Don't Discard

I found this quote while thinking about recently finishing my 100-day writing challenge. What follows is the first half of the quote; I'll end this blog with its punch line.

But the trouble is not as you think now,
that we have put up obstacles too high for you to jump...

It is that we have put up no obstacles at all.
-Isak Dinesen

This is what the 100-day challenge meant for me: an obstacle. 

Do you need an obstacle?

My aspiration to write is so annoying! It's gotten in the way of my routine and "right" activities, like family and career, and comfortable patterns, like getting up at a certain time in the morning. In order to break into something new, I needed to break familiar habits and search for new rituals. Setting up the obstacle of a public accountability to write seemed helpfully distressing.

So it's two weeks since finishing the Instagram 100-day Challenge of writing 30 minutes/day and I haven't missed a day. I feel a mental bounce from keeping a promise to myself. "Writers write. No excuses!” I had told myself. Isak Dinesen (pseudonym for Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa), also wrote, "When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself."

And that's what happened, and is happening.

This line of thought made me recall a TED talk by Austin businessman Steven Tomlinson, a story I've shared before. It has fresh relevancy now. 

You Don’t Need a Career, You Need a Calling
I first heard this story in a blog by Austin Kleon. Tomlinson starts his story when he was a student trying to sort through his interests and figure out what to pursue. Here is a portion of the account Kleon wrote about Tomlinson’s talk:

“[Tomlinson] told this story: he was going around trying to figure out what he was supposed to do with his life, so he decided to visit a professor named Will Spong, who had a reputation for being a no-nonsense hardass. Tomlinson went to his office and explained how he loved business, he loved theater, and he loved the seminary, and then he asked Spong to tell him which one he should choose to pursue. 

This is how Spong answered:

“’This is the stupidest question anyone has asked me. You’re telling me that there are three things you love and you want me to tell you which two to cut off…so you can limp along on the other one? This is not how things work. The advice I have for you is: don’t discard. Find a way to keep all three of these things in the mix. We’ll find out [what you should do for a living]. Right now, what you do is spend 2 hours a week whole-heartedly engaged in each of those 3 things. Let them talk to each other. Something will begin to happen in your life that is unique and powerful.’

“[Spong] went on to explain, ‘You don’t need a career, you need a calling. And right now, you’re listening.’” 

In the talk Tomlinson shares how he committed to that idea. Instead of singularly selecting one pursuit he decided to keep all the interests in play: business topics, playing in a band and attending a seminary. He committed at least a few hours each week to each one. Remarkably, instead of the dissimilar interests taking away from each other, gradually new connections emerged. His interests melded to form unique contributions that he was ideally suited to do. 

His biography includes traces of each interest: Among his accomplishments is that he is a founding master teacher at the Acton School of Business for Entrepreneurship. He is an adjunct professor of pastoral ministry at the Seminary of the Southwest. And finally he's an accomplished playwright and performer whose solo shows have won awards and been produced in Austin and off-Broadway. 

The potent mix of his interests created an alchemy only he could create. To me, the point is that he kept doing them, regularly, until in Dinesen's words, "...suddenly the work will finish itself." So, for me, the period of time jumpstarted by the 100-day challenge was, and is, a period of listening. No discarding, not yet. 

Steps I’m taking to explore writing a book
Research: I am sending this blog to you from Amsterdam! Juan and I are here until Friday and then will take the train to Paris. In both spots we will be checking out some Van Gogh info (OK, I will for sure; Juan may be in a cafe while I do it.) In particular, I'm interested in seeing the second largest collection of Van Gogh’s work in the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, about 50 miles outside of Amsterdam. (The largest collection is in the Van Gogh Museum.)  It will take a train, two bus rides and renting a bicycle (the museum is at the back side of a park) to get there. Or, Plan B is to book a private car and tour guide for the morning and be back in Amsterdam for lunch. You know which option Juan's chosen.

Website update: Thanks to Jamie’s good work my blogs are now on my website. I’ve had some requests for past stories and now they’re accessible. 

Finished reading The Blind Assassin - Note author Margaret Atwood's brilliant first sentence: "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge." The book is masterful in its intricacy, use of time and ambiguity of the narrator. There are two sisters in the book and Atwood keeps the reader guessing - which sister has the love affair, which one the baby? The end carried a stunning surprise. It's another example to me of taking the time to develop complete story lines about characters in advance of writing a book, so that the reader will enter and exit a character's life while weaving the plot. I felt as though Atwood held a composer's baton, artfully adding new musical scores, guiding the reader to a crescendo with wicked glee. My book club, the W4 (Wacky, Witty, Whimsical, Wicked, Wonderful, Wise -- we're flexible....) chose this book and we've decided to (re)read Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale next.  

Let me finish Dinesen's quote begun at the beginning of the blog: 

But the trouble is not as you think now,
that we have put up obstacles too high for you to jump...

It is that we have put up no obstacles at all.
The great strength is in you.

Of course!