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 Brontë 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.

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.

Are You Stuck in the Doldrums?

4 Steps to Get Unstuck

The word “doldrums” is an interesting one. I have heard the expression “stuck in the doldrums” from the time I was a child, but until now I never bothered to look up what it means.

What are doldrums?

It turns out that this is a nautical term. The doldrums is a region of ocean near the equator that receives very little wind, and thus is difficult to navigate. Both north and south of the doldrums the trade winds blow. These winds allow skilled sailors to coordinate sail and rudder to travel where they wish.

Put yourself back a few hundred years on a wooden sailing ship with no engine. All you have are sails. You are stuck in the doldrums. There is not enough wind to work with, and your ship is too large to row. All you can do is sit and wait.

Sit and wait.

Sit and wait.

You make no progress. You have no trajectory.

It is not hard to see why we have turned the name for this region of the ocean into a metaphor. Our modern usage of the term means that if you are stuck in the doldrums you are making no progress. For this reason you are sad or depressed.

How do you get out of the doldrums?

  1. Recognize where you are. Step back from the details of your life at the moment and acknowledge: “I am stuck in the doldrums! This environment is not conducive to my going anywhere positive. I am getting nowhere fast.”
  2. Get clear about where you want to go. You are going to get unstuck, so you ought to know where you want to go when the winds blow and you can set your jib. Prepare for what happens when you start moving. Create a vision. Write a Forward Story.
  3. Change your environment. Remember, the trade winds are just above and just below where you are stuck. The fact that you are not moving anywhere does not mean that there are not places you can be where the wind does blow. You likely need to change your current environment to get to those trade winds. Then you can travel toward your desired destination. Unlike the physical doldrums, most of us can greatly control the environment in which we live, learn, and work.
  4. Apply energy (or generate some wind). Once engines were invented and built into ships, the doldrums could be navigated. You may need the equivalent of an engine in your life to get unstuck. What could the engine be? It could be education, meeting people, becoming an apprentice, taking a second job, or any number of other practices that may help you move in a positive direction.

How do you get out of the doldrums when you are stuck there?

The Power of an Encouraging Note

When I opened the mail yesterday there was an envelope with a handwritten note from my 7 year old nephew, Kase. Each year around Christmas we have him and the other nephews (and now a niece) over to make and decorate gingerbread houses. This is mostly my wife’s event, but I love it and help out as well. When he was younger I remember Kase being afraid of dogs. So, it was a bit of a challenge for him to come to our house where we have 3 corgis.

Last December when Kase came over he really bonded with our female corgi, Fiona (or FiFi). He spent much time in the floor loving and getting love in return from our “tub of goo.” Last week our hearts were broken (still are, in fact) over having to let Fiona go. I wrote a tribute to her here.

When I opened the envelope from Kase I found the following:

Kase-Note

Kase wrote that from his concern for us and from his own sadness over FiFi. His words of encouragement are precious and tender. They lifted our spirits — he lifted our spirits.

This is a reminder to me of how much of an impact a simple note can have in the lives of others. In the era of email and text messages, a handwritten note really stands out. But whether handwritten or created any other way, uplifting words can make a difference in the life of someone you care about.

Thank you, Kase, for your sweet words. It helped us.

Who can you encourage today with a note?