Archives for August, 2012
Despair gives courage to a coward—Thomas Fuller Similarly, a therapist once said to me, “Misery is a great motivator.” And JK Rowling said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” Yep. There’s little more effective for lifting you out of misery than misery itself. When things are so friggin’ awful that you can’t imagine them getting any more awful, doing things that were unimaginable suddenly seem imaginable. Change is so difficult, you gotta really, really, really want it. Or have it forced on you. And when life sucks so bad that getting out of bed requires monumental effort, change is being forced on you. That kind of despair is powerful stuff—powerful enough to make you drag yourself up and stumble forward.* Besides, sometimes thinking about things staying the same is scarier than thinking about them changing.
Do what you love and the money will follow. This one annoys me. It sounds so simple, so skipping through the daisies with dollar signs dancing around you like butterflies. It sounds like magical thinking to me. Here’s another way to look at it: Do what you love for money and it might become just another job. Easy for me to say, maybe. I write for a living and love what I do. But lemme tell you, dollar signs are not flittering around me and landing on my shoulders. Every dollar I earn is dragged in kicking and screaming. Writing is my second career. My first was as a graphic artist. As a child, I loved drawing and making things. I attended the marvelous High School of Art & Design in New York City. (Think Fame for aspiring commercial artists.) My first few jobs, straight out of high school, were in the art department of various publications. I started as a lackey but learned the trade and eventually became a designer. Not great, but competent. But much as I loved publishing, in time, meeting the demands of the job and my bosses sucked a lot of the joy out of art and design for me.
Everything changes whether you want it to or not. I invented this one for myself, although I’m sure Buddhists would try to take credit. This might not be a happy quote all the time. What if you don’t want things to change, what if everything is perfect just as it is right now at this moment? Too bad. Then again, there is no perfect so that’s just a happy illusion anyway. But then there are those times when life is dreary or dull or uncomfortable or unhappy or even downright, outright awful. That’s when I trot out this quote and repeat it over and over, like a mantra.
I took pleasure when I could. I acted clearly and morally and without regret. -- Jeanne Calment Jeanne Calment died in 1997 at the age of 122 years, 164 days. I haven’t found the original source for this oft-quoted quote, though one website claims she said it about living to be 120. Whether or not living Calment’s way can help us live to an overripe old age, this quote makes me happy. “I took pleasure when I could.” That’s easy enough. You look for it, embrace it, and enjoy it when it is available to you. Life is difficult, so don’t ever run from pleasure if you don’t have to. Things are bound to suck again, soon enough. But the rest of the quote intrigues me more. Clearly, morally, and without regret. These seem such fine words for a life well-lived, so simple and unfussy. They are like cold, crisp, clean water. But what do they mean, really?
My good enough is great. This very excellent quote comes from the friend mentioned in my last post, who wondered why she shouldn’t strive for perfection. She and a friend of hers came up with the above saying, which she posted over her desk. This friend struggles with procrastination, a common symptom of perfectionism. And so she is having to learn to let go of her fear of falling short of perfect and to trust her own talent, which is prodigious. Like the previously discussed Voltaire quote, you could interpret this quote as aspiring to mediocrity, eh…good enough is good enough. And if you’re a lazybones (and you know who you are) then maybe it is aiming low. But genuine half-assery tells eventually. I am assuming you are hard working and have high standards for yourself.
The best is the enemy of the good—Voltaire(ish) This aphorism, translated from French, is attributed to Voltaire who actually attributed it to “A wise Italian” in a long satirical poem about a beautiful and pampered woman who takes a lover because she's bored. It’s also been translated as “Perfect is the enemy of the good.” A friend finds this quote mildly offensive because it seems to endorse mediocrity. I see her point. “Good” doesn’t exactly sound like high praise. “How was the movie?” “It was good.” “How’s your dinner?” “It’s good.” “Great!” and “delicious!” sound much better. (With exclamation points, of course.) In part, what we have here is adjective inflation. When so many things are “amazing” and “awesome,” plain old “good” sounds awfully meh.
You own everything that happened to you. – Anne Lamott Lamott first said this in her fabulous book about the writer's life, Bird by Bird. She then elaborated in a tweet, which read, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should've behaved better.” Haha. And cool. As a writer, I love this, even though it’s easier said than done. I saw writer Melissa Bank speak a number of years ago, and one thing she said that stuck with me is that if you’re going to write about people you know, you have to be prepared to lose them from your life. Even if you write fiction, people are likely to parse everything you write for whiffs of autobiography, which is annoying. “I write fiction, not crypto-autobiography,” John Cheever once said. But I am oddly grateful for the permission Lamott grants writers in her tweet. If it happened to you it is yours to tell and the courageous writer will do so when a story needs to be told, for whatever reason. But there’s something appealing about the shorter quote, too, in a different way.
It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not. -- Denis Waitley This one twangs me in all the right ways. One of the hurdles to becoming a writer is identifying yourself as a writer. “I’m a writer.” It sounds so pretentious. But until you can identify yourself as a writer, you’re just a hobbyist. A dabbler. A person with a day job who writes for fun. (Or frustration. Or both. That’s the writing life.) But the moment you own your ambition and say, “I’m a writer,” you become a writer with a day job. And the moment you take yourself seriously enough to call yourself a writer, you are going to take the writing more seriously in order to live up to the title. And when you start taking the work seriously, rewards are more likely to follow.
The sole cause of man's unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room. -- Pascal This is a curious quote, and certainly counter to common wisdom, which tells us that connections and community are the road to bliss while solitude and silence lead to serial killing. Of course, I’m being facetious. As an introvert, I’m all for staying quietly in one’s room, and I find solitude not only pleasant, but necessary. Staying quietly in my room is easy. But has that inoculated me from unhappiness? Of course not. Granted, Pascal is not saying that solitude prevents unhappiness, only that the inability to be alone is the cause of unhappiness. And not just a cause, the sole cause. That’s big talk. I don't buy it.