The Art of Being a Class Act: “If”

8 09 2017

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too:

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

 

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim,

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same:

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings,

And never breathe a word about your loss:

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

(Rudyard Kipling)

 

Suggested Resources:

Just So Stories (Rudyard Kipling)

“The Jungle Book” (Motion Picture)

 

 

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Sharp Tools Are the Most Effective

25 08 2017

Fall 1994. I hired on as an apprentice carpenter for a company that built staircases and hung trim.  Thus began, for me, a lifelong enjoyment for working with wood, especially hardwoods like red oak and poplar.  I was privileged to learn how to build curved staircases and these now fill quite a few houses in lower Michigan, where we lived at the time and have since migrated back to.

A carpenter learns very quickly that it is critical to keep his tools in good repair in order to do fine woodwork.  Chiefly, this means sharpening cutting implements regularly.  You may be surprised to find that dull tools—saws, chisels, router bits, etc.—not only do inferior work, marring the wood, but they are also dangerous.  You risk injury using chisels with dull blades.  A sharp saw does the work quickly, effectively, and safely.

In life, we have tools that we use to mold our lives and become effective and reach our potential.  Like planes and gouges, they must be kept sharp to be effective.  Here are a few:

  • Vocational Skills – What talents and acuities do you have that you can sharpen now and in the days ahead? I work in Information Technology and am a musician.  I try to read up on the latest technological innovations as well as become more proficient with the software apps I use in my work.  And with my instruments, I practice and learn new stuff.  Do you have a plan for skills development?
  • Relationships – “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” (Jim Rohn) What kinds of relationships do you cultivate to 1) add value to others and 2) help in your own development?  If you walk with wise and ambitious people, you fuel your passion to grow and develop.  But if you make a practice of hanging with people who are pessimistic and complacent, like it or not, it will affect you.  Enthusiasm is contagious.  So is discouragement and criticism.  Choose wisely.
  • Reading ­– That readers are leaders is axiomatic. And you are called to lead.  What kinds of books do you plan on reading or listening over the next year?  Here’s a good place to start: The Magic of Thinking Big (David J. Schwartz); How To Read A Book (Mortimer Adler & Charles Van Doren); Spiritual Leadership (J. Oswald Sanders); Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman); Talent Is Overrated (Geoff Colvin).  Possibilities are endless, but whatever you do, develop a reading plan for the next year.
  • Physical Fitness – Your effectiveness is charged or limited by your physical fitness—or lack of it. Regular cardiovascular exercise 1) improves your focus, 2) makes you feel better because of endorphins and 3) increases your longevity.  Also, there are numerous other benefits to staying fit, fighting the national epidemic of obesity.  Your career and its growth are one of these. As some have said, “Your shape will shape your future.”

Now go sharpen your tools and build.  You will be astounded at what they produce.

 

Suggested Resources:

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (Stephen R. Covey)

Stay Sharp: 52 Ways to Keep Your Mind, Not Lose It (David B. Biebel et al)

 

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“And In My Hour of Darkness”

9 08 2017

“When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom

Let it be.

And in my hour of darkness

She is standing right in front of me

Speaking words of wisdom

Let it be.”

 

If you’re a Beatles fan, you recognize this classic.  What you may not know is the story behind the song.

In the late Sixties, Paul McCartney was going through a difficult season.  He had a dream.  In the dream he saw his deceased mother.  She said to him, “Let it be.”

His mother’s name is Mary.  Mary McCartney.

Those of us with a Catholic background probably thought he was speaking of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  But he wasn’t.  At least not consciously.  Paul was baptized a Roman Catholic so perhaps his upbringing was leaking through.  You’d have to ask him.

If nothing else there is a message in “Let It Be.”  One, especially if you’ve been graced with a good mother, is this: Listen to your mom.  Remember her encouragement and wise words.  Remember her self-sacrificing behavior.

 

Suggested Resources:

Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics, 1965-1999 (Paul McCartney)

“Let It Be” (The Beatles)

 

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Act As If You Already Are

4 08 2017

We’ve all heard these phrases.  “Fake it ‘til you make it.”  “Show love and then feelings of love will follow.”  The big thing in all of this is that action, a result of the choice of one’s will, results in desired emotions.  Sometimes it’s the other way around.  You feel ready to burst with love towards someone and then act this out.  But, time and distance taken as variables, it’s more often the opposite. Feelings follow upon definitive actions.

Aristotle, in his Nicomachean Ethics, says this:

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building and lyre players by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.”

Writers learn to write not by reading about how to write but by actually writing.  Musicians learn their instruments with their instruments in their hands, not sitting only behind music theory books and instrument manuals. We learn by doing.

Challenge:  Find some skill—art, music, technology, relationships—and try this.  Act as if you were already the expert you both admire and aspire to be.  Do your homework, to be sure.  Then do the thing you want to be good at.  Then do it some more.

 

Suggested Resources:

The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (Jack Canfield & Janet Switzer)

Outliers: The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell)

 

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Blackwing 602

11 07 2017

This is a Palomino Blackwing 602 pencil.  Blackwing?  Sounds like something out of Gothic horror or at least Batman.

No.  It’s an iconic writing instrument, the Mercedes-Benz of pencils.  Not the original Blackwing 602s, manufactured by the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company.  [Those of us half a century or older remember Faber pencils in grade school.] Those gems, which went out of production in 1989, can fetch upwards of $40.00 per pencil on eBay.

Years later, the Blackwing 602 brand was acquired by California Cedar Products Company which started making them again under their Palomino division.  Purists still prefer the original Faber Blackwing 602s, but they are disappearing.  And who wants to pay $40.00 for a pencil?

The script on the barrel of the pencil says HALF THE PRESSURE, TWICE THE SPEED.  There is something about the recipe of the 602’s graphite that gives the user a very smooth writing experience.  I test drove one and compared it with a number of other pencils last Christmas.  There is a difference.  All pencils are not created equal.

Other coolness factors:

  • The flat, square and replaceable ferrule-encased eraser gives one the added bonus of an expensive pencil not rolling off the table and breaking the lead. At $22.95 for a dozen through Amazon.com, this is a big deal.
  • Luminaries in many artistic fields have sworn by the Blackwing 602 for years. Writers (John Steinbeck, Vladimir Nabokov); Composers & Arrangers  (Stephen Sondheim, Nelson Riddle, Johnny Mercer); Cartoonists (Chuck Jones).  It’s even shown up on Mad Men!  

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There is something wonderfully sensual about the experience of writing longhand, composing music, or sketching with a superior writing instrument.  You can try this famous pencil for yourself.  Be aware, these pencils are not easy to track down in most towns.  You won’t find them in Staples or Office Max, unless they’ve begun selling them.  They’re not carried in a lot of brick-and-mortar stores.  However, you can find them here for about $2/each, including shipping.  I never dreamed I’d consider a single pencil worth two bucks a piece but this one is.

Try it and see for yourself.

PS  Buy the Blackwing sharpener and sharpen your 602s by hand. Never sharpen a Blackwing 602 with an electric sharpener!  You’ll discover soon enough that not all sharpeners are designed well–well enough, that is, to get a long life out of your Blackwing 602.  Here you are.

 

Suggested Resources:

How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants (David Rees)

Blackwing Pages: For Fans of the Genuine Blackwing 602

 

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Perspective

10 07 2017

Leonardo da Vinci used to draw things upside-down.

Parents of little children are encouraged to crawl around on their hands and knees to see the world as their kids do.  “Hmm, what can I grab?” (This insight courtesy of my lovely and sharp-as-a-tack wife.)

Why?

Perspective.  Often we need to approach everything from sketching a portrait to seeing the world through another set of eyes, like those of pre-toddlers, to seeing the upside of our current difficulties by entirely different approaches.

We’re human.  That means we have limited understanding of stuff, imbalanced and one-sided approaches to knowledge and problem-solving.  We need people and new views and algorithms to see the many dimensions of the things we face day-to-day.

One thing knowledgeable  art teachers do is teach their students how to see.  It’s not as obvious as you might think.  We tend to have certain universal ideas about how things look.  A hot dog is long and tubular.  Eyes tend to be oval and dark in the pupils.  Hands generally have four fingers and a thumb, the middle finger being the longest.  So we draw what we think, rather than what we actually see.  Instead of seeing digits, one learns to see light and shade.

We all find, if we haven’t already, that we need the input of other people and other approaches to help us experience the relief that a balanced perspective brings.  Got laid off from your job?  Maybe it’s because there’s something much better suited to your skills and temperament just ahead of you, if only you’ll apply yourself.  Someone did not return your text?  Maybe it’s because they’re callous and ill-mannered.  But it might just be that they know you love them and they don’t need to respond immediately.  They’re safe with you.  And probably buried in some task.

It takes humility to admit that perhaps you’re viewing things, usually the stuff that bugs the crap out of you, in an incomplete way.  Our minds seem hardwired to assume the worst.

Often it’s not so bad after all.

Here’s some things I’ve learned about acquiring that treasure called perspective:

  • Ask those who know and love you if you’re viewing something bugging you correctly or are defaulting to worst-case scenario thinking.
  • Find a way to draw your circumstance, problem, difficulty upside-down, like da Vinci. One of the easiest ways is to mentally put yourself in another person’s shoes to understand them.  Your boss probably doesn’t have it in for you; he or she is probably overwhelmed with stress.

 

Suggested Resources:

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: The Definitive, 4th Edition (Betty Edwards)

Perspective: The Calm Within the Storm (Robert J. Wicks)

 

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Bron-Yr-Aur and Creativity

10 07 2014

DCF 1.0I am a guitarist.  I took up this amazing instrument in the mid ‘70’s.  I saw a friend of mine play three songs—“Time In A Bottle”, “Dream On” and “Smoke On the Water”–the riff that launched thousands of guitarists in those days.  I freaked.  And fell in love.  The love affair continues thirty-eight years later.

I owe a great deal of my early formation as a guitarist to Led Zeppelin in general and Jimmy Page in particular.  I learned a lot of the classic rock Zeppelin tunes in those days.  But I was especially drawn to their acoustic work.  It was just so interesting.  Rare chords.  Alternate tunings.  Mandolins.  J.R.R. Tolkien in the lyrics.  A world of wonder and colorful sounds.

A fair amount of Led Zeppelin’s creativity in those days emerged as Jimmy Page and Robert Plant retired to the Welsh cottage pictured above.  Bron-Yr-Aur.  It was here that music was inspired and created that endures to the present day.  Pastoral. No electricity. They even named music after this quaint locale.

Where are your creative spaces?  A cottage?  Water?  Forests (my personal favorite)?  Urban life?

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