There are a few qualities I abstractly covet but don’t get. Or have. Actually there’s a long list of admirable qualities I lack, but those I comprehend and am therefore comfortable with my virtuous incompetence. These ones, however, have long mystified me:
- Good intentions.
When I think about patience, I think of long-suffering, indomnitable, admirable women. Ang San Suu Kyi, Mother Theresa . They will not be moved. They will not be removed from their missions. They suffer indignities, confront darkness, and voluntarily, necessarily live circumscribed lives in shadows and hospices and homes-cum-jails. They sacrifice luxuries, freedom, their lives. They wait. They wait it out. They wait out their oppressors – disease, dictators – even though they themselves may not witness the curve they bent in the long arc of justice. They endure – even after death. They patiently coexist with and outwit despair.
And so I despair: despite my elaborate ideals, I will never be a good advocate of anything except The Good Life.
Because I like to get laid, eat bon-bons (that’s a lie, candy does nothing for me, I’m trying to convince you of my frivolity), sleep late, write lots, buy pretty things. And I need to do it all right now.
And so, until recently, I didn’t get patience and thought I would never get to patience. Patience was another country. Patience was for big causes, practiced by women bigger and better than me.
And then maybe I had an epiphany. I say maybe because it was a while ago so I forget exactly what triggered it but it’s likely I was mentally reviewing my surprisingly epic history of patience with my man. It’s not consistent with my customary romantic practices or inherent inclinations. Usually with relationships, I end them. I throw my hands in the air and a lot of curse words into the ring and then I demonize him to my friends and several thousand followers. You do this too, yes?
(Pssssst…don’t do this: “hands in the air, “in the ring”. Those are cliched descriptions/dying metaphors and I specifically teach people NOT to allow these things to slip past their editing eyes. ‘Tis lazy phrasing.)
So. My fledgling patience. It’s so noticeably new and disconcertingly enduring that my man admiringly refers to me as his “persistent bitch”. I tingle with pride. I dig the possessive and I am a persistent bitch. I’ve never given up on us even though we regularly experience defining moments when I’m ready and he’s only, barely, soon-to-be willing. And that shit tears me up sometimes. This patience gig isn’t easy.
And that’s it.
I always thought patience must be easy. Mother Theresa and other smug saints and martyrs were blessed with a natural, apparently effortless patience they beatifically oozed everywhere.
What I was aiming for wasn’t patience but ease and fucked if there’s no short-cut to character.
Because, yo, patience is hard. It requires faith, mostly in your own resilience. But you can do it.
Even I’m doing it. True story.
Good intentions are a rule of thumb and like that zombie expression (it’s dead but won’t die, dammit), it’s so oft-repeated it’s forgettable, unexaminable. What does rule of thumb even mean? What are good intentions, anyway, other than a platitude and an excuse you offer when you fuck up? “I had good intentions” is an adult version of a seven year old’s “I didn’t mean to.”
Yet people I respect, adore, admire – gurus, women of experience – write and say and insist that intention is everything.
Which, despite my good intentions (ahem), I don’t get. Because the good idea fairy doesn’t pay jack . Neither do good intentions, or, for that matter, potential. Potential is alluring and seductive but realization is climax and communion.
So intentions, even good ones, mean nothing to me.
However, intentionality, a term that my friend and insistent truth-teller Ronna Detrick bandies about with great intensity and purpose, is the shiz.
Intentionality is conscious design, purpose, and realization. It’s craft. It’s the way I (usually) approach writing and it’s the method I teach. It’s editing. You can edit your art and your life. It’s the same damn thing.
Here’s what I mean. When I write, it’s easy. I sit down and it flows. It’s usually pretty good. Sometimes I can get away with publishing the raw goods.
But I don’t do that often. Most often, I re-examine my prose with two levels of intentionality.
- The story I just told: what is it that I’m trying to say?
- How can I say it with more art, invention, surprise?
And then, to serve my theme, I mercilessly expunge the lazy phrasing, dead metaphors and cliched descriptions. I find inventive, inverted, perverted ways to express sometimes standard ideas. I extend metaphors with surprising word choice. It’s an exacting, microscopic process. The result can be luminous.
Lots of people are potentially good writers. Lots of people are naturally good writers. Lots of people loosely intend to write good stuff. But great writers are meticulous, intentional editors. They realize their potential and then speed past it to park at actualization.
2.1 These footnotes are a tribute to my new imaginary boyfriend Peter Orner and seven long years of undergraduate and graduate political science training, all of which is to say, I adore footnotes. It’s another way to squeak in musings, asides, and direct reader addresses. Like young girls in shabby dresses, parentheses and dashes, they do get weary.
2.2. And bloggers, therefore, especially ze Queens of intimate address and direct conversation, could and should use footnotes more often. Arwyn’s doin’ it…and hot damn did I just footnote my footnotes?
2.3. If you wanna use footnotes in WordPress – and darling, you do, and I’ll tell you why in three seconds, approximately the length of time it will take you to finish this sentence – try the FD Footnotes plugin.
2.4. If your friends are whispering in the next room, do you stop what you’re doing and listen harder? Do you find the longer you talk to someone, the more you reveal – even when you don’t mean to? Used semi-unconventionally (look at how Peter Orner uses them), that’s the gotta-hear-this tone footnotes can convey in writing. And blogging.
2.5. Semi-relatedly, studies of effective sales letters and newsletters reveal that the most-often and closely read line is the “P.S.”. (Stephen Elliott is a promiscuously effective post scripter. Sign up for his newsletter and you’ll see.) Why? Because it’s like a whisper…and it’s the last line. Eavesdroppers (aka “humans”) and skimmmers pay attention.
2.6. And that’s why you should use footnotes and postscripts in your blog posts, sales copy and newsletters. Also it’s just wacky. I’m a big fan of all things wackadoo.