Spring’s Promise

It’s that time of year when we’re all antsy to get outside, change into t-shirts and shorts, and embrace our inner go-barefoot desires. Each seasonal shift has its abruptness, but winter-into-spring is special. Even for a winter lover like me, right now it’s an overstayed house guest whose every little nuance has become irritating and I’m ready for it to leave.

Like any power who knows its hold on us, winter teases wickedly during March. One day it’s sunny and 70F, and the next cold and dreary. If winter’s really bored, we’ll often get a short-lived late snowstorm. I can imagine winter’s glee about this time of year as it conjures abrupt weather shifts to keep us puny humans guessing.

But we who have cycled through many of these seasonalities know the irrevocable signs that spring is near: frisky squirrels and chipmunks seeking love, hyperactive birds, and the slow, deliberate emergence of flowers, plants, tree buds, and green grass. We also know it’s a tag-you’re-it game played best with patience earned from being here before.

I’m defiantly siting in my back open patio as I write this, bundled to negate the mid-40F temps. A mere 16 hours ago I sat in the same place but in sunny and rejuvenating 70F pleasure. No lily white skin exposed yet by wearing pairs of “do they still fit” shorts from last summer, but then, I’m always slow to foist my winter tan-loss onto the world.

I’m ready to bid adieu to winter but will again welcome its promise of renewal and restoration at the end of this year. In this annual waiting game, patience is key as Mr. Winter hands the seasonal baton to Miss Spring. She’ll once more bring her promised, ideal weather for outside sitting, pondering, hiking, and being warm again. Can’t get here soon enough.

SPRING’S PROMISE (poem in draft)

The sun shines
its healing rays
through thinned clouds
or crystal skies.

Early, some say
since winter’s grace
is too recent
in memory and bones.

Tell that to the
squirrels out rustling
in the leaves
chasing for love.

Or the chipmunks,
bolder than later,
on high perches
calling for love.

And the flowers,
breaking the seal
of hardened ground
to reach the light.

Eager to leave
those faded days,
I’m ready again
for spring’s promise.

Silent Mentors

The traditional approach to excelling at anything involves learning from someone who’s where you want to be. If it’s a creative goal, it’s from those who’ve achieved success and share expertise through explanatory mediums or via their work.

In past times, one gained a skill or craft by apprenticing with a master. Often this was a slow process, lasting years or decades before the apprentice becomes independent and on their way to becoming a master. While such arrangements still exist for some skills or trades, a creative’s path today beyond formal schooling involves finding a formal or informal mentor to work under.

While some are fortunate to find a formal mentor to work with, there is still great value from the informal path. I have several silent mentors I follow to learn from informally since of course they have no clue I even exist. Even though it’s a one-way association, it’s still beneficial for me to improve in areas I’m pursuing.

On things philosophical, I read Ryan Holiday’s writings. His book The Daily Stoic (Amazon link, but please buy from your local indie bookshop) is one of my morning rituals that helps keep me grounded. In these pandemic times, I credit this silent mentor for my renewed ability to focus on things I can control while staying detached and insulated from those I cannot.

On things literary, my learning path is broader with a coven of writers I glean wisdom and practices from. My primary informal writing mentors (by no means all I learn from) are currently Mary Oliver, Mary Ruefle, David Whyte, plus self-paced courses from Diane Lockwood. It’s no coincidence that these are primarily poets.

Early in my adult life I believed that once one mastered something, learning stopped and only doing continued. How wrong I was. Through later experiences in meeting and knowing many who were masters at various endeavors did I learn they all had at least one thing in common: they never stopped learning, whether from their mentors or from mentoring others. Every master likely also has a mentor, and every professional at anything is constantly learning from someone else.

If you want to improve or excel in a life pursuit—doesn’t matter what it is—find a formal mentor if you can, but otherwise choose some informal ones. In time, you’ll be skilled enough to pass on the favor by mentoring someone else.

Stretching Just Beyond

Just beyond yourself.
It’s where you need to be.

– David Whyte, opening lines to Just Beyond Yourself poem from The Bell and The Blackbird book

One of my previous doctors had a few clever phrases on the secret of life:

Motion is lotion.
Flexibility is the fountain of youth.

Clearly, movement and stretching indeed makes our bodies feel and work better. But it wasn’t until I read Whyte’s poem that I realized these two powerful yet simple phrases on motion and flexibility were applicable to our mental health and creative efforts.

I’ve read, as I’m sure most have, about the innocence of children and their capacity for openness, for being unfettered when learning, playing, or creating. Yet too soon the adult-controlled world replaces those early freedoms with conformity and rigidity. Only later in life do we realize the impact from imposed constraints and censorships. For some, it’s a breakthrough moment when they finally realize the need to move these mental set points and stretch to break free from creative constraints. More from Whyte:

Half a step into self-forgetting
and the rest restored by what you’ll need.
There is a road always beckoning.

Throughout our adult lives there are hints: “think outside the box,” “take the road less traveled,” “get outside your comfort zone,” etc. Many ignore these subtle sign posts along the way until an epiphany reveals the new obvious: to go forward I have to let go; to improve I have to stretch and reach just beyond myself.

Our comfort with whom and what we are is not an easy habit to break. But break we must to stretch ourselves in new ways and in fresh places until we’re where we know in our hearts we should be.

False Alarms

These are odd times (not exactly news, I realize) when every brief pang of pain or off-feeling stirs up thinking “Oh my…do I have IT?” Whether it’s flaring allergies with a little sore throat, or maybe a bit of a flush feeling, or just overall achiness and malaise, we’re on constant alert these days for signs of “it.”

Sometimes allergy symptoms are just allergies, or various aches and pains are just…transient aches and pains. Once you past 50, weird aches and sensations just happen sometimes. Before 2020, I would likely ignore these same feelings (unless they quickly became worse) and dismiss them, but now? The pandemic is turning some of us into amateur hypochondriacs.

That little corner of the mind, the one that loves to feed off fear and disruptive moments, is having more fun than the rest of us these days. My rule of thumb is always “is this a new feeling or have I experienced this before?” which, so far, is always “no, nothing new.” Usually a comforting thought, but one can’t be too cautious. Typically, I then get busy doing other things and the instigators tend to go away in due time.

As we enter this next post-vaccine behavior phase, I wonder if we’ll see case counts spike from lax behaviors. In Michigan, even though vaccinations are on a upward trend, our case numbers are climbing. This could be the usual delay in contagion and statistics, or could mean people are getting too cavalier again. Hard to draw any real conclusions.

Ultimately, this is a war waged one soldier at a time. Each of us can only be accountable for ourselves. If we’re each doing the right thing, that should be enough. Besides, similar to my option of choosing how I react to my false alarms, it’s all each of us can control.

Nomad Notebooks: Second Look

Nomad Pocket notebooks and pencils

Several years ago I tried Nomad’s pocket notebooks. While they were fun to use, I didn’t like their paper (as in, writing on it not design). Back then, however, I was a paper snob across all notebooks or journals I used. If a paper wasn’t good with graphite and fountain pens, I dismissed it.

These days when it comes to pocket notebooks, I’ve dropped my paper snobbery and don’t care as I did back then about the paper. I’m still uber-picky about paper for the notebooks and journals I write longhand in (all A6, A5, or larger), but today’s me wants to have fun with pocket notebooks. My pocket notebooks use now is solely for consumable purposes: lists, notes, to-dos, etc., all stuff done on the fly. I typically tear out used pages as I go, too, so I don’t save my pocket notebooks (there’s not much left of them when I’m through!).

I saw an Instagram post by Nomad about their new, limited Sakura notebooks and pencils. Off I went to indulge in some ORT (online retail therapy) at the Nomad site. While “on the couch,” I discovered their coffee notebooks and pencils. What follows is more of an impression than an extensive review. At the end is a gallery showing aspects of all the goodies from this order.

First, I do love how Nomad stretches the boundaries with their multiple inside paper designs and colors, and the covers usually have innovative and fun designs. For these two packs, they offered companion pencils—too tempting to pass up. Despite being Musgraves thus average pencils, the matching themes added to the fun.

The Sakura three-pack is a limited run, pink-heavy Japanese theme, and comes in a sealed envelope ala Field Note’s Packet of Sunshine (although no seeds in Sakura). The three notebooks have different cover designs (love the one with the vertical view box of a scene with the snow-capped mountain – Mt. Fuji?), and different inside cover graphics. Interior pages are a mix of layouts and light graphics, all on varying pink pages. Matching pencils are sweet design-wise, but as said, not a fan of Musgraves for writability. The primo touch on the pencils is the theme-matching custom pencil pouch they came in.

The Nomad Blend coffee three-pack was intriguing with the promise of coffee-scented inks used for the covers. The pack has coffee-toned interior pages with mixed layouts, and love the page with the coffee stain. Covers are thematic designs, but the inside covers have a coffee lover’s mix of helpful reference information. The themed pencils are naturals (my fav) and imprinted with coffee grind sizes and scale.

So did I like Nomad notebooks this second time?

In a word…mostly. I’ll have fun using them and will certainly enjoy Nomad’s approach to randomizing inside pages and carrying themes throughout. Paper quality wise, they worked good with graphite and fountain pen, but not great, yet usable in the way I use pocket notebooks.

There are two notable cons, however. The paper used for the covers is a bit soft, thus folding back the covers (even just breaking them a bit to get the photos taken) is starting in a few places to tear from the staples. I suspect I’ll have to reinforce these covers long before I use up the innards. That’s not uncommon with many pocket notebooks after some use, since they usually get beat-up from a hip pocket carry or one-handed mangling during grocery shopping. Not a deal breaker for me, but should be improved.

The other con was about the coffee scent on the coffee pack covers. It’s not really there except lightly with unfortunately a strongish chemical smell. In true scratch-n-sniff mode, the scents come up a bit, but so does that other odor. Still, that wasn’t a feature I cared about (more curious than anything) but I’m delighted with the paper tones and varied layouts and graphics, and the inside cover references and coffee rating/review blocks are pretty cool. But for me, I’ll have to air out these notebooks in the sun before I can use them due to the odor.

Overall, these Nomad notebooks will be fun to use. My suggestion to Nomad is to change the cover stock to something stronger, and/or add a third staple to help reduce the covers coming off too soon.

You can check these out at Nomad Notebooks online shop. Note that I purchased these myself and they were not supplied by Nomad for review.

Differences

Just as what is considered rational or irrational differs for each person, in the same way what is good or evil and useful or useless differs for each person. — Epictetus

A classic definition describes character as “traits that form the individual nature or some person or thing,” or my particular favorite from Samuel Johnson’s early dictionary, “a particular constitution of the mind.” Both point to an attribute developed or formed through some influence, education, experimentation, or simply good luck. One might say our character is a set of internal mental rules determining our actions and reactions to situations, other’s opinions, or helping us through that difficult intersection of “where I want to go” and “where I should go.”

Character is usually our guiding moral compass. My father, in his love for me and desire to instill necessary tools for later in life, would repeat the mantra “it builds character” to me whenever I didn’t want to do something. Although he never explained the what or why of it, his persistent repetition must have planted a seed early on, slowly growing into an awareness with deep, healthy roots.

Part of my character has always harbored a tolerance for many things, but especially in accepting others as they are. I’ve never felt racism and prejudice were a part of me. Yet, I am now at odds, as many are in these times, struggling over differences.

Now it seems we’ve amped up a difference rebellion, morphing us into a divided species. It’s complicated trying to understand and explain this widening gulf between us. This blind and deaf indifference to other’s viewpoints, coupled with bias bordering on hatred, didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere.

Western thinking seems to seek a band-aid for this wound that does not heal easily. Ancient and Eastern philosophers would suggest, rightly so, that we focus instead on uncovering systemic issues beneath the wound if we hope for a lasting cure. But band-aids seem quicker, allowing the luxury of applying then walking away. Like our over-dependency on antibiotics and the harm that causes, we’ve unsuccessfully followed a cure-the symptom thinking too long.

To be honest, I’m struggling for the first time with a bout of intolerance, one sadly of the times and aligned with a popular finger-pointing: you voted for “them” so you’re responsible for this mess. Unfair? Probably. Contributing to closing the chasm and begin the healing? Definitely not.

I’m still searching to find my internal moral compass setting to help me re-point in the right direction, but it’s not been easy. I can rationalize away my reluctance by claiming age-earned curmudgeonliness, but that’s a cop-out. This current, emotional infection I have to forgive and forget on this one issue feels like a well-entrenched demon in my psyche. It seems easier to wrongly adopt that age-old adage, “let sleeping dogs lie.”

I offer no immediate answers, other than it’s a work in progress. Recognition, they say, is a good first step. And publicly sharing these thoughts is metaphorically a gauntlet tossed at my feet to fight the intolerance and get on with life.

Will I accept the challenge, or take the ignoble path of avoidance driven by contrived mental justifications? Time will tell. Like so many in our current culture, I need to change these thoughts and actions. By doing nothing about it, I’ll be abetting worse demons in the years ahead.