Some are always in a state of preparation, occupied in previous measures, forming plans, accumulating materials, and providing for the main affair. These are certainly under the secret power of idleness. Nothing is to be expected from the workman whose tools are for ever to be sought. I was once told by a great master, that no man ever excelled in painting, who was eminently curious about pencils and colors.
In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — the trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.
—David Foster Wallace, This is Water
“What’s London known for?” (1)
We walked under the rail bridge bypass — thundering echoes of cars flying by us drowned out the follow-up response to the sour joke made at the expense of my friend’s municipality.
Joke or not, I wondered to myself: If it were true, how does a fairly isolated city of a quarter million people become something by having its direction be nothing? How does it escape having a reputation? No defining characteristics, other than its lack of character and definition?
Is this just a case of forgotten history, the way many Brantford(2) residents have no idea their sleepy/dirty city was once the second largest industrial centre in the country? The way they don’t know their decrepit, empty downtown once had 9 theatres? Oscar Wilde lecturing? Alexander Graham Bell inventing and pitching and making? Generals and scientists and industrialists? Even now, the city still has the highest number of millionaires per capita in the nation (or at least did the last time we had a long-form census done), but we’re all shocked to hear it. Because Brantford is a place that lost its place. Lost its sense of its soul.
My retired next door neighbour talks about how when he was in his twenties, he used to walk out his back gate and hop on the electric trolley to head down to the beach for the weekend. On the way back to town, they’d get the conductor to lower the lights in the back of the trolley so they could canoodle with girls.
Now, you’ve got to get your own car and concentrate on rural concession roads for 45 minutes to get to the beach.
Maybe that’s a part of why we forget our history — it’s too depressing to think about what we’ve given up along the way. (3)
There’s a freeing thing about having no momentum: everything was once the same — inert, unenergized.
And when you look back at human history both recent and ancient, every age had its no ones and its celebrities, its misers and its saints.
And at every point of every sort of life, you can find examples of transformations, of folks who finally got the right thought, pulled the right punch, found the right niche, or met the right circumstance to change their life and world forever. It happened at every age, and to any one and with every disadvantage.
Everything started sometime. Some great, culture-changing icon is only beginning middle school this September, while another potentially great life was snuffed out last month, and will never see the opportunities you will a week or a year from now — small chances to shift tracks and snowball things into whatever effect you may well yet have on this planet.
Our expectations can hamstring with anxiety, sure, and our prior history can carve a likely-to-be-followed rut for each of us, yes. But our oddly human propensity for noting the patterns in and around us and changing them, or using them — it is what makes humanity so interesting and unpredictable, particularly at the single-life level.
So take mark of where and who you are, and believe the truth that tomorrow your life starts again, with new chances for nearly everything, and better chances than many have had.
No one really knows the bends and turns ahead. You can go big or go small or go medium, and all of it can have beauty and success and failure and joy and sorrow, because nearly all things do have all those things. So free yourself from the past armed with that.
That, and maybe the more bitter comfort that in the end even the greatest lives amount to not so much. So all you can do is all you can do. There’s no telling, just a shot in the dark. Every day, until you die. The important thing is that you take your shots in the dark if you want them, and remember that in the end, just like every other little speck of a soul’s journey that went before, it’s all going to end up a beautiful wisp of nothing. Only the arc of creation and cosmos will go on, and you will be part of that story no matter what you do.
And that is why you, my inert friend of whatever age, are still free to spring forward and accomplish great things. That is why you, like me, can transform and start, bit by bit, to snowball.
Stories are better than doctrine, at least in the way we have come to state doctrines. Over the course of my ministry, I have constantly fallen into the trap of thinking that being able to state a doctrine means that one has mastered its meaning. It’s great to be able to rattle off what we believe, to explain it, advance it, defend it. To be sure. To have it nailed down.
I don’t really think the more propositional teachings of the Bible are like that. They function more like a snapshot of a majestic mountain range. Doctrine to some extent accurately represents the truth, but stand there before that awesome vista and hold your little picture up against the backdrop and you can see the difference.
—“Chaplain Mike” in The Power of Stories
Let go of expectation. Edit only afterward — after pooping it out.
Produce for production’s sake, letting joy of release and sheer weight of volume drive you forward, packing crap and carbon-pressed diamonds into the same outgoing trucks until you find, amid the refuse, moment after moment of worthwhile work that escaped the previously inescapable prison of a mind afraid of producing inferior work.
That’s how you’ll get to your best stuff. Not by holding back ‘til it’s perfectly formed in your little bowel of a cave. Quantity first. Quality as a byproduct.
If you want more luck, take more chances.
Be more active.
Show up more often.
—Brian Tracy (who I googled and he looks like a super douchebag. But hey!)