My long term love affair with words shows no sign of abating. I am not alone. Readers and writers alike appreciate the transformative power of words, their etymology, and the satisfaction that arises out of using them as one would a lovingly-worn tool or artisan-wielded brush. Some think I take words too far, using many when a few would do, or making a choice for multiple syllables over simplicity. I remain blissfully guilty.
I felt validated when I encountered a recent review of Wieslaw Mysliwski’s newly-translated book, Stone Upon Stone, (affiliate link). We’re told the book is one big fixation on words, “a dizzying array of memories and stories that are meant to convey all the prisms of one life lived. . . This abundance of verbal explosion can get tiring at times, but can also be exhilarating.” Mysliwski’s work is significant because it weaves the importance of shaping one’s own life within universal experiences such as rebellion, nostalgia and inherited destiny. But what I love is what he tells us about words:
Last year’s post, in which I chose My Three Words for 2010, resonated with our readers throughout the year. My somewhat tongue-in-cheek selection, “Drink.More.Champagne.” riffed on an annual habit of Chris Brogan‘s, which has inspired many. Chris tends to select disparate words rather than phrases – see his selections for 2011 here. He also shares, via Google Reader and social media, other bloggers’ selections. Most are aspirational and inspirational, in keeping with the spirit of resolving to do better and be better so prevalent in a season of new beginnings.
“Drink.More.Champagne” was about celebrating more, honoring and elevating ordinary moments, and not waiting or deferring the opportunity to do so. This choice would prove portentious (now there’s a word!) as Pete and I traveled through 2010. A look back on the chances we had to celebrate and enjoy certain moments brings an entirely different lens on them.
Losing Pete’s mother made us realize how things can change seemingly in an instant, forever altered. A young acquaintance who suddenly went missing, after having shared our table earlier in the year, and who remains disappeared as of this writing, is another sobering reminder. Two in this photo from only months ago. Beginning another cancer-based journey with Pete’s dad in the fall (he has beat it!), yet another.
Happier memories of our year include deepening our online friendship with our friend Dot, of Deeper Issues, who consented on the spur of another moment to visit us in person over Thanksgiving. Regular get-togethers with beloved family and friends took on a richer, more vivid patina. Through it all, I was able to Drink.More.Champagne. and induce others to do the same.
Our week in Florida over the Christmas holiday allowed me to finally download the story of the Widow Clicquot (affiliate link), whose 19th century champagne business empire partially inspired my choice a year ago. If you’ve not read this fascinating story, it’s a tale made most remarkable by sure-footed boldness and willingness to risk. Funding her business with a significant personal financial stake (the equivalent of several millions of current dollars throughout her lifetime), she went on to build an international thirst for her product and a sterling reputation for consistent quality.
What I learned from the widow’s story:
1. Learn from, but don’t dwell on mistakes. When thousands of fragile bottles of champagne were blockaded by war from reaching their destination and began to spoil in the heat, she salvaged what she could and pressed on.
2. Devise innovative work-arounds. When political machinations prevented her chartered ships from departing a Dutch port, she hired ground transport to get her product to other harbors, circumventing the issue ahead of her competition.
3. Maintain awareness of changing circumstances. Knowing where you stand is imperative. Convolutions in 19th century French politics meant moving between aristocratic and proletarian worlds. The widow Clicquot and her partners understood the nuances and positioned themselves to advantage through strategic political alliances and declarations.
4. Evaluate the implications. Meticulous account books in the widow’s own hand survive in the Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin archives. Growing conditions and tastes in fashion affected her production capabilities; political shifts necessitated precautions to ensure long term storage in order to age her product; competitive advantage wrought the need for identification – first corks were branded, and then bottle labels were developed.
5. Remain focused. Branching off into banking and construction, as well as foreign outsourcing, nearly ruined the House of Clicquot et Ponsardin. Letting go of these business diversions and returning to her core capabilities allowed the Widow Clicquot and her descendants to maintain their prominence with the Champagne region.
Learning about and appreciating a purposeful example is a great way to cap one year, and an inspiring springboard from which to begin another. The lessons derived from our collection of personal experiences and the widow’s story, are as clear and effervescent as the bubbles that travel to the surface in a glass of her sparkling wine:
How to distill these conclusions within three words that would serve as reminders of them all? Not without difficulty! Thinking, reviewing, and pondering, I kept hearing one phrase. Over and over again, it presented itself as the mantra that would accompany me in 2011:
Only. What. Matters.
- My 3 Words for 2011 (steffanantonas.com)
- My Three Words: Ask, Focus, Prioritize (sassholes.blogspot.com)
- Create – Inspire – Teach (cc-chapman.com)
- My Three Words for 2011: Seek, Sense, and Share (bethkanter.org)
- ‘World’s oldest champagne’ uncorked (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- And The Word Is (2011) (jungleoflife.com)