Author Colum McCann gets right to business. Technically, it’s eight minutes in to a talk about six times as long, so “right to” must be relative, but you get the idea. When asked “where does it start?,” in reference to his craft, McCann begins:
Most novelists will tell you that it’s like trying to solve a problem in complex mathematics.
Oh, great. Because math was totally my strong suit … not. I let my incredulity at that statement pass, and open my mind to what’s about to be said.
You’re completely fucking confounded by the idea that you can’t do this, but you must do this, because there’s a problem there in front of you, and it’s something that must eventually be solved. And then one day, in various fits and starts, it just sort of occurs to you…
McCann goes on to talk about the process as it relates to writing a specific novel, and while that is fascinating, it’s not what I’m reacting to in this particular case.
No, instead I am doing what writers do best – fixating. Fixating on an element that nags, that beckons, and that, to reference another one of my posts, bothers the hell out of me.
In this case, that element is an idea. And more specifically, it’s the idea that the impossible not only can be done, but actually, that it must.
When I hear that word, I can’t help but think that it’s just a long-winded way of saying no. As if somehow, with those extra eight letters, the infinite, resounding nature of the idea becomes stronger.
Like it or not, that word does hold power – and admittedly more than the word no might ever hold. When you hear “no,” you might actually be hearing “not now” or “not like this.” There is a unspoken hope of conditionality, impermanence.
But impossible? Woof. That actually means not now, not ever, no matter what, don’t even try. And so, given the amount of times I’ve heard that word in my short life, it’s a real wonder I’ve gotten anywhere, continue to dream, or believe in anything not happening right under my nose.
And yet, what has actually happened?
Every time I hear “impossible,” I think “Try to break me. Show me that it can’t be done. And when I end up doing it, whether by good fortune or good effort or both, tell me something else that’s impossible, and I’ll do that too.” What can I say? I’m scrappier than I look – which, particularly for people who aren’t close to me, might come as a tremendous surprise. It might even feel, well, impossible.
I am nothing if not tenacious and (probably too) grounded. But I am also a dreamer. And if you’re thinking “how do those things go together?” then I defer to my earlier post on living a life of uneasy dichotomies. And if you’re already up-to-speed on how those things coexist in my life, whether online or in-person, then you already get the point and I don’t need to belabor it here.
Still, sometimes – in part because I struggle to be a grounded, tenacious dreamer – I fall victim to the idea of impossibility, if only for a short while. And as an adult, having surprised myself and probably other lookers-on about my own ability to thrive despite hearing how impossible my dreams were, I must confess that when I fall victim, it is usually my own doing.
Ryan, it is impossible to be authentic. Ryan, it is impossible to do what you love and also do what you need. Ryan, there is a challenge in front of you and it is impossible to solve, to borrow McCann’s description of the feeling.
For a long time, writing was one of those impossibles. It was like I needed permission, not from anyone else, but from myself, to pick up a pen, or a keyboard, and to get down to business – especially since I didn’t know where it would take me.
But then, last August (has it really almost been a year since I started this?), I put on my big girl pants, opened my old HP (rest in peace, friend), and wrote my first post about the only thing I knew – that I was searching for meaning, and that, in the absence of large aha! moments, I knew there were lessons to be had in the little things that happen between them.
It was like, quoting McCann, I could “expand my lungs again.” And so I kept writing. And through writing, the act was not only possible, but necessary. It was a must.
I suppose I should have known this from the beginning. I suppose I could have figured it out even then. But where’s the fun in that? What would I have learned?
McCann says later:
I try to say to my students, in particular, that you should not write about what you know about … but you have to write toward what it is that you really want to know. So you explore, and you go places, and you go on adventures and you fail and you fall, but part of it is the excitement of embarking on something new. And it’s also about keeping yourself alive and having a laugh, right?
Nearly a year after I launched this blog, I see a couple of things about my “adventure” that I did not see before.
- Destination is like Home, it’s relative. Sure, I might have been writing in search of something else, but dammit if I didn’t end right back where I started, myself. For the record, I would be lying if I said that didn’t feel sickeningly cliché to admit. But I’d also be lying not to mention it. So if we’re striving for authenticity…
- Trust yourself. More often than not, my gut is right. Whether it’s about what to eat for dinner, or what to do with the rest of my life, I should trust my judgment and ability.
- And when all else fails, consult. Relativity is a nice, friendly concept. It allows for some meandering. And so is the idea of a strong gut to help guide through all that meandering. But sometimes I need help. And when I need help, I consult. Like listening to an interview with Colum McCann, for instance.
This year, I gave myself permission to live in relativity, to meander, and to judge when that needed to end. To take all the dreams, hopes and ideas I was finally brave enough to live with and say, “Ok, Ryan, now it’s time to direct those things to something meaningful beyond yourself.”
And I’ve just about reached that point.
I’m not saying this blog will end. Honestly, I can’t imagine moving forward without it now. But I am saying that, after this year with myself and “the littles,” I’m ready to stop being “completely … confounded” by the idea that writing, or math, or anything else for that matter, is impossible. Because I should have always known the impossibles were possible – and maybe even imperative.
This likely being the last post before we reach the critical one year blogiversary, I can think of no better way to celebrate than to share these final thoughts from the writer who inspired it:
And in the end, you only ever realize that what you’ve written is what you inherently knew anyway, but that’s part of the joy.
Thanks to everyone who reads this or supports me in all my endeavors to lifthevale.
See y’all for another blogging year come August.
Ryan Vale McGonigle
Note on the Featured Image: This little vine, which may actually just be a flowering weed, has caught my attention on the way to work for the last few days. It’s a sturdy little thing, though it might not look it. Despite whatever odds it faces, it climbs ever higher. I thought it was the right photo to choose here – and for anyone who reads this blog with regularity, you’ll be glad to know I didn’t even agonize over that choice.