Friday, January 18, 2008


Which is not to be confused with redundancy, though they may come together often.

Things repeat. We must go back to the same tasks again and again--we have to wash the dishes every time we use them; and of course we keep using them because we have to eat. We wake up in the morning; we go to sleep at night. These repetitions are part of the natural patterns to which we belong; they are part and parcel of who we are.

But the repetition can become difficult--whether simply boring, dull and tedious, or downright onerous. We may be trying to remake our lives, but how much really changes from day to day? Not too much, at least not on most days in most of our lives. Usually we wake up in the same bed we did the day before, and the weather is usually much like it was the day before, and our home is furnished in the same way it was before.

More personally, we feel the same way we did the day before--our prospects for the future, our health, our outlook, our projects for the day--our most basic experience of the world is basically repetitive.

It's easy to get locked into looking at this repetition as a bad thing. We want to grow, to change, and always to improve our situation. We dream of becoming rich or famous or respected or powerful or loved or whatever or all of these. And the repetition belies this.

Yet, where would we be without this repetition: stability is necessary in our lives. What would we do if each day we woke up and the people around us were speaking a different language than the day before? What if what we could eat changed everyday? What if the people around us were always new? If we always had to do a new job? Novelty has its pleasures, but such novelty, I think, would be unbearable to all.

At the same time, we need to remember that there are many subtle changes that follow us through our lives, for example the smaller shifts in our health or in other aspects of our lives. People tend to generalize--it's natural to do so--but our generalizations tend to focus on certain aspects to the exclusion of others. Some changes occur slowly, and so they're only visible to careful observation. That slowness can often be frustrating itself.

We work on our writing project, and it progresses so slowly. And each day, the problems are very much the same as the problems were the day before. It can be easy to become frustrated at the repetition, but we need to look for the growth and the small changes within the large picture to keep us moving.

I suppose I write this because I'm frustrated myself. My writing continues to be plagued by the same problems; my writing process continues to be plagued by the same problems; other aspects of my life, too, seem to be mired. The repetition is wearing me down. And yet I know that within that apparent repetition there are many significant changes, small changes, it is true, but changes that are observable, especially when I look back to the person I was last year or three years ago or more.

So much of our human potential is locked up in our ability to focus beyond the immediate repetition to the larger change that we can create in incremental ways.

If you need your writing project to change radically in a single day, you're setting yourself up for some days of disappointment. But if you can set yourself to work and persevere even in the face of apparent repetition and stagnation, then the progress comes.

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