Thursday, January 1, 2015

(#92-1) January1, 2015. Consumerism has pushed us towards an instant satisfaction culture. Financialization has made short-termism endemic. I don’t much believe in either. But, there is a great deal I do believe in.





“Even a small thing takes a few years. To do anything of magnitude takes at least five years, more likely seven or eight.” [1995]

I have read a great deal about Steve Jobs—both good and bad—but don’t recall seeing the above quote before. Yesterday I stumbled across it and it hit me with considerable force. It expresses exactly what I have found and believe in. It is a truth.

It is just as well that I do because I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed any success as a writer if I hadn’t endured over what many would consider an unreasonable period of time and paid an unreasonable price.

Here, I am reminded of something my former boss, mentor, and friend, Art Damschen,  once said when I was in business and running the UK subsidiary of the Addmaster Corporation.

“Victor,” he remarked, “you are not at your best when being reasonable.”

I was quite taken aback by his observation—as was often the case. Art wasn’t particularly innovative, but he was perceptive, had good judgment, and admired my creativity and originality. He didn’t like it when I lacked the courage of my convictions. He didn’t admire “going along to get along” (to quote an expression common in the Army). He could also be cutting to the point of being cruel. When Art spoke, I paid attention.

Even though it was against his own interests, and those of our company—because I was a valued and appreciated employee at the time—Art encouraged my impossible dream of becoming a writer. Memorably, he gave me a copy of the Jack Hoffenberg book, A Raging Talent.

It was a significant compliment and scarcely a subtle hint. I owe a great deal to Art. He allowed me considerable operational freedom while still keeping adequate control. He was the antithesis of authoritarian but I never doubted his authority. I respected the man. Though I didn’t think of it that way at the time, I loved him.

I met up with him in La Jolla after I had become a Best Selling Author shortly before died. He was as charming, amusing, and cruel as ever. “Victor,” he said. “You’ll never be thin.”

Ironically, Art, a slim good-looking man, who had aged well, had acquired a small pot-belly. I let the remark pass. I thought he was probably right.

As it happens, he was wrong—and dead of a heart attack within months. I miss him.

I admire reasonable, rational people who are willing to compromise, but there is a thin line between reasonableness and spinelessness which you cross at your peril. Yet the the pressure to conform is relentless—and conformity kills creativity.

The main thing I regret—as a consequence of taking the long view (I tend to think of it as ‘thinking strategically’)—is how you lose so much of your base of support.

Here, I am not just talking about supporters in general—but those near and dear to you including close friends and family members, those you loved and depended upon emotionally—those you thought would stay with you through thick and thin.

Some do. Many, sometimes most, don’t. 

People lose not just faith in you, but respect as well. That breaks trust—and trust, once broken, is notoriously hard to re-establish. In fact—except in rare cases—it cannot be re-established. The best that can be done is to regain what we writers like to think of as a ‘level of trust.’

Not the same thing at all—but better than nothing, and the best most of us flawed humans can do.

Why do I take the long view? I can but theorize.

  • When you ask many people what they want out of life, they often say—or write—’fun.’ They want to enjoy themselves. I don’t really think that way. I have a sense of humor and enjoy dinner with friends as much as anyone—but fundamentally I get my satisfaction, and enormous pleasure, from doing. Does that make me a serious person (as the French would say)? It probably does—but not, I hope, a dull one. 
  • I tend to attempt difficult things and rarely succeed first time. That means I am pretty much forced to take the longer view. But, failure is a great teacher, so I tend to improve.Fail enough times and success has a habit of sneaking up on you. Success is pretty sneaky—and can be downright treacherous. I have to wonder why we pursue it so. Struggle is much more reliable. It is pretty much a guaranteed service.
  • I learned to endure both at home and at boarding school. I had no choice in the matter. An unhappy upbringing has its advantages.
  • Reading cultivates a historical perspective. Also, the characters in the books I both read (and write) normally go through hell before succeeding—and, even if they succeed, there is a price. Such is life. It keeps it interesting. Besides, if there was no struggle, what would we write about? You have to learn to see life from the point of view of a writer.
  • My much loved grandmother achieved great things during her life—but they all took time. She didn’t stress this. She thought it was normal—and, thus, so do I. She was heavily involved in social change—and successful—but such change took decades. We talked about all this a great deal, over many years, and I absorbed her ethos.
  • Experience. I have learned that most things take longer than you might expect, but that you can accomplish the near impossible if you stay with it.
  • Struggle can break you, but it can also build character. I would like to improve my character more than just about anything. I think it is the purpose of life.

Many people not only crave social acceptance and the respect of their peers—but need it to the point of dependency. That is very understandable because most of us are conditioned that way by our home environments, our schools, and our institutions. We want to be liked. We prefer to be popular. We certainly don’t want to be excluded.

Deep down, I am as much of an emotional slob as the rest of mankind, but I’m not as people-dependent as most. I don’t need to interact face-to-face with people every day to feel I am a valid human being.

I still need people—but in my own way. Providing I know I can reach out when necessary, I am largely content to work alone—and work is what I love to do. It is my vocation, my passion, my pleasure, and my purpose. And, let me confess, it is also fun.

It is not a party, the bar scene, a football match, or Paris. It is all of these and more—because your only limits are your skill and your imagination.

But do I really work alone? Physically, I do. Emotionally, I don’t. In fact, I don’t think anyone really does anything worthwhile entirely alone—except die (and whether dying is worthwhile is something I have yet to determine).

I’m beginning to appreciate that if writing illuminates the human  condition—which is what I believe—the greatest beneficiary may be the mind of the writer.

Strangely enough, I haven’t thought of it that way before. Writing—to me—is my way of reaching out. But in the process, it appears, you also reach in.

Quelle surprise!

The truth is that the more I write, the more I appreciate the degree to which I am dependent on others—and particularly you, my friends.

Surprisingly enough, I still seem to have quite a few.

Happy New Year to you one and all.

VOR words 1,297.












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