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Ambitions, Goals, Expectations, Discipline December 24, 2014

Posted by michaelnjohns in Uncategorized.
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I set out this year to finish writing a novel or two if I could squeeze them in.  I had plenty of time, I guess.  But I don’t have time now, and I’m not going to make it in 2014.  I’ll be closer than I was last year.  I was more than halfway finished with both in the middle of the year.  Time and inspiration both failed me.  So this year, while I did write, and I’m into some interesting spots in both novels, neither one is all that close to being done.  I know what to say, and I know how to say it.  I just have to sit and write.  Sure, I have to research to update just in case the legal codes in one of the stories has updated this year.  And after I finish I’m hoping my lawyer friend will look over the one book just to make sure those parts are at least plausible.  If a lawyer “in whom is no guile” buys it, it’s golden.  If he doesn’t, rewrite.  I’m fortunate that I know one of those.  So what happened this year?

I know some people that build models.  Model cars, model trains, model planes.  They spend hours at it and when they are done they have something that is beautiful, fun, and a colossal waste of time.  Or not.  I know people who play a musical instrument.  They spend hours at it if they are serious, and when all is said and done, they have something that is beautiful, fun, might earn some brief applause, and will certainly waste a colossal amount of their time.  Or not.  I can say “or not” about these hobbyists, because I am one of them.  I do play a musical instrument.  I’m not a virtuoso, but I do all right.  I would like to learn other musical instruments, at or better than my current proficiency level.  Maybe I’d even like to learn a foreign language.

I work full time, and not at being a writer.  If I did work full time at it, I’d need to finish stuff on time.  I’d want to write for all of my blogs every day.  And that would be fun.  Oh, and then I’d need an audience that buys it.  Because, there are bills to pay, and I don’t know how to make money at it at a level that sets me free to do more.  Given a little margin of success, and a wide margin of time and freedom, I might explore that.  So for now I have to readjust and deal with realizing this is a hobby and not a career.  My wife would applaud, and I would make evil faces at the noise and the sentiment.  For all my Ambitions, Goals, Expectations and Discipline, all I’ve done this year is A-G-E-D.  Not that I’ve completely given up on my dream of finishing off these monsters, but that my time is limited between what must be done and what I want to do.  The one squeezes out the other a lot.  And then, there’s inspiration, another animal I wish I could at least cage, and let out on my leash when I’m ready to take it for a walk.  Alas, that animal is wild, not in my cage, and very adept at hiding.

What I think I have is a heart problem.  My heart isn’t in it for the reasons that professional people do it.  I play my viola for the joy of it.  I write for the pleasure of the craft.  I want to have fun and not worry about the bills.  Can they just pay themselves and let me play at writing and at my viola (and other instruments) for the fun of it?  I don’t like to write, or do anything else, under any externally imposed stress.  It’s good to push myself, but I feel the creativity of it being squeezed out, and I dry up inside, slow down, and eventually stop until I feel like I can pick it up again.

I used to read a lot.  I love books.  But there was a cycle that I became aware of, during my school years.  I read what was required during the year, I studied hard, and read very little for pleasure.  Summer would come, and I would have free time.  But it took me until the first several weeks of summer vacation before I felt like reading anything, even though it was for fun.  School was so stressful, so pushy, I dried up and lost the urge to read anything at all, because I was being forced to do it.  I would read for fun, the last part of June, through August, and then the cycle would start again.  Stress, squeeze, dry, rest, recreate.  It was almost like the books I read for fun were water to my dry sponge of life, but I couldn’t bring myself to go to the library because I was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder from being forced to read and do other things.  The cycle hurt my soul, and it takes me some time to get back to where I feel like I can read anything.  And pushing myself to do anything else at an unnatural or forced pace or compulsory direction seems to make that cycle start happening all over again.

In one week, there will be a brand new year.  When I sat and wrote in 2014, it was 500 or a thousand words at a seating.  If I keep doing that, eventually my hobby will bear fruit.  I see the buds blossoming on my hobby tree, and I’m waiting for those beautiful, fat, juicy apples to form.  And after those, I have ideas for more.  So that’s my goal for 2015, same as it was for 2014, but AGED with wisdom.  It’s just a hobby, not something to feel pressure or disappointment about, but something to take when it comes, and have fun.  Who knows?  Maybe I can finish the novels, improve on my viola, learn guitar, win the lottery and be free.  We’ve even got a symphony orchestra nearby that I’d love to play with.  But if not, I hope to take the freedom and margin I do have, and run with that.  Until I get that big payoff that sets me free to do what I really want, there’s more urgent things that I need to do, and they’re going to distract me from what I really want to do.  Here’s hoping, though.

There was a time when I sat down at the computer and researched how long the average novel was, and I had zero words on the page.  Now I have lots of words on the pages, but haven’t reached my finish lines.  I just have to realize, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.  It’s not an hors d’oeuvre, it’s a 21 course meal.  I can do it.  It can be fun.  There can be second winds, runners highs, endorphins from the wonderful, different, complementary flavors, complex harmonies.  And there will be trips, falls, skinned knees and bruises, feelings of impossibility, car repairs and other disasters along the way.  I hope you can find time, or build time, in your busy schedule, to incorporate some relaxation, fun, recuperation, when you’re feeling the stress of life squeezing the freedom out of your dreams, and then get back to pursuing them.

And I hope you have set goals and you are reaching for them, and making progress, even if it’s little-by-little.  We may not have the encouragement from the people we wish would be encouraging.  It may not be as quick as we want, or as profitable as we want. If you love doing it I pray you’ll be able to keep on pressing on toward your goals and that you’ll get there.  The journey takes longer than I ever dreamed it would, and on my journey there have been metaphoric (and literal) car problems and flat tires and family squabbles all along the way.  Keep pressing forward.  Hold tightly to your Ambitions, Goals, Expectations, and Discipline, and keep writing!  Or model-building.  Or learning.  Or practicing.  Or whatever that good thing is that you do in your spare time.  Keep on going.  Sure, we’ll end up AGED.  But that pursuit is worthwhile.  And you can do it.

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Heaven and Hell: Only a Matter of Time? April 30, 2014

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I’ve often wondered whether one man’s hell could be another man’s heaven. I mean only in an earthly sense. There’s eternal suffering to be looked forward to in one eternity, and eternal not suffering to be looked forward to in another, I believe. I believe because Jesus himself talked about a man named Lazarus in a “parable” and if I remember right, in Jesus’ other parables he doesn’t mention anyone by name. This suggests to me that Jesus wasn’t speaking in metaphor, but rather he knew a real Lazarus who was really there in paradise. I read commentaries trying to explain away the literal nature of this tale, and I respectfully don’t agree. “You pays your money and takes your choice,” says one of my favorite seminary professors, so if you choose not to believe in a literal hell, it’s your choice. I figure, if Jesus, Peter, Luke, James and John all talk about a place called hell, and worse, John refers to a lake of fire, it may not be metaphor. I’ll just think of it as a real place or places, and plan to not go there. Oh, I’ve gone so far off topic… and it was just my third sentence. so:

How would one man’s hell be another man’s heaven? Well, in eternity I would love to start my stay there by meeting up with everyone I ever did anything bad to, to apologize. Seriously, I want to do that and make things right, but on earth that may not be completely possible. I don’t know that person I might have offended at the store, or flirted with in some awkward way, or just treated wrong. Maybe I was dismissive of their need because I had other needs and tasks to attend to and didn’t think I had time to, or didn’t want to, help. Maybe I just plain found them annoying and didn’t like them. In eternity, with perfected minds, we’ll remember these things I suspect. Someone else would think that’s like a prison sentence, or an assignment from an AA group.

My idea of heaven on earth is being given sufficient time and resources to complete allocated tasks, with allowances made for distractions and emergencies. And then to do them. Where one man’s idea of hell is washing dishes or vacuuming or cleaning, I like doing those things. My idea of hell on earth is where I sit right now. Insufficient time. Insufficient training. Insufficient resources. Insufficient self. And distractions.

In heaven I would like to straighten out the messes I made on Earth, learn the things I didn’t learn on Earth, understand details and how they fit into process flow… And write. I think in heaven (or Heaven on Earth), I’d like to write novels and poetry and music without worrying about where my next paycheck is coming from and how much time I need to spend to make sure I have enough money for my needs to be met and my family to be provided for. Can I have the time and space to file things and put them where I can easily access them, instead of buried at the bottom of the stack in the cabinet so I have to unpack everything to get what I want, and then repack it away to be able to use the one thing I have just rescued from the pit?

Another man might find my ideas of heaven hellish. He’s the guy who doesn’t want to have to face the people he did bad things to. The guy who doesn’t want to fix the broken things, or clean the dirty things. Or the guy who doesn’t want to write because his professional career was fast paced, deadline driven, writing assignments lorded over by an evil editor. All he wants to do is go on a vacation, in Italy or France, or someplace tropical. All he wants to do is not stare at the computer all day trying to think of how to say something creative without being criticized as a hack by his editor.

Unlike the European vacation dreamer, I like the beach in summer, in the good old USA. I like it if I am on a patio with an ocean overlook, with something potable, cold and wet in one hand a plate of evening sunset hot wings in the other. Not so much being in the ocean where I’m not at the top of the food chain, or on the crowded, hot beach with too much on display. I like the mountains in fall. I like it if I am on a patio with a valley overlook, with something potable, hot and caffeinated in one hand and a plate of very late morning breakfast in the other. Those are heavenly places to me, but if someone has to serve me those meals, it might be hell for them. So, if I happen to be in one of those heavenly places, I am nice to whomever is serving. And I like to write, and while I pay attention to the critiques I don’t let them crush me. It’s not my primary or sole source of income or incredible wealth (yet), so the critics only teach me, they don’t control my well of resources.

While on Earth, we can’t really fix all the things that are broken, like hearts and scars and my old sugar bowl that shattered when someone dropped it. We can only do our best to wait to heal and deal with the scars, pick up the pieces, sweep it into the trash, and wait until we can afford to buy a replacement, if there is such a thing. But I want to fix everything I can, and I really wish things would stop breaking so fast. If we can’t stop the world and let people off this amusement park for a while, can we slow it down? Moving fast, that’s my idea of hell. I don’t like driving with the other drivers to the left of me and the concrete construction barriers to the right, encroaching on my lane.

“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you!” If that’s true, the clowns are the rushing drivers. And the jokers are the ones doing the construction work.

I don’t like rushing to work, rushing to work, rushing to eat, rushing to bed, rushing to wake. I don’t like roller coasters (another man’s heaven, no doubt). I like fishing, and better still, catching fish. I like relaxing, in one place. I like talking to a few friends and then being free to escape to my quiet place alone. Work is hellish because i have to continually talk to people and there is no escape until 5:00. Others thrive in a workplace environment, enjoying the contest, the commute is fun to them too. Those are the kinds I try to avoid while creeping along at the speed limit avoiding the concrete barricades. Meanwhile they rush to change lanes, aggressively jumping into traffic.

Maybe it’s not so much that the world is going too fast. Maybe it’s because I’m moving a little slower and I’m feeling that queasy, out-of-phase feeling. Maybe I just need more sleep. Sleep reminds me of heaven too. But I have a feeling heaven is bustling and busy, with lots of fun activities to pursue and the liberty to take your choice. When I get there, after I ask for forgiveness from those people, I’m going fishing. If I’m lucky, the fish will wait to bite until after I wake up from my nap. Maybe Peter will come along. I wonder if he still likes to fish. Oh, and I’ll have time to read books too. More heaven.

Maybe there’s different places to go in heaven. Maybe I can run a coffee and tea shop, when I want to. I like to do that, keeping things tidy and stocked neatly, making sure there’s always fresh brew on hand. I wouldn’t mind spending a while as a chef, or a chef’s assistant. A part time dishwasher, why not? Or restocking the library. Maybe there are slow, medium and fast paced things and places in heaven, so we all have a good time being at a pace we enjoy. Since love is patient, the fast people would be able to love the slower of us. If I have time to do what needs to be done, and I want to do it, that’s heaven. I do that work quickly, because being happy is a little lift to my step. When time is limited, and especially when time is limited and time is money, and when rude people are impatient, I get crunched and start to dislike my experience. Heaven then, for me, is having eternity to do what I want and what I enjoy doing, for people who love me for what I do. Even so, Maranatha!