Tag Archive for: resolutions

Everything That is Not An Elephant

by J.M. Phillippe

I am notoriously bad at remembering the source of stories, so I can’t remember where I heard this story first. I have been using it, and telling this particular version of it, for as long as I can remember. This is the version I tell:

There was a master sculptor and an apprentice sculptor, and one day the Master set a huge block of marble down in front of the Apprentice.

“Apprentice,” he said, “I want you to carve me an elephant.”

“But Master,” said the Apprentice, “I don’t know how to carve an elephant.”

“It’s simple,” the Master replied. “Simply start by carving away everything that is NOT an elephant.”

The moral, I tell people, just in case they have missed it, is that sometimes the best way to figure out what we are is to start by carving away everything we are not.

(When I looked up the story to try to find the origins, I found many versions, several attributed to Michelangelo about carving “David” by carving away everything that was not “David”. In some ways that’s an even more apt analogy than the version I tell, but I’ll stick with mine because I like elephants and not everyone wants to try to carve out themselves as a Greek version of the perfect man.) 
I break out this story whenever people talk about mistakes. “Feedback, not failure” was a popular motto at one of my old jobs. Every time we find a way toward a goal that doesn’t work, and every time we carve away some part of ourselves that is “not an elephant”, we get closer and closer to success, and to finding who we really are. Mistakes, for better or for worse, shape us.
Most people will be starting the new year with a list of resolutions. In therapy, I prefer to use the word “intention” because it doesn’t have that same “do or fail” feeling to it. While resolutions often feel like a destination, intentions are about the journey. Intentions make room for all that wonderful feedback that will come from finding all the attempts at change that don’t work.
Here is my other grand piece of advice: motivation will fail you. Trust structure. If you want to change your life, reshape your day, and build into that day space for the habits that will lead to change. Start with one habit a week — eating breakfast, going to bed an hour earlier, stretching. Keep in mind that your day is already filled with those things you currently think of as bad habits, so you will have to replace an old habit with a new one if you want to actually change. Sleeping instead of more time on social media. Exercise instead of that extra hour of TV a day. If you want to know what changes you actually will be able to make, start with a list of things you are willing to give up in your current routine. Carve away everything that is not part of the kind of day you want to have. Fill the space with your elephant of choice. And be prepared for finding lots and lots of ways that replacing “bad” habits doesn’t work, until you finally find the way that does work (personalized to you). 
For the record, none of this is as simple as it seems. Change always seems simple to someone who has mastered it, and terrifyingly difficult to the apprentices just starting out. And it seems like every turn of a new year makes apprentices of us all. 
Happy carving everyone!
J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness and the short story The Sight. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She works as a family therapist in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free-time decorating her tiny apartment to her cat Oscar Wilde’s liking, drinking cider at her favorite British-style pub, and training to be the next Karate Kid, one wax-on at a time.

Spring Has Come – Time for a New Resolution by Debra H. Goldstein


The snow is melting!  The snow is melting! Spring is here!  There’s actually a jonquil popping its head up in my yard (sorry guys, we’ve had some 60-70 degree days).  As a writer, I am reborn when the sun comes out.

With rebirth comes a new sense of responsibility.  It is one that I have been sorely lacking since I stepped down from the bench.  It is the willingness to commit my time and energies where my mouth has claimed to be.  Sure, I’ve produced one sold book (Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery coming from Five Star Publications in 2016) and ten published short stories in the past sixteen months, but I’ve done that writing in spurts.  I’ve repeatedly said, I can’t discipline myself enough to write daily but I write up a storm when the mood moves me.  In the meantime, I’ve organized and executed a wedding for 326 people, gotten into a regular mah jongg game, been active on many civic boards, taken on numerous isolated projects, traveled for pleasure and writing, and been hit by the biggest continuing wallop when I lost my mother in November.

People tell me they’re amazed at what I’ve accomplished and I smile and accept their nice words, but deep down, I know I am a fraud.  Secretly, I watch with envy and astonishment the accomplishments of three somewhat early in their career authors whose work I enjoy and who I greatly admire as people – Edith Maxwell, Leslie Budewitz, and Terry Shames.  Each has produced multiple books and in Edith and Leslie’s cases, multiple series, in the same time period.  They also do a million things outside of their writing.  What’s the difference?

Don’t even go there with the obvious answer – their talent, writing skills, and wonderful characterizations.  Leaving those givens aside for a moment, it is their discipline.  Each sets a daily or weekly word goal and they reach it.  They set further goals for revisions.  Their results speak for themselves – well written, well-edited books they can be proud to put their names on and which fans, including me, can’t wait to read.

Many of us can string words together, but without self-discipline we are condemned to be writers of excuses instead of multiple works.  Spring is here and with the rebirth of the year, we all have an opportunity to start anew.

Starting 2010 on the Right Foot (or the Left Foot, If You Walk That Way)

by Susan McBride

I’m not sure how 2010 got here so quickly, but it did. Sometimes I’m glad when a year’s over, and other times (like now) I wonder how 365 days could’ve zipped by in a couple of blinks. Regardless, I like the idea of getting a chance to start over, if you will. What better excuse to attempt self-improvement than making New Year’s resolutions? So I’m going to show you mine, and maybe you’ll show me yours.

Resolution #1: Banish negative thoughts and stop dwelling on ickiness from the past. I just read EAT, PRAY, LOVE, and that’s a huge theme running through the book. My goal this year is to keep scooping out the poopy stuff like used cat litter so I can better focus on the positive. Or as John Burroughs put it, “One resolution I have made, and try always to keep, is this: To rise above the little things.” Amen.

Resolution #2: Pause before I speak (or email). Instead of reacting emotionally and immediately to everything, I need to step back and take a breath first. I’ve had a few chances to practice this recently, and I did a pretty good job. Maybe one of these days it’ll become second nature.

Resolution #3: Keep cheering on my friends and their triumphs because a victory for one is a victory for all. Really. The more good stuff that gets spread around, the better.

Resolution #4: Practice random acts of “just because,” like surprising someone with a thoughtful note or kind word when they least expect it.

Resolution #5: Be self-disciplined enough to exercise regularly and eat good things because my body deserves it. How can we care for those around us if we don’t take care of ourselves?

Resolution #6: Enjoy the moment. I am famous for looking too far into the future and worrying about things that haven’t happened yet (although I’m not as bad as I used to be). If I stop and smell the roses more, I’ll spend less money on Tums.

Resolution #7: Forgive myself for bad judgment and recognize that everyone I’ve met who’s had an impact on my life, good or bad, has helped me to make a choice and/or learn a lesson and/or realize what I truly want/need/love. Stepping in doo-doo sometimes reminds us of how unpleasant it is to have stinky shoes. So next time, we’re a little more careful of where we walk. (If Confucius didn’t say that, he must’ve thought it.)

Resolution #8: Continue to test myself as a writer, tackling projects that once seemed terrifying and out of reach. Every time I survive something crappy or write something I never imagined I could write, I understand better how anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

Resolution #9: Read as much as humanly possible in a variety of genres. Reading, like exercise, is something I’ve been carving out more time for. I love when I find stories that not only entertain me, but inspire me. Like, Garth Stein’s heartfelt THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN, Sarah Addison Allen’s magical GARDEN SPELLS, Kate Morton’s meaty multi-layered THE HOUSE AT RIVERTON, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s engagingly soul-baring EAT, PRAY, LOVE. I so agree with Thomas Jefferson’s remark that “I cannot live without books.”

Resolution #10: Stop writing resolutions because I could go on forever, and life’s too short.

A-hem. (Lifting a virtual glass.) Here’s my toast to everyone as we enter 2010: May we always strive to be the best we can be and forgive ourselves when we stumble now and then; may we never be too busy to appreciate the sweetness of a kind word or a held hand; and may we never run out of wonderful books to read so that our minds can explore new people and places without having to pack a bag or leave the house. Cheers!