No Little Choices

So Election Day will be upon us in just a couple days, and if you haven’t voted already, I hope you do so on the day. I did not vote in the first two Presidential elections for which I was eligible. A child of the Seventies, I’d adopted the cynical attitude toward politics typical of that time. Watergate suggested that forces were at work that could not thwarted by single ballot. What difference did my vote make? Voting felt like tossing a message in a bottle into the ocean. As a young artist, I already spent enough time worrying about my own insignificance. I didn’t need one more reminder of it.

My decision to vote for the first time also coincided with my decision to write my first novel. I’d been writing stories and poems and sketch comedy since I was a boy, but now I was going to write a book, which I understood from the outset was going to take a while. Moreover, I did not outline: I found one little idea that seemed interesting and followed it until it lead me to another idea and then another idea and by and by I’d finished a first draft.

I learned early on that I could not concern myself with all that I did not know about the book I was writing. Whenever I did, I’d feel overwhelmed and as if I’d already failed. All my security and confidence lay in paying attention to the choices that stood immediately before me – the next scene, the next sentence, the next word. The more I cared about each choice, the more I paid attention to my preference for one word over another word, the more the book made sense to me even when I couldn’t perceive its entirety.

You could say this was also how I learned to vote. I looked at the two candidates that year and could feel my preference for one over the other and I decided that that preference mattered. It mattered even though I did not live in anything close to a “battle ground” state. It mattered because acting on that preference felt better than not acting on it, in the same way writing felt better than not writing. So I voted, and did not worry about the role my single vote played in that year’s election. I couldn’t worry about it – I had a book to rewrite, and I had to pay attention to the difference between what the book was and what I wanted it to be.


Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

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Shadow Elections

I am no politico, but I was not particularly surprised by the results of Tuesday night’s election – and no, not because I follow Nate Silver’s polling, nor because of shifting demographics, nor because of the bailout or Obamacare. Rather, I felt the election was decided on the difference between voting for rather than against.

It was my impression that those who cast a ballot for Romney were really casting a vote against Obama, in much the way most Democrats had once voted against Bush instead of for Kerry. I understand a vote is counted exactly the same regardless of the motivation behind its casting, but in an election as tidal a Presidential contest, such subtleties of mojo can make all the difference, and, I believe, in this case it did.

And all for the better I say, partisanship aside. Life should always be lived toward one thing, and not away from another. I have written books away from failure, dated women away from loneliness, taken drugs away from boredom, and always I was led somewhere that only needed more getting away from. These were the types of choices that – in a day, or a month, or a year – left me asking myself, “How the hell did I get here?”

At such moments life seems random and unfair, and every place looks just as lousy as the last. In my writer’s heart, I feel as if the world is one giant rejection letter. And so it is, for I have built my life from the shadows of what I didn’t want, and in so doing rejected the only one who knew what it is I wanted.

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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Choices, Choices

If you are a citizen of the United States, I hope that by the time you read this you have either voted or are on your way to vote. Voting can make one feel a bit pebble on the beach-ish, especially in national elections where it can seem sometimes as if the entire Presidency comes down to one or two districts in Ohio or Florida.

Such is often the nature with so many of the choices we make. Maybe you’ve written a book. Each of those words is a single choice. Maybe you deliberated over a word, or maybe the choice felt made for you. Either way, it was a choice. Either way, that word did not find it’s way to the page until you pulled the lever in the voting booth of your literary mind.

Sometimes when I listen to the gnashing of our political teeth on television or radio or newspapers, it easy to hear a cry for help amid all the complaints: Spare me from all these choices. They never cease. Moment after moment, from dawn until dreams I have to make them. Any one of the choices could be wrong, and any one could be right. The target keeps moving.

Woe betides the politician who had the power to deprive me of this, my most sovereign suffering. Up would stand my Minute Men with their loaded muskets. Let no one save me from myself, for I am the only one of me I have. I practice being me every day, with every word, every choice, and even every vote.

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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Responsible Choice

As you read this, you may or may not have already voted. Perhaps you do not plan to vote at all. I spoke to two people last night that unplugged their phones over the weekend having been so inundated with pleas to vote this way or that. Such is the price of living in a democracy. I admit that as the first Tuesday in any even-year November draws close I start understanding the appeal of dictatorships, with their on-time trains and mono-candidate elections. Making up your mind is such a bother, particularly with everyone shouting contradictions in your ear.

But democracies provide great cyclical life lessons. After all, what is all your life but a choice? Toast or cereal for breakfast? Regular or decaf? Private schools or public schools? Counseling or divorce? And as writers, what do we do every day when we face the blank page but choose? Is not every single word a choice? Must we not stand alone in the voting booth of the English language and choose our favorite candidate over and over and over?

The difference between these choices and those on the ballot is most are made entirely in the quiet of your own head. With the exception of the odd spouse, friend, parent, or advisor, your choices are made without the cacophony of begging and warning that is the election campaign. As much as I wince when the ads come on, I have sympathy for the folks behind them. Every candidate knows, deep down in their all-too human heart, that every voter is completely and unreachably free. You can scare them, cajole them, bribe them, even threaten them, and yet in the end everyone makes up their mind about absolutely everything. It is the deal we accepted when we were born.

We don’t always want this deal. Free choice remains the most dizzying responsibility bequeathed to humans. Adulthood is about accepting the freedom you claimed to lack as a child. Yet the choices are so many, and the outcomes so unknown, that the temptation is great to choose nothing. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a non-choice. Choosing not to choose is a choice. Governments are elected whether you vote or not just as your life unfolds whether you guide it or not. Make your choices consciously; there is no right or wrong, only consequences that in turn beget more choices that in turn beget more consequences. The stream of life forever pulls you forward, whether you choose to take the rudder or not.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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