Category Archives: Spirit

Posts related to the spirit, the heart and those intangibles elements of the human experience that make life worth living.

Remove Complication and Just Have Dinner

Mom making her dinner selection.
Mom making her dinner selection.

I’m one of those people who tends to like to mull over questions, problems and issues for a while as I try to sort them out. This is both blessing and curse in that I enjoy the thinking process, but it’s obviously pretty easy to slip into a mode of over-complication. Thinking is great, but not if all you do is think and never act – that’s the great corporate maxim of paralysis by analysis.

Perhaps the greatest issue of overthinking problems is you get brutally self-involved, something I view as a borderline high crime for myself because it’s inherently selfish. I’m a firm believer that we were meant to live our lives interacting with our fellow man… and that we should do our best to make that successful.

I think that’s why during a particularly stressful run of late, I did something to remove complication and do something so incredibly simple:

Stopped what I was doing and had dinner with my Mom.

And suddenly, life got a lot more simple. I chatted with her earlier in the day, she talked about how Dad was going to be at a golf event having dinner and then a few hours later it hit me… why don’t I just take her out to dinner?

While I am tempted to go into some kind of deep review of our dinner, what we talked about, how good the food was (it was awesome, quite frankly) and such, I’m not going to do so. Because that’s not the point and would cause me to slip back into the overanalysis world anyway.

Instead, I urge anyone who feels in the midst of their own drama (whether external or self-created) to stop what you’re doing, find someone you care about and just share a meal where you try to listen more than talk (I was only semi-successful in this regard, but I tried hard). That’s it. No fancy self-reflection. No working through a success matrix from your favorite improvement web site. No matter how busy you are. Stop. Get out of your own way. Focus on someone else.

Remove complication and just have dinner.

Sometimes it’s just not that hard.

The Need for Challenge vs. Acceptance of “Reality”

For as long as I can remember, I need a challenge in order to truly bring out the best in myself. Lacking that feels like I’m in a rut or back on my heels in some horribly passive limbo. It’s not a great feeling at all. Perhaps I can explain better by way of example.

My freshman year of high school, I was in English class and doing OK at it, but something was missing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what exactly it was, but something didn’t seem totally right to me. I came into high school with the very well-intentioned advice from my middle school guidance counselors ringing in my ears to not get in over my head by taking some (but not all) honors classes.

Well, this English class was one step down from honors and it hit me one day: I was bored out of my mind. As a kid who knocked out the Lord of the Rings trilogy in 5th grade, I needed more. I needed to get pushed. So after a few months, I switched to honors… and my grades actually went up. Funny how that works.

I don’t think I ever really lost this trait of needing to see what I could do or where I could take myself. Hell, if I find myself feeling blah or in a rut, this is the most-likely culprit.

With that in mind, I’ve been watching a lot of the World Cup… and sometime during the multitude of matches I watched, the soccer itch crept back into my life. Not surprising either. See, I love weight training, Prowler pushes, golf and all the other physical shenanigans I get myself involved in these days, but the thing they don’t provide me is head-to-head competition in a team environment.

Oh sure, you can play in golf scrambles and teams from various gyms will compete together in a Crossfit competition or powerlifting meet… but there is something about a collective whole being greater than the sum of its parts as it faces over against (hopefully) equally-matched competition. It’s one of my favorite athletic highs. You and your teammates staring down an opponent on the field and launching yourself into the game with an unspoken “Get some…” amongst all of you.

But lest you think it’s only about my wanting to hang out with peeps and knock heads against our foe, there is another challenge in the midst of all of this:

The reality that… one day… playing these kinds of sports at a healthy level of competition will pass me by, never to return.

At age 41, I’m sure a lot of people would think playing soccer against 25 year old punks who played in college might be a silly endeavor. Hell, maybe it’s exactly that.

HOWEVER… and yeah, I just all-capped that business right there… the process of working towards being ready to play against competition younger, faster and more skilled is something I actually enjoy. The challenge isn’t just the being on the field and playing. The challenge that may be just as satisfying is what I need to do to myself ready in the first place.

Hence, in an 85 degree gym, I got at it:

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Even more interesting was as spent as I was at the end? A few minutes later, all smiles and feeling good. Because I pushed hard. Because I kept going. Because I took steps towards getting my 41 year old, incredibly good-looking self ready to run down 24 younger punks on crisp Fall mornings.

If you feel an inevitable creeping rut or, worse yet, you are looking up from the bottom of rut and wondering how the hell you got there… find your challenge. That thing that will get you fired up and the blood moving. Physical. Mental. Spiritual. Whatever venue that calls unto you most strongly.

Just get to it. Get at it. And feel that bit of victory for your soul that will follow from a good, determined fight. You’re worth at least that and likely much more.

Pushing On By Letting Go

1902864_687774727941279_370871808_nA few months into my journey of adding yoga to my overall fitness/training regimen, I find myself coming up with a lot of ponderings that occur during yoga class itself (or often shortly thereafter). Whether it’s somehow brought upon by improved bloodflow from class or just the fact that I find myself feeling very clear-headed when I’m done, I can’t say. It’s just continuously interesting to me that yoga is far more than a physical challenge for me – it’s really something that flies in the face of how most of my training is structured.

It requires release and a flowing kind of giving-in to the moment whereas when I lift, it’s like a fight and a grind and a sweaty battle to force myself into being better/faster/stronger.

But what caught my attention most and was the impetus for this blog post was the realization that yoga seemed to fly in the face of this site’s very motto of “Relentlessly push yourself forward”.

Or did it?

Hence a little vlog for your consideration. Hope you enjoy:

Lessons From the Laundry Pile

Where the wash and dry magic unfolds.
Where the wash and dry magic unfolds.

Laundry. It’s really nothing more than the simple act of cleaning your clothes so you have something sparkling and fresh to wear out into society as opposed to looking like an utter goon. Seems simple enough, right?

Well, I never have a problem doing laundry. Heck, most times I am down lifting in my gym, I will snag some clothes out of the hamper and get it cracking while I’m pushing some iron. Two birds. One stone. All win.

Putting the clean clothes away once said laundry was done? Well… suffice it to say I’m not going to be winning any sort of awards, medals or commendations for bravery on that particular point. For reasons I cannot fully fathom, I had a very long run of perfectly clean laundry piling up in front of those gleaming white machines pictured above. I would tell you how long, but I’m going to save myself the embarrassment. Just know it was baaaaad. Real bad.

Well, over my recent holiday break from work, I was taking a nice chunk of time to think over things in my life.  It’s really become one of my favorite things to do during the Christmas to New Year’s timeframe as one year closes and a new one begins to shine on the horizon.  This matter of my laundry jumped to mind during this period of reflection… and not just in a “Damn… that’s a mess in need of cleaning” kind of way.  Instead, I saw it as a bit of a symptom of something that had been nagging at me for a while, but I had not been able to put my finger on.  And it was so obvious once it occurred to me.  What was this realization, you ask in breathless anticipation?  I will tell you:

That I simply got lazy and sloppy in the name of being more laid back.  And I hated it.  All of it.

I'm with you big guy. That's how I felt about those habits too...
I’m with you big guy. That’s how I felt about those habits too…

See, I kept telling myself for so long that I needed to be less tightly-wound and more mellow.  I have a tendency to be way-to-keyed-up for my own good and was in serious need of a chill adjustment.  However, there’s a great deal of difference between being more relaxed and just letting everything get messy by being passive.

But it wasn’t just about the pile of laundry that needed to be folded and put away.  Hell, my realization was barely about that.  What I realized is how easy it had become for me to stop doing little things because I convinced myself it was a sign of being anal or would lead to me being stressed out over minutiae.  The problem with this approach is: (a) I didn’t feel any more relaxed and (b) I feel so much more on top of my life when I am taking care of the little things.  Not obsessing over them.  Not stressing over them.  Just knocking those suckers out.

Because you know what happens when you start knocking out the little needed things?  You start to build momentum on much bigger things.  At least I do.  So that’s what I started to do during my break.  Clean up everything.  Put everything in its place.  Never leave crap out for no apparent reason.

It all sounds completely silly doesn’t it?  Hell, I feel a little silly just typing it for the whole world to read.  However, that mindset of taking care of business really began to snowball and I was looking for more ways to keep that productive momentum going.  And this played in beautifully to one of my biggest goals for 2014: Being more proactive in all areas of my life.  Less letting things happen and more making things happen.

And I owe it all to a neglected pile of laundry.  Life gives lessons in the strangest places.  This time it was from a mound of clean clothes and little steps of momentum that came from taking care of them.

Never saw that one coming…

Keep Your Starts Fresh

Ever since I was a kid, there’s always been something deeply and profoundly appealing to me about a new, crisp piece of paper. It always spoke to me of possibility and excitement because I really wasn’t limited in what I could draw or write upon it. As long as I could imagine it, I could work towards it. Sure, I wasn’t going to be slapping down a Monet masterpiece first time through… but there wasn’t anything saying I could not get there.

I still feel that way today when I get a new notepad, open a fresh file in a word processor or sit down to craft a new blog post. The thought that beckons me forward is simply “Let’s see where the muse takes me today.”  I mean, I don’t think that exact phrase, but it certainly describes the feeling.

It’s for that reason that my favorite Calvin and Hobbes comic (and also the last comic Bill Watterson ever created of that brilliant strip) is this:

Calvin and Hobbes Comic Strip, December 31, 1995 on GoComics.com
Calvin and Hobbes Comic Strip, December 31, 1995 on GoComics.com

It’s also the perfect comic for the start of this brand and shiny new year of 2014, especially here in New England as the snow falls steadily from Winter Storm Hercules. On a side note… that’s easily the most badass winter storm name I’ve ever heard. I mean… Hercules, for the love of Zeus (mythological puns all fully intended my friends).

I’ve spent time over the past week or so thinking over my own personal goals and resolutions for 2014. Now, a lot of people finding the “resolution” game to be weak and I can certainly understand why. It’s hard to argue with the idea that every day is an opportunity to begin anew without waiting for the calendar to flip to a new year. However, there’s something terribly convenient about using January 1st as a convenient reminder point to take stock in how things are going and what you may need to do in order to point yourself in the right direction. For me, this is partially borne of spending the last 12 years in Corporate America where metrics are very keenly parsed by calendar points in time.

My list of goals is mostly created and I’ve begun the equally important task of creating a system by which I can achieve my goals (which tends to be the shortfall of the resolution crowd – lots of ideas and very little planning to go with them).  I look forward to 2014 with an open heart.

So if you are thinking over what this upcoming year holds in store for you and you have that same feeling as our friends Calvin and Hobbes where you see a year of possibilities… good. Don’t let the cynicism of others rob you of that feeling, certainly not so soon in the year – shake it free from your spirit. But also be sure to remember that hoping and wishing does not a solid plan make. (Must… resist… urge… to make… political commentary…)

But be bold about your optimism and nurture it, beginning today. Even if it’s not the sole thing to carry you through 2014 successfully, it certainly makes for a brighter start and a bit of a glow in your heart… and those are both very good things.

It’s a magical world, ol’ blog buddies. Let’s go exploring.

Thunder From The Heavens

I’m a bit of a loud guy from a loud family. I try to catch myself from being inappropriately loud in the wrong place at the wrong time, but hell… I can’t monitor myself that closely all the time. That would be impossible… and really no fun. So screeeeewwww that.  Let the decibels ring forth!

However, there are many ways where I am decidedly quiet.  Certain things I deem more important to be private or quiet about.  If I were to try and give you clear guidelines about what falls onto this list, I think I would come up woefully short of an apt description.  Just something about being so out front about these things can just feel… I dunno… unseemly.  That’s the word that best captures it.

I think that’s why this image I saw recently (and I wish I could remember which friend posted it to give them proper credit), it struck me so powerfully.

I’m not really one to tout my own praises or merits or great successes, although I have certainly done it a few times in the moment.  Lord knows when I finished Tough Mudder in 2012 I was all kinds of fired up and proclaimed that loudly and proudly on my Facebook wall.  But that’s very much an exception to the rule for this more retiring cowpoke.

It’s just that this image captures so many great messages, but in sticking with the most obvious, it’s about what you do and not just what you say.  Of course what you say can have a positive impact on people – some can inspire others to spectacular feats with their words.

But more often that not?  Be more about the doing than the speaking.

I’ve had people come to me for various kinds of career advice and this is usually my #1 piece of feedback.  The questions tend to be about networking and who they should set up meetings with and who they need to get to know and what teams and titles they should have.  I admire their passion, their desire to advance themselves forward.  Passion is a beautiful commodity and if you have it, hold onto it and nurture it (positively).

My response always tends to be the same: “Those things are all good… but you know what gets you noticed most?  What gets you furthest in life and work?  Consistently kicking ass at what you do.”

Occasionally my remark gets a blank response back as if to say, “Thanks Captain Obvious… I already knew that.  I needed something else…”

Except… you didn’t need something else.  You really needed to get down to putting boots to backsides.  It’s a good reminder for me as well whenever I begin to think about where I want to be going.  If I cannot answer… in detail… about what I am trying to do to kick ass for whatever definition of success I am seeking, then I’m clearly not on the right track.

As the bard of our era… Usher, of course… once sang “Don’t talk about it, be about it.”  And as horrified as I am to quote Usher, it’s a succinct way of seeing it.

In the end, Mr. Ocean puts it even better.  As loud, passionate and eloquent as your voice may be, your methodical daily grind of work will always produce a sweeter song.

Getting My Namaste On: A Weightlifter’s Journey Into Yoga

One funky octopus
Downtown Yoga in Hartford, CT. Namaste, y’all.

Good Lord… the BURN.  I couldn’t believe the fiery sensation starting in my shoulders and flowing into my upper arms. Despite my best efforts and intentions to fight it, I had to drop to my knees, try not to audibly curse my instructor as being a closet sadist and somehow “find my breath”.

Yup – I was in the throes of learning that yoga was laying a first-rate beat down on my seriously inflexible self.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and take it back to the beginning of the journey.

The Start

I like to be a bit transparent on this blog, at least the best I can.  I had been mulling over doing yoga for some time based on two critical facts: (1) I am about as pliable as structural steel; and (2) I tend to hold onto stress way more than I should.  I’m no yoga expert, but those have always appeared to be the big value propositions for yoga practice.  On a side note, you know you’ve been working in Corporate America way too long when you write about “value propositions” for something like yoga… the least corporate thing you could possibly imagine.  See?  I need yoga even more than I admit.

The flexibility piece only became more important to me as I’ve gotten closer to, and now, just north of 40 years old.  And honestly?  I think it has less to do with age and more to do with my daily work state (seated at a desk and working on a computer) combined my chosen exercise style (lots of weight training).

The stress piece has always been a lingering thing.  It’s one of those things where it’s easy to become so accustomed to it, you forget what it feels like to be perfectly mellow and content (save for vacation and sitting on a beach with nothing in particular to do).  But despite my growing generally accustomed to high stress levels, I knew it wasn’t a good idea to just let that be.  It was time to get some change, pronto.

Into The Fray

I’ve tried yoga before, most notably bikram yoga.  If you’ve not familiar with bikram, it’s a 90 minute program comprised of 26 postures… done in a sweltering hot room and designed with the sole purpose of making you hate life and question your ability to make intelligent decisions on what is “good for you”.  I walked out of classes a few times feeling like I had been beaten with a blunt object and my eyes completely bloodshot from the heat.  So if you want a yoga style that makes you look akin to a meth head, then hey, this is totally for you.  (Obviously, your results may vary and a few of my friends really like bikram… but they cray-cray).

In looking for something that would balance out the full-tilt style of my lifting and conditioning program, I came across Downtown Yoga in Hartford (you can find them on the Web here and on Facebook here).  What was so appealing about them was their accessibility and the fact that every class could be scaled to your individual abilities.  Plus, their interest in being connected to the community also interested me – as easy as it is for locals to rip on Hartford relentlessly, I’ve always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about it having grown up around here.  That and the fact that I have zero patience for people who bitch, whine and moan without even making a modicum of effort to see what the city may have to offer.  (Here’s a hint: More than you would think)

Plus, I liked their snappy promo video:

Downtown Yoga – Happy, Healthy, Hartford. from Downtown Yoga on Vimeo.

So down I went to Downtown Yoga about a month ago and gave it a whirl for their “Un-rush Hour” class.

My first class was with Mike and I had little idea what to expect.  I was the first person to the class and my goals were simple: try to relax and pick a spot at the back of the room so my lack of yoga-tastic skills would not be on display.  I set up up where I thought would be a good spot in the back corner.  Turns out I had no idea how the room was used… annnnd I was in the front row.  Sweet mother of God.

Needless to say, based on this blog post, I survived.  Heck, I even went back and have been on a two-times per week roll.  So why would a meathead like me get so hooked on yoga?  Lots of good reasons.

Performance.  Since I’ve started yoga, I’m already starting to move a little better and feel a little better.  My insanely tight hips are now just super tight.  That’s a big win.  I look forward to them now improving to wicked tight, then pretty tight and then to kind of tight.  One day?  I dream of decent and in my wildest dreams, I hope for them to be loose and fluid.  But for now?  Small steps.  Also, I am finding my shoulders are feeling more stable and solid.  I may have all that downward dog to thank for that… which is probably the only time you will hear me give any kind of positive remarks on that posture which provided the delightful burning sensations described at the outset of this blog.Plus, when I do things like squats, I am more comfortably able to get lower.  That’s huuuuge.

Yoga studio
It’s… about… to go… down.

Challenge Without Competition.  I’m naturally competitive.  If you have ever seen my Foursquare check-ins for yoga, they tend to be things like “I’m totally going to win at yoga tonight.”  Obviously, there really isn’t any “winning” at yoga (although yoga competitions do exist) and I’ve actually enjoyed that.  I’m a little surprised with how much I’m not comparing how I’m doing against my classmates.  Oh sure, I do check a bit out of curiosity – no one is perfect on this.  However, I don’t do it that much because I’m more concerned with I am doing personally and… well… I’m probably battling hard on whatever posture I am attempting and don’t have the inclination to see what everyone else is up to.So, you’re profoundly challenged, but it really doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing.  There are no points in yoga.  No score.  No playoffs.  Just you, your instructor’s direction and your breath.  Simple.

Dat Good Feeling Doe.  Every time I’m done with a yoga class, I feel good.  No, I feel really good.  Without question, the physical movements, concentrated breath-work and stretching of the yoga itself gets the bulk of the credit for it.  However, there were at least 2 truly unexpected factors for this feel-good buzz as well.  The first is that yoga gets you so involved in what you’re doing for the entire time you are practicing, you don’t tend to think of much else.  Honestly, how nice is it to shut your brain off for 90 minutes from the 1,001 things you usually have bombarding it?  It’s glorious.The second piece was even less expected – how the instructors close the class.

Let’s take Jenny (the delightful head instructor at Downtown Yoga) as an example.  You finish all of your poses and postures, take some time to lay in Savasana (the only pose I am good at – lying flat on my back with my limbs spread out like I just got knocked out) and then come to a seated position to finish.  Then you know what Jenny does?  She thanks each person in class for the fact they decided to come and share their practice with her that night.

It’s simple, sincere, warm and always leaves me with a smile to see that someone is actually grateful for my sharing my less-than-graceful yoga practice with her.  In turn, this makes me feel grateful.  It’s infectious.

So this full-time meathead had expanded his horizons, gone out of his comfort zone and taken his overly competitive mindset to the much more serene, flowing world of yoga… and come out the better for it.  I have a really long way to go and, actually, I’m OK with that because that also means I have a lot of opportunity to get even more benefits.  I can’t say if every tightly-wound athlete/corporate warrior would enjoy this like I do, but it’s clearly worth a shot.  I’m still finding I’m learning a lot about myself with each class, especially from the mental toughness standpoint (which is actually more like being non-resistant versus rigid).

Plus… I know I can still win at this yoga SOB.  Somehow, damn it.

That Sweet Slow Burn

Inner Glow
Sarah Spaulding via Compfight

There are a lot of ways to think about passion, but whenever we do, it’s most associated with heat in some for or another.  White-hot passion about something or someone is certainly the sexier version, of course.  What’s interesting to me about something so heated is that it often needs so much more fuel to keep it stoked.

Then there’s the smoldering passion.  It’s not nearly as sexy and, at times, can almost seem to be non-existent.  Low and slow blends into the background a lot more.  That’s just not that interesting… is it?

I know that I feel that way at varying times in my life.  You know the mentality: GO BIG OR GO HOME!  INTENSITY!  GOTTA ME EXXXTREEEEEEEME!

*ahem*  It can be get to be a little much and makes you really prone to burnout.  Stunner right?

But today is not about the streaking comet across the sky, but about the embers, smoldering away, low and slow.

There is a steadiness to that sweet slow burn that I think deserves praise.  It’s got the stamina to hang in there, but where the real magic lies is for it to go from low and slow to big and bright.  It just needs well-timed oxygen to drive it from a mellow glow to a total blaze.

The ember may be my new mental image to keep myself better grounded in my own passions.  As mentioned above, I tend to be more all-or-nothing and, truthfully, while the periods of all can be incredible, you can only push that for so long before the nothing strikes at your like an viper from the shadows.  But the glowing ember?  That’s the burn that stays, remains strong and while it needs tending, it has sustaining power.  And the best part?  It can be fanned to greater heat when needed.

Because who needs that all the time and at every moment?  I know I don’t.  And let’s be clear – it’s not like this a suggestion of living life without passion.  Totally the opposite.

Just understand your intensity and where it gets it’s best use.

Stoke that sweet slow burn… and when you need it… fan it to full-on ferocity.

Photo from Sarah Spaulding via Compfight

What Motivates The Motivator

Gratuitous photo of my dapper self. Why? Well, why the hell not?

Thursday AM this past week was a conditioning day and instead of my typical fun with the Prowler, I thought I would change things up and do some 50 yard sprints at the football field of my town’s high school.

On the drive over to the field, my mind gently wandered about a little bit and I began to think about this blog and the overall message of it.  I think this was motivated by a book I am reading on blogging that advises bloggers to develop their “elevator pitch” to easily explain what their blog is all about.

Then I got to thinking about others I’ve seen who have motivational style posts… except… well… there was something about their message I couldn’t quite shake.

The solution?

Make a video about it.  Put it on the YouTubes.  Boom.  Go time.

If You Think It, It Will Come

Careful planning. Fierce execution. Totally sweet lighting.

Let’s chat for a minute about improving yourself.  Sure, that’s most of the theme of this blog in general, but let’s talk about it in a seemingly unique and obvious concept.  Yes, unique does not often go with obvious, but damn it, tonight it will.

Suppose for a moment you wanted to improve your health, fitness, well-being or some other part of your physical being.  Would you just sort of amble about through the day and hope that after a while, you were better off than when you started?  Wait… you wouldn’t?  Come on… seriously?

Seems pretty straightforward.  You don’t tend to get better by accident.  There is effort, focus, determination, planning and execution of that planning.  It’s not even that complicated – it just takes actually putting into motion a half-decent plan.  Not even a great plan necessarily – just something semi-good that you give strong effort to.

Everything you’ve read up to this point is the obvious part.  Here is what is a little unique: Why is it so damn few people, including me, take that same approach when it comes to their “inner” development?  It’s as if the path to being a better person lies in just saying one day, “Hey, I want to be get better…” at some positive personal quality (listener/thinker/more caring/more resilient/better empathy/stand up for themselves) and one day, BOOM!  There it is!  Glory, glory hallelujah!  Sing unto the heavens for I have raised myself up to new heights!  Can I get an amen?  AYYYYYYY-MEN!

I am a bit taken aback by the extent to which I swing and miss on this very point.  My approach to physical training is focused, planned and borderline obsessive (I prefer meticulous, but then again, I am powerful sweet and don’t see this as a bad thing).  I know I need to do certain lifts to get stronger in particular areas and I need to work conditioning to stay in shape.  I know if I just blow them off, nothing happens… well, nothing good at least.  But what about wanting to be less distracted and more thoughtful/focused?  Don’t I need to have a plan for that?  Don’t I need to spend actual time on getting better at that?

It’s as I act like these things will just be taken care of because, hell, my mind is going all day long so… umm… it must be working on something.  Maybe it’s working on my being more thoughtful too!  WOO!

Horrible, horrible plan.  And especially galling considering how perfectly clear it is to me that a lot of work goes into my physical development.  It’s borderline silly I don’t have time set aside to think about my personal development.

Until now.  Finally got that booked into my calendar on a daily basis and what now becomes important is this: Will I do it?  Will I guard that time and treat it with the same level of care I do my training?  If I do, good things will come.  If I don’t… well… then I will just be back to knowing that a very good intention married to a non-existant plan is a sure bet for a looking utterly dopey.

And this blog is not about sheepishly sitting idle.  It’s relentlessly pushing myself forward.  May I not just write it, but live it.