My friend Dylan is a filmmaker. This summer, he's up in Northern Saskatchewan directing a TV series about a remote fishing community. He's two years older than me, miles ahead of me in his development of a career in creative work; the level of responsibility he has on this project is something I've never experienced. Yesterday, Dylan published a post relating how, on Tuesday, a lapse of his own judgement resulted in both of the project video cameras falling out of a capsized canoe and into the lake. Though I don't want to make light of his agonizing circumstances, it's an edifying post (even an uplifting one); and I immediately recognized that it hovers on the edge of a cloud of ideas that I've been preoccupied with for the past few weeks. Dylan writes:
I lay there in bed, obsessing over the embarrassment of this, physically pained by it, when suddenly a wave of calm came over me. I realized that I was experiencing the price of leadership. I recognized the importance of accepting the consequences of making terrible decisions as well as you would the praise for achieving something wonderful. I’m a movie director, not a captain in the army: the decisions I make will likely never result in someone losing a loved one. I re-evaluated the stakes, re-focused my energy. I owned my shit.
It was an epiphany. I’m twenty-five years old; maybe it was the final piece of my pre-frontal cortex snapping into place. I recognized how much ambivalence I was succumbing to in many different facets of my daily life. All the ambiguity I had been letting lie in relationships with friends and family. This event has awakened a desire in me to become more forthright and confident in everything I do, to never half-do anything ever again. To be straight with people – to tell them exactly how I feel. To not second-guess a decision while I’m in the process of making it. I’m willing to experience embarrassment and shame over and over again if it means that I can continue to dictate my own path in life, stand for something. I want to lead. I can lead. The depth to which I get emotionally invested in my decisions opens me up to a lot of pain, but it can also inspire others. This is what I want.
I have been thinking about how I want to live, what my rules will be, who I will be.
At the end of a year of extreme self-permissiveness combining with stress and anger to produce the precise opposite of a deliberate life, I am ready for self-discipline, aching to grow up.
I want to be able to fall back on some knowledge and trust of myself the next time a state of crisis ensues, rather than simply falling, and falling, and falling.
Responsibility and anti-ambivalence are at the heart of the cloud.
I have been thinking in particular about the importance of keeping commitments--to other people but especially to myself. I'm suddenly convinced that the value of lifting has been half in the perpetual return to my workout schedule. I fall off the bandwagon, go a week without touching a barbell, then I come back. I've kept a running tally of my workouts this summer: at least 32 times, I've gone out to squat, press, deadlift, row, whether I've felt like it or not. (Yesterday I deadlifted 225 pounds, and squatted a nice even 100 pounds.) My body has changed drastically, but more significantly, I've begun to trust myself to show up.
Dylan's remark about allowing ambivalence to breed and fester in decisions and relationships rather hit home. Trying to explain it to Tim this morning, I said: "It's amazing how often we try to pass the buck on the most personal obligations, on the things that should be of primary concern to us because they determine who we are; it's amazing how often we try to pass the buck when it has absolutely nowhere to go."
Ironically enough, I often try to foist responsibility on to my own to-do lists. I allow these lists to be facilitators or inhibitors of happiness and peace of mind. I allow them to determine when I have been productive, when I am finished working, when I can and cannot rest. Last week, I wrote:
Of course it seems too simple and obvious in retrospect, but now that I've finally stumbled into it, this idea will become my saving grace:
Undone tasks and possible experiences are not real. They are not as important as what you are actually doing and have done. Do not let them become more important; realize that they do not actually exist to harass and plague you. There is no catching up, there is only what you actually do every day. You could add to a list endlessly--or you could subtract as much as you want.
Writers have a tendency to gripe and moan about their own work, to go on at length about the chore of writing, to patiently explain what a fucking monumental task it is to sit down at a desk every day and try to squeeze out sentences. Writers, it seems, like to pass the buck on their own chosen creative endeavor. They occasionally behave as if someone else was standing over them, forcing them to scribble or type (but it is only them). Over the past five years, I've been lucky to get to know, in person and through their blogs, many hard-working, talented artists working in more concrete mediums. (Justina Smith, Ysolda Teague, Jillian Lukiwski, Emily Sims, Kelly Clark, Kate Davies, Allison Sattinger, and Shane Hauser come to mind.) These artists do not habitually complain about painting, drawing, silversmithing, designing, photography. Instead, I notice how regularly many of them remark on how grateful they feel to be able to do their work. I'd like to follow such a good example. Not everyone has the luxury of time and space that I have to sit at a desk with a laptop--or sit in bed with a pile of looseleaf and a cup of tea and a fountain pen.
I started writing this post at 7 am. It's been a weird, molasses-slow morning--our dear friend Laura was over last night. We went here for dinner. Though I went to bed around midnight, Laura and Tim were up drinking beer and giggling until 3. Today, when everyone woke up, we sat around eating pancakes for hours. It's now 1:19; I've rambled. My Opa just dropped off a pail of crab apples. I'm going to spend this afternoon making applesauce. I canned my first batch of salsa yesterday. It's chilly outside. Simpkin just had his two-year check-up and rabies booster shot. I've started a list of pieces to go in the new zine. School starts on Tuesday. We're one step closer to a modeled picture of the puffin sweater--the washing machine and dryer are wearing it here.