I've been sitting here for the last couple of days with my storm shutters in place, waiting for Hurricane Dorian to make up its mind — actually, I just checked the storm tracking sites, it looks like the storm's finally starting to meander north, and may end up being more dangerous to the Carolinas than here. Here's hoping it just blows out to sea and spares us all any more unneeded pain.
The last time a storm came by, and the time before that, I reflected on the whole notion of putting life on hold while you wait for Something Big to happen. But Something Big is always in the offing; you just don't see it most of the time. There's no sense in delaying life because things aren't quite right yet. I know I've said this before; it just bears repeating, with some new insights.
Sure, it makes sense not to go to the beach when a Cat 3 is headed up the coast, but it doesn't make sense to wait for all the (typically arbitrary) ducks to get into order before doing something you care about. Conditions are never going to be ideal.
I used to be terrible about this, and to some degree I still am. I have this constant low-level nagging worry that things are going to be RUINED, SPOILED I TELL YOU!!! because some aspect of my future isn't going to align with my expectations for it. And the nature of those ruined expectations is always all over the map. It's not the scale of the calamity; it's the fact of it.
When I started working on my new novel The Fall Of The Hammer, I had to challenge this, because that project was scraped from the ashes from a much older project that went nowhere. My bar for what I needed to have in place before I started it was arbitrarily high, because of some sunk-cost fallacy thinking at work: I didn't want to write something only to have to throw it out. Finally I sat down and wrote a chapter, and another chapter, and another chapter, and by that point the boat was already drifting away from the dock so I jumped in while I could still aim for the deck and not the water. Here I am, 130,000 words later.
The wisest advice I ever heard about making plans of any kind went something like this: Make plans for the future, but remember plans are always made in the present moment. You have to give yourself permission to have your expectations both fulfilled and betrayed.
If you have an idea for something, make whatever version of it you can with whatever is lying around. If you only have enough paper to jot down a few bullet points, write those down. If your graphics card is only powerful enough for a few polygons, use a few polygons. If you get interrupted, you get interrupted. Worry less about results and more about the process. Worry less about conditions and more about your use of those conditions. Do what you can with what you've got, because you've got a lot more than you think.
Conditions can never be ideal, because your ideal is always an ideal — a thing in your head — and conditions are always what's outside of your head. They never match up. They may get close, and it's useful when they do. But waiting for them as its own exercise is futile.
Now. One of the toughest things about this insight is that you have to figure out on your own. It never works when someone else tells you to do it. The fact that I'm telling you about it right now will almost certainly ruin it for most of you, because you'll interpret it as something I'm requiring of you. Not something you have to require of yourself, because you've seen how other people have required it of themselves. But here I am, telling you about it, because how else is anyone supposed to know it's a good idea?
One more thing. The fact that conditions are never ideal does not mean you should not bother striving to make conditions a little more ideal. To say "Conditions will never be ideal" is not fatalism. It's not something you tell other people so they give up trying to make things a little less unnecessarily terrible. It's a recognition that there's always going to be a moving gap between what we expect and what there is. Narrow that gap, by all means! Get others to help you narrow it! Just know that you can only ever narrow it so much. How much is always going to be a private measure, something you have to come to terms with yourself.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind