Almost all iconic inspirational sayings that wind up as posters on people’s walls are short, yet tremendously meaningful.

So, as we head into the weekend, focus upon being abler to say what you mean to get across in a few words that will have more impact. You may wish to start with the two little phrases above, or perhaps questions like “How can I help?” Whatever you do; try to heed the advice that you may have already heard that when someone asks you what time it is, don’t try to show them how smart you are by telling them how to build a watch.

Try to be  profound, not profuse in your use of words. Have a great weekend!

 

 


Taste flight today…

August 19, 2014

“Once you’ve tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward.”  (Leonardo da Vinci), as seen on the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

Jack went on to note that today was Orville Wright’s birthday. Orville and Wilbur Wright are acknowledged as da Vincithe first successful inventors of the modern airplane. Jack went on about his first flight in a DC-3 airliner. I can’t remember my first airliner ride, but my dad got me a flight on a light airplane when I was a kid and that was a thrill.

While there are probably lots of stories and memories in discussing da Vinci’s little quote in a literal sense; I believe that there is even greater meaning to it, if we look at it as a metaphor for life. If the flight that Leonardo mentions is viewed as one of the imagination and discovery. If what it means is the ability that we all have to escape the mundane and ordinary by taking flight in our dreams of a better, more meaningful  life; then truly we will forever walk with our eyes turned skyward, towards that dream.

It is truly sad to envision a life of staring only down at our feet, shuffling along through our existence, just trying to avoid life’s potholes; yet for many that would characterize their life. In some cases it is because life in many places is so hard-scramble that  just existing from day-to-day becomes the goal. It is fortunate that most of us do not live there; although weather events have left many in this area scrambling to get their lives back after recent flooding.

woman catching starShort-term problems aside, most of us at least have the opportunity to take flight in our lives. Whether we take that opportunity or not is up to us. Whether we dream of a better life and then do something to achieve that dream is our opportunity to take flight. Once you do, you’ll forever walk with an eye towards that dream – towards the sky.

Recently, Chuck Gaidica, a well-known Detroit-area TV weatherman and local personality, announced that he was leaving the air and leaving the profession to dedicate himself to serving others through a ministry position with a large local church. Chuck revealed that he had set his sights on that goal some time ago and had gone back to school to get a divinity degree to allow him to be ordained. Chuck has been one of the most successful local TV personalities in this area for years and that fame will likely serve him well in his new pursuit; however, the fame and the monetary rewards that undoubtedly came with it were not satisfying to him. His new pursuit will involve muchwomen dreaming less money, but offers much more reward in the service to others. He has a dream that took flight and he will walk through the rest of his life with his eyes to the sky.

Have you tasted flight in your life? Do you have a dream that you are focused upon? Do you walk through life
with your eyes to the sky or is all that you see the tips of your own shoes? Dream it. Wish it. Do it. See a better future. Take flight today and never look back, always look up to the sky – to the dream.