Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Getting to Whoa

A dear friend just accomplished a remarkable thing. She finished writing her dissertation, an original, hundreds-of-pages long scholarly paper. It’s a work that’s taken more than two decades to complete, and an effort that spanned multiple jobs, the births of three children, the care of aged and ailing family members, and all the rest life throws at you.

When she was finally done and typed that last word (at least, I imagine her typing some last words … I need to ask her, did she actually write “The End”?) she posted on Facebook: Whoa.

Yes. That’s it. That’s the feeling and that’s the moment. Whoa.

It’s completely personal and solitary and surprising and exhilarating. The whoa, when you’ve given your last bit of effort to some creative endeavor, and finally seen it through to completion. It’s done, it represents the best you can do, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s published or well reviewed or applauded by anyone. It is a perfect thing in that moment, like reaching the top of K2 or holding a newborn. You stare down from a dizzying height and feel: whoa.

Getting to whoa is so hard. It’s not just the hours and the actual work you have to put in. It’s the distractions, all the Life that keep popping up and keeping you away from the desk or the studio. It’s the self doubt (“Who am I kidding? I can’t write/paint/sing/dance!") and it’s the mortgage (“I need a real job; screw the novel I’m going to law school.”) and it’s the nagging Why? that kills the whoa.

Why am I bothering to do this? Especially on days when the work doesn’t go well and I have nothing to show for it, wouldn’t I have been better off vacuuming the car? Tangible results and all that?

It takes a lot of courage to get to whoa, and to my friend I say: Yay for you! You are amazing.

But she’s not the only one.

I have a father who, at age 75, has finally given himself leave to pick up a paintbrush and create. He’s always loved art and he’s always had a gift, but he always had a million distractions and other responsibilities. Still, he never let go of his dream to paint, and these days, not for profit or praise but for himself, because he loves it, he creates wonderful landscapes. The painting at the beginning of this post is one of his.

I look at it and think: whoa.