essays the life we live

    Do. The. Work.

    May 4, 2020

    Good sleep is a questionable endeavor these days. It is understandable, given the pandemic, with the lockdowns and quarantines, and its associated fears and anxieties. Drinking is up, exercise is down, and anger and frustration are often at the forefront of my brain. Add to that the raw polarization of our society today, and it is altogether far too wearying, but not in a way that helps sleep. 

    It is, quite honestly, hard to fight it all. There is a reason that Monday seems like Tuesday, which seems like last Thursday, or Sunday. I can’t — and don’t care to — remember what happened then.

    One recent night, during a bout of insomnia, I was hit with a stark thought. Actually, it was really more of a command:

    “Get your mind working again.”

    I thought about this for an hour or so, mulling the contours of the phrase. I know what “get your mind working” literally means, but the path wasn’t evident to me. I have things to do, projects that I’m working on, and I’m struggling to get them done. It’s all the other crap that’s getting in the way, making those things more difficult to accomplish.

    A day later, in a little bit of serendipity, I read an interview with Jerry Seinfeld in the New York Times. It was an interesting read, but I was struck immediately by what he said when asked about how he’s working through isolation:

    “I still have a writing session every day. It’s another thing that organizes your mind. The coffee goes here. The pad goes here. The notes go here. My writing technique is just: You can’t do anything else. You don’t have to write, but you can’t do anything else. The writing is such an ordeal. That sustains me.”

    What Seinfeld articulated so crisply is what my brain was saying to me the other night: get out there and work on your craft.

    It is hard, and it should be hard. It can’t be any other way. Work to overcome the noise as best you can, by doing the things you need to be doing. Not those projects necessarily, but that which you feel you are here to do.

    The word I missed in the phrase, “get your mind working again,” was ‘your.’ That little word was an acknowledgement and an admonition. There are things that I can change in my world, as tough as they might be. It is time to get cracking, and move the crap to the side of the desk, however difficult it might be.

    This is not a new idea to me; it is not a lightning bolt of realization. I have been a writer and an editor for a long time, and my college writing professor gave me this mantra years ago: “Write. [pause] Write. [pause]  Write. [pause] If you want to be a writer, write.”

    To which I now add: “Shoot. [pause] Shoot. [pause] Shoot. [pause] If you want to be a photographer, shoot.”

    Do the work

    Given the amplitude of noise in the world right now, it’s good to be reminded of this. Even before I read the Seinfeld interview, I had already started down the path: I spent yesterday out with a camera, forcing myself to shoot in unfamiliar places, with a lens of an unusual focal length for me. (One more suited to portraits than landscapes.) It was hard, and, while I didn’t end up with anything of great note, I did work my mind.

    And today?

    Today, I am writing. 

    Little victories, my friends. Little victories.


    thx – and a fist bump – Duncan

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