What now?

I’ll bet you’ve had the feeling, more than once in your life, of being completely unsure of what to do next. Everyone does. Sometimes the feeling is so overwhelming that it takes an extreme act of will to break through.

What I’m talking about here is distinct from The Naugahyde Soul. This is a case of, “There are so many things I need to do, but I don’t know where to start.” You feel them lurking in the background whispering to you, “When are you going to finish your taxes? When will you finish painting the bedroom? When will you start the next chapter of your book? When? When? When??”

The sheer number of pressing concerns causes us to panic or it may be the futile feeling that once we embark on a new project, it will turn out to be a waste of time. Maybe so. Deep down though, we know we need to make a start regardless of how it all turns out in the end. Maybe we have failed so miserably in the past that we can’t muster the courage to try.

A wise man once told me that, “When you don’t know what to do, do what you know to do.” Simple, solid advice. We all know what we need to do, we merely need to begin. Sure, it may not feel like you’re making headway, but I guarantee you, there will come a moment when you look up and see how much progress you’ve made.

Are there too many things that have to be tackled right now? Then pick the snake closest to you, the one that’s about to bite and kill it first. In my experience, once you take action, you realize that there was no need to panic in the first place. Everything can and will get sorted out. That new project may open doors you never dreamed of and if it doesn’t work out that way, just think of the wealth of new experience you can bank away for the future. Your past failures can be washed away with a sincere effort to try again.

The point is, to begin. And when you have begun, remember to begin again. Life is a continual battle to rouse yourself to begin again. When you’ve failed, when you’ve slowed down, when you’ve up and stopped.

There is an old story of the young monk who after falling into some sin, came to his spiritual father and said, “Abba, what shall I do, I have fallen.”

The Abba replied, “Then get up.”

“But I did get up and I’ve fallen again.”

“Then get up again.”

“Abba, how long shall I keep getting up?”

“My son,” said the old monk, “until the day you die.”


My Hero

This picture sits on my desk. It is a picture of Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn taken in the Gulag sometime in the early 1950’s. I don’t intend to do an unauthorized biography in this post, instead I want to share why he is my hero.

Apart from the fact that he is a Nobel Prize winner for Literature, and apart from the fact that he, more than any other dissident, helped pave the way for the dissolution of the old Soviet empire, and apart from the fact that he is a great writer, I think most of all, it is because he was a genuinely good man.

Good men are, I believe, still to be found. The thing is–and it’s part of what makes them good–that they don’t feel the need to blow their own horn. They go about quietly changing the world, only occasionally doing so loudly, and only when called for.

Continue reading “My Hero”

Over, Under or Through

Apropos of a previous post, I want to relate little anecdote about persistence.

Persistence is a vital trait to have in this life, but especially so in writing. It is a rare day when you sit down to write and the words flow like rushing water. More often than not, you labor over your sentences, trying to organize the tumble of thoughts in your head into a coherent piece that someone will read and understand. The ability–or bloody-mindedness–to keep at it when the words won’t come, is imperative in order to write. I’ll take it one step further: the ability to start is just as important.

I never met so many aspiring writers as when I started writing my first novel. Now that it’s out on the market, I seem to meet more and more of them. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Aspiring Writer: “So you wrote a novel huh?”

Me: “Yes.”

AW: “What made you write it?”

Me: “Oh, lots of reasons…”(This is followed by a recitation of what led me to write the book.)

AW: (wistfully) “You know, I always wanted to write a book…” (This is followed by a recitation of the things they’d like to write about.)

Me: “Then I think you should write your book!”

The point is, that the only thing keeping you from writing is your desire to start and your ability to see it through. Every new, worthwhile endeavor in life requires stepping out in faith, and then following through, no matter how hard or futile the thing seems to be.

I have a friend who rides horses. Show-jumping over fences in fact. She told me that the first thing you learn when you begin going over fences, is that you must go, “Over, under, or through. Never around. Never refuse.” Fitting a horse under a fence would be difficult, but still, it’s a clever, somewhat tongue-in-cheek way of saying that you must not give up. The outcome might leave you with bruises, but you’ll learn from that if you keep trying.

Caught in a Loop

I ain’t got it today. Keep saying the same things over and over and over…But you know what? It’s okay. I’ll walk away and think about it. Tomorrow, I’ll start over. Need to edit what I’ve already done, but that’s what life is like isn’t it? We try, we fail, we get up again. A friend told me once, when I was feeling blue, that you only lose when you quit.

So I think I’ll take a walk.