Dealing with Everyday Distractions
I have work to do.
Yet instead of doing said work, I sit on the back porch and drink coffee like a tourist visiting a French Café without an itinerary.
Birds chirp. A soft wind rustles. The sun sparks the grass golden green. The sky is blue and cloudless and forever. You can feel summer on your skin. It’s a nice distraction.
Maggie May sniffs around the yard, I take a sip of coffee, and little paws patter along a nearby six-foot stockade fence. A squirrel stops and looks at me and I look at the squirrel. I slowly put down the mug. Shake my head. Seethe between my teeth, “Don’t do it.” As if this squirrel understands gestures or stern English warnings or even cares about the peacefulness of this faux’ French café.
Maggie May looks up toward the fence.
A soft wind blows.
From paws to tail, Maggie stiffens like a wooden decoy dog. The squirrel eases on it’s hind legs and its tail curls a bushy question mark. My eyes dart from dog to squirrel to dog to squirrel. I’m no longer sitting at a round patio table outside a French Cafe’. I’m now wearing spurs, a 10-gallon hat, peering over dusty saloon doors.
Dog. Squirrel. An empty town square. A tumbleweed.
Showdown at the Suburban Corral.
Now, before I tell you what happened next, I have to tell you that the principal editing of the new book is complete (which has a new name, which I will share with you in next week’s letter).
I can see the finish line however, there’s much more work to do. Advertising, marketing, cover design. But sometimes the finish line is a distraction itself. Has this ever happened to you? The sheer thought of “the end,” like a squirrel on a fence, causes us to lose focus and make the untamed mind wander.
And of course, we live in a world of distraction. Smartphone notifications, emails, Twitter, gossip, ice cream, regret, anxiety, money, and scampering squirrels all here–everyday–to distract us from doing important, self-defining work.
At the end of this letter, I included the chapter, “Playing Small Ball” from the soon-to-be named new book. The chapter is a reminder to us that achieving a goal, even a simple one, takes endurance. That progress requires patience. That big accomplishments are achieved by small, focused actions.
The squirrel sprints along the fence.
“Maggie!” I shout.
Maggie unleashes a earth-shaking howl that ripples a cup of coffee cooling in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
“Maggie!” I shout again.
The squirrel jumps to the trunk of a tree and scurries into the deep blue sky. Here on earth, Maggie howls and howls and howls at the tree as I stand on the porch certain it’s time to go inside and get to work.
Playing Small Ball
In Bedtime Stories for the Living, I wrote a letter to my son Chase about the dogged art of chasing dreams. I told him if he wants to be happy when he gets older he must, with all the energy in his Labrador heart, always relentlessly run down his dreams.
It’s a nice letter, but after the letter’s rah-rah, I failed to tell Chase how to achieve his dreams. I mean, we both know dreaming is easy. And we both know it’s doing the daily dream-work that is so soul-crushingly difficult.
Yet who am I to offer my son, or anyone else for that matter, advice on how to achieve dreams when still working on mine? I entertain self-doubt over coffee every morning. I romanticize the published book even though there are hours and hours of editing and revising work still to be done.
Sometimes I need a reminder that dreams are not easily accomplished. That dream-work will test your character and will attempt to break your spirit. And that to achieve a dream sometimes you have to resort to playing what baseball enthusiasts call “small ball.”
Cindy and I have spent the last few weeks watching Chase’s baseball team advance to the Pennsylvania state championship. It’s exciting, but we’ve crammed our family’s lives like underwear into duffel bags. And our summer plans, our vacations, are at the gut-wrenching mercy of 11-year-old baseball.
While Chase walked to home plate, the third base coach began an elaborate system of hand rubs, hat tugs, and ear pulls.
“Is Chase bunting?” Cindy asked.
“I think so.”
As we nervously looked on, the pitcher reared back and threw a fastball, and Chase squared around to bunt. The ball tinkled off the bat. The catcher and the pitcher sprang forward. Chase dropped the bat and sprinted down the first base line.
In baseball, there’s a strategy called “small ball.” That’s when a team relies on doing the little things – bunts, sacrifice flies, and base stealing – to score runs instead of hoping for the great American home run. Essentially, when playing small ball, a team manufactures runs by executing a less glamorous, and some might say an anti-patriotic, style of baseball.
Modern baseball, like the modern audience, has become impatient. We’re living in the time of instant gratification. Our Wi-Fi, our oatmeal, and our home runs – we want them, and we want them now. Some say the intimacy of small ball, grinding out a lonely run, has become a lost art. Some say patience is a lost art as well.
With his bare hand, the pitcher grabbed the baseball, pivoted, and threw to first. Chase crossed the bag. The first baseman’s mitt popped. The umpire shouted, “Safe!”
Three pitches later, on a single to left-center field, Chase crossed home plate and scored a run.
I don’t know if Chase will ever take my fatherly encouragement to passionately pursue his dreams. Yet in all likelihood, if he tries, he will fail. Then he will get frustrated. And then he will entertain self-doubt. Like father, like son.
But I want to remind him – and myself again – when life gets difficult, sometimes you need to stop romanticizing about hitting a home run.
Oftentimes, the workmanlike approach wins the day and reveals your character. You just need to be patient and play small ball.
Greetings to everyone who found me on the University of Pennsylvania’s Ataxia Clinic’s website! Thanks for stopping by. I have ataxia and though I’m not a doctor, I hope my words comfort, encourage, empower, and serve as good company on your journey.
June Book Promos for You:
Are looking for inspiration? Are you searching for a better version of yourself?
This month I joined literary forces with some best-selling authors in two awesome book promotions. Click the link below:
Recent letters you may enjoy:
Jay Armstrong is a speaker and an award-winning author. Despite being diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, that impairs his movement, balance, eyesight, and speech–Jay presses on. The leader of the Philadelphia Ataxia Support Group, he hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life.
For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:
4. Hearing his three children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents or a drink with his friends)
Jay hasn’t had a bad day in quite a long time.
You can also visit Jay at jayarmstrongwrites.com