Soul, Symbols of Love, Salmon, and Wild Sports Fans

What if you lived without an agenda?

Hello friends and welcome back to Life Reimagined, a free weekly elixir designed to make you feel good and live better.

In case you missed it, I shared a new essay last week: The Day I Heard the Birds Sing.

🗣️ I. Beautiful Commencement Addresses

Pulitzer Prize winner Anna Marie Quindlen is best known for her books and journalism, but this week, I found out that she has also given two beautiful, wisdom-infused commencement speeches that are worth reading.

The first piece is her commencement address to the class of 1999 at Mount Holyoke College (full text here).

I love what she says about the necessity and difficulty of defining your own path, a topic I’ve touched on in recent essays about battling cultural gravity, living in a world without real rules, and figuring out what you want.

“But nothing important, or meaningful, or beautiful, or interesting, or great ever came out of imitations. The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”

This is more difficult, because there is no zeitgeist to read, no template to follow, no mask to wear. Set aside what your friends expect, what your parents demand, what your acquaintances require. Set aside the messages this culture sends, through its advertising, its entertainment, its disdain and its disapproval, about how you should behave.

Set aside the old traditional notion of female as nurturer and male as leader; set aside, too, the new traditional notions of female as superwoman and male as oppressor. Begin with that most terrifying of all things, a clean slate. Then look, every day, at the choices you are making, and when you ask yourself why you are making them, find this answer: for me, for me. Because they are who and what I am, and mean to be.

This is the hard work of your life in the world, to make it all up as you go along, to acknowledge the introvert, the clown, the artist, the reserved, the distraught, the goofball, the thinker. You will have to bend all your will not to march to the music that all of those great “theys” out there pipe on their flutes. They want you to go to professional school, to wear khakis, to pierce your navel, to bare your soul. These are the fashionable ways. The music is tinny, if you listen close enough. Look inside. That way lies dancing to the melodies spun out by your own heart. This is a symphony. All the rest are jingles.”

The second commencement address was delivered to Villanova University students in 2000 (full text here).

Anna speaks powerfully about why it’s important to define yourself beyond the hollow and limiting confines of what you achieve at work.

“People don't talk about the soul very much anymore. It's so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is a cold comfort on a winter night, or when you're sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you've gotten back the test results and they're not so good.

Here is my resume: I am a good mother to three children. I have tried never to let my profession stand in the way of being a good parent. I no longer consider myself the center of the universe. I show up. I listen, I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my husband. I have tried to make marriage vows mean what they say. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my friends, and they to me. Without them, there would be nothing to say to you today, because I would be a cardboard cutout. But call them on the phone, and I meet them for lunch. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh.

I would be rotten, or at best mediocre at my job, if those other things were not true. You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are.

So here is what I wanted to tell you today:

Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you'd care so very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast? Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over Seaside Heights, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over the water gap or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a cheerio with her thumb and first finger.”

🎧 II. Audiobook to Check Out

I enjoyed listening to Among the Thugs by Bill Buford. It’s a fascinating tale about a raunchy group of outlaw English soccer fans in the 1990s.

Here’s the description from Amazon:

“They have names like Barmy Bernie, Daft Donald, and Steamin' Sammy. They like lager (in huge quantities), the Queen, football clubs (especially Manchester United), and themselves. Their dislike encompasses the rest of the known universe, and England's soccer thugs express it in ways that range from mere vandalism to riots that terrorize entire cities. Now Bill Buford, editor of the prestigious journal Granta, enters this alternate society and records both its savageries and its sinister allure with the social imagination of a George Orwell and the raw personal engagement of a Hunter Thompson.”

Burford’s revelations in the back half of the book about why the group chased and perpetuated crowd violence were particularly interesting.

“I was surprised by what I found; moreover, because I came away with a knowledge that I had not possessed before, I was also grateful, and surprised by that as well. I had not expected the violence to be so pleasurable....This is, if you like, the answer to the hundred-dollar question: why do young males riot every Saturday? They do it for the same reason that another generation drank too much, or smoked dope, or took hallucinogenic drugs, or behaved badly or rebelliously. Violence is their antisocial kick, their mind-altering experience, an adrenaline-induced euphoria that might be all the more powerful because it is generated by the body itself, with, I was convinced, many of the same addictive qualities that characterize synthetically-produced drugs”

🦆 III. Animal I’m Learning About

The mandarin duck came across my desk this week.

These visually stunning ducks are native to East Asia, including China, Japan, Korea, and parts of Russia. You can also find them in the United Kingdom 🙃.

And thanks to their vibrant plumage and monogamous mating patterns, mandarin ducks have become symbols of beauty, fidelity, and love in East Asia.

Source: Unsplash

🍿 IV. New Snack I’m Enjoying

A friendly Airbnb host recently gave me a homemade pouch of smoked sockeye salmon to snack on. And wow, was it tasty!

Since then, I’ve been stocking up on smoked sockeye salmon from Whole Foods and eating it in the afternoon in lieu of protein bars and other processed snacks. It’s satiating, flavorful, and relatively healthy (as long as you’re cool with salt 😃 )

🧠 V. Something I’m Thinking About

What would happen if you simply let go of the agenda? Try it for a day.

“Could our minds and our hearts be big enough just to hang out in that space where we’re not entirely certain about who’s right and who’s wrong? Could we have no agenda when we walk into a room with another person, not know what to say, not make that person wrong or right? Could we see, hear, feel other people are they really are? It is powerful to practice this way, because we’ll find ourselves continually rushing around to try to feel secure again — to make ourselves or them either right or wrong. But true communication can happen only in that open space.”

“Living Without an Agenda” by Pema Chödrön

That's all for now. See you next Sunday.

— Cal

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