Thursday, November 17, 2011

An Annoying Personal Reflection

Tomorrow night is my last night at the job I have had for the previous five years. Leaving has been a long time coming. I needed all sorts of assurance and reassurance from the Rev. Mrs. that jumping without any visible net was OK. Once I got it, though, I didn't hesitate.

I won't bore you with the irrelevant details. I have been searching for new work, and thanks to Lisa I check each day for new opportunities. I won't deny a certain amount of trepidation in the prospects of waking up on Saturday knowing I am, of my own volition, among the unemployed.

At the same time, for the first time since I graduated from college, I am actually setting goals for my life, planning, and working toward accomplishing those goals. This is really what I want to write about.

When I graduated from Alfred University back in the dim, dark days of 1987, I had been accepted at the Public Policy Analysis program in the Political Science department at the University of Rochester. Two years there would pretty much guarantee me a nice, cushy wonk job. From there, it seemed that the skies were blue, the forecast sunny, and the world would be a field of oysters.

It didn't turn out that way for me. Between September, 1987 and early summer, 1990, my life seemed out of anything resembling control. Looking back, I raced to the notion of ordained ministry in much the same way the old joke about people joining the French Foreign Legion: I wanted to forget. My first year in seminary taught me this, at the very least - I was not cut out for pastoral ministry. I suppose at the time I was going through this realization, it was a bit traumatic, but I really don't remember it that way. In fact, just the opposite. My three years at Wesley were a marvelous time. I learned a great deal, felt myself anchored spiritually, and, most important, was surrounded by a group of people I still consider the best friends I have ever had and will ever have.

Needless to say, I met my wife there. What more needs to be said, right?

Well, a whole lot, I think. Most of the past quarter century since that time leaving the cocoon of Alfred to the harsh reality of life has been spent denying even the possibility of making any kinds of plans for one's life. See, once upon a time, I had plans, and life and circumstances unforeseen intervened, and left my plans in a heap on the ground. One would have thought that being older and wiser (I know I'm older; I only hope I'm wiser) I might change my ways, but the voice of that much younger me, burned by an experience that should have left me me stronger, insisting that making any kinds of plans only collapse because life intervenes. As the saying goes, life sucks, right? So, just kind of float from day to day, hope for the best, and hunker down. Basically, that's been my approach to life since Ronald Reagan was President.

So much for all my preachments on courage, huh. If you're wondering, yes, I am quite aware of what a big, stinking hypocrite this makes me. It doesn't help that hypocrisy is the common cold of human failings.

So, here I am, a guy whose adult life has pretty much been dedicated to the proposition that doing anything long-term is impossible, who has stuck with his own personal status quo out of a trembling fear of the unknown taking flight over the abyss.

And, I have plans.

I've been doing the National Novel Writing Month, less with any thought of publishing the results than with the intent of developing the habit of sitting down, each day, and cranking out a minimum number of words. The goal - 50,000 words for November - isn't really "novel" length. At best, the lower end of the range. Furthermore, I have known since the first of November this was more an exercise in habit formation than anything.

And the habit has formed. Whether I really feel like writing or not, whether the words come easily or with difficulty, I sit and I write. It feels good to do that.

In the midst of this daily writing, I managed a couple weeks ago to write a short story. It is, I think, among the best things I have written. Response from alpha readers has been generally positive. With some polishing, I firmly believe it will land somewhere that will share the belief it is worth reading.

I believe that the best things, the most important things, have been said in fiction. The truth that lurks within the compounded lie of the novel is durable, tangible. Human. I have no interest in beating people over the head with ideas or my own political or religious point-of-view. Those kinds of books are both boring and annoying. The best stories make their point by being recognizably human. I do not believe I will ever write "the best stories". I do believe I have the capacity to write stories that include characters who are recognizably human in situations that are recognizably human.

So, that is my plan. When I finish the whole NaNoWriMo thing, I will go back and do a rewrite based on the input I've received from my alpha readers, then tuck it away, and turn my attention to something a bit more ambitious, even more than trying to write a fifty-thousand word novel in a month. If I feel the urge, I might write more and different things, too. The habit has settled upon my life, and plans and hopes are forming.

For the past five years I've been woodshopping here. Once upon a time, I thought this would be a vehicle to something more. It has become that; just not in the way I once imagined.

So, as I head out to my penultimate night at Sam Walton's emporium, I feel a mix of things. Most of all, for the first time since I was 21 years old and thought I had it made in life, I have hope because I have plans, and know what it will take to move forward.

Virtual Tin Cup

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