Around the 5th century in Europe an epic poem called Contest of the Soul proposed a list of seven heavenly virtues. Because each virtue had a direct opposite in one the seven deadly sins, they were sometimes referred to as the contrary virtues. If you’re not up on your virtues, or your sins, here’s a quick review: Chastity opposes Lust, Temperance opposes Gluttony, Charity opposes Greed, Diligence opposes Sloth, Patience opposes Wrath, Kindness opposes Envy, and Humility opposes Pride.
The world, especially the writer’s world, still needs contrary virtues. I am immensely grateful for the virtues that fellow writers have taught me as antidotes to pesky destructive patterns that keep popping up in my writing life like demented ground squirrels.
The writing world does not behave as I think it should. I have an endless idea list about how to make it perfect, but unfortunately the letter appointing me to be in charge seems to have gotten lost in the mail. Instead of seething inside, I’m learning to do some small action that, even if it doesn’t make the whole world better, makes my world better. Anger can be a dirty, polluting fuel or it can be cleaned up and used as an energy-efficient fuel. I choose fuel efficiency.
The Clarity of the Afternoon
I am often afraid. Being a writer seems too big, too scary, too tiring for little old me to cope. What I’ve had to learn is the difference between waking up in the middle of the night, sweating, with a pounding heart, convinced that I can’t do something, and sitting down in the middle of the afternoon to clarify why I can’t do something.
The middle of the night panic is an visceral response more often than not rooted in physical imbalance. I ate the wrong things, ate too close to going to bed, drank too much tea, didn’t exercise enough, etc. Or maybe it’s pesky hormones that surge for completely unfathomable reasons. It is something that requires a lot of self-love and nurturing, not a reason that I’m going to surrender to inevitable forces.
The clarity of the afternoon is the ability to look at a situation objectively and admit that, no, I can’t do that particular thing for a good reason. I don’t know enough. I’m ignoring something that needs to be acted upon. I’m listening to what “they say” in place of listening to my own good common sense. The timing isn’t right. I have to finish A before I can do B. I am not superwoman, but I am talented and smart and quite capable of doing whatever reasonable thing needs to be done to get on with getting on.
More than One Can Win
I am such a drama queen when I get jealous, and I get jealous a lot. Everyone other writer gets bigger, better contracts; more breaks; an easier ride; and a higher place on the totem pole. In the first place, I’m afraid of heights, so if I were sitting on the very top of the totem pole, I’d be terrified. In the second place, very little in life is a win-lose situation. They’re going to win, so I’m going to lose? Forget that rubbish. There are tons of ways for all of us to win, together, helping each other up the path. To paraphrase the social activist, Emma Goldman, if I can’t dance with you, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.
Swimming Deeper Replaces Worry
Being sensitive is what makes us creative. Being sensitive is what also makes us worry. A year before his death Henry Fonda made On Golden Pond, his second-to-last film, a movie that would win him an Oscar. I’ve read accounts that he still threw up before he went before the cameras. Yes, being sensitive brings all kinds of burdens, but part of being creative is that being sensitive also brings a sense of curiosity and a desire constantly to start another quest. It’s the doing in spite of the worry that makes us who we are.
Don’t be Nice. Be Honest—In a Nice Way, Of Course
Since you’re not doing anything right now, could you . . .? Actually, I am doing something, something very important. I’m pulling an imaginary world into being using twenty-six letters, ten numerals, and an assortment of punctuation marks. So for right now, get on with building your own world for a while. I care about you very much and I’m going to get back to you right after I finish writing.