Thursday, December 22, 2011

Good, Great and Mastery

I must be on the mend because in addition to trying to work yesterday, I also managed to get sidetracked the way I usually do. I got fed up with the second call that day from the same number that I didn't recognize on my cell phone, with no message being left, so I tried a reverse directory lookup to see who it was, then Googled the number and found it on a site listing telephone scams or telemarketers that don't observe do not call lists. I also found the other numbers that have called me repeatedly on that site. Apparently one is selling security systems, one is selling some kind of home warranty and one is that "this is your final notice from credit card services" call that I also get all the time on my home phone. It's funny that they don't name the credit card and that you get the final notice several times a day, every day. Then I started looking up how to block those numbers, only to find that with my carrier, the ability to block a harassing number is an optional service that costs extra. While I was at it, I tried seeing what I could do about all the spam text messages I'm getting, and blocking those also costs extra. Then I had to learn how to forward a text message to their spam number from my phone, which I didn't get from the user manual for my phone. I had to go to the online forum for users of this kind of phone to find that answer.

And then after all that when I finally did sit down to work, my phone rang, and it wasn't a telemarketer. I think every time I've tried to work this week, someone has called me. Fortunately, we had a very short choir rehearsal (and I made it through, though I doubt it was pretty), so I got through a couple of scenes after choir.

When I talked earlier this week about mastering an art, I really wasn't feeling down on myself or fishing for compliments. I'd bet that most of the people we think of as having mastered their art don't think they have -- and that's why they're masters, because they're always pushing to be better. As the saying goes, "good" is the biggest enemy of "great" because it's easy to be satisfied with good, and if you are, you won't become great. I think that's why the "participation trophy" mentality is a recipe for mediocrity. Unless you're really internally motivated, receiving the same award for showing up that you'd get for being excellent makes it way too easy to be satisfied with getting your trophy for showing up, and that means you'll never be great. The drive to work hard toward being truly excellent, regardless of external rewards, is pretty rare, so when external rewards become meaningless, you get a bigger division between the people who keep striving just because they want to be the best they can be and the people who are happy with their participation trophy (in whatever form it takes).

Not that I'm saying that this is a sure sign that I'm likely to become a "Master," but based on what I know of my personality, I don't think I'd be one of those authors who starts phoning it in once I reach the point where publishers would fight for the right to publish my grocery list and it would instantly shoot to the top of the bestseller list. I'd feel driven to uphold a certain standard and try to make each book better. I guess I was thinking about this because I had read a book by a perennially bestselling author I have enjoyed in the past and was very disappointed by what seemed to me to be a lack of even trying. If I had submitted that same book, it would have been rejected instantly because the characters were thinner than tissue paper, the conflicts were simplistic and all the major turning point scenes were skipped, with the events being told in interior monologue by the characters sitting and drinking coffee as they remembered what happened. There would be this huge, impossible situation made suddenly even more complicated at the end-of-chapter cliffhanger, and the next chapter would begin the next day, with the character smiling to herself as she remembered what happened next and how crazy it was and how through it all the enemy came around and realized they were on the same side, so they decided to team up. I found myself screaming "show, don't tell!" at the book. These were scenes that were begging to be written out, and they all marked major turning points in the situation and in the characters' relationships. It was like there was a mix-up at the publisher and they accidentally published the synopsis instead of the novel itself. Here was an author who must have been satisfied with "good" because she achieved a certain amount of success, and so she not only didn't push on to "great" but let herself slide to a level that wouldn't have been acceptable without her huge success. (Though maybe I'm alone in this impression because the reviews at Amazon -- both the professional and the reader reviews -- were overwhelmingly positive. Even Publisher's Weekly didn't mention the skipping of pivotal scenes, and they're usually hypercritical.)

Anyway … Today will be my "get my act together" day to do laundry and otherwise prepare myself for the fact that Christmas is in just a few days. I've already started washing all the bed linens -- even washed the duvet cover and put the comforter in the dryer to fluff. If I'm very good today, then I can relax on Christmas Eve before singing for two services, one at 7 and one at 11 (the Methodist version of midnight mass).

No comments: