Years ago, a friend of mine was in a very tough job. Underpaid and overburdened, she wasn’t sleeping enough. She was losing weight. Yet she continued to live and breathe work, pushing herself as if her internal resources were limitless.
“I can’t do this anymore,” she told me finally. “I’m gonna quit.”
“Quit?” I peered at her. “Why don’t you impress me and take a day off?”
How is it that we can sometimes contemplate drastic measures more readily than modest ones? Maybe it’s our culture of fashion makeovers, crash diets and get-rich-quick schemes. Or maybe Easy Does It just doesn’t occur to us when we’re in the trenches. In any case, we tend to forget “how radical it [is] to be moderate,” as Saul Bellow put it.
As a lapsed pianist, I find myself up against this all the time. Sit down and play, I coax myself. Just have fun for twenty or thirty minutes. You’ll feel better. Sounds reasonable, right?
But then my evil twin gets involved. What’s half an hour going to do? Your technique is shot. Your sightreading is hopeless. Either practice two hours a day, or sell your Baldwin!
Of course I recognize that voice as bullying and grandiose. But what a convenient distraction: as long as I’m busy reacting to the bully, I don’t need to park myself at the keyboard.
Lately I’ve been trying to do some research into self-publishing options for my current novel. There’s never been a better time for authors to go this route; it’s quite affordable and offers a lot of creative control, and I’m thrilled that I could have The Measure of His Grief out there soon. But there’d be so much to consider—cover design, formatting decisions, electronic versions, marketing strategies—that I find myself teetering on the brink of Totally Overwhelmed.
Enter evil twin: You think writing the manuscript was hard? Now you’re REALLY in over your head. You don’t know from graphic design. You don’t know from publicity. You’d need to cancel your life for the next two years to do this right!
That’s how daunting it can feel even to dip my toe in the water.
It’s not so much that I need to lecture myself about a thousand-mile journey beginning with one step. Rather, I need to open myself to the possible pleasure of the baby step, because it’s from that openness that I find I can clear my head and start to solve problems.
Of course there are times when a toe-dip isn’t the answer. My friend in the bad job did wind up having to quit; her health was at stake. And baby steps don’t work for problems like oil spills. But in many cases, a tiny act can be the bravest and most eloquent thing we can do.
So for now, I’m going to do two or three small things a day to learn about my publishing options, and see if my excitement and inspiration might just bubble to the surface and replace fear.
While I’m at it, I think I’ll make a little time for the piano.
Published in The Piedmont Post, June 2, 2010