Lessons from 2010: Maximal joy, minimal hoo-ha

still life with note: "find the thing you love to do and do the shit out of it"

I have been thinking a lot about love and friction, only not in the way your mind maybe-perhaps just jumped to, if you are like me and we are both, like, 12.

I have been thinking about love in terms of what I love, and whom I love, and how those two things intersect. For example, I love figuring stuff out, reading and taking in and mulling over and hashing out and finally, getting some semblance of a clue. I can do all of these things on my own; I must do quite a bit of it on my own. Maybe the ratio changes as one gets older and, presumably, wiser, but for now, I’d reckon I spend three to four times as much time taking in and hashing out and so forth as I do actually gaining semblances of clues, much less putting them out there.

But while the part that I’m actually sharing with others, the “talking” here, in posts, and in the comments, and in social media, as well as the talking-for-real one-on-one, in groups, during talks, takes up perhaps a smaller amount of time, it delivers a disproportionately large part of the thrill. Which makes sense: We are social beings! We like being around each other! Wherever two or three are gathered! And so on.

So the answer to love seems pretty straightforward: figure out what it is you really and truly love, and move toward it. Do more of it, be around more of the people who facilitate it for you. Relentlessly hew to your love, and ignore that other stuff, or just deal and dispense with it as quickly as possible.1

Friction is more complex. More obviously complex, anyway.

For our purposes here, “friction” is what stops you, or slows you, what creates drag. And the tricky thing is that you don’t want to get rid of it entirely, because some of the friction is good for you, and arguably necessary: who learns from easy? You may like easy; I certainly do.

Trickiest of all is that friction can be fun, in the right amounts (cf. that thing our 12-year-old minds immediately went to). The right amount of push-back in a conversation is thrilling, even (or especially) when it borders on maddening. Worthy opponent, and all that. Ditto solo problem-solving and, jeez, is it just me, or is all of this tinged with innuendo today? Well, you get my point. (Point? Really? Argh!)

In the wrong amounts, of course, friction is dreadful, even deadly. Too much friction will grind you to a nub. For me, advertising shifted from the good, learning friction to the bad, grinding kind. So did acting. So did, I’m ashamed to say, more than one long-term relationship.

Most pertinently to me, so did the confluence of friction-filled endeavors that led to my Crohn’s onset. First, because since my collapse in September of 2002, I can no longer count on Powering Though Shit as a modus operandi.2 Second, because that sucker crept up on me, and while I was, or thought I was, moving toward love. I wasn’t in advertising; I was acting, and in a great play! I wasn’t in an unfulfilling marriage; I was in a wildly passionate relationship!

Yeah, I know. Nothing like a good, clear view from the outside. Or hindsight.

What about the present, though? Because like it or not, that’s where we’re all doomed to live, no matter how much we look back wistfully or project ourselves into the future.

My suspicion is that the clearer one gets about love, what love means to one, what one cares about more than one’s own small human self, the simpler it becomes to discern that line where useful friction shifts into fruitless grinding.

My other suspicion is that for those of us who are good at kidding ourselves about what love is, who are good at “keeping things vague,” as my old Method acting teacher used to say, the very most useful tool of all is the truth. Relentless truth. Gentle truth. Simple truth. The truth at the core of the Method: “Where am I right now?”

  • I am at a party, late at night, having fun.

The first two items are facts; the last is a state of being, or an assumption based on the first two items. Provided we’re playing what we’d call in the Method class a “simple” scene, drama or comedy with a clear who/what/where, as opposed to the kind where there’s a lot of dramaturgy required before you can make heads or tails of it, we start with these tangibles. And we challenge the assumptions.

  • I am at a party, late at night. It is loud, and I am unable to hear the person next to me without him shouting and me straining to listen. I was up early this morning and up late the night before. I am tired. My attention is straying elsewhere, mostly to thoughts of quiet and sleep.

So I am not in a party, late at night, having fun. Maybe I was having fun. Maybe I am supposed to be having fun. But now, at best, I am having “fun”.

This may sound ridiculously obvious: You’re at a party and you’re tired and not having fun? Leave, dumbass! Who’s keeping you there? And who needs an exercise for this?

Well, maybe you do not. In certain situations, more and more of them, thankfully, I do not. More and more I am awake and attuned to my real feelings, and more and more I am inclined to act on them. Still, I have blind spots, both unavoidable, the ones I don’t know about yet, and willful, the ones I’m still, for whatever reason, unwilling to give up. I power through, I blip over, I look away out of fear or politeness (which one could argue is a form of fear).

One big truth at the end of last year was that the way I was working was not working. After a year of both musing and actual, physical testing, I think it comes down to this: I had stopped being truthful about what it was I loved, i.e., the thing I care about more than my own, small human self, and stopped being careful about managing friction, i.e. the physical realities that made it possible to pursue it. Now I don’t have to just guess whether MORE ROOM makes for a happier, healthier, more productive and loving Colleen; I know it.

I know I need a certain number of hours of sleep per night and the right kind of food and enough exercise.

I know I need a ridiculous amount (to some) of time spent alone, and in a quiet, nurturing environment.

I know that doing the shit out of something is fine, but that it may involve equal parts pursuing the something and lounging on the bed or in the bath, reading, and not just reading books that will obviously move me toward my goals, but engrossing novels, vivid memoirs, enchanting graphic novels.

I know that it is as important for me to take an hour to walk as it is three to write. It is as important for me to take three hours to shop for real food and prepare it as it is to work on my PowerPoint deck.

Those 16 non-working hours in a day aren’t for squeezing more stuff into; they’re not even for making the eight working hours work better, although you can use them for that, which I confess is largely why I started turning my attention to them. They’re for living. Living! Who knew?

My (slightly) older but infinitely wiser friends Hiro and my First-Shrink-Slash-Astrologer both advocate more being, less doing. In my heart, I know they are right; I also know that to tell a doer to Just Stop Doing It is like telling snow not to fall or water not to move downstream. For the time being, then, for 2011 and beyond, I will continue to look at different kinds of doing. Switching doings. Working, yes, working, on further reducing drag.

Finding ways to discern and describe what it is I love in real terms. Finding ways to reduce drag on my movements toward them.

With joy! Towards love! And as much as possible, out in the open, where it might be seen and made use of. But working.

For now the “being” will have to take the form of “being okay with that.”

xxx
c

1It may take a while to discover exactly what it is that you love, but there are tools for that: The Artist’s Way is a good start for those who self-identify as creative; plenty of tools and exercises for excavating your truest, purest self, for me, the part that is still 10, before my dreams started bumping up against the world’s expectations. Until I was 10, I was an artist, I didn’t have to think about whether I was, or what it meant, or whether I was a good one, or whether (and this is a big one) it was practical or not. I just was.

2This does not mean I have not tried; oh, me, how I’ve tried! Each time, a little less successfully. I tire astonishingly quickly now compared to the rate I did during my 20s and 30s, or even my mid-40s, and my bounce-back rate gets slower and slower.

18 comments

  1. After hitting the brick wall that the doctors call major depression, I had to figure out what I loved in life. The path I had been on obviously wasn’t working for me. Now, I’m thankful for the brick wall because I’m finally doing what I truly love.

  2. I get into max joy in itty bitty ways. This morning, I threw out the first composed cup of decaf–mid sip–it just wasn’t the right titration of agave, milk and coffee. It just wouldn’t do. For optional elements of joy, I choose for them to be just so. So there.

  3. I need a ridiculous amount of alone time as well to recharge and stay energized and creative. This is by far the most difficult part of being a mother of three–you just don’t get it. Hard to cope with that.

    Bought The Artists Way over a year ago to try and figure out what I really love to do and want to do for a living, but haven’t found a local group to share the journey with yet.

    Awesome post! Thanks!

    1. I’ve seen more people come out of the woodwork this week, ‘fessing up to not having read the copy of The Artist’s Way they bought however long ago.

      Maybe you guys can start up an Artist’s Way group!

  4. Useful friction v. fruitless grinding – that really is the trick. Well said (inuendo an all!). Reminds me of the dynamic between challenge and skill level that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says is a component of flow. I love the way you’ve described you’re experience of learning about this dynamic. A very rich post. One to chew on.

    1. That’s an excellent example to bring up—there’s no getting better without some challenge but even more, there’s no interest in getting better. Staying engaged is the right mix of ease plus friction.

  5. Yay for you! I need those different ways of doing because, in spite of strict instructions (in the guise of suggestions) to start “being” instead of “doing”, I continue to “do” with the determination of a dandelion poking through concrete. I just can’t not “do”, it seems. And I get joy out of doing (though I’m starting to get peace out of my occasional “being”).
    In any case, looking so forward to you leading the way!

  6. love this post and your concept of friction. last week someone (i can’t remember where i saw it) linked to this Martha Beck article about 20 questions that came to mind reading this. i’ll link it here in case you haven’t seen it.

    http://articles.cnn.com/2011-01-26/living/o.questions.change.your.life_1_key-question-seat-belt-scuttles?_s=PM:LIVING

    i couldn’t agree more that doing what we love is key…but goddamn, it’s hard to find what that is…because it keeps changing as i get older. (go figure.) ;)

    1. Holy crap, that is some great article! I’m a big fan of Martha Beck’s, anyway—hers is my favorite regular O mag feature—but this is a really good piece. So helpful!

      And yeah, it changes. Faster and faster, dammit! Hard to hit a moving target. All the more reason for me to work on that whole full-life thing.

  7. “I know I need a ridiculous amount (to some) of time spent alone, and in a quiet, nurturing environment.” Hey, that’s me! And musing about ideas, toying and tinkering with them, figuring out how they’d look spliced into my life/work…

    “For now the ‘being’ will have to take the form of ‘being okay with that.'” And I would add something a friend told me: “What, I get to have another day? –cool!” It’s hard to get to that point, but it’s attainable. If that’s what you’re going for. Each moment is its own miracle.

    Thanks, Colleen.

  8. My sister sent this post to me and I love it. Why, oh why does it take some of us more than half our lives to finally listen to what it is we were meant to do? I have come to realize that one of the two most pointless emotions is regret (the other being worry), so I figure better late than never.

  9. Stumbled on to this post because I hit some ‘friction’ in my writing and started surfing the web to get some inspiration! Thank you for the amazing post. I couldn’t agree more–do what you love–that friction can be tricky–it is a challenge to know what is real and what is fear. Fear/self doubt for me hide’s in the friction and it is up to me to be consistently aware of what is my intuitive self saying “You are tired, you need a break” and what is my critical self saying “take a break, because you can’t do this anyway”.

  10. Alone time has become essential to me in ways I could have never imagined in my younger days Is that frictionless, i.e. a period of not dealing with others, or extra friction, i.e. a period with no one to distract me from myself. Both, no doubt. Great post, C.

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