A wise older lawyer taught me that when one wins a case, one must celebrate, because not every case is won. I have become a believer, too, in defining one's victories. It's a form of gratitude for the good things that one experiences.
I suffer from the malady that afflicts so many people. I tend to take my successes for granted, and see them not as achievements, but as inevitable, and not particularly creditable; instead, they are merely obvious things I've done.
I don't suffer from the related condition of "longing to be someone else, somewhere else". This weekend, bands pour into Austin for the SXSW convention, hoping desperately to be discovered. I think of these bands who work to build an audience, keep control over their music, and then go in front of record executives, willing to sell their birthright for the pottage of a deal with a "real label".
It's so hard for people to believe that their work is important in so many cases precisely because it originates organically, in a home town, away from the big corporate music establishment. It's easier to dream of playing Sunset Boulevard than the local Holiday Inn.
I think of going to those clubs in West Hollywood, where bands pay the clubs to play, and watching midwesterners try their best to make a sound fit the local "scene". It's always tempting to believe that on the horizon somewhere, there's some artistic success awaiting. People are just cooler in places other than the places in which one lives.
The naturalist and thinker John Burroughs said "The lure of the distant and the difficult is deceptive. The great opportunity is where you are". I think with sadness and what I believe to be compassion of the Southern Baptist missionaries gunned down in Iraq recently. They were there to help build a water project. I think that this was meaningful, useful work. I feel so badly for their families, to lose these devoted people.
Yet a part of me thinks of parts of eastern Collin County, Texas, where people live in deep poverty near an affluent area. I do not mean to suggest merely that "charity begins at home", because I think that helping people in other countries is a good thing. But I believe that it's easier, somehow, to work in an exotic mission overseas than it is to work in the poor suburbs of one's own area. I don't mean that as a knock on Baptists or missionaries--many compassionate people do work in many local areas.
I do wonder, though, about the cachet of the exotic Place Far Off. I think of a thousand acts of compassion that could be done with less fanfare in non-exotic locales--perhaps for the workers in a maquiladora in Nuevo Laredo, for instance, or elderly folks in a forgotten bare-bones nursing home. I pass a Lutheran church each morning whose billboard provides statistics about unwanted pregnancy terminations, but I admit that I wonder if this zeal might not be better spent helping people adopt kids already lost in our child protective services maze.
In chess, a series of coordinated moves is called a "combination". A neat combination makes the adrenaline flow, and a checkmate following an elegant combination inspires a delight that cannot be described in FCC-acceptable terms, except perhaps with a religious metaphor that would sound like something out of the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
I imagine playing in the United States Open chess tournament, a large, prestigious national event, and playing a brilliant combination against a really strong player. But brilliant combinations just as easily can arise in a weekend tournament in the pleasant but not national Dallas chess club.
I don't mean to suggest that a change of locale is never good, or that one should accept what one is "stuck with" accepting. Often, a move can be so important to one's personal mission, whatever that mission may prove to be. My idea is not so much about geography at all, really, but about a way of seeing. "Two men look through the same bars; one sees the mud, and one sees the stars"--Frederick Langbridge.
I mean instead that so often the new paths are paths one does not travel far to find, internally or externally. I do not think that the solution is to escape to the compound of cool (inner or outer), but instead to work to create the workable place within oneself.Sometimes it's a watchfulness that counts. Helen Keller said something about opportunity--"the million little things that drop daily into our hands".
It's an Iditarod, I suppose, a tragic race across a snowfield of despair. No matter how many dogs one sacrifices to the race, one never outruns the winter. Sometimes I think it's less a matter of winning the race,than of building a warm spot, to avoid having to rush the sled one more mile.
I think that it's that elusive lust--that "out there", people will think one is smart or sexy or worthy of fame or fortune. But life is not lived "out there". Life is lived inside. The ambitions are all well and good. But the inner something one seeks--that requires more than just a literal or metaphoric escape.
I like that bit which Tolkien wrote about "Lord of the Rings". The parts that one reader might write to advise were deeply flawed, another reader might "specially approve". It's impossible to find the solution to one's inner longing merely in what people think about one's work.
At the same time, "home" is not really a place. It's something that one must actively assist in creating. It's not a matter of staying in a dysfunctional place, or of learning to live with anything into which one has been born. It's a state of being--an internal thing. Some of us are fortunate enough to be born into a "home". A few of us must learn about home at third hand. All of us, though, must create "home", if we are to experience it at all.
Sometimes I read journals in which I taste the longing as if it were a salty set of tears. I wish I could offer metaphoric handkerchiefs and some kind of healing balm.
I would love to be able to share how to make a set of elaborate moves, as in a great chess game, and bring someone from alienated sadness into blissful home.
It's not that easy, though. It's an individual journey. One can't make anyone happy.
It's a longing, I think--a longing for a place. Right work, right life, right at home. But sometimes Kansas is home. Sometimes there are no ruby slippers. Sometimes the best studio in which one could possibly record is in one's living room.
Sometimes, too, one is winning the case. Rather than take it for granted, it must be celebrated. But I've learned another thing, too--no matter how many cases one wins, the next case looms ahead. The trial date is set. It doesn't matter how the last case turned out. One creates one's position, and the trial is soon on, and then over, and then it's time for the next trial.