Archives for the month of: February, 2014

One of my favorite children’s books authors, Kate DiCamillo, just won the Newbery Award for 2014 with her most recent book, Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. This is a very charming book. It makes great use of illustrations: the book is, in part, comic book style. Themes in the book include: a superhero squirrel who flies, writes poetry, and likes little fishes; a girl who has vowed to be a cynic but can’t keep herself from hoping; a boy who is temporarily blind; and a fat cat who is the archenemy of the squirrel.

I love how DiCamillo sprinkles lots of great insights and tidbits in her book. Here’s a small taste:

‘But he has passed away. This is a euphemism, of course. I mean to say he is dead. He is departed from this world. He is elsewhere and singing with the angels. Ha, there is another euphemism: singing with the angels. I ask you, why is it so hard to stay away form the euphemisms? They creep in, always, and attempt to make the difficult things more pleasing. So. Let me try again. He is dead… And I hope he is somewhere singing. Perhaps singing something from Mozart. But who knows where he is and what he is doing?’

and thoughts on Pascal’s Wager:

‘Pascal had it that since it could not be proven whether God existed, one might as well believe that he did, because thee was everything to gain by believing and nothing to lose. This is how it is for me. What do I lose if I choose to believe? Nothing! Take this squirrel, for instance, Ulysses. Do I believe he can type poetry? Sure, I do believe it. There is much more beauty in the world if I believe such a thing is possible.’

I also recommend DiCamillo’s other books: The Tale of Despereaux; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane; Because of Winn-Dixie; and The Magician’s Elephant. All spell-binding, all dealing with darkness and difficulty, but ever hopeful and straining towards the light. She quotes Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz (“The Testing Tree”) at the beginning of one of her books, and I feel this is a theme that runs throughout her writing:

…the heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
through dark and deeper dark
and not to turn.

~ Stanley Kunitz, “The Testing Tree”



Theodore Roosevelt, The Man in the Arena speech:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

If you show up and are seen, if you go into the arena, if you create, if you want to be courageous, you will get your ass kicked — that is the one guarantee.

Dr. Brown’s new philosophy on criticism:
If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.
If you have constructive criticism you want to give me, I want it.
But if you’re in the cheap seats, not putting yourself on the line, and just talking about how I can do it better, I’m not interested in your feeback.

Here are some key lessons:

– Reserve seats in the arena for your critics.
Saying something like this is a red flag: “I don’t care what people think, I don’t worry about the critics in the arena.”
When we stop caring what people think, we lose our capacity for connection and vulnerability.
Not caring what people think is its own kind of hustle.
Rather than locking these folks out from the arena, when I’m doing something new and creative, reserve seats for them, take the critics to lunch, and, say
“I see you, I hear you, but I’m going to show up and do this anyway.
I’ve got a seat for you and you’re welcome to come, but I’m not interested in your feedback.”

– Clarity of values
If courage is my value, I have to show up in the arena.
We all need one person in our lives who will pick us up when we fail,* who will say, “It sucked and it was bad as you thought,
but it was brave, and let’s get you cleaned up because you’re going to go back into the arena.”
They love you not despite of your imperfections and vulnerabilities, but _because_ of them.
They should have great seats in the arena.

* – If you’re not failing, you’re really not showing up.

– One of these seats in the arena needs to be reserved for yourself.
Who do you think the biggest critic in the arena normally is? Yourself.
This is the person who we need to believe in what we’re doing, why we’re doing it.
And yes, it’s scary and dangerous and terrifying going into the arena, but it is not as scary or dangerous or terrifying as getting to the end of our lives and asking,
“what if I had shown up?”

Dear Mr. Fellowes and other writers of Downton Abbey,

Could you please stop using Lady Edith as a punching bag for your show? Do you hate middle children that much?

Thank you.

P.S. Knowing when to quit when you’re ahead demonstrates true genius and humility. Look at Calvin & Hobbes and Bill Watterson. Or the British version of The Office (the U.S. version just ran itself into the ground).