When good is near you, when you have life in yourself, it is not by any known or accustomed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name; the way, the thought, the good, shall be wholly strange and new. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Okay. I will totally admit right now, I have no idea what Emerson is talking about here. Along with each of these little blurbs from Emerson comes a suggested question or thrust for the blog post. I typically ignore it. The one that’s attached to this one talks about taking alternative paths – being open to the possibility of new opportunities. And I can appreciate the need to be open to alternatives. Case in point… I got my first critique at the local writers’ group tonight.The feedback I got was spot on, and addressed something that I don’t do a good job with. In fact, I had committed one of my own pet peeves in reading fiction. My supposed protagonist… was passive. In essence, he was a log floating down a river, bumping against unseen rocks, being pushed by the current, and not exercising any motive force of his own. I detest that in my fiction. And I was so close to the piece, I didn’t see that I hadn’t clearly brought out my protagonist’s motivations, mental state, thought process, etc. I thought that stuff was all in there. Nope.
So, I would agree that you do need to be open to an alternative point of view. Absolutely. But constantly being aware of and looking for alternative paths can be a form of Resistance in and of itself. Remember that the title of the essay that all of these quotes are coming from is “Self Reliance”. You do need to be open to another person’s point of view, and if there’s a better way to get to where you want to be, then great. But while I may want to be open to another’s point of view, that doesn’t mean that I have to accept that other person’s point of view as equally valid as my own – and it HAS TO BE THAT WAY FOR ME TO EVER ACCEPT THE POSSIBILITY THAT I MAY BE WRONG. Maybe that other person’s view really is better than mine, maybe it’s not. Returning to the writer’s group critique – some people’s critiques strike me as something that I can use to improve, and some don’t. I’ll work with the bits that I think fit, and work to improve the work. At the end of the day, the question is – am I moving toward the goal? To continue yesterday’s analogy, everyone wants to get to the tree. The question is, have you really grabbed the rod or not? How do you know?
Maybe that’s what Emerson is talking about. The way, the thought, the good comes to us without the need for an intermediary party. It simply is. We can recognize it, if we’re paying attention to the right voice inside of ourselves. And perhaps our ability to discern that thought – to pay attention to that voice – grows as we do it more often. Like any skill, hearing the right voice may be something that we can improve with practice and time. Not every path will lead us to the goal. And sometimes the most appealing path really is the one that is the most dangerous for us to follow. We may have good intentions, but still be merrily tripping our way to someplace that we do not want to be. Meanwhile, the rod may have a bend in it that takes us someplace we did not anticipate – someplace that we did not think we wanted to be. And short term, that may really suck. But pressing forward, eventually we find a reason, or new strength, or a talent we didn’t know we had. By pressing forward, we will be pushing ourselves, and that develops us.
One of the symbols that figures prominently in the dream I referenced in yesterday’s post is mists of darkness. In the analogy, this is temptation – a temporary blindness that moves us off the path if we are not holding to the rod. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Because you can’t see the path. No one sees the whole path. And walking straight ahead can be dangerous also. You don’t know what obstacles are in the way. There could be a pit there. Or a river. Or who knows what. And you can miss the opportunity that the rod would lead you to.
The true path is at our feet. The rod is close at hand. Grab ahold, and accept that you won’t see the path sometimes. Do the work. Even if you did create a passive protagonist. Even if there’s a voice that is anticipating that people are going to think you’re a fraud, or a talentless hack, or that you obviously don’t belong in this group of writers (all thoughts that went through my head tonight, none of which happened).