Wondering what to do next

Philip Martin Article published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette 1/29/17

If you are wondering what to do next, start with something blank: a clean white sheet of paper or a fresh browser window. Or a stretched canvas. Or the fraught still air of a quiet moment.

Gather whatever tools you have. Your paint pots, your pencils, your coffee, your guitar. Your nerve. The flick of hubris you try to keep tamped down during social interactions. That part of you that imagines your expression worth the attention of others. The inarticulate furiousness and dissatisfaction that troubles your sleep. Your conscience. Your truth.

Now begin.

Begin in humility, knowing the point is not to make any display of acumen or effort but simply to try. The point is to do, to fill up a lifetime with doing. To push out fear with busyness. To discover your limits and bloody your nails scraping against them.

Do not imagine an anonymous audience; speak to your ideal intimate. Do not condescend or explain or worry about what they will not understand. For if you are fortunate enough to be heard, you will be misunderstood and willfully misconstrued. If you are noticed, you will be ungenerously appraised.

Still, receive whatever criticism you are lucky enough to get. And remember that this is not therapy. You should not expect to be healed through endeavor. Do not expect any reward beyond that which is inherent in making the thing. Do not expect that you can please those who will not be pleased; do not expect that you can win friends or influence people.

This is just what you do next, what you do to keep sane. What you do to hold onto your self-respect.

Above all, you should not pretend. Do not hedge your efforts, but try to strike it flush. And when you miss, try again. Do not worry about the misses. Misses are inevitable and necessary. They are your education and experience. Your exercise.

If you are wondering what to do next, you need to avoid collapsing into whatever comfort is available. You need to be suspicious of easy habits that lure you into physical and mental lassitude. Comfort can be a trap. There are always those who would prefer you soothed and placated, hypnotized by shiny spinning things. We are liable to trade much away for the illusion that all is well.

You are an adult, so you know that all is never as well as it might be. The world is no accident; it is what we have made it. It is as much the product of our unreliability and our folly as of any thoughtfulness and foresight. Our society is an expression of our collective will.

But the world was never a blank–it was rife with creatures before we got here. We inherited a planet precariously balanced between extremes, verdant and blue and hospitable to soft flesh and warm blood. However you look at it, it took a squaring of miracles to bring us here, to deliver us to the top of a food chain, to invent our superstitions and our science.

Climbs are hard. Falls are easy, though they seem unimaginable until they happen. But they happen. All the time. Things fall apart. What we make is unmade.

It is possible that you will one day be powerless. That your voice won’t matter. But now is not that time.

Someday you may worry that your neighbor will report on you. It is easy to think that cannot happen here, but it could. It has. If you read history you know this, you know how people can imagine themselves good people even as they permit (or suborn) evil.

Consider that one of the lucky things about living in this country, in this age, is that up to now most of us have never really had to make a hard choice about which side we’re on. Most of us have been able to take for granted that–no matter how heated the rhetoric becomes–most of what we argue about amounts to very little.

There are petty inequalities: Someone pays a little more, someone else a little less. Someone is allowed access, someone else waits in the hallway. We are used to being insulated from the consequences of our choices. We can cheer for blue or red; someone will win and someone will lose and they will line up again in a year or two or four and play the game again.

Nobody goes to prison. Nobody gets tossed from an airplane in the middle of the night. (Not yet. Not that we know of, at least.)

But this can change. We might believe we have made something more resilient than what people in other parts of the world have made–a better machine into which we plug the egos and delusions of needy people who imagine themselves great, and who imagine that they might somehow “lead” us to greatness (or maybe just want to secure the spoils of office)– but nothing lasts forever.

You know how people behave. Why do you imagine yourself immune to the forces of history? Why do you imagine your nation more durable than the empires of the past? Is it because we have better Wi-Fi?

Is it because you believe that God looks on us with special favor? That He loves us more than the others?

If so, why is that? Because we are so much better at loving our neighbors as ourselves? Because we care so much for the poor and the sick?

If you are wondering what to do, turn it over in your mind. Start from zero. Imagine what might be, and try to make it so. Distrust what feels easy, the careworn cliches and the analgesic homilies. Question it all.

If you are wondering what to do next, imagine the world you want. And get to work.

pmartin@arkansasonline.com

Read more at http://www.blooddirtangels.com

 

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