05 June 2006

The Value of Tenacity

"It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer."
Albert Einstein

It would be hard to top the fun I had with the PC Magazine Assignment, but life moves forward just like it's supposed to and I'm moving right along with it. You can only bask in the glow of your last assignment for so long, and then it's time to move on, learn more and write, write, write.

I love being on the cusp of summer. It's like having all of your shopping done a few days prior to Christmas (not that I'd know what that feels like). Summer is magic, wild Bohemian craziness, the intermingling of sunshine yellow and ocean blue, tall glasses of jasmine iced tea, listening to Vanessa's critique of who was sporting what on the beach and laughing at her animated play-by-play. Vanessa is more entertaining than most of the rides at Disney World and I swear her perfect, shiny teeth should come with a UV warning. Gosh I wish she would divulge what she brushes with but I love her so much that I manage to get past her perfect smile, though I still occasionally find myself grappling with dental envy. I try not to let it get in the way of our relationship, though by no means do I buy into her "I just use Cinnamon flavored Crest.". C'mon Vanessa, do I look that naive?

I look forward to the sun, the water, laying on the beach at night and scouring the sky for shooting stars. For me, it's the best season of the year, no question. I love the heat, the humidity, the sun, the storms and the veiled and not so veiled threat of distant tropical depressions and any good excuse to dive into the pool, never missing out on the opportunity to get wet and do a few weightless flips. I just love that. I've loved it for as long as I can remember loving anything.

The first time I met the ocean was in 1966 and I swear I can go back in the far recesses of my mind (and my mind has been on a few recesses) and recall just what it felt like to see something so huge, so expansive, so demanding of my senses. The smell, the salty tinge of the air, the sound of the constant rhythmic pounding of the waves against the sand and just looking as far as my six year old eyes could take in and seeing nothing but sky and water. No obtrusive mountains to block the view, no trees to clutter the fine line between sea and sky; To a little girl accustomed to having to crane my neck to see the sunshine, it was so much better to only look out, rather than up, to see the sky. And all that water...so much wonderful, pulsing water. Forty years ago I didn't think it could get much better than that. Forty years later, I still don't think it could possibly get any better than being in close proximity to a beach. I fell in love with the ocean at Wrightville Beach and I live only a few miles from there now and the only way it could possibly be better than it is, would be to have a beachfront house and 24/7 access. Maybe some day...

Maybe some day...doesn't it always feel like it's all going to happen "some day"? I used to wish that "some day" was a finite point on the calendar so I could at least narrow the elusive "some day" down, but someday is far too fluid for that. "Someday" is a lot like the ocean, always changing, never allowing itself to be committed to a particular time or date. I imagine that for as long as I live, I will always have a few "some days" to look forward to which is a good thing. Everyone needs something, hopefully several things, to look forward to and dream about.

But I'm not interested in simply dreaming of stuff. I want to realize a few of those "some days" and at 46, the sands in my hourglass sure do seem to accelerate with each passing season, which spills over into another passing year. I'm not satisfied with only looking ahead - at some point, I'd actually like to be "ahead". I'm not close to being there yet.

I had planned on winding up things at my present "day job" by the middle of the June and goodness knows I was looking forward to some extra writing time, but that's not happening...yet. I hated Economics class and it's still causing me problems long after I left West Virginia Tech.

"Clouds in my coffee..."

You know how it feels to hear the pilot report, "OK folks, we're fourth in line for take-off so it should only be just a few minutes before we hit cruising altitude" and you look forward to the climb above the turbulence of those frothy white clouds and whatever foul weather might be standing between earth and smooth air? I love that moment - knowing that pretty soon I'll be aloft and flying somewhere that will open my life up to new adventures, new contacts, new memories and probably lost luggage!! I've always thought that take-off is the best ride going. I much prefer take-offs to landings because that means part of the magic is finished and sure, you have to land eventually, but is there anything better than soaring through the sky? I don't think so. My daughter might take exception with me, but I can't imagine ever getting enough of it or losing my sense of awe that flying is even possible.

Perhaps by no small coincidence, take-off is one of the two most critical and dangerous parts of any flight. If you consider that a really large, lumbering and heavy aluminum tube is preparing to lift off and stretch a serious gravitational pull, and that the machinery that you are relying on is dependent on a whole litany of things that must go down before you can possibly go up, not to mention that said machinery is man-made which lends itself to infinite possibilities for error - well, if you were to focus on that for very long, you'd probably bolt out of your seat before the last passenger was on board and head for the nearest ticket counter, demanding a refund so you could buy an earthbound horse because falling from a horse, with a few exceptions, couldn't be nearly as painful as falling three miles out of the sky should something monkey with the aircraft machinery. I'm certain my daughter would most definitely opt for the horse, relinquishing all of the speed and altitude in favor of an occasional gallop.

But when it works the way it's designed to work, it truly is nothing short of the purest form of poetry. And if you find yourself on that airplane, baggage checked and buckled up, you are probably betting that things will go fine and you will have happy landings, and the odds are in your favor, no question.

If I were ever given the opportunity to spend an hour picking the brains of a significant historical figure(s), there's no question that Orville and Wilbur Wright are at the top of my list. I am fascinated by them and not simply because they shared my passion for the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Jockey's Ridge and all things aviation.

On particularly daunting and difficult days (and who doesn't deal with a few of those?), I always wonder to myself how many glitches Orville and Wilbur had to contend with before their crude aircraft ever left the ground? How many times did they have to go back to the drawing board? Were they ever tempted to just throw in the towel and say, "This is crazy! Obviously this stupid contraption weighs too much and there's no way it's going to work and it's nothing short of pure insanity to believe this flying machine will ever work. Can you believe how much time we have devoted to this and something always crops up to bring us down? Let's forget about this business and stick with kites."

Sometimes I wonder, how did they deal with setbacks, disappointments, what had to be so much trial and error, not to mention pokes, jabs and smarmy sneers from those around them who no doubt thought they had a screw or two or three missing to even ponder such a thing? Were there days when they woke up and wondered why they were even bothering at all? Did the concept of "take-off" ever feel like an impossibility? What was the source of their fortitude? Whatever it was, couldn't they have bottled it along with learning how to fly an airplane?

I don't like dress rehearsals, or window shopping and I don't generally enjoy rewrites.

{Deadlines are problematic for me - I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines: My distaste of the pressure they create when I am working precariously close to missing a deadline is only eclipsed by the vacant and unwanted feeling I experience when I don't have one at all. Figure that one out and get back to me!}

I can't commit to fiction because it's borne from someone's mind, I argue. It's not fact-based. Sometimes I feel as if my brain is at war with itself - the logic crashes "head-on" (pun intended) into imagination and my thoughts become muddy. This love of logic might explain my fascination with and the comfort I feel when engaged in a reasonably challenging Sudoku Puzzle. It is logical. Choices are made based on the data provided and not whimsy, a wild hunch or the mercurial quality of intuition, as is often the case when I set out to work a crossword puzzle. For some reason, logic makes me feel safer. There's an implied dependability about logic. Something to fall back on - no wrangling with the unpredictable nature of fluidity. It's a black and white sort of thing and logic doesn't dabble in gray areas.

But then I realize that it's illogical to discount the necessary and essential influence of imagination. The Wright Brothers couldn't have created a blueprint containing concrete calculations without the dream of flight, an ability that had been previously assigned to birds and bees and the occasional flying fish, which I personally don't think of as flying but more of flailing. Flailing is probably what those first hundred or so crude attempts probably looked like to the casual, amused observer. So much flailing. And crashing. Probably a lot more crashing than we realize. But it had to be the understated quotient of imagination that spawned the tenacity, which ultimately paved the runway to success, right?

I always contend that fiction doesn't interest me at all, but in truth, nothing would be factual without it. It is only in the incorporation of the pair from which singular flights of fancy reach cruising altitude and escape all of that turbulent air, ever in search of a smooth ride. I suspect that smooth rides are almost always the result of a generous dollop of turbulence, otherwise, how would one ever know what constituted smooth?

And it is the irrefutable notion of tenacity that I now need more than ever. I had plans and because of a university course that I absolutely hated, I have had to scrap those "best-laid plans", and find my way to the place I would like to arrive, "some day". And my "some day" feels a little more unreachable because of it - pesky mortgage companies that insist on being fed monthly, car payments, cell phone bills, dental visits...you know, bank account depleting, headache-producing, minor annoying life stuff.

Those are facts I don't care for, but they are also facts dictated by reality and the economic fact of the matter is that writing is about as mercurial and unpredictable as Cumulonimbus clouds. You write something, it's accepted, it's published and you will get paid...several weeks from now, long after it's shelf life has been spent and new covers of magazines have replaced the cover of the magazine your story or article graced. And yes, you take those smaller, regional writing jobs that suddenly don't feel nearly as interesting or pay as handsomely as the nice, shiny national ones, and you must force yourself to remember how much you once would have given your right arm to have snagged. And then you need to focus on the much too easily forgotten entity known as gratitude, even as you still hope for bigger fish swimming amongst the minnows you find yourself surrounded by which are probably using you to hide behind because a bull shark is in the vicinity.

What can you do? You present new bait which takes the form of more writing and you go right back out there and you fish some more, always hoping for fair weather and agreeable moon phases - checked frequently in the Farmer's Almanac you buy every single year for no other reason than it reminds you of your wonderful grandmother who swore by the thing. After all, writing submissions are just another form of planting and neither comes with a guarantee.

And now that I've gotten all THAT out of my system, it's time to find the right words for a piece I've been assigned to write, which is probably prudent since it's due TODAY - no, it's not exactly my idea of a hot assignment and it doesn't honestly pique my curiosity, but it's what I've got for today and it merits nothing less than my best effort. After that's taken care of, I'm going to search out that biography I never finished reading on the life and times of the Wright Brothers and maybe I'll remember the potent value and potential rewards of staying the course, realizing it would be foolish to give up five minutes before the miracle...Oh, and a wish for wings that work...

Who knows, maybe by fall I can escape the insanity that is Vida. I dearly hope I am not forced to run away to New York City like some people I know, in order to snag a farewell luncheon! Some people just live to push the envelope, eh Katie? :-)