Most Days

Creative people love to hear about the routines of other creative people. They hear that Hemingway often wrote at a standing desk, so they buy a standing desk. Or that Austin Kleon uses a Pilot G2 Gel Pen, and so they buy a Pilot G2 Gel Pen. Walter Mosley says that you should write two hours a day, Sunday through Saturday, 52 weeks a year, for the rest of your life. Julia Cameron says that the secret is three handwritten pages a day. Stephen King writes in the morning and reads in the afternoon.

I belong to a book club made up of creative people, and we read and discuss books about creativity. Quickly you see that they all have some sort of recipe or prescription. They also don’t seem to recognize that there is a degree of privilege in even the best of them.

Take Walter Mosley and his two hours a day of writing. When we had infants living with us, I didn’t sleep for more than 3 hours at a time. I didn’t shower every day, let alone write every day. My writing output was zero. But Mr. Mosley would say I was just not serious about your work. In his book This Year You Write Your Novel, he mentions time constraints, and his advice is basically that you have to figure out how to do it. “Let the lawn get shaggy and the paint peel from the walls,” he says.

That it is easier to neglect walls and lawns than children’s feeding schedules goes unmentioned. Also, we creative people tend to be a thin-skinned lot, and once you realize the impossibility of the average working person being able to take Mosley’s advice, it is easy to be filled with despair. It is a recipe for failure if success is defined as following Mosley’s prescription.

Yesterday, I wrote 1200 words. Thus far today, I have written over 300 words and will most likely write another thousand more before I am done. I don’t write every day, but I do write most days. Because I am OK with writing most days, I have written more than 200,000 words in the last 12 months. If I were only a success if I wrote every day, I would have 200,000 words and be a failure.

Yesterday I walked 2.5 miles. Today I walked 2.5 miles. But Saturday, I didn’t. But it doesn’t matter, because most days, I do. That has been enough, over the last year, for me to lower my blood pressure, lose weight I needed to lose, and feel more connected to my neighborhood.

I think 24 hours as the default unit of time is a mistake – I try to take a more seasonal approach these days. It doesn’t matter what you do every day. It matters what you do most of the time.

Over this season, did I write most days? Did I meditate or pray most days? Did I walk most days? Did I eat in ways that respect my body most days? Was I kind to other people most days? Was I a good partner most days? Was I the sort of person I wanted to be most days?

When I focus on doing the thing, say, 70% of the time rather than doing it perfectly 100% of the time, I get a lot more done, and I feel like I do better work. And honestly, I feel better about myself.

Most days.

The Spiritual Life

“Can I ask you a question?”

It came over text. I didn’t see it for a while. I have a bad habit of walking away from my phone.

But when I saw it, I replied.

“Sure. What’s up?”

I should say here that it wasn’t a close friend, but someone I know casually. In other words, getting a text from her wasn’t weird, but it was hardly a regular occurrence.

“You’re a preacher, right?”

I used my standard line: “That’s what the piece of paper on the wall says.”

There was a pause of a few minutes.

“That’s what I want to talk to you about. That sort of ‘not taking it serious’ thing you do. You don’t act very spiritual”.

It was my turn to pause. If she needed me to be “Pastor Hugh,” I wanted to be that for her. But if she just wanted to bust my chops because I said “shit” on Facebook, I didn’t really have time for that.

“Is that a question?”

Her: Maybe. Like, even though you act like you don’t, you do take it seriously, don’t you?

Ahhh. Here we are. I didn’t fit her paradigm of what a spiritual person looked like.

I scheduled a time to grab some coffee with her, and we talked for about an hour.

Here is an abbreviated version of what I said.

I told her that while I understood what she meant, I just don’t think in those terms. Like, deciding that this is spiritual, and this isn’t.

There isn’t spiritual work and secular work. There aren’t spiritual people and not spiritual people. There isn’t spiritual music and not spiritual music. And there isn’t a spiritual life and a not spiritual life.

There is just the sacred and the desecrated. That’s it. Those are the only two categories my worldview permits.

It’s all supposed to be holy. It all matters.

So yes, I take it all seriously. I take it very, very seriously.

I’m just not interested in pretending to be something I’m not, I told her. I’m the kind of guy who says “shit.” I’m not the kind of guy who tries to turn every conversation to be about God. Besides, if everything is holy, it’s all about God anyway.

In her book The Writing Life, Annie Dillard says,

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.

I think about that a lot. That there is no such thing as a spiritual life – there is just whatever we are doing at any given minute. As Dillard advises, there are practices one can engage in to catch those moments so that we capture them and thus form a pattern, both blurred and powerful. And for me, looking for the beauty that underlies everything is one of those practices. Loudly proclaiming my spiritual allegiance is not.

So, I’m not a guy who is going to say, “Ain’t God Good!” when my car gets hit in the parking lot. But I am the guy who will notice the sunlight refracting through the cracks in the windshield as I wait on the tow truck. And I believe God is in those cracks, too.

And that is my spiritual life.