Lessons I Learned in 2017

Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

Like most people, I want to start the new year with a little more knowledge and hopefully a little more wisdom than the previous year.  To recognize either, however, it is important to reflect on the year that came before.  I learned a few lessons from 2017 that I hope will help me handle the events of 2018 with a bit more understanding, courage, and grace.  I am relating these lessons in no particular order.

  • The storms of life are often unexpected and devastating but necessary. They bring us together and offer opportunities for working together, inspiring hope, giving freely and joyfully, and expressing genuine concern for those less fortunate.
  • We should put more faith in God and people than Hollywood and government.
  • When we are assaulted in any way, we must stand up to the offender and let it be known that we don’t tolerate rude or unseemly behavior. We must also report such behavior immediately for the sake of everyone.  Imagine what the world would be if everyone treated each other the way they want the person they love most in the world treated.
  • Hurricanes and snow storms can happen in South Texas within four months of each other. We should delight in the wonder of that.
  • We need more snow days. They give us a reason to do nothing except play, snuggle, drink hot chocolate, and marvel in how beautiful everything is when blanketed in snow.  Even the neighbor’s old shed makes for a great snow photo.
  • We should listen more, especially to those who struggle to find their voice. Our forefathers understood this and gave us freedom of the press to help do that.  That said, we should not allow anyone to be tried in the press.  We are a nation that believes in due process.  To ignore “innocent until proven guilty” hurts us all.
  • We should carry a trash bag on our walks and tidy up our paths. This is good for the environment – and our waistlines.
  • We should be quick to help and slow to criticize. Our opinions aren’t worth much, but our hands and feet are like gold.
  • We must admit it when we are wrong and forgive those who point it out. Most of us benefit from a bit of humbling now and again.
  • Investing in people pays higher dividends than investing in Bitcoins. Mentor a child who may not have a responsible adult in his life to teach him about right living.  Both of you will change for the better.
  • Find a way for kids to spend time with farm animals. It teaches them respect and a healthy fear of the big ones and allows them to see how even the smallest one has a purpose.
  • Patience is still a virtue. Sometimes waiting for what we need or want saves us time and trouble and unnecessary expense.
  • We should preserve the history of the common people and share it with our children by telling them or writing it down. It is our past, after all, that defines the direction we take in the future.
  • We must put names, places, and dates on pictures and writings so that “Who’s that?” and “Where are they?” and “When was this?” can be answered.
  • We should spend more time with four-year-old kids. They have the courage to hold a snake and sing and dance in public.  We should nurture this in them – and in ourselves.
  • We learn what our loved ones cherished by the paper treasures in their attics. Print newspapers and magazines allow us to leave a trail of what we value for those who may one day dig through our old shoe boxes stored in the closet in search of who we really are.

I am certain that everyone who reads this list could easily add to it.  So, print it, attach it to a piece of paper where you list your own life lessons from 2017, tuck it into a box or between the pages of a book, and give your children and grandchildren something to think and talk about after you’re gone.  They’ll be glad you did.  May each of you have a happy and blessed New Year, and may your resolutions turn into actions that make you a better person.

“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.”  ~ Benjamin Franklin

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Time and Work: According to Dad, the Builder

Around the State, Arts, Education, Opinion/Editorial, Personal History
Dad, the Builder

     Sometimes I feel like an escaped convict being chased by time:  ever-long to-do lists and never-long to finish them. Plans for plans of plans to accomplish things which need only be accomplished in order to accomplish other things. And then comes the rising, surging impatience as one menial task seemingly steals time from a larger, more important task. “It’s all work; it all takes time; and it’s all necessary,” my dad would tell me. “You can lug and stack 6 pallets of brick for the bricklayer who stands in wait atop the scaffold, all the while wishing you had his job instead of yours, but you will have forgotten that he is about to move all the same bricks, setting and leveling each one by one as his two hands build a wall.”

     Without time, there may be no depth. All too often, we waste time and effort by spending time and effort trying to save time and effort. Short cuts, loopholes, and corner-cutting may be useful in a pinch, but real progress cannot be achieved unless you are willing to “walk the path” in its entirety. Our sweeping mentality of always wishing to find a tool that will give us more and faster typically results only in superficial levels of quality and knowledge which deliver neither more nor fast. Worse yet, cramming with shortcuts to learn quickly a little about everything ultimately means that you’ll only ever know a little about anything.

     The frustrating truth is that there is no cure for time. Be it spent or wasted, nothing passes more steadily than the tick of the clock. All we have are the choices we make about how to pass with it. The good times move with the speed at which we wish the bad times could, and the bad times linger in ways that only good times should. In the end, our only real solution is mindful, steady work. Couple this with a specific objective, and we may rest assured that the amount of time it takes to complete any task will be exactly equal to the amount of time it should take to complete the task, no more, no less. Only with years of repetition does the length of time needed to complete our work begin to shorten, a frustrating fact of life that is otherwise known as patience.

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Confidence, Fear, and Patience: “A General Theory of Creativity”

Arts, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial
Original artwork © Matthew Thornton
Original artwork © Matthew Thornton

     Ever been so sure of an idea that you rushed through it on impulse, overlooked something small (or big), and proceeded to watch your idea come crashing to the ground? Worse yet, ever wanted to create something that you were afraid might not amount to much if seen by other people, so you decided never to begin? Or what about that time you knew exactly what you wanted to produce, took all the necessary steps, and then watched in surprise with everyone around you as your idea came full circle from concept to reality? If the answer is no, stop reading here and go to a library or a museum, or anyplace at all that might fill your soul with a whisper of a thrill or a spark of inspiration. If, on the other hand, the answer is yes to any or all of the preceding questions, then I have one more question for you: Have you ever wondered why your creative undertakings succeed or fail, and how you can ensure that your next idea will come to fruition?

     Creativity exists in the narrow fracture between confidence and fear, a place where patience holds the reins and gives us the courage not only to forge ahead, but also the acute awareness of when to slow down. Mindful rousing and taming of your creative inner giant is developed through artistic patience – a skill requiring a conscious awareness of purpose, a self-reflection of habit, and the most recalcitrant element of all: time.

Original artwork © Matthew Thornton
Original artwork © Matthew Thornton

     Confidence, though wildly desirable, has the nagging ability to produce a self-righteous voice in our heads: gas-pedal to the floor, eyes on the horizon, all the while neglecting the side and rearview mirrors. Anyone who has felt it is sure to be addicted to the high of feeling unbridled certainty. Unfortunately, what goes up must come down. Without the lows, after all, highs would be indistinguishable. Pure confidence, therefore, rarely produces our most creative selves.

Original Artwork © Matthew Thornton
Original Artwork © Matthew Thornton

     Fear, on the other hand, produces nothing short of a well-armored fortress of excuses, telling us we should wait for ideas to strike, for resources to appear, and for acceptance by the masses. Worse yet, fear not only cripples creative impulse, but it also has the sneaky ability to transform in such a way that falsely spins our angst into the image of patience. Fright tricks us into telling ourselves, “It’s okay… Take your time… Don’t act too fast.”  Make no mistake; this is not real patience.  It is the proliferation and paralysis of fear.

Sun Worshiper © Matthew Thornton
Sun Worshiper © Matthew Thornton

     Unlike the extremes of confidence and fear, creative patience settles our minds in such a way that not only fuels confidence but also seeks and destroys fear; it pushes us forward without allowing us to act in haste. Ironically, it is the moments during which we feel the most sure that we might need to slow the cart, and the moments during which we feel the most fearful that we should forge ahead.  More time and more tools do not equal more freedom, more productivity, or necessarily even better quality. In fact, real freedom is found in limitation, which means that with the correct mindset, having access to fewer resources and less time can often lead to both more and better results. Creative patience spurs us into taking the time to figure out why and how we should create something, and then, without rushing or skipping steps, creating it.

     Don’t wait to start until the ideas strike; strike until the ideas start. Don’t wait until you have the tools to build; build with whatever tools you have. And above all – don’t fall slave to trends of the majority. Go the other way. Be a misfit, make your own rules, and remember that creativity is a result of lifestyle and habits. So shape your thoughts and actions accordingly and make your ideas become reality.

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