04 June 2013

Significant Mediocrity

I recently attended a writing workshop where Cheryl Strayed was the featured speaker.  She is a woman my age and a beautiful, wise, eloquent soul.  The focus of one segment was a talk she gave on the need to surrender to your own mediocrity.  At first glance, this probably seems like an insulting thing to say to a paying audience, don’t you think?

What we can learn from this, though, as humans, is that we are not always going to do something well.  But we need to do it anyway.  Writers know this - it is why we expect to write many drafts of the same story, poem, or whatever.  By allowing the mediocre draft to appear, word by painstakingly written word, we can then begin to excise, and eventually to reveal, with some measure of grace and graciousness, something at least a notch or two above mediocre.  But without first surrendering to the mediocrity, we have nothing to work with.  It’s a process.

We can know this and yet still refuse to believe it.  For example, for years I wanted to be a crafter:  beading, jewelry making, crochet, knitting, sewing, card making, etc.  I would gather my materials, follow the pattern, and attempt a project.  And at some point, without fail, I would become frustrated and disappointed with my results.  I was a beginner, usually a true beginner, and yet I was constantly comparing my (un)finished project to one of Martha Stewart’s.  I refused, absolutely and unequivocally, to surrender to my own mediocrity.  I didn’t want to actually be bothered by the process and the practice.

I see this now.  But it was a long, drawn-out realization.  There is much about this life like this.  And one of the great and liberating wonders about this modern life is that we have the choice to surrender to a mediocrity of our own choosing.  You don’t have to adhere to generations of your family’s interests or your culture’s traditions if those don’t appeal to you.  (And perhaps there’s a sadness in that, but that’s a story for another day.)  I have chosen to surrender to writing.  Will I ever become a #1 New York Times Bestselling Author like Cheryl?  Pretty doubtful, but I will continue, as she urged all of us at the conference, to bow before the word.  The words I write are insignificant, but as Gandhi said, “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”

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