An Infinite Regression of Excuses

Frost on garden shed window and the barn beyond
Through a glass, darkly. Frost on barn shed window.

A writer writes about writing about why he cannot write. That’s where I feel I am today, here at the end of another year with, well, mixed successes at staying focused.

While there are some things to show for my brief spurts of directed and purposeful activity–a book, the new visual essay package, the calendars, a dozen mildly successful public engagements and much more community involvement–I deserve the big Dope Slap for all the time I’ve wasted in 2009. And with each passing year, it seems my propensity for distraction gets worse rather than better with age.

But I have excuses, mind you. There are more baubles, spangles and tinsel dangling before me than ever: twitter and facebook, tv online and Netflix Instant Play, Pandora and all things Droid.

On top of that I also have reasons–a quasi-intentional elder-indulgence of elder curmudgeonry. I reject deferred gratification so firmly in control of choices made since early adulthood. I did it for the kids. I did it for the job; for the friends, the church, the organization, the community. If there was anything left, I gave me some Fred-time.

In my opinion, I’ve held this approach-avoidance in better balance than some who invariably put self-sacrifice first and never ate dessert first. I’ve allowed myself to pull away–to work out, to backpack, to sit for a quiet hour on the creekbank, to fritter away an hour over a single image in Photoshop, revise an essay for more hours than they were worth. I have, for the most part as I see it, been free to an appropriate degree from excessive obligation to duty imposed by others when it conflicted with my own inner compass.

I am sure I could be forgiven for my self-focused and intentionally isolated behavior that at times was in error, hurtful, a mistake–a sin, if you will. The dangers of exaggeration of the importance of SELF are legion and go back far in human history, mythology and philosophy.

I don’t want to be or seem insensitive or callous or remote just to maintain my focus. And it is less from people I find myself needing distance now in order to achieve a more productive creative side. It is from the very tools that expedite that creativity–the cell phone, the laptop, the radio. (We long ago let go the TV, but now it has somewhat crept back in through the computer monitor.) And yet, I find these passive pleasures more and more alluring as my drive to move against the current wanes.

I struggle with the notion that I am foolish to set long-term goals that require sustained purpose and work at this point in my life–a few short months short of Social Security.  But after a while, desserts don’t satisfy. A main course of high-nutrient, full flavored food for the soul, heart and mind is what I need and will seek again in 2010–if I can regain the reins and chart such a course.

I’ll end this blathering morning-pages ramble with an excerpt from the last passage of  What We Hold In Our Hands. I guess I need to tell myself this story one more time, a partial antidote perhaps to my procrastination and willing distractedness:

…The vision came to me of years future, their numbers filing past me in a receding time line against a cosmic backdrop of star-flecked black universe. One of those numbers—-only God knows which-—will be the year I die.

“But Wait. Let’s think about the future this way” the morning muse gently offered. “If you live as long as your mother is today, you’ll still be around in 2030. If you match your grandmother’s age when she died, 2043. There could well be an awful lot of new days ahead for you, sonny boy.”

Given those actuarial possibilities of life yet to come, I guess I’d better get back to thinking about what it is I want to do when I grow up. Maybe another book? And certainly, more grandchildren!

Each morning even yet is full of new possibilities. Granted, not all of the choices are available from the menu of ten years ago, but there are surely enough to make the selection an interesting proposition over the morning’s coffee.

And you’d think maybe sixty years of experience, skill, perspective and a smattering of wisdom might just be useful for something between now and 2043. To everything there is a season. We’ll just have to discover what crops we want to grow in this new season in our lives.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. That excerpt sure is a good pep talk for all of us oldsters. Thanks for giving it to us one more time. I look forward to seeing what you choose to do with 2010. It may be less than in younger years, but I’ll bet its quality will be more.