Wednesday, July 27, 2011

That there may be too many choices out there!!

We live in an era that offers a tantalizing smorgasbord of choices. My oldest son will commence Year 12 studies next year. We've been thumbing through job guide magazines, bamboozled by the sheer number of possible career paths a young person may take. In 2000 when he was in Reception, somebody remarked, "Some of the jobs these kids will finish up with haven't even been invented yet." I'm sure that's true.

Today's young people are being brought up to perceive the world as their oyster. We're peppered with messages to "MAKE YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE" from many sources, and we're quietly terrified that our dream job may be out there but we'll miss it due to ignorance. That was true for me in the '80s and even more so for Logan in the tweenies (which is what I call this decade). We want fulfilling work choices to give us the trappings of worldly success; great houses, impressive cars and the chance to travel abroad and indulge in upmarket recreational activities. The umbrella over all this is the overwhelming or obligatory desire to 'make a difference.'

Poor Logan is overwhelmed because he's 16 and doesn't really know what he wants to do. He's thinking that perhaps he'll start focusing toward a career in web design, just because he has to pick something, but the burning question that eats us all is, Will that be right for him?

I think back to nostalgic stories of the past when people never worried about finding fulfilling careers. Guys grew up knowing they would work on their fathers' farms and girls' hands would soon fill with keeping homes, vegetable gardens and children flourishing. They worked hard. They ate what they produced. They raised their families, attended church, trusted God and were thankful. The question, Is this the right thing for me to be doing with my life? didn't enter their minds because they had far fewer choices.

With Logan, I'm re-visiting the angst I went through in the late '80s and early '90s. Our minds are racing because we can't stand the thought of cutting off any options. If we choose "A" we feel the sting of not having "B", "C" or "D". As a result, every choice feels worse than no choice. And when we do settle on a plan, we end up with buyer's remorse, wondering if we're settling for second best. Therefore our freedom to pursue any path ends up feeling more like bondage than liberty*. I believe it's no coincidence that psychiatrists and counsellors are experiencing a boom that was never necessary in the olden days when simply getting through each day and keeping your family alive was a feat worthy of satisfaction.

I don't think there are any pat solutions to that depression brought on by the abundance of choices because it is now embedded so deeply in our culture and mindsets. I do think we can actively promote a more peaceful attitude if we remind ourselves each day to consciously choose gratitude for those most precious things we take for granted; the same things our ancestors couldn't help feeling grateful for because they had to work so much harder just to retain them. I'm talking, of course, about blessings such as food to eat, clothes to wear, cosy shelter, family and friends to love and encourage. I even have hot, running water straight to my taps and a computer to use (although you'll probably hear me complain that Adelaide tap water is too full of chlorine and my computer is too slow, because that's the way we of the 21st century are conditioned to think.)

Seriously, if we remind ourselves to be thankful for the basic privilege of life, we may be more content to follow our hearts, doing the jobs before us each day without worrying about whether we'd be more fulfilled doing something else.

Here's a link to a little video which highlights what I'm talking about.

* Some of the ideas in the paragraph are from "Just do Something" by Kevin DeYoung.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

That we shouldn't be anxious to finish a project

Each time I've worked on a novel, I could hardly wait for the whole process to be over so I could hold the finished product in my hands. To see my name on a glossy cover, breathe in that wonderful new book smell and have other people enjoy my stories was the great aim that kept me going.

As I shared in my last post about self pity, for a few weeks I'd decided to stop all work on my most recent project. The pity party I was wallowing in made me decide that until I helped sell all of the seven novels I've already got, there was no point in churning out more.

Well, once I'd made that decision to take a break from writing, I was surprised by something I never expected to happen. I quickly started missing it all. I discovered that I really wanted to be nutting out scenes, dreaming about characters, making my own editing slashes along the way and building up piles of A4 manuscript paper. I wanted to be shuffling scenes around and deleting waffly parts of the story. I realised that this whole process means far more to me than just necessary busy-work to achieve an end result. It's a really rewarding and valuable activity in its own right. When I don't have a current manuscript to keep my imagination occupied for months, I hate it!

I was wondering if anybody is in the middle of long-term project which you're finding a bit of a drag. It might be a study degree, a home or garden project or some enormous art or craft. Maybe it's some sort of outreach mission directed at others which never seems to make a visible difference. Do you ever hear yourself grumble, "I can't wait until I finish this baby," or something like that? Please don't be grouchy and impatient about all the hard work. I want to encourage you to enjoy every moment you devote to it, because pouring energy into a long term project that is larger than yourself is what makes life worthwhile. I've made that discovery in my own personal experience over the last few weeks.

Now I've re-commenced work on my new manuscript and this time I'm not going to be impatient to see the finish. It's not true that my work loses its meaning and significance if I can't sell it to thousands or millions of other people. The whole creative process is very meaningful and significant to me and that includes every tiny bit of progress made each day.

For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. This perspective has helped me to see there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way, so treasure every moment you have and remember that time waits for no-one - Souza

Thursday, July 7, 2011

That self pity twists our thinking

This has turned out to be a longer reflection than my usual ones, but please bear with me. It's been a wonderful revelation to me and I hope it may be to you too.

I'd honestly decided I was going to quit writing books but didn't tell anybody. I kept it to myself knowing that nobody else wants to accept the invitation to the sort of party I was having, that is, the self-pity party. I'd tried wearing my heart on my sleeve in the past and discovered it never really works and I don't enjoy doing it.

The catalysts were varied. There were two events I'd planned for April and May, poured a lot of heart into, and not many people showed up. One was a book launch for "Best Forgotten" and another was an evening which affected four other South Australian authors as well as me. Then a sort of sad ripple effect happened in my spirit. I thought of all the "Light the Dark" parties which have been canceled because nobody committed themselves to turning up and the luke-warm responses I've been having from our Christian bookstores such as Koorong and Word. I hate the heavy, dragging-down feeling I get when I find a stream of Face Book messages along the theme of, "I'm sorry I won't be able to make it to your lovely event but I wish you all the best." I'd had enough "best wishes" over the years I'd been writing to fill an ocean liner but best wishes never put food on the table or help us pay our bills. I was going to stop writing. I really meant it.

I didn't tell anybody else but I made this sort of statement to myself.
"I'm obviously inept so what's the use?"
"Nobody can accuse me of not giving this a good go. I have seven novels and over fifteen years of effort to show."
"I'll still try to sell those seven, but I'm fed up with pouring so much mental and emotional energy into something that yields such paltry returns."
"Nobody's really interested! That's all!"

The first feeling after this decision was a tired sort of relief. I felt as if I'd thrown off the shackles of a self-made chain, a bit like Jacob Marley's ghost in "A Christmas Carol." This was quickly followed by a weird sort of empty feeling I wasn't sure I liked. I think I can understand how retirees might feel. I was now a lady-of-leisure as far as those spare moments I used to fill with writing were concerned. I started looking for cross-stitches to do instead. Might as well have some pretty bookmarks or wall hangings. Somehow, it wasn't quite the same. Ideas for brand new plots would begin to fill my head, but I'd have to shake them out and remind myself, "I'm not doing that anymore."

The ideas were persistent. Finally, I had to cave in and admit to myself that I simply love to write. It's far more to me than just a career choice or way of impressing people. It turned out the chain I'd forged wasn't heavy and clanky like Jacob Marley's after all. It was more like a shining, unique necklace full of precious gems that I loved.

So I've left the self-pity party. What's the point of cutting of my own life blood? Quitting something you love just because of other people's reactions or adverse circumstances is just crazy, like wanting to shoot your enemy by pulling the trigger on your own head. How mad is that. I'm still going to keep writing, thank you, and now I can face each project with new freedom because I know that I'm doing it because I want to do it, not for any external glory I may get from it.

Somebody else went through a moment similar to mine.* It was the prophet Elijah, who sat by scrubby broom tree in the wilderness, and told God, "I've had enough!" He'd just completed a stunning task, showing the prophets of Baal up as the charlatans they were. Perhaps he'd expected a bit of personal glory, but instead, he got a death threat from Queen Jezebel, a woman used to getting her own way. When the Lord asked him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" get his reply.

Elijah said, "I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of God have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altar and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left and now they are trying to kill me too."This was a massive exaggeration, because there were several prophets and true followers of God still left in Israel. Self-pity makes you exaggerate. I know, for example, that I've had plenty of support and encouraging feedback for my writing over the years.

God's reply to Elijah is interesting. Perhaps he would have appreciated a pat on the shoulder and some, "There, there, you did a fine job and you're a wonderful, faithful fellow," sort of feedback, but he got nothing like this. This is what God told him. "Go back the same way you came... when you get there anoint Hazael to be king of Aram. Then anoint Jehu to be king of Israel and Elisha to replace you as my prophet."

Huh??? My initial reaction is, "What does all this have to do with what Elijah just said?" I believe God doesn't want to waste time coddling people out of self-pity. He knows the ultimate cure for this self-focused, twisted thinking. What is it? Simply getting them to replace it with something more worthwhile, or in other words, get to work on something good.

So I'm believing his response to my pity-party is, "I'm giving you some brand new ideas. Get to work and make reflections and stories out of them."

*1 Kings 19
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