My neighbor looks like Rod Serling: Call Kafka quick!

#Trust30 Prompt: When good is near you, when you have life in yourself, it is not by any known or accustomed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name; the way, the thought, the good, shall be wholly strange and new. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The world buzzes about goals and visions. Focus. Create a vivid picture of exactly where you want to go. Dream big, then don’t let anything or anyone stop you. The problem, as Daniel Gilbert wrote in Stumbling Upon Happiness, is that we’re horrible at forecasting how we’ll really feel 10 or 20 years from now – once we’ve gotten what we dreamed of. Often, we get there only to say, “That’s not what I thought it would be,” and ask, “What now?” Ambition is good. Blind ambition is not. It blocks out not only distraction, but the many opportunities that might take you off course but that may also lead you in a new direction. Consistent daily action is only a virtue when bundled with a willingness to remain open to the unknown. In this exercise, look at your current quest and ask, “What alternative opportunities, interpretations and paths am I not seeing?” They’re always there, but you’ve got to choose to see them.

[Dear Friends–stick with me on what follows. I promise it will go somewhere.–LA]

Do you ever imagine Rod Serling emerging out of the misty night, lighting a cigarette, and just holding it as the wreaths of smoke curl around his face? And he is smiling with his half-Bogie look. And then the spooky Twilight Zone music begins to play. When it’s time for the bongo solo the percussionist just goes on and on in a kind of eerie bongoese Wipe Out. And all the time Rod says nothing and smiles a wry smile, and you think…this is about me…I am the one who is going to be caught between space and time. Rod talks about you to the audience, but when he is facing you, the lab rat for this episode, he just grins as the ash on the end of the cigarette gets longer and longer. Did you ever experience that?

No? Well, I did right after I read the prompt for today.

I am not seeing any alternative paths right now because I am in the twilight zone. What kind of a question is this anyway: “What paths am I not seeing?” Perhaps it would be better if I asked “what if” questions. Like, “What if I were a painter instead of a writer? What would I paint right now that would provide a better forecast for my life?”

If I were a painter I would execute a portrait. The subject would be my unemployed neighbor because, well, he has plenty of time to sit, but mainly because he is not famous, or handsome, or athletic. He sells hot dogs and beers at football games, but if I painted him at the stadium your eye would be drawn to the field or the children in the stands. In short, he is not the kind of person who would be noticed by, say, a photographer who was looking to capture the essence of a vaporous moment. Now, he is just the kind of person Franz Kafka would notice, and I think perhaps Rod Serling as well. In fact, Kafka would turn him into a bug, but in this story he would be turned back–thanks to Rod. And I think Rod would say that he is debugged because he is not vermin. He is the meek who is to inherit the earth. I am sure my Bud-toting friend has secret ambition, but if I missed him in pursuit of my own ambition then of what value is my ambition when I cannot even see my neighbor? All I will have accomplished is to use the word “ambition” three times in a sentence and that cannot be good. So I will paint his portrait and one day someone who needs to know she is not alone will see his face and recognize her own.

My guess is that when I pursue my own ambition I fail to see my neighbor. When I hold others as more important than myself I actually do more than notice my neighbor. I become present and available–able to respond with readiness. No longer is he a minor character in my story, I see the truth that he has his own story, and it is just as important as mine. No one needs Rod Serling or Franz Kafka to speak for them if a guy across the street (me) makes him come alive by being perhaps the first non-family member to notice that…hey! He looks like Norman Fell!

The alternative path to the one I have beaten on my own is the one you are on. Wherever I go I want to go with you. Let’s invite Rod to join us and walk the new path together. But, “Put it out Rod, those things will kill ya!”

How I survived the drama of the British Museum’s Rare Mss Room

#Trust30 Prompt: I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Think of a time when you didn’t think you were capable of doing something, but then surprised yourself.  How will you surprise yourself this week?

How well this prompt goes with the previous one! Yesterday I was annoyed and irritated with the prompt because it seemed like writing it was repeating thoughts about which I had already written.

At age forty-six I didn’t think I had the ability to do all that was involved in getting a Ph.D. in History. First came two years of seminars with their attendant papers that required original research, most of it interacting with primary documents. Then came comprehensive examinations in which I had to demonstrate that I knew, well, basically everything that had occurred in history since Creation (no kidding!). Then, the greatest terror of all: the dissertation.

Basically, the dissertation is the biggest term paper you ever saw, on steroids. Its threat came in that suddenly I was the expert, and I was the only one accountable for the work I was doing. Juggling my family and work responsibilities with late nights researching and writing sandwiched between trips to Europe took its toll.

Added to this was the palpable excitement of the chase: doing detective work in the archives of some of the most wonderful libraries on the planet only increased my fears of finishing. After all, it doesn’t get any better than working in the rare manuscripts room of the British Museum after, and before, scones and tea. Then there was the day a worker in the rare manuscripts room went “postal” and threatened to take hostage a patron whose “crime” had been to take an extra plastic bag and a pencil from the museum! All this excitement would end when I finished the dissertation. I went from not thinking I could finish, to not wanting to finish, especially because of perks like this glorious drama of the Rare Mss Room, where not only were workers going berserk, but it felt heady to read original letters of John Knox in the margins of which Queen Elizabeth I made her snarky retorts!

It was a surprise to everyone, especially myself when I got it done! So now that I have finished, as Pressfield says, I will always finish, even if it means a more mundane existence. The Overland Park Library is fairly boring in comparison.

I have three unfinished projects to tackle this week. I think I will surprise myself and finish them–or go postal myself!

Just Ship It!

#Trust30 Prompt: These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Is fear holding you back from living your fullest life and being truly self expressed? Put yourself in the shoes of the you who’s already lived your dream and write out the answers to the following:
Is the insecurity you’re defending worth the dream you’ll never realize? or the love you’ll never venture? or the joy you’ll never feel?

I have had a difficult time with this prompt because it seems so similar to previous prompts in the series. It makes me wonder how Domino Project made these assignments to the guest authors. Like, did they write them all and say, “Come up with something from ‘Self-Reliance’ and send it to us”? Then perhaps they threw all the slips of papers with prompts in a hat and are drawing them out one by one?

Well I don’t know how they are coming up with the juxtaposition of prompts, but I feel like I faced this kind of fear when I did my dissertation. I had felt like the oldest extant Ph.D. student in the country and it was time to be finished. I was 99.9% of the way finished but couldn’t pull the trigger. I couldn’t slap on the concluding chapter and submit the thing. The fear was of what would happen once I was actually finished rather than “in process.” Finally, I tasered the inner perfectionist and let the chips fall where they finally fell. And, well, after a dissertation defense in which I perspired about fifty gallons of water I became doctor.

This seems to be a recurring theme in my life in connection with many projects. As I think back on the unfinished aspects of my life I wonder how many of them were 99 percent finished when I abandoned them? I like what Pressfield says about what we should do when we reach the frontier of our almost finished projects and begin to be fended off by fear of a world where we have completed our little work: “Just ship it!”