My Hero

This picture sits on my desk. It is a picture of Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn taken in the Gulag sometime in the early 1950’s. I don’t intend to do an unauthorized biography in this post, instead I want to share why he is my hero.

Apart from the fact that he is a Nobel Prize winner for Literature, and apart from the fact that he, more than any other dissident, helped pave the way for the dissolution of the old Soviet empire, and apart from the fact that he is a great writer, I think most of all, it is because he was a genuinely good man.

Good men are, I believe, still to be found. The thing is–and it’s part of what makes them good–that they don’t feel the need to blow their own horn. They go about quietly changing the world, only occasionally doing so loudly, and only when called for.

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The Naugahyde Soul

An old grey t-shirt hangs loosely over faded blue sweat pants–I say “blue” only to indicate their present hue. They may have, once upon a time, been green. Completing this stunning ensemble is a pair of dirty white socks and untied high-top gym shoes. The wearer is lounging in all his sartorial richness in an extravagant manner on the family room sofa, engaged in his favorite pastime, watching sports on TV.

Since no pastime is ever half so much fun as when it is shared with another like-minded creature, our subject has company: a scruffy, dozing cat and a similarly attired human friend.

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What’s in Your Library?

Here’s a question that comes up a lot: “What kind of books do you like to read?” As an author, I firmly believe that reading widely is essential to good writing. Just like the food we eat, the things we read help to shape us into who we are.

As for food, I’ll eat anything. As for books, if the truth be told, I do tend to hover in same few areas of the bookstore. But I have been trying to stretch my “palate’ a bit. Looking at my reading pile, I see a few books I’d like to share with you:
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Reinventing the Wheel

Once upon a time, I worked with a guy who told me, “If you want something done right away, give the job to a lazy man.” It made me chuckle, but I instantly saw the wisdom in it.

A lazy man (or woman) doesn’t want to take a lot of extra time to evaluate all the permutations of how to accomplish a particular task. He (or she) will find the easiest, straightest path to get the job done so they can go back to being lazy. Of course, my friend said this with his tongue firmly implanted in his cheek, but there’s a nugget of truth in it that I want to share with you today.

When confronted with a problem, very often the best approach is to assume that you’re not the first person to have encountered it. Contrary to what we tell ourselves all the time, the things we run up against in life are not unique. 99 times out of 100, somebody else figured it out already. All we need to do, is find out what they did in the similar situation. Realizing that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, means you’re half-way home!

This is also true in the spiritual life. Throughout our pilgrimage on earth, we get lost, hurt, turned around, become confused, and worse. But instead of casting about among the thousand different solutions the world presents to us, it is important to remember that there are others that have gone before us. The saints, the fathers and mothers of the Church, walked along this path and made it safely home. They are not gods. They are men and women just like us. Just like us they had their own faults and failures, but refused to give in or stop trying. They faced what we face every day and worse.

When problems come–and they will–the saints are our role models. They are our elder brothers and sisters and we can emulate them in our own lives. They in turn will sympathize with us, intercede for us, and cheer us on.

Over, Under or Through

Apropos of a previous post, I want to relate little anecdote about persistence.

Persistence is a vital trait to have in this life, but especially so in writing. It is a rare day when you sit down to write and the words flow like rushing water. More often than not, you labor over your sentences, trying to organize the tumble of thoughts in your head into a coherent piece that someone will read and understand. The ability–or bloody-mindedness–to keep at it when the words won’t come, is imperative in order to write. I’ll take it one step further: the ability to start is just as important.

I never met so many aspiring writers as when I started writing my first novel. Now that it’s out on the market, I seem to meet more and more of them. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Aspiring Writer: “So you wrote a novel huh?”

Me: “Yes.”

AW: “What made you write it?”

Me: “Oh, lots of reasons…”(This is followed by a recitation of what led me to write the book.)

AW: (wistfully) “You know, I always wanted to write a book…” (This is followed by a recitation of the things they’d like to write about.)

Me: “Then I think you should write your book!”

The point is, that the only thing keeping you from writing is your desire to start and your ability to see it through. Every new, worthwhile endeavor in life requires stepping out in faith, and then following through, no matter how hard or futile the thing seems to be.

I have a friend who rides horses. Show-jumping over fences in fact. She told me that the first thing you learn when you begin going over fences, is that you must go, “Over, under, or through. Never around. Never refuse.” Fitting a horse under a fence would be difficult, but still, it’s a clever, somewhat tongue-in-cheek way of saying that you must not give up. The outcome might leave you with bruises, but you’ll learn from that if you keep trying.

Caught in a Loop

I ain’t got it today. Keep saying the same things over and over and over…But you know what? It’s okay. I’ll walk away and think about it. Tomorrow, I’ll start over. Need to edit what I’ve already done, but that’s what life is like isn’t it? We try, we fail, we get up again. A friend told me once, when I was feeling blue, that you only lose when you quit.

So I think I’ll take a walk.