A Prayer for Owen Meany

“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

I believe that is one of the most intriguing and profound opening sentences I have ever read. In his novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving explores the lifelong relationship between best friends John Wheelwright and Owen Meany.

The powerful narrative delves into topics of companionship, faith, adversity, love, sacrifice, and fate. The multifaceted plot-line is engaging and unpredictable, filled with interesting charters and realistic relationship dynamics. Set in a small New England town in the 1950-60s, the story follows the companionship between two unfathomably different boys. John is average in nearly every sense and comes from a prestigious family; Owen, on the other hand, has an abnormally small stature and an eternally child-like voice, and although he comes from a simple working-class family, he is very intelligent and wields an unwavering faith and conviction.

Owen always knew that he was different. He believes in fate and envisages his own impending death. After accidentally killing his best friend’s mother with a stray baseball, the young boy is convinced that he is an “instrument of God” and that his life will serve some higher good and important purpose. Though the notion seems absurd to his closest friends, Owen’s confidence in his destiny is hard to look past.

The story is beautiful, inspiring, and thoughtful. It makes you want to believe that everything does, indeed, happen for a reason. The novel makes a strong statement on faith and God, yet the theme is presented in a sincere and compelling way, so as to not to come across as pretentiousness or elicit cynicism. Rather, the manner in which spirituality and religiosity are addressed provokes a sense of admiration and hope. The character of Owen Meany does a truly wonderful job of conveying courage, responsibility, and actionable faith.

This is the first Irving book I’ve read, and I’m not sure yet whether I’ll read more. Though exceedingly well-written, the book was a bit long and dry at points. I would recommend this book, however, if you’re interested in modern classics or novels exploring faith and destiny.

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Innovation Lies in the Overlap

One of my favorite experiences in college was when my English, BioPsychology, and Organic Chemistry professors all referenced the same concept within the same week. (No, I unfortunately don’t remember the topic, just that sense of awe.) Each semester I experienced at least a few instances where I was the only person in the room smiling. If only they knew…

Life is full of interrelated ideas, extending far beyond the classroom. Everything in the universe is in some way connected to everything else, and each minuscule detail has meaning and greater purpose. Sometimes the links are obvious; other times, not so much.

Have you ever noticed the startling similarities between the image of a brain cell and the universe? The splitting of a cell versus the death of a star? The parallels evident between the iris of an eye and a nebula? Whether you believes in divinity, an atomical universe, or mere existence, the semblances are astounding. Physical entities, ideas, and emotions stretch boundlessly across time, culture, and geography. The essence of life extends beyond our own individual experiences and identities.

Have you ever had two friends recommend the same book within the same week? Sparked a conversation with a stranger, only to find out that they do know a good mechanic? Has a single line in a story or the smile on the face of a child inexplicably changed your life? What prompts that internal spark? Are these instances simply coincidence?

With each passing day, my conviction grows that instances such as these are more than mere happenstance.

In pursuing the new ideas, where do you begin? Start by realizing that these connections exist, and then exploring that overlap. My best friend is studying Psychology with a minor in Film Production; I know someone who studied Political Science with a minor in Arabic, and another who double-majored in Microbiology and Creative Writing. These individuals must have such a unique perspective; they have knowledge and insight in different areas, which allows them to notice slight intricacies that most would miss. It no longer pays to know how things are; instead, it pays to understand how to improve how things are. Innovative thinking is what companies are, or at least should be looking for. And opportunities for innovation are everywhere.

“Cover bands don’t change the world.”
– Todd Henry, TEDx Creativity Under Pressure

That which cannot be fathomed is absolutely beautiful. The new insights on which we lightly tread trump the unknown by tenfold. Picking at those surface details and then delving in without reservation is the epitome of fulfillment, a phantasmagorical exploration of that which is and that which could be. Our individual potential far outweighs our most extravagant hopes and dreams. It’s simply a matter of paying attention and taking the initiative to think outside the box.

What are some connections you’ve seen in the world and your life that have shocked you, inspired awe, and provoked a genuine smile? I personally love seeing a helpless toddler and realizing that in twenty years he will be independent and actively working towards something. I enjoy studying bone structure and realizing how much the human arm resembles that of a bird, manatee, cat, and horse. I often examine flowers and am thrilled when I recognize the mathematical golden angle within the spiral pattern. I find the ethology of affection across cultures to be fascinating: tribes who have never been exposed to other humans hug and kiss, just as the civilized world done. Just think, someone was responsibly for the discovery of each of these common ideas, and there is still so much out there that had yet to be brought to light.

Where Will You Be Five Years from Today?

Each moment is an opportunity. Our days are filled with marvels, adventures, and special souvenirs from the journey. However, we are too often caught up in our own cyclical thoughts and routines to notice all the amazing possibilities that surround us.

Throughout life, there seem to be expectations around every corner. At times, it may feel as if finances, relationships, health, education, and appropriate worldly possessions are dictated by some invisible leader, a societal arm-twisting that is hard to resist. Is it be possible that these continual pressures and collective values are not quite as necessary as they may seem?

In The Five Book, Dan Zadra conveys – through touching quotes, lively colors, thoughtful questions, inspiring anecdotes, and enlightening activities – that life is about wants and choices and dreams. You are the designer of your own life; it’s up to you to uncover your dreams and devise a strategy to reach them.

Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same amount of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Louis Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.

– H. Jackson Brown

The book serves as a tour guide to the depths of your psyche, asking thought-provoking questions and presenting highly beneficial prompts. What are your lifetime values? What traits define you? What is your mission in life? What are your goals, and do they address every area of your life? Where do you want to go? What do you want to achieve? What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?

Thinking big, Kyle MacDonald started small – with a paperclip to be exact. He posted it on Craigslist as a barter and got a fish-shaped pen for it. He then traded the pen from something better. One trade led to another, until MacDonald finally found himself the new owner of a three-bedroom house.

There are two options in life: you are either living the life prescribed by someone else, or you are following your own path. Get to know yourself and stay true to who you are. Surround yourself with people who will lift you up and help you achieve your goals. You are one-of-a-kind and brimming with untapped potential; no one knows what you’re capable of, and thus no one has the right to hold you back.

Sample page – others’ definitions of success, as well as a place to write down your own

Goals are often centered on necessity and image. I want a prestigious job, six-figure income, a sports car, an attractive and intelligent spouse, a healthy and happy family, and an extravagant vacation each summer. Does that sound about right? Life, the world we live in, and each moment is filled with beauty and newness. Think about how can you incorporate novelty and fun into each day, rather than waiting for that far-off vacation. Have you ever wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, the Northern Lights, or the Olympic Games? Start to save and begin to plan, and within five years you will likely achieve at least one big travel goal. I would wager that the later would be both more fulfilling and impressive than a big paycheck. Have the courage to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.

Thousands of perceptions, hunches, ideas and intuitions race through our brain every day. Some are pure genius. Give them the red light for at least long enough to write them down.

– Ralph Ford

What does it mean to stay true to yourself? The concept permeates our culture, but is rarely explained or deeply explored. Each person has a unique experience, perception, repertoire of ideas, and an idiosyncratic way of connecting and merging all these seemingly dissimilar concepts. We are all inherently gifted with intuition and innovative power. However, it is our own responsibility to realize all the possibilities that lie within, to trust the crazy ideas, to test obscure theories, to put in the necessary effort, and to discover the wonderful things that no one else has ever thought of. Everyone has the capacity to create something new, whether an invention, protocol, or work of art.

Your resources are always far greater than you imagine them to be. Never ask, “Can I do this?” Ask instead, “How can I do this?”

-Dan Zadra

Setbacks and failures often cause people to coil into remission and completely give up on their dreams. The next time you encounter a perceived problem, take a step back and reexamine it. Think of a new approach towards the same goal and jump in at full force. Celebrate those who have helped you, practice gratitude, and say, “Thank you” whenever you can. You wouldn’t be where you are today without the help of your family, friends, teachers, mentors, and those who inspire you. Let everyone know how much they mean to you; put the time and effort into maintaining your strongest relationships.

Grow as a person, master new skills, read the great books, kick a bad habit, and get into shape. What can you do today that will help you become a better and more well-rounded person tomorrow?

What can you do to help others? How are you going to change the world? Who has done the most to help you, and how can you carry on their legacy? How do you want to be remembered?

When you reach the end of your life do you want to be one of the people who are glad they did, or one of the people who wish they had?

Start doing the things today that will matter tomorrow. Don’t leave this world without giving it your all. The best inheritance you can leave your kids is an example of how to live a full and meaningful life.

Live your life so that your children can tell their children that you not only stood for something wonderful – you acted on it!

– Dan Zadra

The Five Book is simply written, yet brilliantly beautiful and inspiring. It’s been on my wish-list for several years, and I’m thrilled to have finally had the opportunity to read and benefit from this inspirational personal development book. Is the perfect compilation, aptly balancing the questions leading towards success in all areas of life with the wisdom and inspiration of those who have already pursued, and perhaps even answered the same questions. I would highly recommend this book to everyone, regardless of where you are in life or where you have been. It’s the perfect gift for a recent graduate, anyone entering a new stage of life, employees, family, friends, and yourself.

You will never have more time than you do right now. What are you waiting for. Where do you want to be five years from today, and how are you going to get there? The Five Book will help you uncover the answers and devise a plan.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. 

*I’ve been working on the activities in this book for nearly a month, so once I figure out how to go about it, I plan to share some of my own thoughts, dreams, and goals for the next five years.

Sushi + Saki 101

Last summer, I met a women who changed my perspective; rather, she had successfully applied my own philosophy to her life. She advised me to never stop learning, to never stop trying to improve myself. So that is precisely what I’ve been doing.

When my friend mentioned that she had received an email for a sushi making class, my immediate response was “Sign me up!” I love learning new things, and I also enjoy sushi. So today, my friends, you get to learn a bit about sushi and sake.

Sushi originated centuries ago when the Japanese preserved fish and seafood by wrapping it in rice; up until recent times, the rice was discarded rather than eaten. Sushi is held together by a sticky rice created by combining steamed rice mixed with a special sushi vinegar. Making sushi is an art and it take chefs two years of training before they are allowed to prepare and serve the dish.

  • Sushi is a dish of cooked vinegar rice that is generally topped with fish or seafood
  • Nori is thin sheets of seaweed used to hold rolls together
  • Maki is sushi that is rolled, often wrapped in nori, and sliced into pieces
  • Nigiri is pressed sushi rice, topped with sliced fish or seafood
  • Sashimi is thin slices of fish or seafood served without rice
  • Temaki (hand roll) is a cone-shaped piece of nori filled with fish and vegetables
  • Gari is pickled ginger served with sushi to cleanse the palate between rolls
  • Wasabi is the spicy sushi accompaniment meant to clear the sense, and is also referred to as “Japanese horseradish”

Hand-crafted California roll

Sake is often refered to as Japanese rice wine, and is a traditional alcoholic drink with a history as old as Japan. The alcohol volume of sake is 15-17% and, contrary to popular belief, is not much strong than wine (12-14% ABV). Unlike the simple process of fermenting wine, creating sake requires several additional steps.

Rice is primarily starch and does not contain enough sugars to brew alcohol. The first step is to break down the starch into sugar with the help of Koji mold through the process of saccharification. Next, like wine, yeast is added, which converts the sugars into alcohol through fermentation.

  • Sakamai is the type of rice used for making sake; it is more delicate, larger in size, and more expensive to grow than regular table rice
  • Polishing is the process used to remove the outer layers of impurities, fats, and proteins from the rice; polishing leaves behind the starch-rich center of the rice
  • Junmai translates to “pure rice” and is a form of alcohol that has no distilled alcohol added; generally 30% of the rice is polished away before brewing
  • Ginjo-shu sake has at least 30% of the rice kernel ground away before brewing; no distilled alcohol is added
  • Daiginjo sake is brewed from rice that has at least 50% of the kernel polished away; no distilled alcohol is added
  • Namazake refers to unpasteurized sake
  • Koji is the mold that is added to the steamed rice to break down the starch into sugars, which will ferment to create alcohol
  • Nihon Shu Dois the Sake Meter Value (SMV) which measures the dryness/sweetness of sake; the scale ranges from +20 (drier) to -20 (sweeter)

    Don’t leave yet…we have gift for you. So all your friends will know you are sushi chef!

    The two-hour class was such a fun activity and a great opportunity to discover something new. I was able to learn about the history of sushi, taste different form of the cuisine, and create rolls myself, alongside my best friend and friendly “classmates”. I also had the chance to taste several variations of sake, from very dry to extremely sweet. Although I didn’t like any of them, it’s nice being about to say I’ve finally tried sake, and now have an informed opinion – it tastes a lot like wine.

    I also received a completion certificate, which I think is awesome!

20 Days and Counting…

Three weeks from today, I’ll be traveling 1,019 miles to Portland, Oregon for World Domination Summit, and I cannot wait! I’ve read the books of many speakers who will be there, I’ve religiously followed the blogs of several other attendees, I love hearing new ideas, and I love traveling. I have no reason not to be thrilled beyond comprehension!

The one thing I love more than learning is sharing the interesting and innovative ideas that I hear from others and develop myself. I once had a discussion with a professor about ideas as public domain, with my argument being that sharing ideas benefits everyone because one individual my have an idea, whereas someone else can figure out a way to implement that idea. If anyone reads Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits, he follows the the same thought pattern and does not copyright any of his work. I’m hoping you and I can both benefit from all that I learn and experience in the upcoming loaded weekend. I’ll be sure to take copious notes, and then deliver them to you in concise little bundles.

My plans include:

  • Flying into a new city, figuring out the public transportation system, and then jumping on my overly-sized  hotel bed
  • Seeing the main stage speakers, including Chris Guillebeau, Jonathan Field, and Susan Cain
  • Workshops and breakout sessions
  • Blogger meetups
  • Mass book signings
  • City tours
  • Meeting some amazing people with big plans!
I’m signed up the following workshops:
  • How Millionaires Start their Businesses (with Jamie Tardy): After interviewing 50+ self made millionaires, I’ve found out the steps and pivotal moments they took to create a successful company. In this session learn about their steps, fears, failures, and the top 3 qualities of millionaires. You will walk away with specific action items to move your business forward, plus you’ll feel inspired knowing that millionaires are just like you!
  • Financial Planning for Generation Y: Taught by Generation Y (with Sophia Bera): Get a handle on your money now, in your 20s & 30s, and set yourself up to fund your dreams! Everyone needs to make choices about what to do with their money. This workshop will give you the skills you need to help you secure your financial future.
  •  How to Win at Crafting Narratives: Designing Great Storylines for Individuals and Businesses (with Sarah Peck): Designing a great narrative is based in the art of storytelling: your audience remembers emotions, not facts–and phrases, not lists–yet most presentations are dry, lacking visuals, and without a relevant story frame to make the message clear. This session will look at how to tell stories both visually and verbally—with a look at specific diagrams like MLK’s speech, the hero’s journey, words from Joseph Campbell, and teach you specific hooks and psychological tricks for telling great stories.
  • Your Loss is Your Launchpad (with Christina Rasmussen): I will give the audience tools to develop greater insight and to help them sustain their new, emerging selves. They will take away a step-by-step process to truly launch themselves into their Second Firsts. Without this process, a new business or a new life design can fail very quickly, as the brain likes to stay within its default secure setting and not try anything new.

Since the blogosphere and my readers lie at the core why I’m so passionate about attending this event, I’d like to do something in return.

Email your name and address to epmcnaughton@gmail.com with the subject “I love snail mail!” by July 3th and I’ll send you a postcard from PortlandWhether you live up the street from me or across the world, and whether you’ve been following analyfe since the beginning or just a few days, I truly appreciate the kindness and support of each one of you. And who doesn’t like snail mail?

You’ll receive cool points for sharing thoughts on this blog, what you think is working and could be improved, what you’d like to see here (I’ve had several requests for a vlog and revamp), words of wisdom, or just random thoughts and topics you’d like to see discussed. I’m only the mediator here – this blog belongs to all its readers. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, or email me.

When Was the Last Time You Did Something for the First Time?

So often, our days are built around a routine. Our lives are composed of endless cycle of work, meals, family, household chores, and social obligations.

Think back to some of your best experiences in life. When were you the happiest, most excited, and completely engaged in what you were doing? I would bet those moments weren’t spent holed up in a tiny cubicle or meticulously picking lint off of freshly laundered clothes. I would venture to guess that a majority of those memorable experiences were spent doing something for the first time. Often being stretched to our limits and learning something new will make us feel at the top of our game, and even the simple act of trying something different can boost our enthusiasm, happiness, and well-being.

The ultimate experience of “flow” occurs when a challenging task overlaps with one’s skills (many of which may be yet undiscovered). When we’re comfortable with our life and routines, it’s often difficult to take the first step towards trying something new, despite the potential benefits. Even if the new experience isn’t great, we’re often proud of ourselves for at least stepping out of our comfort zone and opening ourselves up to new possibilities.

This spring, my mom bought a gardening book and several packs of seeds and proposed we plant a garden. Despite knowing little to nothing about the art, I help plant zucchini, green beans, spinach, sunflowers, green peppers, and snow peas. Though not everything survived the arid heat, carefully following instructions and caring for those tiny seeds has led to incredible results – 12-foot tall sunflowers, 2-foot long zucchini, handfuls of green beans, and a huge sense of accomplishment.

The product of several weeks of nurturing

For the past few summers, my best friend and I have taken art classes for fun. In the past, we’ve done printmaking and acting (which I ended up dropping out of because I’m so shy). This summer we signed up for portrait sketching. I’ve never considered myself very creative or artistic, but I love engaging in art in crafts and dabbling in different creative endeavors for fun.

This week, I attended the first of eight sketching classes. For the first hour, the diverse group of students listened attentively as the instructor taught us the basics of sketching, shared tips about facial and body proportions, and addressed common mistakes that we should be aware of. For the next two hours, we applied what we had learned to sketching a skull. It really is amazing how much you can pick up in just a few hours.

“I can’t draw,” but maybe I could learn…

Get up today and do something for the first time – no matter how big or how small. Eliminate the phrase, “I’m bored” from your vocabulary. Start saying “yes” to new experiences; spend your free time thinking about and planning ways to open your mind and expand your repertoire. There is so much to see, learn, and experience. Brainstorm ways to enhance every aspect of your life. Think about your dreams and transform them into your reality. Here are some areas to consider:

  • Education/Learning
  • Travel
  • Health/Fitness
  • Family
  • Love/Relationships
  • Friends
  • Food
  • Career/Business
  • Volunteering/Charity
  • Money/Finances
  • Art/Creativity
  • Music/Dance
  • Play/Hobbies

Trying something for the first time doesn’t necessarily have to be huge. I don’t expect you to go skydiving tomorrow, backpack across Europe, or become a vegan. Things like signing up for a class that sounds interesting, paying for someone else’s meal in a drive-through, trying a foreign food, or taking a spontaneous day trip to a new location are just as wonderful, and well-worth celebrating.

So, when was the last time you did something for the first time? If it’s been awhile, perhaps it’s time to start integrating more new experiences into your life. You’ll quickly notice how incorporating lots of exciting and engaging moments into your everyday life – no matter how small they may seem – will bring more joy, contentment, and fullness into your life.

What is going to be your next “first”?

The Death of Curiosity and Creativity in a Changing Landscape

As a child, I dreamt of owning a 120-pack of Crayola crayons . For years, it was the first item on my birthday list, and I insisted that I absolutely needed Silver, Peach, and Razzmatazz for my school projects and personal creative endeavors. I colored by numbers, spent my summers designing shapes and characters with Perler Beads, sold toys in my bedroom “store” with my brother, built furniture forts, played with bugs, imagined crimes through the end of a periscope, and build carnivals from K’NEX and restaurants from LEGOs. I never owned a video game system, never had cable TV, and owned a very limited number of electronic toys.

Nowadays, kids beg for electronic cars, singing Elmos, and video games based on their favorite TV shows. Building and creating seem to be less enticing to the youngest generation. I’ve babysat here and there for the past twelve years, and it saddens me how many times kids turn down painting, baking, and discussion about animals and space in favor of the Disney channel and violent video games. Mindless entertainment nearly always trumps thinking, even when the thoughts are allowed to be open-ended and fun. In spite of my efforts and enthusiasm, most kids are exceedingly tough to crack.

Yet, when you look at younger children who have not yet been exposed to electronics and television, they take interest in the simplest things: boxes, ribbons, spoons, toilet paper, animals, and handfuls of delicious dirt. The elaborate and colorful trinkets don’t often hold a child’s interest for long. I believe we’re all naturally imaginative and driven to create objects and scenarios, within our mind and within our reality. However, our culture has been transformed into one of instant gratification and entitlement. Why think when someone else can do it for you?

That may be easier, but it is far less rewarding.

My cats are my spoiled little children. I love buying them small toys, climbing structures, and anything I think looks fun. However, like young children, they don’t like the bells and whistles. Toys on a string, a cozy little bed, electronic mice, and catnip filled stuffed animals don’t interest them. They like simple plastic springs, squishy sponge balls, ribbons, and live flying insects. It seems they’d rather exercise their creativity than be stimulated by someone else’s concept of “fun”. It amazes me how each day, Sebastian will play soccer and fetch with his colorful foam balls, as Owen bounces springs off the the walls and carries them around like prey. When an activity is driven by creativity and by a personal and original perspective, it never seems to grow boring; it simply continues to develop into something different and more exciting.

Originality often consists in linking up ideas whose connection was not previously suspected. I recently read What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell, in which the author mentions an occasion on which a women plagiarized some of his work. Though at first perplexed, he was not upset, because his words had become a part of some bigger creative project, which was able to expand the net of benefit. A book entitled Steal Like an Artist was recently released, and although I have yet to read it, the premise is that “remixing” others’ ideas is just as admirable as pure and original creativity.

The creative landscape is in the midst of momentous change, an Ice Age of sorts, in which the old way of thinking is being phased out and new concepts and methods are continually emerging. In the modern day, “creating” is just as much about aptly combining and building upon others’ ideas as it is about creating something entirely new. Ingenuity stems from noticing subtle connections, and then bridging ideas and exploring ways in which to develop convergence.

Imaginativeness is more important than ever before. In a world where we seemingly have everything we “need” and where it’s often hard to fathom how things could be improved, we need to begin by looking at what we already have and think about ways in which to build upon that already solid foundation. We need to believe that there is more to be discovered, and that curios ideas are worth exploring

Though our modern world is flooded with opportunities for mindless activities and pointless pursuits, though the society of today is one in which you could get by just fine without doing more than the bare minimum, it’s important to rise above that. It’s vital to promote curiosity and creativity as alternatives to going with the flow and doing only what’s expected. Let’s start raising kids who ask for crayons, as opposed to video games; let’s start encouraging adults to exercise their right hemisphere and participate in the ever-changing creative marketplace, rather than acting as miserable drones who can’t wait to go home after work and flip on the television.