Dearest EXPLORE Reader,
I just went on a long motorcycle ride. I have an old and cheap Suzuki cruiser (big and heavy) that I like to cruise around on. I bought it primarily as a money-saving vehicle because of fuel costs with my truck, but having spent the better part of my life in the saddle of a motorcycle, I find it more therapeutic sometimes as opposed to my penny-pinching purpose. It’s still cheaper than therapy, right?
I’m back from about 4 hours of toodling around backroads, listening to some light music, feeling the wind, looking frequently up into the sky to marvel at the clouds. Basically, just BEING. I don’t do as much of that as I’d like anymore, but from time to time, I still try to stop long enough to recognize the moment, remember the smells, feel the sun, and if I’m feeling particularly light-hearted, even smiling as a pretty woman walks by. Yes, sometimes we must all remember to live, even when we think we’ve forgotten how.
I rode and rode today, and I unpacked all sorts of issues in my helmet as I cruised along. I shook my head at my thoughts, I laughed inside my helmet, and I had to shake out negative thoughts a time or two. But rest assured, I just spent almost 4 hours thinking about this article.
One thing that you’ll learn if you ever try to write professionally is that your ideas and your inspirations are like vapors. They come to you, and you convince yourself that this great idea you just had will never leave you, and then you are saddened to learn 24 hours later that you cannot remember the details of WHY it was such a great idea. They come to you, and then they vanish as you reach for them. So here I sit, sweaty still from my ride, and I’m hammering this out because my “great idea” that just came to me is still fresh in my mind, so let’s see if I can translate it to paper fast enough.
As I rode today, the overwhelming recurring thought that I kept having was sort of marveling at the fact that I realized that I’ve been writing this little letter (and publishing this magazine) for over 11 years now. That blows my mind. My kids were babies (or not even born yet). I have been sitting down to crappy laptops once a month for 11 years and hammering out these random little letters and doing so with moderate success. I have long laughed that when I think I’ve knocked it out of the park with my writing, nobody says anything to me. When I think that my letter is terrible, sure enough, I get 10 emails from people telling me how much they enjoy it. I don’t know if that means my gauge for greatness is screwed, or yours is, but nevertheless.
I thought about this little column, and its origins. Most of you won’t know this, but my Publisher Letter used to be super dry and boring. “Welcome to this issue. We have a great article on….and a neat piece about…and be sure to check out….” type stuff. It bored me, but I thought that was what I was supposed to do. One day, on a lark, I was sitting under a tree in Luckenbach with my laptop and I just started rambling about the random people that I was seeing. The hippie. The stoner. The biker. The sorority girl. Their stories and why they were in Luckenbach, and about how it just sort of all made sense sometimes for us to sit around as people, drink beer, and simply BE. I dared myself to publish the article as my Publisher’s Letter, and the feedback was loud. People liked it. Facebook didn’t exist then, but I got a lot of emails about how it made them chuckle and think, and I just thought to myself “Well, maybe I have more to say.”
So for 11 years, I’ve hammered these little letters out and some have made people smile, some cry, some have been terrible, and some have been ones I’m quite proud. I tell people frequently that this letter is the hardest that I write each month because there’s no subject matter. I’m not writing about motorcycles or art or music…I like to tell myself that I’m just writing about LIFE. Talk about a broad subject. It sounds counterintuitive, but remove all restrictions upon your writing and it becomes very difficult to hone your message.
I’ve written about my brother. And his death. I’ve written about divorce. I’ve ranted about the ducks on River Road, made fun of local government, told stories about dogs, reminisced about schoolyard fights I was in, and shared secrets about the inner workings of my family. I’ve unpacked religion, faith, love, anger, fear, dread and anxiety. I’ve even bitched about the entire town of Houston. I’ve gone from here to there and back again with this silly letter, and as I rode along a backroad today, I kind of smiled about that. Not in a proud way, but in a “laugh at yourself” kind of way. I mean, I’m no philosopher. I’m not reading Socrates or Plato before bed each evening, and I’m not one to be quoted for my profound brilliance month to month as I assure you that there is little to be had.
But I write. And people read. And every once in a while, someone writes me and says “Hey man – just wanted you to know that I really liked what you had to say. It meant a lot to me.” As the recipient, I soak it up like a sponge and it keeps me motivated to keep trying to say something so brilliant, so profound…that you’ll tell a friend. But really, I think I speak for writers worldwide when I say that all we ever really want is to have our words TOUCH you. Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t. I don’t know.
Here we sit, 133 Publisher’s Letters later, and I’m still claiming that I have something to say.
I drove little winding roads in Texas all alone, and had only my thoughts to keep me company. I stopped at one of my favorite little jaunts (which is not much more than a shed with a BBQ smoker in the back). I know the owner and he sat down with me and we shared updates on our lives, and bitched about women, complained about growth, and talked football. You know, guy stuff.
As I pulled away with a wave to my friend, I thought, “I wonder what HE has to say.” With that thought and 100 miles of nothing in front of me, I spent some time thinking about how egotistical I can be to think that my words are important. To anyone. They’re just words that I put down on a cheap laptop, and despite my aspirations to inspire the world via my amazing wordsmithing, at the end of the day, I’m just some guy with a little magazine in a little town who happens to write rambling letters that SOME people find enjoyable from time to time. Let’s be honest – I’m not winning a Pulitzer Prize anytime soon.
I’m not trying to be self-deprecating. I really do have a point. Bear with me.
People tell me all the time that they are not writers. People tell me that because I write, but I don’t think I’m a writer either. I just have taken a small talent and crafted it as best I can into something that works. But people tell me that, and to them, it’s almost a surrender to their perceived inability to express some wonderfully deep and profound knowledge or truths. I find that depressing, and as I dodged an armadillo and honked at cows in meadows, I did what I always do: I thought about people for a really, really long time.
People tend to be expressive, or pretty non-expressive. It applies to both men and women. We all tend to think that women are far more expressive, but I have known many that were so guarded with their words that it takes a lot to get them to open up. My grandma was like that – she probably possessed an encyclopedia of information in her heart, but you would rarely get much more than “You are too skinny! Come here and let me feed you!”.
I have known countless people on either side of the coin, but here’s one thing that I’ve come to know for certifiable fact: in our own heads, we have so very much to share. Every single one of us.
I type silly Publisher’s Letters and pat myself on the back about the good ones, and groan about the bad ones. I have friends that want to be bestselling authors and spend great energies crafting their ability to express themselves. But I also know people that are quiet, and stare at their beer at the end of the bar while they quietly ponder existence. Tell me who can unpack what they want to say for me better. The answer: I’m not sure.
The more I move through life, and the more that I learn (the good and the bad), my appreciation for people never diminishes; it only increases. A motorcycle, some blue skies, a little wind noise, and I smiled realizing that I bet if you and I sat down and talked about virtually any topic, no matter how introverted you might be, you could teach me something. No matter how much you would shrug your shoulders, or say “I don’t know” or stare off into the distance, the reality is that I want what you have: perspective that’s not my own.
Slow down, people. Go on a motorcycle ride. Forget about our beliefs that the world revolves around each of us. Think about those in your circle that might know more than you think they do. Not people like me that make a ton of noise and puke out endless thoughts and feelings…but those that might do the opposite.
We all have knowledge. And feelings. And emotions that are simply percolating as they look for a way out. As I drove a zillion miles of Hill Country bliss, I suppose I just realized that it’s yet another way that, despite our differences, we are all the same: we all want to just be heard.
The trick is to listen. Even people like me, who seem to never shut up, would be smart to remember that sometimes the listening is where the learning happens. And we should all learn until the day we die.
Welcome to November. Goodness gracious, we’ve had a little cold snap here, and it’s wonderful. Enjoy this season, talk to your friends, and EXPLORE their minds. The wisdom of lifetimes is sitting all around you every day. You just have to want to find it.