Five finger exercises

It’s been eight months since I last posted here, and over those months I’ve become ever more comfortable with not writing, here or anywhere else. That change raises some questions for me: why do I write at all? what value is there in what I write?

But it also sets off an alarm. Comfort is one of my tripwires, since it’s all too easy to drift further downward into laziness. And my usual response (when I’m being good, anyway) is to counter it with a discipline, a practice that challenges my natural inclination.

There was a time when, through long and steady practice, I had taken my writing from discipline to habit to trait. Right now the trait is at best dormant—things come to me which in the past I would have written down, but I let them pass on. I don’t think it’s a major loss. It’s a good reminder of exactly how consequential my writing is ever likely to be, namely not so much.

I don’t mind being a writer who chooses not to write—but I don’t want my non-writing to be from a lack of skill. Once I heard Robert Fripp, guitarist and leader of the band King Crimson, talk about how songwriting credits on live improvisations were assigned based on contributions by band members. And Fripp said that for one particular performance, drummer Bill Bruford received a credit for sitting there unmoving with his arms crossed—because it was exactly the right thing for him to do during that improvisation. Now, I could have done the same thing as Bruford during that performance, not being a drummer at all. But I wouldn’t have deserved a credit.

So to reassure myself that my non-writing is from wise choice rather than atrophied abilities, I’m going to commit to a daily practice of posting something to this blog. I don’t know how long I’ll continue with it. And I don’t know what I’ll write about. In fact, this very post touches on two of my least favorite topics, (1) writing a blog, and (2) what I intend to do. But even that is freeing in a way. Part of my constipation is surely due to fretting too much about the value of what I write. Time for some five-finger exercises to loosen up.

5 thoughts on “Five finger exercises

  1. Rick, I am thankful for your five finger exercises. I am a person who has commented only once (on the value of walking and observing nature), but I have benefited much from your writing. It often causes me to think more deeply — whether I agree or disagree — and for that, I thank you. I have been mulling over for the past couple years your comment about turning 60, and how it has caused you to consider consolidating what you know, rather than exploring new territory (not sure that’s the right interpretation, but that’s what it made me think). I am only 46 and in the midst of homeschooling 9 children, but I think of the ravenous pace of my learning over the past 20 years, and wonder if distilling and practicing are now, perhaps, more valuable uses of my time. That is prompted largely by your writing. Your series on how to think about homesteading I have saved and require my high schoolers to read (many valuable tips and attitudes there); your deep thinking about Christian community and the value (or not) of church membership was very valuable to ponder. I also really appreciate your transparency in looking over various mistakes you feel you may have made, or course changes you have made and why. I was struck by an aside in another post, that your son decided to work at Earth Tools because of the quality of people there (as well as what they were doing), and basically worked and lowered his cost of living (and increased his savings) so that — a couple years later! — when a job opportunity came up, he could take it. I never, ever would have considered that idea… and yet, it makes so much sense to prioritize the quality of the people you work with and the company! That will benefit my family greatly, as children begin to leave home and I plant that idea to consider. I discovered Dallas Willard via your blog… (and your blog through a mention by Cindy Rollins)… well, the more I think about it, the more valuable I have found your writing. It continues to have effects on my life. In my dream world, I would love to read your ponderings over a long period of time, once or twice a week, as you grow and change and consider — rather than all, or nothing.

  2. Lori,

    Thanks so much for the encouraging words–and for an excellent list of topics I ought to address in future posts! I’ll do that rather than responding here, but I want to say you reminded me of something important.

    One of my favorite book titles is “How to be a Person in the World” (Heather Havrilesky’s collected advice columns) because it zeroes in on one of my major motivations for writing–although to be clearer my title would be “One Way to be a Person in the World”. I have no interest in telling others (even my own kids) how they should live their own lives, but I do think it’s valuable to understand the lives of others, how they choose to live and how it’s working out for them and, especially, the thinking that led them there.

    Not too many people address this directly, leaving us to tease out and piece together the details ourselves (or not, which I think is a shame). I try to tackle this head on, not so much to offer an example to follow or even ponder, but to make clear that it’s actually something an ordinary person can do–think through possible approaches to life, settle on one, and then proceed to live it out.


  3. I could almost have written Lori’s comment above. I’ve checked your website a few times during your hiatus to be sure it was really a hiatus and not a Feedly glitch. Glad you’re back!

  4. Rick, Glad to receive a word from you this new year. Wondered if you had deleted this list of names and retired from sending out your thoughts from time to time. I have followed you since you were out in Bristol.  Always have enjoyed your thoughts. I was sorry to hear your father had passed.   That’s a tuff thing.  Mine passed when I was 11….46 years ago.  Still a tuff thing. Always wondered if you completed your Big Chief tablet writing tutorial from a few years ago?  And if so, did you start writing notes, letters by long hand since most of us no longer write via pen and paper? Do your son and you still play together in your band?  I know that is or was a blessing. Enough questions.  Look forward to your next email of thoughts. Peace,Stuart

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

  5. whattheysaid,

    I’ll probably answer all your questions at length in future posts, but for now:

    – I miss my dad, but his greatest gift to me may be the time we spent together during the final 3.5 years.

    – I did complete the writing tutorial, which met my near-term goal of improving my atrocious handwriting–the improvement was remarkable–but has yet to become a hobby-level pursuit for me. I say “has yet” because it’s mostly time and priorities that are keeping that from happening. Maybe in years to come, when things slow down …

    – Chris and I haven’t played a song together in three-plus years, sad to say. He has continued playing off and on, but the time needed to maintain our duo just ran out. Still, there was something good about deciding deliberately to end a long-term project that still had some life in it, rather than let it slowly peter out.

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