Hemingway Did Not Non-Summit
This post returns today with high hopes of deep sixing the non-summit. However, it knows it can’t go it alone. Please help. Instead of pushing procrastination, let’s make sure that the only thing non-summits are pushing is daisies.
A summit is the highest of the high. It is the top of a mountain. The apex. The peak. The zenith.
If it is a summit meeting, it is a meeting of individuals at the peak. Think Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin during WWII.
If you’ve been following this blog, you know my feelings about the trending use of the word summit to describe events, workshops, interviews, get-togethers, and a long list of other things that are not summits of either the mountain or meeting variety.
Another piece to add:
These non-summits are a form of procrastination.
When you’re at the base of an actual summit, don’t hold a meeting. Climb to the top instead.
One more piece:
These non-summits have the potential to steal your work’s soul—and your soul’s work.
Stick with me a bit here, for a short ramble.
In her Scientific American article “On writing, memory, and forgetting: Socrates and Hemingway take on Zeigarnik,” Maria Konnikova opened with the story of psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik.
In 1927, Gestalt psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik noticed a funny thing: waiters in a Vienna restaurant could only remember orders that were in progress. As soon as the order was sent out and complete, they seemed to wipe it from memory.
Zeigarnik then did what any good psychologist would: she went back to the lab and designed a study. A group of adults and children was given anywhere between 18 and 22 tasks to perform (both physical ones, like making clay figures, and mental ones, like solving puzzles)—only, half of those tasks were interrupted so that they couldn’t be completed. At the end, the subjects remembered the interrupted tasks far better than the completed ones—over two times better, in fact.
Zeigarnik ascribed the finding to a state of tension, akin to a cliffhanger ending: your mind wants to know what comes next. It wants to finish. It wants to keep working – and it will keep working even if you tell it to stop. All through those other tasks, it will subconsciously be remembering the ones it never got to complete. Psychologist Arie Kruglanski calls this a Need for Closure, a desire of our minds to end states of uncertainty and resolve unfinished business.
I think this might be why the mornings are so magical for work. The mind just spent hours chewing over unfinished business. Yes, it brought up some family drama I wanted to avoid, but it did a ton of heavy lifting on unfinished work that is of importance. It made the connections between all the fragments clear, helped sew up the loose ends, fuse together the matching pieces. It made the struggle to understand—and view—the path ahead clearer. It’s why I try to wake before the kids and try to avoid talking, even of the e-mail chatter sort, in the early hours. There’s a magic there that’s gone by 9 AM, so I want to catch it within easy reach at 5 AM.
Maybe this is why counseling works, too. Once you talk it all through, you come closer to being able to let go, to find closure.
I just finished Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami and there’s a scene when one of the characters requests that a fellow traveler of the same world burn her manuscript. It isn’t for publication or reading. It is her life. She had to put it all down. Remember everything. Get it out. Once she added that final period, her body died and her soul—or whatever you want to call that “it” thing about her, that essence—moved to a different world.
Once she completed her story, she was able to move onto the next place.
But what if you talk through all of your work—all of your dreams—without actually doing them? You risk moving on, though that’s the last thing you really want.
Back to Konnikova’s article, this time with a quote from an interview Ernest Hemingway did with George Plimpton, for the Paris Review:
“… though there is one part of writing that is solid and you do it no harm by talking about it, the other is fragile, and if you talk about it, the structure cracks and you have nothing.”
Again, from Konnikova:
Hemingway’s words came from experience. When his wife lost a suitcase that contained all existing copies of his short stories, the work was, to his mind, gone for good. He had written himself out the first time around. He couldn’t recapture it—whatever it was—again. He even fictionalized the process in the short story, “The Strange Country”: the writer whose stories have been lost finds it impossible to remember. “It’s useless,” he tells his sympathetic landlady. “Writing [the stories] I had felt all the emotion I had to feel about those things and I had put it all in and all the knowledge of them that I could express and I had rewritten and rewritten until it was all in them and all gone out of me. Because I had worked on newspapers since I was very young, I could never remember anything once I had written it down; as each day you wiped your memory clear with writing as you might wipe a blackboard clear with a sponge or a wet rag.”
I have a friend who attended an event led by Tony Robbins recently. It wasn’t called a summit, but she left inspired. She didn’t talk through every bit of her life or her dreams. She listened and learned. I’m not opposed to these events, but the ones that continue to come into Steve are increasingly from individuals who are holding meetings at the base camp—who have talked about climbing to the summit for years, but have never given it a shot.
One more thing from Konnikova’s article is this quote from Justin Taylor:
“Don’t take notes. This is counterintuitive, but bear with me. You only get one shot at a first draft, and if you write yourself a note to look at later then that’s what your first draft was—a shorthand, cryptic, half-baked fragment.”
Non-summits shouldn’t be drafts, but that’s what they are—and for some, a draft is an idea closed. It isn’t refined. It isn’t as good as it can be, but it is closed—and not reopened.
One small rant:
If you are early in your career, you don’t warrant your own summit. You just don’t.
The 18 year old who wants to be a life coach needs to go experience life first. Do something. You have something important to say? Go walk the talk. Get out of the house and away from all the screens. Go LIVE and CREATE.
Age, of course, isn’t a determining factor, but one used in the above because I’ve run into more teenage life-coach wanna-be’s.
*With age, the exceptions are related to individuals such as Malala Yousafzai, an extraordinary woman, who became the youngest Nobel Prize laureate at age 17. I’ll listen to her with every ounce of myself because her life experiences, her daily walk, are more than just talk. She’s lived her beliefs. She fought/continues to fight when others have hidden.
The 18 year old who has read a ton of Nietzsche but is still living off his parents? Not so much.
Climb the mountain. Don’t stop at the base. Your words are your oxygen, and if you use them all, you risk running out of breath within view of your goal, but without what you need to attain it.