One Shingle At A Time

I was about nine or ten when I learned one of the most important lessons of my life.

My (biological) Dad died when I was four. I just have a few flashes of happy memories with him: working the fields on the tractor, racing him from the barn to the house, and sitting on his lap and driving the car.

Yes, we start driving young, on the farm.

Mom remarried when I was nine. In those five intervening years, I pretty much ran wild and was as productive as a gnat. I was a spoiled little brat, and I didn’t have a clue what work really was.

This all changed with my step father.

My Dad believed that hard work was our salvation. That we were put on this earth to work. That the most important verse in the Bible was “By the sweat of your brow shall ye eat.”

You can imagine that my religion was fundamentally opposed to his.

When you are nine, however, your options for freedom are limited to what adults will allow you. My options became very limited.

I still remember the first time that I really learned what work was and how to do it. We had a number of buildings on our farmyard. One of these went by the name “The Big Garage”.

We called it this because it was bigger than the “Little Garage”.

The Big Garage was in need of a hip replacement. Hip roof, that is. Mom and Dad went up on the roof early one morning and started removing shingles. This was the mid 70s, so worry about rain did not enter into the equation.

It was the original scorched earth policy.

I watched for a while. The old shingles came off steadily and cascaded down the roof to the ground. It was sort of cool. For about five minutes. Then I lost interest and started to walk away.

“I’m glad you are here,” said Dad. “I need your help.”

This didn’t sound good to me; however, walking away from your parent, in those days, was hazardous to your health.

He crawled down the ladder and walked up to me. “We are going to burn these old shingles in the field,” he said.

This is back in the days when burning was a socially, politically, and environmentally sound way of disposing of garbage. Also fun.

“What I need you to do is take these shingles that are on the ground and put them in the stoneboat (cart). Then you can set them on fire.”

It sounded like work, but the chance to set something ablaze was very appealing. I looked at the shingles on the ground.

There were thousands. Probably – without stretching the truth in the least – at least a hundred thousand shingles.

It was impossible.

I did what I always do when I’m faced with an impossible task: nothing.

Dad looked at me with something like compassion. “Don’t you know how to work?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“Pick up one shingle and put it in the cart.”

So I did. Then I looked expectantly at him.

“Now do it again.”

So I did.

“Now keep doing that until the cart is full. Then we’ll empty it, and you can start again.”

I knew I couldn’t say that moving one shingle was too hard or too much work. I had too much pride for that. So I picked up a shingle and put it in the cart. And another. And another.

I finally realized that if I grabbed two shingles, I’d be done twice as quick. Then three. Then a big jump to five. Then as many as I could carry.

Go to the pile. Grab shingles. Put them in the cart. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

I did that until all one hundred and twenty six thousand three hundred and twenty seven shingles were in a big pile in the field. While I was really sore and tired, I felt really good. Dad said I had done a man’s work, which made me feel even better.

Plus I got to light the shingles on fire.

It was a long time until I realized how valuable a lesson I learned that day. No matter what the problem – no matter how seemingly insurmountable it seems – you just start by grabbing the smallest part of it and completing it. Then you do the next little bit. Keep doing it until you are done.

Rinse and repeat.

It’s really easy to get overwhelmed by life. Some days I wake up and think about all the things that I can’t do anymore. Or the things that I do less well. Or that take four times as long as they used to.

It’s easy to give up and watch Netflix. If I can’t do what I used to be able to do, what use am I?

And then I remember that lesson I learned, all those years ago; one shingle at a time, Ron, and eventually the job will be done. Start with the smallest bit and keep on going.

One shingle at a time.

Thanks for that, Dad.

Take A Deep Breath And Count To Ten

I’ve made it my life’s work not to get angry. I’ve got all sorts of techniques that work. I play mind games with myself. Usually, they work. Not today.

Today I was mad.

We had ordered flooring for our basement a while ago. We were very clear that we needed it near the beginning of this week.

The salesperson assured us that this wouldn’t be a problem. It it’s in Calgary, it’s three days. If we need to get it from Quebec, you’re looking at a nine day turn around.

He checked his computer. Well, nothing in  Calgary, but plenty of stock in Quebec. It will possibly be here by the 19th, but you can count on the 20th.

OK, we said. We like the product, the time line will work … so, here’s our deposit.

Today is the 20th.

I called to figure out when I could pick up the stuff.

Silence.

Huston, we have a problem. There were a few false starts. The salesman told a few different stories. You know … the worst kinds of stories.

Likely ones.

Then he mentioned that he had no control over when the ship would dock. Ship? I’m no geography whiz, but I do know that there is no way, by ship, to send flooring from anywhere in Quebec to Saskatchewan.

I began to get just the teensiest bit miffed. Now, I know all the signs of anger coming on. Anger has been my constant companion since I can remember. So, calmly, I asked when I could expect the flooring.

No later than Friday, he said.

Actually on Friday, or possibly some time next week, I asked. Or next year.

Silence.

I thanked him and hung up the phone. Well, clicked End. No one hangs up a phone anymore.

Fortunately, I was doing some painting. I got a lot of painting done in a very short period of time … after I called my wife to let her know.

My wife also has a fuse. When I related the tale of woe, she said “That’s unacceptable.”

Unlike passive-aggressive me, she is more the opposite: active aggressive.

In a few minutes, she had driven down to the store, talked to the salesman and worked out a deal to purchase something in stock in Edmonton. This will be delivered tomorrow.

To my house. To the basement.

They will also do the installation for half price.

This all took about 30 minutes. She said she never even raised her voice, although all the other men in the room suddenly had things to do in the back. She had simply asked what they could do to make this work.

If you use it the right way, anger can be your friend.It can motivate you to deal with injustices you may feel or see around you. I have yet to figure that part out.

Don’t get me wrong; there is something very powerful about my anger. I feel like I’m invincible and completely in the right. I think very clearly. My brain – and my tongue – are much sharper.

It’s just that I am out of control.

As I said, I have a long association with anger. To be fair to myself, I do have an older sister, so there is a lot of justification. I don’t know how many times I kicked in the screen door when it was mysteriously locked. Thanks, sis.

As a fairly helpless kid, I found that anger made me a formidable foe. It gave me power. It kept me safe.

I just didn’t like the way it happened.

I tried in vain to control it. Count to ten. Can’t, too mad to count. Take deep breaths. Can’t take any deep ones. Just shallow. Talk to someone about it.

Yeah. Right.

The point of change, for me, happened in Grade 10. A bully was bugging a friend of mine. I went to intervene. I hit the bully in the fist with my nose and sat down.

Everything went red, for a moment. Yes, I actually see red, sometimes. I saw red, and then everything went cold and icy. It was like I wandered into my brain, found the switch labeled “Humanity”, and turned it off.

I felt capable of anything.

I remember asking the guy to stay there. That I would be back. Then I walked over to the baseball field, asked to borrow a bat, and started walking back.

Luckily for all concerned, a young intern decided to walk with me to find out what I was going to do with the bat. When the bully saw me, his eyes went wide, and he ran away.

I am convinced that I would have done serious bodily harm to the person. I realized then that I had a real problem and needed to figure out how to deal with it.

Over the years, I have learned to control it. It’s never far away from me, though, and I work on it a lot. So much so that when I mention that I have a problem, people don’t believe it.

That’s because I put up with a lot of shit.

Where my wife uses her anger in a positive way, I just let mine fester. I push it down and put on a smile. If you do this often enough, you get good at hiding it. Still, it takes constant vigilance.

Plus it rots me from the inside.

So I struggle to find responsible outlets. I employ many tricks to actually calm myself. I can usually breathe, these days.

I’m getting there, but old habits are hard to change.

It’s important to me, because that’s not the person I want to be. I have no desire to be the angry old guy. Even though he’s fun to trot out, once in a while, he is like your drunk Uncle Albert at the family gathering; he says or does something that is very hard to take back.

I work at it. I can’t always control the circumstances in my life. Sometimes flooring doesn’t come in, and it feels like the salesman is lying to me (he wasn’t). Sometimes people take advantage of your good nature. Sometimes they spread gossip behind your back.

Sometimes people are jerks.

As with all things, I’m the one who gets to decide how I will react. While getting angry is my habit, I am slowly trying to replace it with patience and understanding.

Now, breathe deep. Count to ten. Oh yeah … don’t keep it inside. It will rot you if you let it.

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

I’m beautiful in my way,
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way
Born This Way, Lady GaGa

It’s surprising how much weight the words of someone you respect carry.

I’ve been thinking about my growing up years. Actually, I remembered something fairly traumatic that I had forgotten. Or repressed. I might write about that, later.

But today I was thinking about something my Dad said.

We were talking about life and what I wanted to do for a living. Did I have any thoughts? Did I have any plans? I’m not sure how old I was, but probably in my early teens.

Dad was a no-nonsense kind of guy. From a different era. The hardest working person I have ever met. Serious. Not a lot of laughs. He believed that we were put on the earth to work. And work hard.

He and I had differences of opinion on other things, as well.

I knew what he wanted me to say. An accountant. Or mechanic. Or tradesman. Or … well, anything practical. This is what I usually said, just to make things easier.

That day, though, I told him the truth.

“I like to write. I like to entertain people and make them laugh. I thought maybe I’d write funny stuff.” Not really knowing what I was talking about. More of a general direction kind of idea.

Dad looked really serious. Even more so than usual. He paused, and then he said, “No one ever made any money making people laugh.”

Now I think I know what Dad was thinking. He wanted me to do something that made a good living. So that I wouldn’t have to worry about where the next meal or house payment was coming from. Something steady.

Something secure and practical.

His words, that day, made me say to myself “Well, I guess that’s out of the question.”

If I were to hear those words now, of course, I could point to many people who make a living making people laugh. And with the internet, the possibilities are endless. Not easy, but possible.

At the time, though, I figured it must be impossible.

It’s so easy, as adults, to say something that we really think is best for a younger person. Musician? No one makes a living doing that. Do something more secure. English major? No English major made any money. Go into computer science or engineering. Or be a doctor, if you are that smart.

That’s always a favourite. Be a doctor.

Not that there’s anything wrong with computer science or engineering or doctoring. Unless you are totally not wired for things like that.

Then it can be difficult. Maybe even soul crushing.

I’m not complaining. Or even suggesting that Dad somehow ruined my life and my dreams. I’ve had (and continue to have) a very good life.

It’s just good to remember, now and then, to be careful what we say. Especially if we have some authority with the person we are talking to.

We’ve all heard the stories of famous authors who were told by their English teachers / college professors / parents that they would never sell a word and should go into … well, probably doctoring.

We are all wired differently. While I think we all can do anything we set our minds to, I think we have the best chance of being happy when we are doing something that we are wired for. Something that winds us up. Something that turns us on.

As I get older, I realize how important it is to be true to myself.

One last illustration of the power we have over the younger people among us.

I was going to deliver the valedictory speech at our graduation. Yes, I did graduate. Wanting to do a good job – and not screw up too badly – I ran it by Dad. Why? Well, he’d been a teacher all of his life and basically made a living by talking to groups of people.

He suggested a change here and a change there. Rework this. Cut that.

I gave the speech and, thankfully, didn’t pass out. I think it went OK. When I sat down, I asked my friend what he thought.

“It was OK,” he said. Then he looked at me. “But it didn’t really sound like you.”

I happened to run across my old yearbook, a while back, and I read my speech. My friend was right. It didn’t sound like me. It sounded like my Dad.

In all of time, there is only one you and one me. We are originals. We are the only ones who have ever thought our thoughts in our way from our point of view.

I intend to be careful about suggesting to others that they think their thoughts the way I think mine.

 

Painting Is Life

We were at the painting stage on Saturday. Or, at least, so I thought. I figured I could get a few hours in and get a head start on Monday.

It didn’t work out that way. When I took a closer look, I realized that I had a lot of work to do before I could start painting. The walls, for example, had been spray painted. While they looked smooth, they were actually rough.

Really rough. I mean, they need to have something for the top coat to bite into, but they shouldn’t be so rough that your shirt snags on it if you walk too close. So, out came the sanding pole, and I sanded all the walls down.

While I was sanding, I noticed that there were a few gouges that had developed. A few nicks. A couple of blemishes. So I grabbed the spackle and set about making the holes disappear.

I never did get around to painting, that day.

A few days ago, somebody came to spray texture on the ceiling. He came in in the morning. It was quiet for a number of hours. When I went down to see how things were going, the guy (the texturizer?) said that he had almost taped everything off and covered everything up. He was almost ready to spray.

It took him about an hour to spray the whole ceiling. About a third of the time it took to prepare everything.

Isn’t that how it goes? Once the paint is on, people will either not notice it or say how nice it looks. Likely, people won’t even notice that the ceiling is texturized, although they might notice if it isn’t.

People generally just see the finished product. They really have no idea how much blood, sweat, tears and time went into something.

There’s a story about Picasso. You know, the painter dude who was on acid. Or whatever caused him to see the world the way he did.

The story goes that he was sitting in a restaurant when a fan of his work recognized him.

“Won’t you please draw me a picture?” she asked.

Picasso grabbed his pencil and sketched something on the back of a napkin. He handed it over to the woman. After she had oohed and aahed, she said, “Oh, I insist that I pay you for it. How much would you charge me?”

Picasso said, “$50,000”.

The woman was shocked. “But it only took you five minutes to create it,” she said.

“No,” said Picasso. “40 years and five minutes.”

You know that people have no idea what goes on under the surface of what you do or who you are. Artists spend thousands of hours, learning how to mix paints just so, learning a quicker and better way to move from chord to chord, or learning a new trick to get the finish on a freshly built armoire to pop.

I say artists, but I mean it in the way we are all artists when we create. We work like crazy. We put in hours of thankless work. Work that no one but us – and the ones that love us – knows about.

We do it because we know that the finished product requires it. If we want to do our best work, we need to put in the time and effort.

If we do, no one notices. If we don’t, though, everyone notices. And not in a nice way. No, it’s not fair, but it is the way it is.

In the end, we get to choose. We decide. Do we take shortcuts and have our work suffer? Or do we put in the thankless hours and create the very best we can at that moment?

I think I know your answer.

Keep working, my friends.

Forever Young

Be courageous and be brave
And in my heart you’ll always stay
Forever young, forever young
Forever Young, Bob Dylan

I was at a Christmas concert, tonight. Shocking, I know.

The concert was out at the Timberlodge at Shekinah Retreat Centre near Waldheim. This is one of my favourite places on the planet, so I always enjoy going there. The music was good. I met some old friends.

My overwhelming thought was how long I’ve been around on Planet Earth.

I talked with a couple of brothers from our previous church. The youngest (who should be about 13) is working construction. The older is finishing up university and was excited that Google – yes, that Google – had wined and dined him at their Waterloo offices which were, in his words, sick.

There were also a number of young women I knew from various places in the Mennonite world – camp, Rosthern Junior College, etc. While I know they were still in their late teens / early twenties, it seemed that they were going on thirty.

Another young woman I knew “back when” now has a three and a five year old. In my mind, she’s still sixteen.

How did this happen? How did I get so old?

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t feel old. Well, I should qualify that. There are days when my body feels old. Medieval. Ancient, even. My back hurts constantly, and some days that is the least of my problems.

Still, in my mind, I’m the same age I’ve always been. (To be fair, Sue is convinced that I stopped maturing somewhere around the age of sixteen.)

I think that’s the way it goes. Since I hit my early twenties, or so – when I became an “adult” – I have always felt this age. I do remember being other ages, but I’ve been this age for a long time.

I remember being a kid. Young. When you are young, you can’t wait to get old. So you can do things. You don’t know what, but you know it will be awesome.

Then you hit puberty. It’s hormones and zits. Finding your place in the world. Being horny for years on end. Excitement and rejection. Falling in love.

And then … adulthood? This is where my mind has stuck. I don’t see myself differently (well, in the mirror, yes) than I did in my twenties, thirties, or forties.

I wonder how this works? Internally. What chemical soup feeds this delusion? Because, obviously, I’ve changed. In some ways, for the worse. In some for the better.

When I look in the mirror, I am sometimes surprised by the old guy staring back at me. Where did you come from? I wonder. My back creaks. My knees crack. I can’t turn my head to the left. My hair is more Matlock than Magnum.

And yet my brain keeps telling me that I’m the same age I’ve always been. Well, after childhood and puberty. Obviously.

Weird.

I’m sure there are studies about this phenomenon. Unless, and I just thought of this, maybe it’s just me. Wouldn’t that be something? If I was unique? What are the odds?

In spite of this reality vs perception, I am fine with thinking that I am as I’ve always been. I’m OK with thinking that I’m the same as I was.

Because … who knows how I’d react if I thought I was getting old?

 

Christmas Traditions Die Hard

Allan Rickman as Hans Gruber, Die Hard

Holly Gennero McClane: After all your posturing, all your little speeches, you’re nothing but a common thief.
Hans Gruber: I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I’m moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.

We just got the Christmas tree put up. We are quite a bit later than usual, but there didn’t seem to be much point when everything was covered by dust.

I went to the usual place to get the tree: Home Depot. I’ve been going there for about a decade, or so, and we haven’t had a bad tree yet.

My job, with the Christmas season, is pretty straightforward: get a tree and put up lights. Christmas lights, to be clear.

I put up our exterior lights quite a while ago. It was actually warm enough to work outside without gloves on.

Normally, it’s about 35 below, and I freeze pretty much every body part.

I got the tree yesterday and let it “relax” from the cold overnight.

It looks pretty good. A couple of snips with the trimmer and it was ready to go.

As I said, I am in charge of lights. Over the years, my application method has changed. It used to be that I carefully wove the lights into the tree. I carefully went up and down each branch.

It was perfect. Also time consuming.

One year I decided to just quickly put them up. Not sloppily – I still like to hide the wire as best as I can – but quick.

It looks just about as good for a fraction of the work. I think they call this the 80/20 rule: 80% of people don’t know 20% about Christmas lights. Uh …

Something like that, anyway.

No matter which way I string the lights, Sue will say there aren’t enough.

You are probably wondering why I have a picture of Hans Gruber, the bad guy from the movie Die Hard, on this post. First, it’s a great movie. NOT rated PG, if you haven’t seen it. Second, it’s my favourite Christmas movie. And third, Hans is one of the all time best bad guys on the screen.

Plus, it’s a Schellenberg family tradition to watch at least Die Hard (1) over the holidays. Probably 2 as well. Hey, you do your thing, we’ll do ours.

We won’t judge you.

We don’t really have many Christmas traditions: decorations, a tree,  Die Hard and dressing in dinosaur onesies on Christmas Eve.

Just seeing if you’re paying attention.

Things have changed, now that our family has grown by 2. We aren’t always together on Christmas eve or day. Time gets split between two families.

This is the way it should be. New families are created, and times move on. The joy of having two daughters in the family outweigh any minor scheduling problems.

They’re not really movie people, though, and they seem to think that Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. I foresee some issues, down the road.

Still, we love our girls. Especially Sue, who now has people of intelligence to talk with. Not that there’s anything wrong with fart jokes.

I guess I’ll go carry the empty decorations boxes back to the storage room. I guess that’s another tradition for me.

Merry Christmas.

Checklists, Systems And Time Constraints

I think I’ve mentioned the young contractor who has been slaving away, making our basement look good. I can’t believe how much work he gets done in a day.

“How do you get so much work done in a day?” I asked.

He smiled. “Systems,” he said.

“Systems?”

“Yep. Systems.” He continued on and started talking about his first (and only) boss.

His boss was a small business owner, too, doing finish carpentry for some large home builders. He was busy enough that he hired my contractor to work for him. Right out of high school.

The thing he noticed, right off, was that they boss used systems. Even if it was a tiny little job. Systems allowed them to plan the entire job ahead of time and tick off items as they were accomplished.

Also, they put a “guestimated time of completion” on every part of the project.

My contractor has yet to miss a deadline.

This makes a lot of sense, but how many of us use systems in our work / life?

As a “creative” type, I used to shudder at the thought of using some kind of a system. Surely I was so smart and creative that I didn’t need any type of artificial construct to … blah blah blah.

I’ve since come to realize that systems are a good idea. After all, they are used in a lot of places. Important places.

For example, airplanes. Now, I don’t know much about airplanes. A friend of mine is an aircraft mechanic. He said that a plane was made to fly. “It wants to be in the air” is, I think, how he said it.

This is very comforting to me. I’d hate to be in a plane that wanted to stay on the ground.

The reason that there are so few accidents, though, I think is because of systems.

Imagine if the flight crew had no system in place. The flight attendants would maybe open a few coolers and think “Looks like enough sandwiches. There are a few cans of cola. I think there was still some coffee in the back. We should be fine.”

Half way to Hawaii, the passengers would not be happy to discover that there is nothing to eat or drink. Or enough headphones. Or, and this is the big one, enough toilet paper.

This is why the crew has a system. A checklist. How many of these do we have? How much of that? How are the toilet paper stores?

Check it off and they know they are covered.

Same goes for the flight crew up front. The captain and co-pilot don’t take a look around, tap a couple of gauges, see how much fuel is in the tank, ease the seat back and start taxiing down the runway.

If you think it would be bad to run out of toilet paper, halfway, imagine running out of gas.

So they go through a detailed checklist. What are the things that need to be checked for a safe flight? What needs to be cycled up? Or down? How much fuel is there?

The checklist – the system – keeps them from having to rely on memory or any other device.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to put systems in place for my writing. I haven’t been too successful.

I tend to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of guy. I used to be a bit proud of that. Now I think that I need some structure. Structure, I’ve realized, is not a bad thing.

One thing I’ve started to do is limit the time I have to write. Like anything else, if I have no deadline, I will keep filling time with stuff.

A time limit means I need to get to work. It doesn’t affect any creativity; rather, it releases me from having to think about how much time I have to do stuff.

It’s creativity within boundaries, and I think it’s starting to work. These posts are getting faster and easier to write.

Now, if I can just get the rest of my life organized … hmmm, I wonder how much toilet paper we have?

Thinking Different With Steve Jobs

No matter what you think of it – saviour or devil – Apple is the largest company in the world. Probably one of the most profitable, too.

Naysayers will say that Apple computers are underpowered. That they don’t deliver the value of a PC. That they follow trends instead of innovate. Like the iPad. Tablets had been around for years. Apple just made them popular.

It doesn’t really matter, the fact is the same; Apple has rabid fans that have propelled it to atmospheric standards.

And it all happened because of telling a story.

Back in the day, Steve Jobs, then CEO of Apple, was not a good storyteller. He had created a personal computer he called Lisa, after his daughter. It was the most advanced desktop computer ever created. He imagined one in every home.

He was the only one.

In his Wall Street Journal ad – 9 pages(!) long – he geeked out with reams of technical data: RAM, megabytes, buses, network protocols, etc. His ad proved that this was the most advanced desktop computer ever.

Apple sold a comparative handful of these computers. A bust. A total failure.

Steve got the boot from his own company.

In keeping with his lust for hardware, Jobs then started NEXT, a computer hardware company. He discovered that there was already a high end player in this field; a small company called Pixar.

Pixar made computers for medical imaging and a little company called NASA. As high end as you can think. In spite of this, they were not profitable.

Jobs bought up as much stock as he could and set out to make Pixar the next Apple.

He failed. The hardware never really took off. Fortunately, though, there was a guy from the original Pixar named John Lasseter. Lasseter had been approached by the makers of the Listerine mouthwash: could he make a 30 second cartoon via computer for the company and save money doing it?

He could, and Pixar, as we know it, was born. The company that would set the standards for storytelling everywhere.

For the next few years, Jobs was immersed in story. Pixar began to develop a reputation for telling great stories. A big enough reputation that another little company called Disney came calling with a script: Toy Story.

The rest, as they say, is money in the bank.

I’m sure there were many lessons that Jobs learned while at Pixar, but here are two that are important to me:

Clarity. Because animation is such a labour intensive medium, they had to be crystal clear on where they were going and how they were going to get there. To be fuzzy with their message would cost – literally – millions of dollars.

Know who the hero is. When Jobs created the Lisa, he thought the hero was the computer. He was wrong. The hero of the story was the computer user. At the time, there was no desktop market. No one had any idea why they would have a computer – which at the time took up a room’s worth of space at the office – in their home.

Jobs didn’t let them know what they could accomplish with this computer. He just bragged about how it had the latest everything.

But … and this is the key … he learned.

Apple continued to lose money and market share. In desperation, they hired Jobs back as CEO.

But it was a different Jobs that returned. It was a Jobs that understood how clear he had to be in all his communications. It was a Jobs who knew who the hero was.

His first ad campaign was considerably different than his 9 page WSJ ad. In fact, it was just two words long: Think Different.

That was truly the beginning of the Apple that we know now.

So what? Who cares about some rich billionaire who has now passed on?

I take great comfort in knowing that you can change your story. Is the story you are telling yourself not helpful? Change it.

I am writing these posts to get some clarity in my own life. The thing I am realizing, is that I want to change my current story. I believe it can be done.

I believe the same for you.

 

When Your Plans Gang Aft A-Gley

 

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley.”

To A Mouse by Robert Burns

We tried our best. We really did.

It was going to be a heavy sanding day for our new drywall downstairs. Sanding means drywall dust, so we were as careful as we possibly could be. We taped off the area going up the stairs. We covered registers and cold air returns, upstairs and down.

We even turned off the furnace, in spite of being minus freaking cold outside.

You can see the results in the picture above.

How did this happen? We were so careful. We did everything we could. And still … a mess to clean up. A big one.

Life is like that, sometimes. Despite your best intentions and attempts, things “gang aft a-gley”.

Gang aft a-gley , loosely translated, means that things can go to sh*t in a heartbeat.

One of the tradesmen came upstairs. He looked at the dust, looked at me, and then he said “Your wife is going to kill you.”

I wasn’t worried. Much.

We had been through this previously when we scraped the carpet from the basement floor. Filthy dust everywhere. Including upstairs.

Sue was not overly calm about that one; however, she had lived through it and so found this one closer to the amusing side. Closer. Not quite there, but closer.

She’s the one who “carved” the above into the TV stand. I know, you’re disappointed that it wasn’t me.

You were so sure I was sensitive like that.

I’m not suggesting, by any means, that everything you plan in your life is going to gang aft a-gley. I suspect (and hope) that most things or events that you plan will go swimmingly.

That your flights will all be on time. That your car will start when you need it to. That the wedding you planned will go off without a hitch.

These are all reasonable expectations, and most of the time they will occur like clockwork. But there are times when your a-gley will gang aft.

I’ve discovered that it doesn’t really matter what goes wrong. It’s how you react to the situation that makes it good or bad.

You can rant: “Stupid airline / car / groom. Things were supposed to go like this. Not like that. This sucks.”

In fact, go ahead and rant. It might make you feel better. Once you’ve gotten it out of your system, though, you need to figure out how to proceed.

“Oh, I guess I’ll see what the airline can do. I’ll have to get the car looked at, but in the meantime, I’ll see if the neighbour / a cab can take me to my meeting. I’ll have to rethink whether or not to marry this knob.”

Hey, not everything works out smoothly.

My point, if I have one, is not that things might go badly. It’s that, hopefully only occasionally, something will mess up your plans. The question you need to ask yourself is “How am I going to handle this?”

How you answer makes all the difference.

Write A Shitty First Draft

“How do you come up with ideas to write about?”, a friend asked.

I’ll try to explain it as best I can, but there are things that just can’t be put into words.

The Muse is all. All writing comes from The Muse. The Muse is the source of all creativity. One must become quiet before The Muse and wait for the inspiration to hit. One must wait for one’s eureka! moment.

What a crock.

If I waited around for The Muse – or inspiration – to strike, I’d still be back at Day 1, wondering what I should write about.

I’ve read a number of books on writing by a number of well known writers of books on writing. People like Anne Lamott, Dean Koontz, and Stephen King. They all have different thoughts on how to write.

Stephen King, for example, is the most mystical about the whole process. You can never know where your next idea will come from. Often, it will be a mixture of a couple of other ideas. Your job is not to find these ideas; rather, it is to recognize them when they appear out of the ether.

And yet … in On Writing, he also says:

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

My favourite book on writing is called Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott. In it, she has the most freeing advice on how to write:

“Write a shitty first draft.”

This is incredibly freeing. You don’t have to have it perfect. It doesn’t even have to be good – as you have no doubt realized, if you’ve read some of my other posts. Just get the words out and fix them later.

I often wondered how an author kept things straight in her head. How did the yellow ribbon tied around the old oak tree in the first chapter become the most important clue in the mystery? How did they do that?

Well, maybe they knew before hand. If not, they put it in later.

Everything can be fixed in post production.

How do I come up with things to write about? I sit my butt down in my chair, fire up my computer, and start typing.

The words come. Sometimes they’re good. Sometimes they’re OK. Most times they are drivel. All of these are OK with me, as long as I’m getting my daily words in.

The proof is in the writing, not the inspiration.

Inspiration is overrated.

How many times have you heard of some new invention / song / movie idea and thought “Hey. I had that thought back in ’83. They should be paying me royalties.”

Except that someone else did something about it, and you went back to eating pizza and watching Magnum, PI.

We all get ideas. Not on writing, of course. I’m sure most of you are not in the least bit interested in writing. But you are interested in something. Sports, health, embroidery, songwriting.

Stand up comedy. Sit down comedy.

If you want to do something in these areas, I only have one small bit of advice: get going. Get a start. Who cares if it sucks? One idea leads to another, and, before you know it, even though you had no idea as to how you would get your 500 words in, you’re done.

Don’t wait around for The Muse – whatever area of life you are wanting to get to work in. Just get a start.

The Muse will show up once you are on the way. She’s funny that way.