Mr. Jack McMillan, 54, shoe salesman at Harry's shoes on 81st and Broadway, wears a suit and tie to sell expensive ladies comfort shoes to the women of the Upper West Side. Each morning, for 15 minutes, from 7:45 til 8:00am, he sits at the same table with the same cup of coffee and the same croissant, while the same # 2 train rambles past 3 times during his sit. Watching the coffee ripple in his cup each time is part of the comfort of his ritual. He is a man with everyday troubles, living in NYC, with 2 'on purpose' children and 2 "accidental" children, one of which is 'special needs'. It is a dirty old bakery with thick layers of red paint chipped and repainted and chipped and repainted in whichever shade of red paint was available at the time, and host to certain small native creatures that the patrons simply accept, like you would accept trees in a forest. Just brush the roach off the table. For all its raw NYC Harlem grit, the old school consistency served as a source of comfort and community.
Between his strained marriage, his difficult aging parents and raising 4 children in the shoebox of a rent stabilized nyc apartment, he feels the walls closing in on him. His 15 minutes in the morning is what saves him and keeps him sane.
On this particular dark downpour day, Mr. MacMillan has been tasked with a complexity of conflict, the likes of which he has not yet known. It is having an apartment that is too small for his family and the wheelchair, but too inexpensive to let go of. It is a passionless job but it covers the stabilized rent. It is the Insurance Company. It is the preexisting condition.
For the past few weeks he felt it was coming. The letter came. And now he sits.
Staring out the window, how will I resolve this?
The next day, staring out the window, how will I resolve this?
And the next. And the next. And many, many more nexts of his 15 minutes of self. Then time to go. Get to work. Sell the ladies their shoes.
Until one glaringly bright spring day when the sky was that crisp cerulean cloudless blue and he sat with his coffee by 8:42, out the window his eyes blankly stared, playing through every scenario, every possibility and with a sip of his black coffee...it dawned upon him, a la dues ex machina, every vivid detail of what he would do to fix his marriage, raise his children better and manage all the rest, and his cup came down to the saucer with a crash that was matched by the collision of two cars two inches from the window. The discovery was gone in a flash.
No one knows how many days, weeks, months...years, Mr. McMillan spent sitting in his window seat, staring. As with the everydayness of life, things that are customary become invisible and Mr. MacMillan was disappearing into himself, in an attempt to recreate the moment of discovery, in order to rediscover the moment, that moment where he knew, he knew how to fix his life, that epiphany that escaped him in the crash of cars near the window...he devolved. He slipped into the inertia of chasing the intangible.
The obsession with the ounces of coffee in his cup, the angle of the handle, the doneness of the pastry, the plate...the exact plate to replicate the moment he knew, his clarity. His tie had been slightly cockeyed, the light blue one with the navy dots. check. The stone on his wedding ring was turned slightly right. Or was it left? He tried it both ways. Every detail. Every day. Until they put him away. And still he tried to replay and managed to adapt through the details he could not control. It was a different cup of a different kind of coffee at a different window in a different suit...but he did manage to replicate the N/NW angle of his seat at 124th and Broadway when he had figured it all out.
His good idea got lost. Let his story serve as a lesson. Don't let this happen to you. Be prepared, be focused, have a pen and don't ever let a car crash distract you!
Jack's story came from a writing class I took in college. I do not remember the details of the assignment, whether it was a genre or scenario assignment, but it doesn't really matter. The story I wrote in 1994 encapsulated an idea I have long held precious. The idea of a good idea.
We all have good ideas: brilliant, life changing ideas. Look where we are.
How many times have you had an idea that made you stop in your tracks...an idea that could possibly answer a question, fix a problem, a dream that stuck with you, a moment that played over in your head, a string of lyrics you couldn't shake...and did nothing about it?
What if....we tuned in to those moments?
The moment that stopped you in your tracks...what words made that moment....how do you record them?
The dream...what if...you wrote it down?
The unresolved conversation....what if you spoke?
The lyrics....listen to the song. What is it saying?
The inklings we cannot shake are shaking us to pay attention. They are as fireflies and with curious hearts and open hands we have a duty to chase them, catch them, hold them, wrap our hands around our pens and record them. On paper these little lights string together to make a map. Let us follow the path.
How do we do this?
We begin with this conversation right here today.
It is as simple as carrying a pen and a notebook and giving yourself PERMISSION.
I am a big fan of paper over the notes pad on your laptop. The actual act of writing: the fine motor skill, the mindfulness of shaping lines to form letters to create words to express thoughts is your neuroplastic playground. I believe that to become more greatly present to our lives, to attend to our possibilities, we must cultivate the practice of stopping what you are doing - interrupting a conversation- waking up in the middle of the night to write the words that came to you. You have NO IDEA where that idea could lead.
Of course, there is a risk- always....someone will think you're rude, someone will not understand, someone will shoot you down. It's ok. How many times I have thought of something and shared it- only to be shot down? And then began to shelter those thoughts and then begin a conversation with myself about how the other person might be right...it's not a good idea and my ideas are not worthwhile.
And then you begin to close the door on an all your ideas when they come knocking. You say go away....while you entertain the person who said those ideas are silly.
NO NO NO
Those ideas ARE YOU
When I say
"Don't hold back on yourself- or you'll teach others that they can hold back on you too."
I am also saying listen to and honor your instincts.
They are screaming at you to pay attention.
Sometimes they hang around a bit waiting for you to look.
Sometimes, they run by quickly waving- catch me if you can!
CATCH THEM. YOU CAN.
What if John Foley never mentioned this idea?
Kitley Wasciek might not be running for counsel.
I might not be telling this story about ideas.
Funny thing, the idea that became Mantra Project was an inkling I can recount at least 7 years and 3 computers ago when I had an aol account. It started while writing the text for my first website.
The opening page said..."Listen to your inklings. They are there to guide you"
I invite you to cultivate a practice of being mindfully aware of hearing that voice if instinct/idea/ the lyrics playing in your head....the dream you had....the things that plays over and over....as a part of your being that is hoping you'll notice...like a guidepost.....to set you on track.
Carry a notebook
Carry a pen
Carry the knowledge of the worth of your words
Free yourself of judgement- you must be able to allow yourself to write without foreign voices and opinions. You must write like you are the only person in the world. You must write with a selfishness- Preserving your mental territory, claiming a sense of ownership
You must write like you trust yourself like you know you are worthy
How many different ways could you finish the sentence "I AM...."
when it comes to your good ideas???
How many actions could you take today and beyond to facilitate any of those good ideas? "I CAN...."
Now make a sentence that declares as many possibilities as possible...." I WILL..."
And finally....string together a series of words that serves you to finish the sentence, "I DO..."