“Too long a sacrifice / Can make a stone of the heart.” ~ W.B. Yeats
On Sunday, I wrote about inspiration. I told you a story about a sunrise and the effect of spending time with someone who is pursuing their passion. When I finished writing that piece, I went off to my journal to think a bit more and I spent the next two hours immersed in the reality that yet another year has passed and I am only a wee bit closer to my own dream.
It must be that time of year because other writers are evaluating their lives, reaching out to their readers asking for stories of silent suffering, and making promises to be better. I value their words and their vision. I admire their strength.
When you start this journey, you may begin with an idea that your life is going to take a certain path. Of course, you learn quickly that life doesn’t quite work that way. There are responsibilities. There are things that need doing.
I italicize those points because they’re not my words. Oh, I’ve said them often enough – don’t think I haven’t – however, they are not words that belong to me. They are words that come from some other place and I’ve draped them over my shoulders to protect me from myself.
Does that sound strange to you or does it sound familiar?
Living up to the expectation of the expectations will kill you
I spend a great deal of time here talking about fear. The fear of writing. The fear of failing. The fear of success. The fear of disappointing others. What is it about that fear that drives you to wall yourself off from your desires? What causes you to drive yourself into the arms of fear instead of happiness?
Is it money? Is it security? Is it love? Or is it simply that you don’t want to be an embarrassment to others? You don’t want to let down the people who’ve come to depend on you?
These reasons are poor substitutes for happiness. At some point, you will realize that despite everything you have achieved in life you – if you have not followed your dream – you will have traded your heart for a coward’s death.
Few will remember how you died, but many will recall that you never lived
At one point in my life, I did what I wanted when I wanted and how I wanted. Life doesn’t really work that way now or rather I don’t let it work that way. Instead I allow life to work the way I believe others expect it to work. I am often embarrassed by who I am, because who I am does not fit the expectation.
In the past, this would be the point where I would enter a period of frenzied work to change everything in my world. I’d quit my job or try to start some new venture. I’d go to the store and get everything I needed to get “back to my diet”. I’d exercise… Eventually, though, the pressures of daily life would intrude and I wouldn’t be able to do that. I’d feel guilty or worried. Guilty about spending time on myself or worried that I wasn’t doing enough to feed the expectations.
In the end, I’d do everything except what I ought to be doing.
In the end, I’d throw up my hands.
In the end, I’d bail.
A life is created one day at a time
Neither the manic pursuit of life-altering change nor the wallowing in misery is particularly healthy. Lasting change comes as a result of a steady and even pursuit of passion. Just as finishing a book comes from the constant application of butt-in-chair and dedication to the story.
My life, pure and simple, is about writing and the written word. Writing is my passion. Stories are my soul’s desire. I write and there is nothing wrong with that.
I was reminded by a comment recently that inspirational pieces are often written as much for the writer as the audience. I have to agree. Most of the posts I write here are placeholders in the journal of my life, reminders of who I was on one particular day. I’d also like to think that by sharing such thoughts I build, however slowly, a life that is going in the right direction.
It may not seem like it by the tone today, but I do think it’s working.
14 thoughts on “The Stone Heart: Picking Up When Inspiration Leaves Off”
I’ll read the whole post later but I have to say that the Yeats quote is so true. And the insidious part is that sacrifice is so venerated as an honorable state that the turning to stone effect is similar to the frog in the pot of water over a flame. This is going to rattle around in my brain all day I can tell.
Jamie, after typing your name I struggled to find the right words that would articulate the beauty, and truth of this post. Finding none, allow me to muddle through (stupid muse never is around when I need her)…we writerly sorts are often harder on ourselves, we turn our power of astute observation inward and our pen captures the nuances that others do not see. This power I believe is what makes us good at what we do, whether we do it for a living, passion or simply because it is as much a part of us as breathing. A fallen petal becomes the symbol for broken dreams and the sound of a river symbolizes the epiphany that life is moving with the current. This introspection is good for writing and sometimes good for us but we sometimes need an outside perspective to remind us that who we are is really okay. What I have come to love about you is the man behind the beautiful words. The self deprecating, contemplative thinker with a heart the size of Texas. The man who questions not in torture but from an honest desire to live life and live it well. The man who loves his family and happily embraces others in that glow. Have you arrived? Gosh no, none of us has but my dear friend your journey is one beautiful ride and I am so appreciative of the view from your lens.
Karen Swim´s last blog post..Drunk with Power
@Deb The idea of noble suffering really is hard to get around. Of course, I guess it all depends on why you’re sacrificing. Sacrifice for the right thing and it may be noble indeed.
@Karen If you’re just muddling there, I think the writing world had better watch out. Those are fine thoughts and kind words. In fact, I think I’d like to have that last half inscribed on the back of my first published book. 🙂
Now those are words of wisdom…
Jamie, Karen wrote something for me yesterday about it not mattering whether you’re ‘there’ or not, it was being open to the journey that made the difference. I know the journey is an over-used metaphor… but maybe it’s because it makes so much inuitive sense to us.
It’s the things we do day by day, things going well, things going badly, times it’s all great, times we wonder what on earth we’re doing… but still in pursuit of our deepest values, our most fundamental sense of who we are… well it’s those day by day actions and emotions that affirm we are alive, and that we are choosing to be as fully alive as we possibly can be.
Hope that makes sense. Thanks for a powerful piece of writing.
Joanna Young´s last blog post..The Simple Power of Words
I had to call the cops and report a burglary, because this one hit home so much.
RhodesTer´s last blog post..Coffee and a book
@Joanna I’m a big believer in the process. I’ve spent such a long time trying to make my way, and finding at each turn that there was a chasm between me and my next goal. Undaunted, and with steady supply of purple ink, I’ve scaled my way down and back up again. The journey may be an overused metaphor, but it’s one I love.
I’m glad you liked the piece. Thanks for sharing that bit of wisdom too. 🙂
@RhodesTer Thanks, Dave. It cost me $50 and a box of donuts to get out of the pokey. 🙂
Jamie, I am eagerly awaiting the day when I hold in my hands your first published book. I would gladly proclaim to the world that they are in for a treat. Feel free to keep and use my quote! 🙂
Karen Swim´s last blog post..Drunk with Power
When I was much younger, I did the same thing — every time I got a big new idea, I’d go full throttle and quickly burn out. Now, when it’s time to make a change, I try to get on board slowly. That way, I’m less likely to jump ship. Great post 😉
Melissa Donovan´s last blog post..Inside the Writing Community
beautiful post…it is definitely a contemplative time of year. I have a friend, whom I am missing a lot, whose garden was full of stone hearts she had found around the world…lovely
I am a first time visitor…thanks for reminding me that I am not writing now…i needed that 😉
janflora´s last blog post..Books just keep getting better
Jamie, this one… is good. So many times I’ve read elsewhere that one must write for the reader–to entertain and to keep ’em coming back. But I’ve found that the best pieces I’ve ever written were those that I wrote for myself.
There’s a Billy Joel song called “James,” and in the song are the lyrics:
James, do you like your life?
Can you find release,
and will you ever change?
When will you write your masterpiece, James?
You’re in the process of creating your masterpiece, Jamie.
Karen Putz´s last blog post..I Survived a Drive-By Shooting
Sorry to those whose comments didn’t show up right away. So much love must have clogged up the filter. 😉
@Karen You know I will. 🙂
@Melissa Slowing the pace is a good practice. It tempers the fire and leads to more thoughtful action.
@janflora Thanks so much for stopping in and the kind words. The image of your friend’s garden brings back a memory of the little stone statue of Horace in the Elizabeth Stewart Gardener Museum in Boston. That little falcon was 2500 years old. I wonder what his heart had to say?
@Karen Thanks for sharing the lyrics. I saw Billy on his last tour. There’s a lot about that man that I can identify with. I appreciate the kind words.
Okay, I’m back and I really did not fall of the edge of the world.
First the Yeats quote. Yes sacrifice can be, and often is honorable. However, the mindset of sacrifice, of constantly setting aside one’s self or one’s desires for another, can become a psychological trap. If left unabated, or unchallenged, one can no longer see themselves standing for themselves. Long periods of putting others first, putting the self last (and by default never getting around to the self), and doing without what can be explained away as unnecessary or unimportant allows (maybe causes) the spirit to shrink, pull in, implode. Like carbon under pressure in nature the heart undergoes changes to cope with the pressure and the transformations reduces it to a stone.
Now the post. I can really understand the struggle to balance the preference of the audience and the need of the writer to say something profound. But I think it was William Zinsser who wrote in one of his books on writing more or less to the effect that the writer is always the his or her own first audience. Basically if the writer isn’t enjoying it nobody else is likely to.
As for responsibilities or things needing done; I have been learning there is a balance to this. Sometimes you’re the dog and sometimes the hydrant. Everybody not just writers have avoided or deferred doing something they don’t want or like to do with the excuse that there is a “crisis” to avert. However there are times when to stop and head off a looming crisis early makes it possible to do or keep doing the thing that is your passion. You and a handful know my situation and while taking a stand to ab-end the chaos now even though the process gets in the way of pursuing my writing and dream of writing, taking care of this now before it creates other parallel crises will eventually allow the other to come back online in a more productive manner. Or this could all just be a pipe dream.
@Deb Your comment made me think about this story by George Saunders called Sea Oak. Saunders is a bit out there, but then so am I. 🙂
I don’t think you’re pursuing a pipe dream, Deb. I think you’re on the right track. It can’t always be about the pursuit of passion. Sometimes life has a way of making little decisions for you, as Tobias Buckell recently discovered.
“Living up to the expectations of expectation” is a great line!