Here is Part 4 of Kingdom of Dreams:
You can buy the ebook here: Kingdom of Dreams for Kindle.
Thanks for listening and please drop by again soon to hear Part 5.
Here is Part 4 of Kingdom of Dreams:
You can buy the ebook here: Kingdom of Dreams for Kindle.
Thanks for listening and please drop by again soon to hear Part 5.
I’m going to take a few minutes to explain how to discuss a friend (or loved one’s) new novel.
The novel was a royal pain in the ass to write. It was a wholly unreasonable thing to try to create while holding down a day job.
Then, as if by magic, it was done.
In the end, the writer failed in ways he never imagined.
In the end, the writer succeeded in ways he never believed possible.
A book should be read, it must be reacted to, so the writer gives it to the audience he imagines will be the most kind and receptive and responsive.
You’re that audience and I’m going to tell you what the writer wants you to say and ask (and also what he hopes you won’t).
He didn’t write the novel to get rich.
He didn’t write the novel to become famous.
He wrote the novel in an effort to convey an idea or series of ideas in the best and most engaging way he could.
The writer doesn’t want to hear what you’re reading right now and that you’ll get to his book when you’re done. The writer doesn’t care when you read his book, only how.
The writer doesn’t want to be asked how he intends to promote his book.
The writer doesn’t want to be reminded how nice it is that it’s become so easy for anyone to write a book and sell it on Amazon.
The writer doesn’t want to be asked how many copies have sold so far.
The writer doesn’t want to be asked if he he’s going to send the book to any real publishers.
The writer wants to know if you liked the book. He wants to know if you found any of the characters to be likable or loathsome or fun or frightening.
He wants to ask him how he went about writing the characters the way he did.
He wants you to ask if any of the characters were based on people he actually knew or knows.
He wants you to ask what it was about the real person that made him want to form the person into a character in a fictional book.
The writer wants to know if you didn’t like the book.
He wants to know if you simply didn’t find the story intriguing or the characters engaging. If he fell short, you’re his best chance of figuring out he did and, just maybe, why.
The writer wants you to ask how you decided on the book’s sequence. He wants you to ask how you were able to handle the different times and places while maintaining the book’s coherence and flow.
Why make an effort to do something that took literally thousands of hours and, in many cases, years to complete with a vanishing a chance of financial compensation?
It’s a valid question every aspiring writer has asked himself not only when he set out to write the book, but very likely every single time he sat down to work on it.
The way you ask that question may help the writer draw a closer to his own answer when he asks the question of himself.
He wants you to ask him about other subjects he may be interested in, or may already be working on.
He wants to be asked what he learned from writing the book.
Lastly, the writer wants to know what his book made you think and feel. Were you happy to be done with it, to be relieved of the obligation of reading it, or did its ending leave you wanting more? Did reading it make you think differently about the writer? Did it change the way you thought about what he might accomplish in the future, based on what you might see as the promise or lack of promise brought forth by the book you just read?
The writer is asking himself each of these questions as he lays his head on his pillow every night.
Though obvious to me, I should say that every word I write here assumes the writer in question is an honest soul. I assume the writer was trying to achieve something bigger and more importantly than bigger or longer, a work beyond anything he may have written before.
A novel represents a leap of faith for a writer and I believe a writer simply wants to be asked what made him want to take the leap.
How can it be over six years since I wrote this; impossible! Still, reading it again reminds me of writing it and makes me want to drop AVL to see how he’s doing.
In 1996 Tiger Woods said, “Hello world,” and things haven’t been the same since. Before Woods ever put a tee into the ground as a professional he’d been made a multimillionaire by Nike and Titleist. For the first time, far more of a player’s income was going to come from sponsorships than tournament winnings. A new world order had arrived and golf almost instantly expanded into a truly global game.
Since then, we’ve said hello to a bunch of mini-Tigers like Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Ryo Ishikawa. What each of these players have in common (along with a lot of game) is a massive corporate support mechanism. Each is as much a brand as a player. Fowler actively cultivates his image and look on his website by asking, “Love my look?” His Cowboy-orange and flat-billed cap are tools helping to set himself apart from the rest of the khaki-clad PGA Tour crowd. And, while it would be easy (if a tad cynical) to say most great players have yet to set themselves apart by winning,
I don’t want to create the impression I don’t like this crop of young, corporately well-connected, players because for the most part I do. It’s just that I also enjoy following the kind of player who lacks such deep-pocketed support. It’s important to understand how many players come to professional golf in anonymity and with significant hardship.
It’s well known Ben Hogan failed on the PGA tour at least once before finally breaking through. Before succeeding, he was down to his last bit of cash, $86 from a war chest of $1400. He had promised his wife Valerie (who was driving with him from event to event) that if he didn’t earn a check in the next tournament they would take what little money they had left and make their way home to Fort Worth, Texas. The morning before the tournament, the Hogans awoke to find their Buick stripped of its rear tires and wheels, its rear axle propped up on rocks.
Hogan got a ride to the tournament and ended up winning $385. Hogan described that check as the biggest one he had ever seen and he was quite sure it was the biggest he would ever see in his entire life. It’s impossible to imagine that Hogan sponsored by Nike, given millions of dollars before he had ever put a tee into the ground in a professional event. Hogan is a reminder that for every Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler there are thousands of aspiring players who come up another way; a much harder way.
Jim Von Lossow came to professional golf in a way much closer to that of Hogan than of Fowler or Woods. Jim’s an old friend of mine and some years back he told me of his time on the PGA Tour. He was only 20 when he left Seattle for California and his parents had no love for the idea of playing professional golf. Jim’s quest to play on tour was one he faced largely on his own. He ended up on tour for a few years and even played alongside some storied players like Tom Kite and Jack Fleck. Though Jim didn’t make many headlines while on tour, his journey led him to become a PGA instructor, the first putter manufacturer to mill heads from 303 stainless steel and now one of the most respected club fitters in the country.
It’s no surprise that Jim and his wife, Susan, have two children who grew up excelling at golf; their daughter, Hannah, and son, Andrew. When it came to Andrew, Jim hadn’t realized how good he’d gotten until Andrew and his friend, Eric Benjamin, shot back to back rounds in the low 60s. This got Jim thinking and he and Susan decided to stake Andrew and Benji enough cash to cover a summer playing The Dakotas Tour. “When I was coming up, I didn’t have the support of my parents when it came to golf,” Jim told me. “So, it was important to me that my wife and I give Andrew and Benji whatever help we could.”
Toward the end of July, Andrew and Benji loaded Andrew’s 1997 Toyota Camry and headed east toward Bozeman, Montana. Bozeman would serve as the duo’s home base for their summer on The Dakotas Tour since Benji knew some folks there. Andrew & Benji missed the first eight events of the 2010 Dakotas Tour season. These tournaments were played in cities with names like Okoboji, Iowa. Obscurity is common in professional golf. A serious golf fan might be able to name 50 PGA Tour players but there are 125 exempt spots. Add the players on the Nationwide Tour, the Canadian Tour and all the myriad other mini tours and we’re talking about serious obscurity. Galleries consist of friends and family, but more likely no one at all. Testing one’s game on a tour like the Dakotas was a strong reminder that golf can be a very solitary game, especially for aspiring professionals like Andrew & Benji.
Still, this is a duo that’s pretty comfortable with obscurity. They’ve even created their own organization to promote it; The Northwest Obscure Golf Association. Andrew & Benji came up with the name when they were forced to admit that to play as much as they needed to play to sharpen their games they’d have to play on some of the area’s scruffier courses. So, for two months of summer in 2010, Andrew & Benji tested their games against other aspiring professionals. They played some golf, they drove a lot of miles and had a lot of fun. At the end of the summer, they both agreed it had been the best one ever.
After arriving in Bozeman, Andrew & Benji drove about 700 miles for a one day Pro-Am at Wild Oak GC in Mitchell, South Dakota. For the next few weeks, Andrew & Benji teed it up twice in Yankton, South Dakota at Fox run and then at the open qualifier at Hillcrest Country Club.
Which open? The Bobcat State Open at Fargo Country Club, of course. Notably, the state animal of South Dakota is the coyote, so go figure. Jim Von Lossow had told me what good players his son Andrew and daughter had become, but it was Andrew’s humble blogging that drove home just what fine players he and Benji are and at the same time what a difficult undertaking they were attempting.
Andrew’s first blog entry:
Benji and I played a practice round at Fargo Country Club. It was a nice day, around 80 degrees with a slight breeze. The forecast for tomorrow is calling for wind and sun. I tee off at 8:20am while Benji tees off at 1:20pm.
The greens are very firm and fast. The key to approach shots is staying below the hole and taking one club less for the ball to run up to the pin. This is a very Northwest-style golf course so Benji and I feel comfortable playing here.
Here are a couple pics from today at the Fargo Country Club…
To the casual reader, I’m sure these photos simply look like two really good players teeing off. But, when I look at them I’m trying to imagine if Andrew & Benji felt differently when they put the tee in the ground. They were doing what they had done thousands of times before, but they were doing it for a very different reason. Their ability, their pure joy in playing the game and their newfound drive to play golf for a living, had taken Andrew & Benji to this very unusual place.
I once watched Nick Price in one of his first tournaments on the Champion’s Tour. I had sought him out before he teed off to tell him how much I enjoyed his book, The Swing, which had come out a few years earlier. Nick Price was as kind and gracious a man as his reputation would suggest. There were a few people who watched him tee off, but by the 3rd hole his gallery had all but vanished. It was a perfect, glorious day in Southern California and one of the best players in the game was playing a competitive round of golf in almost total solitude.
That was an odd event. It was the first day of a tournament that had been moved from one course to another and attendance would be light until the weekend. But, that day reminded me what a lonely and isolating game professional golf can be. As I walked with Price I marveled at his rapid-fire swing and the dead-solid sound the ball made when he struck it with an iron, and I felt a little sorry for him. I know…Price wasn’t really alone, and was certainly not lonely. Still, live professional golf very often doesn’t always bear as much similarity to the game we see on television as we might expect.
Andrew & Benji were taking their first steps toward becoming a colleague of Nick Price but I’m sure they didn’t see it that way. They were and are good friends who wanted most of all to have their best summer ever. While they were at it, they would measure their games against each other and against the games of the other players with the same mission.
They both knew it wouldn’t be easy:
Day 1 of the Bobcat North Dakota State Open:
Benji and I both shot 75. I played in the morning and made the turn at 3 over and shot even on the back.
For Benji’s round in the afternoon the wind picked up and baked out the greens. He hit a flagstick from 190 yards and the ball then went into the water in the greenside hazard. In the last 3 tournaments, Benji has at least hit one flag per tourney. His round also lasted 6.5 hours.
Benji shot 70. He played solid but just had one bad hole. He was punching out from the trees when his ball caught the trunk of a tree sending it into the hazard. Benji missed the cut by 2.
For myself, I shot 81. Made the turn at 3 over again and knew I had to make some moves if I wanted any chance of making the cut. Instead the round went the other way.
We are leaving North Dakota today and heading to Milbank, South Dakota. We will drive three hours and play a practice round at Pine Hills Golf Club for a one-day Pro Am tomorrow, August 30th.
We are looking forward to playing a new course and teeing it up in another tournament.
For 7,000 miles, Andrew & Benji chased the little white ball across the Dakotas and into Montana, going all the way east to Iowa for the Tour Championship. They were like the golf equivalents of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, hopping from town to town, staying at KOA campgrounds. Playing golf was the reason for their trip but I will bet it was the trip itself they’ll remember most keenly. As another Cervantes once wrote, “The Journey is better than the inn.” In an era when people are brought together over vast distance by technology, it’s even more important to venture into the expanse from time to time. I’m sure Andrew & Benji would agree.
I wondered a lot about Andrew & Benji and their dream of playing golf for a living. In fact, when I started working on this story, I wasn’t even sure they really wanted to play the game for a living. So, I talked to Andrew about it.
Today, Andrew Von Lossow’s day job is studying Design at Eastern Washington University where he’s on schedule to graduate in 2013. He told me about the reaction of his fellow students when he tells that in his spare time he’s a professional golfer. Not surprisingly, they don’t quite know what that means. When most people think of the word professional, they think of doctors and lawyers, not golfers.
When asked to describe his game, Andrew said, “My strength is ball striking. I can hit high long irons and from there I have good confidence in my other irons. My chipping and pitching are works in progress. Same with my putting; I am a streaky putter I can really get it going when I am on. When I’m not, it is a lot of two putts and the occasional and dreaded 3 putt.” He’s clearly a guy who believes in his game and has done a lot to develop it from working with a number of teaching pros to enhancing his overall fitness by following a rigorous fitness regimen developed by the Titleist Performance Institute.
As ever, golf is a game of making three shots into two shots any way you can. The different mind set of the truly fine player is revealed when he says, “Once I make one birdie, I feel I can string them together. The more birdies I make, the more unaware of my score I get because I get caught up on the next shot to make the lowest score possible.” Poor players don’t think that way. A couple good holes is more likely to make them protective than confident. Andrew clearly has the confidence to go low when the opportunity comes his way, as he did by finishing 5th and winning $800 in the Gallatin Valley Open.
He wrote about the event and the end of his first pro tour:
What a journey it was out in the Dakotas. Benji and I both agree that this was the best summer we have ever had. Benji had some great finishes in tournaments while I was enrolled in the school of hard knocks in the tour life. What I learned was very important for becoming a better player. Golf is not easy as we all know.
The last tournament, The Gallatin Valley Open, I came in 5th shooting 72-68. The first day I shot 4-over 40 on the front nine and I took some experience from my previous tournaments and shot 4-under 32 on the back nine. The next day I shot a bogey free 68 to make a move up the leader board to cash my first professional check.
I’ll bet Andrew’s closing 68 felt so easy. At the same time, I’m sure that front nine 40 must have had him doubting that he was cut out to play professional golf. The ability to turn off those doubts and salvage par says a lot about his resiliency. Still, it must be extraordinarily difficult for an aspiring professional to measure his game, until the heat of professional competition gets turned up. Then it becomes easy, if potentially confidence crushing. There are so many good players today. As sure as I am that the best players of eras gone by like Nicklaus, Hogan and Ballesteros would still be amazingly successful players today, I’m equally certain the depth of quality players is greater today than it’s ever been.
No one needs to tell Jim Von Lossow about the difficult challenge that lay ahead for his son. There is surely no way to tell whether Andrew will be able to make a living playing golf. But, that’s not really the point. In golf and in life, outcomes are never assured. All we can do is make our best swing, go find the ball, and do it all again.
Today, Andrew & Benji are continuing to hone their games in preparation for their next trek on tour. They’re sure to have plenty of birdies and their fair share of bogies when they do.
Their best summers ever are just ahead.
My sister and I have something in common when it comes to two of our closest friends. My sister’s college roomate, now a wife and mother of three and my best friend, a husband and father if two. both suffer from significant depression.
Each has issues with their spouse and children. But, I’ve identified a significant difference between the two and the difference was manifest in the one of two sentences that each of them chose to sum up their condition.
My sister’s friend says, “I just don’t want to feel like this any more.”
My buddy says. “I know there’s no help for me. This is just how it is.”
A while back, I felt motivated to share a DVD I own called Buck. It’s the now-famous story of horseman Buck Brannaman. I saw it on TV years ago and I never forgot it. It’s one of a handful of DVDs I’ve ever actually bought and I take it out from time to time just to watch a few scenes.
Now, the funny thing is that I have very little interest in riding horses. I’ve probably been riding ten times and on seven of those rides my steed was made of plastic. Still, I am fascinated with the way Brannaman conveys information. Earlier this year I went to see one of his clinics at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. It was fascinating. Now, Brannaman is not always a little ray of sunshine. But, what attracts me to his method is that it’s heavy on sensitivity and what I call, self-discovery. By that I mean that he’s not merely encouraging sensitivity toward the horse. Rather, he’s saying that sensitivity toward the horse is mandatory and that developing a sensitivity toward the horse you’re riding leads to sensitivity towards oneself and other people.
As I’m prone to do with nearly everything, I apply this to golf. Golf is nearly always taught as a prescribed method of creating a specific series of movements. Of course the golf swing is comprised of motions, so this make sense on one level. But, if you scratch the surface with the best golf instructors they will often admit that what they’re really trying to teach is a feeling that can be hard for some players to feel. I’ve even spoke to one teacher who told me he sometimes tries to trick his students into buying into a motion he thinks will create a feeling that will somehow unlock a better swing. Talk about tricky, but learning isn’t always easy and straightforward.
I’m sure you’re wondering how this applies to the first couple paragraphs. I have to admit that at the time I loaned my friend the DVD I wasn’t sure either. I just had a feeling. Now that he’s watched it I think I have handle on what I wanted him to get out of it. Some of the lessons resides in a line Brannaman refers to in the film:
Solvitur en modo, firmitur en rey.
This is Latin for gentle in what you do, firm in how you do it. Like I said, Brannaman should have been a golf teacher. I think my friend has lived most of his life believing that something done out of the gentleness of love must always be done in that same gentle way. Over the decades, this gentility-first ethos has spawned inaction and passivity where verve and action were needed. That first quote of his, I know there’s no help for me. This is just how it is rings like the very bell of negativity derived from passivity.
I think this is a heck of a difficult thing for my friend to become aware of at this point in his life. He’s gotten so good at applying this mentality to himself even though he would never prescribe it to his children. He has created a bizarre and damning corruption of the old line, Do as I say and not as I do. He has failed to see the real lesson he’s passing on to to children through his actions and his words.
My sister’s friend went out and got help because she didn’t want to keep feeling as bad as she did. She was prescribed with antidepressants and got better. Of course, science has found that people get better from depression for a number of reasons. For the fortunate, the brain’s chemistry normalizes over time all by itself. For some, antidepressants assist in the recovery of this balance. Sometimes the brain recovers from the causes of the depression, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, only with time and perspective.
But, before people get better they have to want to get better. Do we really need to talk about the connection between attitude and health?
I watched Brannaman work with a person as his clinic who told him, “Buck, I think all this leg work (in getting the horse to turn) has numbed my horse up.” Brannaman looked at the back end of her horse and said, “Well, a fly just landed on your horse’s flank and he flicked it away with his tail. If your horse can feel a fly, he can feel your knee. The question is, can you become sensitive to how your horse feels what he feels?”
Sensitivity, or what I prefer to call awareness, is what we should all be looking for. It doesn’t matter if we’re learning a new golf shot or we want to learn how to tell a horse to stop or go or we want to know how to relate more effectively to ourself or other folks. We must be aware in a way that gives us the best chance to learn what we need.
My dear friend has lost this awareness. He can’t bring himself to flick that fly off of his leg and so it’s going to keep tormenting him until he does. My sister’s friend felt the same way but she acted on her awareness that help was close by. I remember hearing Dick Cavett say that in the depths of depression the cure could have been as close as the other side of the kitchen table but he just couldn’t bring himself to reach for it.
I spend a couple hours each week talking to my friend and thinking about his plight. I try to monitor how he’s feeling without asking about it relentlessly. I try to point out options when it comes to his work and his life and his family. I encourage him to try new courses of action, new ways of doing things and different ways of thinking about his ife. He speaks frequently of his experience of what he terms existential dread and crisis.
He’s not joking…
So, I wonder about the internal force that pushed my sister’s friend to reach out for help and the internal deficit that makes my friend unable to do the same? Is optimism a prerequisite for a willingness to ask for help or even the belief that help exists? If it is, I’m quite sure I don’t know of a way to motivate optimism in anyone, even someone I know as well as my old friend. You can lead an horse to water or a friend toward help but in the end it’s up to the horse and the friend to care enough to help themselves. Ever the optimist I’m confidant my old friend will have a quenching drink from the fountain of help this year.
I have a friend who likes to ask me what I would have liked to have done with my life. The unspoken assumption is pretty obvious; there’s no way I could be happy the way things turned out.
But the fact is I am with the way my life turned out.
My friend likes to wonder if I would have enjoyed being a full-time writer. I don’t believe I would have. I can’t imagine enjoying the grinding existence of the working writers I know. Life is more than writing for me. In fact, it’s hard for me to understand how many writers manage to squeeze in enough living to justify the amount of time and energy they devote to writing. Writing, for me anyway, is my response to some aspect of the life I’m living. Put another way, you can have a full life without writing but I don’t believe you can write anything worthwhile without living a full life.
There are other fundamental limiters to my writing and those are the honest and undeniable limits of my talent and inspiration. My inspirations simmer, they seldom boil. Also, I have many other pulls in my life and some of them also involve a kind of creativity and a smattering of inspiration. I love to golf and to hike and to take photographs. More than anything I enjoy being around the people whom I like and love. Writing much more than I already do would vacuum up precious time that could be spent actually doing other things and enjoying other people.
Today I bought new tires for my beloved Mini Cooper instead of buying a new car. I would like to be able to buy a house but the housing market rises faster than I can earn more money. I’ve been working to develop a business association with a high-end manufacturer in Sweden for the last five years. Would it have been easier to do if I had more cash on hand? Most certainly. Still, as has been better said by a million other writers before me the only thing I would truly like more of is time. In the end, it seems to me that we have a choice; we can either embrace life’s limitations or thrash against them.
By accepting those limitations, we allow ourselves to get started on some of the things we say matter to us. But, if we spend too much time thrashing about we’re likely to find our energy sapped before we even have a chance to bring our better selves to bear on projects that could be worthwhile.
Now that’s what I call wasted energy.
And so, I am truly living the dream. My health is good. My loved ones are many and nearby and the world is full of things that fascinate me. From time to times those fascinations inspire me to write. Living the dream is a choice I’m happy I made.
For those who have never dealt with it, let me assure you that plantar fasciitis is a very annoying malady. I’ve had it twice, once about a decade ago and again over the last few weeks. When you have it, you just want it to go away. There’s nothing like foot (and back) pain when it comes to making pretty much your entire life difficult. It’s the kind of discomfort that’s perfectly suited to taking the fun out of even the most enjoyable activities.
The first time I had it, I was gleefully ignorant about questions regarding the causes of plantar fasciitis. Now, the questions about cause and prevention are very keen to me. The most simplistic explanations tend to point to improper (unsupportive) shoes and the need for proper arch support and maybe even orthotics. The more thought-provoking information contends that plantar fasciitis is actually caused by the weakening of the foot and that this weakening is caused by overly supportive shoes and the excess heel striking they encourage.
As an aside, I should say that my current battle with plantar fasciitis came after playing golf with minimalist golf shoes. Still, I’ve now come to see those shoes as less of the cause of my discomfort and more the things that pushed the progressive weakening of my feet into the fore. Two of the more interesting contentions from what I’ll call the unconventional plantar fasciitis information sources are these:
1) That arch supports don’t actually support the foot’s arch, they only serve to limit circulation to the area and weaken it. The logical foundation for this argument is the fact that structural arches do not derive their support from their centers but rather from the end, which would be the ball and heel of the foot.
2) That a lack of flexibility in the toes (particularly the big toe) contributes to plantar fasciitis. It’s said that the big toe should have 80 degrees of extension. This allows the toe to extend when the foot strides forward. But, when this kind of full extension is impossible (mine extends less than 50 degrees) it causes an excessive load to the root of the plantar arch and causes the foot to twist during the stride.
Putting these two contentions together brought me to the belief that my feet had suffered a cumulative injury. I could sense this before I had the informational ammunition to support the opinion. My feet just always felt squished into shoes and I had lost the ability to walk barefoot without feeling like I was putting my feet at risk.
It’s easy to conclude that regaining the strength and flexibility of my feet, toes and ankles are a priority. So far, I have done as much barefoot walking as possible, even at work and especially once I’m at home. I am also doing twice or three times daily massage of the rear of my foot using balls of various hardness (from golf balls to tennis balls).
I’ve also sought to walk more lightly and with less heel strike. That’s a big challenge because I tend to walk fast and I spend most of my time on very hard and frequently slick surfaces. It’s a all very much a work in progress but I am optimistic.
By the way, I have found both of these sites to be invaluable:
That’s an odd title, of course, when you consider that change is the universal constant. At times it’s easy to think things have stayed the same for a while and then you get a glance at a few extra gray hairs here and there and you realize it’s been going on for a while without you noticing it.
As I mentioned in another post, my job of the last dozen years will come to an end at the end of July. Whether it was a great run or not, it has come to an end as do all things. This change has imposed itself on me in a very obvious way that cannot be ignored. I can miss a few new gray hairs for a while but I cannot miss the end of a longstanding position.
“That is no country for old men.” John Butler Yeats
That is the first line of Yeats’ poem, Sailing to Byzantium. I interpret the poem and that line differently than most. In it, I hear that the future does away with the aged; that country is the future. In Hamlet, Shakespeare called death the undiscovered country. Both writers sought to make the future a place as well as a time. In doing so they sought to make time into something less amorphous and more comprehensible.
As writers often do, they were trying to tell us something. For me, the lesson is that these times of obvious change are cosmic favors. It’s up to me to see it as such and to seize the opportunity. The angst of times like these is driven by uncertainty and the question of whether I am up to challenges the future has in store. So often, the changes brought by time happen when we’re unaware or distracted by other things. But, this change, by the sheer obviousness of it, is calling out to me to make it into a time of gain rather than loss.
I am looking forward to a very interesting fall and winter. Both should be seasons of great opportunity; the kinds of opportunities that only a big change can bring.
This article is pretty interesting. It’s one of the few I’ve read to focus on the idea that even if you don’t feel optimistic it’s beneficial to act optimistic. The article asks reader to channel their inner Tiggers rather than succumb to their usual trend toward their inner Eeyore.
Two of the more intriguing elements of the article are the ideas that the way people walk and the way they imagine themselves can be so important to a person’s sense of positive and negative outlooks. I usually prefer to walk quite quickly when my interest is getting from one place to another. When I notice my shadow I see a figure that’s canted forward slightly and moving briskly. It sometimes feels like a happy gait but more often it just feels purposeful.
Imagining myself is really tricky. After thinking about it for a time I realized that I usually imagined ideas, actions and things. I want to work on my book or practice my golf swing. The “I” in both of those sentences and thoughts feel a bit less significant than golf and writing. The article quotes Jeff Wise from Psychology Today:
He states, “People do transform their lives, every day. But for the most part they don’t do it by relying on willpower. The key, it turns out, is to simply start behaving like the person you want to become. Instead of wondering, What should I do?, imagine your future, better self and ask: What would they do? This approach works because of the rather surprising way that our brains form self-judgments. Numerous experiments have demonstrated that when it comes to forming beliefs about our own character and proclivities, we don’t peer inward, as you might expect; instead, we observe our own external behavior. If we see ourselves carrying out a particular action—whatever the actual motivation—our self-conception molds itself to explain that reality.”
I confess I find this to be a little tricky. It’s easy to imagine myself practicing golf but it’s harder to imagine myself as the better golfer that would result from lots of practice without putting in the practice first.
Rather than focusing on my future golf-self or my future writer-self I tend to focus on the next step. There’s an old saying that goes, “What’s the most important step on the journey to the of the mountain? The next one…” But, maybe the next step focus doesn’t do enough to develop optimism? Miguel Cervantes wrote, “Love not what you are, but what you may become.” It may be that you have to envision your future and better self first and then imagine what that future self would do. That seems like a more inspiring approach…
A person can be optimistic about a lot of things. A sports fan can be optimistic that their favorite team is going to have a good season. Some people are optimistic about the future. But, does optimism spring more readily from a culture that also values individualism?
This article sets out to show just such a link.
As an aside, I’m always surprised that the Germans are such a dreary lot.
The piece cites a Pew Research Center study of 44 countries that focused on people’s sense of control and also the effect of hard work. The results show that Americans believe both in the ability of the individual to exercise control and also in the value of hard work to affect an outcome.
Seems sensible but, then again, I’m an American.
Our individualized optimism is even set apart among other wealthy nations. Again, what’s Germany’s problem? They build some great cars and have the Autobahn for goodness sake.
I find the study results interesting because I do not find the average American all that optimistic. Instead I see and hear a sense of stuckness from a lot of people. People are questioning the cost and benefit of everything from education to government. Certitude of mission seems in short supply. Not even NASA seems sure of their mission these days.
Still, there’s a kind of resilience alongside the uncertainty, a kind of confidence borne of the unusual alchemy of democracy and individualism. As attitudinally challenged as we are here, I’m glad I’m not in Germany.
A couple years ago, when I first started to think about optimism I considered the phrase, living is an art.
It seemed like a pretentious notion, perfectly mated to new age sensibilities. As time went on I began to think that even if it did seem pretentious it might very well be true.
The word flow triggers the same response. This article defines flow and describes its eight ingredients:
1 The experience occurs usually when we are involved in tasks that we have a good chance of completing.
2 We are able to concentrate fully on the activity.
3 The task has clear goals.
4 The task is such that it gives us immediate feedback on how well we are doing.
5 Our involvement is “deep but effortless” and this “removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life.”
6 There is a sense of exercising control over our actions.
7 Concern for the self disappears but paradoxically our “sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over.”
8 We lose our normal sense of time “we can feel either that it has speeded up (and passed quickly) or slowed down.”
Just to show how challenging flow can be when it comes to, oh let’s say, golf and writing consider my take on them respective to those activities:
1 This is a very poor fit. The sense that the task of writing and golf can be completed is completely absent from the experience. There’s always another swing to be made and another word to be chosen.
2 Yes, full concentration on both golf and writing is highly desirable.
3 Yes, the goals are clear (usually).
4 Um, sometimes the task gives immediate feedback and sometimes it doesn’t. I can spend quite a bit of time writing only to realize days later that what I wrote didn’t really work. Similarly, working on golf involves a good bit of sideways and even some backward steps. It’s simply a very hard game and reliable feedback isn’t a constant.
5Effortlessness in golf or writing is both rare and short lived. It does happen, it’s glorious and then it’s gone.
6 Certainly, control over actions is a feature in both golf and writing.
7 The disappearance of the self is a tough one, too.
“Just be the ball.” -Ty Webb in Caddyshack
8 The emergence of the stronger self is true. Success brings confidence. In golf, I can recall certain shots, the way impact felt, the way the ball flew and I can imagine myself doing it again. Good writing, too, breeds an excitement about the next idea, the next event and the next part of a story. Time does speed up when I’m writing, but that’s mostly because I am always putting it between the rock and a hard place of other activities that demand my attention. Golf has an easier time of it; if I’m on the range or the course the nature of time does change.
More flow is a good thing, but it’s not always easy to achieve.