Illusions, Delusions and Regrets

Non, je ne regrette rien

Image by Jon at NDHU via Flickr

“Our job is to fill the page.  Don’t you remember telling me that?  You always said that,” chided Anita earlier this week when we talked about our long-ago job together at a Chicago marketing boutique.  I sheepishly admitted she was right as of course she was.  When we slaved away years ago fashioning copy for annual reports, press releases, ghost-written articles for executives who had neither the time nor the inclination to put their own thoughts on paper and other types of written drivel, I was that annoying megaphone encouraging us on, reminding us that our work was to ‘fill the page’.   

It was ironic then that I couldn’t fill my own pages these days.  I was suffering from a rotten bout of writer’s block.  After talking with my literary coach K, we outlined a plan of attack that included daily writing and the heart-warming illusion of words appearing on the page with lightning-quick speed.   The plan seemed so clear.  And yet, I used the pretext of a busy schedule of business travel as the subtext for doing nothing.

Fueled by growing guilt, the prospect of regret loomed.  I simply inserted my flash drive into my laptop and pulled up the draft.  My fingers began plucking away like a chipmunk and I was on my way again.  I couldn’t answer the question of why it took some 40 odd days to stave off my misguided procrastination.  It infuriated me.

“Non, Je ne regrette rien,” Edith Piaf* sang so hypnotically.  www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3Kvu6Kgp88

 No regrets.  Thinking about what held me back won’t push me forward. 

Why does anyone procrastinate?  How do you overcome it?

*Lyrics:  Non, Je ne regrette rien

Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
Ni le bien qu’on m’a fait
Ni le mal, tout ça m’est bien égal
Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
C’est payé, balayé, oublié
Je me fous du passé

Avec mes souvenirs, j’ai allumé le feu
Mes chagrins, mes plaisirs, je n’ai plus besoin d’eux
Balayées les amours, avec leurs trémolos
Balayées pour toujours, je repars à zéro

Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
Ni le bien qu’on m’a fait
Ni le mal, tout ça m’est bien égal
Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
Car ma vie car mes joies
Aujourd’hui, ça commence avec toi

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The Power of Validation

Yesterday my sister Kathleen, a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, won the coveted and prestigious Pulitzer Prize for reportinghttp://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/120091754.html).  It was a triumph on many levels and today when we talked, the conversation turned to the power of validation.  Early in her reporting career, she was told she didn’t have the chops to be a reporter.  It was a comment that stayed with her.  I remember some of her early struggles to get a toe-hold in this competitive field, all of which made her award more tender and meaningful to me.  We laughed about how it only took her 20 years to be an overnight success. 

While the award is wonderful and hopefully opens doors for Kathleen, she is the same sister I’ve always known.  We joked about that as well.  She was the prototypical bohemian college student who wore her hair in cornrows and shopped at Ragstock on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin.  I was the preppy overachiever who joined all the clubs.  Yet she was determined (we might have called it stubborn back in the day), smart and sassy then and is now. 

But there is something about getting the professional validation that the person knew was there all along.  Suddenly people pay attention and as Kathleen said to me, “They listen now.” 

I ain’t no Pulitzer Prize winner to be sure but I get “validation” in a way I didn’t anticipate from writing this blog and working (albeit slowly) on my book.  None of the stories I’ve told about myself are revelations to me.  I feel like I’ve told these same yarns for years to different people in different ways at different times.  Compiled together they have a power that they didn’t have separately and spoken stories.  “I love reading your blog,” or “This must be cathartic for you,” or “I never knew you felt that way” or “Do you think you need therapy?” — are all variations of comments I’ve received and appreciated. 

What I’ve learned is that there is a power in compilation, in written synthesis, in telling personal truths that are essentially, variations on the same personal truths that everyone thinks about, feels or chooses not to think about.  It’s more enjoyable than I might have thought and the little blog posts here and there motivate me to continue on in what is the somewhat laborious process of taking life’s story and turning it into readable literary arc.

Secrets of First-Class Flyers

A newer model American Airlines Airbus A300-60...

Returning from some work in New York, the client booked me and my colleague Mr. B in First Class on American Airlines for the return flight to Chicago.  Considering I ended up in the last row (the one that doesn’t recline might I add) on the outbound flight on United, I felt ridiculously justified in my First Class seat.  As the flight prepared for take-off, the flight attendants repeatedly called for Ms. D to report for her upgrade to First Class.  How odd, I thought.  This must be a really important person since airlines typically leave lesser-level fliers (even those with basic status like me) back in coach. 

In the moments before Ms. D arrived to her seat, I imagined she was a harried global traveler, likely a literary agent negotiating deals around the world.  When she did sit down, I noticed her casual clothes (jeans) and stylish red briefcase bag.  As is my usual practice on airplanes, I chose not to ask her if my intuitive sense was correct — that is, I don’t like to talk on airplanes.  Neither apparently did she and we settled into the flight in blissful silence.

Midway through he flight however, I noticed that my colleague Mr. B in the seats directly behind us was still yapping on and on to his seatmate in his normal animated fashion.  That was when Ms. D casually remarked to me that the gentlemen behind us were quite the conversationalists.  I sheepishly admitted to Mr. B being my colleague, explaining that he had previously hosted a talk-show for many years and well, old habits die-hard.

Our conversation could have ended there with a little laugh shared between us.  Yet we continued on.  After exchanging pleasantries and the like, I shared with her my little reverie about what she might do for a living and asked if she indeed was of the literary ilk.  The short answer was no.  Ms. D. was in fact a super-powered IT executive for a global corporation who traveled the world managing a large staff and seemingly even larger responsibilities.  She traveled 200,000 or more miles a year, which explained the airline’s desire to re-seat her in First Class.  Then, quietly she told me, “It’s funny you mention writing because I do write a little.”  There unfolded the fact that every year she conducts a short-story contest with her family.  They self-impose a 30-day deadline and then share with each other the fruits of their creative efforts.  She had other writing stories as well, which simply made me happy to hear.  Ms. D. was, after all, a writer at heart.

It made me wonder:  Does everyone have a secret desire to write?   Or, on the same note, does everyone have a secret aspiration?

When I floated this thought to K, my literary writing coach, she explained, “Most people who want to write aren’t sure how to do it and that’s what stops them from writing.”

Do you think it’s true?  Do we all house a secret writer within us? Or, a secret aspiration?   I’d be grateful if you could share your story.