A New Year, A Blank Page

Reading the novelist John Irving’s memoir The Imaginary Girlfriend, I recently came upon this passage, which seems to me to speak volumes about the business of facing the infinite possibilities of a new year or, for that matter, each new day: The wonderful and terrifying thing about the first page of paper that awaits the first sentence of your next book is that this clean piece of paper is completely unimpressed by your reputation, or lack thereof; that blank page has not read your previous work — it is neither comparing you to its favorite among your earlier novels nor is it sneering in memory of your past failures. That is the absolutely exhilarating and totally frightening thing about beginning — I mean each and every new beginning. That is when even the most experienced teacher becomes a student again and again. There is so much I love about that paragraph, but I think the thing I love most is this: “that blank page has not read your previous work.” The same can be well said about the year ahead of us: it has not read our previous work. It is not yet impressed with us, but also bears us no grudges nor condemnation. It is pure possibility, trembling with the electricity of potential. Let’s get to it, shall we? I’ve written many times in this blog about the courage it takes to live a life, and how similar it is to the courage it takes to write a book. For example, in “Jousting the Dragon,” “What Does It All Add Up To?,” “That Excruciating Joy,” “Diving Off a...

Nativity

This time of year, with the advent of Christmas approaching, I think about infants and the state of being childlike. Put aside the specific religious associations for the moment: the celebration of nativity seems to stir something inside, something primal, mysterious, on incalculable importance. The image of an exalted birth — the idea that an entity or experience both purer and more innocent yet at the same time vastly more powerful than our ordinary adult world, something that appears to be the epitome of weakness and invulnerability yet has the capacity to conquer death — touches a deep chord. Eckart Tolle writes that the reason babies are so compellingly attractive, so magnetic in their adorable yet strange other-worldliness, is that they are only partially “here” and still have one foot in eternity. (He didn’t say it exactly that way, but that’s the general idea.) Perhaps the thing that is so compelling about the celebration of nativity is that being a child is our native state, something like our hometown, or first language, a state we not only never forget but still carry actively inside our grown-up skin. I just returned from a visit with my three-year-old granddaughter. (She has a sister on the way, any day now; in the photo three-year-old Fern is on the left; no-years-old-yet Jane is hiding on the right.) Three is an amazing age: old enough to speak, even with considerable sophistication, yet still fresh enough from the source that you can feel wisps of eternity floating off of her like cosmic vapor trails. The thing that amazes me about her (I admit: one of...

Your Favorite Reading Experience of 2014

Every week Barnes and Noble emails out a newsletter called Review that almost always features tidbits that catch my interest. This week’s edition included a piece entitled “Words of the Year: The Best Things They Read in 2014.” The question they posed to their panel of dozens was an interesting one: not, “What was this year’s best book?” or, “What was the best book you read this year?” but, “What was your favorite reading experience of 2014?” Most of the respondents did what you’d expect them to do, and described their favorite books of the year. Most — but not all. Literary critic Tom LeClair’s favorite reading experience came from reading something that wasn’t a book at all: “An email accepting my novel Lincoln’s Billy for publication in April 2015.” For North Carolina novelist Sarah Addison Allen, it was a text message: “‘I’m texting exclamation point I almost tripped on a cat come over I still have birthday cake.’ There’s action, food, mystery, even punctuation. My favorite reading experience this year: my mom’s first text.” For me, it was spending a week prone and weak, under the covers, sick as a dog. Sicker, actually, since our intrepid poodle Ben was fine the whole week. Not Ana, though. We were both exhausted from a long and difficult 2013, and our bodies both used the excuse nearest at hand (“I know, we’ll have the flu!”) to hurl us both onto our backs and out of circulation. We took turns dragging ourselves out to the kitchen every so often, just long enough to brew fresh tea or make plain toast, and then...

The Law of Left Field

A few weeks ago I posted a piece called “Bigger on the Inside,” about C.S. Lewis and why The Last Battle, the cosmically inspired conclusion to his Narnia Chronicles, rocked my world when I was nine. At the end of that piece I included a link to an article of mine that was published earlier this year in Complete Wellbeing magazine. Quite a few friends have told me they missed the link, didn’t even realize it was there, and never saw the article. So this week I thought I’d post the whole thing right here. #     #     # The Startling Physics Behind Infinite Abundance “Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you receive in payment.” So says the Law of Value, the first of five principles of giving that form the thread that weaves a tale entitled The Go-Giver. My friend Bob Burg and I wrote this little parable in an effort to pin down on paper some of the subtle yet powerful laws that govern human behavior. Perceptive readers have pointed out that the more you really look at these “five laws of stratospheric success,” the more they seem to fly in the face of logic. The story’s protagonist, Joe, is understandably confused by this first law. “Honestly,” he protests, “that sounds like a recipe for bankruptcy!” Not at all, says his mentor: “All the great fortunes in the world have been created by men and women who had a greater passion for what they were giving — their product, service or idea — than for what...

Among Heroes

After writing The Red Circle, my Navy SEAL sniper buddy Brandon and I were planning to write a follow-up book on sniper training and field experiences. But then something came up. Brandon had an idea for a different type of memoir, this one not about him but about close friends and colleagues he’d had in the teams, men who had changed his life — and given theirs. The idea wouldn’t let go of him, and I loved it too. A sort of Band of Brothers of the modern Spec Ops warrior era. So the sniper book went onto the back burner (it’s coming, but not till 2016), and we poured ourselves onto this memoir-of-friends project until we’d finished it. It’s called Among Heroes, and it’s hitting the bookshelves this coming May — but it just came available for preorder now. (You can find it on Amazon, BN.com, and the rest, or just click here.) Here’s how the book opens.   In thinking back on the days of Easy Company, I’m treasuring my remark to a grandson who asked, “Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?” “No,” I answered, “but I served in a company of heroes.” ― Mike Ranney, quoted in Band of Brothers, by Stephen E. Ambrose #   #   # When I joined the Navy in 1993 I was a fresh-faced kid, barely out of high school. Like most nineteen-year-olds, I thought I knew something of the world. I had no inkling of the struggles that lay ahead. Nor did much of the country. The America of 1993 was a world quite different from what it is today. The Cold War...