Archive | Wisdom of the Ages

Finishing a Major Task: What Charles Dickens and I Have in Common

I completed a major milestone yesterday. I’ve been working on a big project for the past couple of years and yesterday, I finally sent it out to a bunch of agents. It was one of those photo-finish endings that had me kneeling in a corner of the local post office with about 12 different piles of material, a bunch of bubble-wrap envelopes, a handful of rubber bands and a magic marker, furiously checking and double-checking that the right material was going to the right agent (which did nothing to endear me to the officials at said post office. Suffice to say that like most things British, the whole “leg room” concept has yet to take hold, even in post offices…) There was also an enormous queue, so that I had to stand there for like 20 minutes clutching my 12 packages, literally sweating, as I waited to send them off.

But once I mailed it all off, instead of feeling gleeful, joyous, ebullient, ecstatic…(Help me out here, guys. What are other synonyms for happy?)…I felt oddly…deflated. I came home and sat down on the sofa and didn’t know what to do with myself. Gretchen Rubin, of Happiness Project fame, talks about the arrival fallacy to capture the notion that we all think that once we hit a deadline/meet a goal/cross the proverbial finish line, the clouds will part and suddenly happiness, relief, satisfaction etc will rain down upon us. Not so. At least for me, the opposite is usually true: I find myself missing the purpose and momentum that preceded the deadline, uncertain over where I’m headed, and nervous, already, about how said project will fare. In short: there is no joy in the achievement. Only a sense of loss and anxiety.

I shared these feelings with my sister, who said I was in good company. Apparently, Charles Dickens reported something similar when sending out David Copperfield.

Of course, the solution to all this, as Rubin and others will tell you, is to take more joy in the process than in the outcome. To learn that the game of life, to quote a cheesy phrase, is all about the journey and not about the destination. Easy words to say; a simple concept to grasp; an almost impossible goal to achieve. But one of those eternal lessons of adulthood, nonetheless.

So I soldier on, endeavoring to take more joy in the doing. In the meantime, I’m trying to come up with a list of other ways that I might possibly compare myself to Charles Dickens. Let’s see. He lived in London, there’s one…Hey! Maybe this is what I should spend my time doing today as a cure to the post-finish-line blues…

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Life is Not a Crew Race

As I sit here at 8 pm on a Thursday night, determined to get a post out before beginning my nightly ablutions, I am reminded of something  a friend once told me that had great resonance for me: “Life is Not a Crew Race.”

He was right. It’s more like a marathon.

My friend was talking about graduate school, and the fact that you couldn’t think about pursuing a PhD (something we were both doing at the time) as a short term project or you’d never get anywhere. Rather, you had to think of it as a long term investment and understand that the payoff would be deferred.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because when I began this blog, “blogging every day”–or at least every week day–was one of my resolutions. I’m a pretty self-disciplined sort, so I thought it would be no problem. And it wasn’t–for the first two days. And then a massive, unexpected family crisis unfolded that had me on a plane to New York within three hours of booking my flight (I live in London, so this was not a trivial journey). And there went post number three, disappearing into thin air somewhere over Iceland (or was it Greenland? Note to self: must learn names and locations of Northern island countries.)

And though I’m SO GLAD I went to New York, and SO GLAD that I have the sort of career where I can drop everything and run to the nearest airport when I need to, I also felt this nagging sense the entire time I was there that I was letting myself down. That I’d committed to something and failed to follow through. And because when things like this happen I often go on what another friend calls a “death spiral,” before I knew it I had death-spiralled down to the end of the blog…to the end of my career as a writer…the end of, well, everything. In like five minutes. I was dead.

And then I remembered this quote from my friend and I took a deep breath and I felt a bit better. Because while this new blog is really important to me and something that I don’t want to let fall to the wayside (and while I’m at it, please do give me credit for not beginning this post with the all-dreadful “Sorry it’s been quiet here for awhile…”), it’s also important for me to recognize that sometimes life really does intervene and things more important than–egads!– will take over and supercede it.

Because if there’s one thing that I do know, it’s that writing–blogs, fiction…heck, just about anything worthwhile–really is a marathon. It’s something you build upon, and improve, and experiment with every day. And if I just think about this blog as a giant 26 mile run around a city (any city, but let’s pick Washington DC for the moment, since I once ran a lame-o 5k there many moons ago) rather than a sprint/crew race/pick your athletic poison, then I know that having missed three days of posts does not mean that I’ve lost the entire race.

In fact, I’ve just begun…

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Writing with the Wrong Hand

Yesterday I wrote about why I started this blog.

Today I wanted to say something about why I didn’t blog earlier. I’ve been writing for quite some time now, and I’ve published a decent amount in reasonably high profile places. So why wasn’t I blogging?

Part of it was that starting a blog seemed like a monumental undertaking, and I was doing other things. It also seemed like everyone and their cousin was doing it, so why even bother? I read somewhere that some 120,000 new blogs are launched every day. In a word: buzzkill.

But I think a lot of my hesitation was that for the longest time, I was hung up by what I’d call a legitimacy constraint. Sure, I was a writer. And sure, I was doing OK. But I wasn’t super famous. Or even non-super famous. I was just…me. So how could I dare even presume to write a blog?

Which was ironic, of course, because the whole thing about blogging is that it lets people invent themselves. In becoming, “The Blogger, Delia Lloyd,” you acquire a new identity over night (Ok, perhaps not overnight, if my own technorati stats are telling me anything…but I digress). But somehow it took me a long time to recognize that I could actually create a persona for myself on the internet, rather than wait for the “Writer” identity to emerge, Zeus-like, fully formed, before I started blogging.

I also used to be an academic. This means I tend to analyze things a great deal before I take the plunge. And so when I started reading other people’s blogs and saw all those bells and whistles like Flickr images and trackbacks and RSS feeds and and and… I thought: Do I really have to master all of those before I start blogging? Forget it!

And then I read this  terrific post by Brazen Careerist blogger Penelope Trunk where she talks about The Easiest Instructions for Starting a Blog. And I realized: I don’t need to worry about any of this. I don’t need to be famous. And I don’t need to know everything. All I need is a passion to write, a topic I’m excited about, and a lot of determination. Done.

Which brings us to adulthood. A lot of adulthood is about, to paraphrase Nike, “just doing it.”  Taking risks. Enjoying the Fun of Failure as happiness blogger Gretchen Rubin says.

The metaphor I like to work with is “Writing with the Wrong Hand.” By which I mean, the importance of doing something that makes you feel uncomfortable every once in awhile. It could be wearing low waisted jeans, or experimenting with on-line dating, or daring to…zeut alors!…actually speak French in France.

Whatever. The important thing is to plunge in. And to see where it goes.

Now if I only I knew how to find a Flickr image to match this title….

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