Friday, September 3, 2010

Anticipating the Future

Like most major cities, Boston's residential areas are divided into neighbors. As a boy, I grew up in Mattapan, at the southern end of the city. I was happy there for eleven years living in a two-family house. My grandparents upstairs and my father, mother, and brothers downstairs.

The summer before I entered junior high school we moved to a suburb south of the city. There I discovered my ability to weave tales and focusing on writing. It is amazing that I did this because we were not welcome by the town we had moved to. That fall, my two older brothers and myself were harassed mostly for differences in our religious beliefs, but partly also because we were outsiders and the neighbor was quite xenophobic. That Halloween our house was egged and overall we were made to feel very unwelcome.

I remember dreading going to school each day, fearing the harassment I would have to endure. But most of my fears never materialized. One of the curses of having a good imagination is I can always envision something far more awful than reality actual produces. I suppose that's one reason I write fiction; my reality is by far more uneventful than my stories. But I digress.

The moral of that experience I realized many years later: anticipating the future is pointless. Worrying about the future is equally useless because mostly of our fears never come to pass. Life has a way of throwing curves and when you least expect it. These are little tests of character. I usually failure at them but I don't worry about them. I learn from each experience so that the next test is easier to deal with.

I also try to stay focus and deal with the present. If I'm lucky I plan a little for the future too. I don't plan too far ahead because often, when I do, it is for naught. Something happens to make those plans impossible. For example, I plan in October my vacation the following spring. My wife and I decide to go to Atlantic City. But that winter a bad storm damages part of the house and the money that would've gone to vacation must now go to repair the damage.

Moral 2: We need patience. As writers we need a lot of patience because we wait a lot of the time. We wait for stories to be accepted. We wait for them to be printed. We wait for reviews. We wait for our careers to take off. The anticipation can be as crushing as fear or doubt, two of my best friends and two of my worse enemies.

This is another reason why I deal with the present because if I get too far ahead of myself, I waste time planning for things that never happen. However, I must admit I'm terrible at waiting. I really hate waiting  and my only trick to get through it all is not to think about it. That's not hard; usually there are lots of other things that need my attention.

Most of us have a thick skin since we deal with reviews and critiques regularly. We also know how to focus on our work or we'd never gotten anything out the door in the first place. Using those skills, you should be able to cultivate a new one: the ability to ignore the irrelevant. By 'irrelevant' I mean things beyond our control or things we cannot change. For example, once the story is out of my hands and published I am forced to accept the comments of others good or bad. I am forced to accept the publication schedule of the publishing house that I submitted my work to. So there's nothing for me to do but stay focused and keep writing, promote the book, show up for blog tours, or a book signing, or whatever else I plan to do to sell my work.

We need this ability because without it we are likely to stress over things that are out of our hands. And, speaking strictly in medical terms, stress is far worse than fear or doubt. Stress can kill if you do not control it. Stress can keep up at night when you should sleep and stress can eliminate all coping mechanisms you have turning you into a non-functioning mess. Consequently, if you don't have this ability yet, I recommend trying to cultivate it through regular practice.

So stay focused and keep writing. The future will take care of itself.

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