Rich Wilhelm

Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

Reclaiming the Lower 40s

In Philosophy/Creativity on May 19, 2013 at 12:57 pm

I did some lawn work this week. I started by cutting the grass, which had grown seriously high and went unattended during our Relay for Life last weekend. But I didn’t stop with the grass.

Other areas of the lawn had gotten weedy and overgrown and, at a steady pace, I began to chip away at them. Eventually, my work led me to the very back of our backyard, the “lower 40.”

A beat-up shed sits in the center of the lower 40. If you’re looking at the shed from our backyard, on its right you’ll see the swing set my dad rebuilt, using only a single photo as a guide, back in 2001. It’s not used much these days as both Jimmy and Chris have grown out of it. But it continues to stand as a silent remembrance of Dad’s engineering/construction ingenuity.

On the left of the shed is what should be an open bit of space and I’m now working toward that again. However, until this week, that space has been cluttered for quite awhile, both with vegetation and with a few objects that seemingly had no place else to go.

Both directly behind the shed, and on either side of it, is more theoretically open space, much of which has become overgrown.

Let me state right now that I am not proud of what has become of the lower 40. Indeed, I’m rather appalled by it, to the point where I am holding back on describing it to the level of detail that I could, at least for now. At some point, I might be able to take a more humorous approach, but for the moment, I’m sticking with a somewhat evasive and not entirely descriptive “just the facts, sir” approach.

I also have no legitimate excuse for the state of the lower 40. I’ve got pseudo-excuses, based around certain events in my life over the last 10 years and the cumulative effects of those events on me, but these explanations are, ultimately, pseudo. I’m not even going to go there right now.

Instead, here is what I did this week: I plunged into the lower 40. I hauled stuff out of it. I cut down and gathered up branches. I ran the lawn mower where I could and strategized the cleanup necessary to get the lawnmower into the other places. I worked late afternoons this week on this project and I felt progressively better about it every night, even as I saw with growing clarity what an immense project it’s going to be.

I’m not done yet. Other business and rainy weather this weekend kept me away from the lower 40 yesterday and might keep me from it today, but Annie, sappy as she might be, was right: tomorrow is only a day away. And today, or tomorrow, I will return to the lower 40.

On June 7th, we’re planning on having some friends over for a casual BBQ/record hop. I’ll make some hamburgers, play some records. And I’m hoping to have a nicer yard by then, lower 40 included.

The lower 40 in our backyard isn’t my only “lower 40” though. Over the last few years, I have accumulated “lower 40s” in practically every area in my life. Again, I could rationalize it all away with psychology and life events, but the point is that ultimately all lower 40s must be faced. It’s daunting, but, if I can clean up the lower 40 in my backyard, I believe that I can begin to tame the other lower 40s as well.

I’ll keep you posted. 

The Sylvester Stallone (As Quoted in People Magazine) Creativity Challenge

In Philosophy/Creativity on May 1, 2013 at 1:36 am

When People magazine debuted in early 1974, my mom was an earlier adopter. This is why I can tell you who was on the first cover of People. Do you know? Here’s a hint: the reason this particular person appeared on the cover was the same reason Carey Mulligan might appear on a current People cover.

Because of my mom’s interest (she still has all those original issues, including the debut), I often remember reading People. Certain articles and quotes within articles have really stuck with me, none so much as something Sylvester Stallone said in an interview published soon after the original Rocky became huge. This is not his exact quote, but Stallone said that he tried to do at least one creative thing every day, “even if it’s just to write a poem.”

While I’m sure that Shakespeare, Eliot, Frost and the author of “There Once Was a Woman From Nantucket” would have taken at least some offense to Stallone’s “just to write a poem,” his quote left a deep impression on me. Honestly (sorry, Sly), I remember that bit of philosophy with more clarity than I remember anything from an actual Sylvester Stallone movie, though I’m sure Rocky is still pretty great.

Stallone’s quote popped into my head again this morning, as I contemplated the obstacles each of us face (or think we face) in the pursuit of the creative. This is important to me and has been for years–I even wrote a paper on living a creative life for a philosophy class in college and that paper was apparently the only thing that saved my grade for that course.

For me the bottom line is that if we are actively pursuing creativity (and there are, of course, infinite ways to be creative), then we are consciously working on leading better lives. And, if we’re doing this, chances are we might actually find a way to help someone else in the process. Exercising our creativity in a positive way makes us all better people.

But, back to the obstacles. I realized on this, the last day of April, that I was feeling an emptiness that felt like it was coming from too many days that passed by this month in which I went through the motions and didn’t try to exert myself creatively. Technically, this probably isn’t true, but it can be easy sometimes to forget the little creative moments that ultimately might add up to the breakthrough moments.

So, at least for the new month of May, I’m going to try to take Sylvester Stallone’s advice. I’m going to try to consciously be creative everyday, “even if it’s just to write a poem.” I’ve even started a Facebook group called, naturally, “The Sylvester Stallone (As Quoted in People Magazine) Creativity Challenge,” for group members to share their daily creative moments. I invite you to join!

Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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