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Not sure how much I agree, but a very intereseting read nonetheless
Originally posted on Thought Catalog:
The feeling of being “inspired” is very often just finding something brilliant, and trying to emulate it. The rush and desire makes us manic and driven because we think we are actively becoming greater than ourselves. We find something we perceive as so great, we want others to perceive us – our take, our idea, our belief, our creation of it – similarly. But the foundation of that is what we are not. That’s why we have to find it, that’s why we run dry. It is not inherent or internal – at least the whirlwind, overwhelming kind of inspiration isn’t.
Acting without feeling inspired is us saying what we naturally know, feel and think, and this is vulnerability. When we believe that we must be inspired by an idea to create something of it, it is a mechanism to avoid placing ourselves bare into something that other people can judge.
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She was to them a girl in a picture–an unwavering beacon of light at the end of their wretched tunnel, their reminder of a grass far greener, far more luscious, just over on the other side, their reason for living in a world full of…dying. She was a girl in a faded, scarred picture–a slice of humanity that could not have possibly been more vibrant and whole.
But to him, she was more than a girl in a picture–blond hair rippling down her shoulders in light waves, the lazy waves that lap at the shore on a foggy morning; cheeks rosy and rounded by the radiant smile that leapt from her lips and fearlessly bounded off the glossy photograph, tugging resiliently at the corners of mouths long drawn in fear, earnestly igniting twinkles in eyes eternally dulled. Creases ran across her countenance, from the countless times she had been folded over and tucked into his inside pocket–inexplicably, they failed to mar her picturesque cheer; cracks spread like cobwebs from the frayed corners to the beveled center, yet the wrinkles of age could not touch her frozen façade. A white border circumscribed the photograph–not a moment of precious time had been wasted examining it; her fingers rested lightly under her rounded chin–when he finally tucked the picture away, he could feel them, ever so gently grazing the small of his back. They were the softest thing he had ever known.
But to him, she was more than a girl in a picture–she was the girl in the picture. While the other men saw the light at the end of his tunnel, he saw only light, only heavenly brightness, and no tunnel at all; while the others dreamt of a greener grass, he needn’t but inhale, and in the desert dust and gunpowder, the fresh, flowery scent of those blond waves drifted through his nose; where they saw his reason for living, he saw his command, his obligation, his responsibility to live now, to live still, and to live again–to survive, to endure, to claw desperately for every scrap of life he could possibly obtain. She spoke in a language that every man understood, with kind eyes and coy smile, with a visage like a beating heart–but she whispered to him in a tongue only he knew, with pleading eyes and beseeching smile, an expression of desperation concealed under her mask of certainty. She yearned, the girl in the picture–she yearned for a world without girls in pictures, without a need to tuck her away, to crease her over and conceal her in that inner pocket, where she could not be harmed, where she could not be taken away from him. She yearned for him to feel what he had once felt, just as he yearned–oh, he yearned–to somehow show her that feeling again…if only one more time.
He creased her over and tucked her away, straightening his back. The corners of his mouths pulled resiliently upwards; his eyes flashed with a spark of belief. He took a step forward, readjusting his grip, inhaling through his nose–there it was: lilacs and happiness. The soft fingertips skated over his skin effortlessly, sending chills up his bent and broken spine.
You are defined in life by the way you respond to defeat—it is that simple. You will fall, and your response to that fall will define you. I say this, not to be a pessimist, or even a realist, as many people would quickly conclude; I do not report this regrettably, or even bluntly, but joyfully. You are defined in life by the way you respond to defeat! This declaration reveals an essential truth: you will fall. Again, this claim could easily be disregarded as fatalistic, but I find it fantastic. You will fall—of what do you have to be afraid? You will fall; you needn’t concern yourself any longer with clutching desperately to the cliff of your dreams, perilously perching upon the precipice of perfection. You will fall, and as such, your difficult decision no longer concerns holding on; your efforts needn’t be geared towards preventing the fall. No, the choice has changed: what will you do once you fall? Will you fall and die, withering into oblivion on the rocks below? Will you fall and live, only to remain grounded, staring at the sky, wondering what could have been? Or will you fall…and survive? Will you fall and endure, mending your broken limbs to walk upon them once again, setting your jaw in the same stone that shattered it, and turning back to the cliff that once defeated you?
When asked to isolate a single incident or time in which I experienced failure, I think only of the boy I was in my first years of high school. I, almost invariably, gave no effort to my studies, coasting on God-given talent. I did no work and still acquired results—what may seem ideal to many became detestable for me. I felt as if I had earned nothing—as if I had been given everything I had. A war waged within me: a war between stagnation and action, between talent and effort, between sloth and passion. It boiled down to a final battle over my value. Would I place value in the product, neglecting the worth of the work undertaken to produce it—or would I place value in the work, disregarding the product of that effort? I chose the latter, and it made me an immediate failure. I knew I would fall—I chose to fall—and when I fell…I endured. I climbed again and again to fall again and again, reverting to old habits of apathy, relying upon my failsafe of natural ability. But every time I climbed and fell, I did a little more than endure: I toughened up. I was able to climb just a little higher, work just a little harder, grow oh so closer. I nurtured those miniscule progressions into a dedication to self-betterment—to measure the effort I gave today, and demand of myself that I give an iota more tomorrow and an iota again the next day—to crawl before I walked, to walk before I ran, and to run before I climbed.
You are defined in life by the way you respond to defeat—you are defined, not by what you did to reach your greatest height, but by what you did when you fell from it. The Common Application has asked me what I would like for the readers of my application to know that is not revealed through my transcript, my SATs, my grades. My answer—nay, my response—is this: the transcript, the SATs, the grades…they are summits. They are summits, not climbs, and I have fallen far too many a time focusing only on the summit and not on the climb. The Common Application may present to you my summits, but what I truly hope you can understand, what I fervently pray you can discern through the haze of peaks and mountaintops…is my love for the climb.
Winter is coming. That’s what Ned Stark said, that’s how it all began. I’ll be frank, I, very simply, do not have the emotional wherewithal to avidly follow Game of Thrones. I literally could not deal with the ups-and-downs of that show. But I know how it began, and I know what that meant, that phrase, that idea–winter is coming.
For those so wretchedly uncultured, the protagonist of the wildly popular HBO show Game of Thrones, Ned Stark, lorded over the land of the North, and his preparation for winter was far more grave than all others–winter hit his land the hardest. As such, when the show begins, winter is fast approaching, and Ned reminds those about him that winter is coming–it is, in fact, the name of Episode 1, Season 1. Winter is coming. It was made very clear, that if you were going to watch Game of Thrones, winter was coming. Hardship, pain, loss, desolation, difficulty, darkness–they were coming, and come they did.
Winter is coming.
Nothing gets me more excited than the coming of winter. Even as I type this, I had to stop, shake my hands out, and crack my knuckles, chuckling as I did. Winter is coming, baby, winter is coming! If you’re new, you don’t yet know how much I love winter–how much I treasure the cold. AHH! I’M SO EXCITED. Check it:
AHH! SO EXCITED!
Look, let me put this on the breakdown for you–everybody can do it when it’s easy. I’ve been working on a new concept that I’m not ready to introduce yet, but the best way to phrase it is by simply saying ‘It isn’t production without consistency. You’re not producing anything until you’re producing consistently.’ And the reason this idea came to mind, the root from which this idea grew, was the idea that everybody can do it when it’s easy, and even more importantly, NOBODY CARES who can do it when it’s easy.
We’re getting to the end of the Cross Country season–the regular season meets are coming to a close, and the elimination meets of Conference, Districts, and States are looming. The regular season meets held no water–record is basically an empty number in high school Cross Country, and the meets meant very little. They weren’t easy–they were buns hard–but they’ll seem like leisurely strolls in beautiful parks when we stack up against the toughest teams we’ve seen on the toughest course we’ll run, several hundreds of people lining the course, 99% of whom are cheering for the guy next to you, who has poured just as much sweat, just as much blood, and just as many tears into this as you have, and all you have going for you is the conviction that you can endure more pain than he can.
It’s hard, and nobody cares if you can do it when it’s easy. Production implies consistency, and consistency means you can do it when it’s easy and when it’s hard.
In the summer, it’s easy. The sun is out, the birds are singing, the sky is blue. There’s no work, there’s no school. Summer is where you do the things you’ve wanted to do, it’s when you do the stuff you didn’t get to do in the winter, when it was cold and harsh and nasty and cold and busy and impossible and cold. Summer’s freedom is the recompense for winter’s inflexibility.
It’s great for things to be easy, that’s nice, don’t get me wrong. But quitting because it’s hard? Allowing your environment to alter your actions? Allowing circumstances to define you? Look, winter is coming whether you like it or not. The question becomes whether or not you’re going to be prepared. That’s what it meant for Ned Stark in Game of Thrones, that’s what it meant! Winter is coming implied preparation, it implied vigilance, it implied game time! Winter is coming, and almost everyone who put in work over the summer is going to fall away. Winter is coming with a biting edge, and she will hew down those in her path who are not prepared and not vigilant. Winter is coming, and you have to make a decision–will you be ready?
Winter is coming, baby! Game time!
Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that, even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.
– Kurt Vonnegut
It doesn’t get much better than this, it really doesn’t. I mean, there are masters of the English language, and then there are masters of the English language, and then there’s Vonnegut, but this…man, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Be soft. That’s how he starts. Be soft. Simply, with neither pomp nor frill, with no adjective nor adverb, not even an article to muddle the instruction. Be soft, he says. The rest of the quote follows the cadence of ‘Do not let that do this’, but the first one…be soft, he says. Be soft.
Do not let the world make you hard. Be soft, and do not let the world harden you. See, this is a scary idea, it absolutely is. This idea that we have to be soft, when it is undoubtedly so much easier, so much safer, so much more convenient, to be hard. If we’re hard people, we’re protected from the wounds that the world can so easily inflict upon us, the blows it so readily deals. If we’re hard, we can endure the world–but it is those wounds and those blows that force us to be hard, and if we are to not let the world make us hard, we must take those wounds and take those blows, and somehow, in some way, remain soft. Remain genteel. Remain loving.
Do not let the pain make you hate. Oh, how it tugs upon my heart to simply type those letters, how my soul wrenches at the very sight of the sentence. Do not let the pain make you hate. I just see it being read by some fallen man, by some broken and defeated soul speaking to a younger, climactic character…I can just envision the close-up on his haggard face as the fallen man turns to the younger and says ‘do not let the pain make you hate’. It’s terrifying again, and the reason is because ‘do not let the pain make you hate’ implies that one thing is incontrovertibly certain: there will be pain. There will be pain, and if anything engenders hate, if anything instills hate, if anything spawns a vile hatred, it is pain. There will be pain–there WILL be pain–and you have to decide what to do with it. You can hate, or you can, somehow, in some way, love. Respect. Give.
Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Like a thief in the night, like a burglar in the dead of the evening, do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness away. This line amazes me, because Vonnegut just told us to not be hard and to not be hateful, and now he’s telling us there will be bitterness?! If I live without hardness and without hatred, I’ll be stuck waging a third war against bitterness?! It’s terrifying yet again, because it doesn’t end. In the face of the world, be soft, not hard. In the face of the pain, be loving, not hateful. And now, after all of that, I have to protect whatever sweetness I may possess? In the face of this terrible adversity I have already barely surmounted, I have to, somehow, in some way, defend my sweetness from the bitterness? Ward off the pervasive dogs of unhappiness? Guard my tender flame of hope from the blistering winds of pessimism?
Take pride that, even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.
Look, I’m going to need you to be brave. I’m going to level with you right now, if you intend on doing it right, if you intend on living your life the best way possible, if you intend on accomplishing what you would like to accomplish, I’m going to need bravery. I’m going to need you to be courageous, to be audacious, to be dauntless. We quickly realized it up there, where we learned that we could not steel ourselves from life’s blows, but instead had to remain soft, and take the pain. And we learned about that pain! We learned that we could not allow ourselves to let that pain turn into hatred, but instead we had to accept the pain and learn to love through it. We learned that what little love, what little sweetness we had, we had to protect from the bitterness that would follow us no matter what goals we achieved. There was one big, umbrella idea that we simply could not ignore:
It’s terrifying out there. It’s freaking terrifying.
There will be blows. There will be pain. There will be adversity. You’re here, in this world, and there will be blows, there will be pain, and there will be adversity. The question, as always, is what are you going to do? What are you going to be? Because you have two options–you can be afraid, or you can be brave. It’s scary out there, and you can either be scared, or you can fight that, and you fight fear with courage, you fight trepidation with audacity, and you fight the terrors with bald-faced bravery.
That’s what makes the world a beautiful place–not the fact that it’s terrifying, as most people would believe…but the fact that you can fight it, as we know.