Friday, July 14, 2006

The could engine

Remember that book about the engine that could? I read that story many times as a child of five and many more times to my boys and nephews when they were little. I graduated to Homer and Edgar Rice Burroughs at the age of six and left that little engine behind me. The lesson stuck. Walking for what seemed like days in freezing weather coming home from my piano lessons in the early dark of winter or from one side of Columbus to the other when my feet were screaming at me to stop, beg a few coins from passing strangers and get on one of the seeming thousands of buses driving past, I repeated that litany in my mind, "I think I can. I think I can. I know I can." Stubborn to the last.

That applied to so many things in my life where I found myself in the middle of something I didn't want to finish or really didn't want to do. I pushed on in spite of everything, feeling a sense of accomplishment when I completed whatever task I'd set myself. I also heard my mother's voice telling me how I never finished anything I started as I stitched the date and my initials on a complicated cross stitch piece, wrote the last word of a story or even put away the laundry, smiling at the knowledge that she was wrong about me.

I've found I do better with things when someone tells me I can't do something -- like making Extra six days after I began to study the material for an exam when I had only planned to take code to make General or writing a novel or keeping a journal. For more than fifteen years I have written in a journal, paper or computer or online, every single day/night. I have written enough to fill small libraries over the years and continue to write and I continue to feel like that little engine struggling up the hill -- until I hit the top and I'm flying down the other side oblivious to the struggle to get to the top of the hill in the first place. For me, starting is difficult. I procrastinate with all kinds of time stealers: chores, books, paying bills, working my regular job just another hour or two or another five jobs, watching a movie that has to get in the mail before 5, etc. Once I get going and struggle up that first ant hill, the one that feels like Mt. Evans in the midst of a long hard winter, and reach the top I fly down the other side, racing up Mt. Evans like it's an ant hill and coasting through the plains over the long hours as though they are mere seconds.

I will probably always find it difficult getting started on any project, or even going on a trip, procrastinating those first steps that lead to the journey and once on the journey oblivious to the rest of the world as I race along in a world of possibility and endless tasks that suddenly don't seem so interminable and are finished far too quickly.

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