Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Next Thing

Contradictory impulses vie for influence over most the big decisions we make as we move through life. One set of competing impulses is Change versus Familiarity. On one hand, we want things to stay interesting, want to learn new things, grow, strive, excel, and evolve. There is a drive to self-actualize. For goodness sake, self-actualization is the crowning motivation of psychologist Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs. 
Maslow's Pyramid

Conversely, Change is hard. Routine is comforting. In a stressful world full of challenges and dangers (perceived and real) the idea of holding tight to what we know is reassuring. There is a legitimate reticence to introducing anything new because when ones life is on the edge of collapse, one slight shift can threaten to send the whole thing crashing in on itself. 

For both of those dueling reasons, we make changes for the better, and those transitions feel incredibly hard. Recently I moved from near Chicago to around Kansas City - for many good reasons. But it has made me question the point of continuing to make my way in the arts. It may be the only thing I am particularly good at. But that is no longer enough motivation. For a couple months, I’ve been wrestling with this. 

This kind of over-thinking and self-analysis is common. Over the years I’ve come to recognize the times when I’m not productive and considering giving-up as an important part of my overall creative life. But this time feels different, perhaps because I'm not in my normal place, with the usual people, and already known variables; perhaps for other reasons. 

Some other reasons: 1) My third novel remains unpublished. 2) My daughter is far away. 3) Our life is hectic and requires daily scrambling to keep all the parts moving. 4) My fourth novel is half-finished and not getting any more finished. 5) My second child is nearly grown and will be out of the house before I know it. 6) I generally feel alone. 7) I don’t have a creative community. 8) The publishing process makes me feel like a commodity, not an artist; and not a particularly in-demand commodity either. 9) Idealistically I've clung to a notion that if I make the right thing, the world will bend toward me rather than me being forced to bend to the shape of the world. This is an obvious formula for disappointment as any clear-headed person could have seen before committing one's life to it. 10) General anxiety about aging. 

The above whinging may make you feel tired of my self-pity. Me too. So I have found an answer. A writer friend of mine, Jason Hodges, reminded me of something. When writer Harry Crews lost his young son in a drowning accident, he received this advice from his uncle. “What you are going to do is what comes next.” It is a simple idea. You move ahead because that is the direction life is moving. Paired with that, Jason also made it clear that at some point you stop working for your own self-aggrandizement and you start doing the things you do because it is a good example for those who may be watching: your children, your students, other writers, other artists, friends, lovers, anyone your life happens to be in view of. That seems true.

Some degree of selflessness is required to be a friend. A bit more perhaps to maintain a relationship. A considerable amount is demanded by parenting, by teaching. At some point your life is not yours at all. It belongs to others and you just take care of it as best you can while it’s in your power to do so. 

So my next thing is to finish Old Punk. When that is done, we shall see what comes next. And so on. The same as always.   

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