Tag Archives: quotes

What About the Symphony?

I wasn’t going to post today, but I ran across an idea in my morning reading (quoted in Thrive by Arianna Huffington) that made me think–and that I thought might be helpful for others, as well.

“No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve in quality as it goes along or that the whole point of it is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them.”

-Alan Watts

Quite the idea to process while I was going over my plans for the day, setting my goals, and generally trying to take steps to improve my life. Does this mean we should let go with the idea of improving ourselves, our circumstances, our productivity (*cough*), or our lives?

I don’t think so. But it’s a great reminder to look at why I’m setting the goals I am, why I’m creating new habits, and why I’m putting so much damned work into making my days work for me instead of letting them slip away.

Because, as with so much of life, it’s about balance.

I don’t have a boss. Nobody’s going to fire me if I’m unproductive in the short term. Maybe that’s why it’s easy for me to let a day go by and feel like I’ve wasted it (especially if I’m in a bad place with social media or other things that seem enjoyable, but really add nothing to my life). That’s why I need a to do list, why I set my top three priorities for the day, why I get my work done before I play.

On the other hand, it’s also far too easy to buy into the self-improvement hype that says you can do anything and everything if only you believe in yourself… which really means you’re falling short if you’re not doing, having, and being it all (and posting it on Instagram, obviously). To focus so much on what we should be doing to better our lives that we never actually stop to reflect on how far we’ve come or to enjoy the benefits of all this improvement.

I mean, so many things that I do don’t seem like parts of a symphony. I meditate, but I often find the process uncomfortable. I work so hard on my writing that the fun bit where I’m making up stories for my own enjoyment is dwarfed by the analysis, the problem solving, the revisions, the editing, the learning about writing craft–things that can be rewarding in the end, but are often stressful in the moment (and don’t even get me started on marketing, bookkeeping, or taxes). I don’t enjoy telling my kids to get off their tablets and enduring their grumbling, and I don’t enjoy getting them to clean up after themselves when it would really be easier and less stressful to do it myself. I don’t enjoy cooking or cleaning at all. And playing with my schedule and tracking results was rather tedious.

Why not let it go?

Because though I don’t always enjoy this stuff in the moment, it improves my quality of life in general.

Meditation is helping me stay in the moment and is helping me distance myself from emotions and physical pain that might otherwise consume me. Improving my writing means a better experience for my readers, and it offers me immense satisfaction in knowing that I’m learning and growing (and all that other crap makes it possible for me to keep writing, because income to cover editing costs is rather essential). The effort I put into making my kids do things they don’t like is helping them establish habits that will help them (and me) in the long run. Cooking puts food on the table, and while I don’t like cleaning, I do like a clean house.

And as for improving my productivity, I’m happier when I’m getting stuff done, and everyone in this house is happier when I’m not stressed about deadlines that crept up while I was procrastinating. I like knowing that I’m doing my best.

…And none of that is me disagreeing with the quote. It’s why this idea is so important.

Because I do get caught up in it. I feel at times like every minute has to be well spent on working toward a goal or doing something productive. I tend to become unduly absorbed in improving my life.

At times I need to be reminded to stop and smell the damn roses. To appreciate the “fog happiness” that my work offers if only I take time to step away from the stresses and appreciate it.

To actually live the life I’m working so hard at.

Who I am and what I’m doing right now are important and worth enjoying all on their own. This moment and this day aren’t just steps toward some end goal, and what I’ve got now is pretty damned amazing.

Not every day has to be perfect. Blah days and down days and unproductive days are normal and fine. But taken as a whole, there’s a whole lot to appreciate, even in darker times.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done to get to where I am, and my life is immensely more satisfying than it was five years ago. I’ll keep working on improving what I can as needs arise.

But this morning, I added that quote to my bullet journal. I put it on the January “memories” page, on the back of my habit tracker and directly opposite the spot where I note my accomplishments for the month.

Because it’s easy to note the good stuff without really stopping to go, “Yes, I did a thing that improved my life. I did a favour for Future Me, and she’s going to be thrilled about it. I helped make someone else’s life better. I did something I couldn’t have imagined doing a year ago. I improved a relationship even though it felt awkward in the moment. I changed my world in some way.”

It’s easy for me to just jump into the next goal, to not stop to listen and enjoy the symphony as it plays, and to become unduly absorbed in the improvements as though there’s some end goal I’m racing for.

This moment, right now, even with all of its stresses and problems, is what I dreamed of just a few years ago. There’s no guarantee anything will last forever. Every symphony ends. I’m glad to have been reminded to appreciate mine while it lasts.

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What Gets Me Through

It’s not hard to find an inspirational quotation any time you want one. Googling “inspirational quotes” returns almost 45 million options to click through. (I probably just added another one. Oops).  Why? Because we need encouragement. We need advice. We need to know that we’re not alone, that other people have faced obstacles and returned to share their wisdom.

Are they all useful? No. Many are so vague as to be meaningless, and others are only useful at the right time. Take this one:

 “Pay no attention to what the critics say; there has never been a statue erected to a critic.”
— Jean Sibelius

OK, first of all: sick burn, Jean Sibelius. High five, right here. This is an extremely encouraging bit of advice for anyone who’s feeling like they’re being kicked around by the critics, the “haters” (does that even mean anything anymore?), the Philistines who just can’t appreciate true art, dammit.

That said, if I ignored the critics all of the time, I’d never improve. If someone told me that a character’s motivation was unclear or that I had something hanging out of my nose and I just told them to shove off and go be statue-less somewhere else, I’d be stuck with a story that was less than it could be and… well, with something hanging out of my nose. Do we really need worse consequences than that?

I collect quotes- funny ones, inspirational ones, ones that tell me to go out to kick some ass and others that tell me to let go of the things that don’t really matter. In the right context, they all help me get through the day. Today is a day that requires getting through; I had a migraine yesterday, and though the pain is gone, the stupid lingers like some kind of brain-fog. (See?) I’ve had another friend agree to critique my book, and a complete stranger waiting to do the same, and it makes me more nervous than it should.

That’s right: just anticipating criticism makes me think I’m bound for failure. I’m going to go slap my skin with wet shoelaces until it gets a bit thicker; in the meantime, I’ll leave you with a few pieces from my collection. Here’s hoping you find something to get you through the day, too.

“You must want to enough. Enough to take all the rejections, enough to pay the price of disappointment and discouragement while you are learning. Like any other artist you must learn your craft– then you can add all the genius you like.”  —Phyllis A. Whitney

“Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sang best.”  -Henry Van Dyke

“The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you didn’t write” -Unknown

“But he who dare not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose.” -Anne Bronte

“People say I don’t take criticism well, but I say, what the hell do they know?”      Groucho Marx

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” -Ray Bradbury

(Please feel free to add your own favourites in the comments!)


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