wisdom in 140 characters

twitter

I’m not a fan of social media. It sucks up time, especially for those (me!) with an addictive personality. Social media’s focus on popularity and numbers can be an ego crusher. It also fills the mind with too much information. Really. Too. Much. Information.

And yet, I’ve become hooked on Twitter.

Why do I like Twitter so much? The poet in me loves the minimalism. Twitter leaves no room for verbosity. Say what you have to say in 140 characters or less, and press the send button.

I’m a lover of words and true wordsmiths, and Twitter has some brilliantly witty and intelligent writers. They know how to fashion a funny phrase, a deep thought, a spot-on analysis or a simple, personal thought all within the strict parameters of a tweet. Tweeting can be a form of smart word-play.

As with all social media, there is a dark side to Twitter.

There are a lot of ragers, ranters and haters on Twitter. It’s easy to get sucked into a hell-hole of anger, especially if you find yourself in an “echo chamber” of like-minded folks. The sharing of information turns into a team pep-rally, fomenting righteous indignation against the shared enemy. This happens on both sides of any ideological fence.

Another danger is the passing on of false information. Laziness and ignorance are behind a lot of the  dissemination of “fake news”. Here are the rules…Don’t read the full article. Don’t check the sources. Don’t educate yourself on the deeper issues being discussed. Simply read the shocking headline and RETWEET, with the suitable amount of indignation.

I have a tendency towards sarcasm, the quick, snarky reply. Too often, a witty or funny retort is a thinly disguised put-down. I need to discern my words carefully, whether speaking or writing. Am I sharing words of worth, or simply joining the ranks of ranters? Am I providing thoughtful, constructive criticism, or simply a nasty put-down? On a day of especially dark news, where are the messages of hope? Can I write or retweet some wee bit of wisdom that will lift spirits, mine included?

Trump, arguably, is the person most associated with Twitter in recent times. The media salivates every time the man sends out a tweet. The more ridiculous the statement, the more time the media wastes in covering the fall-out.

trumptwitter

I have my own theory why Trump likes Twitter so  much.

Have you listened to Trump in interviews, speeches, press conferences? Not when he is simply reading from a teleprompter, but when he is speaking as Trump? The man has no substance. He has a sparse vocabulary, and an even sparser intellect. He speaks in catch-phrases. His reasoning is circular. His words give meaningless a new meaning.

Think of a student writing an essay, who knows absolutely nothing about the topic he or she is writing about. What do they do? They ramble. They pad sentences with worthless words. Pad paragraphs with worthless sentences. Pad the essay with worthless paragraphs, all to meet the minimum word count.

This is exactly how Trump speaks.

Twitter, on the other hand, gives Trump a maximum word count well suited to most of what he has to say. Just the bare-bones message, sometimes shouted in CAPS. No in-depth analysis. No explanations. Yes, 140 characters is usually enough for Trump to get his message across. Short, but not sweet. Trump’s words are not poetry. They’re just scary.

Trump’s tweets reflect little or no intellectual energy. He leaves it to his advisors, the media, and the GOP to expend time, money and resources on figuring out what he said.

chess lessons for a writer

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I bought Hubby a chess set for his birthday. I have fond memories of our children playing chess at school and at home. I marvelled at how their young minds soaked up the rules and enjoyed the unique moves of each piece. We’re looking forward to teaching the grand-kiddies. Oh, the fun, friendly family tournaments we will have! (Ok, sometimes not so friendly. We do have some over-achieving competitive types among us!)

I am especially in awe of those rare, “beautiful minds” that truly master the game. We recently watched  two movies about two such minds.

“Queen of Katwe” is based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi,  a young girl from the slums of Uganda who eventually became a Woman Candidate Master. Her coach, Robert Katende, believed chess could not only develop important life-skills for his students, it could open doors to a better life.  Chess teaches discipline and focus. If you want to to succeed, you must have a plan. When you face defeat, do not despair; simply re-set the pieces and start over.

The second movie is a documentary about World Chess Champion, Magnus Carlsen. As a parent, I’m always skeptical of those who push and prod their children into the limelight. But, the parents of Magnus recognized from an early stage that their son was different. Chess became his passion, and they helped nurture that passion. The documentary captures the tension and stress of high end chess competition.

The movies inspired me to sit down and play chess. There’s an old school feel to the game. The beauty, weight and feel of the pieces. The changing patterns on the board. Facing your opponent across the table. The silence of concentration; sometimes peaceful, sometimes tense.

Sadly, watching the movies didn’t make me a better chess player. I’m actually quite pathetic. So far, Hubby has beat me 7-0.  I cannot think more than a move or two ahead. I’m usually forced into defence mode. I throw away pieces due to carelessness. When I lose a piece, I lose focus. If I lose my Queen, I throw in the towel even when the game is far from finished. How bad am I? Hubby has started giving me “do-overs” out of kindness…or pity.

So far, I’m a Chess Grandloser. I haven’t felt like much of a winner with my writing recently, either. I began pondering the parallels between the two skills…

natural gifts vs hard work

The good Lord  gave me gifts. A “beautiful mind”is not one of them. I lack the brilliance of those intellectually gifted women and men who immediately understand complicated concepts. I’m a slogger, a slow reader, and a lousy retainer of facts. My memorization skills suck. I’m obviously not a natural chess player.

beautifulmind

Chess can be studied. Winning strategies and moves can be learned. If I want to progress beyond my infantile skills (thanks for the do-over, Hun!), I’ve got some work to do. It won’t be easy, but it helps to have a solid goal in front of you. (You’re going down, dear husband of mine!)

Writing can also be studied. Some people are natural writing machines, churning out enviable numbers of words a day. Good words! I’ve read many books, articles and blog posts that promise to make me a prolific and successful writer. I am, still, neither.

Studying theory provides a good foundation. But, theory must be put into action.

practice, practice, practice,

This is the most obvious piece of advice when developing any skill. Natural ability or not, both Phiona Mutesi and Magnus Carlsen studied and played chess daily. Constantly. They played actual games, and replayed games in their minds.

practice

It’s good to study the art of writing, but there comes a time when you simply have to stop thinking or talking about writing and do the obvious. WRITE! Which brings me to…

focus, focus, focus!

Chess is all about focus and commitment. It requires a disciplined mind. Know what else requires a disciplined mind? Writing.

I suffer from writer’s attention deficiency. The empty screen haunts me.

distracted

Damn! Stumped on the first sentence. Again. Getting the first word down would help. I know, I’ll read other people’s words for inspiration! Do a quick check of the news sites, Twitter, email, other blog feeds, etc. Ooo, there are some great writer’s tips on Pinterest! It won’t take long to have a peak, then I’ll get back to writing. Oops, forgot there’s laundry to move. A cup of tea would be lovely. Is it lunch time already?

don’t quit!

The biggest lesson I can learn from chess? Finish the game! You lost some vital pieces early in the go? Get over it! Kaka happens. So the challenges got tougher. It doesn’t mean they can’t be overcome.

hurdles

This has been one of my biggest struggles with writing. Writing a book is high on my bucket list. So, why don’t you do it?…you ask. I’ve actually started four or five different book projects.

I’ve started.

I’m a great starter. The moment of inspiration is thrilling. Ideas don’t flow, they gush as I write them down. I can even vision the completed work. Then comes the hard part.

The actual writing.

What sounded like such fun all of a sudden becomes work. Hard work. REALLY hard work! Like a losing chess game, I walk away. Deflated and defeated. The work is left uncompleted. I’ll never know if I had a chance to win the game, because I assumed I would lose it.

if at first you don’t succeed

Fear of failure cripples many a writer. What if my work is rejected? What if it’s published, only to be slammed by reviewers or online discussion boards?

Chess teaches us to persist until the end of the game, win or lose. And, we all lose sometimes.  What do you do when that happens?

You pick  up the pieces and start a new game.

 

 

 

 

Śto Lat, Pope Francis!

Pope smiles as he arrives to lead general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Four years ago today, the world was introduced to Pope Francis. As the Habemus Papam was announced, journalists struggled to fill in the many blanks. Argentina? Jorge Bergoglio? Francis? Why Francis? Within moments of his appearance on the papal balcony, we were given some important clues about this  man.

Where was the rich, papal finery and cross? Where were the victory waves, the triumphant looks of joy and pride at becoming the most powerful leader in the Catholic Church?

francis 2

Instead, we saw an elderly, timid, somewhat confused-looking man. Perhaps he simply forgot to put on the rest of his papal garb? Perhaps he just needed a crash course in papal balcony protocol?

And then came the moment of magic. As the world waited to be blessed by their new pope, he first asked US to bless HIM!

pope francis blessing

We often ask “where were you when…?”. I was sitting in hubby’s dental chair when the news was announced. Hubby stopped mid-way in my tooth repair. Along with our staff, our attention was glued to my iPad on the counter. It’s a moment I will never forget. It’s a moment that still gives me goose-bumps.

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The following hours and days were filled with small actions that spoke loudly of the kind of pope Francis wanted to be. He took the bus with fellow cardinals. He stopped at the hotel to pay his bill. He wore his own, simple episcopal cross and mitre. He carried his own suitcase. And then there were the shoes. Ah, the shoes…

popes shoes

His choice of footwear wouldn’t have been a big deal if not for the extravagant clothing of his predecessor. You can’t judge a book by its cover. But…sometimes you can.

This year’s anniversary is especially poignant. We yearn for leaders of integrity, who see beyond their own self-interests. We need leaders who will work for both the good of their country as well as the good of the world. We need leaders whose vision is grounded in seeking justice and peace for all. We need leaders who give us hope, not increase our fears.

Francis is such a leader. In an  NCR interview by Joshua J. McElwee, Cardinal Cupich of Chicago gives an excellent analysis of the first four years of the Francis papacy. Becoming a more “synodal”, collaborative church was a key concept in the Second Vatican Council, and is a foundational part of Francis’s vision for the church. Cardinal Cupich describes it this way,

I find that it does two things. First of all, it gives you insight into what the issue is by hearing other voices. And secondly, it keeps you from the temptation that you have to in some way make all the decisions, and the weight falls on you.

Or even worse, that you make your work an exercise in your own ego being affirmed. Because there is a temptation at times to make your whole work an exercise in narcissism, where you want to in some way prove yourself by the decisions that you make.

That’s very tempting to people who are in positions of authority. You want to build this building, you want to do this particular task that you want to leave behind as a legacy. I think that if you do that you’re really not going to be free to address the issues that are there because you’re going to be blinded by the task that you think is going to affirm your own ego.

Cardinal Cupich also reminds us that we  must be grateful to Benedict XVI for his wisdom and courage. If Benedict had not resigned, we would not have Francis.

I hope and pray that Francis will be with us for many years. In Polish, we wish for Śto Lat!…one hundred years of life! Let’s all raise a glass today. To Francis…Śto Lat!