I was ruminating for a week over an entirely different blog topic when I came across this quote and knew what I needed to write about.
” Do not disturb yourself by picturing your life as a whole; do not assemble in your mind the many and varied troubles which have come to you in the past and will come again in the future, but ask yourself with regard to every present difficulty: What is there in this that is unbearable and beyond endurance?”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The quote was in an article in The Atlantic magazine by Jessica Francis Kane, author of acclaimed short-story collection This Close. Jessica Kane also wrote a novel, The Report, and a collection of stories Bending Heaven. In the Atlantic column series, By Heart, Kane wrote of the importance of this quote to her life and her achievements. I can see why. These words are about to become important in my life. As Ms Kane did, I may write them on an index card and affix it to my bathroom mirror.
As a writer, I can’t overstate the importance of Perseverance. In fact, whatever the creative endeavor, if this quality is not present, you won’t get it done. Apathy and lethargy are among the antonyms for perseverance but inertia, distraction, and procrastination (not listed) are my obstacles to “getting it done”. I’m never apathetic, in other words I always care. I don’t suffer from lethargy, which I think of as a disinclination to move at all.
But I will move as if through jello, put unimportant things first, and put off until tomorrow, then tomorrow, then tomorrow…
This is where the words of Marcus Aurelius come in. It’s the mind’s focus on “the story of me” and “my problems” that lead us into inertia, distraction, and procrastination. If we can clear the table, so to speak, of all the things in the way of creative blossoming, what’s left is the clarity and peace of mind that foster inventiveness, originality, and even brilliance. We can Persevere, move in a forward direction and never give up, whatever our dream may be.
I’ve made many dreams come true in my life. My current dream sometimes feels like it won’t come to fruition until pigs fly. Then I remember that all my big dreams felt like that while they were in the process of coming true.
Perhaps this farm was a family’s dream that they thought would never come true. (I’ve shopped there and it’s wonderful!)
Yes, dreams get broken, changed, even shattered. How can we know why things happen the way they do? We can’t. Yet if we believe in our work and Persevere, heart, mind, body, and spirit committed to the effort, incrementally we’ll see our dream take shape. Along the way we may be re-directed many times, by rejection, criticism, failures. We must always be paying attention to discern the next right thing.
The writer Anne Lamott has a wildly popular non-fiction book called “Bird by Bird” (always on my bedside table) which is a reference to how we keep from being overwhelmed by obstacles to creativity, how we keep our focus on the task at hand. Her advice is the perfect counterpoint to the quote from Marcus Aurelius – a marriage between the practical and the spiritual. We focus first, getting out of our own way, and then inspiration emerges. It was there all the time.