Knowing a thing is not the same as understanding it

4 Nov

I think one of the hardest parts of life is losing momentum.

When I first wrote that sentence, I initially said “one of the hardest parts of being an artist” but then I stopped to think about it and realized, no, it’s just life in general. Whether it’s an art project, career endeavor, relationship issues, a new diet or exercise routine… if you lose your momentum, it really sucks, and it really messes with your world. It’s hard to get back into the swing of whatever it was you were doing, and the longer you take to get back to it, the harder it gets to do so.

Sometimes it’s a case of losing skills, as with things like drawing or say, parkour, which require regular practice to be good at it. Sometimes, it’s a case of losing motivation, like with a diet or exercising, because eating cake and watching TV is infinitely and more immediately gratifying than making a salad and hitting the gym. But sometimes, and these are the worst times I think, sometimes you lose your passion. Those are the times when you feel like you’re dying inside a little each inert day, as the moments slip away…along with every missed opportunity.

Those are the worst!

I get that way a lot. It’s probably my greatest obstacle when it comes to being a successful… well… anything! I get really into something and then something happens and, for whatever reason, the fire in me goes out. I lose my passion. It manifests in the form of writer’s block, or self-sabotaging, or simply not being interested anymore. Everything from a nagging sense of doubt in the back of my mind that plagues me until I give up, to extreme anxiety attacks and profound health issues. I am my own worst enemy.

Or I was, anyway. That was the old me; the version of me that lived for the moment and couldn’t concern herself with how she might feel come morning, let alone six months down the line. Fact was, I lacked patience and I lacked discipline, and what wound up happening was that I let myself flit from thing to thing, helter-skelter, with no real purpose or direction, until the next interesting thing catches my attention and then I’d be all about that for a while… until the next thing. You get the point.

The problem with that is, besides the obvious of being a quintessential flake, that you can’t be like that if you want to write. I suppose there are exceptions to the rule, but generally speaking writing is a very lengthy and lonely craft, as I’m coming to learn. It requires a level of dedication that is only rivaled by perhaps keeping bonsai trees. Put bluntly, it takes time to get words onto a page. Back in college I remember being impressed with myself that I could pump out a 5 page, double-spaced paper inside of an hour. Novels are a lot longer than that. Then add to that the research, and the time spent crafting your tale… It adds up, and it adds up quickly. Writers need patience and they need stick-to-it-ness (which I believe, in the days before George W. Bush, was called “determination”).

Along with learning how to outline a plot arc, and how to write with a partner, I also had to learn how to be patient and not get fed up at every bump in the road. Because the honest-to-goodness truth is that I don’t have a stellar track record when it comes to sticking things out or taking them to the next level. My pattern is to get into something and do it for as long as it’s fun, but as soon as it gets hard I lose interest. I’m not naturally this born go-getter who’s willing to make sacrifices because I’m looking at the big picture. I had to learn how to do that. I’m still learning how to do that.

Over the course of the past three years that I’ve been working on this story with my partner, I have had to overcome many challenges. None of them have been as hard as losing momentum, though. It’s something we still struggle with to this day, and something I’m sort of struggling with a little bit right this moment. And what I’m starting to realize, is that maybe this part of it never really goes away. Maybe it’s always easier to eat cake and watch TV. Maybe it’s just a matter of learning how to deal with that and developing the ability to see the bigger picture. Or maybe it just takes a little passion.

Once you get the passion going, it’s one of the best feelings on earth! It’s like a combination of being in love, hanging with your best friend, and eating your favorite food while watching your favorite movie in your favorite place, with a dash of healthy obsession for zest. And just like the inertia of not doing anything feeds into the despondent mental state of losing momentum, accomplishing goals feeds into the passion-driven euphoria. The more you do the thing you love, the more you want to do the thing you love, the more accomplished you feel, the happier you are. And not just “oh I found a twenty!” kind of happy, but deep, intrinsic, soul-satisfyingly happy.

But then just like that! It can disappear and you’re left wrestling with the doldrums of un-productiveness.

I tried to write this blog post several times before, but I wound up deleting it every time. Not because what I’d written was all that bad, but it felt self-indulgent to post it. I was writing for the sake of writing, in an effort to get the passion going again. I was faking it until I making’ed it (I wanted it to still rhyme – don’t take this from me). Everything I was writing though felt very self-serving and none of it was worth sharing with other people.

But I think this draft is a little different. I’m coming off a month of very little progress. Everything from my writing to my sleep and eating habits fell to pieces in the past four or five weeks, and while I’m not happy about it, I did do some serious soul-searching about it and I am taking away a lesson. It’s the lesson that I think is worth sharing, and why I’m writing now. I learned that it’s never going to be truly “easy”. I will have to hone my craft, learn new skills, really focus and apply myself, and there will always be more appealing things than doing what I’m supposed to do. But the trade off for getting my personal goals accomplished is that it fuels my passion. Maybe I wasn’t born with some gift that allows me to buckle down and focus, but I can learn how to do those things. And maybe it’ll get going only to suddenly be hard and passionless all over again, maybe it’ll always be a back-and-forth, give-and-take between moments of passion and moments of struggle… But I’d rather be excited and feel my soul on fire with passion at least some of the time, than not at all.

For a long time I’ve said “the only guaranteed way to fail is to stop trying”, but until recently I’m not sure I really believed in it. I believed that it was a true statement, but I wasn’t sure I believed I could live by it. But I think I can, and I think so long as I keep trying and faking it until I making it (not a word), that I’m on the right track. It doesn’t matter how many times I fall down as long as I always get back up. It took me my entire adult life thus far to really internalize that concept, but I think I’ve got it now. And that’s what I wanted to share, in case anybody else was struggling to understand the same thing.

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