Usually when Chris and I have the time to go out on a date, I am not at a loss for words. The last time we went out for dinner, just the two of us, was before New Years and we were annoyed by the guests sitting next to us. Since then our dates have been over weekend brunch, which is often our weekly date. Either way we always have lots to talk about, and there is never a lull of communication between us. So when I read this idea in the book: “The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help” by Amanda Palmer I thought I wonder if I could pull this off?
“One night in a candlelit restaurant in San Francisco, shortly after we got married, I asked Neil if we could just write each other notes during the whole meal. In real time, like texting, but with pens and paper. The waiter thought we were slightly strange, but by the end of the meal we’d shared a degree of intimate information that we probably wouldn’t have if we’d just been sitting there chatting. And we could illustrate our points with pie charts and cartoons. And we really enjoyed our food, because we weren’t literally talking through it. The couple next to us asked what we were doing, and when we told them, they ordered a pad of paper and two pens from the waiter.” Page 39
Interesting isn’t it? What if we were quiet and poised, and did not go on and on in our verbal communication, but rather made the date a written experience? As someone who writes and documents the world, and tracks life moments in a calendar, I can see how interesting it would be to look back many months later and see what communication we had during our date. It also makes me think that there would possibly be less miscommunication since it is all done in written form. Maybe we need to communicate more often in writing? Like the lost art of letter writing.
I would like to try it. I am sure those that are dining nearby might think that there is something odd about our interaction. I can remember when we were on our honeymoon many years ago and most of the other couples that were on their honeymoon would sit together and not talk or interact (so very strange to me). Based on that I am always aware of watching other couples in a restaurant to find out if they talk, or if they just sit there and eat and stare at each other.
Chris will you try writing notes on a date with me?
Over the long holiday weekend, we watched “Words and Pictures.” It has been a while since I have seen a good movie (or one that I actually watched completely without multi-tasking). This one sucked me in. Maybe it was the subject matter. Words, writing, ideas and art, painting, pictures. Plus it had a bit of the indie film feel to it. It was a mellow movie, not too much drama, but just the right amount of depth.
Juliette Binoche and Clive Davis are the main characters and they do not disappoint. Owen is an alcoholic, yet endearing English professor at a college prep school, and Binoche an artist/painter who cannot do what she used to after rheumatoid arthritis effects her. They begin a personal and professional war that moves both their students and their own worlds. It was not an amazing movie, but enough to keep me engaged and make me think. I was enamored watching her paint. Who knows if Binoche had any idea what she was doing at the craft of painting, watching her awakened a dormant vein inside me. I have not painted for a while. She painted large pieces, a size I do not have a space for, yet it brought back a craving for me to continue to paint. It brought back the desire to dust off my brushes and get busy painting.
As far as the movie goes, I could speak to either side of the debate (words or pictures) as the movie debates. I am a word fanatic. I love writing, find that I process my world with words. Yet, I also love art. It calms me, is therapeutic, and truly allows me to be in the moment. Some of my paintings have no words to describe them, they are just something I feel. Sometimes my words still do not do justice to what I am feeling. The debate continues, but both are just as important to me.
Three things that are constants in my life on an almost daily basis are: exercise, vegetables, and writing. An odd amalgamation of things, but all critical for a bit of balance and inspiration in my life. You might wonder how these three have anything remotely in common. Their only commonality is that they ground me. On the days when I have the opportunity to run, eat a good amount of vegetables, and take the time to write, life just feels better. It may not mean that I have had an amazing day. Lots of shit could have happened, but these three stable aspects of my life help me to get through the shitty days and make the good days even better. Call me crazy, but it is true.
The ironic thing is that all three require discipline and none of them happened for me overnight. Consistent exercise was a gradual habit that happened over many years. My craving to run each day is the euphoria of pushing myself to the limits, having an hour that is just for myself, and the feeling at the end of a run when I am dripping in sweat and knowing I got through it. There is nothing else in my life that gives me that feeling and my day does not feel complete without my run.
How I feel when I run matters and, often, I can tell that if I feel horrible while running it has to do with some crap I ate earlier in the day. I am usually an evening/after work runner, so what I had for lunch and any snacks or junk food I ingest during the day matters. Which is why I have become a fanatic of eating vegetables. I have them in my green smoothie in the morning (usually spinach, kale, carrots), a salad for lunch, then for dinner, a vegetable, protein, and brown rice. Some sort of yummy concoction, but there is always a vegetable go with it. How far I have come from trying to get away with no vegetables as a kid and little to none in high school and college. Why have I become such an addict? I can now tell the difference in my body when I do not have these natural nutrients. More sugar + less vegetables and my body shuts down earlier in the day. More sugar = more exhausted. Since I know this about myself I do all I can to eat my veggies.
Writing. The final aspect to balance in my life. I write five blog posts each week and used to write in a journal too. My journal writing has waned in the past few months. It felt like work and I was not inspired to do it so I stopped. I know I will pick it up again, as that has been the ebb and flow of my life. There have been times when I needed to write, and write, and write to figure out my thoughts and unravel my world. Writing random olio keeps my mind open and aware. When you know that you are going to write a blog five days in a row you look at the world differently. It makes me more creative, have more wonder, and investigate the world.
What is not to love about my three life disciplines? A random olio of balance that is the core of who I am today.
Have you ever thought about how words matter? Writing is my world. Yes, I have other strengths and focuses, but at the end of the day, if I could do what I wanted it would be to write, play on the potter’s wheel, bring out a blow torch and do encaustic paintings, oh the list goes on and always tends to involve creative outputs. Words, though, dictate so much. You can provide a visual explanation of art through a painting, but to me words can bluntly or eloquently tell folks what you really think. They matter. They change emotions, moods, and communicate a variety of informative details.
Words alone do nothing. They have to be interspersed with tone, intention, care, and purpose. Without the emotion and care words have meaning but they stand alone. Sometimes even with the best intentions, how words are communicated can turn individuals away, make them feel guarded, alone, separate. With the best intentions and carefully crafted, words can make individuals feel included, respected, and valued. Words matter.
I am passionate about the selection of words, their meaning, and their intent. I think about it for almost every email I draft, every communication I write — whether for work, or among friends. I wonder, though, do we all think about our words and their effects on those around us? Do we write to make others feel inspired, engaged, and excited about what they are reading? Sometimes. Other times our words fall on deaf ears because we do not communicate well. We miss moments and opportunities to have a direct connection with our reader.
Yes, words matter. Think about that as you draft that next email, communication, blog post, Facebook post, whatever vehicle you use to share your ideas. You might find, as you focus on the words, you receive a different response from your reader.
There are a few authors that I have read every book they have written, and a few of them I have had the pleasure of seeing in person. Ann Patchett is one of those authors. Her new book: “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage” is a book that is not in the usual realm of her writing. It is a compilation of articles she has written over the years, many that were published in magazines. While they are each stories that were written years apart, her writing, story, and life are weaved so well together that they flow so beautifully, you would have thought they were written together on purpose.
You learn about her younger years and the oddity of her childhood, about taking care of her grandma, about her early years of writing, her dogs, her marriages, and the ups and downs of a writer’s life. Her other books are novels, ones that once you open and get into the story, you are a goner. You might as well know that after the first few pages, you’ll be snuggling on the couch for the long haul. Cancel any plans that you have made, you will not want to put any of her novels down.
Patchett does have a memoir “Truth and Beauty” that is about her life with her best friend and author, Lucy Grealy, yet “This is a Story of a Happy Marriage” goes deeper in many more aspects of her life and she communicates many ideas that resonate on marriage, family, and the writing life. This idea particularly stood out to me about openness:
“It’s a wonderful thing to find a great teacher, but we also have to find him or her at a time in life when we’re able to listen to and trust and implement the lessons we are given. The same is true of the books we read. I think that what influences us in literature comes less from what we love and more from what we happen to pick up in moments when we are especially open.” Page 33
This happens so often for me. I gravitate towards a book and I am not sure why, and then as I begin to read and absorb the ideas shared, I gradually, page by page learn a bit more about myself. You know the books that do that for you. The ones with a plethora of highlighted, dog-eared, or post-it note adorned pages all with ideas that you want to remember, cherish, or share with another individual. This book did that for me. Her story and life experience made me think about my life experience and story and I found myself jotting down notes of special moments from my life that I want to put on paper.
I encourage you to read “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.” It is slow in the beginning and takes a bit more to get into than her novels, but once you get to know her a bit more I know you will find a few morsels to take away.