Marching across the dunes

(Note: There were a few missed messages about who would be writing the farewell post for the last of the month, so here is a ¡Special Bonus! farewell to March, the final “Monday with Bob.”)

By guest blogger Bob Sabatini

Hello! I hope A Writer’s March has been an enjoyable and inspiring experience for you. On this, the final day of the month, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the challenge, not as the end of a process of growth, but as another step in the journey. A chance to pause and catch our breaths and take a look back before continuing this march on into April and beyond. At the beginning of the March, Sam shared a video of a commencement speech given by Neil Gaiman. One of the most striking devices Gaiman uses in this speech is the metaphor of the mountain. He gives the directions for anyone who wants to pursue a life in the arts to think of their goals as being on the top of a mountain, and to make decisions—life defining decisions, sometimes—based on what gets you closer to the top of that mountain.

After hearing the speech, I spent nearly a week trying to determine exactly what my mountain was. The conclusion I’ve come to is that I don’t have one. I am wandering—not exactly lost, but without definite purpose—through a desert where my horizon consists entirely of dunes. I clamber up to the top of one dune, slipping in the sand as I go, sometimes getting winded and needing to take a short rest, but getting there eventually. Then I take a look around and—still not seeing any mountains off in the distance anywhere—pick another dune and start the climb all over again.

For example, it was an enormous thrill to have some of my plays performed. Mind you, these were all parts of various student showcases, presented in tiny black boxes. That’s hardly the heights of the theatre world, so I liken the accomplishment to reaching the top of a dune. I am perfectly satisfied with that achievement, the “mountain” of having a work reach Broadway or the West End is one which people whose paths have crossed mine are currently taking a pickaxe to, but it is not a goal that drives me. Another dune: I wanted to get a book published, and thanks to the wonders of print-on-demand publishing, I have. The fact that more than a year after its release I have not sold as many copies as I have given to friends does not take any of the bloom off the experience. Mount St. Bestseller is also not on my horizon, it would seem. One more dune: The past month it’s been my honor to be a regular contributor to a writing blog (and a damn fine writing blog if you ask me). I hear some imagined naysayer’s voice whisper at me “Oh, big deal, it’s not like you’re a contributor to the New York Times. Heck, you’re not even a contributor to the Albuquerque Journal,” and I shrug it off with impunity.

For a long time, I’d imagined that people who were richer or more famous than me would see my dune-scrambling as a mark of mediocrity, they’d say the fact that I never sought out that higher mountain meant I lacked ambition, focus and talent. And until recently, I’d let that imagined pronouncement bother me. But as I continue wandering from one dune to the next, I’ve come to understand that I do not lack ambition, mine is simply oriented in a different direction: it is horizontal rather than vertical. These dunes may not be very high, but I want to climb as many of them as I can. When I’ve reached the top of a new dune, I take a little time to savor the experience and maybe catch my breath, but before too long I begin surveying the new landscape, looking for the next dune to scramble up.

This March across the desert that I’m on may never make me famous, but I have gotten exactly what I wanted out of it: I have learned and I have grown. My weekly column, while it is not syndicated to 200 newspapers across the country, has nonetheless made me better at managing my time to meet deadlines and forced me to find ways to get the work done whether I was feeling “inspired” or not. My excursions on the stage, no matter how small that stage might be, have given me a deeper appreciation of what magic is possible when actors and directors are given the freedom to find their own interpretations of my work. Having my book published has taught me that it’s really friggin’ awesome to pick up a book and see your name on the cover uh… that persistence and hard work can and do amount to something. I still don’t see any vertiginous peaks tantalizing me from beyond the sea of dunes ahead, I may not have reached any great heights, but I’ve come a long way, and I don’t plan to stop any time soon.

I am not saying that goals and ambition are meaningless. If you have found your own mountain, then by all means you should continue your climb. I wish you the very best of luck. The journey you’ve already taken to get to where you are now has had value, and don’t let anyone—least of all yourself—tell you otherwise. It can be discouraging to have struggled for what seems like ages, muscles fatigued, palms skinned, bruises and blisters everywhere, only to look up and think the summit looks just as far away as it always was. That’s why I encourage you to take a look behind you. You’ve come a long way, you’ve worked so hard. You’ve learned. You’ve grown. Give yourself a pat on the back for that, before continuing the March.

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