Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Beginner's Guide to Joyful Living -- Day 26

I remember a hot summer day in 1985, when my youngest son was a toddler. I filled a plastic wading pool in the backyard, and he entertained himself by dipping cupfuls of water out of the pool and pouring it into a concrete bird bath. His forehead puckered when he realized he wasn't making progress. No matter how hard he worked, the water spilled over the concrete rim and vanished.

In our adult lives, we may sometimes feel as if our good works are never good enough, that we give and give, only to see our offerings swept aside.

It is human nature to want your life's work to matter. Yet your career or avocation may never be acknowledged, much less appreciated. Just like my son and the bird bath, efforts can seem wasted.

But that doesn't diminish them.

I vote for trying again and again. Lord knows, I wrote for a decade before my first novel was published, and while my nerve often faltered, my heart was true. Nevertheless, it was a long, hard road. It never was, and never will be, easy.

One Mother's Day, my eldest son gave me a card:
To Mom, 
I've never seen anyone try harder and get nowhere. 
Love, Trey.

He had a point.

Still, I refused to give up.
I kept filling that bird bath--and a thousand other unfillable things.

Taped to the wall over my desk was a poem by Marge Piercy, and it gave me hope and grit.
For the Young Who Want To 
by Marge Piercy
Talent is what they say 
you have after the novel 
is published and favorably 
reviewed. Beforehand what 
you have is a tedious 
delusion, a hobby like knitting. 

Work is what you have done 
after the play is produced 
and the audience claps. 
Before that friends keep asking 
when you are planning to go 
out and get a job. 

Genius is what they know you 
had after the third volume 
of remarkable poems. Earlier 
they accuse you of withdrawing, 
ask why you don't have a baby, 
call you a bum. 

The reason people want M.F.A.s, 
take workshops with fancy names 
when all you can really 
learn is a few techniques, 
typing instructions and some-
body else's mannerisms 

is that every artist lacks 
a license to hang on the wall 
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you're certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

This is your one and only life.

If you love something, give it another chance.
And another.


  1. I laughed out loud reading your son's card. Did you want to smack him or hug him, or both?

    Such an appropriate post for Wednesday. I got yanked up smartly, knowing the week is slipping away and wondering why I've let myself be distracted too often from something I really enjoy doing--so what if the AC went out, excuses excuses excuses. Today, back to my tedious hobby. Ha!

    1. I hope your AC didn't go out! Mine has really struggled in the heat.

  2. Another insightful piece! I seem to continually be filling the bird bath, at least that's how much of my life feels. Sometimes I think of my life as treading water, staying afloat but not moving forward nor sinking.

    1. I think many women share your view. The writer Tillie Olsen once said that women are hard wired to be empathetic; others' needs are indistinguishable from our own. Mothers, daughters, wives, girlfriends.... we only want to help, and we can neglect ourselves physically and spiritually.(I'm paraphrasing. It's been decades since I read Olsen's essay. I believe the title is "I Stand Here Ironing.")

  3. How I so can relate to trying hard and getting no where. Great post!

  4. Thanks for the chuckle from the note on the card that Trey gave you!! That sure put a smile on my face. I keep on making the effort...forever.