Thoughts are more susceptible than most things to being, at the same time, reasonable and helpful and bizarre and unhelpful, according to the angle they’re viewed from, how the light hits them.
In discussing whether I might actually be mad, trying to do the quite possibly impossible thing I’m trying to do, the teenage therapist and I seem to agree that the jury is still out. Clearly, the most sensible thing to do is find something to do that brings in money. If it’s something that also brings personal satisfaction, helps others, is enjoyable and challenging — that’s great. But given the choice between earning a living or being in a constant state of turmoil over a ridiculously challenging thing requiring a good deal of self-reinvention while not bringing in a groosh or a kopeck… most people, on every shade of the elusive sanity spectrum, would choose the former.
I am ambiguously blessed, at the moment, not to have to occupy myself with the vexing question of how to pay my bills. Five years ago I inherited enough money to support the average person three to five years. Not lavish years, mind you, but average years for the average person living a modestly middle class life. I have always tried to keep my expenses low, my options open for working the fewest hours in a conventional job. Five frugal years later I still have money, riding on the “free market” roulette wheel like the trillions scooped off the slanted table the last time the richest and cleverest gamed the system prior to the “collapse” (or wholesale fraud, if we want to be more accurate) in 2008. For the moment I am not worrying about that, though, of course, I probably should be. My not worrying is another tick on the side of the ledger the jury may lean toward when deliberating over my relative sanity.
But here was the slightly odd thought that snuck up on me the other day. I’m working strictly on marketing now, as much as I can, focused on presenting the workshop in a light that will make it hard for public school innovators in the de Blasio administration to resist. This marketing work is also necessary for interesting and recruiting the best possible people to work with me on the program. I’ve spent many hours removing all self-deprecation, self-doubt and frustration when I describe the program. I’ve eliminated all references to the likely impossibility of my task. I focus, when I can, on how well the program I designed works for its intended purposes.
I am making my language terse, yet natural. In the first minute I now summarily answer the most obvious questions: who I am, what brings me to the room and why this program is so important and valuable. I am isolating the talking points, keeping them simple and rotating them, repeating each one enough times for the message to hopefully sink in. You want to involve children in their education, make them eager partners in their own learning? Give them a stake, let them learn what fascinates them and let them teach each other. You really want children to become creative problem solvers? Put them in a room full of art supplies and technology, with an exciting end-product they can enjoy, and adults who set things up then take a back seat, and watch what they do. Etc.
The odd thought, yes, I’m coming to it presently. I’d been stuck for a while trying to complete the pitch. I need to be able to present a snappy and memorable show during the structured yet natural twenty minutes I will get to pitch it some day. Improvisation in a sales pitch is foolishly risky business, as I’ve learned in a gently brutal manner. Wrestling with the technology to make the AV (I reveal my age with this anachronistic reference to “Audio Visual”) side of the presentation has been an added frustration. Every added frustration makes the mountain I have to climb steeper. The fucker is already almost vertical, any steeper and I’ll have to find or design special shoes to allow me to walk upside down. Another of five dozen, sometimes ridiculous, workarounds so far.
But this week I was finally able to negotiate the last technical hurdles with the program I’m using to create the pitch (a total of five hours winning over ever more supportive and expert tech support) and it gave me the ability, at last, to record version after version and watch them back. Recording myself was a useful bit of advice I received a few weeks ago when the very idea of watching my sluggish progress set my teeth on edge. Being able to finally see my work played back eliminated the rehearsal-to-myself motivation problem, and the equally vexing one of finding someone to do me the favor of watching each version and helping me assess my snail-like progress.
“Wait,” you will say, “you supposedly have an organization, a non-profit founded in the Spring of 2012. Why do you still need to find people to do you a favor? Call a meeting and….” Shut the fuck up, would you, fuckface?
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, ignore this well-meaning yet provocative clown and my client’s outburst as well. My client suffers from acute Founder’s Syndrome, a well-known condition that eventually afflicts the CEO of virtually every one-person organization.
Anyway, now that I can work on the pitch and watch it in progress it’s much easier to see transitions that are bad, points that are not made clearly, glitches, clumsily worded talking points and so forth. Clearly this is the work of a committee, a team, but since I have neither, it’s taken way, way longer to complete. Now that it’s finally not so difficult to see and fix weak points I’ve made good progress the last week and it’s now virtually done. I’ll be presenting it to a successful non-profit entrepreneur on Tuesday and once more have the benefit of his experienced feedback. He has mastered a pitch that is successfully selling a once one-man program related to mine. My pitch is ready now, 48 hours before the meeting, though I plan to polish it a bit more, if I can.
Now the slightly odd thought, after one last bit of set up. I ran the short new segment by Sekhnet the other day. It contained my freshly written “who am I, why am I here, why should you care?” rap. She was distracted from my short personal and professional message by the flash of oddly unrelated animation on the screen. She was right to be distracted, I could see at once. I set to work making the proverbial enormous changes at the last minute. Had I presented that first version to the social entrepreneur I’d have lost him in twenty to sixty seconds and he’d be bracing for a wasted 20 minutes with a clearly mad person with a single good idea and a hundred bad ones.
Several hours of concentrated work later I had a 49 second animated clip that I can actually link to this post (later) explaining who I am, why I am here and setting up why my program is something you should check out. These simple questions had been impossibly ticklish ones for me to answer. I knew the new version was pretty good. Ran the less than minute by Sekhnet. “I like it,” she said, after a little laugh at 0:20 where I’d inserted a little bark of levity, “it really shows how much work you did developing the program”. Went back to work, tweaking a couple of things I noticed while showing it to her. I fixed several other small weak links in the pitch.
At the end of a very productive day I stood at the mirror shaving. As I watched myself I noticed a small twinkle in my eye. In that small moment of satisfaction I glimpsed an entire universe of truth and I had this odd thought: it’s easy to have ideas and it’s morally satisfying to have ideals; living them is the hard part. I don’t personally know many people working as hard to live their ideals directly, to see their unique ideas mischievously afoot in the world. It is hard, maybe impossible, work, but it’s the best work I could hope for, it occurred to me in that moment. I am also blessed, by pure luck of circumstance, to be free and able to pursue it for as long as I have been.
I pushed aside the thought of all of my more successful friends, figuring out how to live well doing things that are also important, or sometimes not; pushed aside the often odious comparisons that come so naturally to all of us here in the Free Market.
I am free, the twinkle in my eye reminded me, and lucky to be doing important work for which I am uniquely suited. I’ve learned to savor the small but crucial moments of reward that are invisible to most people. This could be a sign of madness, of course, seeing these tiny, isolated moments as a blessing, but I prefer (in the custom of all madmen) to think not. It’s crucial to drink fully of every life-sustaining moment of reward we feel in order to persevere in any difficult undertaking. I’ve learned to suck every drop of juice from these rare and subtle moments of reward one must be vigilant to enjoy.
If my life is harder, harder to explain and less materially sustainable than the lives of many people I know — these are all part of the price the world extracts from those who dream of a more merciful society and struggle to make these dreams real in the world. There is a price to be paid for being different, clearly, and it’s not just a theoretical price. Part of that price involves the occasional questioning of your sanity.
It was an excellent moment in front of the shaving mirror, even if, at the same time, a slightly odd thought.