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Got Heart?

Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice can never be attained.     (Helen Keller)

My husband and I were enjoying dinner at a local pub restaurant recently when a woman’s voice pierced the cozy bubble of our conversation.

“I have no social conscience.”

This admission, calmly stated, shocked me profoundly. That there are people who have no social conscience, who feel no concern for the suffering of others, is certainly not news to me. My inbox and the nightly news supply ample examples of cruel indifference:

Credit: PA
  • GOP efforts to pull the plug on children’s health insurance (CHIP).
  • Paul Ryan’s campaign to bankrupt Medicare and privatize Social Security.
  • Police officers gunning down black teens “armed” with nothing but a smartphone.
  • The governor of Michigan leaving Flint residents to drink lead-poisoned water after he changed the city’s supplier to save money—a serious health crisis now in its fifth year.
  • The blind eye the Trump administration turned toward the residents of Puerto Rico after the 2017 hurricane disaster—a blind eye that ratcheted up an initial death toll of 17 to a now-staggering 1,000+ by the most conservative counts.
http://www.today.com

Clearly, far too many people don’t give a rip. Our Congress is filled with them.

No, what shocked me about this statement, I have no social conscience, is that someone would admit to such callousness casually, publicly. I turned in my seat as far as I dared to see the speaker: a well-dressed woman in her fifties, eating dinner across from a man whose slack-jawed expression suggested he, too, was startled by her confession.

What is Social Conscience? What is It Not?

What is social conscience?

Collins Dictionary defines it as “the state of being aware of the problems that affect a lot of people in society, such as being poor or having no home, and wanting to do something to help these people.”

Collins appends this arresting note: “The social conscience, or more correctly the social heart, has come to regard the survival of the fittest as a barbarian conception.” Exactly.

http://www.today.com

Wikipedia distinguishes between the personal and the social:

“While our conscience is related to our moral conduct in our day-to-day lives with respect to individuals, social conscience is concerned with the broader institutions of society and the gap that we may perceive between the sort of society that should exist and the real society that does exist [italics are mine].”

So, the person who pays her bills and takes dinner to a neighbor recovering from surgery; who contributes to the local playground used by her children and doesn’t cheat on her taxes—she considers herself an icon of morality.

But she tips her hand when she votes for someone like Georgia’s GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp, who among other atrocities, brags “I’ve got a big truck in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself.” (Note: You really owe it to yourself to watch his new campaign ad here. It beggars belief.)

Conscience, in this instance, is all about the personal, the tribal. I, me, mine. Totally missing is any feeling of connection to people one doesn’t know, a sense of common humanity.

Which is why we now have children being torn from their parents in alarming numbers by U.S. border control agents. (One would be alarming, but there are HUNDREDS, soon to be thousands.)

People fleeing political violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala arrive at our southern border, having traveled up to several thousand miles, only to have the children they sought to protect snatched from them by border agents and driven off to god knows where. These parents tell beyond-horrific stories of being restrained while a stranger carries off their terrified child. The children old enough to talk, scream, “Mommy! Mommy!” The infants can only sob.

Ross D. Franklin/AP 2016

Some, maybe most, of these children will never see their parents again. Detention facility operators for non-U.S. citizen kids admit it’s often impossible to locate the parents after the children are taken by agents. This violence happens so quickly, there’s no time (or effort made) to create proper records. An infant can’t even reveal her name. And there’s no real plan for the future of these kids. They are simply regarded as the ‘casualties’ of a war on immigrants. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says of Trump’s new “zero tolerance” policy “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”

What Does a World Devoid of Social Conscience Look Like?

In her 2017 book Democracy in Chains, Duke University historian Nancy MacLean gives us a well-researched look at the people who would transform our democracy into a dog-eat-dog world of predators and prey, devil take the hindmost. At its center is the vision of a man named James Buchanan for whom the 1955 Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education (calling for the end of segregation in public schools) was the last straw, a government incursion too far in what he believed should be the freedom of the minority (the rich) from the needs and wishes of the common rabble (the majority).

An economist, Buchanan joined the faculty of the University of Virginia in 1956 where he founded the Thomas Jefferson Center for Studies in Political Economy. Sounds patriotic, doesn’t it? Very Founding Fathers and all. But its aims were to undo representative democracy and scrub the public from every institution. It is the direct antecedent of today’s far-right, Koch-funded Heritage Foundation, American Legislative Exchange (ALEC), Cato Institute, and dozens of other Orwellian-titled think-tanks and foundations where a democratic name has been purposely selected to disguise the very anti-democratic philosophy of its members.

Buchanan & Friends’ targets include: ending public education; privatizing or eliminating Social Security and Medicare; shutting down the U.S. Postal Service; eliminating the minimum wage and laws against child labor; closing the EPA; cutting off all foreign aid; scrubbing employer-provided pensions; a total nix on rules that would constrain how a person gets wealthy, and a prohibition against taxing that wealth other than for military expenditures.

That is the short list.

So, who will pay for the interstates, highways, and bridges required to transport the goods made in the factories of the rich that increase their wealth?

Far more important, what becomes of the 90% of America’s children who attend public schools if public education is axed? That’s millions and millions of kids.

No public schools, no minimum wage, no prohibitions against child labor. What is the “dream” for this brave new world, devoid of all social conscience? Five-year-olds working for fifty cents an hour? For how many years? Until they die? It certainly eliminates any need to worry about retirement savings, Social Security, or Medicare. I can hear Betsy DeVos and Paul Ryan salivating right now.

The Nazis had an assembly plant buried deep in the Harz Mountains, Mittelwerk, where slave labor—Jews, Communists, homosexuals, Poles, and other Nazi targets—manufactured the weapons used against the Allies. The system was simple. A person was worked day and night in the underground tunnels until they dropped dead. Then they were tossed into an incinerator. As the Nazis liked to point out: Labor was expendable. There were always more where they came from.

Mittelwerk

It should come as no surprise that James Buchanan was the architect of the new constitution for CIA-backed dictator General Pinochet’s authoritarian regime in Chile (1973-1990), a constitution Buchanan liked to brag was unbreachable, a template of the one he hoped to write for America when enough states could be “bought” in elections to demand a rewrite of our constitution. (As of November 2017, 28 GOP-dominated states are calling for an Article 5 constitutional convention to review and rewrite our founding document. Only six more states are needed to begin this process.)

Buchanan died in 2013, but his vision lives on and is well-funded thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, a decision that made it a slam-dunk for dark money to buy politicians. Your representatives are now, in many cases, their representatives.

The Great Divide

The question in all this that really nags at me—has been nagging me as far back as these lines I penned at age 14—is this:

What motivates one man to plant a garden

And another to build a bomb?

The Great Divide between those who care about the welfare of other people on this planet—who believe because we are all human beings, we are all connected—and those who blatantly don’t is a very hot topic these days, judging by the headlines in my Google search. For instance, relative to polls in the 1990s, Business Insider reported, Republicans are now much more likely to say poor people have it easy, while Democrats are less likely to say so.

And people who don’t take a “one-world” view of humanity are much easier about “letting it all hang out” than in recent decades. Perhaps they are feeling empowered by having a nationalist, racist, sexist, homophobic, war-junkie at the helm.

What motivates one man to plant a garden

And another to build a bomb?

Proactiva Open Arms, March 2018

Why do some of us look at news footage of Syrian parents weeping over the dead bodies of their children and, knowing what agonizing trauma it would be to lose our own child, feel their grief? More frighteningly to the point, why do some of us not?

The Great Divide. What is it? Where does it come from? Perhaps the most telling answer to this question was given by Baptist minister and former Republican congressman J.C. Watts while he was campaigning for Senator Rand Paul in 2015:  “The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good.”

I think that assessment can be stated more broadly, beyond general party lines that are specific to the U.S., because social conscience or lack of it is a global issue. I would say: The person with a social conscience believes people are intrinsically good and we are all connected, whereas the person without a social conscience believes humanity is basically corrupt and it’s everyone for themselves.

When I shared this with my daughter, she mentioned an observation her dad once made: The divide can also be seen as those who believe there’s enough for everyone versus those who see life as a zero-sum game. “If you get something, I lose something. So piss off and die.”

The Business Insider article also mentioned that decades of research has shown that feeling threatened makes people more conservative. If the Great Divide were that simple, though, every progressive, liberal, and middle-of-the-roader in America would be wearing a John Birch Society button right now because, absolutely, make-no-mistake, we who have a social conscience feel threatened.

Perhaps Dr. Seuss nailed the problem perfectly in his book How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! 
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. 
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right. 
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. 
But I think that the most likely reason of all 
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”

But if, Baby, You’re the Bottom, I’m the Top

No one wants to be at the “bottom of the barrel.” And people feeling the threat of that slippery slope can be dangerous. Before the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment, the poor whites of the South comforted themselves with a false sense of superiority—at least they were “better” than black people who had to be slaves—but when slavery ended, these people got real nervous. What if freed to reach their true potential, black people turned out to be just as smart, talented, and capable as the smartest, most capable whites? Frightened they might find themselves at the bottom of the bottom, these poor whites became the roots of the Ku Klux Klan.

This fear permeates everything. Happens everywhere. In Michigan, where I grew up, the Upper Peninsula had very few black people but some number of Native Americans. Every slur that is directed toward blacks elsewhere in the U.S. was slung at these Native Americans—dirty, lazy, irresponsible.

Race and ethnicity are the major hammers fearful people throw, but religion can also be a weapon to suppress others, to keep someone else at the bottom of that barrel. The misery that is ISIS was egged on by Al Qaeda to exploit the struggle for supremacy between the Sunnis and the Shiites. Who will be relegated to the bottom?

Question: Why does there have to be a bottom?

Answers I have heard all my life:

Because there’s always been one.

That’s just the way people are.

But people are a lot of ways. They dash into burning buildings to rescue strangers. They save fleeing refugees when their boats capsize at sea. They volunteer at homeless shelters. They place a Black Lives Matter sign in their yard. They understand that if we don’t all work together and take care of each other, we and the planet are doomed.

What Part of “People Don’t Throw People Under the Bus” Isn’t Clear?

Little by little we’ll go,

No matter how far the distance is

 We are not shaken.

Little by little we’ll go

And meet our destination.

 That’s the beginning to a poem written by Joyce Chisale, a Malawian girl who dreams of becoming a doctor (and poet).  Girls in Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, are only given free basic education to the age of 13. After that, parents must pay the school fees—$100  USD per term. Joyce’s father makes $40 USD a month, painting, welding, and offloading cargo.

Joyce’s great-uncle stepped up to pay the first two terms of her school fees, but was unable to continue funding her education. He had his own children to provide for. So, Joyce—a student her biology teacher calls “an exceptional girl”—was forced to leave school. She was heartbroken.

© UNICEF Malawi/2017/Eldson Chagara

And then someone with a social conscience—MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell—in conjunction with a whole lot of people with a social conscience, UNICEF, stepped in to help Joyce realize her dreams. The K.I.N.D Fund was established to provide, among other things, scholarships for girls to go to school. Many hundreds more people with a social conscience have since donated to this fund, and thanks to everyone involved, Joyce and many other girls are continuing their education.  (To see what Joyce is doing now, watch this May 2018 interview with O’Donnell here. It will make your day.)

Thankfully, wonderfully, the gift that is Joyce is being opened. But what about the millions of children around the world who could be “exceptional” if only they weren’t being bombed, shot, and starved?

We throw so many, many people away. Because they are poor or of another race or another religion or another “tribe” or a girl or …  We throw people away. Day after day.

Syria, Feb. 2018: A heavy bombardment kills at least 100 civilians, 20 of them children, in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, as regime forces appeared to be preparing for an imminent ground assault.

According to the Middle East Children’s Alliance, 1,518 Palestinian children were killed by Israel’s occupation forces from the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000 up to April 2013. That number means that one Palestinian child was killed by Israel every 3 days for almost 13 years. In the following year, 2014, nearly 600 Palestinian kids were killed.

Headline in The Guardian, January 16, 2018: Yemen war: 5,000 children dead or hurt and 400,000 malnourished, UN says

We throw people away. We throw children away. To lack a social conscience is to be okay with this. To be like Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life: “They’re not my children.”

But we cannot afford to look away. The problems we face—environmental chaos, pandemics, undrinkable water, famine, chemical warfare, nuclear threats—will require we ALL work together, that we care for others as ourselves. Indifference, or worse, is not viable. 

“I have no social conscience.”

In that sentence, this one echoes: “I am liberating man from the degrading chimera known as ‘conscience.’” The speaker is Hitler.

Wherever you are, whatever your circumstances, do what you can. Now. The world desperately needs you. It has never needed you more.

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And the Awards Go to …

This week, I’m interrupting my regularly-scheduled post to both thank a few bloggers and to pass my appreciation forward to a few more. I’ll be back next week with the kind of heartfelt rant you’ve come to expect from me on some aspect of the human condition.

And now, without further ado …

Every time I’ve been about to leave town for the past two months, my blog has been nominated for an award by my fellow writers from the blogging community. It’s lovely and touching to be recognized—as I’m sure these bloggers know—for a job that often feels like shouting into the void. You might start a blog for this or that reason—perhaps as a step toward book publication—but somewhere along the way it becomes a labor of love. Your name is on it. Your soul is in it.

When I was an angsty teenager, I wrote a poem with the line I was born with a voice in a world with no ears. I’m still angsty. I still have a voice. But now I know there are ears out there.

So today, I set aside suitcases, laundry, and pack lists, to say THANK YOU for reminding me of that Cammie Adams at Silent Screamer who nominated me for the One Lovely Blog Award; and Cindy Kolbe at Struggling With Serendipity who did the same for the Sunshine Blogger Award.

You ladies rock!

The One Lovely Blog Award                        

The Rules:                                                             

  1. Thank the person who nominated you.
  2. Share 7 facts about yourself.
  3. Nominate 15 bloggers and inform them of the nomination.

Okay, here goes.

Seven Facts about Me:

1) I hate talking on the phone. The whole disembodiment of it drives me nuts and strangely renders me tongue-tied with people I’ve known forever. If I can’t talk to friends face-to-face, preferably over a glass of Italian red, then I’d rather “chat” by e-mail.

Copyright 2018 The Doorpost Blog

2) I date my fierce attachment to social justice to a nursery school incident. At three, I was a year younger than everyone else in the class, and having no siblings (yet) I was used to dealing only with adults who, though they could be strict and demanding, were rarely capriciously unfair. In short, I was not prepared for bullies. So when John R. swooped down and grabbed the train I was playing with, announcing “You can’t play with this!”, I was gobsmacked. And furious. I seethed in silence behind a chair for the rest of that morning and many days after. I’ve never forgotten the burn of feeling helpless in the face of tyranny. It made me a fighter for fairness.

3) I come across as fairly gregarious, and I’m skilled at getting conversations going among people at parties, but I’m actually quite shy. That said, I’m wildly interested in people—what they do, why they do what they do, how they choose to present themselves publicly.

4) Related to #3, I’m forever making up stories about people I see in coffee shops, on the street, in the park. I practically imagined an entire novel once from the seeming tension I felt between two men sitting at different tables in a London Soho breakfast place. By the time I paid my bill, I had them planning a major terrorist op, waiting only for final instructions on their linked cellphones. I must admit, I felt a little jumpy walking out of that café and down the street even though I knew I’d made up the entire plot. My husband thinks this is endlessly funny.

5) I used to teach first grade. A wonderful age group. When you announce, “It’s time for math,” they actually cheer. Try that in fifth grade.

6) I make a marvelous lemon pie, but I’ve never been able to master getting the meringue topping to seal at the edges. I always have this sad little gap between the crust and the meringue after an hour.

7) I would define grace as a state of being where you can breathe normally through any crisis, no matter how difficult the situation or how long it lasts, while continuing your work and never giving up hope. I haven’t achieved that state yet, and maybe I’ll die trying, but it is what I strive for. 

My Nominees for The One Lovely Blog Award:

Cindy Kolbe:  Struggling with Serendipity

Lori Knutson:  LoriKnutson.com 

Neil Scheinin: Yeah, Another Blogger

Lauren Greene: Lauren Greene Writes

Leslie Kluchin: lesleykluchin.wordpress.com

Cyndi Pauwels: CL Pauwels At Large

Max Powers: Maxpower’s Blog 

Susan Ekins: Women Making Strides

Susan Roberts: Susan’s Musings

Rohit Byahut: BeBloggerOfficial 

Clarissa Gosling: My Musings About the World

Shan:  Getoutoftherecliner

Nina Romano: ninaromano.com

Kyrian Lyndon: Kyrian Lyndon, Novelist & Poet 

Davy D: Inside the Mind of Davy D

The Sunshine Blogger Award

And I quote: “The Sunshine Blogger Award is given BY bloggers TO bloggers who inspire positivity and creativity in the blogging community.”

The Rules:

1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their blog.
2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
3. Nominate 11 bloggers to receive this award, and write 11 new questions.
4. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo on your blog.

11 Questions for Me:

Q: What corner of the world are you from?

A: LOL, I never thought of the Great Lakes as a corner. I was born in Cincinnati actually, but grew up a mile from Lake Michigan before I escaped to the East Coast. The day I arrived in Boston, I went down to the North End and dipped my hand in the Atlantic. I had made it out. I had arrived in the place of my dreams. Now, I’ve been here longer than I was “there.”

Q: How long have you been blogging?

A: Almost three years now. My first post went out at the end of August 2015. Right after I built my website—talk about learning curves. Whewheee!

Q:Why are you blogging?

A: Like many bloggers, I have a book I’m seeking representation for. Though I had a good response on my initial query, several agents mentioned the lack of social media presence and specifically, the lack of a blog. So, I researched several dozen blogs, looking for a template of some kind. What did I like? What didn’t I like? I found my ideal in author Michael Gruber’s blog—a monthly essay of some real thought and merit.

Q: What do you like best about blogging?

A: What I mentioned in the intro to this post—a platform to speak in this world about things I consider important. Which is basically the human condition circa now. Blogging takes tremendous time away from writing fiction, it’s true, but I’ve realized over the past three years that it also strengthens me as a writer—of anything, everything. Watching the news on MSNBC, my husband often jokes that I need a “box” like each guest on the panel has. For now, my blog is my box. I don’t subscribe to the idea that authors should never speak up for fear of offending potential readers. Not speaking out when it matters is what allowed seven million people—Jews, Communists, Poles, gays—to be murdered in Hitler’s Germany. From where I sit, you don’t throw people under the bus to get ahead. And you don’t remain silent in the face of atrocities.

Q: Where would you like to travel?

A: My husband and I love to travel. All our spare (ha-ha) money goes into roaming the world. We always stop in London for some part of each trip because London is the home of my heart. Theater, bookstores, museums, galleries, parks, pubs—it has everything, and the people are lovely. We’re also very fond of Italy, the south of France, Paris, and Greece. That said, I would really like to spend time in Denmark, Ireland, and India. I mean, who wouldn’t want to visit a place called Pondicherry?

Q: What would you do if there was no chance of failing?

A: Ride a motorcycle. I’ve tried. I had a little Honda Rebel bike and a learner’s permit and all that, but I went to sleep each night imagining a dog suddenly running out into the road, the lurch and skid of the bike as I slammed on the brakes. So if I was guaranteed I would never have a motorcycle accident, and be splatted all over the road, I’d definitely be biking.

Q: Favorite season?

A: I’m summer baby all the way. Any day in a tank top and flip flops is a GOOD day.

Q: Favorite food?

A: Tough question. Probably some kind of veggie stir fry with shrimp or scallops in it–Chinese or Indian spiced. I eat yogurt every morning with half a sliced banana, a sprinkling of almonds, raisins, and sunflower seeds, topped off with blueberries and raspberries. I never tire of it.

Q: Favorite music?

A: I came of age with the Beatles. They were an amazing creative force. Their music defined a generation. As for a single song, I’m not sure you can improve on Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” And I have a decidedly soft spot for Mozart.

 

Q: Favorite book?

A: Wow, out of the thousands I’ve read, it would be hard to pick one. I don’t think you can express the power of longing to shape us, drive us, any more forcefully and succinctly and hauntingly than F. Scott Fitzgerald does in The Great Gatsby. That green light at the end of the dock—what it means—who doesn’t understand that? Who could forget it?

But if you want to talk writers, I still think Will Shakespeare sits at the head of the table. More than 400 years later, he still speaks to us. His plays have inspired countless retellings from West Side Story to Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres. Shakespeare catalogued with rare perception—and this is important, with mercy—the universal human experiences of jealousy, greed, fear, love, ambition. Who has done the depths of moral confusion better than the “To be or not to be” soliloquy in Hamlet?

Q: Favorite quote?

A:

“Keep walking though there’s no place to get to.

Don’t try to see through the distances,

That’s not for human beings. Move within,

but don’t move the way fear makes you move.”

(Rumi)

It sits in the place of honor above my desk. I try to learn from it every day.

My Nominations for the Sunshine Blogger Award:

Cammie Adams: Silent Screamer

Marion Ann Berry: My Name is Marion Ann

Lori Knutson: LoriKnutson.com

Lauren Greene: Lauren Greene, Author

Leslie Kluchin: lesleykluchin.wordpress.com

Cyndi Pauwels: CL Pauwels At Large

Susan Roberts: Susan’s Musings

Kyrian Lyndon: Kyrian Lyndon, Novelist & Poet

Neil Scheinin: Yeah, Another Blogger

Grant Leishman: grantleishman.com

Robin Lyons: Robin’s Research Blog

11 Questions for my Sunshine Blogger Award Nominees:

  1. What is one thing you have learned about life this past year?

2. What was your first paying job?

3. Who was your favorite teacher in elementary school, and why?

4. If you write fiction, which genre(s) do you work in? OR if you don’t write fiction, which genre(s) do you most enjoy reading?

5. If you were going to a costume party this weekend, who or what would you like to dress up as?

6. If you were to start a charity, what would be its purpose?

7. Which TV series do you feel has the best writing?

Bianca Sparacino

8. If you could be an animal for a day, which animal would you be and why?

9. Name three of your all-time favorite films.

10. What is one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for you?

11. What is one of the kindest things you feel you have ever done for someone else?

That’s a Wrap, Folks

There are many great bloggers out there, but everyone mentioned here is something special. To all my award nominees, I say: Keep blogging. Keep raising the voice that is uniquely yours because, as it turns out, the world does have ears.

Everything Takes as Long as It Takes

“A happy man is too satisfied with the present to dwell too much on the future.” Albert Einstein

 

Note jotted to self on the edge of a cryptic crossword: One day you’re 30; the next, you’re 60, and yet 10 minutes can seem like forever.

Time. The thing that waits for no man. The tyrant that keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking into the future. A specter that haunts, often causing us to feel when we’re doing X, we really should be doing Y.

Case in point: Being a writer, I have a zillion connections to other writers out there. Mostly what I hear falls into one of three camps. 

  1. I’m not writing right now.

2) I’m not writing enough right now.

3) I’m writing 2,000 words a day right now, but the rest of my life is going right down the toilet.

These may read like mere declarative sentences. Trust me, they are not. Each one is packed with enough angst to blow the pin right out of a grenade. What’s missing from these words, but explosively present is: Time.

Let’s take another look at these statements when we give voice to the elephant in the room.

1) I’m not writing right now. It worries me that so much time is going by without my writing. How much more of my life will I waste not writing?

2) I’m not writing enough right now. I write too slowly. Stephen King writes like 200 pages a day. I’ll be 90 when this book is done.

3) I’m writing ten pages a day right now, but the rest of my life is going right down the toilet. I don’t have time to write and have a family. What am I going to do with the kids? The dog? We can’t live on take-out forever. Oh god, I missed the car payment again. And I don’t have friends anymore. No time.

Well, other than the fact that Stephen King writes six pages a day, not 200, the stress about time expressed here is very real. I hear it often from others. I feel it every day myself.

Tick, tick, tick. Time is fleeting. Tempus Fugit—there it goes!

In the Age Before Time

When I was a kid, in that golden era after the invention of the wheel and before the advent of Facebook, my friends and I used to spend whole afternoons in the garage looking for the little key that tightened our roller skates. If we found it before dinner and got time to actually skate, that was a bonus. We were together, hanging out. What more mattered?

Sometimes we rode our bikes around all day, just seeing what was up at our regular haunts: the school playground, the little park six blocks over, the drugstore, the ravine. We weren’t disappointed by what we found—usually nothing. We were just cycling through our world, enjoying the freedom of independence.

Like most kids, I had a few chores. Setting the dinner table. Cleaning my room. I didn’t enjoy them, but I didn’t dread them. My mom would call, “Time to set the table,” and I’d have to put down the book I was engrossed in, or pack up the game I’d been playing with a friend, and go slap down those knives, forks, and spoons. But I never watched the clock. I never thought, “Oh crap, I’ve just blown ten minutes setting the table.” And I certainly never thought about those tasks when I wasn’t doing them. I just did them and resumed what I’d been doing or started something new.

Just taking things as they come—when does that change?

Expanding Responsibilities 

Does time start to feel like the enemy when our responsibilities expand beyond laying out the flatware?

I carried a full load of courses throughout college and worked 30 hours a week, but I don’t recall ever feeling harried by the clock. I didn’t even own a watch. When I was at work at the Student Union Grill, I was at work, chatting with customers as I flipped their burgers and fried their fries. When I was in class, I was in class, talking literature and history, psychology and feminist philosophy, enjoying making connections among the zillions of new ideas bombarding my brain. If I had a paper due, I started in around midnight and worked through the wee hours until I handed it in at class the next day. No biggie. Occasionally, I slept. I didn’t count the hours.

There’s a cartoon from those days. A friend clipped it for me. “This is exactly you,” she said.

But really, it was all of us. I never heard anyone angst about time. There was a healthy sense of We’re here to explore life. We worked. We played. Wherever we were, we were there.

Out in the “Real World”

Entering the REAL WORLD: Is that when time lays a stranglehold on us?

I remember going for my first big-girl job interview. You know, the one where you suit up and park your personality in neutral. The interviewer began with this zinger: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Five years? I didn’t “see” myself at the end of next week. I knew I was a writer. I knew I wanted to always be writing. But I had no timeline for my dreams.

I also knew the interviewer expected me to detail how I planned to climb some ladder I hadn’t constructed and didn’t care about. So, I gave him some garbled gab about ambitions, probably cobbled together from TV shows and articles I’d read about bright young things “going places.” Then I left. Quickly.

After that, I went out west for a while, where I discovered I need deciduous trees and seasons. Then, I came back east for grad school, which I left two years later after some serious #MeToo harassment from a prof, in a time when women were still being advised to “suck it up.” I wrote my first novel. None of this felt like wasting time.

At my second “real world” interview, for an editor’s job, the company focused on my skill set and portfolio—in short, my ability to do the work—and didn’t ask ridiculous questions. (Wherever you see yourself in five years, I can almost guarantee that’s not where you’ll be.) I got that job, and the job came with strict deadlines. I was responsible for planning, sourcing, and writing a monthly publication.

Surely, I must have felt the pressure then—time as an anvil waiting to drop on my head, like Wile E. Coyote in a Road Runner cartoon.

Not really. When I was watching Late Night with David Letterman in, say, March, I never worried that I wouldn’t make deadline on the April issue. When the company started sending me on the road to give seminars for our client subscribers, I didn’t panic about finding the extra hours to prepare a presentation. I was psyched about the travel, meeting new people, and staying at legendary hotels like The Palmer House in Chicago.

Bring it on. Everything was an adventure.

Of course I didn’t have kids yet. Is it family responsibilities that send us into a tailspin, time spiraling out of control like a plane losing fuel fast?

Parenthood: Who Has Time to Think About Time?

I don’t think there are many parents out there who would argue that having kids is the busiest thing you’ll ever do. There’s something going every minute, and that’s on a slow day. Often, it’s a three-ring circus. You’re making dinner and baking cupcakes for the school fundraiser while helping with homework and maybe adding the finishing touches to a Halloween costume. I recall the blissful peace of doing my work (I was a copyeditor for Elsevier at the time) at the kitchen table after the kids had gone to bed.

Actually, kids keep you very much in the present. Their needs are of the immediate kind, rising in one moment, taken care of in the next. I never had time to worry about time. I took care of them, played with them, ferried them to friends and activities. Once they were in school, I went back to school, too, and became a teacher. By the time I had a classroom, the kids were able to do their own laundry and clean their shared bath. We did takeout one night a week. Everything still felt manageable. When I was doing one thing, I wasn’t tortured by the feeling I should be doing something else. That would come later.

What the Hell is Time Anyway?

It seems like a good moment to pause here and consider the nature of this beast we call Time. A brief Google search informs me that:

“Time is a very curious thing. Ask anyone on the street if they know what time is. They are sure to answer yes. But then, ask them to explain it to you and they will almost certainly be at a loss for words.”   (David Lewis Anderson)

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” (Albert Einstein)

“Time is the measurable unit of movement concerning a before and an after.” (Physica IV, 11, 219, b1)

Now that we’ve got that all cleared up, I’d like to offer a little perspective here.

The Earth came into being a tad over 4.5 billion years ago. Geologically violent in its infancy, and constantly bombarded by meteorites, it took 2 billion years for things to settle down and the continents we know to materialize. Latecomers to the party, it would take another 2,499,800,000 years for us to show up, and then we took our sweet time—another 145,000 years of it—to invent the wheel.

Things take time. Some things take massive amounts of time. Even on our puny human scale, it takes a long time to become a virtuoso at the violin, write a book, lose 20 pounds. We need to find a way to not only accept that, but to embrace it, enjoy the journey, and stop looking over our shoulder at all the things we haven’t done, aren’t doing, still have to do. The hour we fuss and worry that we should be doing X while we’re doing Y is an hour we won’t get back again.

For my birthday last month, my husband gave me a writing retreat. I booked four days at a hotel in the Berkshires, packed my laptop plus my current read, and left home. I set no goals—word count, number of pages. I just wrote. Not only was the time highly productive, it was tremendously relaxing. The real gift, I discovered, was not feeling like there was anything else I should be doing. I was where I was.

An Hour is an Hour

The hour we had as a child is the same hour we have now. It has neither expanded nor shrunk. So the difference in our perception—this perpetual sense of being squeezed—must lie in our expectations.

Maybe it’s not our life stage or chronological age that makes us feel we should be moving through everything at lightning speed, but the age we live in.

Less than a hundred years ago, the journals kept by farmers recount a day’s events as what happened in the morning, the afternoon, the evening. They had much to do and few “labor-saving” tools to help with the load. But they just plowed or planted or harvested as the seasons dictated and understood that when night came, the workday was over. They had to accept their limitations.

And there’s no evidence in their accounts that they fretted about what they weren’t getting done. No Oh god, I’m out here hoeing and I should be churning butter. But how am I ever going to get the peaches canned if I churn the butter? They went with the rhythm of the year—a much larger, more forgiving time unit.

I grew up in a more exacting age. We moved through life by the hours. The school day started at 8:30. We went home for lunch at 12:15 and had to be back at our desks by 1:00. Bonanza was on Sunday nights at 9:00, and the library closed promptly at 5:00.

My children grew up with the nanosecond. Their sense of timecrunch is manifest in the way they watch a movie—while texting, Facebooking, chugging down dinner, and prepping for a work conference call.

But we are still just people, and an hour is still an hour. If we try to cram three hours of to-do stuff into every hour, then we’ll always fail. If we insist on doing it all perfectly, we’ll go flaming nuts.

Very likely, there isn’t time to do everything. But doing everything is a mad goal anyway. So, forget about covering all those bases. Ignore the benchmarks “everyone else” is measuring themselves against. Stop watching the clock. Everything takes as long as it takes. Perhaps, fretting about time is the only true waste of it.

A passage from a childhood book about life in the 1860s sticks with me. The 11-year-old heroine goes to talk something over with her father. He’s repairing a clock. Scattered over his work table are springs and cogs and levers. “He was absorbed in the task at hand.”

The word on the street is that when you’re dead, you’re dead a long time.

Time is not the enemy. Time is life. It’s all we’ve got.

The Thing That Cannot Be Changed

And while the future’s there for anyone to change, still you know it seems
It would be easier sometimes to change the past. . .
(“Fountain of Sorrow” Jackson Browne)

I’m going to borrow a little quote from Henry David Thoreau, used in my previous post, to introduce this one. You will perhaps notice a tweak or two:

I went into the wilds of western Massachusetts because I wished to write deliberately, to front only the essential facts of my work-in-progress, and see if I could not get something done away from laundry, appointments, and the flotsam of daily life, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not written …

It’s my way of saying this is a repeat, but I believe it still has merit. I hope you’ll feel the same.

***********

Sometimes, it’s something we truly earned—and didn’t get. The career-making job that would have launched our dreams. Sometimes, it’s something we never had, but always craved. Parents who could love us. And sometimes it’s just one terrible moment: The car we failed to see in time. Whatever it is, in most of our lives there lurks The thing that cannot be changed. It’s the moment, the decision, the situation that all our effort and talent and endurance cannot alter or undo.

Successful writers and actors, business people and ballplayers, if they’re honest, often mention the role luck played in their achievement. Along with the hard work and long hours, they confess to being in the right place at the right time. No one mentions the opportunities that went to someone else, the love that never materialized, the awful accident of standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

THING fantasy-1275253_960_720And that’s the hardest part about The thing that cannot be changed. It’s almost never the result of our own doing. Perhaps that’s why it looms so large. It lies outside our control, and people like to control their own lives. When someone else denies us our most basic needs, tramples our dreams, we experience it as an injustice, and injustice bites deep. Its grip is tenacious.

Yet, we must learn to live with The thing that cannot be changed. Thrive in spite of it. Not let it swamp us internally or accept it as a judgment of our own worth. There’s a myth that only losers suffer from The thing that cannot be changed. That successful people simply leave adversity in the dust. Would that it were it so easy.

“The Places That Failed Us Before”

Tennessee Williams was a two-time Pulitzer prize winner and hailed as one of the greatest dramatists in 20th-century American theater. Decidedly a brilliant writer and a great success. But he was never able to stare down The thing that cannot be changed.

 For Williams, The thing was twofold: The abusive, alcoholic father who disdained and bullied a son he considered weak; and the controlling, puritanical mother horrified by all things sexual. Williams heard their message loud and clear: “You are wrong as you are.”

chicagotribune.com
chicagotribune.com

In one particularly harrowing incident, his father hauled him out of the University of Missouri after he failed a military training course in his junior year, and put him to work in the factory of the International Shoe Company where the senior Williams was an executive. Tennessee hated the daily grind and eventually suffered a nervous breakdown.

After he recovered, Williams enrolled in another college, and later studied at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York City. Speaking of his early days as a dramatist, collaborating with others on a play for an amateur summer theater group, Williams wrote, “The laughter … enchanted me. Then and there the theatre and I found each other for better and for worse. I know it’s the only thing that saved my life.”

The hope in that last sentence is moving; its subtext, haunting: If I just work hard enough, long enough, I can write my way free of my pain. But he never did. Despite using that pain to create some of the most memorable characters on the stage (Big Daddy, Amanda Wingfield), he remained trapped within The thing that cannot be changed. Elia Kazan, who directed many of Williams’s plays said, “Everything in his life is in his plays, and everything in his plays is in his life.”

In 1939, with the assistance of his agent, he received a $1,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation for a play he was writing, Battle of Angels. The play foundered when it opened, but Williams was on his way. And yet, a poem he penned that same year reveals how badly The thing that cannot be changed dogged him:

CRIED THE FOX                                                                                       

I run, cried the fox, in circles                                                                THING CROPPED solitude-1148983_960_720
narrower, narrower still,
across the desperate hollow,
skirting the frantic hill

and shall till my brush hangs burning
flame at the hunter’s door
continue this fatal returning
to places that failed me before!

Then, with his heart breaking nearly,
the lonely, passionate bark
of the fugitive fox rang out clearly
as bells in the frosty dark,

across the desperate hollow,
skirting the frantic hill,
calling the pack to follow
a prey that escaped them still. 

[My italics]                    

Williams once remarked that “A high station in life is earned by the gallantry with which appalling experiences are survived with grace.” But the undertow of those experiences finally claimed him. He died of asphyxia, an accident related to the quantity of alcohol and drugs he consumed over the last 30 years of his life. His obituary in The New York Times (February 27, 1983) paid homage to him as “a master of dramatic moments who created lost, tortured characters struggling for dignity and hope in a world that often denied both.”

Beyond Her Own Pain and Anger
Helen w/ Annie Sullivan
Helen w/ Annie Sullivan

Helen Keller became acquainted with The thing that cannot be changed at 19 months, when a severe illness left her blind and deaf. Imagine the terror of that. Your world goes dark and silent, and you are too young to even grasp why. By all accounts, Helen spent the next five years in a rage, rejecting every attempt to reach her. It was only when the young teacher, Annie Sullivan, at last broke through that dark silence and communicated with her, that Helen understood there might be something beyond her own pain and anger.

As an adult, she used that discovery to help other people afflicted with blindness. She joined the American Foundation for the Blind. For 40 years, this organization served as her global platform to advocate for people with vision loss. She saw to it that state commissions for the blind were established, rehabilitation centers were built, and education was made accessible to children without sight. She also championed the rights of working people and women’s suffrage.

It is a hard thing for us humans to accept, but the bottom line is this: We cannot control other people and we cannot change the past. We can only control our own actions and responses. So when The thing that cannot be changed brings us to our knees, as it sometimes will, we must learn to breathe with it. As Helen Keller discovered, it is one aspect of our personal story, but it is not our whole story. So we own it, and then we rise up. And carry on.

THING summer-1458129_960_720

The Final Arbiter

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”   Henry David Thoreau

It’s the most human of desires: To crave validation for our work, our ideas, our dreams, our self. Whether we are scientists or writers, teachers or public defenders, musicians or social workers, we like to imagine our work will have lasting impact, influence positive change, spark new discoveries. Even if we don’t aspire to a world stage, it’s a rare person who doesn’t want to have their efforts recognized and valued by their immediate peers and colleagues.

Warning: Seeking validation from others puts us in an extremely vulnerable place. Marks us out as a target. Like walking around with a “Kick Me” sign on our back. When we need something from others, we cede control over the outcome. This is rarely a problem with family and friends, but beyond those warm waters, be aware: There are sharks.

Few of us have escaped the damage jealousy inflicts. The colleague who badmouths us behind our back because he fears any success of ours makes him appear less capable.

The ruthless competitor is another shark. Everything is about power to the RC, and she covets all of it. Line from a quirky little TV movie Donovan Quick: “It’s not enough that we are seen to win; others must be seen to fail.” That’s the ruthless competitor.

These attacks, delivered by people we know and deal with daily, feel personal even though they say a lot more about the attacker than they do about the attacked. Out in the wider world, however, what undermines our validation is highly impersonal: Money. Trends. The status quo. If you’re feeling defeated by these faceless forces, rest assured you are in excellent company.

Too Weird: Vincent van Gogh  

The all-time poster boy for lack of public validation is Vincent van Gogh. If you google famous paintings of the 1880s, a lot of Van Gogh’s works pop up, but the reality was completely different on that summer day in 1890 when he shot himself with a revolver on the streets of Auvers. Up to that day, Van Gogh had sold just one painting, The Red Vineyards, from the several thousand he’d done. 

During the years Van Gogh painted starry nights and cornfields and chairs with a pipe on their caned seats, people went to galleries to view Impressionist works. Renoir’s Girl with a Hoop. Monet’s Bathers at La Grenouillère. Beautiful pieces of light, air, and dazzling color. By contrast, Van Gogh’s first painting, The Potato Eaters, was perceived as crude, amateurish, ugly.

Van Gogh, too, admired the Impressionists and they influenced his use of color, but his paintings were not the tranquil stuff of little boats floating on the Seine or lunching parties. The galleries and the art-viewing public turned away from the raw emotion of his work. The truth of the turbulent feelings he expressed made them uncomfortable. Not much money in that. As Van Gogh wrote to his sister Wilhelmina: The exhibitions, the picture stores, everything, everything, are in the clutches of fellows who intercept all the money. Prophetically, heartbreakingly, he adds: People give a lot of money for the work after a painter himself is dead [but] they are always slighting the living painters …

A decade would pass after Van Gogh’s death before his enormous talent achieved the recognition he craved in life, and only then because his sister-in-law Joanna bothered to collect all his surviving work (his mother had thrown away crates of it—thanks, Mom). She kept pushing the powers of the art world until she got a Paris show in 1901, where at last, in the new century, the world was ready for Vincent. Today, of course, his paintings are worth millions, and it’s recognized that he was in the forefront of Expressionism, a style that celebrates the artist’s emotional response to his subject.

Too Unprofitable: Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka fared slightly better than Van Gogh. He was able to get a few of his short stories published in his lifetime, “The Metamorphosis” among them. But he wasn’t writing what everyone else was writing, and most publishers regarded his existentialist tales as too “out there” to be profitable. What he did manage to publish received scant attention.

Kafka always craved more time to write, but his lack of success as an author meant he had to work full-time for the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute in Prague, a job he held for most of his life, right up until the final months before tuberculosis killed him.

The man who would come to be considered the most influential existentialist writer of the 20th century died thinking himself a failure. In his last days, he begged his good friend and fellow writer Max Brod to burn all his work. Fortunately, Brod ignored this request and, like Van Gogh’s sister-in-law, made it his mission to get his friend’s work out there. Brod prepared the manuscripts for three of Kafka’s novels and saw them through German publication: The Trial (1925), The Castle (1926), and Amerika (1927).

The Trial would not appear in English until 1937, by which time a world still recovering from major economic depression, mired in fascism, and on the brink of another global war, was better prepared for a novel about a man who is arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority who withholds the nature of his crime from both him and the reader.

The times had caught up with Kafka’s genius. His books were immensely popular during World War II. Their blend of realism and the fantastic, edged with black humor and themes of alienation, spoke to the anxieties of a rapidly changing 20th century.

Kafka’s handwritten manuscript of The Trial sold for a record $1.98 million in 1988, but perhaps it was Gabriel Garcia Marquez who paid Kafka the most significant tribute. Reading “The Metamorphosis,” he said, had made him see “that it was possible to write in a different way.”

No Point to It: Gregor Mendel

Sometimes what we’re doing is not perceived as too weird or unprofitable so much as completely irrelevant. Most folks in the mid-19th century had no idea what Gregor Mendel was up to, puttering out there in the monastery gardens with his zillions of little pea plants. Nor did they care.

Mendel was by all accounts a shy, quiet man who suffered occasional psychological breakdowns. He was also brilliant—a scholar of philosophy, mathematics, and physics—and curious about everything, especially the natural sciences. He conducted his experiments in a monastery garden because he had decided to become a monk. In his day, it was one way to extend your education without having to cough up the actual dough, of which he had none. 

In 1854, when Mendel started looking at how hereditary traits get transmitted in plant hybrids, the prevailing beliefs were: 1) the traits of all species were merely a diluted combo of the parents’ traits, and 2) any hybrid would return to its original form over generations, ergo a hybrid could not result in something truly new. What experiments there had been to bolster these beliefs were dodgy by modern scientific standards. Scant number of trial subjects. Short trial durations. Mendel’s work, by contrast, went on for eight years, involved tens of thousands of individual plants, and mountains of meticulous data. His experiments showed that the inheritance of certain traits in pea plants follows particular patterns.

But no one “got it.” When the results of his studies—the first to use statistical analysis to predict hereditary principles—were published, the reaction was a major yawn. Like many a 9th grade biology student, the public, and even the scientific community, failed to understand the huge significance of Mendel’s discoveries about dominant and recessive traits (think Big B/brown eyes/dominant and Little b/blue eyes/recessive) for heredity, genetics, and biodiversity.

His key findings, the Law of Segregation (dominant and recessive traits are passed on randomly from parents to offspring) and the Law of Independent Assortment (traits are passed on independently of other traits) would languish for decades before 20th century biologists “discovered” his work, confirmed his experiments, and proclaimed him the father of modern genetics.

A Threat to the Status Quo: Galileo Galilei

Sometimes our work or our ideas threaten the status quo. As we saw with Mendel, people will cling tenaciously to any sort of nonsense as long as it’s the prevailing nonsense or gives them power or makes them rich. The price for bucking the established order runs high, especially the more those in power suspect you’re onto a truth that will unseat them.

In Galileo Galilei’s lifetime, the world was believed to be geocentric and fixed in place. To suggest the earth revolved around the sun was to contradict Scripture (Psalm 104.5: “The Lord set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.”) and to court heresy charges.

Source: http://goo.gl/Wg7y2u

Galileo was not interested in prevailing “truths.” Born in 1564, on the cusp between natural philosophy and modern science, he just wanted to find out everything he could about the planets, their characteristics and how they moved. Through the telescope he invented, he was able to view things like four of Jupiter’s largest satellites orbiting that planet, an observation that corroborated Copernicus’s until-then-unproven theory of a heliocentric solar system.

Not only did this get the Church’s back up, but the discovery of moons orbiting another planet contradicted Aristotelian cosmology—the “science” of the day—which said that all heavenly bodies orbited Earth. The Aristotelian astronomers felt Galileo’s discoveries made them look like fools, so he wasn’t going to get much help from that quarter either.

Pope Urban VIII invited Galileo to write a book giving arguments for and against heliocentrism, including the Pope’s own views on the matter. The catch? Galileo was not to advocate for heliocentrism. In his 1631 Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Galileo did indeed include the pope’s views, but he also strongly defended his own proofs that the earth was not fixed, nor the center of the universe.

The enraged pope formally accused him of heresy and placed him under house arrest. Knowing that neither popes nor misguided Aristotelians can silence the truth forever, Galileo continued his work, publishing a treatise on the principles of mechanics and making new discoveries about the moon, until his death eight years later. Stephen Hawking said of Galileo that he probably had more of a hand in the birth of modern science than anyone else.

Coloring Outside the Lines: Henry David Thoreau

Sometimes, our ideas, our work, our whole way of being just makes people itch. A person who goes their own way, without reference to the status quo—what is expected of someone from their background, of their gender, in their situation—poses a subtle threat to those who are careful never to color outside the established lines.     

Henry David Thoreau made people itch. A writer and philosopher from a middle-class family, Thoreau studied at Harvard, but could not work up any enthusiasm for the professions available to college   graduates in the 1830s: the law, the church, business, medicine. So, he took up teaching in the Concord public school, a job he quit after several weeks because he refused to administer corporal punishment. He then opened a grammar school with his brother, but his brother soon died. What to do next?

Troubled by and dissatisfied with industrialization in particular and capitalism in general, Thoreau sought a simpler life, a closer relationship with nature. It was around this time that he met Ralph Waldo Emerson, who became both a mentor and a conduit to people like journalist/women’s rights advocate Margaret Fuller, writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, and writer/teacher/reformer Bronson Alcott. These Transcendentalists believed that all nature and humanity are divine without resort to organized religion, which they saw as corrupt. It was a philosophy that dovetailed closely with Thoreau’s own views.

Thoreau cobbled together a living by tutoring Emerson’s children and other odd jobs while seeking out any and every connection that could help get his writing published. He was a prolific writer (he left thousands of pages of unpublished manuscripts at his death), but only fifteen of his essays and two of his books found their way into print in his lifetime. One of these was Walden, a recounting of the two years he spent living in a self-built shack in the woods. As Thoreau wrote:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived …

Walden received little attention at its publication. People had a hard time understanding this man who lived outside the usual conventions of ambition, a man who lived by his own lights. But after Thoreau’s death, the book became a classic that has informed environmentalists, philosophers, and writers like Tolstoy. His essay On Civil Disobedience, which champions nonviolent dissent, influenced both Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

You Are a Ming Vase

As these stories show, failure to achieve recognition during one’s life—to be publicly validated—has dogged some of history’s greatest talents. Even J.S. Bach’s compositions were little known in his day because music publishers didn’t feel they were worth the high cost of printing. So Bach, at his death, was regarded merely as a skilled organ player. His music only became known in the following century when Felix Mendelssohn reintroduced his “Passion According to St. Matthew.”

But lack of validation did not lessen the significance Bach’s music or Galileo’s contributions to science. It did not mar the enduring beauty of Van Gogh’s paintings. To accept the judgment of others as a true measure of our merits is to place what is most valuable into indifferent hands. You wouldn’t give a careless stranger your Ming vase to hold.

If you believe in your ideas, if you are passionate about your work, don’t be discouraged by what’s trending, what’s profitable, what’s status quo. Keep going. In your lifetime, you must be the final arbiter.