Posts Tagged ‘simplification’

They don’t have a cool collective noun like “a murmuration of starlings,” but they were enthralling nonetheless.

Yesterday, I stood on the beach while a wing of plovers gyred and swooped around me. I stood transfixed, my feet freezing in the cold water, watching them, hearing the whispers of a thousand wings surround me. They flew as one creature, sides flashing like a school of fish in clear water, black wings, white bellies, gyring and twisting as one, creating shapes in the air above the sandy waves.

They rose in a mass, split into two amorphous shapes, each one moving around the other, until they merged like droplets of quicksilver. They spindled into a long roll and swept across the sand before piling up again into a heap, a mound, a pillar fifty feet tall.

As the wing spun and eddied, individuals would fly off from the body, peeping as they shot outward, slate-winged rockets ejected from a massive, living firework.

And then they settled, falling like heavy leaves back down to the sand, the rustle of wings replaced by a piping chorus that drowned out the roar of the surf. The wing of plovers in the air, now a congregation on the shoreline, dipping each black beak into the sand, searching for food, skedaddling back and forth in time with the waves until the ocean sent another big roller to make them take wing once more.

I stood there for the better part of an hour, rapt, giddy, grateful.


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Kurt R.A. GiambastianiWe each have our own Restoration Point, a place that speaks to our inner being, calms it, and recharges our spirit.

My wife is lucky; hers is at home. She loves being at home where it’s peaceful (when I’m not there, one assumes), pretty (when the gardens are in trim), and she can do what she wills (most of the time, anyway).

I’m not as lucky. Sure, home is great, and we make it as peaceful a place as can be, but for my soul, it’s the ocean or nothing.


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Kurt R.A. GiambastianiI’m on vacation, so naturally, I am working on my book(s).

My wife chides me. Work has been in a furor for over a month and I haven’t had a day off in three solid weeks, so what do I do on my first day off? I finish the edit on FC:III and start the copy-edit/formatting process. This is fun? This is gearing down? This is taking time off from work to…work?

Actually, yes, it is.


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Last week was trying. The day-job seriously got in the way of my life. A big project I have been building for six weeks went into production. I was up late, shepherding it through deployment, and then I was up early, converting six years of historical data. Pretty standard stuff, except that it all went in flawlessly, performed much better than expected, applied all the edits, and successfully moved everything to where it needed to be.

Then the users showed up and said, “Oh, that’s not what we wanted.” Typical example of a rookie mistake: I gave them what they asked for, not what they wanted.

So, today is a stress management day. It’s early, and the day has yet to grow warm. I’m out on the deck, sipping coffee, listening to the birds call through the trees. Moisture glistens on the leaves, and the slanting rays of morning sun give everything a pristine, contre-jour brilliance. The shadows are long, but welcoming, and even the street sounds are gentled, muffled, as if the modern world has yet to fully awaken.

Here, in my bower of leaves, I dream of distant days where this becomes my every-morning, where spiders spin their nighttime webs to catch the sunrise light, and flowers lift their sleepy, dew-spangled heads in preparation of the day.

In cool sunlight, I dream. And I am refreshed.


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Frederick the Great is reputed to have said, “If you try to hold everything, you hold nothing.”

He was talking about focus, and applying your effort where it can do the best good, even if that meant you took a hit. This advice, though 200 years old and military in origin, can be applied directly to our lives today.

Yes, I’m talking about multitasking.


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Back when I was a theist, a few times each year I would go on a fast. From sunset on the first day to nightfall on the next, I would take in nothing but water. It wasn’t easy but then again, it wasn’t supposed to be.

There are many days when I’m so involved in a project that I simply forget to eat until 2 or 3pm. But, of course, we humans are contrary creatures, and never appreciate a thing until we are deprived of it. As a result, during a fast I was always hungry right out of the gate, and hungrier by the next afternoon than I would have been under other conditions.

The main purpose of a fast, in my estimation, is to enforce an atmosphere of introspection, and to instill a sense of gratitude for the most basic things in life. By intentionally depriving myself of food, the most basic requirement, the mind quickly turns inward. Reflection and meditation come easily, and the things that plague our everyday lives lose all importance in comparison.

I have extended this practice to other areas with good effect. When life begins getting to me, I go on a “modernist fast” in an attempt to reboot my thinking and my perspective. If you are interested in simplifying your life, I recommend this heartily. Some things I have done in the past:

  • For a week
    • Give up junk TV shows, news shows, or turn off the TV altogether
    • Take mass transit everywhere, and walk to places whenever possible
    • Give up a vice, a guilty pleasure, dining out, etc.
    • Wash all dishes by hand (sounds goofy, but it’s rather meditative after a while)
  • For a day
    • Give up food
    • Turn off your Blackberry
    • No internet!
    • Do as much as you can by hand

I’ve even gone so far as to try to go the whole day with limited use of electricity. I tell you, spend a whole evening without it—no television, no stereo, no dishwasher, just sitting around with your loved ones, talking or playing a game by candlelight—and your perspective really changes. After all, some people live like this every day.

I find that these Modernist Fasts help me keep my priorities straight, and show me just how much in life I have to be grateful for. Gratitude and humility—appreciating what you have and realizing how lucky you are—really help build inner peace.


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Often, when someone learns that I am a published novelist, they give me a puzzled look. I know what they’re thinking.

Why are you still working that day-job, living in that house, driving that car?

I used to think that, too. I had already figured out where I’d be teaching (after receiving my honorary degree), had already picked my house on the shores of Green Lake,  and had chosen the flash car I would use to zip around town.

Then I sold my first novel. Nothing changes your worldview more than achieving your dream.

As a writer, I have had some successes: eight novels published, four by a large NYC publishing house, plus a smattering of published short stories, articles, and essays. I’ve also had—I used to call them failures, but now after “periods of redefinition,” I think of them as successes, too. You see, when I started out, anything other than a bestseller was a failure, but soon I would only fail if I got anything other than a solid sale. In time, I accepted any sale as a success, and then…you see where this is going.

A long time ago, Dean Wesley Smith asked me, “If you knew you would never sell another story, would you still write?” My answer was flippant. “Of course,” I said, “but tell me now so I won’t worry about it.” I was green as springtime grass, back then, and had yet to feel the heartbreak that only publishing can provide. Today, my answer still stands, but it stands on its own; it doesn’t need the cocksure attitude to prop it up.

When I started, I wrote as a way to achieve fame and fortune. Sure, some people make gazillions at it, but you can count those who do it consistently on your fingers. In reality, writing is a hard way to make a living, and if you’re in it only for the money, my advice is to get out, now.

Here’s what people don’t get: writing is an art, but publishing is a business, and publishing doesn’t give a toss whether your book is good or bad, it cares whether your book will sell or sit on the shelf. Your novel can be total crap, but if it’s the kind of total crap that sells, it’ll get snapped up. But good or bad, if it does get snapped up, there still isn’t a lot of money in it, and one sale is no guarantee of future sales.

Today, I don’t write for fame and fortune, nor do I equate not having them with failure. I write because I want to tell stories, and tell them well. If a book of mine doesn’t get finished, that’s a failure. If I just hammer out some words and have a lackluster product, or write something I don’t love, that’s a failure. If the faithful readers who do love my books don’t get to read any more of the stories I want to tell, that’s a failure.

Of course, if a publisher thinks I’m putting gold on the page, or Hollywood wants to option my novels, I sure as hell won’t complain. But that’s gravy, and I am able to succeed just fine without gravy.


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