Emily Brontë Died at Thirty

How Old Are You?

Charlotte Bronte coloured drawing
My wife and I recently watched the movie To Walk Invisible about the Brontë sisters. These amazing sisters created some of the most enduring works of English literature.

The eldest sister Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics). The youngest sister Anne wrote Agnes Grey (Penguin Classics). The middle sister Emily wrote Wuthering Heights (Penguin Classics).

Their decision to write and publish under male pseudonyms is an amazing story of strategy and perseverance. Charlotte was “Currer Bell,” Anne was “Acton Bell,” and Emily was “Ellis Bell.”

As with all writers in their day, their work was conducted often by candlelight and always by hand with ink and quill on paper. I am writing this post in an online editor with cut and paste, auto-spell check, and the ability to publish to the world with one click of the “publish” button. It is hard to even envision the painstaking effort they expended to bring these works to readers.

There are many aspects to their story that I find amazing, but perhaps the thing that strikes me most is the fact that Emily Bronte lived only 30 years. In fact, her youngest sister Anne lived only 29 years. Charlotte lived only to the age of 38.

I do not measure myself against women who were among the most gifted writers in the English language, but I do draw two lessons from their lives:

  1. Youth should be no barrier. If anyone told them they were too young, the Brontës did not listen. Some of us seem to be waiting until some magic future date when we are of sufficient age to do something important. Go ahead and do it now. Will you get better at it as you get older? Probably. Maybe. Maybe not. In the case of the Brontës, there was no getting older. Life is uncertain and short. That leads to the second lesson…
  2. What are you waiting for? Go ahead and get started doing something you really want to do and need to do. Don’t wait for later and older. Do it now. Get it started. Do not let resistance paralyze you. If you plan to do creative work (writing, music, art, entrepreneurship), get a copy of The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles and let it motivate you. The main thing is to act. Now.

I have to confess that while we have had copies of both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in our library for years, I have read neither. I am going to correct that soon. I think that as I read them knowing just how young these authors were when they wrote them, it will really reinforce the two lessons above.

Hopefully it will motivate me to act.

How old are you at present? If older than 30, take encouragement from what these young women did at a younger age than you. If you are younger than 30, follow the Bronte’s lead. Make it happen.

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now. – Chinese proverb

Are You a Cynic?

It is hard not to be a cynic. Put a less tortured way, it is easy to be a cynic.

The definition of the word “cynic” I have in mind is this from Dictionary.com:

a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view

I think the reason it is so easy for me to become a cynic is because I am often myself “motivated by selfishness.” I often myself doubt “selfless acts and disinterested points of view.” In other words, I am probably a cynic because I see those undesirable traits in myself and often ascribe those same motivations to others.

Cynicism can become so pervasive that you can come to disbelieve and doubt nearly everything. Most of us listen to political speeches this way. Everything Obama/Trump said/says is ascribed the worst possible motivations and intents. This is regardless of which side you are on. You may, in fact, become so cynical that you feel that way about all sides of an issue and about all representatives of those perspectives.

It is not confined to politics. It reaches into personal relationships where we simply do not trust that anyone is coming from a place of true sincerity or altruism.

Frankly, I am getting tired of cynicism. It is always easier to tear something down than it is to build it. The tools of the trade for the cynic include snide remarks, biting sarcasm, and derisive laughter. It is rather easy to be against.

Which is easier, constructing a high rise building or knocking it down with a wrecking ball?

At some point the onus must be on me not just to sit back, criticize, and tear down. Once I have knocked everything down there will be no more buildings. At some point I need to start building something. It is not enough to just be against everything. I need to actually be for something.

Of course, when I begin building, the cynics will be there to knock down. Perhaps that is the real barrier to positive action? Perhaps the cynic believes that he or she can avoid being a target by always being the wrecking ball. That is convenient. It is also lazy and timid.

This is not an argument in favor of naivete. I realize that human beings ARE often motivated by selfishness and insincerity. It is the human condition. I have already acknowledged it in my own life. This is simply me recognizing the limitations of my cynicism and stating a desire to stop being so cynical. I have a responsibility to actually do something.

Don’t just stand there – do something.

The real danger of cynicism is that it can devolve into pessimism. Pessimism unchecked can turn into depression and ultimately despair. What I need in my life is less pessimism and more optimism. I do not need unrealistic optimism, but I will take an extra helping of optimism nonetheless. Most of us are not anywhere near overdosing on optimism or hope.

Note: I thought of linking to Teddy Roosevelt’s speech delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910 where he derides the critic and the cynic. However, I can envision someone reading this that will be cynical about his motivations for delivering the speech. If you want to read it, it is only a web search away. Search the phrase:

teddy roosevelt the man in the arena

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC)

Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed. ~ G.K. Chesterton

Unbelievable!

Reflections on Mike Wozniak

wozniak

Shannon with her father, Mike Wozniak

If you ever met Mike Wozniak and asked him “How are you doing?,” he had two potential answers.

With a twinkle in his eye he might say, “Hey, it’s your world – I’m just living in it.” That always brought a smile to my face.

Or he might just say:

Unbelievable!

That was my favorite. To me it always seemed like Mike lived with an understanding of the wonder of life. I know his faith was the foundation of that understanding. He was a joyful and optimistic man.

I cannot say that he and I were close friends or spent a lot of time together. It was our daughters’ softball pursuits that introduced us many years ago, and it was softball that always seemed to keep us connected. Mike was a great teacher and communicator. He most certainly loved fastpitch softball, but what he really loved was helping young women learn to play the game.

The last time I had coffee with him was on July 6, 2015. We talked about his daughter, Stefanie, and the rest of his family. We talked about my daughter, Kellen, and the rest of my family. He gave me an update on JoJo, another of Stefanie and Kellen’s teammates. He was so excited about having the opportunity to be the head softball coach at Hendrickson High School. He also spoke of his love for classroom teaching, especially personal finance.

Mike was the kind of person you want coaching your daughter, and he was the kind of teacher you want teaching your son or daughter. Those players and students who drew him got a blessing. He coached and taught with the joy that sprang from his view of this amazing gift called life.

That day in July 2015 that we got together, I gave Mike a signed copy of my book. He was grateful. Later that day he and I followed up with emails. Ever the encourager, Mike wrote:

It was great to catch up, and I am very proud of your accomplishments to date.  Thank you for the book……..I look forward to reading it this summer.

I’m not sure if he ever got around to reading it, but it does not matter. Mike was a man who had already written a beautiful story in his life. His future was well planned for, and he thought of it as great adventure.

I’m sure if I could ask him right now, “Mike, how are you doing?,” his response would be:

Unbelievable!

On behalf of Kellen, Matthew, and Margot, I extend our love, thoughts, and prayers to the Wozniak family and all those who have been impacted by a life well lived. May we continue to learn many lessons from Coach Mike.

I will miss you, my friend.