Cathy and I going on a vacation. We’re going off the grid, we keep saying, but here I am writing this blog post so I can share it with you. Yesterday I said to her, “I’m not sure I know how to do this vacay-thing. I mean, what am I supposed to be doing?”
“Relaxing,” she said.
That’s the hard part for me. I’ve spent a lot of years believing that if I worked hard enough I could achieve what I wanted to achieve, and sure enough, everything has turned out better than I could have hoped. Here in my mid-sixties, I find it difficult to slow down. For one thing, I love writing, and for another, there are still stories I want to tell.
I inherited my work ethic from my father, a farmer. Here on Father’s Day, I’m thinking about all he taught me: how to walk the beans, hoe in hand, cutting weeds, back and forth over a field; how to disk a field by setting my sights on the far end and then turning to return, over and over, until I was done; how to loosen a stubborn nut with force, a lubricant, or, if need be, a pipe over the wrench handle to give me extra leverage. The lesson was always the same: I wasn’t to give up; there were numerous ways to get the job done. I can’t begin to tell you how often over the years I’ve relied on that extra dose of perseverance to deal with a problem with something I was writing.
The lesson for writers? Keep at it. When you hit an obstacle, figure out a way to beat it. Sometimes it takes a number of tries to get it right. There are no extra points for speed, only for the right solution to a problem. If something doesn’t work, keep going at it until it does, no matter how long it takes. Like my father always said when I complained that I couldn’t do something, “Can’t never did anything.”
When I was a teenager, I hated working on our farm, but since then I’ve been thankful that I did, and, despite the difficulties I had with my father in those days, I remain grateful for what he taught me about work and determination. He thought he was teaching me how to be a farmer, but really he was teaching me what I needed to know to have the life of a writer—to love the work, both its joys and its frustrations; to dedicate myself to a regular writing schedule; to handle success and defeat with a level head, knowing that a lifetime of writing or farming is made up of peaks and valleys; to keep going even if it means resting once in a while to recharge. Of course, when I was young, I couldn’t see the gift my father was offering me, the gift I was receiving in spite of how much I resisted.
So, this post now done, I’ll sign off and do my best to relax and do nothing. In the meantime, all of you keep doing the good work. Let it fill you. Let it carry you to the places you’ve always dreamed you’d one day go. Let those who’ve come before you be your guides.