The letter, were there to be one (which there will not), might continue this way:
And now it is finally October. The end of sandals, the start of boots. Irrespective of temperature (because, in Memphis one can’t be particular about such things), October is the beginning of stews and pot-pies, of flower beds going to seed and blankets coming out of hibernation.
February, you’ll remember, brought an early spring. Warm weather extended all the way through September (it’s actually still warm, still now, in October), making for an unexpectedly long growing season through which summer whirled, bringing beach, sun, driving, camp, strategic planning, yard maintenance, Norah Jones, heat, drama, scarcity, abundance, reading, writing, more driving, Van Morrison, learner’s permit, tennis tournaments, rosé, figs, a pop-up art market, and plenty more that I’ve already managed to forget. Some of it I have tried to forget.
Over the course of this freight-train of a summer I often reflected on some long-ago advice from my friend Bill, who said: “It’s only hard if you want to do it right, and if it’s too hard, you’re trying to do it too right.”
It is a universal truth, equally applicable to cooking scrambled eggs or engineering a turnaround. Input of effort commensurate with the relative importance of the job.
Indeed, every task one chooses to undertake should be worth doing right. Just right. But not too right. Finding that balance might be the secret to fulfillment, a genuine feeling of accomplishment.
Which led to this thought:
Good may be the enemy of great, but perfect it the enemy of joy. So, great joy is the sweet spot in between good and perfect. Getting to great joy – on any project or in life – requires just enough hard work, the right amount of effort combined with a willingness to declare it sufficient and move on.
Great joy, then, is the discipline to read 50 or 100 pages and the freedom to abandon any book that fails to delight by that mark.
It would have been helpful to have had this revelation before slogging through either The Goldfinch or 50 Shades of Grey. But such is life, and growth. One benefit of age is coming to understand the difference between perseverance and stubbornness, and to appreciate the fine line between the two.
So, this summer I started giving up on books that flunked the 50 page test, and the feeling of liberation far outweighed the guilt. The only exception (sort of) was A Gentleman in Moscow, which I ditched at the end of Part I but later picked up on Audible, after insistent assurances from friends that it was worth the time.(It was.)
Great joy is the discipline of making art each week, every week, and later deciding what stays and what goes into the recycling bin. Because the only way to do anything – write, cook, raise money, raise children, or make art – is to sit down and do the work. Do. It.
Forty weeks into the year, my #artharder campaign continues. My dining room table is covered in a mountain of proof.
More elusive, but also more intensely felt, is the great joy in a working motherhood, holding two concurrent jobs, both of which currently demand everything I’ve got, at the same time, leaving precious little time for reading, writing and art. The days are long, exhausting and rewarding, imbued with great clarity and a deeper understanding of Bill’s words: It’s only hard if you want to do it right, and if it’s too hard, you’re trying to do it too right.
The crazy pink sunsets continue, still. It has been that kind of year.
Food | Week of February 13, 2017