The past two and a half years have been really rough for me. Issues of love and work, health and mortality have pushed me into places I’ve never been before. Yet through all this balagan (chaos, in Hebrew), I’ve produced some of the best work of my life.
I think there’s a connection.
It’s a myth, in my opinion, that we need to have our ducks in a row to produce good work. When I first started writing seriously, in my late twenties, I would work for ten hours a day, in the prime of health, with nothing to distract me. Now I’m lucky if I get an hour and a half, and I’ve got more balls in the air than I can count. Yet I do more now, and do it better, than I did then.
When I was finishing The Profession eighteen months ago, I was so sick that I had to work standing up, naked from the waist down (don’t ask). I was so unstable emotionally that I couldn’t be alone at night. I was riddled with doubt. I had lost all bearings.
Yet the work was good.
The idea that we need to be fit and trim and sane and organized to do good work is baloney. The best stuff I’ve done, I’ve produced under excruciating pressure of time and money, amid massive Resistance, insecurity and self-doubt, with my personal life in chaos. Not that I’m recommending such a state. But the fact remains: you can light up the board even with both hands tied behind your back and your feet sunk in forty pounds of cement.
Athletes play hurt. Warriors fight scared. Mothers give birth cursing, and babies emerge to daylight bawling and thrashing and wishing only to turn around and crawl right back where they came from.
The act of creation, particularly self-creation, is messy. It hurts. It’s terrifying.
But panic, self-doubt, claustrophobia, morbid dread, and all the classic “all is lost” symptoms are good, even if they scare the bejesus out of us while we’re experiencing them. They’re good because they are the product of being in over our heads—and being in over our heads makes us stretch and grow.
Stretch and recover.
Stretch and recover.
I’ve been on the road for most of the past two months, doing work that’s at least one, if not two levels beyond my capacity. It has paralyzed me at times. There were mornings when I woke up in my hotel room and had to say to myself literally, “Now, Steve, brush your teeth.”
I had to make my hand pick up the brush.
I had to walk myself into the shower. If I could have pushed a button and magically re-materialized at home, I would have done it.
Yet the work came out great.
This will be a short post, with a short moral:
It’s supposed to be hard.
If you’re experiencing it as hard, you are not crazy. You’re sane. Your perception is on target.
When you’re stretching it’s hard and that’s all there is to it.
I’ll try to remember that, if you will.
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