Tag Archives: Inspiration

Beautiful Souls

Thank you for sharing your talent, for being an inspiration, and for making the world more beautiful.

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Unblocking

*Daily Prompt

Composes email to journal. Attaches file. Hits “send.”

A momentary sense of relief sets in upon the completion of a written work. This is usually followed with deep breaths and a generous serving of Pinot Noir. But then the next day arrives and an inkling of unease snakes into my thinking:

“Now what am I going to write? That was it! I am out of ideas! I’m done. Oh no! I’ve got nothing.”

A second serving of wine will not suffice; instead I go for an extra dirty martini.

For me, writer’s block has been nothing more than an appealing way to describe mental paralysis brought on by my own anxiety. When you stop to ruminate on the wondrous thing that is writing, it’s quite astonishing. Ideas that exist only in the mind and do not occupy space needle your physical self to move your fingers and usher those ideas into the physical world. On paper or on the computer, ideas that only the thinker was privy to, become object. Your mental activity suddenly emerges as something to be seen or heard. The beauty of this act of creation also spurs anxiety because in writing, one actively unveils the contents of the mind.

While writing and thinking are primarily solitary affairs there remains the crucial component of sharing this work. Inevitably, a reader (or readers) need to come into the picture. “What will they think of what I think?” Leading with that question cloaked in fear, I’ve learned, only launches a bout of writer’s block. Here are some steps I take to diffuse the anxiety:

  1. Stepping away for a while allows for the mind to re-boot. Sometimes I honestly don’t know what is more challenging, forcing myself to stop writing or forcing myself to write. I have found that when I overcome the guilt of not writing for a few days I tend to return to my laptop fresh and ready to start.
  2. I make it a point to visit interesting places.

    Yours truly at Huntington Library, Pasadena: Japanese Dry Landscape Garden.

    Yours truly at Huntington Library, Pasadena: Japanese Dry Landscape Garden.

  3. After taking time off, if I’m still at a loss for ideas I resolve to sit down and write whatever is in my head without editing. I’ve eloquently nicknamed this my “brain vomit sessions.” There will be pages and pages of non-sense before a gem of an idea presents itself. I’ve accepted it is okay to unleash paragraphs of ramblings because that is simply part of the writing process.

The best of the worst of my doozies from brain vomit sessions (I sincerely hope this makes you feel better about your own writing woes):

Reasons I Envy My Cat

Things Said At CrossFit That Would Be Awkward In Any Other Context

Chubby Introverted Atheist Growing Up In Catholic School: A Memoir

Mary Wollstoncraft Meets Ladies for Tea

Socrates Decides to Chat With The Oracle at Delphi Himself

  1. I read more and with a notebook handy to write down any interesting word or phrases. After compiling my list I work out sentences with them. Sometimes toying with a word rather than scrambling for a big idea unlocks the block.

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    Unfortunately this little beast often interferes!

  2. Most importantly, when anxiety encroaches on my writing time I stop and journal about why I write in the first place. Without fail, I end up at the same conclusion: I write to improve myself and to understand the world. The more honest I am with that sentiment, the less afraid I am of embarking on another writing project.

Some inspiration:

Sue Grafton: “Seriously: I write because it’s all I know how to do. Writing is my anchor and my purpose. My life is informed by writing whether the work is going well or I’m stuck in the hell of writer’s block, which I’m happy to report only occurs about once a day.”

Mary Karr: “Most great writers suffer and have no idea how good they are. Most bad writers are very confident. Be willing to be a child and be the Lilliputian in the world of Gulliver, the bat girl in Yankee Stadium. That’s a more fruitful way to be.”

Simone de Beauvoir: “I got the desire to write very young….The meaning of this project was to make the world my own, to show my life as freely recreated by me.”

Bryan Magee: “I have written several of my books because I wanted to master a subject: producing a book about it was the best, if not the only, way I could force myself to work really hard and systematically at it over a long period of time. I can sit and think for a while, but not for months on end—unless I write.”


On Love

Over coffee a few weeks ago, my dear friend Courtney asked me do a reading at her wedding ceremony.  “Of course!” I responded.  Giddy and flattered, I asked, “What would you like me to read?”

“Anything.  Something from Philosophy.  I trust you,” she said.

The lovely couple

The lovely couple: Courtney Bates & Brendon Small.

I picked a piece from Plato’s Symposium:

Plato’s Symposium gives an account of a dinner party where the participants each took a turn to explain Love.  One speech in particular, from the playwright Aristophanes, is the one I wish to share.  Aristophanes said that the human being was originally whole, with two heads, four legs and four arms.  Having upset the gods, the human was divided into two and left wandering the earth craving blindly for the other half.  After some time, Zeus took pity on the beings and turned their heads and arms forward so that they could eventually reconnect with each other.

Aristophanes:

“When one of them finds his other half…the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment: these are they who pass their lives with one another; yet they could not explain the intense yearning for the other.  It is that which the soul desires and cannot tell…

Suppose Hephaestus, with his instruments, to come to the pair who are lying side by side and say to them, ‘Do you desire to be wholly one; always day and night to be in one another’s company? For if this is what you desire, I am ready to melt you into one and let you grow together.’

–there is not a man among them when he heard this who would deny or who would not acknowledge that this meeting and melting in one another’s arms, this becoming one instead of two, was the very expression of an ancient need.

And the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were whole, and the desire and the pursuit of the whole is called Love….

Therefore we shall do well to praise the god Love, who is the author of this gift, and who is also our greatest benefactor, leading us in this life back to our own nature, and giving us high hopes for the future…”

 

 


The Honeymoon is Over; Getting Through the Mid-term Slump

The air of excitement from the first week of classes has dissipated.  The skip in your step now resembles a sluggish mosey to class, and you are armed with a highly caffeinated beverage at all times just to get through the day.  A count-down to Winter (or summer) break is mentioned in most of your conversations.

How to get over that mid-term blah:

  1. Plant yourself at the library, a study space, or a coffee shop with all of your syllabi.  Review upcoming deadlines and class requirements.  In general, take 20 minutes to reacquaint yourself with the goals of the class.  This will put you back in the frame of mind of the first day when you were more enthusiastic.
  2. Write down the grades you want this term.  Imagine the end of the term and seeing these grades next to your name.
  3. Write down 3 things (per class) you can do next week to make the grades you imagined happen.  List the amount of time and the day you will do these 3 things. The more specific you are the better.
  4. Visit your professors’ office hours.  But what to say?  Here are some conversation openers:  If you are enjoying the class, then let them know (mention a specific reading), ask a question about the material, or ask their opinion about a term paper/ project idea you will be doing for the class.   A recent guest speaker promoting study habits at Cal Poly said to university students: “There is one person in the class who knows how to get an A and that is the professor.”
  5. If you haven’t done so yet, make a friend in your class.  Get to class five minutes early and introduce yourself to the person who usually sits next to you.  When you know someone you are more likely to attend class and enjoy it.
  6. Go somewhere new.  Try out a restaurant, a different coffee shop, another spot in the library, or a place in town (like a museum).  Breaking up the routine re-charges your mental battery.

Good luck!


How To Survive Boring College Lectures

OMG, this class is so boring!  How are you going to get through it?

It’s true.  Some lectures could be more effective at putting you to sleep than Ambien.  Nevertheless, attending lectures remains a key ingredient for performing well in college.  Here are some pointers:

1. Even A students get bored at times by lectures.  What is the difference between the A student and the C student?  Their approach to the lecture.  Don’t let “boring” become an excuse for not showing up to class.  Dive right in, sit near the front, buy a coffee, and simply face the fact that you will be less than entertained for a couple of hours.  Get in the mental game and you will survive.

2. One of my friends from graduate school took impeccable notes, and before exams everyone lined up to study with him.  When I asked him his secret his response surprised me: “I’m bored in class, so I write everything down.” That is an A student approach to the problem!  Instead of avoiding lecture he planted himself close to the front of the room and made it a bit of a game to literally write down word for word what the professor said.  Give it a try.

3. Absolutely read the material before class.  If you are unfamiliar with the course material then it will only magnify the boredom.  Not reading would be like signing up for a book club, going to the gathering but never bothering to open the book.  Or, to put it another way, it would be akin to listening to an inside joke for two hours and paying money for the experience. How boring!  Be sure to prepare and stay in the loop.

4. When you are reading the material create possible questions to ask in class (if the professor takes questions).  Participating in class speeds up time for you.  And, you never know, your question could prompt others to speak up and the class could take an intriguing turn.  Dare I suggest, you might enjoy the class then?

5. Do not take out your phone to answer or read emails.  Again, this will make the boredom worse.  You are essentially running away from the problem by turning to the cell phone rather than confronting the issue head on.  This is a C student response.  Moreover, it is a bad habit.  After college you might find yourself in other boring situations like work meetings.  It is not a good (or beneficial) idea to tune out and gravitate to your phone while others are talking.  Indeed, there will be times when your good friends bore you!  Would you take out your phone while they talk?  Of course not.  For class time, strengthen your concentration abilities and keep the phone in your bag.

6. This last point is a bit painful but it must be made, namely, are you making an effort in the class?  Finding something interesting, like recognizing beauty, takes time and thought.  One isn’t always “struck” or in “awe.”  Often, interest is the result of devoting energy to appreciation of said subject (or object).  When you learn more you will discover more things to be interesting.  The boring lecture just might-maybe-possibly-I’m-sorry-to-point-it-out be indicative of your disposition rather than the professor’s.

Overall, keep the end goal in mind: to do well.  We’ve all been through a boring lecture.  You will survive!  Remember, it is your grade on the line, so don’t shy away from the class even if you need to muster all of your brain power to stay alert.  Good luck!

CLICK here for my book on how to succeed in college.

Click here for some more great tips on getting through lectures from College Success Now.

 

“The more things a man is interested in, the more opportunities of happiness he has and the less he is at the mercy of fate.” Bertrand Russell


How to Fail a College Course in 9 Steps

1. Rarely show up to class.  On occasions of attendance come late and/or leave early.  Be sure to create a healthy amount of noise while packing and unpacking your bag.  Consider knocking over your energy drink or your classmates’ things as you shuffle in and out the classroom door.

2. Call the professor by his/her first name.  You aren’t into that status BS.

3. Sit in the back row and check your email on your phone.  Compose some emails.  Keep the phone in view so that fellow students envy your audacity.

4. Avoid proof reading at all costs.  Type stuff up, print, and skip the staple.  Instead of writing “you” just write the letter “u” throughout the paper.  In fact, treat the entire assignment like an excruciatingly long, boring text.

5. Ignore important dates like the ones in bold on the syllabus that tell you when exams are scheduled and things are due.

6. Never bring the text book to class.  In fact, why buy it at all?  Just wikipedia everything.

7. Avoid note taking entirely.  Whenever the professor says “This is important” or when something is put up on the board, abstain from writing it down.  Keep your arms folded at your desk.  It’s probably best that you don’t even have a notebook and pen out in the first place.

8. If you do find the urge to participate, ensure that your question unequivocally proves that you never opened the book.

9. Do not go to your professors’ office hours at all…except on the day after your final exam to inquire, “So, what am I getting in the class?”

Not your cup of tea?  Click here for tips on succeeding in college.


Shhh! I’m an Introvert

Intrigued by the title, I picked up Susan Cain’s book Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.  My initial interest was geared towards the latter part of the title “a world that can’t stop talking.”  I assumed the book would be a sort of sociological/cultural analysis of American society.  But, after plowing through the first chapter, I found myself a bit startled to see so much of my own personality in her description of an introvert.  In fact, she lists twenty “yes/no” questions for the reader to determine the extent of one’s introversion; the more one marks “yes,” the more one is introverted.  I answered “yes” to 18 of the questions!   The more I read on I could feel a sort of weight lifted off my shoulders.  Indeed, because I am not particularly shy I had not thought of myself in this fashion; however, Cain points out that there is a common confusion between shyness and introvertedness.  Introverts are not necessarily shy.  Quite the contrary, introverts can give presentations and be social.  The distinguishing trait is that introverts retreat from interaction in order to re-boot.  Some introverts need more time than others.

I should back up here.  Why was I feeling like a weight had been lifted?  Cain explores the dynamics of being an introvert from biology, psychology, and referencing famous historical figures who were introverts.  As I was reading I realized not only that I expressed the traits of an introvert but that I have spent of good deal of my life apologizing and feeling guilty about being introverted.  Let me be blunt: I thought I was just plain weird!

From when I was young and throughout my college years, for example, I attended social gatherings but I was usually one of the first to leave.  After two hours of chatting I wanted nothing more than to be at home and to read.  Now, at the end of a long week of teaching, I notice that I need a day (or three) for myself to recover from all of the interaction.  I absolutely love teaching, but to be effective I must take a time out from the world once the work week is over.  I will plant myself at home with a book, turn off the phone, and sometimes postpone or reschedule social plans.  Even emailing gets suspended for this re-booting time.

Reading, an inherently solitary affair, has been and remains a large part of my life.  I read for nearly five hours a day. (Some days I have been known to read all day.  When I started The Brothers Karamazov, for instance, no one saw me for a week.)  I read a novel a week (give or take) in addition to reviewing my lectures, grading, and of course, reading Philosophy.  This is something I would rarely share with anyone because I knew it was…well…weird.  However, Cain’s book has assured me that this is quite typical and dare I say it, normal, given the disposition of being introverted.  She traces the trend to become extroverted as part and parcel of an American “success” to the publication and phenomenon of How to Win Friends and Influence People.  With the onset of this popular book, the ideal mode of communication swayed towards talkativeness and being outgoing.  Success meant, in part, imbibing the extrovert persona.  This inevitably eclipsed the power of the introverted disposition.  Qualities such as listening and retreating to problem solve (rather than group think) were undervalued.

At different points in my life a few people have said things to me along the lines of I needed to be out more or that I must spend time alone because of some childhood trauma. (Side note: childhood IS traumatic.) While reading Cain’s book these memories sprouted and gave me pause, for I had allowed people to make me feel sheepish about me being me.

After reading Cain’s book I not only know more about the sociological and biological dimensions of introversion, but I’ve actually come to be more comfortable about myself.  I’m not weird.  I’m not anti-social.  I’m an introvert!

For my dear readers, extroverts and introverts, never let anyone try to make you feel strange for delving into what you love.  I think that is the overarching reason I wanted to create this post.  Be stylish, interesting, social, quiet, creative, mathematical…whatever!  Just be tuned into what makes you YOU and flourish.

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