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100 Words: Mood(y) Swings

Moody’s has downgraded the following words, which through overuse by corporations now face an execution challenge of achieving their former meaning.

Transformative: Any desperate action taken by a corporation (e.g., a “transformative transaction”)

Authentic: Anything created by an Advertising Agency

Organic: Corporately modified to refer to the natural growth achieved with a lot of fertilizer.

Millenials: The very best target consumer no matter what your product is

Platform: A word to describe a strategy to seem current

Deep Dive: All work that can’t be expressed in 140 characters

Impact: Represents more of what you want than an objective ever could

Keep it 100

After a workweek where all pretense of balance was shot-to-shit, I thought about finding a forcing function to put writing into the same non-negotiable category of work.

I did some quick research (see Suspended Mass post) and discovered suspects both usual and unusual of groups, classes, workshops, seminars, private tutors –all offered with both in-person and virtual options — designed to help the would-be writer become a writer. Or at the very least become a person who writes.

One group I came across required the participants to commit to writing 100 words a day. I immediately knew that the didactic of that approach was dead wrong for me. And having been around my mental block before, I know that when I have such a strong immediate reaction—the opposite is normally true.

So with the dread of feeling that this could be exactly what I needed I asked myself the basics: How much writing is 100 words? What would I write if I undertook such a thing (as part of a group or not)? What can I say in 100 words?

And as I think that thinking is limited, I went with practice instead.

I started writing pieces of exactly 100 words each. Here are the first 3….

  1. On One Hundred

One hundred: A powerful, mystical number conferring instant meaning and significance.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is considered the best book title ever; while “What would you do in your first hundred days” is a standard question for applicants from CEOs to Presidents. So I take it that 100 days must be the precise amount of time it takes to demonstrate leadership.

Centennials are exciting for individuals, businesses, and brands alike. So while we don’t like anything old, we know karmic significance when we see it and only a fool messes with that. We’re told to keep it 100.

Why?

[I can’t answer as I just hit the 100-word mark]

  1. On Editing

 Everyone knows fewer words are better. Especially other people’s.

Having completed my first 100-word piece I bow to the discipline of keeping it 100. If not saying much, replace 100 words with tweeting.

So piece #1 as a tweet

100 is a magical number that makes things feel important so use it in titles to give your work more meaning & try to hit your 100th birthday

Piece #2

At first it seems trivial-How hard can it be to write 100 words a day? And then you wake up to the fact that they have to be the right words

      3. The Tedium of Consistency

After having two exactly-100-word-pieces under my belt I’m beginning to chafe. Like most chafing, it’s the result of great exercise. But if I had to do this daily, while I’d become a better writer, I’d also be jumping out of my skin. It’s not the actual exercise but the tedium of doing it everyday. But as I know first-hand, lack of regular exercise leads to inexorable spread. Adjectives and adverbs spilling over; weakened spine; flabby sentences. There’s no escaping the need to sacrifice immediate gratification of writing anything you want for longer-term happiness through editing. Set fit bit to 100.

 

 

 

 

 

Suspended Mass

Is there anything quite like the thrill of a newly acquired passion? Those early days filled with the rush of imagined success. For is there any success as sweet as future success. Impressive achievements already felt while yet to be had and requiring nothing more than the light strain of projection.

And so with all the future success imaginable, I did what so many embarkers have done before me; I started my new found passion for walking/hiking by reading about it. And shopping. And talking about it. What rapture to be had in a Google-induced haze of information and products.

Savoring the delights of in utero expertise waiting to be shared with the world (see WalkingEatingWriting.com).

If one counts words as steps, then I was streaking past the 10,000 steppers.And if dollars spent were a kind of step…then I was surely hoofing it with my new hiking pants, flashlights (I hadn’t foreseen darkness), drip dry shirts, walking poles (is that too much?); maps (I’m going far afield now!) and books. Why stop with the Internet when there are actual books to be read. Poetry, prose, guidebooks, route maps—so much ground to cover.

I read that for certain trips you needed lugsoles. Upon Googling the word, it came up as cork-platform-wedge shoe. That seemed easy and incorrect. I liked the sound of cork wedges but from what I had seen of a hiker’s wardrobe, I knew that was too good to be true. Whatever they are, with my walking poles. shoes and headlamp my proficiency was gaining steam.

For any Austenphiles out there, you’ll know that the character of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice isn’t the ideal role model. And yet, I couldn’t help but recall her saying:

There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”

Substitute “music” for “walking” and there I was stuck in my own head yet again. I felt myself a great proficient at walking without so much as leaving my house. Imaginary feats of distance vs. roads more or less travelled were the name of the game. I headed in multiple directions at once. I planned a future triumph: Travelling back to The Alps to hike them properly. I had imaginary friends: Finding groups to go walk with both at home and abroad (Sierra Club anyone?). I plotted a sensible virtual hiking regime: Evaluating my hiking level from reading about hiking levels (8 miles and 1200 foot gain seemed about right).

Then I uncovered an important piece of information– that summer wasn’t even hiking season in Southern California. That was still three or four months away. Ah, fortuitous procrastination. This hiking thing is really for me.

In truth, once I had done all of the research and felt equipped, I was itching to get out of the house (figuratively, metaphorically). The Alps trip had indeed unlocked something (unclear exactly what at this leg). I knew that any pedestrian distance travelled would be more magical than couch conjuring.

Hollywood Walk

 

I live in Los Angeles. “Hollywood” as it’s referred to by politicians and other elites making a point about elitism.

No matter where you come from (NY for me), if you live here long enough, you get used to the glue-gunned, hodepodged set-design feel of the place. A fun-house distortion of landscape, architecture, culture and people. Not a mile from my home, there’s a backlot New York City—all the New York Hollywood needs. My town boasts a fake “Italian style” cobblestoned street guarded by an old-style, red-uniformed greeter to add more colorfaux authenticity. Even fake lilies must be gilded. Palm trees aren’t native but the purple Jacaranda trees are. Breasts point skyward; buildings low-slung. A neighborhood is any cluster of buildings you can think of a name for (e.g., Century City). The sky grey-tinged; the teeth blindingly white. Rain makes the ocean more polluted. Seasons don’t roar in or bleat out. Everyone is brilliant. The summer never ends.

I love it here.

However, there’s a quality of hermetically sealed-ness that can erode discernment (see paragraph 3 above). I even find it hard to call up a sharp image of L.A. without it fading into the edges of my mind’s eye. It’s always a bit out of focus with the same haziness as the weather. Most of what I see is mediated through windshields and never driven home.

In contrast, weeks after the fact, my Alps hiking excursion remains sharp. My phone photos portray a landscape that’s the stuff of Hollywood movie settings. If anything should seem fake, too beautiful to be real, it should be that. I think the reason it doesn’t is that I didn’t experience it through a lens or a shield of any sort. I walked it. Walking not only left my imprint on the ground but also left the ground’s imprint on me. Transforming landscape from noun to verb; from description to experience.

I stumbled across this quote from Davd Ulin from his book Sidewalking.

“… a way to meander my universe into being”

Having just had a direct experience of this, Ulin’s words landed.

Walking was the way to take me from Hollywood backdrop to LA front stoop.

 

 

 

Birth. School. Work. Death.

It’s the stuff of legends. How French women can seemingly eat all kinds of rich food, [i.e., items confiscated as you deplane in LA –bread, pastry, cheese, chocolates] and of course wine* and yet remain fit, svelte and effortlessly stylish.

Everywhere I went in France I was surrounded by great looking people (French men are less lauded but great looking too), out and about—the vibe convivial, the mood happy, the pace leisurely, and the environment perfect– albeit a tad smoky for my smoke-free; smog-kissed lungs.

Having just come back from a couple of weeks of Faux-French-Living I can attest to the fact that, at least in short doses, it’s true, the exception being the effortlessly stylish part. French women, and men, can tie a scarf better than anyone alive.

My Faux-French-Lifestyle Diet:

Breakfasts: A couple of pastries, some fruit, and soft French-style yogurt

Lunches: Mostly skipped with the exception of eating chocolate.

Dinner: Not to be believed. No less than 3 full courses per night with the high water mark of 20 (but in my defense I only did that once). Dessert, lots of wine and many slices of bread always included. My main vacation rule was to never pass on the bread and butter.

Every course of every meal was exquisite, delicious and beautiful. Briefly I inhabited the otherworldly joyful life of wonderful food, socially consumed while clothed in the style of being comfortable with one’s self.

My first morning back home, I reluctantly flipped the switch back to my LA-lifestyle. Standard issue stainless coffeemaker and daily weigh-in. My U.S. coffee substituted hot temperature and over-burnt roasts for true flavor and I was 2 pounds lighter. Hold up on that lifestyle switch. If I wasn’t already missing the Delicious Coffee + Pastry = Morning Routine, I was now being seduced by the result of joyful experience and scale economics.

Delving into the metric system where lots of high-fat, natural, well-prepared food summed up to more internally and less corporally I initially focused on calorie expenditure. For our part we were tourists so a large part of the day was spent on our feet walking. We walked the city; the museums; we used every staircase we encountered and spent 2 days hiking in the mountains. I happily rationalized that it was the simple math of swapping out an hour at the gym for 5-6 hours of activity every day. It had nothing to do with some kind of magical/mystical French Lifestyle.

But then I started thinking about the French populace. They weren’t tourists and presumably had jobs, families and other time-consuming responsibilities preventing 6 hours of daily walking. Yet with all that they maintained an “old math” rooted in an equation resulting in a joyful life.

Maybe the French Physique Mystique wasn’t about the intake-output equation of Delicious, Natural Food + Lots of Walking = Looking Great no matter what you eat.

Perhaps it was more systemic. A radical, treacherous thought gave root. That our culture’s approach to life was best summed up in a simple linear progression: Birth. School. Work. Death. **

If that’s our elemental geometry, it’s going to take a lot more than using my new French Press coffee maker to change that equation.

 

* Exception made here given its status a main staple of the celebrity diet

** See The Godfathers Song of same title.

 

 

 

Scrambling With Hands and Feet

 

Walking and writing have always been entwined in a kind of a harmonic dependency. The self-reliance and individualistic rhythms of one serving as inspiration for the other.

The literary walking genre encompasses everything from the poetry of Thomas Clark (In Praise of Walking), to the prose/poetry/travel-esqueness of Robert Macfarlane (The Old Ways), to the spirituality of Thich Nhat Hanh (How to Walk). The best writing in the genre is inspiring, sweeping, mystical and practical.

For me, 2 days of scrambling in rain-soaked, muddy Alpine terrain was all it took for a poetry/prose walking book to catch my eye—in a way I’ve never been caught before, and to pick up a pen with no greater purpose than to put it down on the paper then pick it up to put it back down again. Previously, I gravitated exclusively to guidebooks with all their compact lists of trails and walks. A new life waiting in the wings of a handy list. Turns out poetry/prose was the better guide. Lighting something deeper, allowing hands to be applied to the task of writing the way feet are applied to the task of walking.

My rational (best?) side asked: “should 2 days of struggling at a high altitude give you license to write about walking?” Luckily ego requires little oxygen and even less of rational thought. And what better spur to one’s genius is there than a lack of knowledge?

So here I am, not letting thinking getting in the way. It’s just hands and feet in motion.

 

A Stick from the Mud

 

I decided to go out for a walk. Ended up going hiking in the French Alps. I’m not a great walker…not bad…but certainly not the part goat I feared I needed to be to survive this. But the 2 days of hiking was part and parcel of the Paris trip I glommed onto in a fit of emotional Feng shui so there I was. I set the bar low. As long as the St. Bernards didn’t need to be sent for me I would consider it a victory.

I started off rocky… 5 minutes into it my sister was asking if needed to turn back. She was looking forward to a 4-6 hour hike and my first 5 minutes were not encouraging with my ragged breathing, heaving shoulders and general speechlessness brought on by a severe lack of oxygen. I don’t know if you’re up-to-date on the Alps, but they’re kind of steep. And on that day, also raining and mud-slicked. Perfect conditions for conditioning.

She asked again 10 and then 20 minutes later. The cut off was 30 minutes. At that point I had to commit to not having a heart attack or I had to head back. Apparently my non-walking status was legend as my 90 year-old father had called her and made her promise not to accidentally kill me on the mountain. And a promise is a promise. So there we were pinky swearing to my not dying on that particular day on that particular mountain.

Obviously given the past tense of this post, the suspense is over and you know I didn’t die. I’d love to say that it was all abut finding myself, my inner strength and grit and all that good stuff. But no, I owe it all to a literal stick in the mud. In an attempt to facilitate my survival, one of our party found me a stick in the mud to use as a walking stick. For the next 2 days I was inseparable from that stick. It was the longest and most satisfying relationship I’ve had in awhile. Steady, dependable, helpful…and just the right size. After surviving the first day, I didn’t want to take a chance that I would find another stick that was so perfect…so I promiscuously took him back to the room with me to make sure he would be there tomorrow. And he was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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