inspiration

Letter from a past generation

This letter, from Will Schoder's grandfather, reminded me of my grandfather. It's something he would have written, probably even did. I'm just not fortunate enough to have it stored in a box.

I'm not a big fan of downing the Millennial generation because, mainly, most of what I hear is unfair and biased. There is probably truth in the criticism, just as much as there is error, and I'd rather focus on the things I can control. Myself. Just like this grandfather here. He can articulate his frustrations with some of his fellow countryman, and articulate it well, but it doesn't drive him to hate or ridicule others. Rather, he pursued his wife, he fought in a war, and he lived his life; he changed himself. 

This letter crosses all times and boundaries and is a good reminder on how to live life: honestly and admirably and fully in the moment - "with our whole being" and with little or "no need to fear the future." 

Thank you, Barry, for the sweet reminder. 

 

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-N- Stuff  :  On Living  :  Will Schoder

Simon Sinek : Start with Why

Simon O. Sinek is a British/American author, motivational speaker and marketing consultant. He is the author of three books including the 2009 best seller Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Wikipedia

His books include:

Start with Why

Find your Why

Together is Better

Leaders Eat Last

 

For more on . . .

Simon Sinek  :  Ted Talks  :  Inspiration

37 Nonfiction Books Every Artist Should Read

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Like little Leo

photo by Meg Loeks

photo by Meg Loeks

It was when they all left the room, just after handing us bags full of personal hygiene items like toothpaste, deodorant, dry shampoo, socks, and other comfort gifts they give parents who find out their child has cancer, that we both broke down.

Meg Loeks, a photographer based in rural West Michigan, didn’t think much about the aches and pains her first-born son Leo was experiencing because they were so inconsistent- on one day, then off the next. She and her husband assumed they were growing pains. But the cycle seemed to linger, not abate. Meg reached out to a friend, who was also a nurse, and was told to bring little Leo in immediately.  They did. But after the nurse ran some blood tests, she sent them home thinking it might just be arthritis. It seemed like no big deal - Leo went to daycare and Dad went back to work. They carried on with the day as usual.

“The next morning around 10am” Meg recalls, “I received a phone call from our pediatrician saying we needed to pack our bags and head to our local children’s hospital immediately.” The blood results had come back. Leo didn’t have arthritis; he needed to be tested for leukemia.  “I don’t remember much else from the conversation. I called my husband, cried, and he left work to pick up Leo and come home so we could all go together.”

In the days that followed, before their first appointment with the oncologist, Meg and her family enjoyed the quiet days of summer – winter tucked away in boxes. “I remember the few days leading up to the first appointment because they were incredible. We didn’t do much at all. We just stayed home and played together. We played in our sprinkler and grilled out on our porch.”

By early June, they were meeting with Leo’s oncologist to discuss the results of his bone marrow test.

“I remember pacing in his hospital room,” Meg recalls, “Then a couple social workers walked in with toys for Leo to play with. My husband and I we were led to a conference room. I knew then that he had leukemia.”

“We sat down, and I remember the boxes of tissues in the middle of the conference table. There were no windows in the room. I looked over at my husband and asked, ‘So, is this good or bad news?’ He just shrugged, but we both knew. It wasn’t good.”

Leo’s oncologist didn’t waste any time. He told them Leo had leukemia. “All I remember was how grim he sounded. I know now he was just being sympathetic but at the time I thought that maybe Leo’s chances of survival were not very good. {The oncologist} had so many papers to give us and so much information. He told us we probably wouldn’t remember most of it and he was right. We don’t. Even though he was very kind I remember that I just wanted him to stop talking.”

photo by Meg Loeks

photo by Meg Loeks

Looking back, what stands out the most about those first days?

“I remember feeling like I was suffocating. I remember thinking that there was a good possibility that my child might die. The one that made me a mother first. The one I had cloth diapered, made baby food for, and sent to the most expensive Montessori prep daycare since he was a baby. I remember trying to keep my composure and being surprised at myself that I didn’t really cry in front of the doctor. There were some tears but both my husband and I remained calm.

It was when they all left the room, just after handing us bags full of personal hygiene items like toothpaste, deodorant, dry shampoo, socks, and other comfort gifts they give parents who find out their child has cancer, that we both broke down. I honestly don’t think it was because they left the room that we both cried. It was those bags they gave us that made it seem real; that we had officially joined the parents we saw wandering the halls outside the conference room with their children who were fighting cancer.”

In the midst of this deep conflict, what truth(s) were revealed? About life?  About yourself? 

“Over the summer we stayed home a lot because the hospital visits exhausted all of us, and because Leo often didn't feel well. I think the greatest truth during this time was realizing the importance of childhood and the art of play. This is something that has always been a priority for my husband and I while raising our children. I know my parents influenced a lot of this because they always made time to play with my brother and I growing up. But it wasn't until a lot of that was taken away from my son that I realized how important it was. I realized that the best moments are often the ones created at home when we were doing absolutely nothing but being present and with each other. We didn't have to go off on some great adventure or hike to have a great time. The best memories from that summer involved us laying together in our hammock and playing with the boy’s bubble machine in our front yard.”

What role did your photography play in this process?  Was it a distraction from the worry?  A medium to explain the pain?  Or an aid in the healing? 

“I think photography was a little bit of all of that for me during the first few days. It was so easy to lose track of time in the hospital, and I constantly craved fresh air and to be outside. Whenever my husband and I would trade spots at the hospital, one of the first things I would do once I arrived home was head outside with my camera.”

“While at the hospital, I felt the need to document this moment in time for Leo. I wanted him to be able to look back and see all that he had accomplished. It was interesting for me too because I'm not a documentary photographer, but photographing my son at the hospital forced me to be one. I captured everything... the IV tower he was constantly hooked up to, the walks around the hospital he had daily, the train set he loved to play with in the playroom on his floor. I think it was therapeutic for me to capture these moments but then again photography always has been.”

Too often we try and protect ourselves from heartache and pain, and all too often, we fail, because heartache and pain and suffering are a part of life; they’re unavoidable. But they’re also essential. When life suddenly shifts, when it's giant cracks violently rip open, forcing us to our knees, we reach out and cling to what is important, what is true, and to what matters most. Like simple moments with family on a summer evening. And community.

According to Joseph Campbell, ancient civilizations used to hold tribe rites every year to prepare the community to endure the season of terrible cold that was to come. They did not try to keep it at bay but instead prepared to endure it – together.

Just days after Leo's diagnosis, Meg Loeks and her family were not alone. "I logged onto my social media accounts and saw several images of children dressed in superhero gear," Meg recalls. Click-in Moms, a community of photographers of which Meg is a member of, began to capture superhero-related images  to help the Loeks family endure the terrible season that was to come. They were tagged #strengthforleo, and they were, for Leo, his family, and the community. Because communities endure - together.

Tribulation, great and small, reminds us of what is truly valuable, that we are not alone, and that there is hope. Hope that we will be refined, that through the strength of community we can endure, and that, in the midst of the pain, there is purpose.

Like little Leo.

After months of uncertainty, of treatments and visits to the hospital, Leo is doing incredible. He's in remission and currently in the last phase of his leukemia treatment which will continue till August of 2019. He now receives monthly chemotherapy instead of weekly, and his hair is starting to grow back. He's attending school full time.

Meg and her husband have daily reminders of how they could have lost their first born and how their life could be very different. But they also have the memory of a kind oncologist who gave them hope, and it is something Meg will never forget. “He told us statistics show that children who have fought cancer often grow to be successful leaders later on in life. I remember being moved by this because he was being thoughtful and humanistic... something I think many doctors appear to lack. His kindness gave us hope that everything was going to be ok.”

Hope, like love, is strengthened when tested by deep adversity, and can only be fully realized when shared. Thank you, Meg Loeks (and family), for being vulnerable, for sharing your story, and reminding us of the importance of seeing the beauty in the everyday moments. Thank you for reminding us of hope.

See more of Meg Loeks's inspiring work at Megloeks.com or on Instagram @meg_nlo

 

 

If you have a story you'd like to share, please, let me know.

 

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Photography  :  Real People  :  Humanity

Isaac Asimov : How to Never Run Out of Ideas . . .

If there’s one word to describe Isaac Asimov, it’s “prolific”.

To match the number of novels, letters, essays and other scribblings Asimov produced in his lifetime, you would have to write a full-length novel every two weeks for 25 years.

Why was Asimov able to have so many good ideas when the rest of us seem to only have 1 or 2 in a lifetime? To find out, I looked into Asimov’s autobiography, It’s Been a Good Life.

Asimov wasn’t born writing 8 hours a day 7 days a week. He tore up pages, he got frustrated and he failed over and over and over again. In his autobiography, Asimov shares the tactics and strategies he developed to never run out of ideas again.

Let’s steal everything we can.

1. NEVER STOP LEARNING

Asimov wasn’t just a science fiction writer. He had a PhD in chemistry from Columbia. He wrote on physics. He wrote on ancient history. Hell, he even wrote a book on the Bible.

Why was he able to write so widely in an age of myopic specialization?

Unlike modern day “professionals”, Asimov’s learning didn’t end with a degree—

“I couldn’t possibly write the variety of books I manage to do out of the knowledge I had gained in school alone. I had to keep a program of self-education in process. My library of reference books grew and I found I had to sweat over them in my constant fear that I might misunderstand a point that to someone knowledgeable in the subject would be a ludicrously simple one.”

To have good ideas, we need to consume good ideas too. The diploma isn’t the end. If anything, it’s the beginning.

Growing up, Asimov read everything —

“All this incredibly miscellaneous reading, the result of lack of guidance, left its indelible mark. My interest was aroused in twenty different directions and all those interests remained. I have written books on mythology, on the Bible, on Shakespeare, on history, on science, and so on.”

Read widely. Follow your curiosity. Never stop investing in yourself.

2. DON’T FIGHT THE STUCK

It’s refreshing to know that, like myself, Asimov often got stuck —

Frequently, when I am at work on a science-fiction novel, I find myself heartily sick of it and unable to write another word.

Getting stuck is normal. It’s what happens next, our reaction, that separates the professional from the amateur.

Asimov didn’t let getting stuck stop him. Over the years, he developed a strategy…

I don’t stare at blank sheets of paper. I don’t spend days and nights cudgeling a head that is empty of ideas. Instead, I simply leave the novel and go on to any of the dozen other projects that are on tap. I write an editorial, or an essay, or a short story, or work on one of my nonfiction books. By the time I’ve grown tired of these things, my mind has been able to do its proper work and fill up again. I return to my novel and find myself able to write easily once more.

When writing this article, I got so frustrated that I dropped it and worked on other projects for 2 weeks. Now that I’ve created space, everything feels much, much easier.

The brain works in mysterious ways. By stepping aside, finding other projects and actively ignoring something, our subconscious creates space for ideas to grow.

3. BEWARE THE RESISTANCE

All creatives — be they entrepreneurs, writers or artists — know the fear of giving shape to ideas. Once we bring something into the world, it’s forever naked to rejection and criticism by millions of angry eyes.

Sometimes, after publishing an article, I am so afraid that I will actively avoid all comments and email correspondence…

This fear is the creative’s greatest enemy. In the The War of Art, Steven Pressfield gives the fear a name.

He calls it Resistance.

Asimov knows the Resistance too —

The ordinary writer is bound to be assailed by insecurities as he writes. Is the sentence he has just created a sensible one? Is it expressed as well as it might be? Would it sound better if it were written differently? The ordinary writer is therefore always revising, always chopping and changing, always trying on different ways of expressing himself, and, for all I know, never being entirely satisfied.

Self-doubt is the mind-killer.

I am a relentless editor. I’ve probably tweaked and re-tweaked this article a dozen times. It still looks like shit. But I must stop now, or I’ll never publish at all.

The fear of rejection makes us into “perfectionists”. But that perfectionism is just a shell. We draw into it when times are hard. It gives us safety… The safety of a lie.

The truth is, all of us have ideas. Little seeds of creativity waft in through the windowsills of the mind. The difference between Asimov and the rest of us is that we reject our ideas before giving them a chance.

After all, never having ideas means never having to fail.

4. LOWER YOUR STANDARDS

Asimov was fully against the pursuit of perfectionism. Trying to get everything right the first time, he says, is a big mistake.

Instead, get the basics down first —

Think of yourself as an artist making a sketch to get the composition clear in his mind, the blocks of color, the balance, and the rest. With that done, you can worry about the fine points.

Don’t try to paint the Mona Lisa on round one. Lower your standards. Make a test product, a temporary sketch or a rough draft.

At the same time, Asimov stresses self-assurance —

[A writer] can’t sit around doubting the quality of his writing. Rather, he has to love his own writing. I do.

Believe in your creations. This doesn’t mean you have to make the best in the world on every try. True confidence is about pushing boundaries, failing miserably, and having the strength to stand back up again.

We fail. We struggle. And that is why we succeed.

5. MAKE MORE STUFF

Interestingly, Asimov also recommends making MORE things as a cure for perfectionism —

By the time a particular book is published, the [writer] hasn’t much time to worry about how it will be received or how it will sell. By then he has already sold several others and is working on still others and it is these that concern him. This intensifies the peace and calm of his life.

If you have a new product coming out every few weeks, you simply don’t have time to dwell on failure.

This is why I try to write multiple articles a week instead of focusing on one “perfect” piece. It hurts less when something flops. Diversity is insurance of the mind.

6. THE SECRET SAUCE

A struggling writer friend of Asimov’s once asked him, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Asimov replied, “By thinking and thinking and thinking till I’m ready to kill myself. […] Did you ever think it was easy to get a good idea?

Many of his nights were spent alone with his mind —

I couldn’t sleep last night so I lay awake thinking of an article to write and I’d think and think and cry at the sad parts. I had a wonderful night.

Nobody ever said having ideas was going to be easy.

If it were, it wouldn’t be worth doing.

 

REPOST FROM CHARLES CHU