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“Most people are settling for less than their potential, for less strength, energy and vitality than they both can have and deserve. To accept life anywhere below our fullest potential is to be living in the gap, blindly accepting “what is” without ever deeply considering “what could be.” ~ Shawn Phillips 

The paradox continues.  Is it possible to live a mindful life, accepting the current reality with grace, while simultaneously setting goals to change that reality and strive for something different?  Where is the balance point between pursuing your potential  and living in the present moment, with its griefs and joys and challenges?  

On the one hand, I want to to “be a bold participant rather than a timid saint in waiting, in the difficult ordinariness of now” (Ted Loder).  At the same time, Tennyson’s poem Ulysses has always been like a battle cry to me:  

“…yet all experience is an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades for ever and for ever when I move.”

And even though that untravelled world draws me, I have come to accept that there is no possible way I will live long enough to experience everything I want to experience, to accomplish all that I desire to do.  But that doesn’t mean I’m going to settle for a humdrum existence.  Tennyson again:  “as though to breathe were life!  Life piled on life were all too little…”

When I do not challenge myself, when I settle, I become flat and life tastes stale, insipid.  Despair begins to lurk. The less I do, the more I rest, the less energy I have and the less I want to do.  When I set challenges for myself, even when I do not reach them, still I have more energy, more focus, both for the task at hand and for the rest of my life.  All reality sharper and clearer, with the pain greater maybe, but there is also greater joy.

And maybe that is an answer in itself.  In Tennyson’s poem, the aging Ulysses gathers up all of his old travel companions, and they set sail once more, determined to pursue adventure until the day they die.   It’s the journey that matters.  Writing a book is an epic adventure in itself.  Seeking publication is another.  All of it tied in with the rest of life, with the joys and the griefs, all of the events, little and big, of the reality we are moving through.

Life as a quest.  I like that.  When knights ventured out on quests, there was no guarantee they were going to find what they were looking for.  The idea was to pursue the goal as long as your were able, to conduct yourself with honor, to fight to your very last breath, and never, ever, turn aside.  Which, fellow writers, should be our quest as well:  to write the stories that are given to us to the best of our capacity, and to fight the battle of seeking publication.  We can’t all be Lancelot.  It doesn’t matter.  All that was asked of the lowliest knight was to conduct himself with honor and fight to the death.

Okay, I know it sounds corny and cutesy (either that or my speller’s busted) but bear with me just one minute while I share my most recent epiphany about the writing life.

I was returning home from a visit to my beloved but abandoned Home and Native Land, and finally had the opportunity to think about writing after days of intense visiting with relatives, nights sleeping in a tent during a prolonged and determined rain storm, and long hours of driving solo across the inspiring (cough) plains of Alberta.

Sitting in my somewhat dingy but delightfully clean and friendly motel room in the little town of Longview, Alberta, I pulled out my journal and started cleaning out the backlog in my brain, built up to the pressure point over several days of never being alone.  And one of the things that came to me during an extremely therapeutic writing session was the following musing on what it means to be a writer, which I share with you here because, hey – what else is a Blog for? 

Writers write.  It’s not so much something they do, as something they are.  Like the title of a book I saw somewhere – God is a Verb.  Well, I believe that Writer is also a Verb.

As a point of illustration, consider a bee.  You don’t waste a lot of time trying to identify the creature – you know it’s a bee because it flies, it’s shaped like a bee, and it buzzes around flowers and stings people when they interrupt it in its business.  You don’t stand there looking at the bee working away in the clover and say, “show me the honey, you little impostor!”

 

You just take it for granted that if it looks like a bee and sounds like a bee, it is a bee, and the honey is somewhere.

 

Now, if a bee were to start the same sort of messed up thinking that I’m so often guilty of, it might go something like this:

 

“Wait a minute, wait a minute… wasn’t I making clover honey?  Seems like that’s how I started out.  But this is an alfalfa field.  I can’t go back to the hive with this – it will ruin the honey; the other bees will laugh at me, they’ll never accept this… but there is no way to get it off me now, I’m covered in Alfalfa pollen.  That’s it.  I’m done for. I can never go back to the hive…”

 

And the poor confused and bewildered alfalfa laden bee finds a cold and lonely flower on which to sit idle until she succumbs to cold, hunger, and separation from the life of the hive.  Which is obviously ridiculous, and no bee in a reasonable state of sanity would behave this way. 

The obvious analogy is to stop worrying about whether or not you’re a writer and write.  Things will get written if you are a writer, as inevitably as honey will get made if you’re a bee.

Of course, whether you can sell the honey or not, is another question entirely…

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