Why I Write

Everyone is a writer. From the shortest of tweets to personal journals to the longest blog posts and the next great novel, they are all forms of written communication used to express something. We each have our reasons for putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, though that doesn’t the same ring to it.) In high school, I found myself using writing as an outlet to deal with all my teen angst. In particular, poetry became my primary expression of the myriad of emotions and intense life struggles I felt. I’ve shared a few from that time and some written since here on the blog.

In the last few years, I decided to launch this blog and publicly share some of what I write in the hopes that those ideas would resonate with the world. Or at the very least, my circle of friends would form a closer connection with me. But there are a few core pillars to the reasons why I write in the first place.

To Communicate

Perhaps it’s the first and most obvious point. Many people write to communicate an idea or thought. The oral tradition of passing down knowledge is not our primary method of information transfer anymore. The written word gives me the opportunity to put my thoughts together in a coherent and complete fashion. Perhaps most beneficially, as the writer, I can say what I want to say without interruption. I’m frequently frustrated with others who find a way to interrupt mid-conversation assuming they know where my statement is going or interjecting with some factoid relating to themselves instead of anything related to what I was saying. It is a great failing of our American culture to make almost every situation about ourselves and how we see the world. How much better it would be if we listened intently to one another and not only to wait for that moment to go “Enough about you, listen to what I have to say now.”

To Remember

Over the last couple of years, I’ve reconnected with the idea and act of physically writing things down again. Good quality pens (with very fine points from 0.5mm and smaller) and paper matter to me, especially because my handwriting is particularly … unique. I’ve been using products from Moleskine and more recently Field Notes. (The latter’s products are all made in the US and mostly with Illinois-based companies too and I like supporting local business when possible.) But it’s their tagline that perfectly captures how I’ve been feeling about writing:

“I’m not writing it down to remember it later. I’m writing it down to remember it now.”

I am also reminded of the joy of writing things down on pen & paper, combined with its ability to improve memory (here, here, and here.)

Before my recent European vacation (Griswold family not included), I revisited my paper journal from my 2011 sabbatical and was instantly transported back there. As I read various entries, I vividly remembered sitting in parks or restaurants where I logged the events and thoughts of that day. While I have had similar recollections when rereading blog posts and looking at photos I took, nothing else has captured the depth of the moment like reading over that journal in the same way.

To Process

During the most challenging events or situations in my life, I am brought back to the blank sheet of paper with pen in hand or the computer screen with Word or Google Docs awaiting my input to put into words what’s going on in my head. When everything feels like a jumbled mess inside my head, even attempting to express and better formulate those thoughts and concerns brings a sense of clarity. Answers don’t necessarily hit immediately because I took a few minutes to scratch or type out something, but the groundwork for a breakthrough has been done to be reaped later.

High school and college were, as for many, periods of significant personal change and extremes. Life didn’t make sense some days. The world didn’t seem fair. Given that part of my existence was in the mid to late 90s, I expressed my teen and young adult angst and frustrations in paper journals (typically of the Mead spiral notebook variety.) Thanks to my junior and senior year English teachers exposing me to American & British literature, I found poetry as a way to process the world around and in me. It allowed me to tell a story from that moment in time in a way that was personal and often disconnected enough to be relatable. I would later discover some of those poems would resonate with friends I had chosen to share them with.

Today, I still write on a semi-regular basis, though the poetry output has seen a steep drop since the late 90s. I use this blog as a place to selectively share what I’ve been processing in my head and heart. The annual birthday reflections are the most personal expression of that processing, though most of what is posted in the last couple of years reflect a little bit of the inner me. And I’m OK with this shift. It’s a way to share without wearing my heart on my sleeve and scaring people off but also giving readers a story and situation to connect with.

Write More, Write Better

It’s a healthy and productive process for all of us to write. Even if you never share anything publicly or with friends, the ability to put thoughts together on paper (or on screen) is an important and necessary skill. I for one will continue to work on improving my skills and increasing the frequency.

Sometimes You Wanna Go…

… where you can be with friends. At bars. With free waffles.

I’m a creature of habit and comfort. I go back to the things I know and am familiar with more often than exploring what’s new. I will rewatch shows such as 30 Rock or Parks and Recreation (or most recently, How I Met Your Mother) over a new show. The familiar backdrop of offices, apartments, coffee shops, or bars combined with characters I’ve come to know far too well allow me to focus on the deeper themes and tiny nuances of the stories upon subsequent repeat viewings. I start to look beyond the face value jokes and conversation to the deeper meanings and messages of what’s being said.

Part of what makes relationships form, grow, and strengthen is presence, particularly when it’s consistent and in person. One common thread in the shows mentioned above is the high volume of time together these characters spend in each others’ lives. Often, the writers use these familiar, quiet, even mundane locations to allow the conversation and the people to be the main focal point of every scene. Frequently, the topics aren’t about their surroundings nor is there any particular purpose in the gathering.

Personal details and inner dialogue about struggles, love interests, and other issues take center stage.

Showing up is 80% of life, so some quote says. Over the holidays, I had more “people time” on my schedule than I’ve recently been accustomed to. I very much enjoyed the time I spent with friends and family who I haven’t seen much recently. Activities like lunches, walking around markets, lingering at a table over a glass of bourbon or sangria, or aimlessly perusing a bookstore finding many books you want to buy and discussing the deeper meanings of why certain titles appeal to you are all fun.

But those two weeks reminded me of a couple of things:

1) Too many back to back to back hangouts still wear me down

2) I miss the “unstructured hang.”

No Agenda Here

There is this appeal and freedom in the scenes in sitcoms and other shows where everyone comes together at this unsustainable frequency at coffee shops and bars to meet up and just hang out, often with no obvious agenda. Nothing is rushed. Topics ebb and flow at the whim of the participants. There isn’t any anxiousness to stuff that hour or two with “catch up” conversation you inevitably have with friends and family you don’t see in person often.

As necessary and enjoyable as catch up time is when you don’t see people for extended periods of time, to me it can feel scripted or like we’re always pulling from the same deck of conversation topic cards. The “choose your topic” card never shows up because you don’t have enough time to finish the game at hand. It’s usually because time has become more limited and we only have limited chunks of time together. Mostly gone are the days of “I have nothing else going on, want to sit on a couch together like slugs?”

Making A Regular Space

When you’re single, live alone, are an introvert, and me, it is easy to go for long stretches of time without seeing people outside of regularly scheduled activities. Simultaneously my very “P” personality trait (of the INFP) strongly resonates with the idea of not keeping a tight schedule for everything, including hangout time. It’s part of why I thrive in the after party and the low-pressure environment it provides.

I am longing again for this space in my life where I can be with friends, but without any particular reason for being together. The important thing is simply to be in the same place at the same time. Everyone can do their own thing: read a book, write a blog or reply to an email, edit photos, catch up on work, or just waste time on social media. The opportunity for real life interaction is right there for the taking as soon as you’re ready and wanting it. The silent presence of others provides comfort and connection. Conversations can spark in real time about your book or an article your friend finds online. Maybe you want to bounce an idea off others in the moment about what you’re writing or simply thinking about.

This sort of regular venue to run into people has been missing from my life for quite some time. Many of us will nostalgically think about college or a regular Thursday night meet up or seeing your friends having lunch in the cafeteria on Wednesdays while they study. A few friends and I found something like this a few years ago over a cheap drink night on Thursdays. The locale was low key, the food was good, and the drinks were cheap. But most importantly, it became our default place to be Thursday nights. During those months, we had fun and laughed often. Sometimes more real life conversations over a “whiginger” (whiskey & ginger ale) would dominate our time. We even became good friends with the owner who would sit with us once in a while.

I need and want to be more intentional about doing something like that again. It’s become far too easy to be reclusive and shut off from the world while simultaneously feel too connected or “too busy” to ever see people in person. I want to be more present.

What I’m proposing is setting aside a regular time and place, say 1st Monday of the month, to be for whatever. Come, hang, read that book, write that blog, catch up on email, but do it together in person. Sometimes conversations will flow; sometimes it will be a quiet night of reading books together. But nothing has to be forced. Simply being together in one place provides that backdrop for relationships to grow and life to happen unscripted.

If you read this and are interested in participating (and by that, I mean literally just showing up and being you), shoot me a message, and we’ll talk.

Adequately Present

Figuring out who you are is supposed to get easier as you get older, isn’t it?

For a couple of days each November, my body, heart, and mind go into this quiet state of anxiety and fear. I’ve written about it for the last two years (2014’s “Six Squared” and 2015’s “37”) as a way to more publicly reflect upon and share what I’ve been processing internally. This year is no different.

Continue reading Adequately Present

Words Matter

(Image: Keflavik Airport, Iceland. Its contrast to my post struck me.)

A few years ago, I wrote a couple of blog posts about the lack of interactive and thoughtful discourse (part one & part two). I’ve been thinking about this topic again recently as I’ve watched the ability to have rational conversation deteriorate in America with little visible hope that our behavior will change in the near future. We recoil any time we hear or read something that conflicts with our worldviews. Instead of pausing to absorb the message we took in and understand where that person or group is coming from, the new “proper” response is to lash out and tell them why they are wrong. How dare someone disagree with me!

Continue reading Words Matter

Constants

“If you’re lost you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you, I will be waiting
Time after time” – Cyndi Lauper,
Time After Time

I tend to end up in positions of various circles where I am the “go-to” for advice, guidance, or simply a steady presence and listening ear. I’m the guy who “has it all together” and can be relied on. I rarely lose my cool even when stuff doesn’t go the way I would have liked or in situations when I would have had the right to respond with externally visible frustration or anger. I’ve been told people appreciate that my constant calm presence. Coworkers over the years have commented that I keep it together well during busy times or when projects or clients get crazy and I don’t complain too much. Friends say I’m a good listener and can be trusted. All of this means a lot to me, and I’ve come to grow and enjoy my role in this world.

Like many people, my life is comprised of ups and downs, things that are great, things that suck, and things that are just there. That isn’t so different from anyone else’s. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some deep, long-standing friendships that started back in my early teen years which I can lean on, one of whom includes my best friend. My mom and brother still live in the house I grew up in since birth, and that brings some unspoken comfort anytime I visit. I’ve been lucky enough to work at the same company since I graduated college.

On the flip side, I’ve also experienced loss of friendships due to distance and time; I didn’t get into my original college of choice; I’ve watched a lot of things change and people come and go at work; and perhaps most impactful, my parents divorced at an age where I can’t remember them ever being married. I’ve watched each of them find their respective ways as I’ve grown up into adulthood and continue to try and figure out my stuff on my journey.

As I get older and reflect on what I’ve been though, I wonder how that event has affected every life decision I’ve made. (In my younger days, I often wondered how my life would have turned out otherwise. Where would I have lived? Who would I have become?) How much of who I am now is directly because of growing up primarily with one parent? What did I miss out on? And consequently, what did I also gain by these experiences? Maybe a perspective on the world that fewer things should be temporary and that there’s value in holding on and making things last, even when it’s hard and (temporarily) painful and the fruits of that labor aren’t immediately apparent. It’s not usually about the long haul, but the instant results.

I’ve never been much of a risk taker, though some may see traveling internationally on your own contradicting that statement. I’m pretty cautious with most decisions and take my time with things. It often takes a while for me to open up about my personal life and when I do, it’s only with a select few. I don’t like a lot of change, at least not too closely together. The last few years are challenging me on that front a bit more than I’d prefer. On the outside, I do my best to maintain my “cool,” calm, put together exterior for the sake of others. We humans are sometimes apt to become anxious when others also show signs of anxiety and fear. The last thing I want to do is the be the source of anxiousness and concern in a world that generates more than enough of that already.

Because of all this, I want & need to have & rely on other people to rely on and trust as fully as possible. I need those constants in my life to keep me grounded when things get weird. And most days, my heart knows I have that. Faith helps keep me grounded, along with friends who get me and gently prod me in the right way.

Who or what are your constants? Will they be there ready to catch you for all that you are, time after time?

Fall in Reykjavik

Strong winds blow tonight

Whipping rain at me sideways

I try to shield myself from it

But it is a vain effort here in this place

From inside my room I still hear you

Making your presence known to all

The air and skies are not calm this evening

Yet I am comfortable, content

My heart still feels at home right now

Peaceful in the midst of this perceived gloominess

The Little Black Book of Travels

I enjoy traveling. It’s not just for the experiences and seeing new places and things, but for the mental space to think that it provides. Ever since my first international trip, I’ve kept a written journal of events and reflections from those adventures. It’s a great way to remember details about what you saw and did, but also a good time to document what’s happening in your life.

Whenever I get away from home, I start seeing things more clearly. So it’s been important for me to find some time daily to sit down and write about anything. Each trip, I usually start with a new journal and this time is no different. This year, I have my “little black book” for my more personal reflections and thoughts that rarely get shared. I recently went back to read through my 2011 sabbatical journal and was instantly transported back to so many fond memories and places I visited. I even was reminded of scents and weather where I had sat in parks or cafes to write.

Even if you don’t consider yourself an avid writer, I’d recommend everyone have their own traveling little black book to document your adventures, no matter how sparse or dense the details may be for you. These written journals turn out to be great keepsakes and a better way to go back and remember compared to your social media posts or public blog posts.

#EuroGreg2016

I guess I can’t go a full calendar year to pass without traveling somewhere that doesn’t touch Illinois’s borders. (Sorry Missouri, you’re cool but since we’re neighbors that trip doesn’t count as getting away.)

Today, I head out for almost two weeks of travel through Europe with scheduled stays in the following places:

  • Pinneberg, Germany (not far from Hamburg)
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Reykjavik, Iceland

I’m looking forward to seeing friends in Germany and exploring their hometown, along with seeing Amsterdam for the 1st time. Iceland will be a short stay, but much like seeing Sigur Ros again in concert, I suspect my short time there will feel like a mini-homecoming. The connection in that country was deep and was already there before I ever stepped foot on their land.

Since I will be traveling solo, similar to my sabbatical five years ago, expect to see some updates here on the WUGO blog with reflections either related to my travels or just to life. There are many revelations about life back home once I fly a few thousand miles away from it.

Whenever I post about the trip, I am going to be using the hashtag #EuroGreg2016. It will be an easy way to filter through posts on most social media platforms for what I’m sharing relating to my travels or if it’s something different altogether. Photos will be posted sparingly during the trip with more shared later. If you want to follow along, you can do so in the following place:

  • Visit this blog regularly (or subscribe via email for notifications)
  • Facebook
  • Instagram – @gregmacek
  • Twitter – @gmacek
  • Snapchat (yes, I use it) – add me @doclloyd16

Thanks to T-Mobile’s free international data & text roaming, I’ll be able to share relatively easily wherever I’m at.

I’m looking forward to a couple of weeks away “on holiday.” Life is always interesting and rarely sits still, but like the last few years, it has provided unique challenges in some areas. Where appropriate, I will be sharing some things here. Stay tuned for more!