Living in the Moment

I am the face of NOT living in the moment. I’m always thinking about the future, trying to learn from the past, and scrambling to complete things in the present. The fact of the matter is is that each day, each moment that we have is unique and special and we will NEVER get it back. Because of this, I’ve been much more intentional about how I spend my time, who I spend it with, and making sure that I handle business at home first and then commit myself to creating experiences, in the moment, that will help shape the person that I am supposed to become. It’s hard to do this. Especially when you have the pressures of life knocking at your door every day. So, I have created a few tips that I use of make sure that, each day, I am living in the moment.

1.  Every day, start up a conversation with a stranger. It sounds crazy and frankly, it can make an introvert like me nervous as hell but I think this is a good way to live in the moment by engaging with those in your space. Even if its just a brief hi, how are you with a genuine smile, engaging with those near you in an authentic, natural way is a great tactic for living in the moment. Besides, you never know who you will meet!

2.  Be intentional but not rigid. Being intentional is very important for me. I am a compulsive goal setter and I supplement those goals with to-do lists that are designed to draw me closer to my goal. But I think its really important to not be inflexible. I think staying resolute, hard-working and determined are important but also remaining open to possibilities and a change in plans is also crucial.

3. Be generous. I am learning that there is no down side to having a generous spirit. Helping people, in ways that are appropriate and genuine, offering advice, showing up, being available, these are all traits that, I feel, are returned to you ten-fold. Now generous does not equate to naive but living with a gracious spirit is a wonderful way to live in the moment.

4. Ditch perfection. I used to be so obsessed with perfection that nothing ever got done! Now I’m over it. I just do the best that I can do, make sure it adheres to the quality standards that I have devised for myself, and then I move on!

5. Make time for YOU. Self-care is crucial and critical. Not just exercise and proper diet but monitoring the stories that we tell ourselves. If you want to achieve greatness, you need to take care of you first. Although our days are busy and we want to take care of everyone else, take at least 30 minutes to give yourself a pedicure, meditate, drink a glass of wine — take time each day to do something that gets you off, that tells you that you love you. Build a relationship everyday with yourself!

6. Journal. This is something that I admittedly, have just started doing again. I recently went back home to Louisiana and I found my journals from back when I was a teenager. I really valued reading my thoughts and feelings at that time in my life. Journaling is a great way to chronicle moments in your life. And its also fun to revisit journals at a later time.

The above YouTube is a video from one of my all time favorite female business owners, and a friend in my head, Marie Forleo. Above, she and actor John Pais share a few tips for living in the moment.  Its not easy but I promise, its worth it!

 

 

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What Makes Good Writing

In 2012, I made the decision to read all 100 of the books listed on the NY Times Best Books of 2011 list. Each year, The Times lists “the best” books published in that year spanning fiction, poetry and non-fiction. Since I began to expand my brand, which includes writing, I thought it would be a useful experiment to begin reading books that were critically praised in order to establish for myself what exactly makes good writing. Every year, there are tons of lists of this type but I picked the New York Times book list because of its established reputation and visibility. Although last year, I only managed to read 30 out of the 100, my experiment taught me so much that I decided to try it again this year. So far, I’ve read fiction books like Richard Ford’s Canada, Bernice McFadden’s Gathering of Waters, and Sherman Alexie’s Blasphemy and non-fiction ones like The Grey Album by Kevin Young and Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon.

The books that I read last year and this year spanned a number of non-fiction topics from scientology to grief to parenthood to the African roots of Alexandre Dumas. My fiction reads were equally as diverse and encompassed short stories, poetry, novellas, and novels. Most of the books I read were incredibly well written, interesting and in some cases, simply fantastic. Although the writing styles, topics, and themes are wildly different, I found a few basic rules for good writing that were overwhelmingly present in everything I read. These include:

Rule No. 1: Find a good editor. And in some cases, a fact checker too. Having written for quite some time, I can tell you that the final piece is almost never the first draft. For me, the first draft is the outline and the final product is pulled together though copious revisions and editing. If the piece is non-fiction, a fact-checker is especially important. Good writing and good editing go hand in hand.

Rule No. 2: Write good sentences. This seems intuitive but it needs to be stated. I believe that writing a book or story is a bit like architecture, the foundation needs to be strong before you begin adding things to it. The foundation for writing is really good, well-crafted sentences. Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a book that exemplifies this rule. On a craft level, this book is a primer on how to write. Well-written sentences are the foundation of good writing.

Rule No. 3: If writing on a familiar topic or theme, be creative and talk about something new. Kevin Young’s The Grey Album is a perfect example of this. The book is a collection of essays on different aspects of African American artistic culture: music, acting, literature, etc. but Kevin Young introduces new ideas, new concepts throughout. Even the way the book was written and organized was fresh; its had a very improvisational jazz like feel to it. Add something to the conversation, especially if the topic is widely written about.

Rule No. 4:  Feedback is critical. It’s important to find readers. And not just anyone. But someone who can give honest feedback as to what works and what does not.

Rule No: 5: Read more. I have always loved to read so this one is easy for me to follow. It was important for me to read across subject matter, tone and genre in order to understand the multiplicity of ways that people can tell stories. Fiction is just as valuable to me as non-fiction. Being a voracious reader has never let me down.

Rule No. 6: When one word will do, use one one word. This rule is perhaps the hardest for me to follow. I am the queen of long sentences. But over the years, I’ve learned to never use three words when one will do. Use adverbs sparingly.  The right word will always win over the right phrase.

 

On Roger Ebert

 

A few days prior to his death, Roger Ebert published a piece titled “A Leave of Presence” for the Chicago Sun-Times. The publication was where he began his august career as a film critic almost 50 years ago. He writes:

“What in the world is a leave of presence? It means I am not going away. My intent is to continue to write selected reviews but to leave the rest to a talented team of writers handpicked and greatly admired by me. What’s more, I’ll be able at last to do what I’ve always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review.

At the same time, I am re-launching the new and improved Rogerebert.com and taking ownership of the site under a separate entity, Ebert Digital, run by me, my beloved wife, Chaz, and our brilliant friend, Josh Golden of Table XI. Stepping away from the day-to-day grind will enable me to continue as a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, and roll out other projects under the Ebert brand in the coming year.”

I have always been an admirer of his. His example crystallized for me, as a young girl, that one could make a living talking about, writing about film. A pop culture junkie, I’ve always wanted some aspect of my career to lie in film. Roger Ebert built a brand on trust, honesty, and good journalism. The legacy of his words and work, I’m sure, will not be forgotten.

FINDING A “HOME” AWAY FROM “HOME”

(The above picture is our family dog Simba)

I think, at some level, I’ve always wanted to be a hyphenate; to become someone who is skillful at many things. I’d like to experience several re-births over the course of my professional life. I’d prefer to not be known for just one thing. Now, I think of myself as a writer-entrepreneur.

One part of this mashup is inherently less social than the other. But it’s nonetheless important to find a place, a home, a method that facilitates my best work in both. From a literary perspective, all of the greats have theirs. Poets and Writers lists a few:

“Conrad Aiken worked at a refectory table in the dining room; Robert Graves wrote in a room furnished only with objects made by hand. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up; D. H. Lawrence under a tree. William Maxwell preferred “small messy rooms that don’t look out on anything interesting.” Katherine Anne Porter said she got her writing done in the country, where she lived like a hermit. Ben Franklin wrote in the bathtub, Jane Austen amid family life, Marcel Proust in the confines of his bed. Balzac ate an enormous meal at five in the evening, slept till midnight, then got up and wrote at a small desk in his room for sixteen hours straight, fueled by endless cups of coffee. Toni Morrison found refuge in a motel room when her children were small; E. B. White sought it in a cabin on the shore. Due to her problem back, Penelope Lively works in an armchair, with an “ancient electronic typewriter” on her lap, while A. L. Kennedy finds comfort in a “monster black chair” in a room “the color of blood.”

When I’m down South, I’ve found I do my best work in a mostly quiet, spare room, some music (think Nina Simone) and some wine. It helps root me; I feel at ease. I think its necessary to find your “place” your home away from home. Or, if in your home, a place where you feel comfortable and that aids in the creation of your best work. In New York, where I currently live, my preferred work environment varies. In my apartment, I prefer to work in bed with no noise.

I recently finished Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Cain mentions a psychological term called the “sweet spot,” the place where you are optimally stimulated. This place could be a park, a coffee shop, a book store, etc. Your sweet spot may only keep you creatively or professionally fecund at certain points of the day but her larger point is a good one. By finding your sweet spot(s) you are able to “increase satisfaction in every arena of your life.” What’s your place? Your sweet spot?