Entries in happiness (92)


Reading Patterns: What I Read, When, and Why

Some of the books on my to-read shelves. October 19, 2014.Typically, I alternate between fiction and nonfiction books in my reading. My fiction selections tend toward the literary in genre; my nonfiction reads run the gamut from science to business to essays and history.

I find truth in both types of books.

In fiction, I discover more truth about the human condition and relationships. In nonfiction, I uncover insights into the past and present, business and economic realities, best practices for living, and the wonder of the natural world. Alternating types of reads makes me feel better rounded than I would feel if I read in gluts of one or the other.

And sometimes, just reading fiction feels overly self-indulgent.

Yet when I went to my bookshelf today to select my next read, I had no interest in any of the fantastic nonfiction prospects on my shelf. I didn’t want edification on business or life hacking or the history and current affairs of science—to name a few examples. These books didn’t call to me even though I find them interesting and look forward to reading them (at some point).

I just wanted another novel.

Given that year-end always turns into a busy time in my work life, I could likely benefit from reading some of the business options. Yet right now I spend the overwhelming portion of my day—an even vaster majority than usual—puzzling through business problems and reading business materials.

I’ve reached my capacity for business thinking at this particular moment. I could read one of the great business books on my shelf, but I wouldn’t do it justice right now. I wouldn’t read it as actively as I should read it. In a way, I need to read business books when I have calm in my work life—when I’d have more receptivity to absorb their wisdom.

The other nonfiction reads?

I love science, but it doesn’t pull me today. I don’t feel open to its wisdom. History? Same. I don’t feel like nonfiction can fulfill my intellectual and spiritual needs right now. No matter the book’s topic.

Novels might. In this very moment, I crave the insights and knowledge that fiction provides about human interactions, emotions, and conditions. I need to sense a commonality of feeling and thought—and to see where perspectives differ from mine.

And yes, I seek the comforting cradle of characters, settings, plotlines, stories.

Call me self-indulgent. After all, sometimes self-indulgence serves a deeper purpose. Sometimes we know what we need.

How do you decide what to read and when to read it? And why?


How We See Ourselves—and How it Hurts Us

A confessional blogger who has frequently written funny stories about her dating experiences for XO Jane stated she’d never write another article about her single status because she wanted to find a relationship. She felt that the more people see her as “the single woman” or “the woman with the funny dating stories,” the longer she’ll stay solo.

If you identify as a single person, she wrote, you’ll stay that way.

The post reminded me of Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, a book it took some convincing for me to read. (A book intended for adults written from a dog’s point of view? No, thank you. But count me highly glad someone convinced me otherwise.) In the book, the protagonist—a race-car driver—states that if you think about the racetrack wall, you’ll hit the racetrack wall. Look in your desired direction over the feared outcome.

In other words, he wrote, we manifest what’s before us.

If you think of the worst, you’ll realize the worst. You’ll manifest it. Likewise, we become what we think of ourselves. If you consider yourself shy, you’ll stay a wallflower—or turn into one. If you think of yourself as unattractive, you’ll come across that way.

And in the XO Jane author’s vein, perhaps the way you think of your relationship status—single or paired—accounts for the recently divorced’s tendency to hook up again so quickly: They don’t see themselves as single. Whereas people who have stayed single for a long time, who think of themselves as single and talk about their singlehood, tend to stay that way.

Positive, willful thinking can’t overcome all obstacles. But certainly it can prevent quite a number of pitfalls and a passel of trouble.

After I read the XO Jane author’s post earlier this year, I stopped writing about my relationship status, thinking about myself as single, and talking about my dating experiences. I may have made brief mention of singlehood and dating, but only in context of another subject and only when necessary to making a point.

Further, I reviewed other life intentions to think through ways I could think and act differently to avoid self-sabotage. I’ve got some work to do.

Don’t we all?

What about your life would you like to change? What should you change about your self-concept that would help that change happen?

What do you think?


Stop Overthinking: Give Life a Try

I’ve written about the crippling business challenge posed by analysis paralysis. Fortunately, I don’t tend to get stuck in never-ending decision cycles, either at work or at play.

At work, I feel reasonably confident in assessing all the parameters of a decision, looking at the possibilities from multiple angles, getting trusted advice when needed, and moving forward.

In my personal life, I don’t endlessly mull decisions, either. Instead, I have a problem with what I’ll call “the knee-jerk no.”

In other words, when it comes to personal-life options, I can reason my way out of any given new area of interest, potential activity, or dating prospect:

  • Interest: I wouldn’t have any talent in that. I have too much on my plate to try something new. Focus, Leslie, focus. I’ve never liked that type of activity before, so why would I like it now?
  • Activity: When? Tuesday looks exhausting. I won’t have the energy that night. And I won’t know anyone there. I don’t want to go by myself to something where I don’t know a soul.
  • Romance: I can’t date him. It would never work. We don’t have enough in common. His life complicates my own far too much. He won’t understand my world, my goals, my passions.

Yet sometimes you have to leap outside your comfort zone. Try something.

So what if you don’t like the new interest? You tried it. And if you don’t enjoy an event, don’t stay. No one forces you, after all. What’s risking an hour if it could turn into a really fun few hours? And so what if dating him doesn’t work? You only live once—and you’ll never know for certain if you don’t chance it.

Have faith.

Don’t throw all reasonable concern and caution to the wind, but don’t overthink things, either. If you do, you stop living.

How do I do better?

  • Take small steps. See how they go. If it feels right, take a few more steps. If it doesn’t feel right, stop or change direction.
  • Change the thinking. Instead of mulling over all the things that won’t go well, refocus the lens on what could go right and what life will look like if it does. Get over the fear of change and remember the excitement of something new.
  • Phone a friend. Someone you truly trust can provide a sounding board and outside perspective—especially if you let her know you’re working on taking reasonable chances. I have a couple friends with whom I can talk through anything, from improving my eating habits to fears and sadnesses to dating.

How else can we avoid overthinking and take reasonable chances?


GUEST POST: My Creative Process: Disorganized Organization (Part Two)

Jon Lundell's wall of metal panels for inspiration.

Leslie’s Note: This is the second post in a two-part series by a dear friend and highly admired artist, Jon C. Lundell. Read the first part here. Learn more about Jon and his work on his Web site and read his other writing on his personal blog, which I highly recommend following.

I have tried a variety of methods to keep my creative world organized. An obvious to do list: Chalkboard, dry erase, paper, calendar, computer, tablet, iPhone, brightly colored magnetic letters that spell out salient phrases, all of which resist my attention and are soon forgotten.

I have a wall of metal panels in my studio to post things on with nifty magnets: Images I find appealing, works I wish to steal from shamelessly (as Patti Smith said, and I live by this: “I am an American artist and I have no guilt”), and the aforementioned magnetic letters that occasionally fall over and make a mess.

All of this I promptly ignore.

Cleaning is a big problem. I often take a day to organize my studio: Similar tools in the same place, easy to find, pictures I’m working on prominently displayed, and open space for me to get to it all. Which I do, then do again, then think of something else, and since I’m working on that and have the paints out, why not add to that thing. My mind wanders and engages a new idea I must pursue immediately. Shortly, in a period I have clocked at roughly a week, everything is in total disarray. How did that happen?

I would also point out that an artist recently visiting my studio commented on the horribly rigid structure of it all. How could I possibly create with so much order imposed? Go figure.

Materials, Media, and Ambience

I build all painting supports myself; physical work I find satisfying.

I use archival materials: Acid-free paper, hardwood panels, lightfast pigments, real gold leaf. I have made financial sacrifice at times to ensure I am using quality materials. I mean, otherwise, what’s the point?

I need to be entertained when I work. Movies, music, stories, BBC, radio plays all appeal. I especially favor Shakespeare and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” My studio also has a jukebox. How cool is that?

Perhaps at this point you have ascertained I am easily distracted. No need to point that out. I’m hyperaware.

I do not work well under pressure or deadlines. I want to give the work time to sort itself out if it needs. At some point art takes on a life of its own, and is made to be viewed. I was prissy and precious about things when I was a youth, but that went away after I accumulated a body of work.

A Little Chaos is a Good Thing

The moment we step out the door, we are governed by rules and laws. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (there is a reason anarchy has never quite caught on), but I find it counterintuitive to the creative mind.

My paid employment has, for the most part, required me to impose order on chaos, be very organized, and direct people far too busy to focus. This is contrary to my nature but, for some reason beyond my comprehension, I am very good at it. I think perhaps this is one reason I covet a lack of structure in my studio.

I like the fact that I own the work, all the drudgery, glory and foibles. I am not a competitive person; games and sports don’t interest me because, outside of war and personal assault, winning and losing doesn’t strike me as important. So art suits me.

What’s your creative process?


Friday Links #3: Great Stuff Worth a Read

Assorted periodicals at my place. October 11, 2014.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, each Friday post will feature fantastic articles, books, and blog posts that I’ve read since the Friday post before. More people should read more great writing, I say.

Happy reading!

  • Years ago, Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn gave me a thought-provoking read, and so did this recent article the couple penned about the limitations to our current methods for ending the cycle of poverty—and how we could make a far bigger difference. In short: We have to start earlier.
  • Jon C. Lundell’s meditation from an artist’s perspective on whether art has something to do with beauty and the subjectiveness of the beautiful made me think. Personally, I believe that anything can have beauty from the right perspective.
  • Blame my intellectual-historian background and my work in the marketing field: I love studies like this one, written up by John Beshears and Francesca Gino in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, of human behavior and how to influence better decision making.
  • This post by Joelle about private lives in a public, social-media world sounded a bell for me: As much as this blog, Twitter, and Facebook puts out about me into the world—and as much as I may choose to share off-line—I hold back a great deal more. In fact, I sequester what matters most to me far more often than not. Maybe one day, that will change. But not anytime soon.
  • The fragility and transience and poignancy and preciousness of life have lingered in my thoughts quite a bit lately. And so when I read this post by David Pennington, I read it thrice. Though it made me ache, it helped to know someone else feels the sadness. And I still wonder who wrote the beautiful eulogy from the physics perspective. I want to thank him or her.
  • My humanities-loving heart sang when I read James McPherson’s post marking parallels in “The Wire” to Greek epic—and poignantly drawing conclusions about the need for justice to achieve peace in the world. And I haven’t ever even seen “The Wire.”

I still forget to make note of the fantastic writing I encounter—I haven’t yet mastered the habit. Stay tuned in future weeks for ever better lists!

What have you read recently that I should read?

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