Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Best Ever

One of my great joys in life is reading a book and, upon finishing it, feeling, with passion, appreciation, and a little sadness, that it’s the best book I’ve ever read. I’ve experienced this joy many, many times. And NO, there is no contradiction in that.

Because, being the best book I’ve ever read is not a relative thing, and it’s not something that will necessarily endure any tests of time. It’s a valuation of a moment – usually a long moment: a few hours or days, sometimes longer – but a moment all the same.
Of course, I’m being very un-literal here. But if you love books, or paintings, or movies, or music, or dance, or sex (and really, there are so, so many different experiences of life that this feeling relates to) I’m sure you know what I'm writing about.
It’s about being so immersed in an experience – in this case, a work of art – that it becomes the world, blots out everything else, re-defines reality…for that long moment. It’s about a creation over-flowing its boundaries and invading your senses, so that, for a time, you live inside of it, and your life is exploded beyond normal you. You learn to think and feel and to BE a different way.
As you might suppose, I’m currently reading the BEST BOOK EVER. (Yes. I admit, I haven’t even finished it, and I already know it’s the best ever!) It’s The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden. I’m not going to try telling you what it’s about, or anything like that. Only that it’s powerful, beautiful, devastating, and that it is re-creating the world I know and live in. And that you should read it.

And, not so very long ago, I read another BEST BOOK EVER. That was Room, by Elizabeth Donoghue. Again: devastating, powerful, beautiful. (What else can you say when an artist creates an entire new world, out of bits of your own world that you thought you knew, but didn’t really.)

Okay. I know I’m writing nonsense here. It just happens to be true nonsense. When you are brought entirely into a world, even an imagined one, even an ugly and brutal one, as each of these happens to be, it becomes real. And when that reality is so sharp and clear that it resonates with all you know, and takes in and somehow makes clear-er, so much that you didn’t know, and even what you didn’t know that you didn’t know, well, relativity flies out the window, and there is only room left for superlatives.

There are movies I could write this about, and sunsets, and songs, and afternoons with the one I love, and…you get the point. Life is full of the Best Ever. This one just happens to be a book.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Lately, I've been noticing how much I've been influenced - for the better - by acquaintances or complete strangers. Like most people, I think, I have a sense of my own independence and individuality. It's empowering to carry the notion that I'm my own man, with a mind of my own, walking my own path toward my unique, individual destiny. But of course Life has demonstrated to me how packed full of delusion and mythology those notions are.

I can't deny that just about everything I do is substantially influenced - if not determined outright - by a multitude of factors, including my culture, the media, my genetic inheritance and the conditioning powers of advertising and a formal education. It would be absurd of me to think that I dress myself, that I reach my own conclusions about politics or on social issues, or that I had much of anything to say about the foods I like.

Even so, It's empowering to think that I take all that and arrive at something of my own, independent of all these influences. So how do I explain the many ways in which my course has been drastically shifted by the odd conversation, an offhand suggestion, or an idle comment?

Awhile ago, an acquaintance who has lost a lot of weight, attributed his new physique to the hours he spends on his bicycle. The very next day, I was on the bike that had been chained up in my yard for most of the Spring, collecting cobwebs. And a colleague recently moved me to make an effort to get back to meditating regularly, by mentioning that he'd gotten his practice back on track. And a few months ago, a health professional I was consulting on a totally unrelated matter, suggested that I get hooked up with a writing group, advice I followed up on just a couple of weeks later, to great result.

None of these nudges were odd or unique in any way. In fact, all the actions that resulted were things I was thinking about to some degree, or things I knew I should do, but just hadn't gotten around to. They were actually all pretty obvious. I simply hadn't done them. But in all cases, getting the suggestion from a person I liked and respected made all the difference. And I'm intrigued by that.

It occurs to me that the effect of these nudges was much like the effect a deadline often produces. In both instances, there's a sense of immediacy that comes into the equation, and my will is mobilized in a way it wasn't before. But the nudge has a much more personal dimension to it than the deadline.

But this is something I don't really feel a need to break down and analyze until I understand it. I know that I feel grateful for them. I feel like I've been gifted by these acts, which each seems to involve aspects of sensitivity and of sharing. And as I think back, there've been so many!

There's one more nudge I have to mention. This blog was started as a result of an idle conversation with a stranger while standing in front of a bike shop. When she learned I was a writer, she immediately began to share the benefits she'd received from blogging, and she pressed me to start one myself. And I, who'd been very idly considering looking into it, for months if not years, took the plunge a short while later. And the rewards I've gotten from blogging have been transformative. I'll do a post about them someday.

In the meantime, I'm feeling much less caught up in the mythology of my independence. I'm deeply appreciative of these nudges that come, mostly unexpected and casual. I intend to hold myself open for more.