37 Lessons from 37 Days

Möbius transformation

37, day…thirty seven!

For thirty-seven days, I have been violating the laws of hyphenation. Also, I have been posting in my blog every day. I noticed that I wasn’t posting nearly enough. Worse still, I wasn’t writing nearly enough. This was a serious problem, and like most serious problems it needed a silly solution. I decided to undergo a transformative journey. A hero quest of epic proportions, where upon I would journey into the underworld, fight mighty philosopher-dragons, take tea with weird gods, and return with a profoundly enhanced understanding of myself and my relationship to the expansive and nuanced cosmos.

I didn’t do that. Instead I wrote a bunch of blog posts.

The obvious way to end all of this is to talk about how the experience has changed me, and what I have learned. I had a sense from the start that I was not going to do this. It’s a bit hokey. Plus, I didn’t really feel changed. I didn’t really feel like I had learned anything. Thirty seven days of blog posts isn’t exactly an ambitious or life changing undertaking.

As I was driving home yesterday from a restaurant, I thought about the fact that I hadn’t learned much or changed significantly, and something a bit strange occurred. All of the things I had learned, the ways I had changed, started to pop into my mind. By the time I got home I realized that this thing that I did wasn’t small. Not for me.

It was enormous.

I’ve changed and learned more in these thirty-seven days than in the year before them. Or the year before that. I’ve acquired a few very specific skills that I have wanted, desperately, my whole life. I feel silly and over the top saying it, right here and right now. The word “life changing” is pretentious at all but the best of times. The best of times are supposed to happen in Borneo, helping starving children. They are supposed to happen on the top of mountains, as we reach the peak and look down on the tiny world below in its shrouded majesty. They are not supposed to happen sitting in front of a computer, working on a blog, for a little over a month. But you can climb and mountain be unchanged as a person. You can witness things that are great and magnificent and amazing and emerge little different than you were before.

And you can close your eyes as the light of a single sunrise washes over you, and open them someone else entirely.

Here are the things I have learned, and the ways I have changed:

  • I can sit down and write, now.

I have wanted to be a writer my whole life. I wrote stories as soon as I could write anything. Before that, I scribbled stories on notebooks in lines. Circles and shapes represented major characters and events, and the momentum of the plot was the lines between then. My failures in college burned the writer out of me. I went to a school with a lot of writing. Because I was more interested in my budding social life, and because I never found a subject I loved, and because I have a very short attention span when I lack interest in something, I found it very difficult to sit down and write papers. I didn’t do it, and I didn’t pass classes.

I’ve been trying to write fiction and non-fiction off and on in the decade since. I went through spurts of success when an idea particularly inspired me. The phases always passed. Usually when I sat down to write I froze up. Sometimes it led to full-blown panic attacks. I wanted to be able to just sit down and get words down. It didn’t matter if they were good. I knew I had a talented writer in me somewhere. I got good enough grades and won enough writing awards to be sure of that. But I couldn’t write. I just couldn’t do it.

I’ve written more in the last thirty-seven days than in any thirty-seven day period in my life. There was a wall of ice between me and the writer that is also me. It is melted, and evaporated, and I have collected the rainwater. It tastes pure and wonderful It took courage to fight against deep fears that were as powerful as they were stupid and pointless. It took determination. It was so god damned easy I don’t know why it took this long.

  • It turns out I do have self-discipline, and self-motivation. I just needed to dig it up.

I left my cook/manager position at the end of October with the intention of never working in a restaurant again. I had another job all lined up, which I did not get. I thought it was a sure thing, but they turned me down. It devastated me. I spent a week trying half-assedly to find another job, but they all sounded terrible. I wanted to do something I was good at, for once.

I sat my wife down and told her I did not want to get a job right away. I had wanted to be a freelance writer for a long time, and now, if she was okay with it, I was going to try it. She would have to support me, and I had a lot of learning and study to do before I even put my toe in the water. One of us left that conversation thinking I was ridiculous and crazy.

It wasn’t her.

I couldn’t even sit down and write without freezing up. I have never been self-disciplined or motivated. I had no reason to think I could do this other than the desire to do it and confidence that there was a writer in here somewhere. Now, months later, I know I can do it. I still have a long way to go, but I can set goals and follow them. If I made a schedule and assign consequences to that schedule, I can follow it. I have never been able to do that. People told me these were things you could learn, but I only half believed them. Now I know it is true.

  • Writing fiction is easy.

I do not plan on making a career out of fiction writing. That requires luck as well as talent. But for so long I have been envious of people who could write stories. I come up with ideas all the time. I love to tell stories. I can write dialogue, and plots come naturally. What I could not do was actually write the damn stuff. For years I have desperately longed for the ability to turn an idea into a story. It sounded so easy on paper, but I always froze up. I started my blog with the personal essays and opinions that are the meat of most blogging. Fiction has taken over. I love to write fiction. I knew that my brain was particularly suited for it, if I could find the key to the cabinet where the little fiction-writing leprechaun was tied up with iron thread. It took less than thirty-seven days. I have a long way to go before I am the fiction writer I want to be, but now I can just sit down and spin it out. Seriously. Give me a topic.

  • Life moves more slowly when you are doing something you care about.

This has been a very long thirty-seven days. My friend remarked at one point, around day 20, that the time was “flying by.” My response was, “No it isn’t!” I knew this already. Projects keep life full and interesting. But not since my wedding have I had a project that did so as thoroughly as this. It is incredibly satisfying.

  • Transformative journeys are transformative.

Eat a whole container of tictacs every day for the next sixty days. Read all of the Hugo winners. Write ninety-nine stories about bananas. Lose forty pounds in the next sixth months. It doesn’t matter. When you do some that is fundamentally different from the way you normally live your life, it changes you. You think differently. Of course you do. It’s in the definition. There’s nothing mystical about it. If you are bored with who you are or how you are living your life, go on a journey. It doesn’t have to be big, or life-changing. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be interesting. It just has to follow a few simple rules:

  1. It has to be outside the normal scope of your experience. Playing awesome video games for thirty days might not do it if you already do that most days anyway. Playing sixty straight days first person shooters when you never play FPSs, on the other hand, might.
  2. You have to do it every day, without fail. It can’t be something you do just when you feel like it. Otherwise it can’t change you, because it has to have power over you.
  3. Keep track of it. Write a blog, or at least a journal if you’re shy. It can be a chart, or a marked-up calendar, if that’s how your brain works. You want to be able to look back at the early stages and see where you were. And you want evidence of progress.

That’s it. And I will tell you, it’s addicting. I am going to take a few days or a week, and then I am sure I will find a new project. I have a few ideas, but we’ll see what grabs my attention. Until then, I think I’m going to write a blog post every-other day, and let inspiration hit me when it hits me.

I think at some point I want to write a novel in 17 days. 17 would look very good in my trophy case.

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9 thoughts on “37 Lessons from 37 Days

  1. Reblogged this on Neophyte Punk: A Novice of Sorts…But Mostly Literature and commented:
    This is just so inspiring to me. Read and be enraptured.

  2. Trent Lewin says:

    This is fantastic, and as said above, inspiring. Go for it. And a novel in 17 days… yes.

  3. Gede Prama says:

    visit your blog, read an interesting article. thank you friends for sharing and greetings compassion 🙂

  4. Neuron says:

    This is just so inspiring!
    Thank you, Jesse. 37 times.

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