Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Broader Lens

Do you make New Year's resolutions? I don't do resolutions exactly, but I do set goals. I have this need to live purposefully and I confess to a bit of compulsiveness. I have reading goals and blog goals. I'm a little looser with goals for speeches and artwork, but I review my progress. I want to make sure that there is movement in the right direction, that inactivity hasn't taken root.

I turn a critical eye to my artwork. I've been exhibiting less as I create a coherent body of work with which I am pleased. I remind myself to be patient with the process. Sometimes I need to create something, anything, just to get the wheels turning before the good work will come. Sometimes I need to gestate, waiting for the work to arise in its own time. When to do which often remains a mystery.

Instead of my usual number counting at year-end, this year I thought I would think about the year through a broader lens. What did I learn about myself that surprised me? We start out with so many ideas about who we are and who we aren't. As we get older we have a chance to test those self-imposed boundaries. Sometimes we end up redefining ourselves, like learning as an adult that we actually like vegetables.

I am a believer in the idea that every situation can be mined for knowledge and understanding. That is a little different than the belief that things happen for reasons, more that I can find a logic or a lesson if I look hard enough. I once listed out the guys who had populated my life in my single days. Then I identified what I'd learned from each one. Some had introduced me to travel or art, elements that would become central in my life. Even bit players got me to explore running or cross-country skiing. One had introduced the idea of doing something creative and physical each day, an appealing idea for a goal-driven person like me. For at least one or two, my learning was "Phew... I won't do that again! " You take your lessons where you find them. It is in a similar vein that I consider what this year has taught me about myself.

I've learned that I like to talk, but not necessarily conversationally. I'm actually quite comfortable with living alone in my head much of the time, but I have found I like distilling ideas and sharing them through public speaking. Much to my surprise, I'm good at it. My scope has expanded. For a long time I had standard talks on themes in my artwork or genealogy, but I'm finding I like to create new material on different topics. I'm an idea person, I mull them around crunching on kernels, savoring the flavor of something new. Then I consider how to share it in an accessible way. I've begun to work with new material this year and have taken pleasure in it. I have a new-found appreciation for teachers who do this well and often. It is a lot of work. I have some talks next year that will allow me to find my voice in a fresh way.

Writing this blog helps me consider new ideas long before they turn into talks. It is a good vehicle for mulling, my first step as I consider ideas. Talking comes much later in the process. I don't like to open my mouth until I've fully considered what I want to say. I like things that many would consider tedious, taking a complex process or idea, and trying to distill it so it is understandable. Try writing about a genealogy search without putting people to sleep. Then try talking about it. It can be done, but it takes work, work with intention.

I have learned that time can be my friend as well as my enemy. I've been exploring a book on my interview series, as well as ways to fund it. I've been talking to publishers and other writers and learning as I go. All of this creates delays. There is an impatient part of me that says get this show on the road or bag it. I'm not good at living in the in between. Then I consider what I've learned by not pulling the trigger. It has not been wasted time. I know if I don't do something that is my best effort, it will eat at me. That is a learning I know well. So once again I remind myself to respect the process. Not everything must be done today. Time can be my friend as it allows understanding to deepen and ideas to unfold.

This post would not be complete without a comment on our larger political environment. I've learned that I care more about the future of our country than I would have imagined, as I watch values I cherish come under threat. I am reading the book Hamilton by Chernow. It is about the very thoughtful creation of our country as expressed by Hamilton and others of that time. As I read, I find myself encountering a response that is quite unexpected, sadness, sadness that we risk trampling on so many of the values that underlie this country. As we go into a new year I hope to find ways to support the world that I believe in, to not allow charlatans and those driven by self-aggrandizement and power to sully it. I didn't have to think about this before, now I do.

When to wait, when to move forward, when to practice so I'm ready when the time is right. When to consider my role and responsibility in the larger world. When to find the lesson to carry forward. Much of what we learn is that we need to unlearn. An impatient person must learn to wait. A hesitant person, must step forward. Being a bit of both, I suppose I must learn when to do which. And we all must learn how to make a difference in this world we inhabit.

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