We just decided to go

From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. And it’s not a miracle, we just decided to go.

— Jim Lovell

There is a scene in the movie Apollo 13 in which astronaut Jim Lovell is hosting a dinner party at his house. At some point in the evening he escapes the hubbub of his guests and takes a seat in a lawn chair in the back yard. When someone comes out to join him he utters the phrase above.

The moon landings were the culmination of a gargantuan series of tasks. Thousands of people invested hundreds of thousands of hours coordinating and delivering on thousands of tasks. It wasn’t a miracle that we landed on the moon. We just set our minds to it and decided to go.

Theme of the week: Just decide to go.

Impulse Control

My dad was always trying to make people laugh, often with corny jokes and bad puns. His standard farewell when departing a social gathering was always, “We’ll see you in the spring if we get through the mattress.” Ba-dump, bump! He often proclaimed that he was on a “see food” diet. Reaching for whatever food was in sight, he would explain simply, “Whenever I see food, I eat it!” Ba-dump, bump! Always there would be the slight pause and the nascent grin as he waited — and hoped — that you would get the pun. My dad passed away this…

Just Be

Sometimes the best thing we can do is to stop “doing” and just be. You don’t have to “be” anything. We don’t have to “be” quiet, or productive, or useful, or nice. Just be.

In his brilliant album that gave music and lyrics to Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Neil Diamond wrote:

Be, as a page that aches for a word that speaks on a theme that is timeless.

Listen with Intensity

In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg’s classic collection of meditations on finding the writer within, she has an essay on talking and listening with friends as a means of bringing stories to life. She says, …

Don’t Hand Me A Yellow Volkswagen

The Writers Almanac tells a story about Frank Conroy today. 

Once, while directing the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Conroy scolded a student for using irrelevant details in her short story. He said…

The author makes a tacit deal with the reader. You hand them a backpack. You ask them to place certain things in it — to remember, to keep in mind — as they make their way up the hill. If you hand them a yellow Volkswagen and they have to haul this to the top of the mountain…

Elevated Metabolism

I am struck by the word “metabolism.” It’s such a great word. It denotes a process in which an organic system transforms inputs and raw materials into energy. Our bodies take proteins, carbohydrates, and fats and transform them into tissue and stored energy. An “increased metabolism” is one in which this transformation process is occurring at an elevated rate. My work life has a metabolism as well. I take the raw materials of ideas, knowledge, experience, responsibilities, and expectations and transform them into service, relationships and results. An “increased metabolism” in this realm would be to produce more energy and…

No to 1,000 Things

As part of the rhythm of my productivity, I declare a “Theme for the Week” each Monday morning. At a 50,000 foot level, it helps me remember what I deem to be important that week. It’s what I’m working on.

The first Theme of the Week for 2013 is adapted from Steve Jobs. He has been quoted on multiple occasions as having said that the hardest part of good design is saying no to a thousand things. He said that it is not enough to be brilliant in figuring out what goes into your product. You have to be ruthless in paring down and leaving out what doesn’t belong.

It occurs to me that life — and especially productivity — thrives on the same principle.

Born Standing Up

I did stand-up comedy for eighteen years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four were spent in wild success. My most persistent memory of stand-up is of my mouth being in the present and my mind being in the future: the mouth speaking the line, the body delivering the gesture, while the mind looks back, observing, analyzing, judging, worrying, and then deciding when and what to say next. Enjoyment while performing was rare—enjoyment would have been an indulgent loss of focus that comedy cannot afford. After the shows, however, I experienced long hours of elation or misery depending on how the show went, because doing comedy alone onstage is the ego’s last stand.

— Steve Martin, Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Biography

 

Although I read Steve Martin’s excellent biography a few years ago I was reminded recently of these great thoughts in the opening paragraph. I would like to believe that I am charting a similar life course. It feels like I am in the refining years right now.