Crooked Lines

My grandmother was fond of saying “G-d writes straight through crooked lines.”  It was in fact a way of saying that it was all for the best, in the best of all possible worlds.

They say that the impression of this, like the impression of seeing a face when you look at an irregular stain on a wall, is just a trick your mind plays.

To an extent that has to be true.  I mean, if you cast your mind back and you see all the things that could have gone wrong in getting you where you are, you can come up with a ton and conclude indeed that you were brought dry shod through the ocean bottom.

On the other hand, if you’re not particularly happy with your situation, you can look back and think “If only I’d done this and that.”  In the times when I was probably clinically depressed (there were reasons, but once you get into the spiral, it’s hard to pull back up.  I did, but– ) that sort of replay, and how “stupid” I’d been (to sign up with Berkley, to write a “literary” trilogy, to…) could occupy most of the day, and it formed part of the spiral that drove everything down.

It’s important, when you’re caught in that, to remember that too is an artifact of your mind trying to make sense of the situation.  Pratchett captured that very well in Lords and Ladies when the Chancellor and Granny Weatherwax are replaying their lost romance and he says “We should have got married.  We’d have grandchildren” etc. and she says “But what about when our house burned down and killed us and all the babies?”  It’s sobering to realize that even your soppy fantasies are not written in stone.  You could have done everything right and still get whammed.

And that’s the other side of this.

As humans, we need to have sense what we’re doing is a path, that it leads to something.  Yes, this post was prompted by all the musings of “I was going to be.”  It’s fairly reasonable of me to give up on being an angel (the first to make a comment on the color of the wings gets carped) or a cat when I realized these were impossible.  It’s much harder to give up on more reasonable ambitions, when you know it’s what you’d really like to do.

I’m a special case.  I don’t count.  I’ve tried to give up writing… tens of times, starting when I could barely put a story together and all I got were rejections to two years ago, when I wrote to Kris Rusch explaining that the stress was killing me and I didn’t like my publishing houses (not Baen but Baen isn’t enough for me to make a living) anymore, and I was just walking.  That’s when she told me about indie.  (Yes, it was that recent.)

There in the middle, there were times I could have walked away (you don’t want to know) but Dan said he thought I should continue writing.  (Was he right?  It depends on whether you believe there’s some sort of plan for the universe or not.  And whether I’m going with it or against it.  As someone once said, it’s above my pay grade.)  But that took serious aversion therapy.  Before that, the need to write drove me.

It drove me so much that it’s almost stopped me asking “am I doing the right thing?”

I was talking to my son the other day about careers and prospects, and my husband said “If you encounter too much difficulty, it’s probably a sign you’re doing the wrong thing.”  It’s a nice belief, but what’s “too much” and why didn’t he adhere to that when I tried to walk away from writing after years of running in place?

Because it’s not logical.  Because none of us is rational.  Because unless it becomes a matter of life or death, we all like our own way to much to just give up on it, even if we start suspecting our talent – for math, for music, for writing – is largely imaginary.

Growing up hurts.  Changing directions hurts.  Admitting you were wrong and moving on hurts.

None of which adds up to my telling I’m ready to walk now.  That would be… stupid, when though I’m not there yet, for the first time I can sort of glimpse a place where I can support us from this, and if it weren’t for the insecurity about Dan’s job (on again, off again) or the fact groceries and heating have gone through the roof we’d be starting to feel better about things.

But it adds up to one of the things I repeatedly hear, from the young unemployed, from people trying to make society “better” – people should be allowed to pursue their “dreams” and “We shouldn’t have people give up their art just to be able to eat.  Look at J. K. Rowling, she wrote while on the dole.”

J. K. Rowling is the exception.  I actually know/have known friends who found themselves able to subsist for a while either from coming into some money or from being on unemployment and said “I’m going to write a book.”

While in the old days this was stupid ANYWAY because well… publishing a book took longer than that, so unless you were on permanent disability, it wasn’t going to be there as money when you desperately needed it – the fact is that people very rarely actually DO use the time to follow through.

I don’t know why, except that it’s hard.  It’s hard for me, and it’s where my income comes from.  I don’t mean the writing is hard.  Oh, sometimes it’s a stone b*tch.  Sometimes it flows though.  I mean, it’s hard working from home, in the middle of the daily ebb and flow and not get distracted and nibbled by ducks so that no writing happens.  And, as I said, I live from this. In ultimate instance, the reminder that we DO need the money sends me back to the keyboard.  But if you’re being otherwise supported, it makes it three times as hard.  (I know.  When I was making no money from this, and we were living from Dan’s money it was very hard not to just go off and play with the kids.

The other part is – what if you’re just REALLY bad?

Those of you who know me know I don’t believe in talent.  I believe in learning.  Given enough work, given enough drive, given enough wanting, you can be a very good writer, or at least a well-selling one.

But if you start with a tin ear for language, no sense of plot, and a Disney-channel understanding of humanity, that slope could take fifty years.

At which point do you give up?  At which point do you think there are better things you could do with your life?

The communist republics solved this by telling you what you were going to do with your life.  I don’t remember its resulting in any mad success.  Even in science and sports, both heavily subsidized, they often ended up trailing the chaotic capitalist(ish) economies.  In science, almost always.  In sports sometimes.  I guess it was easier to pick someone for physical ability.

Most people pretended to work, and they pretended to pay them.

So someone outside you deciding what you’re good for is probably a forlorn hope.  And someone subsidizing you will probably not take you where you want to go, unless you happen to be J. K. Rowling.

Which brings us to “how do you choose?” and “When do you decide it’s enough and you’ll try something else?”

Most people decide by what they want to do “Follow their dreams” and quit and try something else when they can’t take the failure anymore – either monetarily, physically or emotionally.  Sometimes the failure was really the result of a concatenation of incidences of bad luck, not of the person’s making.  This is when we think “if someone had supported them…” or “But that’s unfair.”

We all know stories of people who persisted against failure for decades and then became massively successful.  And we know stories of people who failed at career after career until finally they find one at which they do very well.

But we all also know stories of people who followed either of those paths and were miserable failures.

Unfair?  For it to be fair, you’d need a kindergarten teacher closely making sure it’s “fair.”  And even those of us who believe in G-d don’t see him that way.  (I once read a Jewish interpretation of the story of Cain and Abel which stained with me.  In this interpretation, Cain was the smart one, the innovative one.  He came up with the idea of sacrificing to the Lord, but then Abel did it and his reward was bigger, etc, until Cain, upset at the unfairness of it, killed him.  I think everyone who is by nature creative has gone through this, seeing the “follow-mes” doing well when they didn’t.  There are reasons for this, of course.  Innovation in a group is hard, and the second person (or the tenth) is more likely to be rewarded.  It helps to remember that.  Might prevent the stone-to-brother’s-head end of the story.)

Even if you believe in “fairness” as an outside principle, you have to back up and ask if it’s really fair.  Perhaps your art is too far ahead of its time.  Or perhaps it tried to take the field where it didn’t wish to go.  Or perhaps…

So – do you persist and risk always failing?  Do you go in search of something you might be better at?

I’d say it depends on the person, the situation and the pain.

Robert A. Heinlein failed at his naval career.  His health simply made it impossible to go on.  But then he technically failed at his writing career.  For more than a year things got really bad and nothing would sell.  But he persisted.  And then he succeeded. (Though someone who knew him told me once that financially he “ran scared his whole life.” – which is typical of a writing life.  No security.)

As part of the “G-d writes straight through crooked lines” – We can well imagine a brilliant naval career for RAH – though if it would have come to pass or not, who knows? – but I know I for one have trouble imagining a world without his writing, and so the temptation is to say “it’s all for the best.”

Is it?  Or is it the illusion of a face?

I don’t know.  And I can’t make the decision for you. And neither can anyone else.  The state should neither subsidize your pursuit of “your dream” nor tell you what dream you should pursue.  They don’t know.  Your parents/brothers/spouse might, but the state doesn’t.  And I’d wager from having observed such things, that even your parents/brothers/spouse are probably wrong.

In the end the thing you can be most useful at and probably happiest at, is that which you want to do so badly that you’ll endure all difficulties to do it.  Against all odds or with them, fair or unfair.

How it relates to the rest of the world, leave as an exercise for historians.  If you have a need to do something for a living, and aren’t going to starve doing it, give it a try.  If the pain gets too great, quit.  If the pain is just constant, unrelenting but not large enough, keep trying.

Who knows?  Maybe there is a face in the stain.

And maybe it is what you were “meant” to do.

Different post up at MGC

121 thoughts on “Crooked Lines

  1. Color of your wings? I’m be more concerned if your wings were bat-like. [Very Big Evil Grin While Flying Away Very Fast With Dragon Wings]

    1. From personal knowledge, I can attest that her wings are not “bat like”.

      More like a flying squirrel’s.

          1. Bwahaha! *ouch* Ha, ha, ha, *ouch* he, he, he, snicker, snicker.

            Please don’t make me laugh today. I started a new exercise regime and my abds are killing me.

          2. I have it on good authority she’s much more like a Madagascar masked lemur (not the real name, can’t remember it) — which also makes extraordinary leaps and SEEMS to fly from tree to tree. Much cuter, too…

          3. I beg to differ with the last line on that video, “wingless predators need not apply.” I used to have a housecat that apparently liked flying squirrels, at least she caught them regularly, and would leave their tails on the porch. I probably picked up fifty flying squirrel tails over that cats lifetime.

            1. My mother had a cat named “Bonnie Blanche Cooper” ( she had fluff that reminded you of bloomers, and a southern belle attitude to match) who was a champion hunter. She jumped 8 feet straight up in the air from a sitting position (honest!) to snatch a fleeing song bird out of the air.

              To be fair, it had been sitting on my grandmother’s spanking new bird feeder. Poor gran, she loved both cats and birds… I sympathize. I keep the cats inside, and resist bird feeder instincts. Though I might get one of those St. Francis statues. 🙂

  2. Should haves are a terrible burden to load yourself down with. Unfortunately for me trying to beat them down is like playing whack-a-mole, since once I get one subdued, another pops up. It seems to be better to say, “ow that hurt,” and follow it up with, “don’t do that again,” instead of “how could I be that stupid”.
    And one day I will figure out how to do that.

  3. Sarah wrote: “Changing directions hurts. Admitting you were wrong and moving on hurts.

    Living and gathering data over a period of time and making the decision that you should change directions based on your new situation and the new data does not mean that you were ever wrong. Different circumstances require different responses.

  4. You know I said that I wanted to be an opera singer and had the voice. I followed that from the time I was a young child– (I was told to learn the piano and not fiddle with the voice from the parents) until I finally quit in my early 20s after a rough college period when I realized that it wasn’t going to happen. I was hungry and tired, and doors closed over and over. If I had gone that way, I would NOT have met the hubby (Instead I went into the military where I found him). I would NOT have become the person I am now. I look back and sometimes yearn for the music, but now I can see that it would not put me on the same path. I wouldn’t learned that there are people out there that I can trust.

    I would have become harder– I didn’t want to become a poet because I was already one. I wrote from work. I wrote for school. Plus I didn’t know that I had a talent in that direction until I wrote for an English teacher in Germany. Before then they were just scribblings.

    When I did turn around towards the other path, it was easier (I still had to learn electronics and some math, which was hard), but I already had the skills and ability to work towards a goal because I had worked so hard for the music. When I had to give it up I thought my life had lost all meaning. Funny– I was wrong.

    It took a lot of persuading (voices etc– now you’ll think I am schizophrenic lol) before I finally gave in and decided to join the military. I was dead-set against joining. A female in our family was NOT supposed to be involved in such a male-society. My father had a lot of horror stories of what it was like to serve with women (nurses and Waves). So when my recruiter went to meet my family, my dad ran him off with a shotgun. 😉

    So going into the military was no picnic either. Even this path has been rough in many ways– it led to this disease. We think that it may have been caused by the chemicals I used as an electronics tech. (The disease needs the genes and a trigger.)

    What I am saying as this path you are on Sarah even though it is hard is probably better than other choices. I have tried other choices that have pulled me away and ended up back here. 😉

  5. my husband said “If you encounter too much difficulty, it’s probably a sign you’re doing the wrong thing.”

    I’ve given this advice too. And sometimes in my life, it was true but I hesitate to endorse it too wholeheartedly. Because some people really do “make it” after very long, difficult struggles.

    All I really know is that today – with ever-changing economy and society we live in – there is not a single “correct” path any longer. If there ever was.

      1. Uh, that would not have been my advice. But given my resume, I’m the last one to give career advice ….

    1. It’s one of those things that depends on how you take the advice– makes me think of that lady saint who observed that the Lord never gave you more than you can handle…then scowled up at the sky and added in a loud voice “But sometimes I wish You had a bit less faith in me!”

    2. I’m not one to take other people’s advice very much. Exception is Dear Wife. My parents were dead set against my joining the military (mostly against me moving away from them — very clannish family. I’m the black sheep, so to say). Altogether, it’s been a great life, but I’m glad I’m now retired. I feel sorry for the people that have to start their lives today. It’s not easy. Youngest Daughter gets her Medical Assistant degree in June and has a job waiting, but half her class are very concerned.

  6. You learn when. Also, you watch those around you trying to learn the same things. And you learn to enjoy the chaos, which is what I’ve been working at for a few years now. And when I say, “you,” I mostly mean, “me.” You pays your shot and you takes your chances, just like everyone else. And if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’. And if you get caught, you ain’t tryin’ hard enough. Assuming Himself plays dice, they’re loaded, so why shouldn’t I work to influence how they fall for me and mine? And if that sounds selfish and self-serving, why, perhaps “me” and “mine” are just a bit bigger than the bits of flesh I’m carting around right at this moment.

    1. In completely unrelated news (I swear), Mrs. Dave and I completed our cross-country (and then some. also, completely un-kilted, which was painful) trip recently. Roughly two weeks – and 3700 miles – astride our steel steed with stops to visit. We’ve landed in southern Maryland, and Mrs. Dave seems to be fitting into the new command. We’re likely to sign a lease for a large-ish place this afternoon, head up to Baltimore to retrieve my lady wife’s conveyance, and get our household goods shipment sometime this next week. Which should just about fit into the upstairs, with room left over. Good thoughts, positive energy and efficacious prayers for our safe travel are thoroughly appreciated. Let me know how and when I can repay, and if you’re ever in the area, stop in and set a spell. Though not an actual spell, as I doubt those harder than I doubt my own faith. Water of life is the libation of choice, and I look forward to meeting you face to face.

      1. Thoughts and prayers are on the way Dave. I read somewhere that I should be in a constant state of prayer and I fall short of that by _a lot_. Thanks for the reminder!

          1. I hope so. I do that A LOT.
            Actually I realized sometime ago that there’s a more or less continuous monologue at the back of my mind that goes something like this “This is okay, right? Not to far? So, should I help them? What about her? Does she need help? Yeah, I know it’s going to cost me, but sometimes you can’t pass by on the other side.” ON and ON AND ON I don’t know if it’s praying. And I can’t say I get answers — though I get a “sense” but the “sense” might be my inner compass.
            Sometimes there’s something very like a nudge back “check on him, he might be/is in trouble” but most of the time there’s the monologue in the back of my thoughts.
            Prayer or day planner? Who knows?

  7. Amusing anecdote that fits well with this posting: when I joined the Air Force, I wanted to go into imagery intelligence. It was my first choice, and I got it. I needed a Top Secret clearance for the job, and the FBI and other agencies began questioning people I’d grown up with.

    If you know anything about the South, and southern families, you know they stand together against everyone outside. The FBI came to my dorm and told me that I wouldn’t be able to get a clearance if they couldn’t question people back home. I had to call my parents and explain to them what was going on, and have them convince the neighbors that I wasn’t being investigated for an axe-slaying or anything else drastic, just for a security clearance.

    It took almost a year, but I finally got it. It led to some “interesting things”. 8^)

    1. LOL. It would be that way in the old village, too. That and I once had friends from out of country visiting — they asked for my house by my dad’s name…
      If we hadn’t happened to meet the neighbor we wouldn’t know what had happened “We gave them wrong directions. If they didn’t know the family nickname, they couldn’t be friends.”
      … When our friends made it to the phone booth and called we tried not to laugh.

      1. My grandmothers phone is still listed under my grandpa’s name (he has been dead for over twenty years), but even while he was alive you always knew when anybody calling was not a friend. His name was Marvin, but even people that knew him for years didn’t know that unless they had reason to see him writing it on something official, because he went by Bill. If someone asked for Marvin you knew they were probably a salesman.

    2. Oh yea– the getting the security clearance. I had to call my dad to warn him. Then he invited the guys to a church event and dad had to vouch for them as they asked questions about me. 😉

    3. When the then wife first got a job with a government contractor they submitted a request for a security clearance with the caution that the process generally took a couple of months. She got approved in three weeks which caused the HR folks to remark that such quick response usually meant that you had an active FBI file. Shocked her, but no surprise to me as at the time I still had an FFL and had worked a number of years for C&NW railroad during a time when employment required a full background check, a holdover from when much military equipment moved by rail. So she had in actuality become a “person of interest” by marriage.

      1. I spent a year working in Washington, DC, at the Navy Yard. While I was there, I thought I’d check on my FBI file. The lady brought me TWO 2-inch thick folders. I had a clearance that required recertification every five years. I know they still keep track of me BECAUSE of that security clearance, and the jobs I’ve worked at. It’s sometimes very interesting to see what’s actually in those files.

  8. I would phrase it as “if you encounter too much difficulty and you never make any progress, it’s a sign you are doing something wrong.” Tasks that involve physical coordination take me longer to learn (I do learn eventually, but I don’t learn as fast as the average bear). Things where I make no progress whatsoever–hmm, I wonder what this “pull” label on the door I’ve been pushing on means? “Too much difficulty” is subjective and provides an easy out for Team Special Snowflake. If yer not bleeding, suck it up, sunshine 😉

    If you really want it, that is. It’s perfectly OK to decide the game is not worth the candle. Done that too. But I come from a long line of pig-headed people. Our motto is “Sez you!” And there are few victories as sweet as succeeding when others have told you you will fail. So take a teaspoon of Mulliner’s Buck-U-Uppo and sally forth!

    1. If you’re making no progress, or if nothing shinier comes along… well, that may explain why I’m not firmly bored in a good paying middle management job, but instead am not that far off entry level with a thoroughly interesting life before and behind me.

      Wouldn’t trade it even if I had a do over option!

    2. The sweetest moment was telling a flight instructor (who’d advised me to quit when before soloed) that I now had my Airline Transport Rating. There are at most a few thousand women in the world who have that license. 🙂

        1. Rock on!

          …wait, this means you’re certified to be “of sound moral character”… heh.

    3. Reminds me of something I heard Brad Thor say once: that writing was the thing that scared him the absolute most, and that’s how he knew it was what he was supposed to do. I think a lot of things are like that.

  9. A couple of points, then commentary.
    Ulysses Grant was a failure at business, as well as every other endeavor he attempted, until he became a commander of the Union army in, IIRC, Tennesee. Lincoln gave him command of the US Army after ditching McClellan, figuring, “What do I have to lose?”
    Stephen King reputedly sent story after story to SF&F editors, with no success. Finally, an editor took the time to tell him that his stories were not what they wanted, but since the publisher had several lines what else did he have. He replied, “Well, I have a horror story.” And The Shining took off and he’s been laughing all the way to the bank ever sense.

    Sarah, I write because I have always dreamed of being a writer. My failures are myriad, my successes few, but I can’t stop.
    For many years people kept implying that I should get a ‘real job’ to support my family – this while I had a steady income to provide for them. But the voices persisted, and I quite often ditched writing for other income. (This, despite one year making over $10,000 in writing income. But it didn’t count, in my eyes, since it wasn’t fiction.)

    But I’ve never been happy at anything else BUT writing. My wife has finally come around to the understanding that writing for me is the equivalent of owning a horse ranch is for her. It might be out of reach, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”

    I’d rather try and fail, than never try.

    You’re a good writer, and you provide a forum for other writers and hopefuls to be encouraged. Sounds like success to me.

    1. There were several generals between McClellan and Grant for the Army of the Potomac. And by the time Grant commanded it, he had already done most of the war-winning, which was done mostly in the west.

      1. Yeah, I couldn’t remember for sure. But the point remains that he was a failure at everything else – which attributed to his drinking problem.

        1. Are you saying that the drinking caused the failures, or the failures contributed to his drinking?

          1. My name is RES and I endorse SPQR’s statement. The “Drunkard” label was a calumny spread by his enemies and is now generally deemed* to be caused by missing his wife.

            * “generally deemed” is an officially recognized weasel statement meaning “I read it somewhere authoritative but am damned if I recall where or want to look it up. And I saw it some other place, too.” Generally deemed is obviously much shorter to type, read and say and is generally deemed equivalent.

            1. My brain was telling me “Captain Sam Grant”, and that it started when he had a hardship-posting to California sometime after the war with Mexico. Can’t remember the author. Not Bruce Catton, though.

        2. I remember reading a bio that he failed at business, and that he was drinking a lot. Memory fails to recall if drinking was causative or subsequent.

      2. Technically Grant was never commander of the Army of the Potomac. That was Meade until the end of the war. It’s just that with Grant’s success at Vicksburg while Meade failed to destroy Lee after Gettysburg, Lincoln promoted Grant to overall commander and Grant went east to ride herd on Meade, leaving Sherman in his old job.

    2. U.S. Grant also failed as a general — if one looks at his actual record of battles, he only managed to “succeed” with overwhelming numbers against mediocre generals, and then only by engaging in protracted sieges. His “big plan” for relieving Chattanooga played out exactly the opposite of how he’d planned it — Sherman (another highly-overrated commander) failed in his attempt to turn the Rebel flank; while Hooker managed to turn his diversion into a successful drive to push the Rebels off Lookout Mountain; and Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland turned its diversion into a full-on assault which sent the Rebs heading for the hills.

      That the prevailing view of war at the time was “big body counts = great commander” (you know — Morons) meant Grant got command positions, while far more competent commanders (George Thomas in particular) got passed over more frequently than some Jewish communities. (In the late 19th century, military schools taught students that only two “Perfect battles” had even been fought in history — one was Napoleon at Austerlitz; the other was Thomas at Nashville ’64. How many of those was Grant involved in?)

      No — success in the real world is a byproduct of pureblind Luck (and a large amount of ass-kissing); if one has it, one succeeds; if not, then not. Actual Talent doesn’t mean jack-shit in the real world. All that matters is Getting The Breaks.

      1. Grant’s success was in a large part due to pure bloodyminded stubbornness. He was like a bull in a china shop, no finesse. What he did was hit the enemy straight on, but he was willing to keep sending in his men to soak up bullets until the rebels ran out of ammo or broke, while not the most efficient method, if you have enough bodies it does tend to work, and if you have enough bodies is actually harder to counter than a more tactically brilliant commander who is concerned about bodycounts.

        1. Going with your strength is not a bad strategy. Last I heard, wars aren’t decided on style points. Grant achieved the most important goal of war: he effing beat the effing enemy.

          1. And I just realized I wrote that entire paragraph as one sentence. Whew, I need to take a breath more often.

      2. “…passed over more frequently than some Jewish communities.”

        I nearly fell out of my chair laughing at that one.

      3. Why should we base our assessment on the prejudices of 19th century military schools? First, their list of “perfect battles” seems woefully inadequate (Cannae doesn’t count?!), second, well, their students ended up giving us the trenches of WWI.

        “That the prevailing view of war at the time was “big body counts = great commander””

        Really? That was the prevailing view? Not that Grant actually, you know, achieving strategic objectives was a Good Thing? Or that his willingness to actually engage the enemy (contra Meade et. al.) was a Good Thing?

      4. CF: “No — success in the real world is a byproduct of pureblind Luck (and a large amount of ass-kissing); if one has it, one succeeds; if not, then not. Actual Talent doesn’t mean jack-shit in the real world. All that matters is Getting The Breaks.” That seems a matter of doctrine the wat you present it and I suspect you’re unpersuasible to another stand. However, I strongly disagree.

        Regarding Grant, read Catton’s history of the Army of the Potomac if nothing else. 3rd volume especially. I found my copy at a library-booksale a few years ago; the set is relatively common in used book stores I’ve seen.

        Regarding success or luck or any of that, at least one recent work presents, to my mind at least, a reasonable counter argument: Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers. 10,000 hours of practice to reach peak performance is what he posits.

        From a practical point of view, if you _do_ subscribe to that point of view, then you’re automatically preventing yourself from succeeding on any terms other than those you list: ass-kissing and luck. It seems a rather bitter and hopeless place to be. Is there, in the doctrine, a first-ass, un-kissed and unlucky somewhere in the causal chain? Or do we have lucky asses all the way up/down/however you diagram it?

        If, in fact, you’re correct, I think I’ll try to dwell in my deluded mental state a bit longer, thank you. I prefer a bit of hope.

          1. Oh, most assuredly the hours. You’ve mentioned notebooks of stories in school and such. That sort of thing counted in his study.

      5. CF, Grant was using the advantages the North had: More men and more guns. (On that note, I view with great encouragement the rate at which the Copperhead Party is ensuring they lose the next Civil War the way they lost the first one, by making sure they have no gun makers in their territory.) Recognizing that you have the logistical advantage and using it to buy victories is an essential skill for a general.

  10. My wife told me that the Chinese have a saying about the outcome of your life relying on 5 factors–luck, destiny, fate, character, and education. Only the last 2 are under your control, but you can take advantage of luck when it comes or ignore it.
    She also has a parable about career choices in her little book, I recommend the whole thing if you’re depressed. Neither of our lives went the way we planned or hoped, but they’ve been good lives, and I hope for better yet.

    Then there’s always Harry Chapin and Mr. Tanner

    1. Mr. Tanner resonates for me much the same way the story did for Chapin. I pray my first novel doesn’t elicit such a succinct review. But, if it does, I’ll still have the love of the stories for myself.

      A small note of irony — of the God is an iron variety. In another life, I worked on the staff of the Palace Theatre in Cincinnati. We were fortunate to book Harry Chapin on a winter night. There was another show across town, but we didn’t really pay it a whole lot of mind … until the phones started ringing with parents concerned for the welfare of their children. They’d heard on the television that there’d been a stampede at a concert downtown and they didn’t know which one the kids went to.

      We were lost ourselves until we turned on the TV and saw footage shot at our colleagues’ show down on the riverfront — the Who. December 3, 1979.

      Two years later, Chapin was himself killed in a tragic accident.


      1. I knew an older guy at my old job who was “unlucky” enough not to get to the Who concert on time. He got caught in the shoving wave, but not under it. Didn’t really like to talk about it, understandably; he was one of those big, gentle guys who like to protect people.

  11. You sure like to stir up reflection. Please stop. I don’t have time until the kids are more… less time taking.

    Warning: overlong comment. Skip at leisure. It’s Sarah’s fault. She makes me do this.

    First, an annoyance. I really find the propagandized cliche ‘you can do anything you want if you .’ Pish. For every kid who dreamed and tried and succeeded at being President there must be thousands who do not. Likewise professional athletics. It’s not that it’s not worth aspiring to things, just set your goals based on reality. Didn’t get elected? Well, you should have been trying to run your best campaign and get your message out. If the voters voted the other guy in and didn’t want you, and it crushes you, that’s because you had your goals set wrong. If you never got to the athletic level you wanted, did you get to play the sport and play your best and hardest? Was it fulfilling? If not, then why the heck were you wasting your time?

    Second, ancient wisdom. I used to have fun by telling people that my favorite book in the bible was Ecclesiastes. If people know something about that book, it’s likely the statement that everything we do is chasing the wind and comes to nothing in the end. It’s all meaningless. Either that, or they know the Byrds song “Turn, Turn, Turn.” (Which, interestingly, my college roommate didn’t know used biblical lyrics.) However, Ecclesiastes is a great experiment. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived (if skeptical, go with it a minute), set out to try most of the things people think will make them feel fulfilled. I don’t think he was after happiness, but meaning. He tried lots of women and partying. He tried great learning. He tried building huge works. He enjoyed power, fame, and riches. Yet he himself declared it all meaningless–chasing the wind.

    Why do I like this? It saves me a great deal of trouble. I can confidently say that if I became hugely rich (because, of course, you know I could do that for sure if I really tried, for sure, yeah) I would find it meaningless because Solomon, wisest man, did so. Pretty much the same with becoming the most learned, greatest political leader, etc. etc. I like the crack “all I want is a chance to *prove* money won’t make me happy,” but Solomon been there did that so I don’t have to.

    So Ecclesiastes does say where meaning lies, given the failure of money, fame, women/men, partying, success, power, even wisdom. It basically says that following God and being content with the work of your hands is a great gift. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but this way of thinking helped me a lot growing up.

    Third, and finally. In a similar vein, the whole idea that there should be/is a ‘plan’ for our lives is right but wrong in the way most people think about it. The ‘plan’ is not where you live, what you do for a living, who you meet, how successful you are at what you do, and how much money, fame, power, security, etc. you get. The ‘plan’ has a lot more to do with how you live. If you get married to somebody, try to treat them right and stay married. If you have children, love them, care for them, bring them up right. Make your life a stepping stone. Don’t be a wild partier and give in to every crazy impulse you have. Love your neighbor as yourself. The best thing about this ‘plan’ is that it’s accessible to everyone–you don’t have to be the best writer, the best debater, the smartest at math, the most physically skilled. I’ve known a few people who weren’t nearly as smart as me but were pretty darn good at following this plan. I’ll take one of them over fifty politicians, professional athletes, or publisher-pushed bestselling authors any day.

    1. Jeff, Exactly! Or you can read Goethe’s Faust if you’re inclined. The deal he made with the devil was (a free translation from memory), “If I ever say to the passing minute, linger a while, there is such beauty in it, then you can take my soul.” OK memory fades, the last clause was much more poetic. In any case, like Solomon, he tried everything until he finally found his fulfillment.

    2. Yes.

      I recently was doing one of those “life management” exercises where you imagine your own funeral and figure out what you would like people to say about you … and what I came up with was I would like people to say “she was honest” and “she didn’t just talk about her faith, she lived it.” You could achieve that with (almost) any kind of work/family/talent combination. Those kinds of things are on a different level, really.

      1. The only epitaph I would ever want would be “He never stopped trying to do better.” Better as a husband, as a father, in whatever job I held… it didn’t matter. What mattered was trying to do things better, to relate to others better, etc. Sometimes it worked. I had an “interesting experience” when my boss at RAF Alconbury was leaving. He said he’d heard through the grapevine that I was a pain, a slacker, and needed to be carefully watched. He said that he’d found me to be the best NCO he’d ever worked with, and that it had been a pleasure working with me. That was a better reward than any I could have ever been given. It didn’t hurt that I had 21 excellent people working with me — people that listened, paid attention, and were willing to learn. Most of us still keep in touch on Facebook.

        1. with grim determination? Kinda depressing .. yet I guess it’s what we all do in the end.

      2. I don’t believe in epitaphs but if I had one, it would read: “Damn, this is a waste of good dirt.”

          1. You don’t like that one? How about “He left this world as he entered it: Screaming and covered in someone else’s blood”

    3. No, I didn’t plow through that entire comment – sorry, I’m mostly skimming while I’m working on other things right now – but I really liked and agree with the first paragraph. Set the right kind of goals, do your best, and if it’s really not giving you any satisfaction in the trying, drop it and try something else!

      Yes, there might be some cases where someone was hating what they were doing, until they actually became good at it, but it’s rare.

    4. Jeff Mauldin | May 8, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
      > I really find the propagandized cliche ‘you can do anything you want if you .’ Pish.

      Indeed — stunningly, and embarrassingly, Full Of Shit is this cliche.

      I cite myself as an example: Everything I have ever wanted to be in life either requires 20/20 eyesight (which genetics has denied me), and/or required other people to have made correct decisions (witness the Mongolian Cluster-Fuck which is the US space program — which decisions were made long before I even left grade school), and/or required the support of parents or other “connected figures” (mine either ignored me, or I was never close enough to pull the right strings and scratch the right backs). I write because THAT IS ALL WHICH OTHER PEOPLE HAVE LEFT ME. The notion I could have “been anything I wanted to be” is a load of Lefticle Feel-Good twaddle. What one is in life has been determined *long* before one is even born. The only variable is: Does one insist on “know your role and shut your mouth”, or does one decide “I can’t win, and I can’t break even — but I can still quit the game”?

      1. When people offer sympathy for my being restricted to a low carb diet I cheerfully proclaim that I am allowed to eat anything I want — so long as I only want to eat things low in carbohydrates (occasionally adding: or so long as I am willing to abide by the consequences.)

        So, too, with the ‘you can do anything you want if you’ advice. You can do anything you want so long as you only want to do things you are capable of doing. While I desperately want to walk on air, those few occasions I tried doing so ended badly at the foot of various stairs.

        1. You’re supposed to start out by walking on air off the bottom step, not the top one. It will still end badly, but the number of bumps will be reduced.

  12. “why didn’t he adhere to that when I tried to walk away from writing after years of running in place?”

    But in a sense, you _were_ doing the wrong thing. (Or at least, you were doing it the wrong way. The distinction between this and “doing the wrong thing” is one which could be argued indefinitely without ever reaching a satisfactory conclusion. Linguistically they’re distinct, but in terms of managing your life, they’re really not.)

    If you’re working too hard at digging a trench, it’s a sign that you’re doing the wrong thing…which doesn’t mean you stop digging (’cause hey, that trench needs to get dug!), but rather that you acquire a backhoe. “What you do” changes from “exhaust yourself with a shovel” to “operate machinery”, the trench gets dug faster and better, you save yourself chiropractic bills, and everybody’s happy.

    Likewise writing. Driving yourself insane fighting with legacy publishers? Stop it! Find a way to sell to _readers_ instead! The stories still get written, you get paid, readers get to read, and the soulless trolls running the legacy publishers have one less drone to push around…once again, win all ’round. (Which appears to be the advice you got from Kris Rusch.)

    For any given objective you want to achieve, there are probably dozens of ways of getting to it. Most of them obviously suck, and will be ignored by anyone who’s not completely crazy. Most of the rest of them _also_ suck, but only in ways that most people don’t figure out until they’re knee-deep in the process. The whole point of “if it’s too hard, you’re doing the wrong thing” is to get those folks to back up a bit, see the big picture, and (instead of giving up on the objective in despair) try some other way of getting to it, that sucks less.

    Oh, and one doesn’t need to comprehend the entirity of the Divine Plan in order to recognize that a world in which Sarah Hoyt novels are available for purchase is vastly superior to one in which they are not. So clearly you did the right thing in the end. 🙂

    1. Thank you for that last paragraph.
      Yeah, if I’d known what I know now, I’d have put the novels in a drawer against the day. BUT hey, I have the rights back — it will just take time to get it all up 😉

  13. 1. Two words: survivorship bias.

    We celebrate winners, so we like to hear about/from the people who persisted against all odds and prevailed. We rarely hear from/about the ones who seriously damaged or ruined themselves by persisting. (To be fair, neither do we hear from/about the ones who quit but shouldn’t have.)

    2. My grandmother was fond of saying “G-d writes straight through crooked lines.”

    While that may sometimes be true, it’s also true that the mind can infer spurious patterns in random events (apophenia).

    3. It was in fact a way of saying that it was all for the best, in the best of all possible worlds.

    I can never read that phrase without recalling Candide: “If this is the best of all possible worlds, just think what the second-best must be like.”

    4. (Added) My quick take on Jeff Mauldin’s comment is that it overlaps with the above but has a constructive emphasis. I urge prudence, not timidity. Afaic prudence means honest assessment of risk, not necessarily avoidance even if the risk is major.

    1. “We celebrate winners, so we like to hear about/from the people who persisted against all odds and prevailed. We rarely hear from/about the ones who seriously damaged or ruined themselves by persisting. (To be fair, neither do we hear from/about the ones who quit but shouldn’t have.)”

      Not always true, some of our most famous heroes are those that stood their ground, and died where they stood. The Three Hundred, The Alamo, etc.

  14. It’s fairly reasonable of me to give up on being an angel (the first to make a comment on the color of the wings gets carped) or a cat when I realized these were impossible.

    …You realize this resulted in my brain producing the image of a cat with red macaw wings, right?

    1. Great. Now I’ve got a mental picture of one of those angel cat statues that were popular in the late 1980s. Except the cat has the string to a whale-laden trebuchet in one paw and is typing with the other.

        1. First you hit your head really hard. This gives you the DRIVE to learn to draw. Then you take half a dozen courses. And then you can sort of draw. (I’m not wonderful.)

  15. Well I pretty much consider myself an utter failure, wouldn’t do a damn thing differently. I earned every damn grey hair and scar and they are mind dammit. BTW Why were the thinking your scales, err I mean wings were mammalian?

    1. Well Sanford, devils are fallen angels and are shown as having bat-like wings. [Evil Grin]

      Oh Sarah, Mom once got an Angel Award for helping out in the community. Dad reminded her that the Devil was an Angel. He got Mom’s Patented Dark Brown Look in response. [Smile]

    2. If I died today I would rate myself a failure or at best as someone who fell far short of what might reasonably expected from his potential. Knowing what I know at this point in time, I damn well should have done things differently.

      But I’d have to think at length about what those different things should have been.

      I could have been a worse failure, and it’s not inevitable that I’ll rate myself a failure when I do die. Some of the cushy opportunities I passed up were unethical or soul-destroying. That’s not the whole reason I passed them up, but it often was part of the reason. It’s not obvious what to have changed without prostituting myself.

      Whatever time remains to me is not well spent on regrets. I’ll continue teetering and slogging in the swamp on the ledge.

      1. Via Miles Vorkosigan via Bujold (maybe via somewhere else):

        Choose again and change.

  16. I was told once that the more accurate translation goes something more like, “in everthing God works for the good.” Because certainly bad things happen, not everything is for the best.
    And as for the Chancellor and Granny Weatherwax replaying their lost romance: “But what about when our house burned down and killed us and all the babies?”
    “Well, then, we wouldn’t be missing them now, would we?”
    Or you might look into “Action in the North Atlantic”, the 1942 Humphrey Bogart movie. “Boats” O’Hara, played by Alan Hale Sr. had a running monologue about how there was nothing to worry about because always one of two things could happen, and if one happened, everything was ok, so nothing to worry about, and if the other happened, there was STILL nothing to worry about because. . .

    1. “Sing sorrow, sorrow, but good win out in the end.”

      Or, a much more recent version from my mom’s family– “Things work out in the end; getting there can be a bitch, though.”

    2. Is it the one about the only things to worry about are if you’re healthy or are you sick? If you’re healthy you’ve got nothing to worry about, and if you’re sick, there’s only two things to worry about. Are you going to get better or aren’t you? And if you’re going to get better… etc., etc., etc…?

    1. May you have just enough time to rest and recover before being hired for a very non-sucky job!

      1. Thank you kindly. I’m in a fairly decent financial situation right now, other than being now jobless in a bad economy, so I’m definitely not feeling as bad about this as I normally would.

        1. Good sir, my general advice for people in your situation is: be ruthless in trimming down your budget to true essentials, and do it immediately. Plan for the long term of reduced income. And good luck.

            1. Having savings and no job is much better than having lots of debts and no job.
              I know, I’ve done both.

        2. I want to add my belated good wishes on you finding a better job soon. {{{HUG}}}

    2. One of my firings was particularly devastating because I had long sought the job.

      Considerably later it struck me that otherwise the company likely would have sent me to cover a conference—100+ stories up the World Trade Center on 9/11.

      Coincidence? Presumably, but I can’t help wondering if there is something I am meant to do before shuffling off this mortal coil.


    3. I know what it is it lose an incredibility sucky job. There will be a better one.

    4. I’m sorry. Keep in mind that even in a down economy it’s not hard to find a sucky job. Trust me. I’m at work right now.

  17. The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
    Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
    Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

    Until you can do something about the universe giving you the finger, regrets are pointless. Face forward and march on.

    Please do try to learn from mistakes, if only so you can repeat them more inventively.

  18. Weird coincidence– I have been studying scholastic metaphysics (ie. Aquinas). Why? Um, just (‘)cause? (Oh dear, that turned out worse than I thought…)

    Thanks for this. I almost wish you’d written it about six months ago. I was going through a crisis– though obviously I got through it. Mostly because my husband won’t stop saying “you are a writer! Deal with it!”
    (Yes, he was sometimes nicer than this. Sometimes I just need a swift kick in the chair.)
    And yeah, it’s mostly about dealing with that. The stories won’t leave me alone, and someone else may as well benefit from it as me… and people want to hear them, it seems.

    1. My husband says the same. And writing is less work than fighting it. Besides, he says I become a b*tch on wheels when I’m not writing. Considering my baseline when I’m not a b*tch on wheels, I wouldn’t wish having to live with that on anyone, much less the man I love.

  19. LOL… My husband says that I’m more depressed and difficult when I don’t write. And, there are three things to fix depression– writing, walking and… yeah, that. I apparently have a “writer’s glow” when I’ve been writing, too. Curious, disturbing and funny all at once.

    Yes, my husband is the sort of man who *would* call me a b* on wheels if I didn’t write, but he hasn’t. I do know there are days when I can’t stand myself. Definitely a sign I need to go elsewhere. I’m still trying to figure out how it works that I most need to write when I have spent too much time inside my own head. Yet, what I’m writing is still inside my own head. Where’s Aquinas when you need him? Bother!

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