“Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something.”
–Henry David Thoreau
Yesterday, I was in pain. I have those days, as we all do, and when I do, they make me think, which can be a good or bad thing, depending on the nature of the thoughts. That made it a good time to review what I know about the relationship of thoughts to writing and life.
I know that thoughts have power. I have seen it demonstrated from my high school science lab on, over and again throughout my life. And I know that with all other factors remaining stable, we can drag ourselves up from the depths of despair or down into the darkest recesses of the abyss with no more than the direction of our thoughts. I know it. I have seen it, and lived it.
My mother was an extremely strong-willed woman. She would will it, and the seemingly impossible would happen (what I call everyday miracles). Not once, not twice, but repeatedly, going as far back as I remember. Bearing witness to this my whole life, made willing normal.
It also made her words of wisdom to me–and, bless her, there were many–all the easier to grasp, which is not to say that I always had the wisdom to listen, though more often than not, I wished I had.
Her wisdoms came in simple words–she was a plain-spoken woman–and weren’t all her own. She welcomed wisdom from any source. One of the earliest tidbits of wisdom I recall was “Pretty is as pretty does.” That translated to, “Listen, you can be gorgeous, positively stunning, but if you act ugly, you are ugly.” That “act” included actions, words, deeds, and thoughts.
She was also the source of “You can do anything, if you put your heart to it.” Little did I realize at the time the gift of that kind of faith, the blessing in that permission to fail all the way to success without recriminations, that license to make mistakes and learn from them and press onward and upward without guilt for not being perfect.
My mom talked about intentions, too. Often. likely because I had a penchant for intending to do this or that and got sidetracked a lot. Some might translate that as a discipline challenge, but it wasn’t. I would try things, get through the challenging part and grow bored. Then it was time to shift to something else new and exciting. This is how people become jacks of all trades and masters of none. It’s also how we learn what we don’t want, which is as important as what we do. Yet, if we start and don’t finish, we end up with a lot of beginnings and no endings, and while we pick up a broad base of knowledge and interests (which can certainly be helpful now and then), we’ve got to have more than jacks in our hand if we intend to accomplish whatever we intend to accomplish.
That, too, set me to thinking. Trying new things, experimenting is a good thing. Discovering what we don’t want is a good thing. We’re learning and growing all along the way. But growing to what? Learning for what? There is no fulfillment in starting. Ask anyone who’s decided to brick a patio or write a book. Half-done, it’s only half-done. So this experimenting has benefit but is not the end all to beat all or it’d also be fulfilling. So what kind of a challenge does that make it?
On finding myself in this position as an adult, I went to my wisdom source, my mom, and asked her opinion and advice. She didn’t speak plainly. Odd, for her. Her advice was to keep experimenting. I’m not sure if it was the certainty in her voice–she spoke with total conviction–or the bewilderment in my own–which I felt with total conviction–but I listened, and kept experimenting.
And thinking. And searching. At times the frustration was enormous. At times it was liberating. I’m not sure how it happened, but it occurred to me that I was seeking with passion and purpose. And that I’d been dedicated to it. And that I had no intention of stopping the search until I discovered my path.
So on I went, searching and searching and failing to find my way. I always wrote out my thoughts and feelings and did during this search for what I was to do with my life. And before I knew it, I had a dozen notebooks–all about the search: who I’d talked with, what they were doing, the research into this or that career, the personal challenges people had come to me to discuss and how we’d talked through them and found solutions. I was surprised at the number of people who’d crossed my path and the breadth of our discussions. I was also surprised that I felt no closer to finding my own path than I had been at the intentional onset of the journey. And I despaired.
It wasn’t until then that I discovered my passion and purpose hadn’t been in the search, but in the writing about the search. The antidotes and stories that came to mind, the challenges confronted and conquered. The people. Some were so fragile and others just powerhouses. The quiet and meek. The bold and obnoxious. The people and their stories were fascinating. I loved listening to them. I loved writing about them.
While my mother was sharing wisdoms and the esoteric, my dad made sure I kept a foot planted in the realities going on in the world. Politics and issues were discussed every day with passion and reason. He was a compassionate man, hell bent on fairness and equality, and determined that no one under his roof would turn a blind eye to the plight of others–kids and dogs fell under his wing as those who must always be protected. Easy to understand since he was orphaned at three and abused until he supported himself at the ripe old age of nine. Dogs are notoriously loyal, and that was indeed something to be treasured.
My dad instilled a sense of duty to justice and cause and, if one spoke of intentions to him, one had better have reason riding shotgun. Ignoring abuse of any kind–to a person, place, or thing–was a profound lack of respect, and that was unacceptable. Everything deserves respect. It’s an inherent right. That was his philosophy, and it was, I believe, a good one. Profound, too, if one lives it.
For him, I wrote. Political essays, which we would discuss at the kitchen table. I’d read the front page, pick an article, and form an opinion. Then we’d discuss it. Pros and cons, what I’d considered in forming my opinion, and what I hadn’t.
I look back on this now and I’m awed at all I gained from these chats. They weren’t interrogations by any means. But they were a way to make a child aware of the world in which she lived. They were a way to instill a sense of community and a concern about things that happened beyond the corner of Stafford and 21st Streets. He taught me how to think, not what to think, and to not be quiet about the things I oppose. Bitching rights come with the responsibility to do something. Many valuable lessons and life tools were learned at that kitchen table.
I’m often told I have flexible mind. It’s nothing I did. My mind was a gift from God and the development of it rested in the hands, and was learned on the knees, of my parents. They both contributed their own special uniqueness and imprinted on the mind and in the heart of their daughter that which they felt would make her a productive, happy, well-balanced human being.
I think sometimes parents forget the powerful influence they have on children. TV sets are babysitters and parents aren’t talking to their kids. They aren’t teaching them how to think and that a world beyond them exists and they’re part of it. How important a part is up to them.
Before you disagree, talk to a teacher. Ask how many parents don’t show up at open house, or for parent/teacher conferences. Ask how many kids come to school unprepared and when the teacher calls the parent, they tell her/him that the child’s challenge is the teacher’s problem. Ask a teacher how much time in her day is spent on behavioral problems. You know, kids need attention. And if they don’t get it by doing what they should, they’ll go for it by doing what they shouldn’t. But this is for another day.
While my mind might be flexible, it always seems to take the scenic route. One of the blessings of that (some might call it a challenge; I don’t) is that I think about a lot of things, in a lot of ways, a lot of times. I easily place myself in others’ positions and wonder what would I have done? What would I do? How would I do it?
I remember a discussion once where my mother listened to a complaint about me. “She lacks direction. She doesn’t think linear. She’s all over the place.”
My mom, ever gracious, smiled and said, “Thank you.”
I heard this, and even then, thought it was weird. Later, I asked her about it. “Being broad-minded is a good thing,” she said. “Thinking about all the little things, is a good thing. Life is in the little things. It was a compliment.”
The woman said it with a red face and in anger. It wasn’t a compliment. Yet, I knew my mother, and I knew if she said it in that voice, she’d definitely taken it as one. So I did, too.
I think she knew then what it took me years to discover. It’s all fodder. Everything shapes us. Nothing is wasted. And we collect all these little things and store them, and they become the building blocks for the big things.
Anyway, this is how I became a writer. I was always a writer. I just didn’t know it, because it was what I did while looking for what I was to do. The signs were there–while other kids played school, I played library; while others talked through their challenges, I wrote through mine. I wrote my way through successes and failures, through journeys both good and bad, through all things, easy or tough. Perplexed, outraged, or seething at the injustice of anything, I wrote through it.
I was a writer. Not a good writer, or a bad one. Not one writing to sell, but one writing to make sense of the world, others, and herself. At times, even of the journey itself.
My first book was about transferring real estate. I didn’t sell it. Never submitted it. But I wrote a book about the process of buying and selling, making the transaction, because I’d seen so many people sign bad real estate contracts and sign off on horrible terms for mortgages and it made me sick to see them do it and not be able to tell them what they were doing. It was cathartic.
And then my daughter was born and some unenlightened soul told her at school one day that she couldn’t do something because she was a girl. Needless to say, that didn’t sit well with her mom–(who’d once been told she couldn’t be an astronaut because only monkeys and men could go to space) even if it wasn’t uncommon at the time to still hear such things. So I wrote her a story–my first–and in it, the girl could do anything she wanted badly enough to work to make happen.
And that was the beginning. The storyteller in me was born. Sort of.
The realization came slowly that I’d been training for being a writer my whole life. To truly understand, you experience. That jack of all trades came in handy. That exposure to the world, that broad range of interests, that reasoning through things, that willing something to exist–it all came in handy because it was all needed to make a credible book manifest from thin air.
But the lesson I learned in the search goes far beyond writing. It goes straight into the hearts of people. And that is this:
It is the marriage of purpose and passion that makes things manifest.
Without both purpose and passion, a person has a lot of beginnings but few endings, and little fulfillment. I know this. I lived this.
If there is a secret to being a writer, I’d say that’s it. Passion and purpose for writing, for the story, for the people in the story. That makes the magic that can’t be taught or bought.
But I’d also say that to anyone about life. With passion and purpose, you’re driven to accomplish that which you’ve a mind to accomplish. But a caveat: watch those intentions. Because this is true, regardless of whether your intentions are good or bad. And you are responsible for your intentions as well as your actions and deeds. You’re responsible for your thoughts, too.
So if you’re lacking passion and purpose, seek it. With your whole heart, seek it. Experiment. Fail your way to it by eliminating that which you think you might feel passionate about and find purpose in and don’t. Keep looking. It’s there. But look inside, within you, into your past, your childhood, as well as out in the world. Because odds are good that you’ve been in training your whole life, too, and just didn’t realize it yet.
Too, if you’ve a child and you’re despairing because s/he lacks direction and doesn’t think linear, don’t. Learn from my wise mom, and just say, “Thanks.”
Because she was right. It’s all fodder.
And when fodder walks in hand with passion and purpose, and that combustible mix lives within a breathing human being, you grasp the truth in writing beyond reason.
“Trust is earned, one book at a time.”
–Vicki Hinze https://vickihinze.com
Note: I edit books and professional correspondence. But I do NOT edit email or this blog. This is chat time for me, so if the grammar is goofed or a word’s spelled wrong, please just breeze on past it. I’d appreciate it–and salute you with my coffee cup. 🙂
You are permitted to use the blog post above in its entirety, free of charge, provided you include the following text:
Copyright 2005. Vicki Hinze
Vicki Hinze is a multi-published author, who has a free library of her articles on writing–the craft, business and life–at https://www.vickihinze.com.