I went to a wonderful wedding over the weekend.
It wasn’t wonderful because I got to see a bunch of people I knew again; I knew almost no one, although I enjoyed meeting everyone. It wasn’t wonderful because of the food or the dancing or the setting, although all of these were top-notch (as was the officiant, who outshone my efforts by a country mile).
It wasn’t even wonderful because it was one of those situations where the bride and groom were so perfectly suited to one another that every last person there was cheering on the union. Well, okay, that part was pretty wonderful. But it was magically, specially wonderful because of the how.
The happy couple met via a wise mutual friend who knew them both well, and who served as conduit. Long before she was able to do that, however, each of the two lovely people had done a whole lot of work.
They dated people who weren’t right (in some cases, egregiously so) and learned from their mistakes. (Note: this took a not-inconsiderable length of time.) They accepted the counsel of friends and trusted advisors, then got their own shit straight and their priorities in order. They built lives and homes and friendships that not only sustained themselves, but that they thought would be worthy of the significant other they each dreamed of meeting someday. One of them even made extensive, detailed lists of the exact things they wanted in the other (while continuing to take a fearless moral inventory of themselves, to cop a phrase from the Big Book.)
There was no sitting around eating Cheetos, watching TV, waiting for lightning to strike. There was no putting in some cosmic order with the universe and fluffing things up just enough to pass muster. There was constant, specific, meaningful work with focused intent.
Then, and only then, came the “miracle.”
* * * * *
Here’s what I have learned about envy and idle wishing: they come from a shallow place of not-knowing.
They come from not knowing what the people you’re envious of have gone through to get where they are, nor the full spectrum of what they live with to stay there: how many mountains of shit they’ve shoveled; how grueling and unglamorous the day-to-day maintenance of success can be.1 Occasionally, someone will graciously do us the courtesy of exploding the myth of overnight success or of showing us how scary success can be, but it’s rare to get a peek behind the curtain. (It’s one huge reason why I’m always hammering away at people to read more biography, the other being that they wipe the floor with most self-help books.)
For some of us, envy and idle wishing also come from not knowing yourself, and what you’re capable of, and even what the hell it is you want exactly. It’s far easier to envy someone else their success than to figure out what yours might look like, much less to go after it.
I’ve been guilty of any number of these not-knowings so many times over so many years, it shames me. I feel as though a preponderance of resources have been expended futilely in an effort to get me to K-N-O-W things. I’m like a black hole, a running toilet, an uninsulated shack of not-knowing. I am the most energy-inefficient knower I know when it comes to knowing this.
Then again, it takes you as long as it takes to figure something out. At least when you finally do know something, you get to keep it. You can’t send the knowing back any more than you can un-ring a bell.
What you do with it after that is up to you. My go-to responses have been anxiety, sadness, and (surprise!) more shame. (Shame has racked up an insane number of emotional frequent flyer points in my brain.)
These days, I’m finding action works much better. I would go so far as to say that action can be startlingly effective. It almost doesn’t matter what the action is, just that it’s an action with right intention behind it. Lists are good. Physical activity is really good. Acts of service are outstanding, no matter the size. Seriously. Anything that takes me out of myself breaks the spell, and nothing pushes me and my b.s. to the side faster than an act of service. That, and a 45-minute walk will cure just about anything. Instant perspective.
It’s also useful to have good friends and trusted advisors, like our aforementioned not-so-young lovers. I suspect that kings lose kingdoms because they have no one around them willing to argue against their own fortune in service of the crown’s. It’s really, really easy to eat Cheetos and believe your own press, a lot easier than doing the hard work of change, or the scary work of facing up to things (and working, regardless).
But all of it, work alone, or work facilitated and guided by other people, is work. The magic is the dazzling bit that the world sees, where all the work comes together.
* * * * *
More days than not, I write. I write three college-ruled sheets’ worth of morning pages that no one will ever see. I write in the Wave with Dave Seah. I write a monthly newsletter and a monthly column for actors. I write interviews (which I’m beginning to collect here). Increasingly, I write articles for publication elsewhere. I write comments on the blogs of people you’ve probably never heard of. I write (and rewrite) pages of content on this very site which most people never see but that need to be written, regardless. I write poems. I write songs. I write an unbelievable amount of emails.
More days than not, I’d prefer doing anything to writing. But every minute of every day, I’d rather have written something wonderful. So I write.
This is how I am starting to look at what I write. At choosing the things that I will write, which means choosing the things that I won’t write, and figuring out what I’m supposed to be writing. The very mushy, very vague communicatrix-dot-com has served me well as a means to get me writing, and I may well decide to keep it that way, as an outlet, and nothing more. The public-facing side of my inner work, to share my toys and keep me honest.
Lately, though, I’ve been feeling the need for more focus, more specificity, and more writing (or just more something) that supports flesh-and-blood me as much as spiritual me. I’m not sure yet what that looks like, or what that means for this space. Perhaps it’s this whole turning-50 thing, hard to kid myself that I have endless time anymore. While I don’t require a huge stack of money to loll around on in my old age, it’s reasonable to assume I’ll need some, and that while the spirit is willing, eager, even, to work until the bitter end, the flesh may not be able to keep up the necessary pace.
I am doing what I can to get clear on this on my own, and my trusted advisors are helping me with the murky bits. It’s about as much fun as writing every day is guaranteed to be, but like the writing, I seem to be getting better at it the more I do it.
When I am ready, though, I will have no problem asking loudly and clearly for what it is that I want, or for soliciting the assistance of a matchmaker (pro or amateur), or for smiling ear-to-ear when my Specific Thing and I are finally united.
And I will share with anyone the story of how a “miracle” was really nothing more than an assemblage of ordinary parts selected with ordinary concentration and fused together with ordinary labor, and finished off with a tiny dollop of magic.
1Or, in some of your creepier cases, how many dead bodies they have buried in the backyard or what that portrait stowed away in the attic looks like.
Photo © Hypnox, via. (Both NSFW)