Saturday, February 16, 2013

If Not Persistence, Humility

I have always secretly wished I was a runner.  It’s not something I’m willing to make time for in my life right now, but I like the feeling of running on treadmill and going exactly nowhere, and knowing exactly how fast or slow its taking to get nowhere.  It’s a good meditation.  I love the feel of my heart and lungs gasping and looking at the clock and thinking ten more minutes.  I can do it for ten more minutes.  And unlike writing, which weirdly enough often feels like I’m not doing anything, running leaves little doubt that I am in fact perspiring, working my body as hard as possible.  When I’m finished I feel like I could conquer the world.   And I’m still standing in the same spot.

An hour of writing can go by and it can be a little more difficult to tease out what exactly you accomplished.  There’s no need to go take a shower and change your clothes, you’re still stuck with yourself and there’s still more writing to do.  If I've been responsible and carried my notebook and note cards around with all week, I’ll sit down at the computer and walk away from my session of 2-3 hours with a new poem draft, a revision, a blog post, and maybe a couple pages of a story.  I own the world when that happens, not as frequently as I wish.  But more often whatever I've accomplished sitting down with my pen or keyboard is elusive.  It can feel like I haven’t been writing, but when in I check the dates on my documents I discover I’m writing almost every day. Curious.

Writing is its own kind of treadmill, without the glory of sweat or a fast heart beat. Any kind of commitment requires persistence and humility.  Persistence to keep p going, even when it feels like you’re going nowhere at all, and humility to keep your ego in check. I like to dwell on persistence as opposed to perseverance.  Perseverance presumes success—that if you work your brains out you’ll win.  We write because we need to write. We do the work before us, because it’s what’s needed to be done.  A writer friend of mine said to me this week:  I work so hard and I get so many rejections. The rejections don’t have much bearing on the quality of her work; she writes wonderful poetry.  It takes humility to receive  rejection and continue anyways. 

All week I've held the words persistence and humility in my mind like stones.  I roll them over in my mind not only when I’m writing, but when I’m going about the tedious business of living. When I’m looking for the mittens (again), telling Morgan to take a time-out for hitting me (again), or when I realize that besides my best intentions, we’re going to be late to the dentist (again).   It’s not about persisting to get what I want (an on-time arrival), but persisting in being calm and practical  and maybe even a little silly in my endeavor to live life with it’s myriad of complications and disappointments.   And when I falter, like when I was one large foot-stomping grimace after the time-outs were not working, I roll over the word humility in my mind and start over, try something different, or maybe just accept the day the moment for what it is:  beyond my control.

To quote Ms. Stacey from my childhood favorite Anne of Green Gables:  “Tomorrow is a fresh new day with no mistakes in it, yet anyways.”

You just got to keep going.  


  1. Ah, so well said. I love this comparison, and feel invited to import the meditativeness from the treadmill to the writing place. And, like you, through all the spaces in between.

  2. Thanks, Ela...I'm courting the "treadmill" right now. Wishing you well this evening.