Off The Deep End


Come on in, the water is fine.  Come in off the deep end.  What are you doing standing around there, looking on at the swimmers and wondering what it would feel like?  Dipping a toe in the water, thinking it’s too cold?  Going for a walk around the lake, then coming back again?

Why do you stand there envying the swimmers?  Why not jump in?

Yes, going in off the deep end feels like going insane, like losing control.  But it’s not, you know?  It’s more like gaining control.  More like being yourself.  Who else would you be?  Why would you want to be anyone else?

Speaking of going insane, you say – which is rude, since you’re on my blog. –  Well, I go, you know I’m not.  And you know it’s not that difficult to figure out what I’m talking about, don’t you?

I don’t believe that most people live lives of quiet desperation.  I do believe most people get what they’re working towards, sooner or later.

I just believe most people spend a lot of their lives anesthezising themselves so they don’t go for what they want.  It’s just one more hour in front of a reality show.  A moment of sitting here, sipping at a beer and then you can go to bed.  And then tomorrow there’s work to do.  And work is also an anesthesia.  Oh, it must be done, no doubt about it – people don’t owe you a living.  But if that’s all you do and then you come home and you say you don’t have the mind space for anything else, and you envy the people doing what they want to do – you’re lying to yourself.  Oh, yeah, you’re busy and tried and human – but if you really wanted it, you’d find a way to jump in: to go in off the deep end.

Is this about writing?  Sometimes.  I mean, by virtue of being me, that’s what I have experience with.  It’s also a lot of the people I know.  They talk about writing.  They talk a good game.  Next week, they’re going to finish their novel.  Next year they’re going to write that non-fiction book.  Next never, they’re going to finish those essays.

But I’m not completely stupid, nor do I live in a world of clones.  No, I don’t think everyone alive can, should or wants to be a writer.  But I’ve lived a long time and I’ve found that almost everyone wants to be something.  Sometimes they’re so afraid of that dream that they don’t admit it: even to themselves.

Sometimes it’s something artistic, but I don’t even know if that’s real, or if it exists because our culture expects most impossible dreams to be artistic in nature.  Maybe they are athletic.  Okay, you’ll never go into the Olympics, but does that mean you can’t run marathons?  Or maybe they’re something else entirely.  I’ve met people who REALLY wanted to be married.  I’ve met people who REALLY wanted to be moms.  I once met someone whose dream it was to become a secretary.  I know people who dream of working with wood, or cars, or…

JUMP.  Figure out a path to get where you want to go.  There usually is a way, even when it looks impossible.

Sixteen years ago some part of me had decided my dream of being a writer was impossible.  I didn’t know anyone in the field; most of the time I couldn’t send stuff out because we lacked money for postage; we didn’t have money to go to cons; I had two small children; I was an ESL speaker.

I didn’t admit to myself I’d given up, but one short story a year isn’t really trying.  And then I got sick with pneumonia, and I realized I couldn’t die – COULDN’T – with all the worlds unwritten within me.  And I came out of it ready to fight.

Of course, perhaps you’re afraid to find out that what you think is your dream, really isn’t.  This happens.  In our twenties Dan and I briefly joined an investors-and-get-rich-club.  These were people more or less in our circumstances who were buying houses, fixing them up, selling them, finding businesses to invest in, fixing them, selling their share.  I’m sure our friends who introduced us to it could now buy and sell us several times over, but here’s the issue: while we’d like to be rich, (who wouldn’t?) we found the whole PROCESS – scouting properties, buying, selling, scouting other properties, finding financing, etc – DREARY.  We never even started doing it, because the obstacles in the way were many (we didn’t know how to secure financing) and because we found the process BORING.

We decided we’d either never be rich or it would have to be made another way.  Part of this was that it wasn’t really our dream.  While we’d like to be comfortably well off – where we don’t have to worry about where the kids’ tuition is coming from (to dream, the impossible dream,) – and wouldn’t turn our nose up at a few million, the truth is we’d probably balk at the idea of having so much money that managing it is ALL we do and our whole concentration in life.  And this is where that group was headed.

You might find that.  You might jump in and decide you really didn’t want to swim in salt water, and your pond is over there.  Don’t be afraid of it.  It’s one more step towards becoming yourself.

Of course any dream worth having is not going to be easy to get to from wherever you are.  If it were, you’d already be doing it.  And of course there’s the possibility you’ll still want it, but will fail.  I’m not going to say it’s better to have loved and lost.  I’m going to say that other cliche: if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.  A different angle of attack might also help.  Remember NO ONE ever made it big in something without failing at other iterations… and sometimes failing hard.  What are you afraid of?  You can always try again.  While there’s life, there’s hope.

If you’ve read The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, remember what Manny said about Prof?  How he made it in Luna?  He got the job he could get, washing dishes, then moved on to babysitting, then opened his own creche, then moved on to opening a school, then to tutoring.  He made a lot of money, but also he was aiming towards a field, an area he wanted to work in.  He was, after all, a professor.

Now, would you say “I want to be a University professor.  I’ll start by washing a lot of dishes?”  No?  Why not?

Paths aren’t always easy or clear.  And sometimes you might not even be sure what you’re aiming for: you just want out of the situation you’re in.  A little more money would help you explore what you want to do…  So find a way to make a little more money.

I’m not going to say there’s dignity in every job.  There is, but some jobs purely suck.  I almost died of boredom working in retail.  But I survived.  And I moved on…

There’s this game I play with myself.  Let’s suppose somewhere thirty or forty years from now I’m on my death bed and I get a chance to send my mind/will back to myself now, to merge with my own.  I died unfulfilled, forgotten.  There was something I wanted me to do – fulfill that dream I never did in that life.

It’s my second chance.  It’s my only chance.  I was sent to this time and this place because from here I can reach my dream.  It won’t be easy.  It won’t be fast.  The path might not really be clear, but there’s a path, or I wouldn’t have been sent here and now.

So – how do I get to that dream of being a bestseller?  Well, if I start the short stories indie, maybe some people will discover me that way.  And I suck at publicity, but I can do blogs…  And then maybe…

Jump.  What are you waiting for?  Chart a course to your dream and change what doesn’t work, and keep moving.

Jump!  Go in off the deep end.

59 thoughts on “Off The Deep End

  1. I do believe most people get what they’re working towards, sooner or later.

    But how many people truly know what they’re working toward, eh? The Drug addict, the alcoholic, the thrill chaser — they’ll likely get what they’re working toward, and they’ll be horribly surprised when they get there.

    It is important to have a clear vision of your target. When I was young and learning to play chess I made a common beginner’s error: concluding that the queen was the most powerful piece on the board and reasoning that capturing my opponent’s queen while retaining my own, I became a queen chaser. The error, of course, lay in failing to recognize that while the queen was the most powerful piece, she wasn’t the most important piece. Getting rich is a form of queen chasing as well; you can spend all your life getting rich so you can afford to do something (say, writing) when you could have been doing that thing all along, and maybe found a way to get rich from it.

    Getting rich is fine if you’re Scrooge McDuck; for anyone else it is important to figure out why you want to get rich and whether getting rich is necessary for what you want to be doing. Evidence indicates that if you find something you love to do, are passionate about doing, are driven to excelling at … then there is a good chance you will find a truly rich life.

    Within reason. There may be people who have found a way to make a living by reading or by watching internet porn, but I wouldn’t rely on it. The first hasn’t worked for me in spite of five decades spent perfecting my craft, and the I suspect the second would eventually grow tedious (or if not, the watcher would certainly become so.)

      1. One of the most common suggestions in life-improvement hypnotherapy is that the client will move toward the things that are good for them and away from the things that aren’t.

        Interestingly, while it does no harm to include specifics, it seems to work about as well if you leave it as ambiguous as that. (If you ((generic you/reader)) don’t believe in hypnotherapy, fine. I’m trying to make a point here.) You don’t say the things you want, or the things you need. You talk about the things that are good for you. To me, the fact that this is a very successful suggestion implies that most people, even people who are struggling to the point where they will seek out some stranger to hypnotize them in hopes it will help, know what is good for them, they just don’t for whatever reason concentrate on them enough to succeed. The mind seeks homeostasis. Absent concerted effort, you will keep moving in the direction you have been moving.

  2. I am working towards writing. 😉
    I had an epiphany when I was in the hospital for almost five weeks. I had spent my entire life traveling and experiencing many different places and jobs, but I hadn’t finished my purpose.

    It took me a few years after the hospital experience and the medications before I could write again.

  3. Another benefit of having a long-term goal, a vision of the future you’re working towards*, is that it makes distraction more obvious. I find so many things interesting that I could probably enjoy learning in great depth about architecture, or biochemistry, or civil engineering… but spending years on those topics wouldn’t get me closer to my goal, so I choose to spend my time on what will get me closer. Result: nine years ago I achieved my first major goal. Two years ago I discovered a second one and started working towards it, and I’m a month away from getting there, too. (Plane ticket already purchased and everything.) And the one goal that I haven’t achieved yet… well, now I can see a path towards it, and I know what to do to get there.

    Yes, it’s meant saying “no” to some things I find interesting or fun (including computer games, which I quit when I realized I was displaying the behavior patterns of an addict and that they weren’t getting me closer to my goals in any way), but it’s been totally worth it.

    * The “rule” about not ending a sentence with a preposition is exactly the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put. (Thanks, Churchill.)

    1. An article that I found enormously helpful, and that I have revisited often, is this one: It’s written for men, of course, but an excellent process of thinking analytically about what you want out of life and what you need to do to get it. AoM contributors and especially its editor, Brett McKay, are big proponents of the ‘find what you want and hustle for it’ approach to life.

      1. Is this where we start a bunny trail of manliness being something that must be learned? Being a woman, a mother, is a biological force play, but being a man, a father, is a choice.

        OTOH, I tried [Search Engine]ing “Force Play”, hoping to find the correct term for the magician’s trick of manipulating you into drawing the card they’ve chosen, and found stuff like “Chinese Prisoners Allegedly Forced to Play ‘World of Warcraft” — WTF?????

        1. The biological force for women is when the child is in the bun “so to speak.” However being a mother doesn’t come naturally. I found it funny that a nurse who worked with babies in the hospital had no idea how to burp her baby, rock her, or bunt the baby. So a lot of these skills need to be taught. Then when the child gets older, new skills come into play.

          There should be an art to womanliness too.

          1. I should have mentioned breast feeding as well. Many new mothers get frustrated because they don’t know the ins and outs of that subject as well.

            1. Granted there is an art to womanliness (see: Grace). Granted that there are skills to be acquired. But in many cases the absence of that knowledge is an indictment of a culture even deeper than the absence of manliness skills.

              But almost universally, (climbing out on a limb here because I haven’t studied the anthropological data in 30 years) (primitive) cultures have rights of passage for males while the female rites just sorta flow naturally.

                1. But those are recognitions of changed status. The individual is not required to undergo any rituals to change their status.

                  [Recognizing the principle of ignoring typos/spelling unless a good joke can be made] Yes, some of them certainly do cat differently.

                    1. RES – there maybe no ritual in our society…. BUT in many societies it is women’s magic. There are rituals. HISS Men are not allowed to see it… that is all. 😉

                    2. I really haven’t even heard rumors of any rituals that women have in order to prove that they are women. Anything I have ever heard of has been more in the nature of a celebration than an ordeal.

                    3. Well there is a difference between men’s rituals (because they are there to hunt and protect their families) and women’s rituals (ability to increase the tribe). So men have ordeals and women have celebrations. 😉

                    4. Women’s ordeals come later, which is why the celebrations come early.

                      Men’s ordeals are to give one another confidence that when you are standing there holding the boar spear (or, martially, when you’re in the shield wall) the guys to either side of you will hold.

                    5. RES – true –
                      Women’s ordeals come at the end of the 9 months. 😉
                      I held my mother’s hands when she was in labor with her last child (my Down Syndrome sister). She nearly broke my hands.

                2. Clarifying:
                  The change of status in one case is passive, in the other active effort is required. I could also distinguish here on the basis of involuntary vs voluntary status change.

                3. It starts at about 10 when the cycle starts for some girls. There used to be a sort of ritual to getting the first bra and going from playing to taking care of other children in the family (if you had a large family). Many girls were taught how to wear a dress and the social niceties.

                  I know that my mother brought me kicking and screaming into the house because I liked to run and play outside. Puberty was the end of childhood and of playing.

              1. “flow naturally”? I’m surprised you didn’t get whacked over THAT one. 😉

                Seriously, though, have you noticed that women are hardly ever taught grace any more? Easiest to see in their gait. Women clomp down the sidewalk like men nowadays, instead of trying to be graceful. Of course, I suppose that goes hand in hand with children in general hardly being taught manners today.

                1. Exactly – mothers used to teach their girls how to walk, how to talk, how to be courteous. Even the worst families. One of the first things my mother taught me was how to set a table. There are implications that most men don’t understand especially when you are dealing with placements of guests, parents, and children.

                  Or even setting placements. Do you know where a dessert spoon goes versus a normal spoon? And so forth–

                2. There were reports of a study recently that found experts could tell if a woman was or was not vaginally orgasmic by observing her walk. While I am sure many teenage boys (of all ages) immediately substituted guessing about this instead of VPL, I haven’t the slightest idea what can be made of it — a data point that seems relevant to women being taught to walk but which I do not want to see discussed except in the most impersonal terms. I long ago committed to caring only about ONE lady’s satisfaction and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

                  Fascinating topic for grant applications, though. Betcha few Womyn’s Studies researchers pursue it.

                  Maintaining high intellectual plane, other recent research demonstrates that a significant (5%, IIRC) of women achieve orgasm through core muscle exercise — probably an indication of correlation of ability to bear children and (according to the smirking reporters and researchers) an important discovery in determining why women have orgasms (I personally credit a merciful and generous Creator), an occurrence which seems to serve no biological purpose.

                  IF those talking points don’t increase the hit count on an other wise slow day, I don’t know what could.

                  1. I thought it was a moderately sound theory that the uterine contractions of orgasm enabled sperm to get to the fallopian tubes more quickly (and once there, they can live a lot longer than anywhere else; one researcher cozied sperm up to fallopian tube cells and got 10-day lifespans out of the wigglers…). Evolutionarily sound.

                    Besides, it’s the same structure, just pulled out in Elephant’s Child fashion for males. Males can sometimes lactate, too, for much the same reason.

                    1. I came across an assertion recently that, until the 17th Century or so enlightened people believed the female orgasm was required for insemination. (Whether this was believed by Europeans in general, just certain nationalities, e.g., the French, or was believed world wide I don’t recall the article saying.) The implications were ambiguous: on the one hand, husbands who wanted children would surely be highly incentivized to ensure the wife’s satisfaction. On the other hand, women already exhausted from children would have reason to eschew release … and men concerned only with their own pleasure and desiring no additional mouths to feed would, of course, endeavor to ensure the process unsatisfying to the woman.

                      I can imagine a farce by Richard Curtis, starring Rowan Atkinson and Miranda Richardson making much hilarity out of competing agendas here: She wants no children, he believes an heir necessary for his inheriting a fortune, then she deciding another child will win her Mum of the Year acclaim while he gets it in his head that his (presumed) failure to “satisfy” her in May means the February babe is not his …

            1. In my case, my mother and sisters gave up on me because I just didn’t understand what the big deal was. So I now can’t throw my legs open because you put me in a dress. My mother started switching my knees. lol

              I am not a girly girl. I am not a girly woman. I still look at my sisters and wonder how we ever had the same genes.

            2. Well, I read 1950s books about manners, under the watchful eye of the last Southern belle in the family. And then wondered why male behavior did not match the books. And then I got interested in wearing Victorian-style clothes. That was quite an eye opener to how certain manners and behavior developed. You have to move carefully and think about what part of the skirt to move to accomplish what, which leads to a certain unintended grace in motion. (Quick tip: If you only have one hand free, lift the uphill part of the skirt on stairs. That’s what you will trip on.)

              1. Two questions out of potent curiosity. One, were those books general manners books (ie for both sexes) or specifically ladies’ primers? And two, do you recall the titles?

                1. The books were general manners and behavior books, written for teen-agers. So you had sections on how to get in and out of a car gracefully, when to wear slacks (only for the dirtiest of chores and NEVER on the street if you could help it), and chapters on how to introduce yourself to her father when you picked her up for a date, how to behave around employers, and proper football game etiquette.

                  I do not recall the titles. I got them at the local branch of the Houston public library system in the late 1970s – mid 1980s, and they probably deaccessioned them not long after, given the age and outdatedness.

          2. “Bunt the baby”?

            My mother found it particularly amusing when, in the height of my “anything that has words in a row” reading habit, I read a whole book she’d gotten about being a mother when she was first pregnant. Apparently, she’d gotten to the point where it said “stop drinking and smoking” and put it down.

            1. ROFL. My mom never smoked, but the idea she should stop drinking while pregnant would have shocked her speechless. Though apparently, with me, what she REALLY craved sounds utterly repulsive: Bread soaked in sugared red wine. EW. She said my dad would get really worried over her eating five or six rolls a night soaked in sugared red wine.
              Can’t speak. Craved watermelon and potato chips with Robert and all manner of fish with Marshall (Who would live ON fish if we lived by the sea.)

              1. When Jean was pregnant with our first child, she craved tacos. Unfortunately, we lived in Enid, Oklahoma, and there wasn’t a decent taco place closer than Oklahoma City, about 75 miles south of us. We learned to make our own.

            2. My baby bunting – you wrap the baby in a blanket so the arms are tight and the feet can move. 😉 And yes, it makes the baby secure so he will sleep well.

              1. Sib and spouse call it swaddling and it works like a charm. Not so sure what they will do when Little Bit is a toddler or teenager, though.

                  1. Unfortunately, society nowadays frowns on manacles and leg irons. Very practical, though.

                    When Daughtorial Unit was young I looked forward to the day she became voice operable, not having anticipated she would have random access command code.

        2. Being a physical male or a sire takes little to no effort (depending on the wooing necessary for the woman involved in the latter); but to be a man, a good man, requires knowledge and wisdom and skills that are rarely imparted to young men today. That is the Art that the AoM community focuses on. My father did a decent job with us, I think, but as with intellectual education his teaching fell somewhat short because he did not receive everything he should have had. I want better for my self and my boys, in both realms.

          1. The old expression I’ve heard since I was about three or four: “Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad.” It’s true. It’s also hard work, which is why so many children these days have such little respect for their parents or anyone else.

        3. It’s called a “magician’s force.” It’s sometimes also called a bind or a double bind, although those are more general terms.

          Probably the most archetypical example ever is the Looney Tunes cartoon where Bugs is making Elmer pick a card and just as Elmer reaches out for it, Bugs rotates his wrist and pushes one up with his thumb right into Elmer’s fingers. 🙂

          As far as learning manliness, yes, it *does* have to be learned. And so does womanliness. The difference is that almost everybody has a mother who was at least competent enough at mothering to keep them alive to reach adulthood. Not everybody has a similar father figure. Also, men and women are not interchangeable. It’s not inherently bigoted to say that they develop differently and that their development may be differently affected by their environment during their formative years. Go and peddle your tabula rasa somewhere else. 🙂

    2. Robin –
      Yes, I have done that too. I decided when I was 25 that I wanted to go around the world and live in other places. After a couple of years of trying to find a way to that goal, I eventually joined the Navy and was able to travel to several countries.

      My second goal was to get my degree. I was forty when I finally finished my schooling. It took me two and 1/2 years when I finally made it.

      Now I am writing. I am meandering more with this goal because it is dispersed with getting healthy and managing my disease.

      Congrats on being so close to your next goal.

      1. When I was in high school, I wanted to be an Air Force officer and to fly. A concussion, neck damage, and bad eyes ended that quest before it got very far. The one thing I didn’t want to do was to stay where I had been. I wanted to see the world, go places, do exotic things. My career as an imagery analyst fulfilled all those goals, and more: travel to Latin America, Vietnam, Australia, and about two-thirds of western Europe, plus “looking” at about 60% of the Earth’s land surface from above 50 feet. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and had to do quite a bit of it in my work. Once I retired, I got a job working with small computers, again doing cutting-edge things, and would have gladly continued at it as long as they’d let me. Unfortunately, those old injuries, plus a few I added from time to time, put an end to that. I’m now “100% disabled/unemployable”, I have a decent income from my retirement plus my disability, and I have time for other things. Writing has become one of those “other things”. In fact, it’s become my principle other thing.

  4. I tumbled into some material last week that has turned into a book plan as well as an article, neither on the topic I’d first been looking into. It may be time to take a deep breath, hold my nose, and leap into writing as my primary profession, rather than continuing to bang my head against the wall of the ivory tower. I can turn out a monograph a year, including research, as well as a fair amount of fiction. And I can write Human Wave history more easily from outside acadame.

    1. “And I can write Human Wave history”

      … Why had it never occurred to me that HW could apply to non-fiction? /headdesk I keep thinking of things far too narrowly. I need to broaden my perspective.

      1. Well, look at the top-selling history books. Not the most lauded, but the ones that are still selling and being checked out of libraries. They are Human Wave: great stories about people who persevere, who discover things, or who just left the world a better place. Examples: Barbara Tuchmann’s books; Shelby Foote’s Civil War histories; “The Germ Hunters;” “Gods, Graves, and Scholars;” The Durant’s multi-volume series on civilization (which remains the go-to starting place for darn near everyone); Unruh’s “The Oregon Trail.” There are others, but those spring to mind. Academics may not like them, and they generally didn’t sweep the best-seller lists of their day (sure wouldn’t now, with all due respect to Hildebrand and McCullough), but people still but them, wear out library copies, and remember them.

  5. On the work ethic thing I just read an interview with Sir Terry Pratchett. Talking about Sir Terry’s success the interviewer commented “You’re a very lucky man “. To which Sir Terry replied “yes and the harder I work the luckier I get.”

    1. I know a lot of people who say that, myself included. Too many who are lazy and put aside their dreams simply chalk success up to “luck.” While there is a certain amount of that, you usually find luck by creating the right circumstances.

  6. I inch ever closer to indie publishing. I’ve always got one more thing to check, one more beta reader, one more thing to do before I take the plunge.
    I am going to CapClave, but I’m not sure that counts. Done that before.

      1. “All get what they want. They do not always like it.”

        — C.S. Lewis

        “No one is ever told what would have happened,

        — ibid

        Last night I was anesthetizing myself with a reality show about young people who were leaving Amish society. If they do this, they are “shunned,” and basically can’t ever go back.* I grew up near Amish country and have family who are Mennonites, so this was very interesting to me.

        You think posting your story on KDP is scary? (It is, really. Been there.) Try growing up in what is, let’s be honest, a cult, deciding to leave, and being told by the people who loved you and raised you that they will never speak to you again. That you are dead to them. But they did it. They did it because they were young and brave/stupid/driven/crazy and they had to.

        If you have to, you will. (“Oh, that. I had to.” “I see. The way the cat learned to swim. I like you, Ford, you’re my kind of boy. You’re coming with us.”) If you are fighting yourself about it, it might be that you really don’t want it, or that you want something else more. But if it’s something you really have to do, it will never go away. And taking counsel of your fears is a really wearing way to go through life in the long run.

        *Yes I know that many reality shows including this one are at least partially staged. That is not important.

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