Despite the nightly news reports and the aggravating drone of the interminable presidential election campaign, there is much about our world to make us smile, to bring us joy, to cause us to sing. I mentioned some of those things in yesterday’s post. Still, so that you won’t think an alien from another planet has invaded my body and replaced my natural cantankerousness with some kind of foreign optimism, I do need to acknowledge that, although the big picture looks hopeful, the little picture, for any of us, can sometimes be frustrating and discouraging. In my own case, I sense that frustration most keenly on Sundays, and, well, it’s Sunday.
It is partly a characteristic of my advancing maturity (another way of saying I’m getting old) and partly a consequence of my circumstances that few things stir my affections or get my emotional engine revving as they used to do. I remember when I was in my twenties and thirties, looking ahead with such enthusiastic anticipation of the future that I sometimes had to pause and let it all sink in lest I be overwhelmed by expectancy. No more.
The future I so eagerly anticipated is here, and it is not at all what I expected. Perhaps that is true for everybody, at least to a degree. Then again, I talk to people a good deal older than I am who say they are happier and more fulfilled than at any other time of their life. Based on my own experience as a newly minted senior citizen, I can sometimes barely contain the cynical side of my nature that wants to respond, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. You must have lived an unusually drab life.”
In many ways, my life is on autopilot right now. My circumstances are so far beyond my sphere of control that effort expended in the futile attempt to bring about substantive change has proven both disheartening and emotionally exhausting.
The options, as I see them, are two. I can retreat from reality, try to isolate myself from further pain, and waste away inside a cocoon of depression and self-pity. Or I can shift into autopilot, essentially living life by going through the motions, allowing the internal values and verities that have become ingrained in me over six decades of living and learning to emerge naturally, in response to the stimuli of my circumstances. I have cast my lot with option two.
Yet I know that most of those my age and older who speak of themselves as happy and fulfilled are altogether serious and honest. And since some of them have come through circumstances at least as bleak as mine, their current demeanor does give me a tiny glimmer of hope. Maybe things can be better. Maybe, with enough patience and perseverance, I can push through this rough patch, as endless as it seems, and experience something like the sense of fulfillment and hopefulness I once enjoyed.
I cannot do that, of course, if I give up completely. And so I operate on autopilot, mainly going through the motions, until things change. The last time I came to this impasse, just over three years ago, I decided to write a book. It took about a year of hard work to complete the book I called The Long Road from Highland Springs. I published it myself in late 2014, and it sold a few copies. Reviews were universally positive, but I never got the hang of marketing, so it never really gained any commercial traction.
Before I started the actual writing, I read a lot by and about famous writers. I was particularly interested in their work patterns and the counsel they offered to aspiring writers in that regard. Without exception, great writers write (or wrote) something every day. Whether they feel like writing or not, they write. It may not be profound, but often it is the essential element that saves them from packing it in altogether.
I’m an aspiring writer, and I have taken their counsel to heart. I write every day. Much of it will never be read by anybody but me, but it helps me hone my craft, and at least some of it has proven helpful to others.
More than that, however, I believe the counsel is wise in its application to the rest of life as well. Keep at it, even if it seems to be just going through the motions. It is the only way to push through to a better day somewhere ahead. At least that is what works for me these days. And I think I do feel a little better.