It’s just work

I’m in the early stages of tackling a big edit now, mapping out the book as it is, trying to figure out what it’s going to be and how to get it there. This is the part where apprehension slips in, sometimes a kind of dread, because the path forward is uncertain. Sometimes I go in with a plan of attack, but sometimes there isn’t an aerial view, and the path only becomes clear in the doing: you just have to slash through the jungle in the direction you wish to go.

With artistic endeavours, even the destination is vague. We’re aiming for better, of course, but in writing there is never a ta-da moment something is complete, like in chemistry class when the test tube contents turn a new colour. And as we’re constantly reminded by reviews and awards and bestseller lists, this whole game is subjective.

In any case, I’ve been thinking about aversion, and offering myself a sort of mantra: Don’t be afraid of the work. I’ve written before about my triathlons, and the nerves that come with them, even though it’s something I’ve done many times before. Even though I’ve trained, even though I know the course, even though there’s only so much that can go wrong. I don’t want to suffer. But that assumes that suffering is always a net negative, and it isn’t. Sometimes suffering is a gateway to meaning.

And sometimes, as meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein reminds me in my app, suffering is just a mind state. My friend H was posting about tackling the garden in her new house the other day, saying she hoped one day she could actually enjoy gardening. It’s true, gardening is a lot of physical work. It can be frustrating, too, sometimes tedious. And it’s a lot like writing or book editing: there is no ultimate garden, no true finish line, no objective standard or unassailable truth. When it’s time to get out there and tackle my own patch of green, I am frequently uncertain but never afraid. You simply do what’s in front of you, and then you do the next thing. Sometimes things don’t go as you hoped. Sometimes they turn out better. That’s life, after all. You show up and do the best you can. You try, as Rilke says, to “live your way into the answer.”

Ideally, I’d tackle all the work in my life with my gardening frame of mind, but that seems rather advanced for this grasshopper. For now, I’ll tell myself, It’s just work, then I’ll grab my shovel and try to work my way into some answers.

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