I was getting ready to do a recap post about 2016 and maybe post about some New Year’s resolutions, but I’m really not into either. Despite having a couple of cool moments, 2016 was kind of a crap fest. I have no interest in revisiting it in. I never keep my New Year’s resolutions, so why set myself up for failure, especially in such a public manner as posting them on my blog.
This morning, just a little over an hour ago, I sat on the couch, watching Robin sew as I drank my first sips of coffee, Robin asked if I had any New Year’s resolutions. I replied, “Not really,” and gave her the same reasoning as I previously explained in the above paragraph. However, I did say that I have a philosophical maxim that I’m going to do my best to live by.
“What’s that?” Robin asked.
I’ve been in a strange place with my work, with both the writing and the storytelling. The first part of the year, I felt stagnant, listless, and really just like I’m just going through the motions, especially in the writing department. It didn’t help that in my first MFA program, I didn’t feel challenged or any sense of growth, and in some cases, I felt I could have taught the class better than my teacher. And that’s not me being egotistical, but rather, in a comparison to my undergrad Creative Writing program, my first program didn’t challenge me in the least. In September, that changed when I switched MFA programs. I started working one on one with Christian Kiefer, and I went from feeling stagnant feeling all my writing was awkward and clunky. I’m still at a point of conscious incompetence that is almost painful.
It doesn’t help that in the last month, I’ve gotten into HAMILTON. This musical is so good and groundbreaking in pretty much every conceivable way that I’m often moved to tears while listening to it. The more I listen to it, the more I understand the subtle brilliance woven throughout the whole thing. It’s a challenge to not to look at my own work in the shadow of such a piece of art and see my work lacking in every way. So, for most of December, between my MFA work and listening to HAMILTON, I’ve been embodying the essence of temperamental ahhteest.
Last night, I sat at my desk in my library drinking Scotch and alternating between fiddling about with some writing, listening to HAMILTON, and reading essays by Harlan Ellison and John Gardner. I ran across a bit of an essay in John Gardner’s On Writers & Writing:
A true work of fiction is a wonderfully simple thing–so simple that most so-called serious writers avoid trying it, feeling that they ought to do something more important and ingenious, never guessing how incredibly difficult it is. A true work of fiction does all of the following things, and does them elegantly, efficiently: it creates a vivid and continuous dream in the reader’s mind; it is implicitly philosophical; it fulfills or at least deals with all of the expectations it sets up; and it strikes us, in the end, not simply as a thing done, but a shining performance.
Every so often I come across something that rocks my mind and reaffirms my place in the universe all in one instance.
In an epiphany of Joycean proportions, I realize that I’ve been psyching myself out. IN starting an MFA process, I’ve fallen under the myth that I should be working harder at being a “so-called serious writer.” Only, I’m not a writer. Yes, I write stories, but the writing is not really the focus of my life. I am a storyteller. Writing is just a medium that I use in order to get my stories in front of more people. All year, I’ve been focused on being a better writer for the purposes of being a better writer. This was a huge mistake. I should have been focused on being a better writer in order to be a better storyteller. In that revelation is the nugget of wisdom I get to tuck into my pocket and carry it with me through the arbitrary construct of 2o17. I give it to you.
What do you love? What do you do that leads to your prosperity, whether: physically, socially, mentally, spiritually, financially, etc? Do better. It doesn’t have to be colossal steps forward every day. On of my all-time favorite proverbs comes from the Chinese, “Be not afraid of going slowly. Be only afraid of standing still.” Pair this with Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.” Or, we can distil those two down to the simple, yet demanding, “Do better.”
Doing better is hard. To do better can be scary, painful, and at times, torturous. To do better requires us to truly examine our priorities. To do better requires us to set hard limits and boundaries, even with the people we love most. To do better requires a near-constant level of self-awareness so that we can not just do better, but so that we also understand with our choices lead us to stagnation or to taking steps backward.
So, I’m using this arbitrary social construct of time known as 2017 as a catalyst for my journey to do better as a storyteller across all the mediums I currently work in and branch out into working with more.
I’d love to hear what you plan to do better this year. Tell me in the comments.