“And I remember thinking how did he know to put the pursuit part in there? That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue and maybe we can actually never have it. No matter what. How did he know that?” – The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
I was invited to speak at panel for young writers last week, the topic, encouraging creativity. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I wanted to talk about inspiration, about that little voice that suddenly and without warning sends an electric tingle up your spine from out of the blue, and how those moments need attention paid, need written down and remembered, right there on the spot. They are Divine, these creative shocks, where, for just an instant, everything makes sense, and all the obstacles in front of you have solutions, and you are left with a clear vision, a glimpse of your real path forward, a glimpse of your creation, a glimpse of the Creator in You. Funny, without coordinating our remarks, every one of the four panelists talked about the same spark.
Everyone one of us also talked about what was next, too, what is most necessary after the inspiration – lots and lots of perspiration. Lots of hard work is necessary, to dispel the doubts and mend the meandering, to get through the writes and rewrites, edits and re-editing.
We talked about techniques to encourage this, which I won’t go into detail about here, but briefly, inspiration has to patiently encouraged and cultivated, and harvested only when conditions are ripe. For while the inspiration part is divined, once captured, it is easy. Especially compared to the work of seeing that inspiration through to fruition.
I offered the example of Yann Martel, author of the best-selling book “Life of Pi”, an incredible book, one of my all-time favorites. Yann’s inspiration for the book hit him, in it’s entirety, in a twenty-minute outburst of clarity and purpose. Luckily, he captured it, and most importantly, he kept that vision close and stayed true to it through thick and thin, through doubts and distractions. It took Yann four long, hard years of tedious research and work to bring that glimpse of his ideal to birth in this world, though.
Four years is a long time. I wonder what kept him going, who believed in him and helped him through the self-doubt, who encouraged him and propped him up on days he sagged? Perspiration, lots of it, but yet he persevered, and created something special and beautiful, and saw his inspiration made real.
But it is such a big disparity, between inspiration and perspiration! Twenty minutes versus four years! So much more work, so much more daily drudgery in comparison to the brief glimpses of clarity!
It occurred to me, as I was giving my speech and looked out into the audience at my two boys, that writing is a lot like fatherhood. So much effort most of the time, the necessary everyday homework and mundane daily chores that threaten to wear me down and take me further away from my ideals, my fatherhood goals. The genuine rewards of fatherhood, like writing, are few and far between.
Especially solo parenting, where the weariness at the end of some days threatens to erode whatever splendor inspiration has planted, and where the lack of everyday support makes it so hard to keep to a vision some times. Some days I just want to get away from my boys, to a little peace and quiet, to escape the incessant “Dad Dad Dad” that constantly follows me. Sometimes I just want them to bring me lunch for once, even if it is just a piece of toast – just as long as I don’t have to cook it or clean up from it. And I miss having free time to myself, I miss watching sports, and I miss adult interaction in a workplace.
But I have been dealt a hand that I did not ask for, and I have finally started to accept it, to embrace it even. No, this is not what I bargained for, it is certainly not what I would have asked for – but maybe it is what I need. Maybe it is what my boys need, too. This is a big shift for me.
I like to think we are growing, all of us, moving ever so slightly towards the ideals of being a good father and being the best family we can be, given our resources.
And I have noticed a funny thing happening over the last four months – I am coming to genuinely appreciate being Jake and Trevor’s father. I am getting used to the hard, constant work that goes along with it, and have had genuine glimpses of this actually working out. And more importantly, I have shared some genuine pleasures and joys in just being the best father I can be, solo parent and all.
It started a few months ago, preparing for the holidays. Trevor was just so excited, helping me tremendously, so thrilled that I was finally able to actually put some effort into the holidays this year (a first for me, the first two being too raw to really care.) His hugs, gratitude, appreciation, and pure love moved me. He reminds me so much of his mom.
These boys, they have adjusted to a life without an unconditional loving mom, they have accepted that life is different (and their expectations have been so much lowered) with me in charge. But it has also made them so much more appreciative of what we do have and share. I was also absolutely thrilled when Jake pulled me aside and told me I did a fantastic, perfect job on Christmas this year, a true, tear-jerking compliment, especially after my horrible failures the first year.
I am starting to be able to see through the perspiration that will always be the biggest part parenting, especially solo parenting, and hold onto the glimpses of inspiration, caught in the twinkle of Trevor’s Christmas eyes, and in the genuineness of a thank you from a fourteen year old. I have started thanking both my boys at night for the privilege of being their dad.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still many more days when the frustration level makes this very hard to remember. But tonight here at the workshop is special. Here are my two boys, listening in rapt attention, finally, to the things I am saying to the audience, to them. Here they are, finally, recognizing that maybe I do have some good ideas, I’m not just some opinionated s.o.b. who yells too much about the value of hard work, and waxes too much about believing in dreams. Tonight, maybe they recognize a bit all the sacrifices I am making, what I am trying to do, and most importantly – maybe they respect me a bit for it.
When we stop at DQ for ice cream on the way home, they ask me why I don’t share that stuff with them all the time. Ha, I laugh, because most of the time they don’t hear a word I say! And to be honest, most of the time I don’t genuinely hear what they have to say either – it’s a simple matter of a solo parent trying to balance what all needs done with the limited resources necessary to do so. But I’ll take this rare opportunity any way I can get it.
And sometimes, it all just clicks, like the five minutes of Happyness that Christopher Gardener has after years of toil in the movie. Tonight, the clouds part, and for a brief spell the sun shines brightly on my inspiration. We won’t remember all the hard work that goes into raising children, when it is done, and neither will they. But perhaps they’ll remember what dad tried to do, the sacrifices that went into it, and maybe they’ll be able to use those lessons when they need it.
And hopefully, I will continue to remember that, even though being a parent is the hardest job in the world (doubly so for the solo parent), it is truly a privilege, shone in the brief, brilliant glimpses of inspiration that make all the hard work worth it…
“What is more important, inspiration or perspiration? They are both vital, but inspiration must come before perspiration; else you toil in vain. What good is a ship full speed ahead if it has no rudder?”