Ink sketch of a lion with a fountain pen

Noble is my word for the year

The assured countenance of the lion, the skillful grace of the kings in the north, the good company and savoir vivre of the contessa

Doing what I can with what I have, moving at an enjoyable pace, playing too much chess.

♖ ♘ ♗ ♕ ♔ ♗ ♘ ♖


We are obsessed with nobles. So many of our stories revolve around nobles and portray them in endless variety. They can be convivial and boisterous, faffing about at parties and playing social games. They can be boastful and out-of-touch, eager to show off their achievements but unable to perform basic household chores. They can be kind-mannered and generous, able to put anyone at ease. They can be serious and responsible, attending to their business and managing their resources with diligence and care. They can be monstrous and cruel, wielding the privilege and power they were born into like weapons in a misguided quest for their own specialness.

And, at times, they can be truly noble, serving as examples of extraordinary qualities we all might embody in our best moments. You never quite know what kind of noble you’re dealing with. They represent the vast range of our potential qualities—and perhaps most of all the possibility for each of us to at least intend to be noble, to develop our characters so that we might fulfill our potential, contribute to our communities as best as we can, and do so with leisure and style. Not heroic. Not saintly. Just noble.

Self portrait in green ink. Every noble needs at least a few portraits, right? Self portrait in green ink. Every noble needs at least a few portraits, right?

As I emerge from the ocean and hang up my absurdly large swimming fins1, I wonder what kind of clothing I might put on. Could it be the fine garments of a nobleman? I’ve spent a significant part of my life “playing at chess,” painting on canvases, practicing the pianoforte, conducting business, and pursuing a liberal arts education. Is my life so different than that of a noble as it is? What kind of noble might I be? One that seeks constant affirmation of his specialness, or one that does his best to do what he can with what he has for the people he cares for? To be noble means “to be known.” Do I know myself? And what don’t I want to know about myself? How does it feel when others get to know me? Am I willing to see myself as having the potential to be noble, and to have others know me in that way as well?

Noble chess players, Germany, c. 1320. Noble chess players, Germany, c. 1320.

This year, I hope to approach my work, relationships, and self with the leisurely enjoyment, playful consistency, and useful contributions of the noble. I hope to:

Maybe I’ll even wear some fancier clothes and enjoy myself at some spirited parties. Aren’t nobles just fools and rogues in nicer outfits?

❂ ❁ ❀ ❅ ❍ ❀ ❁ ❂


A beautiful day in the neighborhood. To turn toward; to be ready to help; to be neighborly.

I hope to literally and/or metaphorically open the door and step out into the neighborhood—to repair, rediscover, and begin anew the fellowship, neighborly rhythms, and esprit de corps of community. With a refreshed perspective and an intention to cultivate horizontal relationships, to make contributions visible and invisible, on the level of acts and the level of being.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1884 A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1884

Savoir vivre. To start from leisure; to be at home in myself; to live poetically.

Living well, dressing well, making a home, moving at an enjoyable pace. Embracing leisure as a stable stance between total work and acedia–the “despair of listlessness.” Leisure as a “celebrating spirit.”

Leisure should be the default state from which we deviate into work. When we ‘holiday’ from work, that is not true leisure. –Michael Ashcroft

You cannot do Leisure. You can notice when you are caught up in work/holiday mode. –Michael Ashcroft

Leisure is a form of that stillness that is necessary preparation for accepting reality. –Josef Pieper

Tarasque (Lion Turtle). From Pierre Sala's Antiquités de Lyon (16c.) Tarasque (Lion Turtle). From Pierre Sala’s Antiquités de Lyon (16c.)

“Get a move on or I’ll eat you,” said Lion. To just take care of it; to acknowledge my own power; to do what I can with what I have where I am.

I’ve been known to dilly dally. Getting ready to go, working on projects, repairing that broken thing… I tend to take my time. The turtle wisely advises that procrastination and slowness can be useful. The lion is tired of it. Although he enjoys his naps, he does not entertain hesitation. The lion moves forward without a fuss—the lion acts without wavering on the things that are enjoyable, useful, and meaningful. The turtle knows it’s all an infinite game, and isn’t in a rush to take it too seriously. Neither the turtle nor the lion mind taking a day to lounge in the sun.

This year I hope to be more like a lion-turtle. The lion-turtle moves consistently at an enjoyable pace. Not so slow that nothing ever happens, and not so fast that a sense of leisure and play is lost. Through the balance of consistency and intensity, I hope to give my attention to things that require a bit more persistence and habit building than simply following my latest obsession with abandon. Doing what I can with what I have, without delay. Doing what I must, without the fuss. Getting a move on before the lion eats me.

Student: Should I worry about that?
Teacher: Worry? I wouldn’t worry. Just take care of it. The first attempt won’t always be spot on.

You can’t wreck this. Let’s get it going. Right now, today.

➶ ➵ ➴ ➶ ➵ ➴ ➶ ➵ ➴


There are many small habits I hope to practice, or at least try out, in the year of the noble. A balance of consistency and intensity is a primary theme for the year compared to the year of the Diver, so these small habits may take on a greater importance this year compared to last year.

So, creative habits—I hope to look back later and see the year as a series of dots, consistently patterned yet varied—semi-daily journaling, of course, and semi-daily drawing, painting, home repair and home making. Taking time for small exercises that might add up slowly with patience. Chess, too.

And, habits of leisure–walks, tea breaks, lunchtime and evening reading, lively conversations and other social habits to gently encourage quality time with people. Shaping the days with lighthearted moments.

And, habits of planning—bit of an odd one, but this involves making schedules, planning ahead a bit more than usual, keeping a calendar, making clear commitments with myself. I find this helps keep the lion away.

Small cycles, with a consistent reorientation toward meaningful progress.

♙ ♙ ♙ ♙ ♙ ♙ ♙ ♙


In the Year of the Diver, I found many treasures in the Reef of Small Wonders. In the Year of the Noble, I intend to revisit them, to tend to them, share them more fully, and create new treasures around them. If you know me, these things might not come as a surprise.

And as in the Year of the Diver, there will be unexpected new interests to explore. I hope there will be new ways for sharing all of these projects both online and offline.

♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟

How you can help

There are many things in the themes of the noble I don’t feel adept at. Being leisurely. Being consistent. Going shopping. Do these things with me. Be patient with me as I learn. Tell me a good joke or a good story. Ask me how it’s going!

What’s your word?

I chose my word with the wise guidance of the Choose One Word program by Dr. Jason Fox. I’m deeply grateful for the rich insights I found in this video series, and for the charming, caring, and generous space Jason created for self-knowledge, self-development, and self-actualization. I highly recommend trying it yourself. If you do, let me know what your word is!

♜ ♞ ♝ ♚ ♛ ♝ ♞ ♜

Little Lion

Guardian and Child went to the zoo.

The Child made a Lion mask and painted his face, and they went to see Lion.

“Will it be safe to go near?” the Child wondered.

“Lion is powerful, and may be hungry. Lion’s Ways may be dangerous. But as long as we have Boundaries and follow the Laws, we will be safe,” said Guardian.

When the two approached the Lion’s den, they saw the Lion’s Gate had been opened.

Guardian grew angry. “Where are the Boundaries? We are not safe from Lion when the Gate is open.”

The Child grew excited and started roaring, tempting Lion to play.

A cloud passed and the sun revealed Lion standing on a rock, watching the Child.

“Stay here, Child. Don’t go any closer. The Gate is open and it is not safe.”

“What is the Law? I want to talk to Lion.”

“We must ask Turtle. Turtle knows many questions.”

So the Child went with Guardian to Turtle.

“Turtle, how might we play with Lion today?”, the child asked.

Turtle answered slowly. “What is Lion’s Way?”

“Lion eats.”

“Why does Lion eat?”

“Lion rules.”

“What does Lion rule?”

“Everything but Shadow.”

“Where is Shadow?”

“Beneath your shell, Turtle.”

“Do I have a shell?”

“You do.”


So Guardian and child made a Turtle mask and a shell with Turtle’s shadow.

Guardian wore the shell and Child hid in Shadow and they went to see Lion.

Lion saw the Child with the Lion mask and the Guardian with the Turtle mask.

“Lion, why is your Gate open?”

“I have a proclamation.”

“What do you wish to say?”

“Sun is warm. I am hungry. I will hunt.”

“What do we need to hear?”

“Get a move on or I’ll eat you. Be bold and warm like the sun or I’ll eat you.”

Child heard the proclamation and roared.

“The Little Lion has heard. The Gate will close.”

  1. I feel a bit of sophomore album syndrome as I choose a new word for a new year. My first experience with choosing one word was powerful, and I feel a quiet uncertainty that I haven’t gone deep enough to imbue the same magic in this year’s Word (last year my word was “Diver” — very characteristic for a diver to wonder if they could have gone just a bit deeper and found a more profound treasure). Or perhaps I’m uncertain about changing styles and heading into unknown territory. The diving suit now feels familiar, a role and rhythm I know how to play with ease. And of course the principles and patterns of the Diver still serve me well in many ways. However, one of the principles of the Year of the Diver was to “enjoy un-knowing.” And so, forward.