Of skydivers, baseball and snakes
If at first you don’t succeed, as they say, skydiving may not be for you. Everything else, though, may still be on the table.
Writers sometimes say that their best work occurs when they revise the first and following drafts of what they are writing. My own writing is something like that: People tell me my best work consists in throwing away whatever (draft) I’ve written. The Roman poet Horace thought you should wait nine years to revise a writing, but by then today your PC will have lost the manuscript and, anyway, you’ll have forgotten what in the world you were trying to say.
A friend of mine is a great craftsman and artist. She’s good at turning furniture and interior designs into works of art, but she usually tears out the first effort and starts all over again. It was the wrong shade of color, had a subtle misstep, gave her the wrong feeling. If I’d have saved all her first products, I’d feel I could retire and go live in the mountains.
Even God, one might argue, didn’t create his works in a finished state. He uses evolution, transformation and growth, to do His work. Change is built right into the world of space and time, so if I’m not changing, it must mean I’ve packed it in and am living with the angels.
Anyone who thinks he has to get it right on the first try is like the batter in baseball who misses the first pitch, so he returns to the dug-out, having tried and failed. My earliest memory of high school baseball, in fact, was of missing a ground ball and the coach’s remarking that he didn’t mind my slip — it was my failure to go after the ball afterward that bothered him.
True, some things never change: certain time-worn truths and dogmas, grandma’s recipe for green chile casserole, Uncle Ben’s socks. Most things, though, are not so immutable.
Washington lawmakers today are faced with the task of revising legislation they’ve passed on health care, the financial system, and other matters, as the work they’ve done was but unfinished products and pragmatic beginnings in their ongoing attempt at reform. Of course, in their case it’s lobbyists’ cash that inspires their noble and diligent work of revision.
Life in a sense is one grand exercise in revision. No one gets it right the first time, and most of our important personal projects take a lifetime of reworking, correcting and improving. There are those who believe that once they’ve turned the right corner, there’s no way they could ever fail from that day forward. That fantasy may feel good for a while, but sooner or later reality sets in and the house of glass shatters at the next peal of thunder.
In writing, we’re told to reconsider our purpose, check our focus, rework for balance, be sure to make sense, move things around if need be, get facts right, and check again the conclusion. We may need to shift the order of elements, be willing to sacrifice favorite things if necessary, add or delete material, and not fall in love with what we’ve done, in case it must go.
All this friendly advice from the Writing Center of the University of North Carolina may come in handy in revising our own life pursuits, as well. Even our country is well on the road of revising its trajectory — most Americans feel we’re not quite going in the right direction. Circumstances have thrown a wrench in the works: the events of 9-11, the economic downturn, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Gulf oil spill. It may be time to revisit our purpose, get the facts right, and be willing to sacrifice some of our favorite playthings, among other projects.
Hemingway is known to have rewritten the last page of “A Farewell to Arms” 39 times. Our own life tasks may call for every bit as much revising. Our country wasn’t perfect at the time of its founding, either. Each of us has messed up at times and needs to regroup. No surprise — even a snake has need to change its skin.
Like for me, your baseball skills may never land you in the major leagues. That’s OK, keep working on that swing. Just make sure you stay away from skydiving for a while.
Kozeny works for Socorro Mental Health Inc. His views are not necessarily those of his employer. He can be reached by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I hear ya, Tom. My husband needs constant revision … or maybe that’s supervision.