Monday, June 23, 2008

Listen to Yourself: Start Writing Your Story

Came across a copy of the July/August issue of AARP Magazine which contained a superbly written article by Abigail Thomas titled, Everyone Has a Story to Tell.

Ms. Thomas begins by telling the story of her husband's loss of memory when he suffered a traumatic brain injury and how he described the loss. And poses the question, "Who are we without our stories?"

She encourages us to write a memoir -- "a way to figure out who you used to be and how you got to be who you are." And offers dozens of questions to get started.

In Ms. Thomas' classes on memoir writing, she offers this interesting exercise:

Take any ten years of your life and reduce them to two pages. Every sentence has to be three words long -- not two, not four, but three words long.

"You discover there's nowhere to hide in three word sentences. ("Walk by river. Stare at emptiness. Demons still around.")"

Read the article and see what it provokes for you. I loved her many provocative questions -- "write two pages about the moment you knew something was over -- write two pages about something you regret revealing."

Abigail Thomas is the author of three books, Thinking About Memoir, A Three Dog Life, and Safekeeping. (I was pleased to learn that the author's father is Lewis Thomas, whose books I remember fondly from my 30' s -- Lives of a Cell, and The Medusa and the Snail, among others).

I'm going to give her "three word sentences" exercise a whirl. How about you? Which ten years will you start with? Which will I? Should be fun (if not mildly disturbing, depending on which decade is chosen) and may add more information for my ethical will. Let me know your experience with the exercise.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Do You Have A Life Motto?

Grandma says she has a new "life motto" (in Pickles). Made me wonder what mine would be at this stage of my life? In previous decades? Will give it some thought and see if mine resembles that dear Grandma.

Have you ever written a life motto? If not, what would it be? Include it in your ethical will for your family to remember.
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Sunday, June 15, 2008

The "Zen Commandments": Wisdom for Living

I just finished reading a new book by one of my favorite Buddhist writers, Lama Surya Das. Titled, The Big Questions, the author writes on the "sacred art of questioning" and offers his views on 14 questions that address life's essential mysteries.

I especially enjoyed what Surya Das says he jokingly calls his "Zen Commandments":

~ Take care, stay aware. Watch your step. Pay attention---it pays off.

~ Awaken your mind, open your heart and energize yourself. Learn to see clearly and love generously.

~ Find a way to live your own spiritual practice. Develop an ongoing spiritual life, not just a few spiritual experiences.

~ Don't see others' light. Exploit your own innate natural resources for a change. Mine the mind.

~ Freedom is a process, not just an idea or ideal outcome. Progress is more important than perfection.

~ Learn to accept, to let go, and let be. Allow.

~ Lighten up while enlightening up. Cultivate joy. Don't take yourself too seriously, or it won't be much fun.

~ Don't cling to anything. Recognize everything is impermanent and like a dream, a movie, a sitcom. Remember the daily mantra: This Too Shall Pass.

~ Not too tight, and not too loose. Stay attuned to the big picture.

~ Be mindful. Pay attention. Keep your eyes peeled. Be vigilant and intelligent about your experiments with reality.

~ Be here while getting there, every single step of the way.

~ Don't rely on mere words and concepts. Just say maybe.

~ Don't be deceived by ideas and opinions, either others' or your own. You just can't believe whatever you think.

Life is precious; handle with prayer.
Be good and do good.
It's now or never, as always.
Meditate as fast as you can.

Amazing life lessons! The guy packs a lot of wisdom for living in just a few words.

What "zen" (or "non-zen") commandments" would you write for your ethical-spiritual will? That's a question I need to answer for myself ... and I encourage you to give it a whirl. Write them down as fast as you can!

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Volunteering: Where Does It "Fit" In Your Life Legacy?

Heard a great story on NPR this morning about older volunteers, including people with Alzheimer's and other dementias, helping kids in an intergenerational school with reading. Heart-warming and worth a listen:

The story notes that "Research has already shown that volunteering conveys benefits for older people who do not have dementia. One study of older individuals who did regular volunteer work in schools through a program called Experience Corps suggested that the volunteers increased their physical strength and were less likely to use a cane or fall down. The study also found that volunteering increased social activity, which may ward off depression and isolation. Volunteers also reported increases in cognitive activity, saying they read more books and watched less television."

I recently did a talk at OASIS on "Positive Aging" and will begin a class in the Fall which I call "Don't Forget": Training Your Brain to Remember. In both, I stress the importance of social engagement (volunteering, social activities) to brain health as we age.

How has social engagement been a part of your personal life legacy? Have volunteer activities been a major focus throughout your life (or grown more important the older you get)?
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Thursday, June 05, 2008

"Last Lecture" Book Continues Professor's Conversation About Loving Life

Professor Randy Pausch's now-famous "last lecture" continues in his new book, co-written with Jeffrey Zaslow. He wrote The Last Lecture on the phone with Zaslow while on fifty-three long bike rides to keep up his strength.

In the book’s introduction, Pausch writes “I knew what I was doing that day. Under the ruse of doing an academic lecture, I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children.”

He goes on to say that the book was his way of continuing his lecture “about the joy of life, about how I appreciated life, even with so little time left. I talked about honesty, integrity, gratitude, and other things I hold dear. And I tried very hard not to be boring.”

Pausch’s book offers sixty-one short essays which he divides into five sections: The Last Lecture, Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, Adventures ... And Lessons Learned, Enabling the Dreams of Others, It’s About How to Live Your Life, and Final Remarks.

He writes about living, not about dying. The book is about love of family, mentoring young people, overcoming obstacles, seizing every moment, and the importance of having life dreams.

The wisdom of Randy Pausch is exemplified best in his words: “As I see it, a parent’s job is to encourage kids to develop joy for life and a great urge to follow their own dreams. The best we can do is to help them develop a personal set of tools for the task.”

“So my dreams for my kids are very exact: I want them to find their path to fulfillment. And given that I won’t be there, I want to make this clear: Kids, don’t try to figure out what I wanted you to become. I want you to become what you want to become.”

I hope The Last Lecture will inspire young people (and older adults) to begin considering their personal life legacies at an earlier age. It may bring about important changes in how they choose to live their lives. And have a positive impact on future generations of people who inhabit this beautiful world.
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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

"Just a mom, writing about life"

I walked to our library tonight to listen to my favorite local "mom" writer, Dorcas Smucker. Dorcas writes a monthly "Letter from Harrisburg" for the Register Guard and has two delightful books, Ordinary Days and her new Upstairs the Peasants Are Revolting. She also has a blog filled with stories of her daily life on the farm.

In a room filled mostly with "older" women (and a few husbands), Dorcas read "An 'Irrelevant' Generation" from Ordinary Days, a blog post "Aprons, Aesthetics, and Hip New Things", and "Fearing Fatal Errors" from her new book. Her voice as she read reminded me of Minnesota women from my childhood (Dorcas was born in Iowa and moved to Ohio when she as 5, then moved to Minnesota at age 10 where she lived until coming to Oregon at age 19 to teach in a Mennonite school). Today at mid-life, she has three sons and three daughters ranging in age from 9 to 22 years old.

In writing about her everyday experiences, Dorcas brings to life the sweetness (and hilarity) of living in a family, getting older, family traditions, and the challenges of change. She also informs readers about living as a Mennonite woman in today's culture (yes, she has a cell phone but has never had a television), about life as a farmer's (and minister's) wife, and about mothering of children (in our electronic world).

Asked if she considered herself a humorist, Dorcas said "I'm always surprised when people laugh" when she reads her stories. "I'm just a mom, writing about life."

When I read a "Letter from Harrisburg" in the newspaper on Sunday mornings, I find myself in tears as often as I break into laughter about something Dorcas shares about her life. Her stories touch my heart and remind me to celebrate life and cherish my loved ones each day. And she reminds me that "often the things we don't know we need come into our lives without knocking."

Thank you, Dorcas, for being "just a mom, writing about life" -- sharing your words of wisdom with readers throughout the world.
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