Category Archives: Uncategorized

Do You Belong To A Tribe? The Trouble With Going It Alone

“Call it a clan. Call it a network. Call it a tribe. Call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” –Jane Howard

Hello friend,

I don’t have a tribe.

This is a reality that I am only now coming to face. I don’t have a tribe.

I think I have been in at least some degree of denial of this fact for many years. I have either explained it away–“OF COURSE I have a tribe; it is just VERY small and we don’t keep in contact very well,” or, “My family is my tribe.”–or chosen to avoid the topic by focusing on the fact that I am very happy just as I am and have always basked in my periods of solitude. Armed with those two tactics, I have become quite the expert at denying this fact throughout the course of my adult life. I don’t have a tribe.

But as I begin this process of facing the truth and attempting to comprehend the sobering consequences thereof, the first question that comes to my mind is, “Did I EVER have a tribe???” Because that would be a start, right? A first clue as to what my tribe might look like should it appear today. So, have I?

Maybe I should begin by making clear what I mean by a “tribe.” To me, a tribe is a group of people whom you not only love and adore but who also make your soul feel like home. It is people who get you. People with whom you are celebrated when you are at your most authentic, quirks and all. People whose presence makes your energy vibrate a little higher.

I don’t suppose I should include childhood for the purposes of this discussion, though I have to say that I absolutely loved my high school friends and liked nothing better than to spend time with them.

I know that for many people, college is where they find their first true tribe. It may be the people on their floor at the dorm, the classmates in their major, or perhaps their pledge-mates in the fraternity or sorority. Whatever the case, I think that the passions stirring in the hearts and minds of people that age tend to make the different energies more clear to one another and more magnetic. Kindred souls find each other more easily. I didn’t have that experience, though. I had friends, but not a tribe.

I can say the same thing about the next few places I moved to and “settled down” as a young adult. It would seem most likely that I would have found my tribe when I moved to Los Angeles to be an actor. After all, there were other actors and artists all around me. I had the makings of a tribe, too–a couple of actors and writers who got on well–but our various life paths seemed to diverge before we congealed into a true tribe. An opportunity lost.

After a couple years of mostly solitude, you might have thought I would be so starved for companionship that I would have easily merged with a tribe when I returned to the university setting, especially since I was a huge fan of knowledge. Surely there was a crowd for me. Right? Nope! I bonded with a few of my professors on my first stop, but they were mostly separate relationships and never became a unified group. At the second school, where I was pressed into close quarters with people studying and teaching exactly the same thing as I was, I still never found that genuine kinship.

When I moved fully into “career mode” in a unique, small, and tightly knit profession, I might have guessed–again–that I had finally found “my people” and would quickly merge with a handful of them into a tribe who would work and play together and commiserate afterward over refreshments. Again, no such luck.

The other place where I thought there was a decent chance of finding my tribe was in my neighborhood. I moved here when my kids were just babies and planned to stay here for, well, forever. I figured that being surrounded by so many other people with families who shared the same schools and frequented the same stores and libraries and such, I (and possibly my wife, too, as a couple) might fall in with a pack who would gather regularly–often with kids in tow–and grow old together like regular social animals. I’m sure you can guess how that has worked out.

I say all of this not in a “Poor me!” sort of way, but rather to make a careful chronicle of my potential connections and missed opportunities all along the course of my adult life. When I see it laid out like this, with all the different chapters along the way, it is clear that, whether through circumstances or choice, I have never been a part of a tribe. I have never felt that sense of belonging. I have never felt simultaneously challenged and inspired by my nearest companions. Never felt completely understood and thus never valued for who I truly am.

That seems pretty sad when spelled out like that. It sounds like I have missed out on the best Life has to offer.

But I think it is more fair and accurate to say that, more often than not, I have opted out rather than missed out on finding my tribe. Because honestly, it is not as though I have made any special effort to make it happen. I haven’t pushed past my comfort zone to put myself into extra social situations in order to “audition” more people for the potential tribe. I have remained my introverted, solitude-loving self all along the way, even when I knew it was costing me opportunities for new and deeper friendships and love.

So, while I know that sometimes this stuff comes down to simple luck–you randomly end up in a classroom or office full of kindred spirits or on a bus seat next to your soulmate–I certainly believe that much of it comes down to the choices we make. At each stop on my journey, in each high-potential group, I could have said “Yes!” to more invitations or set up gatherings of the people I felt drawn to or simply struck up a few more conversations. I can say categorically that I have been consistently awful at that sort of thing for as long as I can remember. If I were to have a tribe by now, it certainly would have been by one of those random lucky circumstances I mentioned above, because it is painfully obvious that I have not done my part to make it so. I have to own that.

But is it really so bad not having a tribe? I mean, all of this talk of missed opportunities and no sense of belonging is making me depressed, but is that depression justified? Is a tribe all that important? I am very, very happy, after all. My life is filled with blessings. I relish fatherhood. My wife is great. I love writing. Sure, I wish I had more close friends, but only close ones. I don’t care about more acquaintances. And I know who I am: I am an introverted guy who has high standards and very little tolerance for small talk or anything else that feels like shallowness. Given the opportunity for solitude or a group activity, solitude wins almost every time with me. Probably I should just accept that I am a loner at heart and be on my merry way.

And yet, I cannot help but admit to some longing for a true tribe. I have romantic images in my mind of being a part of a group of kindhearted artists and social justice activists who encourage and inspire one another as they work to make the world a better place. Are these people even out there? And if so, can they come to my house somewhat frequently but only when I feel like it? Ha! Herein lies my problem. I want that communion, but I want it on my terms. Judging by the last 25 years, one clearly precludes the other. Welcome to my world: where personal boundaries override social desires.

I think I will just look for a great friend. Just one to start. If that works out, expansion of the circle will be taken under consideration. Who knows? Maybe in our little pair, the seeds for a tiny tribe will be planted. I would like that. I could grow the way the tribe grows: organically. As I have become more conscious of my patterns and tendencies, I see that it will take a focused discipline to become and remain open to the possibilities for belonging. I can do that. Kindred souls, I am ready for you!

How about you? Do you have a tribe? Open up your journal and examine the course of your life and the closely-knit groups that you have been a part of. How many (if any) of those groups would you consider to be a tribe? What do you think elevated that group to Tribe status, rather than just, say, a group of good friends? What united you? How many people were in it? Do you think there is a maximum number beyond which a group would be too large to be a real tribe? Is there an ideal number? Have you been in more than one tribe at once? How many tribes have you left behind? What were the causes? If you have never been in a tribe or once were but are not anymore, do you feel like you are missing out on something important by not having that group of kindred souls in your life? Can you be just as happy and fulfilled in life without a tribe? What do you suggest–for yourself or anyone else–as ways to find a tribe? Has that worked for you in the past? Which areas of a person’s life are most likely to engender a tribe: work, school, family, spiritual community, neighborhood, gym, social cause, bar, hobby, or something else? What percentage of people in the world do you think belong to what they believe is a genuine tribe, with all of the special feelings that go along with it? Are you one of them? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you a member of a tribe?

Thrive today,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, I hope you will share it. Perhaps that share will be the start of a tribe.

P.S.S. If taking a deep dive inside your heart and mind is your thing, check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailer.

Do You Let Yourself Be Happy?

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” –Abraham Lincoln

Hello friend,

This week, I was at the library with my daughter. After we had found her books, she wandered over to the Wii games, which are next to the movies. As a lifelong movie lover, I couldn’t help but stop and browse. It didn’t take long, of course, to find a few that got me excited and longing to watch. Then I caught myself in my daydream, had a good chuckle, and thought, “Yeah, right! When am I EVER going to find a couple of consecutive hours to watch a movie???”

That clarity about the reality of my life and schedule comes from years of experience being me. I definitely place strict boundaries around the few things that are my highest priorities and don’t allow anything to interfere with them. Because of that, the other things that are only somewhat or fairly important to me tend to get left off the schedule entirely. I don’t like that so many things that I enjoy have fallen by the wayside–and that other things that I am curious to learn have not been explored—but I have never been able to come up with a solution that sits right with me. I am just so protective of my big loves.

Because of my strict adherence to my highest priorities, I am definitely hanging out with my kids as much as possible every day. I am getting in a workout before they wake up every day. And I am sneaking in a little writing time every day. The love, challenge, wellness, and sense of fulfillment I get from this combination of priorities allows me to maintain the very high level of Happiness that has been a part of my identity for the last twenty years. But is it enough?

Are my strict boundaries and elimination of other categories of joys effectively limiting my happiness?

That thought freaks me out. The very last thing I want to do is limit my own happiness.

A few years ago, I read an article that got shared around social media about a palliative care nurse who listed what she came to believe to be the “Five Biggest Regrets of Dying People”. It was great fodder for journal entries, because of course I wanted to check in with myself to be sure I was not going to have those regrets. In one form or another, I have asked you about the regrets in these letters over the years, things like daring to be authentic, not working too much, staying in touch with loved ones, and having the courage to express your feelings. Those were all very clear to me.

But there was one regret on that short list that seemed to elude my grasp: I wish I had let myself be happy.

“Let myself.” There was something just vague enough about this idea when I was processing the others that I decided to leave it alone. I didn’t address it. But somehow, the idea has stuck with me all this time. I haven’t forgotten it. Or, maybe, it hasn’t let me forget it. In any case, it is time to face it.

How does one let oneself be happy? Or, perhaps it is better addressed from the other end: How does one KEEP oneself from being happy? 

I tend to think of Happiness as something you choose. You have to make the decision and keep making the decision. I am sure that sounds oversimplified and perhaps naïve, and maybe I will cop to that. I definitely think it is a choice—that concept is simple—but I think the choice itself is a complicated one.

Happiness has some layers to it. Everyone has a different idea of what goes into it. I once wrote to you that my version of “Happiness Stew” consists of Authenticity (living your Truth), Connectedness (to the Divine and/or loved ones), an atmosphere of Progress and Growth, a pervasive attitude of Gratitude, and lots of “Good For The Soul” activities. A few years later, that recipe still sounds about right to me.

So, given those ingredients, how do I imagine either letting myself be happy or keeping myself from being happy?

In some ways, I think each of these ingredients can play a part. Of course, living authentically—being unapologetic about who you are and what your soul calls you to do despite what others expect from you—can grant you the freedom to do more of the things you love and truly find your tribe in the world, both of which can play a huge role in your happiness. Living a life that does not honor your calling would make true Happiness a challenge. I have certainly tried hard on this one throughout my adult life, and I have reaped the benefits in my heart and soul in proportion to my authenticity. I have concluded that fake is ultimately unhappy.

Having that feeling of being connected to others and to something greater than yourself tends to give our existence a deeper meaning and value, which can lead to, at worst, greater satisfaction, and perhaps greater happiness. Isolating yourself would certainly seem to take away that “meaning” aspect–or at least change the meaning—and potentially diminish your happiness. On this front, I can admit to some successes and some failures, or at least doubts. I have definitely felt connected to the Divine, a feeling very much shaped by my spiritual and scientific worldview. With people, though, I have been more hit-and-miss. Much like my priorities mentioned at the top, I have kept almost all of my attention on a small number of people, mostly my family. Those relationships have been richly rewarding, but I cannot help but feel I have not cast my net wide enough and reached out to all of the people that I could have in an effort to truly find my tribe when it comes to like-minded adults, in or out of my career interests. That is a potential stone unturned when it comes to how certain I feel about letting myself be happy. For the moment, I will just say that my suspicion is that I could be happier if I could find that tribe.

Continually learning and stretching your limits—the atmosphere of Growth—provides that edge that keeps life interesting and engaging, which are, again, crucial.   On this Progress front, I feel like I have done pretty well most of the time. I have spent a great deal of energy on trying to expand my mind, expand my knowledge, and expand my empathy. There are still many more books to read, skills to learn, and places to visit, but I have been pretty consistent with my efforts and feel greatly rewarded every time I lean into my growing edge.

The “Good For The Soul” activities—the things that make you feel full of peace and joy and love–is another aspect of the Happiness Stew that I have been keen on trying to maximize. Running through the sprinkler, snuggling up with a good book, tickle fights with my kids, and writing this letter to you are just a few of the many ways I try to sprinkle my life with the good stuff, the stuff that just feels right. I do think Happiness is possible without a full schedule of these activities, but they certainly put the cherry on the sundae of Life. Prioritizing them in my schedule—and being fully engaged in them during their time—is truly a way of letting myself be happy.

Conversely, I can see how consciously choosing to deny yourself these treats and smiles would be regret-worthy later on. I have always fancied the idea of learning the guitar, as I would appreciate the challenge but then, even more so, I would have so many good-for-the-soul moments in playing songs and singing. I smile even as I type these words to you about playing those songs. I can see how I might be legitimately denying myself a greater Happiness by choosing to not begin this learning. That prospect makes me shudder.

Despite the importance of all of these Happiness components—Authenticity, Growth, Connectedness, and Joys–I can’t help but think that in the end, the single most important contributing factor in the degree to which you allow yourself to be happy is the presence and pervasiveness of Gratitude in your life.

After all these years, I find it to be no coincidence that the year I began writing in my journal every day was the year I began my life of uninterrupted happiness. Of course, I would love to make the direct leap from Journaling to Happiness—or even to advertise that all happy people journal—but I think that would be a bit of an oversell. No, the real link I claim is the one between Journaling and Gratitude. I have always said that the beautiful thing about the clarity I gained when I started journaling is that it made obvious the countless gifts in my life. Suddenly I was so much more thankful for it all—truly, the whole thing—and so much more aware of each individual gift that I had not recognized as such before. It was only after spending some quality time really soaking up all of that gratitude and the implications of it that I realized fully for the first time that the deep, enduring Happiness that had enveloped my entire existence was due to this newfound, profound gratitude that I had been feeling.

I also realized that I got to choose that gratitude. I had to keep cultivating it, consciously and intentionally. I recognized that the best way for me to cultivate it was through my daily journaling. I found that it had become my habit to write about my many blessings, and that writing always seemed to put me in a mindset to notice more and more blessings. It snowballed, and suddenly I was seeing gifts in places I had not noticed them before. As my recognition grew, so grew my gratitude. As my gratitude grew, so grew my happiness. Soon both were so entrenched that I could not imagine either ever leaving me.

And they haven’t. In twenty years.

So, have I let myself be happy? In so many ways, I would have to say it is more like I made myself be happy. I chose myself happy. Every day. Every journal entry. Every “Life is beautiful” tagline at the end of each entry as a reminder. For a while, I chose those words, chose to find the blessings, chose Gratitude. After that, though—I think as a reward for my choosing—it was all there was to choose anymore. That, for me, is Happiness.

How about you? Have you let yourself be happy? Open up your journal and write yourself through this rich and rewarding topic. Probably it is easiest to begin with your own recipe for Happiness. What are the core ingredients? Does my recipe ring true to you? If not, what will you add or subtract? Is Happiness a choice? Okay, now that you have defined the main ingredients of a happy life, try to determine if you are getting your fill of each. In what aspects are you doing very well? In what aspects are you falling short? On a scale of one to one hundred—with 100 being Supremely Happy—how happy are you? How does that compare to the other people in your life? Now look at the main issue of the day: How happy have you LET yourself be? Is your rating as it is because you have held yourself back? In what areas of your life have you sabotaged your Happiness potential? Have you let Fear hide your light or keep you from making connections? Have you stayed too much in your comfort zone? Have you followed the pack instead of the beat of your own drummer? Have you denied yourself your good-for-the-soul activities, thinking they were too childish or self-indulgent? In what other ways have you stymied your happiness? Are these things enough that you can envision “I didn’t let myself be happy” as one of your deathbed regrets? Are these things you can change before they get to that point? What step can you take today to allow yourself to be happier? Will you make that move? I hope so. Leave me a reply and let me know: How happy have you let yourself be?

Let go,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please pass it on. Share Happiness!

Other People’s Children (And Other Things I Can’t Stand)

“It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.” –Roald Dahl, Matilda 

Hello friend,

It is VERY easy for me to see why people who don’t have kids look at the other schmucks, like me, parenting and think how unappealing (maybe even awful) it seems.

You know what I mean? Say you don’t have kids, and you get together with these family folks occasionally. The only time you might notice the kids (unless you are really into kids) is when they are getting scolded or needing their diaper changed or spilling on your clothes or breaking your electronics or screaming or crying or swallowing your loose change and trinkets. And you think to yourself, “That looks like CONSTANT WORK! And NOT fun. And these poor suckers are stuck with these kids for like 20 YEARS!” And it all just seems so other-focused. Your “own time” falls away, and you can’t do whatever you want all the time.

I can see how this looks like a bad gig. The truth, however—and this is something you only learn by having them—is that the appearances were almost completely wrong.

Sure, parenting is totally exhausting and often frustrating, but it is also infinitely rewarding, soul-stirring, and heart-filling. And once you have your own kids, you are thinking, “This feels like CONSTANT LOVE! And SO fun. And I get them FOREVER!” 

It actually comes to be seen by the parent as a rather one-sided trade: “All I had to give up was some ‘freedom’ (which I wasn’t actually using very well) for a lifetime of love and connection, of family. That’s a steal!” 

At least that is sort of how it worked for me. Sort of.

I never wanted kids. Though I always liked hanging out with the kids rather than the parents at family gatherings and other social events, I never imagined having any of my own. I think it was because I never imagined myself “settling down” and getting married. If I wasn’t ever getting married, I surely was not ever having kids.

I never really had the “Those poor suckers…” thoughts about parents, though. I guess I never realized how challenging it is, so I never felt bad for them. The parents I knew seemed happy to be doing it, but like I said, I knew it wasn’t going to be for me. The path I imagined for myself was much, much different.

Of course, you know how that turned out! It’s amazing what meeting an amazing woman can do to shake up a world and a plan. Once I finally surrendered to the idea of becoming a husband, it was a given that I was also going to be a father. It was a bargain I understood going in, and once I agreed, I was all-in. I knew my limit for kids was two, and that was not negotiable. But I was going to give those two kids every bit of my love, my time, and my patience.

And I have. It has been rewarding beyond anything I could have imagined and beyond anything I have the words to describe to you.

I know it sounds so condescending to people without kids—and I apologize for that–but I really think it is one of those things you cannot understand unless you go though it. Unless you have waited for that child to come into your life. Unless you have rocked that sick baby to sleep and fed her on your chest. Unless you have encouraged those first steps and held onto that bicycle seat until you knew he was ready for you to let go. Unless you have shared your ice cream cone and held her hand on her first steps into the ocean. Unless you have been the only one who can make him feel better when he gets hurt on the playground or scared by a nightmare. Unless you have heard those joyful squeals and seen those eyes filled with sheer delight as they run to you upon hearing you come through the door.

Without the accumulation of these moments and a million more just like them, I think it is difficult to understand. But that doesn’t matter. My point is the same: in return for making the difficult decision to give up my single and childless life, I got this little window with these few people to make an unfathomably beautiful brand of magic. And though I admit to occasional wistful thoughts about the old days of blissful solitude, I would not trade this beautiful window for anything.

Including more of it.

Earlier this year, I came home one day and my wife asked me if I was willing to adopt an orphaned baby whom she had heard about that day. “Not in a million years!” was my automatic reply. It took no thought, and even when I did think about it, my sentiment was exactly the same. No chance.

Then last week, I got two babies dumped on my doorstep along with all of the paraphernalia to raise them for a few days. I had known it was coming for a while, and “dread” is not too strong of a word to describe my anticipation of the weekend. The kids belonged to my brother-in-law: one was seven months old, the other two-and-a-half years. An infant and a toddler. Oi!

I could not begin to imagine what was inside my wife’s head when she agreed to babysit for multiple nights for such creatures. Whatever it was—saintliness or insanity–I was buried in babies for the duration of their stay. It was exhausting! Even though my kids are only a handful of years past that stage, how quickly I had forgotten how absolutely NONSTOP it is with babies and toddlers. Constant vigilance. Constant play. Constant laundry. Messes everywhere. It is a crazy lifestyle.

And even though I grumbled in my head about being volunteered for this duty, I had vowed to myself that I would not take that out on the children. I would be present and joyful and engaged. I was, too. We all had a good time.

But. (There just had to be a “but”.) But I could only stomach it knowing that it was all going to end in a couple of days. I can’t imagine actually parenting like that, half the time thinking two major thoughts: “I am too old for this!” and “When are they leaving?”

I thought about my brother-in-law, who had two kids when he was in his twenties with his first wife, raised them to teenagehood and certainly figured he was done, then divorced, married a younger woman, and now has a second pair of babies in his mid-forties. Is he not constantly muttering, “I am too old for this stuff!”? He is not the only person I know who has had two distinct rounds of kids, either married to the same spouse or a different one. I have seen some who seem to resent the younger ones—or at least resent the grind of raising them–and are less engaged than they could be because, in their heads, they were done with their duties after the first round of kids. That’s not good for anyone involved.

I guess you have to decide on your limit and your window for having kids, then dive in head-first and enjoy the exhausting-but-wildly-rewarding ride, and then just chill until grandparenthood comes along. Have you noticed how people love grandparenthood? I am quite sure I will be ready by that time to go all-in on my grandkids, if I am so blessed.

But babysitting? Especially multi-day babysitting? At this point, I am just not there. I have no patience for their demands, quirks, and messes, even if they are just a different version of my kids’ issues. Play dates are the same, and now especially that my daughter has begun sleepovers. It is just not in me. Grrr.

Maybe it is because I had to initially grapple with the idea of having my own kids in the first place before finally embracing the plan fully, but it feels like by going completely all-in with them, I have somehow reduced my tolerance for the challenges of other people’s children. I have to smile through my grinding teeth during certain play dates when the other kid is acting up, and I would be quick to pass on any babysitting opportunity. At the same time, I am still completely patient and engaged with my own kids’ development, including when they are acting up.

It’s like my window for all of this stuff was only so big, and I have already squeezed every inch of my kid tolerance into it with my own pair of rugrats. As I wrote into my journal on the final afternoon of babysitting, “Two days is about 1 ½ days too many.”

I hope my brother-in-law is thrilled with his life choice. It is plainly not for me, though. I will gleefully pilot my two kids all the way to adulthood, but there is definitely no Round Two in my future. See you in grandparenthood, friend! That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

How about you? How tolerant are you of other people’s children? Open up your journal and take yourself through your recent experiences with kids. How would you categorize your patience level with them? How closely related to you were they? Is your tolerance level directly proportional to how closely related you are to the children (or at least how much you care for their parents)? If you have kids of your own, do you find yourself to be pretty accepting of their quirks and issues? How much different is it with other kids? Are you more or less tolerant with other kids? In your most private moments, do you wish you had fewer kids than you do? More? If you could give your younger self advice on how many children to have in order to achieve the right balance for your personality, what is that number? How much does that number differ from your significant other’s number? Who compromised the most? Do the effects of that compromise ever show themselves –e.g. lack of patience—in interactions with the kids? Do you like babysitting? How open would you be to my situation of taking on an infant and a toddler for a few days? Could a child’s story be told to you that would be compelling enough to adopt a child(ren) or become a foster parent? Are there other things in life that you sign on for, accept all of the frustrations and issues that come with it, but have no tolerance for beyond what you signed up for? Pets? Yard work? I used to deal with tons of financial figures at an old job to the point that I could not so much as open a bill at home. Similarly, I worked for years in service industries and had to not only tolerate but smile through just about every level of human nonsense imaginable, and I think I hit my quota and have lost my lifetime’s allocation of tolerance for pettiness, narrow-mindedness, and superficiality. How is your tolerance for those? I just had a revelation! I think this is the foundation of me as a grumpy old man. In recent years I have come to much greater understanding about what I love and what serves my soul and my greater good. Along with that comes clarity about what doesn’t. I have no time and patience for those things anymore, and I imagine my impatience for them will only grow as I age and refine my tastes. Thus, the grumpy old man. What do you think? Do you tolerate less and less as you age? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are the limits of your patience?

Smile at Life,

William

P.S. If something in today’s letter hits home with you, I hope you will share it. Peace to you.

Growing Pains: Saying Goodbye to the Place You Grew Up

“There comes a time in your life when you have to choose to turn the page, write another book or simply close it.” –Shannon L. Alder

Hello friend,

Last week, my kids and I had our annual “Favorite Week of the Year” trip to the lake to hang out with my wonderful family. It was fantastic, as always, but this time I definitely felt traces of sadness and loss coloring my usual lake-week serenity and happiness. These uninvited feelings came from a prospect that I have been denying for years and years: that we may have finally reached the end of our days at the family cabin.

When I was a kid, two of my great-uncles and aunts had cabins on the clearest, most magnificent lake I knew. It was a lake big enough to get lost on, but small enough to be found again. I would visit them every Summer and have a blast: swimming, waterskiing, fishing for “sunnies,” tubing, and riding a little motorbike in the forest land across the road. It was heavenly. Then, one year in elementary school, in a move that would come to shape my family’s history in so many happy ways, my Grandma and Grandpa bought an empty lot on the same lake, uniting my sweet Grandma with her two sisters.

My Grandpa, a carpenter by trade, did the most amazing thing that Summer: he had all of his grandkids help him build the little garage/cabin that would forever be the home base of the place, remaining an essential structure even as a bigger “real house” was added some years later. We all had hammers and nails and followed my Grandpa’s designs, building walls and rafters where there had been nothing. We slept in tents and campers until we got the roof done, and we used the neighbor’s outhouse until we got plumbing. When it got too hot, we dove off the little dock and had a swim, then got back to work.

What made this such a cool thing that my Grandpa did was not his ingenious use of child labor at the mere cost of a few cans of Mello Yello, but rather that we all grew up to believe that we had a stake in the place. It was ours. We built it.

There is no better way to build a sense of ownership in a place than to build it yourself. I feel it these days with my vegetable garden: I till the soil, plant the seeds, water, and weed, so that when it is time to harvest, I feel a genuine pride in it. It’s my space.

I remember the first place I ever felt belonged to me: it was my house that I grew up in.

We moved to town the Summer before I turned four and rented a place while ours was being built. I didn’t get to hammer any nails in the original building, but I remember being in it before the carpet and paint and fixtures were installed, when it was just bare wood and concrete. I remember riding on the back of our three-wheeler dragging a grate all around the property to remove the rocks from the dirt so we could plant grass. I remember planting the gardens, mowing the grass when it came up, and building a fort under the tree-house my Dad made for us. Inside, I remember owning every nook and cranny of that place when it was finished. That sense of HOME has never left me there, even after 41 years. Every visit rekindles it.

So it is with the family lake cabin, the second place that felt like home to me. Those nails and boards that I pounded made it so, and each Summer affirms it. Home is where the heart is, and mine is certainly there. Looking back at my journal entries there—both from this past week and from all of the other weeks I have spent there over the years—it is plain how much peace and contentment I feel there. How truly home I feel.

This is exactly why it was so unusual to have my normal flow of serene gratitude tinged with a sense of sadness and loss during last week’s visit.

As I was unpacking my bags from the car and loading up the refrigerator for the week, my Mom started talking about how her brother and his wife were interested in selling their share of the cabin (my Grandpa died a few years ago, moving ownership down a generation to my Mom and her brother). She mentioned how none of the “kids” in my generation—my siblings and cousins—were likely to ever be able or willing to own the cabin outright and that now might be the best time to sell it and buy a place of her own with my Dad.

As if my mind wasn’t reeling enough from this news, she even floated the idea that my Dad could even consider selling my childhood home and moving out of my hometown. Nothing definitive, but just the possibility of these developments suddenly loosed the ideas out into the world and sent them rampaging through my heart and mind. It was A LOT to process.

I have told you before that I am deeply nostalgic. While my mind normally is present-focused and also tends to be get quite excited about all of the wonderful things that are upcoming for me, there is also something I just love about memories. Looking at old photos, reading old journals, chatting with friends or siblings about the old days—these things are truly delightful to me. I have never been hung up in the past and or one to hold onto a lot of regret, but I dearly love to reminisce.

My past means a lot to me. That is why I love the old photos and journals. It is also why I so cherish my visits to the lake cabin and the home that I grew up in. So, while I was basking in the peaceful beauty and family fun of the lake last week, in my quiet moments, I couldn’t help but mull the prospect of it being the last time. Maybe I wouldn’t be back to the cabin next Summer. Maybe I wouldn’t be going back to my childhood home at Christmas. Or ever.

It is hard to imagine, actually. These places have always been with me, always been a part of me. They are central characters in my life story. It is hard to see how the story goes without them in it. It makes me sad to try.

What I realize, though, is that this is simply How Life Goes. It isn’t easy. It doesn’t always seem fair. It’s messier than you want it to be. It breaks your heart sometimes. That is all part of the deal. The longer I live, the more I understand that. I am still working on accepting it, but I am at least starting to understand it. It’s called “growing up”, I suppose.

And though the kid in me wants these safe havens to remain frozen in time and available to me for visits forever and ever—just like it wants my parents to be around and healthy forever and ever—the grown-up in me knows that it cannot be so. He even knows that it should not be so. The grown-up knows that it is time for my parents to get a cabin that suits them—not one that suited my Grandpa—if they want a cabin, and to sell my childhood home when they decide they don’t want to be there anymore, regardless of how many memories they (or I) have there. The grown-up knows how to do what is necessary, even when it isn’t easy.

I suppose what I am learning in this little attempt to be an adult is that the better your life has been and the fonder the memories, the tougher it is going to be to let it all go as the years require. The people, the places, the hobbies, the adventures, the passions. The best that I can hope is that whenever I am forced to say goodbye to one, there is a good alternative waiting for me.

It makes me cry a little bit now, though, thinking of all those difficult decisions and moments of surrender ahead of me. Growing up is hard! Necessary, I suppose, but hard. I think the way to go, though, is to live a rich, love-filled life so that every last one of these necessary goodbyes is a tough one, even when you are moving onto something that will in time become amazing.   That is how I plan to do my growing up.

How about you? What things have been most difficult for you to let go of as you have aged? Open up your journal and take a mental walk through your transitions away from things that have always been there for you. How do you handle letting go and moving on? Which things have you definitely said goodbye to so far, whether by force or by choice? Who are the people you have intentionally moved on from? How difficult was that? Who are the people who have been taken from you along the way? How accepting have you been with that? Do you still hold onto bitterness about the unfairness of any of those losses? Do you have passions or enjoyments that you have had to let go of? How about the places that always felt like home to you? Do you have some, like my cabin and childhood home, that you have counted on since you were a kid? Which homes have you had to let go of? Did you get to choose, or was it forced upon you by circumstance? How have you handled it? Did you ever go back to see it, even though it wasn’t “yours” anymore? If my parents ever sell their house—my childhood home—I don’t foresee a reason that I would ever return to my hometown, even though I would miss the house terribly. Would you? What is the one place in your life right now that you will most struggle with letting go of when the time comes? What is so special about it? What are your favorite memories from that place? Are you good at holding them in your heart? Is that enough? I hope you will tell me that it is, because I know I will struggle with the losses that are in my future. Leave me a reply and let me know: Which losses make growing up the hardest?

Maximize the Love,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please take the time to share it. I think more people need to be reminded to cherish their little corners of the world.

Friendly Warning: Do Not Sleep Through Summer (Again)!

“Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.” –Jean de La Bruyére, Les Caractéres

Hello friend,

I remember last year at Labor Day. I was returning from the lake with my kids. I am always very contemplative when I am driving home from a trip. The kids sit in back and watch a movie, and I am left alone to take stock of my life and re-orient my mind to the real world. On that particular drive, I was feeling the sadness that every Labor Day brings, fully aware that Summer was officially over and that there would be no more weekends at the lake until the next Summer, which felt a million years away.

It wasn’t just my characteristic Labor Day sadness that sticks out from that drive, though. It was the regret. It was the disappointment.

I had not done enough with the Summer. I had not capitalized on all of the opportunities of my season. There were so many more Summery things that I wanted to do, that I had told myself I would do before the season had started.

More beach writings. More trail runs. More bike rides. More campfires. More s’mores. More photos. More nature walks. More kayaking.   More tennis. More driveway basketball. More stargazing. More playgrounds. More hammock time. More roadtrips. More boat rides.

That is the stuff of Summer for me. And in that car on the way home last Labor Day, I knew that I hadn’t done enough of it. I had gotten too busy and too lazy. I had let my little windows of alone time slip by. It was too easy to choose to write on the sofa versus loading my backpack and biking down to the beach to write. The gym was easier than gearing up for a kayak ride or trail run. Weekends away and staying up late by the fire seemed like too much hassle. The hammock and the nature walks didn’t feel productive enough.

I am the first to admit that I am generally (and unhealthily) obsessed with being productive and always having something to show for my time (e.g. so many words written, pages read, or tasks knocked off the To-Do List). But, really, is your ideal Summer supposed to be described as “productive”? To me, that sounds like a good word for the other seasons. You know, the ones that have cold in them.

Maybe all along I should have been aiming for different adjectives to describe how my favorite season would be. How about fun? Adventurous? Soul-stirring? Enriching? Invigorating? Inspiring? Liberating? Enchanting? Yes, these all sound wonderful. But just plain old fun is perfect. “How was your Summer?” you ask. “It was nonstop fun!” That is exactly how I wish my response had been last Labor Day.

So, of course, on that contemplative drive home—and on almost every day after until June rolled around—I vowed that I would redeem myself this Summer. I would engage all of these beautiful, inviting days and live them fully. I would absolutely suck the marrow out of Summer this time!

I even had a list going in my head, the things that I would definitely do to make me feel satisfied when the next Labor Day rolls around. These are just some of the items on my Satisfying Summer Checklist for this year:

  • Take my kayak out at least three times
  • Become a regular outdoor journal writer
  • Find several new spots to try out my portable hammock
  • Take my kids to our local beach regularly
  • Get my ancient mountain bike fixed and ride the area trails
  • Roadtrip to the family lake cabin at least three times
  • Roadtrip to visit my sister and her family
  • Play tennis several times with other adults
  • Teach my kids tennis at least once per week
  • Do several trail runs
  • Use the neighborhood fire pit and roast marshmallows with my kids
  • A few daytrips to regional parks for hiking with my wife and kids
  • Make a habit of taking my daughter to the local lakes on early weekend mornings for father-daughter bonding time
  • Play a lot of driveway basketball with my son
  • Take lots of photos of the whole wild ride

That was a start, anyway. My mind seems to add new To-Do items every day, and the Wish List grows. But that stuff marked the basics for my Satisfying Summer Checklist.

Well, I just looked at the calendar and realized we are almost halfway to Labor Day. Gosh, that sneaks up, doesn’t it?!? So, how am I doing with my list?

Well………

Okay, there are some positives. I am about to take the second roadtrip to the family lake cabin for what has become my and my children’s favorite week of the year (score!), so only one more to go on that one. I did get the mountain bike fixed, but I have only been out in the dirt with it once so far. I have been writing most of my journal entries outdoors, though usually it is just on my deck (but at least it is usually in a hammock!). I have done pretty well getting the kids to the tennis court, not as well getting my own practice in. I have taken my kayak out (once). I have done a couple of trail runs. The driveway basketball is happening. I have not made the roadtrip to my sister’s place, but my intentions are still there. The portable hammock has been used (but not enough). We have not done the fire and s’mores (well, we microwaved them once!). We have only done the local beach once. We have failed completely on the regional parks and hiking. The discovered gem in the lot has been the father-daughter bonding time early Sunday mornings at the local lakes—absolutely priceless. And there have been some good photos of the ride.

If I had to give myself a grade so far, I would say maybe a C-. I have definitely done some small portion of many of my items, which is good. But there is much more than half left to do in this final half of Summer in order to achieve Satisfying Summer status.

I better get busy being NOT BUSY. I must get more ambitious about my leisure, more serious about my fun. I need to buckle down, because now that the Fourth of July is over, you know what the next holiday is, right?

Labor Day.

It won’t be long before I am taking that long, contemplative drive back home from the lake on that final day of Summer. Though I am guaranteed to feel a bit sad that day at the passing of my favorite season, my hope is that I will have done enough in the second half so that I don’t have to mix regret and disappointment with my sadness.

I needed this check-in to get real with myself about my laziness and excuses. It’s half over, friend. We have now been warned! I am planning to heed it this year. Carpe Summer!!!

How about you? Are you making the most of this precious and fleeting gift called Summer? Open up your journal and go through your own checklist? Are you satisfied with how you have been using your time lately? Start with how you want to feel this Summer and how you want to describe your Summer when it ends. What words would you choose? Is “FUN” one of them? Regardless of your adjectives, what activities are on your Satisfying Summer Checklist? Are they things that are quite unique to the season or things that you carry along all year? In either case, how are you doing for the first half of the season? Have you gotten most items on your list started at least? How many items are finished? How many have you not even touched yet? What kind of grade would you give yourself so far? Now, knowing that you still have plenty of time to make necessary changes and do great things, how confident are you that you will improve your grade by the time Labor Day rolls around? Which items will you prioritize? Are there any items that you will get rid of? Any new ones to add? Does making a To-Do List and scoring your progress take some of the fun out of it and kind of defeat the purpose of making it fun and stress-free, or do you appreciate that it keeps your priorities straight? For me, I need the reminder from time to time. Keeping fresh air and fun in the forefront of my mind is crucial for me. How about you? Leave me a reply and let me know: What do you need to do to finish this Summer right?

Adventure is out there,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. Make the most of your days!

10 Places I Want to Visit

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” –Augustine of Hippo

Hello friend,

Nineteen years ago, I was flying back from my second great European adventure. I had just spent some quality weeks wandering through the most beautiful and memorable places. I had ridden the train through the Black Forest of Germany and into the mountains of Austria. I had eaten authentic Weiner schnitzel and pure grape juice with the sweetest family at a small vineyard outside of Vienna. I had soaked in the healing waters of a Budapest bathhouse with a bunch of very old Hungarians. I had lost my soul while visiting the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. I had been charmed by the whimsical beauty of Prague and the Czech Republic, and meandered back through the simple beauty of Germany to catch my plane for home.

All of those life-changing places and adventures were swirling through my mind as the pilot’s voice came over the speakers: “Sorry to interrupt the movie, folks, but we are just reaching Greenland. It is out the right side of the plane. And believe me, it is better than any movie!”

Luckily for me, I was on the right side of the plane. When the woman next to me opened the shade, time stopped completely. I was spellbound. My breath was taken from me. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

When the enchanting, snow-covered mass was finally out of sight, I pulled out my journal and tried to find the words to describe a kind of magnificence that was truly indescribable. After doing my best to jot down some intelligible thoughts, I mostly gave up, fully aware of my limitations as a writer in the face of the Universe’s grandeur.

In reading back the final sentences of my journal entry from that day on the plane, it is plain just how awestruck and at a loss I was: “I don’t know. The picture, I suppose, is worth a thousand words, but I really can’t describe the wonder of it. It was a land of fantasy, a dream-like majesty. Or, taken from another side, an endless sea of desolation…..It just went on and on in infinite beauty. That is what I will remember about it.”  

Later, I wondered what it would be like to visit such a unique place. After pondering the prospects—visions of me trying desperately to stalk some wild creature below the ice while freezing to death in a land too cold for vegetation–I decided that Greenland is probably one of the few places on Earth best suited to appreciating from a distance.

But there aren’t many places like that. Mostly we need to be somewhere to truly appreciate it. I have always loved to learn, and one of the most important discoveries of my life is that traveling is the best form of education (I love Mark Twain’s quote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”). Meeting new people, learning about different cultures, soaking up the wonders of nature, and finding Peace in the process. “All good things, all good things,” as my friend Olaf would say.

Thinking this week about that European adventure and the magnificence of Greenland, my old traveling soul got stirred up. I decided to come up with a list of places I would love to visit for the first time, whether to explore or simply melt into the beach and bask in the beauty. I am thinking of myself here, not taking into account that my kids never leave my side. And I admit from the outset that I am heavily biased at the moment, as the wind chill has been below freezing in Minnesota in this final week of April. So, don’t be surprised if we end up with a lot of tropical selections!

At any rate, here we go, in no particular order, with my Top Ten Places I’d Like To Visit:

  1. India. I admit that this one is cheating, since it is a huge country, but there are just so many different areas I would like to see, from sacred religious sites to crowded cities to secluded villages in the Himalayas. I named my firstborn child after this place—that’s how long it has been living in me!
  2. Bali, Indonesia. From everything I have read and seen about this place—the extreme warmth of the people, the beauty of the landscape, the pristine beaches—I feel a spiritual connection. I am enchanted!
  3. Yosemite National Park, California. This is a weird one for me. Don’t get me wrong, I imagine it is full of scenic vistas and wonderful hikes. But I can’t help but think that I am only intrigued by it because I want to see what all the hype is about (because I secretly think that my favorite, Glacier National Park in Montana, will put its more famous cousin to shame). Either way, I want to go.
  4. Belize.  This is definitely all about the quiet, peaceful beach vacation, with just enough adventure–via world-class snorkeling spots–to keep it interesting. Actually, Belize, even though it is on the mainland of North America, is kind of the placeholder spot for almost any beautiful Caribbean island beach paradise (insert Jamaica, St. Martin, Dominican Republic, etc.). I have some exploring to do in that neck of the woods!
  5. London, England. This giant is one of the few European biggies that I haven’t visited. And even though I am curious to check it out, its spot on my list is mostly about one particular neighborhood at one particular time of year: Wimbledon, early July. The shrine of Tennis. I would like to attend all four Grand Slam events, actually—amazing trips to London, Paris, New York City, and Melbourne, Australia (yes, please!)—but I would settle for Wimbledon.
  6. Alaska.  This one is a bit of a cheat, too, as Alaska is huge. But if I was in the neighborhood, hey! I would take a trip to Denali (maybe even try to find the bus from Into the Wild), “flightsee” over a mountain range, wander down the Kenai, and hopefully spot some whales and other creatures around the fjords. The Last Frontier!
  7. Kenya/Tanzania, Africa. These two countries get the slash because I would not quibble over an opportunity to take a photo safari through either one (and they are neighbors!). I have always dreamed of this. One day…..
  8. New Zealand. This just seems like good territory for taking a walk. A long walk. Remember The Lord of the Rings? It was all filmed here. The next time the hobbits go out for a wander, I am tagging along!
  9. Amazon Rain Forest, Brazil. I might be freaked out the entire time about being eaten by an anaconda or piranhas or some other invention of my mind, but it would also be so amazing to be amongst all of that Life.
  10. Bora Bora, French Polynesia. I couldn’t resist one more tropical beach! I love the idea of being way out in the middle of the Pacific, thousands of miles from a continent. Of course, visions of those over-the-water bungalows on stilts are appealing, too! I get giddy when I see that clear, turquoise water.

That’s it! Well, of course that isn’t it. There are so many more new places I want to visit, even in my own state. But those ten are the ones topping my Wish List today. I love the feeling these fantasies give me. My adventurous spirit is absolutely tickled right now! I can feel the little perma-grin on my face, too; it hasn’t left since I started thinking about this. The world is such a magnificent playground. Fly me away!

How about you? What new place do you feel like traveling to today? Open up your journal and spin the globe. Where do you want your finger to land? Is there one place that comes immediately to mind? Is it somewhere you have always dreamed about? What has kept you from getting there? How disappointed will you be if you never make it there? How about the rest of your list? Are most of them places that have been on your radar for a long time? Which ones are the most recent additions to your list? What draws you to them? Are your places more about physical adventures (e.g. climbing Mt. Everest in Nepal), learning about something new (e.g. Incan ruins in Peru), or a good spot to relax (e.g. the beaches of the Seychelles)? Are any about connecting with your heritage (e.g. a visit to meet distant relatives in Ireland)? What about a service destination (e.g. a friend of mine just volunteered at an orphanage in Sierra Leone)? A spiritual pilgrimage (e.g. Jerusalem)? How many of them are you seriously determined to get to? How many of them are out of your comfort zone? Will those be the most rewarding? Which one are you most likely to get to first? How soon? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are your aspiration destinations?

Make your life an adventure,

William

P.S. If this got your daydreams into high gear or put a smile on your face, pass it on. We could all use a happy fantasy once in a while!

What’s Your Sign? Horoscopes, Zodiac, & Other Random Nonsense

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” –William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Hello friend,

I am 44 years old, and right up until this week, I didn’t know who I was. Imagine that: the guy who writes to you every week about improving your self-awareness had no clue about himself! For all of my high-minded prodding to uncover your purpose, to explore your strengths and weaknesses, to march to the beat of your own drummer, and to live your Truth, all along I was just flying blind. Clueless.

Until now.

Now I know.

I know my strengths and weaknesses. I know what kind of career I would excel at. I know how all my relationships will unfold and what has doomed my previous ones. I know who to stay away from and who to get closer to. I even know what my main challenges and breakthroughs will be for today, and even for this week, month, and year. I pretty much have all of the answers figured out now for this little game called LIFE. It should be a walk in the park from here one out.

I guess I was just too stubborn all these years, thinking I would have to carve out my own path through LIFE. I took all of those old adages like “March to the beat of your own drummer” and “Be true to yourself” to heart and figured that since there was only one of me, faith in my heart and mind as my internal compass would have to suffice to carry me through this uncertain world. My intuition would guide me, helping me make the difficult decisions as they arose. I would be unique, and my path would be beautifully my own.

What a fool I was!

I even knew that everyone else was getting the answers to the test for free. They were there all along and I simply refused to acknowledge them, trusting my instincts to get me to my destination instead of using the free map that everyone else was peeking at. It was there everyday in the newspaper.

The Horoscope.

For as long as I can remember, I have been totally repelled by horoscopes and all things Astrology. I saw them there in my local newspaper as a kid and in the magazines. I understood the idea of them—and I even heard from someone that I am a Libra—but I could never quite bring myself to read them. I cannot explain it, because I have always been a curious guy. Maybe the young Catholic in me sensed something forbidden in it, as though merely dabbling in the stars was akin to Devil worship. Maybe the radar in my naturally logical, analytical mind sounded loudly in the presence something so seemingly fanciful. Whatever it was, something in me just wouldn’t go there.

Interestingly (at least to me), I have always wanted to visit a highly-regarded psychic to get a personal reading. Maybe I would think it was hogwash afterward—depending on how much I wanted to agree with what the person said about my future—but I am very open to it in theory. Horoscope stuff, though? Somehow, just no. Never.

But hey, let’s face it: I have been working hard at finding my own way through this Universe for a long time, and it doesn’t feel like I am very far along. I have big stuff I want to accomplish, and frankly, at this point I could use all the help I can get. What’s the old Thomas Jefferson quote? “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” Something like that. Anyway, I am overdue to try something new. Horoscope, anyone?

Trying to be open-minded but admittedly cringing a little bit inside, I have spent the last few days as a student of Astrology, scouring the many Internet sites to learn about the twelve signs and how they interact. I certainly am no expert yet, but I have an understanding about my own sign, Libra, and the signs of my family members. I figure I know just enough to decide whether knowing it is going to help me or not.

So what about my Libra self?

Well, for starters, Libra is one of the three “Air” signs—along with Gemini and Aquarius–which means I am generally very social and rational. The 25% of us Air folks would be thought of as thinkers and talkers.

As for the Libra in me specifically, I like things to be fair and harmonious. I can’t stand injustice or cheating of any sort, and my reactions to unfairness might be taken so far to be socially inappropriate. But that is the only time I am unhappy: when I feel like I have been wronged. I like the outdoors and trying new things. I like sharing with people, and I make decisions that benefit the most people, even if it means sacrificing my own benefit. I cannot stand to be alone and must do everything in a partnership or team alliance. I don’t like to be in charge of my team, but I do want my voice to be heard. I have a very sharp mind and get absorbed and inspired by good books and deep conversations with fascinating people. I am gracious and diplomatic, avoiding confrontations, including violence, at almost all costs. And yet, I dislike conformity. I love beautiful things and surround myself with them. I am a hopeless romantic. I tend toward self-pity, can be superficial, and I hold grudges. But my biggest failing is my indecisiveness. This can come off as laziness or absent-mindedness, but it really comes from me weighing all things carefully to achieve balance. In any case, I am very wishy-washy.

As for my current Libra world, the horoscope has told me a few different things this week. Apparently, I have a lot of work to do and should stop resisting change. I have to trim my friend list and do lots of other work on my relationships (because I am so social, remember?). On Thursday, a good friend was supposed to surprise me and teach me a lesson, and I needed more focused energy to get my stuff done. On Friday, I was to have some good career ideas that wouldn’t help my relationships, and I was going to share “TMI” in a social situation (which was a problem on Wednesday, too, believe it or not). I have a lot of relationship stuff happening!

But that’s just how it is for us Libra people. You know us: me, Gandhi, Vladimir, Putin, Snoop Dogg, Kim Kardashian, John Lennon, Jimmy Carter, and Bruno Mars. We can’t help ourselves. The stars made us do it!

Okay, seriously, how accurate was it? How well did Astrology nail my essence? Am I a classic Libra? Did the horoscope ring true with my week?

Not so much. 

Well, to be fair, I thought some of it hit the nail on the head. I really am highly sensitive about issues of injustice, including injustice done to me (for which I do hold grudges!). I do like the outdoors and trying new things. My mind is pretty sharp and inspired by deep-thinking books and people. I am nonviolent and dislike conformity. Those are all very Libra-like. I started thinking that those astrologists might be onto something!

Unfortunately, other Libra characteristics were so very unlike me that my excitement soon waned. The biggest bust was one of the most important Libra traits: their social butterfly personality and distaste for being alone. That could not be further from me! The other major Libra trait that missed was the indecisiveness. I am very clear about what works for me. Several smaller traitscc didn’t seem to fit, either.

Then there were the horoscope predictions. That stuff didn’t resonate with me at all! On a few things, I was like, “Maaaaaybe I could see that.” But mostly, it was, “Hmmmm…… No!”

I perused the zodiac signs of my wife, kids, and parents, too, just to see if perhaps I was an aberration (as I seem to be in many aspects of my world!). My wife’s Taurus description came the closest, though even that one was hit-or-miss with the traits. My children, who are quite different from one another, have the same sign—you know, like me and Kim Kardashian–so I was left to scratch my head there, too.

I checked the other signs as well, just to make sure I hadn’t been misplaced at birth (as has long been rumored in my height-challenged family). I thought that Scorpio or Pisces were probably the best fit, then maybe Gemini, with a bit of Sagittarius and Virgo. But none of them produced the “A-Ha! THAT is me!” reaction I was hoping for.

All in all, I would have to give this experiment a FAIL. I am glad I did it, because it is good to know things. But, I suppose I was right all along in trusting my gut and staying far away from the Horoscope section of the newspaper. I always did have good intuition. Like a true Libra!

Oh, wait, no. Sorry, that’s a Pisces. Moving on!

How about you? How closely do you fit your astrological sign? Open up your journal and your horoscope. What do the stars say about you? Start with your Zodiac sign. Who does it say you are supposed to be? How accurately does that describe you? Which of the sign’s characteristics are a perfect match for you? Does that give you confidence that Astrology might have some answers for you? Which of your sign’s characteristics don’t sound like you at all? What does that tell you? On the whole, does the list of traits for your sign have more that match your personality or more that don’t? How confident are you in Astrology’s ability to be helpful to you? Does it make you immediately suspicious when something tries to pin down the 7 billion people in the world into only twelve different personality groupings? How long have you known about your sign? Do you check in on your daily or weekly horoscope readings? How accurate do they seem to be? Do you think that they make them so vague and general that each one could be a fit for just about anybody? Have you ever sought guidance for a particular question or problem from an astrologer or from your horoscope in a newspaper, magazine, or online? Was it helpful? Have you used the signs to find a love match (it says that my wife and I are a bad match, and my parents, too)? How did that go? Sum it up for me: how much stock do you put in this stuff? Is it a random pool of nonsense and gobbledygook, or is there really something here? Leave me a reply and let me know: Do you believe what the stars tell you?  

Believe in yourself,

William

P.S. If you enjoyed today’s interstellar journey, pass it along. Let’s fly together!

All I Got From My Vacation Was…..

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we will find it not.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hello friend,

I am having a hard time mustering up the drive to write to you today. My family and I just got back from a week of vacation, and my mind is still floating in that lazy haze of sand and sunshine. In many ways, I have not quite returned yet. I haven’t admitted to myself that it is time for “real life” again (whatever that even means). However, despite my stubborn denial, I know that tomorrow will find me back to the usual Monday routine. So, while I still have a last hazy moment to cling to, I feel the need to put a little bow on my week of escape.

I have been drifting blissfully in the moment for seven days, not working too hard to process the state of my life as a whole or even the state of those vacation days. My journal entries from those days show few deep thoughts and breakthroughs, few philosophical dissertations, and few great lessons and takeaways from each of those days. Mostly it shows a mind floating in easy-breezy vacation nothingness.

But it was NOT nothing! It had to be something! If it was nothing, I would not be still feeling both hazy and deeply sentimental a few days later. I would not have been near tears as I made a slide show of my trip photos yesterday. No, it was definitely something. I just have been too woozy to nail down exactly what that something was.

Right from the first night, when my Dad drove us straight from the airport to the beach just before sunset, my vacation was a reminder. It was a reminder that I am at home on the water. More specifically, I am at home IN the water. Despite a cool evening breeze and no towels to dry with, I could not resist diving right into to the chilly saltwater, hooting and whooping in delight as I rode a few waves right up onto the sand and tossed my excited kids into the surf. That water entered my soul that night and stayed all week, reminding me how organic it is to my very being. In that reminder, I also felt how tragic it had been that I had neglected that aspect of my soul for so many years, but I chose to let that regret go and simply bask in the overwhelming sense of Joy and Peace that can only be felt when one has returned Home. The water is certainly my spiritual Home. What a blissful reminder!

My vacation also reminded me of something critical to my purpose in life: to expose my children to as much of this world as I can. I try to remember this in my daily life. I read them books and show them videos of people doing brave and interesting things. I encourage them to try different sports and activities. I tell them stories about my childhood and the things I have done in my life. I ask their teachers to challenge their limits. I try to model curiosity, open-mindedness, and a love of books.   These are good things, I know.

But this trip reminded me that there is nothing quite like an adventure when it comes to broadening your horizons. Having a manatee swim by you as you are playing in the ocean, racing barefoot on a golf course at night, boating through canals full of homes worth 20 and 30 million dollars each, flying on an airplane for the first time, walking the beach with your Grandma collecting seashells. These are things that require an adventure. I was tickled every time I saw my kids’ eyes light up with the newness and wonder of Life beyond their usual borders. My eyes were glowing, too!

My vacation also reminded me of the fleeting nature of these chances to do life this way with these people. The childhoods of my kids, now 6 and 8, are flying by. Up until a few years ago, they were thrilled every time a friend of mine—whom they call “Uncle”–came over to play. He made them giggle to no end and happily joined us for things like sledding and birthday cake. Then he moved away, and no one has replaced him. On our vacation, they got to see him again, and it was like they didn’t miss a beat. Magic! But those years pass in a blink, and it is so easy to miss these things. Not just for the kids, but for me, too.

After a blissful vacation week with my parents, they dropped us off at the airport to go home. We said a quick goodbye at the curb and lugged our stuff inside. As the sliding doors closed behind us, I turned and looked back as my Mom and Dad each closed their car door and drove off. They didn’t see me as I watched them disappear. Already feeling sentimental from saying goodbye, I suddenly had the very sad realization that there may not be so many more adventures and goodbyes with them. Of course, any of us could fall ill or die at any point, but the odds change as you get to their age. I don’t know if it was the cumulative result of a week’s time with them, talking of my uncle’s recent death and the health issues of other of their friends and family members, but for some reason, seeing them drive away made me so grateful and sad. It can’t be forever, I thought, but it can be now. Cherish it. Cherish them.

And that reminded me of my last big takeaway from my vacation, something I kept noticing in passing during the week but never quite solidifying in my mind or noting in my hazy journal entries. The reminder: It’s never too late.

In recent years, I hardly ever see my parents unless there is a big crowd of their children and grandchildren gathered together in one of their houses. In that chaotic atmosphere, my old man tends to play the role of the crotchety, distant guy who might grouse about how messy you are making his house or give you a little teasing but never gets very lovey or just hangs out with you and gets to know you. His kids (and some of his grandkids) all know he is a great, big-hearted guy underneath that prickly veneer, so we let it slide and love him for what is true. My kids, though, because of the crowded and infrequent visits, have never gotten to that point with him. My son has enjoyed trading tickles and barbs a few times and never minds a little ribbing, so they have been fine but never close. My daughter, though, is more about gentle, deep, and intimate relationships and thus never seemed to bond with her grandfather. When I would remind her to give him a hug, it always seemed forced, almost scared in its distance. I always lamented that. And I figured that would be how it remained.

Imagine my delight, then, when I saw him, on our first night, walking side-by-side with my son like old friends. Or the next day, when I saw him voluntarily give my daughter a little hug and call her “Honey” in conversation. Or, at the end of the week, as I watched the three of them—my old man, my daughter, and my son—walk off together down the beach, no hesitation and no questions asked. There was genuine affection there. A bond had formed. It was totally cool. Priceless, really. If he should happen to leave us soon, their lasting feelings and memories of him will be completely different than they were before this week. That right there made the whole trip worthwhile.

But the rest was alright, too, I guess. I think I will try this vacation thing again someday!

How about you? What were your takeaways from your last vacation? Open up your journal and your memory and take a trip. What was your last real getaway? How big was it in your life? How long had you daydreamed about it? Was it more about action (e.g. a ski trip) or pure relaxation (e.g. the beach)? Who was with you? What did the vacation do for your relationships with your companions? Did it completely change any of them? For the better or worse? Did it change the way you relate to the people who weren’t on the trip? Did it recharge your battery? Did you have any big “A-Ha!” moments, when something important struck you? I find that whenever I travel—whether it is because of all the time in the car or sitting in the airport or on the beach or whatever—I usually end up doing a lot of soul-searching. How about you? How well are you able to leave your regular life behind and just be on vacation? Do you think that makes it easier to put your regular life in perspective? Is that a big part of what vacation is all about? Leave me a reply and let me know: What did your last vacation do for you?

Roll the windows down,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. Let’s stir each other up!

What Are You Missing?

“Well, I was born in the sign of water, and it’s there that I feel my best. The albatross and the whales they are my brothers. It’s kind of a special feeling when you’re out on the sea alone, staring at the full moon like a lover.” —Little River Band, Cool Change

Hello friend,

Eight years ago, when my daughter was still a baby, our little family of three took a vacation to San Diego. It was actually a work trip for my wife, but my baby girl and I got to tag along. I had lived in Southern California many years earlier and had fallen deeply in love with the ocean, so I was not about to miss that trip. On the day that my wife was free from meetings and told me I got to choose our adventure, the words could not have come out of me faster: “I want to go surfing!”

It was a grey, chilly afternoon at the beach—no one was on the sand but us—and as my wife and daughter bundled up on the towel, I ran across the street and rented a board and a wetsuit, then sprinted back and jumped into the frigid water. I was home! Every neuron was firing at maximum capacity, and my entire being was flooded with adrenaline. The little taste of saltwater on my lips was like taking a sip from a cup of lightning. I was overwhelmed by the enormity of this mysterious beast I was now a part of.

I had always, in my journals, referred to the ocean as The Power, and in that moment, I could feel exactly why. Even though the waves were small that day—I had been thrashed by dangerously large breakers at the same beach several years before—it was obvious that, by comparison, I was like a single speck of sand in a vast desert. The Power could have its way with me any time.

That vastness, that power, that whirring sense of danger that danced in the background, these are the things that lit my soul on fire as I dove into the cold water that afternoon. A few minutes later, after paddling out a ways in hopes of bigger swells and sitting up on my board to scan the endless horizon, I found the part that settles me into the deepest Peace. It is the suddenly obvious connection with All That Is. I knew that I was in the same water that touched the people swimming in China and India, in Australia and Antarctica and Argentina and Angola and Alaska and Algeria. It was this water, and the elements that composed it, that allowed LIFE to happen on this tiny little planet floating in the vast cosmos. That connection, that Peace–even more than the wild exhilaration–has always made the ocean home for me.

It is why that cold afternoon in the Pacific was so memorable for me. I was home.

That was eight years ago. I haven’t seen the ocean since.

Oh sure, I have been at the water. I go to the lake every Summer for some days with my family. I take my kayak out to the neighborhood lakes a few times per year. I swim laps at the gym. I used my free hour on my birthday this year to hike along a local stream. I love all of those things, and each time I am reminded of the enchanting power that water has always held over me. I am always so grateful to be there.

But a lake is not an ocean.

My kids are 6 and 8 now. After all these years of being too busy, too broke, and thinking what a hassle it would be to travel with two little ones, my wife and I decided it was time to give it a shot. So, several months ago, we finally took my parents up on their yearly offer and booked plane tickets to visit them at their home in Florida during our Spring Break. I then immediately put the trip out of my mind.

That was October. Now, it is March. Spring Break is in March.

As the month began, I officially gave myself permission to think about the trip: to daydream, to fantasize, to get excited. When I have had those free moments, I watch my mind as it travels. It has only one destination: the ocean.

Swimming in it. Listening to the waves lapping the shore. Watching the sun set over it. Swimming in it some more. And more. And more.

Intellectually, when I try to pull myself back from those thoughts, I can recognize that there are so many parts of the trip to look forward to: hanging out with my parents every day, watching the kids play with their grandparents, seeing one of my best friends who has lived down there for a few years, learning a whole new area I have never visited, feeling warm, swimming in a pool, taking adventures with the kids, and simply being on vacation. All of those sound fabulous and well worth some daydreaming smiles.

However, when it is time to let my mind wander and my eyes glaze over, all I can think about is the water. The beautiful, powerful salt water and the endless mirroring sky above it. That is what calls to me.

I can see now that I have turned off part of my soul in all of these years when I have not had either the time or the money to get there. I convinced myself that I didn’t need it, that I was self-contained, that everything that fills me is right here in my presence. I wanted to be that mentally strong, that disciplined, that stoic.

This week’s daytime revelations have shown me that I have been mostly in a state of denial all these years. I have been working hard to resist the ocean’s natural pull on my soul. I have used my visits to nearby lakes and streams to calm the calling. I have convinced myself that they are enough, that my heart doesn’t ache for more. My laser-focused daydreams of late tell me I have been fooling myself.

I have been missing something that, in this moment at least, seems so essential to the vitality of my spirit. It is a tank that needs to be refilled more often than every eighth year, obviously. I have been running on empty for a very long time and simply making do without it. I can feel now that even my visions of the ocean are beginning to refill the tank, beginning to revitalize me. My spirit soars with each fantasy. It is a delight in my mind.

This makes me certain that the real thing—that first taste of salt water on my lips as I plunge below the surface—will infuse my soul with the most profoundly exhilarating Joy and Peace. It will be a magic beyond measure. I am already grateful for it. It is exactly what I have been missing!

How about you? What have you been missing in your life? Open up your journal and shine a light into the areas you may have been hiding from. What are the things that your soul longs for but that you convince yourself you can do without? The range of possible answers for this one is as broad and diverse as we are. It could be a specific person, a community of people, a place, a thing, a vacation, a treat. I think mostly that it comes down to a feeling, and that the person, place, or thing we long for is what gives us that feeling. What is the feeling you long for, the one you have been missing lately? Relief? Peace? Forgiveness? Companionship? Inspiration? Fulfillment? Permission? Freedom? Connectedness? Challenge? Exhilaration? Gratitude? Worthwhile? Do you know what you need to do to get there? Is it a trip? A conversation? An acknowledgment in your own mind? How big of a risk or sacrifice will it require? How much of your longing can be curbed by better use of your mind?   For example, regarding my ocean, does my excitement over my recent fantasies speak to a need to better use my imagination—to daydream with a purpose—to get my fix for these soul-fillers that are difficult to visit in person often enough? Can you get what you are missing without going anywhere? Does the thing you are missing have relatives (e.g. I know that I would have a similar experience in preparing for a Summer camping trip to the mountains of Montana, another place that feels like home to my soul but that I haven’t visited in ages)? How much denial do you live in about the things you miss the most? Does that denial protect you? Is there anything you have uncovered in this process that you could go after? What step can you take today in that direction? I dare you to move! Leave me a reply and let me know: What are you missing in your life?

Live consciously,

William

P.S. If today’s letter stirred you up, I hope that you will share it with someone who might appreciate a stirring, too. Blessed be.

The Lyrics That Sing To My Soul

“I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself to hold on to these moments as they pass.” –Counting Crows, A Long December

Hello friend,

I love that lyric from A Long December by Adam Duritz, the lead singer of Counting Crows. As a natural chronicler of life events and someone who is drawn almost as much to depressing songs as to sappy love songs, those words jumped out of that song and into my soul the very first time I heard it. That is how amazing the right lyrics can be.

Honestly, that is how almost all of Adam Duritz’s words are for me. Even when his images are obscure and open to interpretation, they always seem to climb into me and be interpreted by my soul before my brain even becomes involved. From the moment I heard the Counting Crows’ first album, August and Everything After, I was mesmerized and truly shaken by the images and the sadness that it nestled into my heart. I could quote from any of the songs for examples, as they have taken turns as Most Favorite through the years as my life has changed and various live renditions have surfaced. But I will stick with my first love, Anna Begins, which is about trying to resist falling in love as it is overtaking him. There are individual lines that stand out on their own, like this gem: “These seconds when I’m shaking leave me shuddering for days,” she says. But, really, the whole thing is a masterpiece. As much as I hate to leave any words out, here are a couple of my favorite passages:

This time when kindness falls like rain, It washes me away.  And Anna begins to change my mind.  And every time she sneezes, I believe it’s love.  And I’m not ready for this sort of thing. 

She’s talking in her sleep.  It’s keeping me awake.  And Anna begins to toss and turn.  And every word is nonsense, but I understand.  And oh Lord, I’m not ready for this sort of thing.

I just love those beautiful words! I love the song, too, but I love the words most. These sad ones are from Raining In Baltimore on the same album:

There’s things I remember and things I forget.  I miss you; I guess that I should.  Three thousand five hundred miles away, but what would you change if you could?

I used to think it was obvious that a good song must have amazing lyrics. It turns out that is just not true. I have been combing through my music collection this week—the best research project ever—and I realized that sometimes the joy of a song is all about the sound of it and how that moves your mood. And though I am kind of artistically snobby about some things, I decided that those fun songs are awesome, too. So, while I wanted to find some genius lines in fun favorites like The Sound of Sunshine by Michael Franti or Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye, I took in their feeling just as well and found them brilliant.

But I love beautiful lyrics, so that is where I focused my search. I realized in the process that there are a few songwriters, like Adam Duritz, for whom I love just about every word that they write, making it hard to pull out individual lines or verses for fear of slighting the other words surrounding them.

One of those gems for me is Indigo Girls (I love them both, but Emily’s songs usually move me more than Amy’s). A few of my many favorites:

Each time you pulled down the driveway, I wasn’t sure when I would see you again.  Yours was a twisted, blind-sided highway, no matter which road you took then.  You set up your place in my thoughts, moved in and made my thinking crowded.  Now we’re out in the back with the barking dogs, my heart the red sun, your heart the moon clouded.  I could go crazy on a night like tonight, when Summer’s beginning to give up her fight, and every thought’s a possibility.  And voices are heard, but nothing is seen.  And why do you spend this time with me, maybe an equal mystery.  –Mystery

My friend Tanner, she says, “You know, me and Jesus we’re of the same heart.  The only thing that keeps us distant is that I keep f#*@in’ up!”   –Shame on You (to be sung at the top of my lungs with my sister)

I went to the doctors, I went to the mountain.  I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain.  There’s more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line.  The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.  –Closer to Fine

And the Mississippi’s mighty, but it starts in Minnesota, at a place where you could walk across with five steps down.  And I guess that’s how you started, like a pinprick to my heart, but at this point you rush right through me and I start to drown.  –Ghost

One of the other things I realized in my joyous search was that I love songs that set a scene and tell me a story. A famous example of this is Billy Joel’s Piano Man, which begins:

It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday, the regular crowd shuffles in.  There’s an old man sittin’ next to me making love to his tonic and gin.  He says, “Son, can you play me a memory. I’m not really sure how it goes.  But it’s sad and it’s sweet, and I knew it complete when I wore a younger man’s clothes.” 

It just makes you want to hear the rest! This love of a story-song is what has always kept little-known Joshua Kadison on my list of all-time favorites. His “One-hit wonder” status comes from Jessie, which begins:

From a phone booth in Vegas, Jessie calls at five A.M., to tell me how she’s tired of all of them.  She says, “Baby, I‘ve been thinking about a trailer by the sea.  We could go to Mexico: you, the cat, and me.  We’ll drink tequila and look for seashells. Now, doesn’t that sound sweet?”  Oh, Jessie, you always do this every time I get back on my feet.

He has a lot of wonderful stories about old people, too, which I have always loved. These are some of his opening lines that draw me right in:

He tells her, “I want to paint you naked on a big brass bed, with bright orange poppies all around your head.”  And she says, “Crazy old man, I’m not young anymore.”  “That’s alright,” he whispers. “I’ve never painted before.”   Painted Desert Serenade 

A cigarette burns itself out in a crushed up Coca Cola can ashtray.  In front of a busted up old mirror, Delilah Blue is checking out his tired sachet.   –Delilah Blue

Tangled in the sheets of a motel bed, Samantha paints her toenails cherry red.  She asks me if she can paint mine, too.  And I say, “Samantha, anything for you.”  –Beau’s All Night Radio Love Line

Neffertiti came out West in a stolen limousine, twenty dollars to her name and a walk like you ain’t never seen.  She moved into Number 8 with just a bottle in her hand, an old radio wrapped up in its cord, and no particular plan.  I watched her in the hallway, she blew me a little kiss, and said, “Hey baby, what’s a boy like you doing in a place like this?”  –Jus’ Like Brigitte Bardot

Marc Cohn is another one on my short list, a brilliant songwriter whose one hit is another story-song, Walking in Memphis. My favorite verse:

Now, Muriel plays piano every Friday at the Hollywood.  And they brought me down to see her, and they asked me if I would do a little number.  And I sang with all my might.  She said, “Tell me are you a Christian, child?”  And I said, “Ma’am, I am tonight!”

 Beyond the storytelling, I am also drawn to songs with social and moral messages embedded in them. A few favorite lines:

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.  I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.  –John Lennon, Imagine

 Emancipate yourself from mental slavery.  None but ourselves can free our minds.  Have no fear for atomic energy, ‘cause none of them are going to stop the time.  How long must they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?  Some say it’s just a part of it: we’ve got to fulfill the book.  Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?  ‘Cause all I ever had: Redemption Songs.  Bob Marley, Redemption Song 

Come on, people now, smile on each other.  Everybody get together.  Try to love one another right now.   —Chet Powers (The Youngbloods), Get Together 

I’m starting with the man in the mirror.  I’m asking him to change his ways.  And no message could have been any clearer: if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.   –Michael Jackson, Man In The Mirror 

And of course, as I mentioned, I am a sucker for love songs, from sappy to tragic and everything in between. I have already mentioned a handful, but here are some other lines that get inside of me:

If you find yourself lost out in this world, then I’ll find a way to get back to your side.  No mountain’s too high, no stone is too small.  I’ll build a bridge through the fire; for you I would crawl, from New York to California.  –Mat Kearney, New York to California 

Tonight our bed is cold.  I’m lost in the darkness of our love.  God have mercy on the man who doubts what he’s sure of.   –Bruce Springsteen, Brilliant Disguise 

Tell the repo man and the stars above: You’re the one I love.  –David Gray, The One I Love 

The time between meeting and finally leaving is sometimes called falling in love.  –Lisa Loeb, Falling In Love 

There are way too many love songs.  I think they’ve got it all wrong.  ‘Cause life is not the mountaintops; it’s the walking in between.  –Ben Rector, I Like You 

What do I do to make you want me?  What have I got to do to be heard?  What do I say when it’s all over, and “Sorry” seems to be the hardest word?  –Elton John/Bernie Taupin, Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word 

I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours.  –Bob Dylan, Talkin’ World War III Blues 

I wanna have friends that I can trust, that love me for the man I’ve become not the man that I was.  I want to have friends who will let me be all alone when being alone is all that I need.  –The Avett Brothers, The Perfect Space 

You got a fast car.  Is it fast enough so we can fly away?  We gotta make a decision: leave tonight or live and die this way.  –Tracy Chapman, Fast Car 

Together again, it would feel so good to be in your arms, where all my journeys end.  If you can make a promise, if it’s one that you can keep, I vow to come for you, if you wait for me.  –Tracy Chapman, The Promise (This was in my wedding.)

All you need is love.  –John Lennon, All You Need Is Love 

I could go on like this all day! There are a million more songs and verses I would love to share with you. I LOOOOOVE music!!! However, instead of giving you more lyrics, I will close with two quotes from my favorite movie about music, Almost Famous. The first is from Band-Aid (groupie) Sapphire: “They don’t even know what it is to be a fan. Y’know? To truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts.” And finally, from music critic Lester Bangs: “Music, you know, true music, not just rock ‘n’ roll—it chooses you. It lives in your car, or alone, listening to your headphones—you know, with the vast, scenic bridges and angelic choirs in your brain.” That’s how I feel, too.

How about you? What are the lyrics that have chosen you? Open up your journal and your music catalog. As you peruse your CDs or your iTunes account or whatever, what jumps out at you? Find favorites whose lyrics have climbed down into your soul and taken root. Do you have any artists that can basically do no wrong when it comes to songwriting, like my Adam Duritz or Indigo Girls? What is it about their words that attaches to you so organically? Do you find yourself more drawn to certain types of songs, or is it all over the board? What are your favorite story-songs? Feel-good songs? Songs with a social or moral message? What about love songs? Do you like the straightforward, sappiest love songs, or do you like the more subtle, not-so-obvious lyrics (for me, Anna Begins fits the latter category, whereas Marc Cohn’s True Companion, which I also love and was in my wedding, is the former)? How much do the lyrics matter to you, anyway? Are they just icing on the cake of a great sound, or are they an essential piece if that song is going to be one of your favorites? What are some of your favorites with weak lyrics? What about the reverse: which songs have amazing lyrics but not a great sound? Which ones have the best of both? How much do you love music? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are the songs of your soul?

Be swept away with Gratitude,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with someone who will appreciate it. I love sharing music!