About a month ago I saw a video on YouTube from Numberphile (okay, the secret is out, I’m a nerd and I sometimes watch videos about math on YouTube when I have nothing better to do). It’s a fascinating little examinaton of the methods we use for counting and it explores what our everyday interactions would be like if we had twelve fingers instead of ten. (Spoiler alert — counterintuitively, numbers and computations and especially measurements and conversions get simpler by factors of oh-my-god-numbers-hurt-my-brain.) You can check it out below if you’re so inclined. They make some fascinating videos if, like me, you’re fascinated withthe way math impacts us even if we’d like to pretend it doesn’t.
But this isn’t a post about math, not really. It’s just a little reflection. Now, in the scheme of things, even though one hundred seems like a big deal, it’s an arbitrary number, which becomes incredibly obvious after watching a video like the one I linked above. Nevertheless, it’s a significant number because we’ve all agreed that it is; we measure years in decades and centuries, we have the metric system (which nobody uses, PFF, SILLY REST OF THE WORLD), and our currency is nothing without hundreds. Ultimately, however, it’s just one way out of many to count stuff, and as we all know, everything is relative and there is no best anything.
I’m hung up on one hundred today, though, because I recently passed the 100 post mark here at Pavorisms. I’m pointing it out, not to toot my own horn or to massage my ego, but honestly just so that I can have another landmark to look back at. Landmarks matter because they show us where we’ve been, but perhaps more importantly, so that we can tell other people where they’re going. This particular landmark is a pretty monstrous one for me.
I started the blarg here the very week I decided I was going to finally get around to writing a novel. It wasn’t meant to be a major undertaking; just a spot for me to reflect on the writing I was doing on the novel and to stretch my legs on writing some non-level fiction vis-a-vis my short pieces. It wasn’t a big deal, but I committed to it just like I committed to writing the novel. Now it’s four months later, and I’ve nearly finished the novel and I have made over a hundred posts here at the blarg.
That’s one hundred times I’ve sat down to write outside of working on the novel. That’s one hundred times I’ve found something to say even on those days when I started out thinking I didn’t really have anything to say. (Spoiler alert: I still don’t have much to say, but I do have fun saying it.) The point is, I found ways to write even when I didn’t think I could. I kept writing even when I was exhausted from writing. I kept writing even when I was sick to death from the thought of writing.
My dad told me many, many years ago — and it’s a piece of wisdom that I’ve repeated many times throughout the years to myself and others — that you can do just about anything for a few weeks. And I’ve found that to be pretty much true. Anything you end up doing — however unpleasant, taxing, difficult or challenging it might be — you can muscle through it for a few weeks. You can force yourself to get up at three in the morning for a terrible job and not crash for a few weeks. You can try out a new diet and not hate it for a few weeks. You can give up beer, chocolate, sex, or whatever other guilty pleasure you might have for a few weeks. But there comes a point beyond which muscling through it cannot carry you. A point that, for better or worse, you have to find a deeper drive to get past. You can keep working the job that gets you up at three AM, but you’ll have to give up staying up to watch late night TV. You can stay on your diet, but you’ll have to find replacements for the food you’re giving up, and make lifestyle adjustments so that you don’t keep craving the old stuff. You can stay off your vices but you have to really know why you’re staying off — giving them up for Lent isn’t going to keep you clean.
My point is, muscling through can get you to the brink. It can get you through the salty first days of something and show you what life is like with this new change you’re trying out. But muscling through won’t get you through the days when you’re so exhausted you can’t bear to think about your three AM job, your diet, or your sudden lack of cigarettes. What gets you through then? For me, it’s an eye on the prize.
I tried running three different times in my life. Twice I did it for a few months and then gave it up — it was too hard. Two years ago I started it up again (for the last time) because my son had just been born and I wanted to work to stay healthy for him, and I am still going strong two years later, despite some serious setbacks of late.
Now, I’m writing because I have always felt that I could tell a decent story but never tested myself. Well, I may still be in the muscling through stage, but I have a hundred blarg posts and almost ninety thousand words banked on the novel that say this is a habit I just might be able to stick with.
Jeez. I start off talking about math and then I get all preachy. Could I meander any more? The point is this (and I write this, both for anybody thinking of trying out writing or trying out anything new as well as for myself when I lose gumption somewhere down the line, as I know I will): Making a change is about two major turning points. The first is when you decide to do the thing. People think that’s the hard part, but I don’t think so. Look at the numbers for gym membership sales in January for your evidence: making the commitment is — I don’t want to say easy — not the hard part. The hard part comes when you’re no longer riding the high of just having started, you no longer have the accolades of people clapping you on the back and saying “good for you.” When you find yourself in the trenches, covered in mud and blood and tears and sweat, clinging to your rifle like it’s the only good thing left in the world and you’re faced with deciding whether to press on through even more mud and blood and heartache and pain or to cash in your chips and go back to the easier life you were leading before.
So pick a milestone. Shoot for it. “900 words today.” And write it. “Run three miles today.” And run them. And then go for a bigger milestone. “6000 words this week.” And write it. “Run twenty miles this week.” And run them. And grow and evolve and improve and keep changing and don’t get comfortable and keep setting new milestones and enjoy the landmarks as you sail past them and leave them in the rearview.
If I can do it, you can do it.
I’m talking to you, Future Me.