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James Wanless

this is where I write

Baby Steps

A while ago, I decided I wanted to focus more on creative pursuits; notably reading, regular journal writing, re-engaging with drumming and music, sketching, visual art, and the like. I’m definitely making progress on the first two, and if you include learning and developing a love for Sketch, a progress of sorts on the visual/art side.

Writing

With regard to writing, I’m not generating daily posts as I initially wanted to, but I often take little notes for ideas, am posting fairly frequently and usually have the germination of more than one post in draft form.

Related to the (online) writing piece, I’ll be doing a little re-theming and re-structuring of this site beginning almost immediately. It may not be a huge change all at once, rather as with the other things I’m trying to do more of, it will likely change in baby steps. Before I refine what I write about or consider more intensive projects, I want to establish a daily practise, and I’m simply not there yet. Make the change first until it becomes habit, then refine and improve upon it.

And that’s really my point in this post. Unless you’re referring to the genesis of our planet, lasting change rarely happens with one big bang, at least not for me. I’ve tried. I’ve failed. If you break off more than you can chew, you choke. What I find does work when I manage to make change, is to break my goal into the smallest useful pieces and do them until they are habit. Then I add.

Reading

For example, to read more has initially been a two-stage process. The first is to simply do it. As opposed to mindlessly going online, zoning out on music, late night staring at the tube, I’ve been stealing half hours at lunch, twenty minutes here and there and usually been adding at least an hour of reading, if not more, to my day. I’m reading every day now without exception.

The second stage has been more about determining what I should spend my time reading. My reading history has been equal parts fiction and nonfiction, though given how my brain works it’s hardly a surprise that I’ve usually enjoyed nonfiction more. I think it’s because I like learning things I can apply to my daily life and I find more of that in nonfiction.

However, as I wanted to explore more, I bought a handful of classics by Hemingway and Joyce, in particular. I started with The Sun Also Rises and all I can really say is, by the halfway point, the sun had already set. While the language and story definitely didn’t translate some ninety years after it was penned, for me the real truth was that it was simply boring. How absolutely nothing of interest could happen in 120 pages, I’m not sure, but Earnest managed to pull it off. I expect the next work of fiction I may tackle is the hefty Ulysses by Joyce, but we’ll see when the time comes.

Where Hemingway failed me, nonfiction isn’t, at least for the time being. Just before Christmas I zipped through a lovely cancer memoire (if such a thing can be called lovely) by Teva Harrison, In Between Days. It’s a fast read, touching, brave and inspiring. I heartily recommend it and you can easily get through it as quickly or as slowly as you want. I’ve had some connections with Teva online and the book is as grounded and authentic as she seems to be.

I’m presently about 3/4 through Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. At once heavy and light, it rings true to its title by covering everything in just enough depth to be informative, without bludgeoning its reader with the kind of detail that would kill most of us. One review called it “hefty, highly researched and eminently readable” and I couldn’t agree more.

Brain Food

I guess this could still be considered reading, but more than that it’s really what I like to call brain food for lack of a better term. More bite-sized, but more applicable to daily life. I should mention that underpinning a lot of the change I’m trying to make is a desire to think differently in certain circumstances than I currently do. I expect that delving into that topic is likely a future post, but for now suffice it to say, I’m trying to frame my decision-making differently.

Specifically, and again I’ll get more into this at a later time, but I’ve really begun to take to heart something I’ve been thinking about a long time, but which two passages in particular from a Hunter Thomson ‘letter’ to a friend I read last week really crystallized for me:

Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life.

AND

But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

The added bonus in reading this piece was the discovery of the wonderful Farnam Street blog, exactly the kind of stuff I’m trying to add to my arsenal. So, while something like the Bryson book is more general interest, I’ve begun compiling a few things in the area of philosophy and culture I want to read on an ongoing basis. I’ve begun taking a closer look at an old favourite, Brain Pickings, and am beginning to read The Book of Life as time allows. Again, baby steps toward something more.

As I’ve hit my early fifties, the big questions for me have really become about deriving more satisfaction from life by deciding how I want to live and then making the changes to realize that ~ be they work, living location/abode, hobbies, whatever ~ and ensuring I’m in control of those changes, lest they happen by circumstance in a less-than-optimal way. To some degree, we’re all the result of circumstance, but I’ve often made my decisions more with regard to standard of living and paying bills than I have with regard to joy and happiness and I’m going to do my best to change that.

These baby steps to more reading, more writing, more stuff to learn and change my thought and decision-making processes are all about ensuring life is lived as happily and fully as possible.

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