Tag Archives: Matt Nathanson

Silver Linings: In Search Of The Positives In A Pandemic

“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.” –Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke & Bone 

“In a time of destruction, create something.” –Maxine Hong Kingston

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.” –Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Hello friend,

I have had moments of anger during this pandemic, such as when I see my neighbors having yet another play date with their children’s friends and parents, ignoring all science and government warnings and putting the rest of us in danger (and keeping us home even longer) because they lack either the will power to resist their social nature or the moral fiber to care about their potential damage.

I have had moments of deep sadness, too, such as when I read the social media post of the nurse who had flown to New York to help in a hospital, who had just had her patient die, and she reported that they had 17 deaths in their 17-bed unit that night. How does that NOT break you?

I have had moments of fear and anxiety as well, each week when I go to the grocery store and when I think about the possibility of my wife losing her job or a family member needing a hospital visit.

I have felt at least some degree of all the negative stuff that I am guessing you and your loved ones have felt during this unusual time. And though currents of them dash in and out of my atmosphere like phantom winds, I can say with some certainty that–with the notable exception of the first few days following the cancellation of my vacation, as I shared in my last letter–I have not let the negative overtake me. Some of that, I am sure, can be chalked up to the fact that I have been lucky. My family has money coming in, food in the refrigerator, health insurance, and none of my loved ones have contracted Covid-19. Relative to what other people are dealing with and will deal with, I have a dream gig going here right now.

The rest of it, though, seems to be attributed to my psychological make-up. I am a glass-half-full kind of guy by nature, and I tend to have my radar up and tracking the potential blessings in any situation. In the course of my day, I tend to find the fun, the kind, and the beautiful that is available to all but seemingly noticed by few. I have been blessed by an inclination toward those things and a willingness to train my eye to find more. It leaves me uncommonly grateful and, by extension, happy.

So, amidst the throes of the rampant sadness, frustration, anger, fear, and anxiety that seem so common and expected in this unprecedented age, I have found myself all the more determined to uncover the blessings and the good that might come of it. In this storm of storms, I am looking for silver linings.

It is easy to latch onto the most popular ones, which start with the frontline medical personnel. These people are just amazing to me. I look at me, not wanting to so much as leave my yard because I don’t want to closely interact with anyone and risk getting the virus and subsequently passing it to my family members. Then I look at the emergency room staff and first responders, going into work every day nearly certain that they are going to get it, if not today then tomorrow. There was the video that went viral a few weeks ago of the man in scrubs coming home and his tiny child running to greet him. It broke my heart to watch him have to suddenly keep her from excitedly running into his arms for a hug. Anyone who has ever been a parent knows that is probably the single greatest feeling in the world. To think that there are people like that all over the world, voluntarily eschewing the proximity and affection of their loved ones in order to continue serving the sickest among us, well, that is simultaneously both deeply saddening and incredibly inspiring.

All of the other frontline workers are so uplifting for me as well, even as I fret for their safety. I go out to the grocery store once a week and, as I am standing in the long, spread-out line for my turn to pay, I am absolutely spellbound watching the employees–these folks barely, if even, making a living wage for their services–ringing people up. It boggles my mind how they keep doing it day after day. I am so grateful for them.

Obviously there are very few people who signed up for this gig, whatever it is they are doing in this new age. Nearly everyone’s job, if they still have one, has changed. So many public-facing difference-makers–the teachers, the coaches, the therapists–can no longer do their jobs in a way that they can feel the daily difference they are making. There are a lot of teachers in my life, and I know that it pains them to have to “only” deliver educational modules to their students through a computer every day rather than their usual nurturing of the whole, complex person for the 25 or 30 growing souls in their classroom. They don’t get to directly help them through their challenges and witness that spark in the eye when the light bulb comes on or the hug of gratitude and love when it is most needed. I exchanged a message with one of my colleagues about this, and she lamented, “Distance learning is like planning, shopping, wrapping, and sending the perfect gift for someone you adore, but never getting to see them open it or know if they even like the present.” But teachers keep pouring their all into it because our children depend on them even in their absence. Those kind of people inspire me.

There are so many others, of course, whether they work on the front lines or are struggling because so much has changed behind the lines but they keep putting one foot in front of the other because the world needs them. I am even inspired by the people who, unlike me, are so wildly social at their core and need company like they need oxygen, but are choosing to be good humans and stay home. There are admirable sacrifices all around if your eyes are open to them.

One thing that tickles me these days is seeing so many people out walking, running, or bicycling in their neighborhoods. I have always loved visiting “active” towns–usually in places embedded in the mountains or by the ocean–where it seems like everyone is an outdoors enthusiast and people are moving their bodies wherever you look. My community is not typically one of those hubs of energy, but it sure has become one in the last month. I have never walked so much in my life, and I get the sense everyone else could say the same. I love seeing them all out and active. It energizes me. I hope we can keep that outdoor momentum going even when gyms and stores open up again. There is new life in the fresh air.

I also take great joy and inspiration in some of the new opportunities that people, especially artists, have created and made available online during this time. The actor John Krasinski’s YouTube broadcast from home, Some Good News, has been a delight, and I highly recommend it. I have also loved the “quarantine concerts” that so many musicians have put on their social media, whether it is a daily song (I have been digging Michael Franti on Facebook) or weekly concerts (I adore Matt Nathanson’s weekly events from his home office on YouTube, during which he sings songs and reads beautiful passages from books of poetry or wisdom that inspire him) or those big sing-along collaborations that artists have been putting together through ZOOM. There is nothing like music to lift the spirit, and these times ought to give us a greater sense of the necessity of the arts in our society. I have also appreciated those virtual tours of some of the world’s greatest museums and our national parks, both the sights themselves and the thoughtfulness of the people bringing them to us.

Though all of these inspirations have flashed regularly across my radar throughout the pandemic, the one ray of Hope that has grown exponentially in my mind as the weeks have passed falls under the theme “How We Might Grow From This Experience.” I am enchanted by the possibility of some sort of simultaneous mass realization of the errors of our former, “normal” ways and a subsequent move toward a more highly idealized society, perhaps even to the extent of an evolutionary leap in the behavior of our species. Might we take advantage of this collective pause in our society–one that is unlikely to ever happen again in our lifetimes–and use it to gain wisdom in the direction of a world that is more peaceful, equitable, and just? Might we come to value each other more? Might we come to value our time more? I desperately hope so.

What kinds of things might this translate to? Maybe it is as simple as choosing our commitments–whether to individual people or activities or groups–more discerningly. Now that we have been pulled out of our sports, clubs, churches, stores, meet-ups, coffee shops, restaurants, classes, and gyms, I hope that we are using the time away from them to better understand how much we (individually) need each one of our diversions. Even though most of us are going stir-crazy in our homes, we may also be realizing for the first time that perhaps it would be wise to begin prioritizing some downtime at home when “real life” resumes. As we have been removed from nearly all of the people in our usual routines, I hope that we are realizing which of those people are really not a positive influence on us and perhaps which are more deserving of our time and energy. Maybe we need more quality and less quantity, both in people and scheduled activities.

I also hope that this time–with its isolation, its anxiety, its uncertainty–leads us to put a greater premium on our mental health and self-care. I hope it becomes easier and “more normal” to talk about mental health and to understand that the issues that we have been hiding are so very common in our community.

I hope that it becomes more obvious–and more painful in the realization–that the poorest among us consistently bear the burdens of our crises to a far greater degree than the wealthiest. It is the poor who are both put on the front lines of exposure in times like this–cashiers, janitors, delivery drivers, etc.–and also more likely to lose their jobs, being in positions less likely to have a work-from-home option. I hope that in this time that we suddenly have to think more clearly and become more aware of the realities of our usual set-up, we find it in ourselves as a society to become more compassionate of those most in need and more aware of our own, typically-unearned privilege.

Along the same lines of this potential growing awareness, I have been increasingly hopeful that this health-crisis-turned-economic crisis might make it more clear to the average citizen how much more humane a single-payer, “Medicare for all” health care system would be. I think of the more than 22 million people who have lost their jobs in the first four weeks of this collapse, and how many millions of people that takes off of health coverage. I am up-front about the fact that I have long been in favor of a universal health care system in America, seeing health care as no less a natural right than a “free” public education or police and fire protection, as I have written to you about in the past. It has always seemed crazy to me that we don’t have this system in place and instead spend far more per capita on health care than other “civilized” countries for generally worse results, not to mention leaving tens of millions of our citizens uncovered and poorly covered to the point that they don’t take care of basic medical needs. It embarrasses me as an American. If we have to go past the idea that it is a basic human right–which we should not; that ought to be the start and end of the discussion as to the necessity of universal coverage–I have always found it sad and tragic that the reason so many people stay in jobs rather than quit or change or try to start their own business or pursue a dream is because of the loss of health insurance. The current system is, in so many different, insidious ways, breaking our spirit. And now we have tens of millions of newly unemployed, resulting in millions of families losing their health coverage. How many people lost their coverage due to the pandemic in the rest of the world? Zero. Because they have humane systems. I have been surprised and disappointed that we have not seen more spoken and written about this in the traditional and social media as the numbers of unemployed pile up. It is my hope that people will see that now is the perfect moment in our history to do right by each other. Health coverage for everyone would be a giant step in the right direction. I remain hopeful that hearts and eyes will open.

It is this and so many other structural, systemic issues that I am looking toward in this time, hoping we open our hearts and minds to find the compassion and the wisdom to see our “we’ve just always done it this way” as a compilation of attitudes and tactics that have simply not served us all as well as we may have hoped. But I see people doing right by others, helping and giving and supporting. And I see others who want to be a part of a better world, who want fewer people to suffer and more people to get along, who want the resources spread out more equitably. I see all of that good action and good intention, and they make me hopeful. They give me light in a time that could too easily turn dark.

There are so many good people out there. You know that. So many lights. So many silver linings to this storm. You can find them almost anywhere you look. It seems to me that with this many good people, we deserve to live in a world whose structures–be they social, political, economic, or otherwise–serve to provide or facilitate all of those positive intentions and gestures of good will. But the responsibility is upon each of us to both do better in our own little corner of the world and to raise our voices to demand better of our larger structures. We must use this collective, reflective moment to consider the ways that our religions, our education systems, our health care systems, our political institutions, our judicial systems, our use of science, our natural resource consumption, and our philosophy of diplomacy and warfare facilitate the kind of goodness that is in our hearts. If we deem that those systems are not representative of our goodness, we need to rise up and demand that changes be made. And we must do whatever is in our own power to see those changes through. We must be the bringers of our own light.

This pandemic era is difficult. It is angering, frustrating, depressing, and anxiety-inducing. But it is also so much more, and its potential for a positive outcome is massive. Even with the scars that we will no doubt carry from this era, we could actually come away with a more caring, compassionate, equitable, just, and peaceful planet, both the humans and the systems designed to help the humans live their best lives. I see the possibilities all around me. I see it in hearts and gestures. If you are having a hard time seeing that light in your world, I hope you will find it in yourself. It is there, my friend, just waiting to be discovered. I am happy to lend you some of mine in the meantime. I have hope for you, hope for us. With so many beautiful examples out there to use as a guide and this quiet moment to steel my resolve, I am inspired to find out just how high we right rise. Together.

How about you? Where do you look for hope and inspiration in this time of crisis? Open up your journal and your heart and uncover the source of the light shining in? Where are you finding your positivity these days? Do you see it in the people in your community and the actions–or inaction–that they are taking? Which profession seems to awe you the most at this time? Medical personnel? Grocery store clerks? Delivery drivers? Janitorial workers? Teachers? Are you inspired by people’s willingness to stay home to limit the spread of the virus? What acts of personal generosity have you witnessed or been a part of that remind you of people’s goodness? Which people–individuals or groups–have you come to see in a more positive light as a result of the their actions during this pandemic? Are your own actions worthy of someone else’s inspiration? What other sources of positivity have you used lately that are unique to our current situation? Are there live events that you “attend” online, whether workouts or concerts? Do you watch TED talks? Have you started reading any books that you might otherwise have neglected were we not in a pandemic? What sorts of hopes do you have in the “How We Might Grow From This Experience” category? What realizations would you like us to have about our ways of living? What personal “A-HA”s have you had about your own lifestyle and priorities? Which aspects of our society has this crisis exposed for you in a way that you never realized before? Do you believe in our ability to at least begin large-scale, structural changes to the way we do things based on the lessons we are taking from this period? If so, what part do you see yourself playing in the positive change? How much light do you have to share? What sources of inspiration will you use as your fuel? Leave me a reply and let me know: What positives do you see emerging from this pandemic?  

Bring the light,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your community. This is a team effort!

P.P.S. If this type of introspection stirs something in you, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers. Namaste.

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.

100 Loves

“We don’t need to have just one favorite. We keep adding favorites. Our favorite book is always the book that speaks most directly to us at a particular stage in our lives. And our lives change. We have other favorites that give us what we most need at that particular time. But we never lose the old favorites. They’re always with us. We just sort of accumulate them.” –Alexander Lloyd

Hello friend,

Allow me to light up your day! Come along with me and play a game we will call “100 Loves”. The rules are simple. I will name a category, and all you have to do is quickly name ten of the things you love most in that category. There will be ten categories, so ten lists of ten. Hence, 100 Loves!

My one caveat/suggestion: Don’t try to get your list exactly right! In any of the categories, of course there will be many contenders to make your Top Ten. Don’t give in to the temptation to agonize over which ones get those last few spots and which get left off the list. Just write the first ten that come to you. [Secret from the game designer: no one is going to bust you for making your lists a bit longer. If longer feels better, go for it!] This is all about thinking of things that give you good memories, inspirations, warm fuzzies, giggles, and smiles. If you are feeling pressure to get your list right, you are playing the game wrong. And just because you are making a list from one to ten, this is not about dividing up your heart into exact amounts. As long as your answers make you feel good, anywhere on the list is wonderful. Don’t rank them! Got it? Good! Let’s play!!!

Category #1: Books

  1. Walden—by Henry David Thoreau (my all-time favorite piece of literature)
  2. Autobiography of a Yogi—Paramahansa Yogananda
  3. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
  4. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance—Robert Pirsig
  5. Into the Wild—Jon Krakauer
  6. The War of Art—Steven Pressfield
  7. The Catcher in the Rye—J.D. Salinger
  8. Conversations With God (series)—Neale Donald Walsch
  9. On the Road—Jack Kerouac
  10. The Kite Runner—Khaled Hosseini

Category #2: Foods

  1. Monster Cookies (the ones my wife makes are divine and so naughty!)
  2. Garlic Bread
  3. Root Beer Floats (A&W preferred)
  4. Giant Burritos from Chipotle (I like them all!)
  5. Caramel Rolls (the ones my Mom makes are the best!)
  6. Grilled Halibut
  7. Dr. Pepper (I am not really a soda drinker, but when I indulge, the Doctor is in!)
  8. Pizza (I am not picky, but a simple pepperoni is lovely.)
  9. Smoothies (the one that my kids call “Mango Pineapple Pink” is delightful!)
  10. Chocolate Malt (made by my daughter after school—heavenly!)

Category #3: Inspirational Figures

  1. Martin Luther King, Jr.—Live your purpose. “The time is always ripe to do right.”
  2. Mohandas Gandhi—“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” He was.
  3. Henry David Thoreau—Be unapologetically you. Don’t just exist; LIVE!
  4. Ellen DeGeneres—Be you, be kind, and be generous. Oh yeah, and be silly.
  5. Mastin Kipp—Follow your heart. Stick with your biggest dream.
  6. Barack Obama—With the audacity of hope and lots of work, anything is possible.
  7. Dalai Lama—Spread positivity to every corner of the world. Be happy!
  8. Jimmy Carter—Spotlight or not, do good for all of the days of your life.
  9. Van Jones—In the most contentious of times, reach out across that chasm to find that we are rather more alike than we are different. Lead with love.
  10. My daughter, India—A contented soul makes the best company. Kindness first.

Category #4: Music Videos

  1. “Beat It”—Michael Jackson. Love that fight/dance scene!
  2. “Centerfold”—J. Geils Band. Those first bars were unmistakable and sent whoever was manning the family room TV into hysterics, yelling, “Centerfold’s on! Centerfold’s on!” so that the rest of the house would come running.
  3. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”—Cyndi Lauper. With Captain Lou Albano as her Dad, how could this not make the list? It really was fun!
  4. “Her Mercy”—Glen Hansard. One of the few from my adulthood. My spirit rises with it. So beautiful.
  5. “She’s A Beauty”—The Tubes. I can’t explain it; I just loved this from the start.
  6. “Parents Just Don’t Understand”—DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. There’s no need to argue.
  7. “Headphones”—Matt Nathanson. A documentary set to music. Makes me smile through my tears.
  8. “I Love Rock & Roll”—Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. This is everything about my childhood. The best anthem!
  9. “Brave”—Sara Bareilles. It is a masterpiece of inspiration and fun.
  10. “Thriller”—Michael Jackson. An absolute EVENT. Captivating!

Category #5: Actors

  1. Julianne Moore
  2. Don Cheadle
  3. Cate Blanchett
  4. Daniel Day-Lewis
  5. Emma Thompson
  6. Anthony Hopkins
  7. Kate Winslet
  8. George Clooney (man crush)
  9. Helena Bonham Carter
  10. Sean Penn

Category #6: Games

  1. Taboo—a highly amusing holiday tradition with my extended family!
  2. Ping Pong
  3. Mario Kart on Wii—I love this with my kids!
  4. Yahtzee—classic!
  5. Super Mario Brothers on Nintendo—my Mom bought one of the Classic Nintendo consoles at Christmas, and between my sister, brother-in-law, and my kids, that game was going continuously the entire holiday break. Ahh, nostalgia for the many hours wasted on that game in the old days….
  6. Foosball
  7. H-O-R-S-E (Basketball)
  8. Capture the Flag—My brother and I still get the kids going on this one at the lake every Summer. This was my backyard in the Summers of my youth. So much fun and so many memories!
  9. Rock Band on Wii—because, at one point or another, we all dreamed of being in a band, right?
  10. Scattergories—Great for a large group. Inevitably funny.

Category #7: People (Not immediate family to take the guilt out of it)

  1. Gabrielle
  2. Uncle Bob
  3. Aunt Caryl
  4. Ruby Red
  5. Karen a.k.a. lizzy
  6. Cousin Becca
  7. Aysun
  8. Phil
  9. Foley
  10. Uncle Lloyd

Category #8: Songs

  1. I Go To Work—Kool Moe Dee
  2. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters—Elton John
  3. Rochester—Mat Kearney
  4. No One—Alicia Keys
  5. Shame On You—Indigo Girls
  6. Walking In Memphis—Marc Cohn
  7. Let’s Get It On—Marvin Gaye
  8. Mrs. Potter’s Lullabye—Counting Crows
  9. Stand By Me—Ben E. King
  10. Seasons of Love—The Cast of “Rent”

Category #9: Activities

  1. Sledding
  2. Rollerblading
  3. Surfing
  4. Building a snowman
  5. Playing catch
  6. Hiking
  7. Kayaking
  8. Swimming
  9. Yoga
  10. Slip-n-Slide

Category #10: Movies

  1. Dead Poets Society
  2. The Thin Red Line
  3. Stand By Me
  4. Cinema Paradiso
  5. Slumdog Millionaire
  6. Almost Famous
  7. Home for the Holidays
  8. Beautiful Girls
  9. Moulin Rouge
  10. Life is Beautiful

Whew! We made it to 100! That was just a ton of fun! When I was making it up and deciding on categories, it seemed like fun, but it was so much more than that. It was nostalgic. It was emotional. It was deeply gratifying. Truly, that is what I take away from it: an astounding Gratitude for all of the wonderful blessings in my life, past and present. I am grateful, smiling, and inspired. Hooray!

How about you? What’s on your list of 100 Loves? Which categories were the most enjoyable to list? Which ones were hardest to keep to only ten items (I had a tough time keeping my Movies list at ten and made an extra-long list for that one on my paper). Which categories were the most emotional for you? Which brought you the most smiles and laughs? Did you break out any music, movies, or YouTube while you wrote? Which list had your most favorite memories? Were there some lists that just didn’t do much for you? If we were to make a second 100 Loves, which categories should we add (I toyed with bands, writers, locations, movie lines, even apps)? Was this as fun for you as it was for me? I hope you are smiling, anyway. Thanks for playing along! Leave me a reply and let me know: What are your 100 Loves?

Savor Life,

William

P.S. If this made you smile, please share it. We could all use more of those!

Sensation Preservation: My Favorite Sights, Sounds, Smells, Tastes, & Touches

IMG_4025“When we think of the past it’s the beautiful things we pick out.–Margaret Atwood

Hello friend,

Matt Nathanson is one of my favorite musicians. Last year, he put out a song called “Headphones” that managed to get a bit of radio play. I liked the song at first, until I saw the video. Then, I LOVED it! The video is basically a documentary montage of a trip Matt took to an impoverished town in Peru to give hearing aids to people who had either never had hearing or who had lost it. As the song rises to its climax, the video’s story reaches the point where the long-deaf people, who had lined up for hours for this moment—and certainly dreamed about it for years—begin to hear. The reactions are absolutely priceless! As they are overwhelmed with tears, amazement, gratitude, and wide wonder, I cannot turn my own teary eyes away. Each time I watch the video, I wonder about how special that moment is for those people, how the voices of Matt and the others must sound like audio magic to them, and how the image must sear itself into their hearts and minds forever. I also look at it from Matt’s perspective, but in the visual sense rather than the audio. I have to think that the look on those beautiful faces (see the photo) as they heard their first sounds—the absolutely palpable ignition of their souls—must have touched his heart in such a profound way that the image of them etched itself there forever as well.

At the start of the video’s story, in a voiceover that fascinates me, as Matt is explaining how much he loves music, he says, “I’d gladly go blind or mute, anything rather than go deaf. I’d be completely lost. I think that for most people, keeping their sight would be their first choice. But what a thought! I shudder at the very idea of losing any of my senses. I am reading a book right now called All the Light We Cannot See—I highly recommend it—in which the main character is a teenage girl who became blind as a young child. I am completely captivated by every scene she is in and try to imagine what it must be like to be in her shoes, to have seen the world once but now living totally in the dark. What images are etched in her memory? What would be the first thing she would want to see if her vision was restored? And what about Matt Nathanson and his hearing? What sounds would he miss the most? Music? Voices? The wind in the trees? What is so etched into his soul that he could never forget? What would it mean to reconnect with them?

Of course, I use Matt Nathanson, the deaf people of Peru, and Marie-Laure LeBlanc from my book as my examples, but who I am really thinking about is myself? What are the images—the sights, the sounds, even the tastes, smells, and touches–that I would miss the most? Which ones could I never forget? Would I pine for images I have never known outside of my imagination, or would it be the sensations that are the foundation of my everyday world? What makes this earthly life so great, anyway? The sights and sounds matter. So do the tastes and the smells and the touches. It turns out that our senses are the pathway to our entire experience of the world.

Like with most everything in my world since my kids were my born, the sensations I associate with my joy for life are so much tied to those two little munchkins. I think of my son’s cat-who-ate-the-canary smile and the look in his eyes when he has a joke up his sleeve. I cannot imagine a life without those magical, playful eyes that light me up every time I see them.

It is in my moments of being literally in the dark that I appreciate my sense of touch. The ones that seem to glue me together come after my daughter and I have said goodnight to my son and return to her bed. She lays her head on my arm and snuggles in close as she tells me stories and asks me questions. Gradually the talking comes to an end as she begins to give way to sleep. It absolutely is the food my soul lives upon, and I cannot imagine not being able to feel her against me, the curls of her hair tickling the side of my face.

There are also images from my past that seem to be seared into my heart and mind, and while I would love to experience them again, even if I went the rest of my lifetime without feeling them, I would still hold them as fresh visions in my mind, ones I wish never to forget. Two come quickly to mind. The first is a place called Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park (which itself is a tremendous feast for the senses that I give the highest recommendation). One day I hiked up to this crystal clear, glassy mountain lake and trudged through the brush to the far shore where no one would come near. I plopped myself down with my journal and seemed to have all I would ever need. I was surrounded almost entirely by steep rock faces with small waterfalls cascading down, except of course the absolutely crystalline water in front of me. Alone I sat with my heart completely open, and both the place and the visual completely soaked into me. I pray that Alzheimer’s does not take that image away from me any time soon.

Another fine day in another fine place came about 10 years ago in my beloved Italy. The town of Siena holds my heart anyway, but that particular late afternoon in Il Campo, the giant town square, my wife and I—relative newlyweds at the time—were just sitting on the ground on the beautiful, burnt orange bricks after a full day, enjoying some gelato and people-watching. In a playful mood, we pulled out our clunky camera—this was pre-smartphone days—and started taking selfies, giggling as we snuggled our faces up close to squeeze into the shot, then laughing at the results. We were so much at ease and so much in love. It was nothing but an ordinary afternoon in a magnificent place, but my memory of the sights, the tastes, the smells, and the feelings seems utterly extraordinary. If I could not see anymore, I would still have that day in my mind’s eye.

It is easy to take these senses for granted, but they are absolutely amazing gifts. I think of my son’s eyes, my daughter’s snuggles, the taste of gelato, the smell of the pine forest in Montana, and the sound of the ocean waves crashing on the beach. How could these be replaced if my senses were lost? Would my memory of them be enough? I honestly cannot say. What I do know is that doing this exercise has made me smile at the thought of so many beautiful sensations and the memories they have carved into my mind. It has made me more grateful for these priceless gifts. It has swept me away to my happiest places, and I have truly loved every step of the journey.

How about you? What are the sensations that live in you for the long-term? Open up your journal and take a trip through your most treasured memories of touches, tastes, smells, sights, and sounds. What are your favorite examples of each sense? What emotions are tied to them? Do the different senses seem to conjure a different set of emotions? What senses seem to create the strongest emotions in you? Are those senses also the most valuable to you? Which sense would you most willingly give up? Least willingly? If you lost one or more, do you think your memory would be strong enough to keep the feeling alive? If today you lost your hearing for a long period of time—say, five years—and then gained it back, what would you want to hear first? Same for sight: what would you want to see first? Touch? Smell? Taste? Armed with the answers to all of these questions, what are you going to take the time to appreciate in your day today? What sensations will you seek out? Which will you try to commit to memory? Leave me a reply and let me know: What images do you savor?

 Take it all in,

William

P.S. If this post resonates with you, I would greatly appreciate it if you would share it with your family and friends via social media or old-fashioned word-of-mouth. My hope is to positively impact as many people as possible every week, and I need your help to do that. Thanks in advance for your support.