Five phrases I’ve taken to heart

There is nothing neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so. Shakespeare, from Hamlet. I think that’s true. A lot of what happens around, to, or because of us is always colored by our perception. Is what’s happening to you now genuinely wretched? Or just frustrating? It may be an irritating event (work stress, family fight, or anything along those lines) but what if the payoff for getting through it is wonderful (job promotion, reaching new levels of trust in a relationship, and so on). What seemed draining and horrible when it was happening, might, in retrospect, seem not so bad when you have the reward. It’s all in how one looks at it.

Show up; do the work. This has been a phrase in my life for so long I can’t even remember where I first heard it. Probably at a science fiction convention, as a child, by a writer. See, people at cons, when they meet or listen to writers, always want to know the Secret Handshake. Yes, you are telling me to show up at the typewriter and write every day, but that’s hard! You make it look so easy! You must know the Secret Handshake, the one that makes all the editors buy your work every time! No. There is no Secret Handshake. How do you sell your writing? Work at writing. How do you get through a day of self-employment when you’re not motivated to work? Show up and do the work anyway. How do you keep making art when the art doesn’t feel honest/pretty/popular? Show up and make the art anyway. All that shit ain’t gonna make itself.

Anger doesn’t just point the finger, it points the way. Julia Cameron says this in The Artist’s Way. I try to keep a lid on it, but I’m a very angry person. I get angry at injustice, at marginalization, at intolerance and sexism and racism and ageism. I get angry when someone I love has been hurt. I get angry when I am hurt. But I try to channel, to funnel that anger into action. Rather than waste energy being impotently angry about things, I try to put that anger towards action. My friends are hurt? Protect them, build them up, listen to them if they need to talk. I see a stupid-ism? Try to educate the person being a dick in a way that will actually reach through to them rather than berate and alienate them. Anger is the curb that lines my footpath. Sometimes I trip on it but mostly I try to use it to line my way.

Perfect is the enemy of finished. Another Julia Cameron. That shit ain’t ever getting out the door if you don’t say you’re done with it. No matter what it is. Writing, art, therapy, a project at work… many people have a tendency to bog themselves down in the details. I don’t mean that details aren’t important, I just think there’s a line in everything that when crossed moves from sanding down rough edges to picking at scabs. You might not realize it but you’re not finished because you’re afraid, not because you’re not done. I’m not saying shitty work is OK, or that saying “well I know I didn’t seal the wood, but fuck it, that deck is done” will protect your deck from the rain… I’m just saying that you should be aware of why you’re tweaking something if that little voice inside is telling you the work is done but you are still doubtful. Is it really not finished? Or is it just not perfect?

Faithless is he who says farewell when the road darkens. Tolkien. This one is hard for me because I think there’s a line between being faithful and being a doormat, and I’ve seen a lot of people remain a doormat when they thought they were being faithful. I would never abandon a friend in need. I would never leave a friend stranded by the side of the road. But I would also not let my helping them be the reason they can’t help themselves. I think of Daddy and Bill and how many times during my life that they went to Key West to save Bill’s niece from a spot of trouble; Daddy and Bill are both dead now and she’s still reaching out for help. They weren’t faithless. They were always there for friends and family who needed them, and that taught me a good life lesson about how to be a genuine, caring, dependable person. I want to be the person that always has time, energy, strength for a friend. But not at the expense of my self.

3 Comments

  1. I love these. The second one in particular.

    One of the aphorisms Emma’s taught me that I really like apparently comes from AA, which I didn’t realize until I went searching to get it right. “Suit up, show up, and shut up.”

    I don’t always think it’s correct, but goddamn if it isn’t the best attitude 90% of the time.

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