Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Persistence

“No great achievement is accomplished without persistent work.”
~ Bertrand Russell


Jan and I are in the midst of a trip around Lake Superior. Trips are wonderful for learning new things and for providing ample opportunities to people-watch. Last week we spent a night in Wawa, Ontario. My bird-watching friends may already know that wawa is the Anishinaabe word for Canada Goose. While the goose statue outside of town was worth a couple of photos, Jan and I will continue to think of Wawa more for the short walk we took there.
The path starts at the edge of town, works quickly up a hill using concrete and wooden steps, wanders through a drained marshy area and ends up on a bluff overlooking undeveloped Anderson Lake. The trail to the lake is less than a half-mile long (although we followed an extension for the better part of another mile before turning around.)

Mr. Valle (always referred to as Mister Valle, never by his first name) after his retirement had a vision of a path from town to Anderson Lake. Accompanied by his dog, Mr. Valle singlehandedly built the path. He hand-carried the timber and buckets of cement for the steps. Using a bow saw, pick and shovel, he dug a 1,000-foot long ditch that drains the marshy area. He built a picnic table at Anderson Lake where he loved to spend time. The project took him years to complete, but his work is remembered long after his death in 1994 through Mr. Valle Park and the “Friends of Mr. Valle Park,” who maintain it.


Mr. Valle had persistence. It paid off because he had a vision, the tools to carry it out and the time to make it successful. Bertrand Russell would recognize and applaud this kind of persistence.




“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
 ~ Albert Einstein

A number of years ago I attended the weekly sessions of a fiction-writing critique group. One of the members submitted material every week for critique. I eventually gave up spending my time developing critiques for this individual because he never changed anything based on our feedback. He maintained his “style,” making the same egregious mistakes again, and again and again. Years later I read something new he had written. Same old, same old. It wasn’t that he had a vision of literature that we lesser mortals of writing could not appreciate. His basic writing was deeply flawed. Albert Einstein would recognize his form of insanity, because no amount of persistence would achieve that writer’s goals.

It is easy to determine whether or not you are persistent.

Sometimes it can be much more difficult to know whether your persistent efforts are of the Bertrand Russell variety or whether they involve the insanity incorporated in Albert Einstein’s definition. If you really want to know where you stand, ask several very knowledgeable people in your field to evaluate your work. Make sure not to use family or friends – they’ll lie to make you feel good.

However, even if all the experts point to your efforts as bordering on insanity, you can’t know for sure if they are right. Van Gogh sold only one picture during his lifetime; Emily Dickenson only had a few poems published during hers, and the publishers altered many of those because they were unconventional.

Which brings us back to persistency. If you are not persistent nothing great will result. So, get back to it.

~ Jim