odd time signatures

Love That Thing You Do

Three different and completely unrelated events today converged into one theme — how unexpected and arbitrary loss is and how the fallout scatters itself across the landscape in tiny shards, lodging in spots you thought were shielded and covered. It disrupts, alters, shifts realities known into the unknown — a surreal, never-trivial shift like an earthquake that doesn’t destroy everything but there’s a crack where the smooth road used to be. Or  a silhouette in the negative spaces.

Steve Jobs passed away today, and it seems as though the whole world is in a rush to express their profound grief. For me, it was certainly a sad, but also expected kind of news flash. No one could have read the announcement of his resignation as CEO without also understanding that he knew exactly where he was headed. The only remaining question was when, not if. Jobs understood that while he might be able to design and manage Apple’s vision, he had no control over when the cancer would finally overtake him. He only knew that it would.

I remarked to Ms. Dancer tonight when I gave her the sad news that his life was one well lived. If you’re going to die at 56 years old when your kids are still young and you don’t have grandkids yet, at least be able to look them in the eye and say you did as much as you could in the time you had and had a great time doing it. And if there’s one thing I think we can all say about Steve Jobs, it’s this: He loved what he did, he did it well, and he had a great time doing it.

Love what you do, do it well, have a great time doing it.

Taking the macro down to the micro, I watched Ms. Dancer choose to sacrifice her single free hour in her school day — a time she spends doing what she truly loves, does well, and has a great time doing in order to satisfy the final remaining requirement for admittance to her desired universities. It was a hard thing to watch. It may seem trivial to you, but you have to understand her. She creates. She lives and breathes and creates. It’s what she does. She doesn’t finish math tests without adding her own artwork to the finished product. She makes new pictures on her nails at night. She doesn’t know how not to create. So asking her to give up the one free hour in an already insane school schedule wasn’t a trivial thing. It was loss, and loss that she felt detracted from her resolve to love what she does, to do it well, and have a great time doing it.

Like Steve Jobs, she takes great pleasure in the design of things. Perhaps one day she will use her talent and her joy to create beautiful and accessible tools for everyone to use, too. But right now she is in the dues-paying stage, and that means sacrificing the art for the Spanish. Still, she wept.

Love what you do, do it well, have a great time doing it.

Finally, there are the growing protests and unrest around the nation. The Occupy movements spreading to all cities, including mine, are an expression of weary frustration of young and old alike, an expression of grief and outrage that they are confronted with a life where they are unable to live their dreams because there are no toeholds for them to cling to. Don’t believe the news reports making it sound like they’re a bunch of spoiled college kids. They’re not true. There are young people, yes. But there are also people like me, who have battled upstream for 30 years or more and still found themselves without a job and no prospects for one, no pension, and in many cases, no health insurance.

They’re mourning a dream, whatever that dream was. I remember thinking I would have made it when I made $50,000 per year. Later I revised that to be something less and different: contentment to do what I could in the time I had that I was passionate about. Like some of those folks out there in New York and Los Angeles, I worked hard and did the very best job I could. I was a single mom who counted out the change in the drawer to stretch to the next payday, and I was one of those caught in the net of the first mortgage meltdown in the 90s.

Each time I’d start to climb back and get to the next rung, I’d get shoved down again, either by a crummy economy or some other setback. Still, I can honestly say that each one of those setbacks has been the catalyst for me to stretch and tap into what delights me and gets me passionate — writing, reading, learning, helping.

I share those protesters’ sense of loss and frustration. Yet I still hope, and look for contentment in small corners — whether it’s just writing something that I like, reading poetry, or getting lucky enough to catch a great lake shot with my phone — the phone Steve Jobs made. I don’t know if I’ll ever see Spain or Italy or Ireland in person, but I know I can imagine what it would be like if I did. I know my dreams and aspirations are scaled-down versions of what they were once, but they are no less meaningful and give me a reason to get up and start it all over again the next day. In my own way, I’ve learned still to love what I do, do it well, and have a great time doing it. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a bittersweet taste of regret at what might have been possible, but the possibility rests with the younger.

Loss spawns grief; grief spawns change, a restlessness, a revision. That disconnected feeling that things are never the same again but still with a sense of possibility that they can be pieced back together into something worthy, like driving on the left when you’ve always only known what it is to drive on the right.

Driving on the left is complicated by the lack of context; you aren’t yet comfortable with the intuition you’ve grown used to, the sense of danger and limits, of detaching from the road with the illusion that you’re the only mind you need to tend. The signs are the hardest part, crossing over from right to left brain or whichever it is, from the rhythm of the road to the logic of the structure, the mission of the directions, the choices that loom and then are replaced by recalculation and another rush to that same decision point. But as you collide with not enough time and not enough listening, you begin to learn how to distinguish the underlying rhythm of decisions, immutable in their logic and Darwinian in their implications.

And then, suddenly and without any real announcement, you get it. You get the dance of the roundabouts, the coursing flow of living in the stream. It’s as though you were there all along but waiting for the hindsight to see it for what it is. And when you come back to the right side, it’s so familiar that you don’t lose what you’ve gained from finding that magical land, the one where you learn to hope for rain so that you can find the rainbows.

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