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Retrospecting

retrospecting
Joseph Keppler: Looking Backward, from Puck (1893)


" ... more infinite and much more significant."


It being New Year's Eve, the last day of this year, I asked myself an innocent question: Have I been successful this year? Innocent or not, this question got me to Retrospecting, reviewing what I'd accomplished and dreading discovering what I had failed to finish. I could not even remember the names of the four series I'd written through the year, not off the top of my head I couldn't. I had to look back through the transcripts, the 364 individual installments, to determine what I'd been so focused upon. I figure that I spent roughly fifteen hundred hours nurturing my writing habit through the year and yet I could not, near the end of the period, even remember the names of the titles of the four series I'd completed. Have I accomplished anything more than successfully forgetting what I'd created?

I read the first and last installments of each series to get a feeling for what I had been intending and how I'd judged my effort in the moment I completed each.
It seems from the available evidence that I felt magnanimous as I finished each one, more prone to forgiveness and acceptance than harsh judgement. I suppose that I could have been more critical, but I was probably too close to it to provide much insight. I even ended one of the series with a story I entitled Whimper, to represent just how acquiescent I felt as I crossed that finish line.

As I noted when I started the first of those four series, Authoring, I am not in the habit of accumulating my finished installments into anything very much like finished books after I've written them. I have constructed manuscripts out of about a quarter of the twenty-two series I've completed over the last five and a half years. I'm uncertain of the count because I haven't completed my accounting, an obvious administrative failure. The first series I finished this year, I titled Authoring, which I'd imagined would produce a published book by the end of that quarter. It didn't. Instead, it produced a deeper understanding of why I would not be pursuing publishing a book. I learned something. I did not convince myself to stop writing, but changed instead a significant part of my intention. I started accepting that other good reasons exist for writing stories like this, and that this little corner of our own creation, one featuring fresh stories, a medium for sharing, and a supportive audience, constitutes a fine form of publishing, especially if my writing's not about making money from it. Success? How about you suggest an answer?

Next, I committed to Reconning, an effort I initially described as kind of catching up to my stage of life. I planned to finish some painting and to finally complete compiling all those manuscripts, neither of which I accomplished. I did manage to complete that series and to even gain insight while doing that, but completion of either objective turned out not to be in the cards. Was that series a failure? Call me a soft-hearted judge, but I cannot judge it so. Success and failure seem awfully tied to judgement, to Revelations, to reward and punishment, to finite games. Retrospecting, I discover that I was more engaged in an infinite game and that my intentions served there as mere motivations, useful for getting me going but not really expected to accomplish any finite anything. In generous judgement, I might ask myself if I stayed true to the inquiry rather than whether I answered the initiating question. I didn't miss a day of posting installments, so I might call that meta result successful, even though I clearly failed to deliver on my original intentions. I believe that the purpose was what I produced rather than what I didn't. I can judge my justification successful, even if an independent judge wouldn't.

With perhaps a hint of desperation, I next committed to Againing for a quarter. Acknowledging that I often wrote about subjects about which I'd previously written, I accepted that this result would very likely continue, so I dedicated myself to continuing to construe new meanings, fresh twists, from the repeating rhythms. Unbeknownst to me then, this would be the quarter within which The Muse would be diagnosed with throat cancer, an absolutely unprecedented occurrence. My intention of repeating with twists experienced the very mother of all plot twists. Did I succeed in delivering my intentions? I was, again, true to my deepest intention, which was to continue producing daily installments. I was true to the meta again, if not true to my stated intention. The world presented a different palate than the one I'd initially imagine I'd be painting on. Success or failure? Why should this question matter?

I ended my writing year with my SetTheory Series within which I focused upon producing something in addition to writing. I produced a house concert, delivered before the end of the quarter, and so even the harshest judge might deign my efforts successful even without reviewing my writing which, while not the stated purpose, certainly remained the sustaining one. While I was diligently preparing to perform my house concert, I was always writing about the effort. I focused one installment each week upon The Muse's cancer treatments. By the end of that quarter, I felt exhilarated as well as exhausted, and I'd finished another story with ninety installments. That series seems as though it was as successful as The Muse's treatment, which was wildly so. So what?

I see that I cannot render my history into any present such that any status judgement makes any sense as a measure of it. Success or failure seem equally irrelevant if one engages in an infinite game. I have been producing little installments, each independent, each related, which accumulate into uncollated manuscripts which will very likely never be published into physical books. Am I then a successful author? My grandson Roman last summer asked me who I worked for, a simple enough question for a ten year old to ask, but an impossible one for his seventy-one year old grandfather to even grasp. It was perfectly reasonable to presume that if it doesn't produce money it's not successful. It's more difficult to explain how it's successful because it doesn't even try to produce a cash flow.

I spent my early morning writing time this morning revisiting my recent past, a past I've preserved but not previously partaken of. My larder's full, too, shelves over-crowded with preserved harvests. I some days suspect that I put up those jars for practice, not for nourishing anything but my spirit. The seasons and their inevitable produce seem finite only from within narrow perspective. Beyond that, over years and decades, they produce another infinite which probably lies beyond the judgement of any season, any finite success-or-fail reasoning. I will continue my daily practice of feeding my infinite story and only rarely slow to perform any Retrospecting. I imagine most judgement irrelevant, even mine. The meta game's more infinite and much more significant.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved






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