Realists

When I was younger and of the opinion that love was something one could find in the same manner in which a food enthusiast discovers new delights at exotic banquets, I dated an artist named Fishy. This was not her real name, but one she had adopted herself. This was a clue I ignored because I was in the habit of ignoring clues back then as they consistently interfered with my sampling of the female buffet.

Fishy was like a reverse superhero. By day she was an artist and an intellectual, who wore John Lennon glasses, spoke with a dry affect, and divided the world into those things worthy of her approval and those things that were not. By night she became just Lilly, a very wounded young woman, who was so fragile I thought she would crack in my arms. I had dated her because I was drawn to Fishy’s intellectual strength, only to discover I was actually dating Lilly’s frailty.

Before it ended, she asked me if I was an optimist or a pessimist. I told her I was an optimist, an identity a young intellectual like Fishy was not allowed to embrace, but which Lilly secretly yearned for. In retrospect, however, I was neither. I am actually a realist. I believe in reality, which in its fullness is better than the optimist’s best-case scenario. Reality, which is the whole of life, is beyond judgment, beyond suffering, beyond tragedy.

But it is also beyond my ability to perceive. Had I been able to, I would have seen past Fishy to Lilly, and would have seen past Lilly to that part of her that was incapable of being wounded. I came to understand that Lilly perceived me as someone immune to hurt. I wasn’t, of course; the little me stumbling around the world could feel just as wounded as Fishy. But Lilly must have sensed in me that which runs through all of us, that which perceives the pain but does not live it. She wanted to draw it from me for herself, but I could not give her what she already had.

Which is why I encourage writers to go toward their pain in their work, but not to write about their pain. Rather, learn in your work to see through your pain, to see beyond the veil of suffering, for it is in that space you will meet yourself, the reality you have always been seeking.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
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Realists

When I was younger and of the opinion that love was something one could find in the same manner in which a food enthusiast discovers new delights at exotic banquets, I dated an artist named Fishy. This was not her real name, but one she had adopted herself. This was a clue I ignored because I was in the habit of ignoring clues back then as they consistently interfered with my sampling of the female buffet.

Fishy was like a reverse superhero. By day she was an artist and an intellectual, who wore John Lennon glasses, spoke with a dry affect, and divided the world into those things worthy of her approval and those things that were not. By night she became just Lilly, a very wounded young woman, who was so fragile I thought she would crack in my arms. I had dated her because I was drawn to Fishy’s intellectual strength, only to discover I was actually dating Lilly’s frailty.

Before it ended, she asked me if I was an optimist or a pessimist. I told her I was an optimist, an identity a young intellectual like Fishy was not allowed to embrace, but which Lilly secretly yearned for. In retrospect, however, I was neither. I am actually a realist. I believe in reality, which in its fullness is better than the optimist’s best-case scenario. Reality, which is the whole of life, is beyond judgment, beyond suffering, beyond tragedy.

But it is also beyond my ability to perceive. Had I been able to, I would have seen past Fishy to Lilly, and would have seen past Lilly to that part of her that was incapable of being wounded. I came to understand that Lilly perceived me as someone immune to hurt. I wasn’t, of course; the little me stumbling around the world could feel just as wounded as Fishy. But Lilly must have sensed in me that which runs through all of us, that which perceives the pain but does not live it. She wanted to draw it from me for herself, but I could not give her what she already had.

Which is why I encourage writers to go toward their pain in their work, but not to write about their pain. Rather, learn in your work to see through your pain, to see beyond the veil of suffering, for it is in that space you will meet yourself, the reality you have always been seeking.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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Bright Futures

When I was about twenty, a girlfriend asked me if I was a pessimist or an optimist. Being that I was sensitive and a little melodramatic, I had recently decided that wisdom’s highest expression was a kind of informed despair. Despite this, I thought for a moment and replied, “I’m an optimist.”

If I were a pessimist, I don’t think I’d ever get anything done. I have a friend who worked very hard a number of years ago to transform education. He succeeded on a very small scale, but obviously things in the classroom still remain essentially as they were 150 years ago. Whenever he talks about education now, his ideas are always forward-looking and refreshing, but it is unlikely he will ever be a part of changing education because he has become a pessimist. People, he has come to believe, are rotten and stupid and narrow and hopeless – not all of them, but somewhere in the last twenty years the scales were tipped for the worse.

I make a point not to talk to him about education now. I think of him whenever I listen to people like James Bach or Sir Ken Robinson discuss how we learn. Much of what these men are saying now my friend has been saying since the 60’s, but these two men, and many other men and women like them, are optimistic. Which is to say they remain committed to the idea that humanity can—and indeed must—evolve. Change may be slow, but it is inevitable, and it is never corrosive, at least not in the long run.

I’ve heard it said that pessimism is a sign of intelligence. This may be so, but it is only a sign of intelligence unmoored from wisdom. Wisdom is always an expression of life’s unshakable balance. Do not argue for the balance; as with the balance you find on a tightrope, you can only feel it—there is no evidence for this balance beyond you standing tall. Pessimism and despair are nothing more than the mind’s cry for help. Life, whether we complain about it or not, moves ever forward. The optimist accepts this and assumes the future is some place he’d like to be, since that is where he is headed; the pessimist has decided that any future his mind cannot predict is not a future he wants any part of.

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The Accuracy Of Pessimism

Today’s Author Minute has James Dashner talking about making money as a writer. As he accurately points out, there is a prevailing attitude among many publishing professionals that it is approaching pure fantasy to believe you will be one of the lucky few who manages to scrape out a decent living writing, let alone make a good living—especially if that living is going to be made writing fiction.

I have never seen the point in this, though it does not surprise me in the least. I was speaking with a psychologist the other day who shared the theory that today’s humans are descended from the most paranoid and pessimistic of our ancestors—it is only our incessant and desperate need to survive at any cost that has allowed us to flourish to the degree that we have today. Lovely. It seems to me more likely we have flourished despite the most pessimistic and paranoid amongst us.

Writers make money, and those who make more of it tend to fall into two camps: those who never think about the money, and those who are determined to make a lot of it. Not counted here are those who firmly believe they will never make any money at it. I cannot stress enough that if you tell yourself you cannot make money doing something then you will not. It is as close to a guarantee as you will get in life.

Pessimism runs deep in humanity. This same psychologist friend noted that pessimistic predictions often come true more often than optimistic predictions. But this is easy. If you predict you will fail, the failure will occur immediately—the flower will simply decline to grow. If, on the other hand, you predict success, this success may take time, and all the while the success is growing, whispering in the back of your mind will be the quiet pessimistic voice reminding you of the folly of believing in something not directly before you.

The comedian Jon Stewart said he was a success the moment he decided that he was committed to a career as a comedian not matter what. Bravo. Success is the realization that you are allowed to do anything you want until you decide not to, whereas the lie of failure is the belief that most things come through the miserly channels of luck, and you have no choice but to stand powerless and see how your die lands.

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