We begin a journey with a destination in mind, or, if we remain mindful of Lao Tse, with the journey itself being the ever changing, expanding, shifting destination, and where we arrive at the end, just the end.
When my partner and I planned a month in the British Isles several years ago, our advanced planning consisted of booking a hotel in London for the first few days, another in Dublin for the first and last of five nights in Ireland, another in Edinburg for two nights. Those we booked in advance thinking it might be difficult to wing it in a major city. Other than those points, the rest of the trip was by auto with a general but loose itinerary. Each day we'd look at our options, set out, and take the back roads to unexpected places. We blew a tire outside Blarney and got a very local side trip to a nearby garage. Every day was discovery, some wrong turns, and some amazing surprises. We would find a town in an area we wanted to explore (the Cotswolds, the Lake District, a drive over a desolate highlands moor to an oceanside town in Scotland) and stop, find a B&B or hotel in time to explore the town on foot, find a pub for a pint, have dinner in whatever place the innkeeper said was best for cheap local food and fun, and then loosely plan the next day. We hit the high points along the way, walked the steps that Wordsworth walked above his lake, explored Yorkminster at dusk, found an ancient stone circle atop a misty mountain, just us and the sheep. The point of the trip was never getting from London to London by way of Ireland, Scotland, and points between. The point was the points between, as satisfying as the destination itself proved to be.
Not long ago, Nathan Bransford, literary agent, blogged about when dreams become expections. His post is here. It had particular relevance to me because, at a very ripe age, I've embraced the reality of the odds of publishing success, and realize that those dreams are just that: dreams. Sure, I'd love to find an agent who loved this novel and sold it to a publisher who sold the movie rights, the movie and novel filling my empty coffers as I churn out the follow-up. But those are dreams.
Many of us writers, authors, persevere in the face of impossible odds with a sense of pride at maintaining the Sisyphean task. Some of us keep preparing, perpetual students, practicing, reading, studying the craft as an avoidance mechanism for actually attempting to write the novel, or, if written, take it to the next step. What's the point of being serious when the odds are only slightly this side of insurmountable? The point is the journey. The point is how the paint is applied to the canvas, the words put down on the pages. The point is the doing of it. And in the journey lie the surprises, the discoveries, and, yes, the disappointments and wasted side trips.
But they are never wasted, are they? Otherwise we'd never have explored the tiny village green surrounded by charming Irish homes, shops, and pubs, colors of Easter eggs, while waiting for the auto repair. We'd never find the unexpected twist of plot when a character does something on his own that changes the direction of everything. Or the frustration when the discovery adds depth to the total experience for us, the creators, the voyagers, but ends up on the cutting room floor. Or, as now, when a very good reader points out some holes in the opening, long put to bed, and it's back to revising again. But in this detour, I find myself back on the journey, new discoveries laid out in front of me.
And so we persevere. Would I like to be finished? Of course, but what is finished? The last step before the first step of another phase, project, or jouney. I Ching says, over and over, perseverance furthers. And so it must. Because the end of the journey is always, at any stage, at any place, just ahead, the next town, the next revision, the next book, in the cloud of dreams. Dreams can be goals, and they should be. But if they become expectations, the journey sours. Maybe I'm placating myself. These be not easy times. But I honestly think I'd rather enjoy the road than fly over it. If I find Xanadu, so much the better.