Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

A Life Sentence In Music: Choosing Your Only 5 Bands For Eternity

“To stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable.” –Aaron Copland

“People haven’t always been there for me but music always has.” –Taylor Swift

Hello friend,

I have had this question rolling around in my head for months. Months! Typically, if I get a question in my head, I do a little journaling and it works itself out. For some reason, though, I have not followed that path with this one, and it has most definitely NOT worked itself out. So, I write to you today not to share with you what I have worked out, but more to marvel at the process of working it out and how difficult (impossible?) some topics are to nail down and how likely they are to change at the very moment you think you have the answer.

It all started, as most troubles do, with a friend’s Facebook post. I love those people who post great questions that you cannot resist answering in the Comments or, even if you don’t have an answer on the top of your mind, you can’t resist looking at everyone else’s answers. He put one like that on there this week, too: something like, “What are your top five favorite movies, all genres included?” I took that question so seriously that I couldn’t put my answer down immediately because it required deep consideration, so I adjusted my settings so it showed me notifications any time someone commented on it (I love movies, and I love opinions even more!).

Anyway, the question he asked that night a few months ago that has been trailing me ever since is, “If you could only listen to five bands/musicians for the rest of your life, who would you choose?” I was stricken instantly by the difficulty of it. Even as I read my friend’s choices and the lists of the first few people who had already commented–evidence that it could obviously be done–I was overcome by the enormity of the challenge posed. It seemed a question as big as The Meaning of Life. An absolute stumper. As often as I have thought of it since then–almost daily–it remains just that to me.

You see, I am in love with music. It captivates my soul and moves me in a million beautiful ways. I am completely in agreement with the great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who proclaimed, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” In the past decade of my life–ten years defined almost exclusively by heavily involved parenthood–I have often lamented that, for all of the magic and delight that my dotingly attentive Dadding has gifted me with, what it has kept me from is tons of hours under the cover of my big headphones, lost in the sway of this Divine language called Music. You don’t get that luxury when you are listening for babies crying or big kids squabbling. But oh, what a luxury! And there is so much of it filling so many different genres, each magnificent in its own way.

I find pleasure in a wide array of styles: Folk, R & B, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Classical, Blues, Reggae, Hip-Hop, Pop, Jazz, Broadway, Soul, Country (well, a few select old-timers, anyway), New Age, Gospel, Motown, and more.

I am not exactly sure what the proper name of the genre I listen to most is. To myself, I call it “Singer-Songwriter Music.” It is probably easier identified by the names of some of my favorites in that category: Matt Nathanson, Mat Kearney, Glen Hansard, Ryan Adams, Tracy Chapman, Indigo Girls, David Gray, Ben Rector, Ben Folds, Storyhill, Brenda Weiler, Ray Lamontagne, The Decemberists, Natalie Merchant, Joshua Radin, Marc Cohn, Amos Lee, The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, The Eagles, Bob Dylan, Jakob Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Bruce Hornsby, Five For Fighting, John Mayer, Jack Johnson, and Joshua Kadison. Basically, it is music that is mostly (or easily) stripped down to guitars (often acoustic) or piano along with vocals. I listen to a lot of that, and when I first considered this thought experiment of narrowing my lifetime musical choices to just five, I was tempted to pull from this list only (well, maybe this list plus Counting Crows, a longtime favorite band who nearly fits this genre but is probably more considered Rock). That list would probably be (subject to daily changes of mind): Counting Crows, Indigo Girls, Marc Cohn, Matt Nathanson, and Mat Kearney. Wow, that’s hard to narrow!

But just when I think of how much I love those artists and how I would enjoy listening to their catalogues over and over, it strikes me how much Joy and inspiration I would be missing out on by sticking only to my favorite genre.

I love R & B! I am a sucker for the 80s and 90s slow jams from my favorites–Keith Sweat rules–but also love the stuff I can dance to. All of the family tree of New Edition–Bobby Brown, Ralph Tresvant, Johnny Gill, Bell Biv DeVoe–is amazing. But so many others, too: Luther Vandross, Johnny Gill, James Ingram, Keith Washington, Peabo Bryson, Hi-Five, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Ne-Yo, Guy, Babyface, Barry White, Janet Jackson, SWV, TLC, Boyz II Men, Deborah Cox, John Legend, and more. As much as it is paining me to think of leaving these artists out of the rest of my life, I cannot imagine leaving out the entire genre. I have to keep at least one for my five eternals. Right?

And that is just my second favorite genre! Could I ever do without Classical or Jazz Piano from the likes of Keith Jarrett? Could I survive without at least a little Hip-Hop flavor in my life? And Reggae? How could I narrow my lists down to just five artists and not have someone from these genres?

And then there are those few artists who aren’t necessarily in my categories but are amazing and possibly necessary for the list. Michael Jackson. Prince.

As I was thinking about this topic the other day, I walked into the house and found my wife jamming to a Beyoncé/Destiny’s Child mix in the kitchen. I couldn’t help but start dancing. It struck me: How could I live without this, something that I would never call my “favorite” because the songwriting doesn’t touch me but that is so catchy and fun that it makes me dance every time? Was Beyoncé a candidate for the list, too?

It might also be some kind of torture to be alive and not be able to listen to the singular songwriting of Bob Dylan, the golden voice of Patti LaBelle, the blues guitar of Buddy Guy, and other such unique talents. Mozart. Marvin Gaye. Al Green. Bruce Springsteen. Ray Charles. Willie Nelson. Wynton Marsalis. Shirley Caesar. John Prine. Bob Marley. U2. Jay-Z. Johnny Cash. Billie Holiday. The Beatles.

It is enough to make my mind explode! How could one possibly narrow all of this magic down to just five? And yet, that is the challenge. I am so drawn to these thought experiments because they are so darn difficult, could go any number of ways depending upon my mood, and are open to such thorough debate.

In this case, there is the internal debate about the grounds for choosing. Do you go with the five you seem to listen to most? That seems the most obvious and it’s what I did first. But it left me feeling starved for variety. But when I start thinking I should spread out my genres, I end up with too few of my absolute favorites. And with R & B, I deeply love the genre but don’t necessarily have one artist that demands inclusion. Then I try to compromise by combining, like, “Maybe Michael Jackson can satisfy my R & B fix with some of his songs, even though he is mostly Pop.” Then I try my last desperate ploy: “I will take New Edition if you let me include all of their solo careers that came after the band broke up, pretty please.” I’m going to pretend that plea/caveat was accepted! Then you have to consider if some of your possible choices have a big enough catalogue of music or if they are still young enough that they are going to keep putting out new music, which makes it more exciting.

So, what if I started by narrowing it? That might make it seem more manageable than trying to just pull five from the 76 artists (and counting) I have already mentioned. Okay, here we go, legitimate options……Matt Nathanson, Mat Kearney, Ryan Adams, Tracy Chapman, David Gray, Indigo Girls, Storyhill, The Decemberists, Joshua Radin, Marc Cohn, The Eagles, Bob Dylan, Joshua Kadison, Counting Crows, Keith Sweat, New Edition (and ensuing careers), Babyface, Keith Jarrett, George Winston, Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, The Beatles.

Okay, that’s 24. Not particularly helpful, but a start. It’s time to get tough. Next cut……Matt Nathanson, Mat Kearney, Tracy Chapman, David Gray, Indigo Girls, Joshua Radin, March Cohn, Bob Dylan, Counting Crows, New Edition, Keith Jarrett, Michael Jackson.

Alright, now we have definitely reached the painful point! Twelve would be much easier to keep than five! Okay, okay, I can do this (with teeth gritted)…..Mat Kearney, Indigo Girls, Marc Cohn, Counting Crows, New Edition.

Hooray! And sob. I love these selections; they represent so much of my history and memories, with still some music left to be made. That makes me happy. It’s sad, though, leaving out the great diversity of artists and genres that I love and that continue to shape me as I push every year to stretch my musical palate. It seems a great tragedy. To try to limit the infinite power of music is a crime. No wonder this exercise has been so difficult!

It is a good thing it is hypothetical. Still, I love this kind of challenge! Once I get going, I plunge in headfirst and take the process seriously to the end, fleshing out the finer points and multiple possibilities. After so many years of journaling, my brain seems to especially enjoy topics that are ambiguous and multi-faceted, full of intricacies and forks in the road. I am drawn to nuance, depth, and grey areas that beg to be understood more fully rather than just the black-and-white answers that we are so often fed by politicians and social media trolls. I think that is what so intrigued me about this topic of narrowing musical choices. I knew it would require a period of uncertainty, of not knowing exactly what I think, and that I would have to wade through those murky waters and linger in that discomfort until I could come up with, through my own process of analysis and ultimately trusting my own judgment, the answers that feel right to me.

So, in the end, this challenge was rewarding almost as much for the mental exercise as for the trip through my music collection and all of the brilliant artists that have blown my soul wide open through the years. Almost! Truth be told, I could just climb into my music collection and let my heart bubble over with Love. As my guy Matt Nathanson sings, “I feel invincible with my headphones on!”

How about you? How will you narrow your musical loves down to just five for the rest of your life? Open up your journal and your album collection and play your way through to clarity. Do you like these types of questions that, even though they aren’t “serious,” force you to dig deep to come up with the answers that best represent you and your loves? Do you tend to comment on them when someone poses a question like this on social media? If not, do you at least tend to make a list in your head? Do you scan the Comments for other people’s lists? It’s interesting, right? It gives us insights into people we may not get another way. How about this particular question? How keenly were you drawn to it when you first heard it? Did you instantly start thinking of your list? What were the first names that jumped to your mind? Were they artists that you have always listened to, or were they more recent additions to your collection? As you started to expand beyond your top couple and considered options for your final selections, how big did the list grow? Ten? Twenty? Fifty? What were the biggest factors you considered? The pure joy the artist’s music gives you? The memories tied to that artist’s music? The number of songs in their catalogue? How many albums they are likely to release in the future? How self-conscious did you get in the process? Did you feel yourself succumbing to considering how other people would react to certain selections, leaning toward artists who would give you more cachet with “music people” over less sophisticated artists who just make your heart sing more? Did you feel pressure to diversify your list when you saw what it might be? What was your Top 10? How did you get from there to five? How painful was it? Who were your five? When you read through it, how much Joy do you feel? Any regrets? How fun was it just to go through your collection? Isn’t music amazing? How could we ever limit it, even to our very favorites? Leave me a reply and let me know: How seriously can you take a hypothetical question about something you love?

Let your spirit sing,

William

P.S. If this got you thinking or made you smile, pass it on. The world needs more active minds and smiling faces!

P.P.S. If this way of questioning yourself invigorates you, check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

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!

The One-Day Challenge: A Trial Run at Being Your Best

DSC_0556“Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you’d like to act.” –Bob Dylan

Hello friend,

A lifetime ago—or so it feels—I was an actor. I took some classes in which I would perform scenes from plays or movies for my teacher and classmates: one day I was a troubled teenager, the next day Hamlet, then a nitwit soldier, a stuffy artist, an insecure thespian, and on and on. It was fantastic! I got a wonderful charge out of stepping outside of myself for a moment and trying on someone else’s personality. It was enormously liberating. It was also very educational. I learned a lot about how it felt to have characteristics that I don’t really have, or at least that aren’t dominant in my personality. And even though some of those traits may have rubbed off on me a bit and leaked into my daily life temporarily after the play or class was finished, without repetition over the long haul, it became clear that this this tiger doesn’t change his stripes too easily.

Over the last week or so, I have been reading two books that have me quite captivated and, I dare say, feeling an urge to make a change. The first book is my fourth journal, written in late 1997 and early 1998. The dates that I have been reading lately cover a sort of spiritual zenith for me, a time of extreme bliss and near-communion with the Divine. I was in a zone of amazing peace, and reading about it now is a real education for me. The other book, which I am about halfway through, is Roland Merullo’s Dinner With Buddha. The story takes us on a roadtrip across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains with a Buddhist master and his brother-in-law, a middle-aged New Yorker who narrates the journey and shares the insights he gains as he tiptoes between the two worlds of his own jaded, worrying nature and the peaceful, present-centered nature of his companion. I am fascinated by the way the narrator envies the mind of the master and how he battles with his own natural cynicism about the world, pondering whether he could actually achieve such mindfulness himself. I have had my own longings in this direction over the years, so it resonates deeply with me.

So, what does my acting experience have to do with my blissful, 25-year-old self and roadtripping with a Buddhist master? Answer: they remind me that there is always a chance to try to be something different today than I was yesterday. Something better. Little habits of the mind—thought patterns—could shift and, in the process, change my entire life.

After all, as happy as I am now, I am well aware that I could be much more so. I don’t have to look beyond my own history for a good example. I look back to those days of my fourth journal, and I see a guy whose mind was beautiful. I was in such a state of Peace and Gratitude. I can see from the daily entries that it was about the lenses that I viewed the world through—my thought habits—and the little things that I did. I certainly wasn’t doing anything cool and exciting that an outsider might take notice of and copy. Quite the opposite: it was an extremely simple, uneventful existence.

There are, no doubt a few more complications in my life these days—a wife, kids, bills, etc.—compared to those fourth journal days. I cannot just set those aside. There are also no acting classes or plays that give me a free pass to escape myself and pretend I am the guy who has it all together and knows that same deep Peace I once knew.

There are, however, the lessons from both of those eras, if only I am open to them. And there are books, like Dinner With Buddha, that serve to remind me that there is always an opportunity to learn, to kick old habits, to think a little differently, to transform myself into a better me.

These books and memories have stirred me up. They have me thinking I need to make some changes. I want to feel more of those better parts of me. I want to know that deeper connection to the Divine again, to feel that sublime Peace more frequently.

But, since my life is hectic, and since I have come to better recognize the pitfalls of committing 100% to huge lifestyle changes all at once, I have come up with something more modest. I figure if I can just dip my toe into the deep current of self-improvement rather than diving in headfirst, maybe I would be more likely to feel some success and thus stick with it longer. Success breeds conviction, right? So, instead of signing up for a 30-day yoga course or committing to reading all of my books on spirituality again, I am going the other way.

I am calling it “The One-Day Challenge.” Catchy, eh? The idea is to act like your best self—and think like it—for an entire day. It doesn’t mean you have to apply for medical school or announce you are quitting your job—or even go skydiving or knocking off some major bucket list items—but just take on the mindset and the manners of the version of you that you long to be.

For me, I suppose that would mean being more quick to offer a smile to the people I pass (e.g. at the gym) and more willing to strike up a conversation with an intriguing stranger. I am usually so short and eyes down that I squash any interaction before it has a chance to develop. I know that I miss out because of that. I might also send a few personal notes of greeting or encouragement to loved ones. I am terrible at keeping in touch—this year more than ever, it seems—and it would make me feel better to shore up the most important ties that bind. I would also be a little more openly kind and attentive to my wife, who often gets the short end of my focus in favor of the kids.

But mostly–and this comes straight from the two books I have been reading—I would just try to stay completely in the moment. I would give up worrying about the future, especially tying my emotions to it. If I have to do some planning (e.g. at work), I will do it without getting stressed out about what might come. Staying present, taking my time, enjoying my company, breathing—those are the key elements to my success at The One-Day Challenge. If I could combine them with being more open and affectionate, sprinkling on a touch of bravery, my recipe would be complete.

Of course, I would like to say I am committing to being all of that every day at full capacity forever, but that would doom me to failure. But how about for a day? I could start with that. It is realistic. And who knows where it might lead? I am game! Improvement is not such a bad thing to aim for. I have certainly had less productive challenges. I am grateful for the opportunity to try, and grateful for the benefits that will undoubtedly stem from the attempt. It’s all good to me!

How about you? Are you up for The One-Day Challenge? Open up your journal and knock around some ideas that you might aim at for one focused day. How does the “Better You” think compared to how you normally think now? Is the Better You more kind? More patient? More focused? More generous with praise? More (or less) ambitious? More playful? More present? More honest? More open? More loving? More forgiving? More optimistic? What else? All of these characteristics might sound appealing in theory, but how many of them could you reasonably shoot for in your One-Day Challenge? One or two, maybe? Even though I tend to get greedy and want to improve in all of these areas at once, if I am being honest with myself, I think just trying to be completely present for a whole day would be more than enough of a challenge for me. And really, that one task might just take care of most of the others without even thinking about them. That is how valuable mindfulness is to me. What is your big one? Are you like me and had a pretty good grasp of it once but then let it slip away, or have you never had the thing you are aiming for? Are there so many things on your list that you could easily pick one per day and do, say, ten One-Day Challenges? That might be kind of fun! You could really try to see which ones stick and which continue to be elusive. Do you believe a person can change her life by changing her mind? Do you believe YOU can do it? Do you want to? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you up for The One-Day Challenge?

Claim your power,

William

P.S. If you think there might be something to this challenge, share it with a friend. Challenges are usually better with a support system, whether that is a cheerleader or someone who is willing to do it alongside you. Good luck and blessed be.

My Favorite Quotes: The Words That Remind Me What Matters Most

fontcandy“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”–Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Hello friend,

Twenty years ago, when I first opened Thoreau’s Walden, little did I know that my life would never be the same. My mind had just begun to open to new messages, and Thoreau came in and absolutely blew the roof off the place. I had found my soul-mate! I was mesmerized by every last word, reading each passage over before moving on to make sure I absorbed it completely. It was as if he as writing directly to me, or, more accurately, writing right out of my own head. I wanted to highlight every paragraph, to quote every line. Some of my favorites:

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

“If I were confined to a corner of a garret all my days, like a spider, the world would be just as large to me while I had my thoughts about me.”

“It is life near the bone where it is sweetest.”

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

“To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…”

“I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

“Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.”

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”

Oh, I could go on and on! That book just melted into my soul. I tingled all over as those magical lines burned themselves into my brain, where I would draw on them many times in all the years that have followed. Beautiful words from beautiful minds have that way about them.

Over the course of my life, the three historical characters that I have gravitated towards most are Thoreau, Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.. I have been captivated by their writings, their speeches, and the lives they led. When I try to come up with my favorite quotes from them, it is very difficult, as nearly everything on record is compelling to me.

With Gandhi, if you forced me to pick two, I might pick the simplest ones, both of which spoke to the way he led. The first is, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” The second echoes that sentiment. While visiting Bengal, a reporter asked him, “Do you have a message for the people of India?” His response: “My life is my message.” Oh, if we could all live up to that, just imagine our greatness!

With Dr. King, it is perhaps even more difficult to pin down a couple of favorites. One of them that has inspired me often with Journal of You, particularly when I have debated whether to write about a controversial or revealing topic—God, politics, sexuality, to name a few–is this challenge to the soul: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” That one slays my fears every time.

A good quotation is unbelievably powerful. It strikes you right at your core, making your hairs stand on end or unleashing sudden tears or smiles or knowing nods. Some of the ones that hit me at my foundation are about simple life lessons that I need to be reminded of:

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” –Socrates

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” –Oscar Wilde

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” –Aristotle

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” –Norman Vincent Peale

“You never fail until you stop trying.” –Albert Einstein

“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” –Persian saying

“Peace is every step.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” –Bill Keane (and others)

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” –George Bernard Shaw

“The great dividing line between success and failure can be expressed in five words: I did not have time.” –Anonymous

“If not now, when? If not you, who?” –Hillel the Elder 

All of these hit home for me in slightly different ways. They are the little reminders that I need to stay clear about how to navigate this world successfully. They are the random–but pure gold–nuggets of wisdom. I love them individually.

On the other hand, I find that there is one category of quotations that I am drawn to most, one topic from which I can easily churn out a big list of favorites. My soul-stingers are the ones that remind me to seize the day and follow the calling of my heart unflinchingly. They can be summarized by three words from the great Joseph Campbell: “Follow your Bliss.” Here are some of the others in my “Follow your Bliss/This is Not a Dress Rehearsal” category:

“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” –Paulo Coelho

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” –T.S. Eliot

“I am here to live out loud.” –Émile Zola

“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” —Thomas Jefferson

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough!” —Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” –A favorite Pinterest meme

“Leap and the net will appear.” –John Burroughs

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” –George Eliot

“Always do what you are afraid to do.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring 

“When you feel in your gut what you are and then dynamically pursue it—don’t back down and don’t give up—then you’re going to mystify a lot of folks.” –Bob Dylan

“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” –Anaïs Nin

“You know, we can’t get out of life alive! We can either die in the bleachers or die on the field. We might as well come down on the field and go for it!” –Les Brown

“Don’t die with your music still in you.” –Wayne Dyer (A spin on Thoreau’s line from Civil Disobedience and Other Essays: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”)

These are like zingers right into my heart. I get that surge of adrenaline and clarity whenever I read them. I think that says a lot about what drives me, what is in my soul’s code. These words have magical powers. They are the wind that fills my sails. When I read them, I think they were written just for me. That is the essence of a favorite quote. I do love them so.

How about you? What are your favorite quotations? Open up your journal and start your own list. Is there one particular writer or speaker, like my Thoreau, whose phrases are burned upon your heart more than others? I think most of us just know our favorites when we see them, but are there any quotes that you recite frequently from memory? Are your favorites from all over the map, or do they tend to fall into a certain category, such as love, change, happiness, humor, motivation, family, leadership, or success? Why do you think you gravitate toward that topic? When you come across a quotation that strikes you at your core, what do you do about it? Do you see it as a message that was meant for you and allow it to direct your course of action, or do you dismiss it as mere chance and move on? Now that you have been creating your list, do you feel inclined to post it somewhere, or at least keep it in a notebook that you will open occasionally for a positive reminder? Which ones are your absolute favorites? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which words are yours to live by?

Do your best today,

William

P.S. If our search for quotes stirred your heart and mind a bit today, share it with your world. We could all use a little stirring!

Do You Dare to Bare?

IMG_1184“I think of myself as an intelligent, sensitive human being with the soul of a clown which always forces me to blow it at the most important moments.”  –Jim Morrison

Hello friend,

My 3-year-old told me today, “Well, you don’t have to keep telling me that you love me all the time, Daddy, because I already know that.”  He knows everything. I responded, “Yeah, but that is how I really feel right now, so I am telling you.”  I bet that I tell my kids “I love you” 50 times a day.  Each!  I smother them with hugs and kisses.  My emotions are right on my sleeve.  Thankfully, they are positive ones.  I am trying to keep it real with them.  I want them to know just how much I love them.  But more than that, I am also trying to be an example to them about emotional honesty. I want them to feel confident in telling their Truth, to not shy away from their emotions.

We teach what we most need to learn. I wish I was a good example about owning my feelings and sharing them honestly. I want to be. But I have to admit that it is something I have always struggled with. Like the Jim Morrison quote above, my sensitivity has often gotten so squashed in trying to put on a tough, polished exterior that I have really blown it in some important moments. In trying to minimize and put a shine on my real emotions, I have come off blunt, even callous. I have gotten in my own way.

“But I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.” So says Bob Dylan, and I hope I am becoming that way, too. Kids are such good examples of honesty. Their emotions are like mercury, changing drastically with the conditions from moment to moment. When they go from crying one minute to laughing the next, most of us jaded parents take that to mean they were faking the crying part. Though I don’t discount that entirely, I think it is actually more that they are so completely in the moment that they can move beyond the source of their tears instantaneously. Unlike us adults, they don’t work so hard to hold grudges. They get it out—honestly and completely—and move on. It is really these transparent kids that are the wise ones in this world. When we become “mature” and “control our emotions”, the unfortunate side effect is often that we hide from our Truth and squash down feelings that must be felt lest they destroy us (through addictions and chronic, mind-numbing activities like television). I have been that old. I want to be young again!

Yes, I have been one of the many bottled-up people in this world. Why do we do it, though? Why do we chicken out? Why do we lack the courage to own our feelings and express them—to tell our Truth—especially to those we love the most? Just this afternoon I was thinking about my great-uncle Lloyd, whom I have always thought of as the most kind-hearted man I have ever known. I was thinking of how grateful I am that he has been in my life and how I hope that I can be that kind of man for the rest of my life (he is about to be 89). It hit me: I have to write him a letter and tell him so! Yeah for me, right? But as I sit here writing to you about this idea of emotional honesty, I can’t help but feel a little cowardly that the only way I dare tell this hero of mine how much he means to me is by writing him a letter. I cannot tell him to his face.

I know how I am (or how I have been?). I would freeze up if I tried to tell him. I would take any sign of awkwardness from him as an excuse to clam up and not finish my thought, not tell my Truth. “I don’t want to make him uncomfortable” or “He doesn’t like to show emotion, so I won’t”. These are just crutches for me, reasons to avoid owning who I really am. The other one—I use this one to avoid honest conversations with my Dad—is “Oh, he knows how I feel.” But that assumes a lot. What if he doesn’t know? What if he thinks my silence means what I used to think his silence meant? What if he goes to the grave thinking that?

I think it is this reason—the brevity of life and the suddenness of its end—that has helped me improve over the years at sharing my emotions honestly. I just don’t want people to leave my life without knowing how much they mean to me. And it isn’t just the shortness of other people’s lives that concern me anymore; it is also my own duration. I am keenly aware that I could go any time, so I am trying to seize every moment, “to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,” as Thoreau says. That includes building rich, authentic relationships, which requires me to own my feelings. It also includes not denying myself the simple pleasure of telling my Truth.

Telling my Truth, I have found, is wonderfully liberating. I now see those chances to tell it as little “dares”—as in, “I dare you!”—to jump at rather than shy away from, as I always used to. The dare excites me now. Each time I seize it, I become more confident, more comfortable in my own skin, and thus more willing to share my emotions—my Truth—the next time. It is a healthy snow-balling effect.

I also think that it becomes easier to own my feelings and live out loud as I care less and less about what others think of me (see Bob Dylan above; I am becoming younger). The less I look to the outside for validation and instead seek within, the more willing I am to share my emotions and my Truth. Who I am, it turns out, is enough, and I care not for the company of those who think otherwise. So, even as I write this I get more resolved to share my emotions even more freely. It may mean writing it down for awhile—sending that letter to Uncle Lloyd will still feel good—but I will do better with the face-to-face someday, too. Eventually, I will probably become that old guy who—tactfully, I hope–holds nothing back and makes people uncomfortable with his honesty. I admire that guy.

How about you? How bottled-up are you? Open up your journal and start telling your Truth. Tell yourself first. How do you feel about you? Be honest with yourself, and don’t judge your feelings as they come. Just let them flow along with the words, unfiltered. This is when writing is at its best: when you let yourself go. Have you told the people closest to you how much they mean to you? If not, what is stopping you? Try to make the answer something about you, not about them. The part you can control is yours. Pick a person and write out how you feel about them. Do you dare say the words to them face-to-face? If not, how about writing a letter? You already wrote out your feelings; why not just send it? I dare you! Go down the list of your loved ones. Who deserves to know your Truth? Who haven’t you told? The answer to those two questions—and the gap between them—is your challenge laid out before you. Do you accept it? Leave me a reply and let me know: Do you dare to bare?

You are enough just as you are,

William