Thursday, October 9, 2008

Wouldn't it be great if...? (2)

There are, of course, so many things that would be great. Some of them don't work out the way we hope. We try to write an idea out, or we show our written work to someone, or whatever. We don't get the result we were hoping for. And not only that, but we do get a clear indication that the thing we thought would be great, isn't going to work out.

It's great to have dreams. It's also important to be able to let go of the dreams that have failed. Not to let go of dreams generally--life would be rather awful if we had no hopes for the future--but to recognize that some dream won't work out: maybe that experiment you tried didn't give useful results, or the argument you presented turned out to have a flaw, or the structure you chose didn't please your professor, or whatever. What do you do then?

Wouldn't it be great if we could always look on those efforts as learning opportunities instead of as failures or referenda on our personal character?

We have to try new things if we are to grow and keep from avoiding the problems of the past. Wouldn't it be great if we could remember that? It's hard to let go of a dream that has failed, but better to let go of it and pursue another dream. Which is one good reason to exercise our "wouldn't it be great if..."

I'm thinking of this subject of keeping focused on the positive future outcomes partly because I have not been getting outcomes that I want in some of my efforts, but more because I was talking with a writer who was concerned about some of the outcomes she was getting in her work process.

On one level, I had looked at her outcomes and tried to see the positive in them. On another level I had looked at the outcomes as indications of new perspectives to examine and new practices to experiment with.

I wonder, actually, whether this might be the interface between two imaginative exercises: on the one hand there is the speculative "wouldn't it be great if", and on the other the retrospective spin of "isn't it great that..." where we take the presumed bad outcome (e.g., "I was rejected") and spin it into "isn't great that I was rejected." Now that's an imaginative exercise that takes some skill. It's said that Edison, faced with the failure of another experimental light bulb, would say that he had learned another way not to make a light bulb. That is positive spin: not "I failed in my goal" but "I learned something that will forward me toward my goal."

Wouldn't it be great if we could exercise our ability to re-imagine our past in terms of "isn't it great if."

I realize that I have reached a high degree of uncritical optimism here. While I do believe in the value of what I have said above, I recognize that the "wouldn't it be great if" exercise can't be all we use to think about the world.

In the spirit of the post, I include the lyrics to a classic Monty Python song.

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Some things in life are bad,
They can really make you mad,
Other things just make you swear and curse,
When you're chewing life's gristle,
Don't grumble,
Give a whistle
And this'll help things turn out for the best.

Always look on the bright side of life.
Always look on the light side of life.

If life seems jolly rotten,
There's something you've forgotten,
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing.
When you're feeling in the dumps,
Don't be silly chumps.
Just purse your lips and whistle.
That's the thing.

Always look on the bright side of life.
Always look on the right side of life,

For life is quite absurd
And death's the final word.
You must always face the curtain with a bow.
Forget about your sin.
Give the audience a grin.
Enjoy it. It's your last chance, anyhow.

Always look on the bright side of death,
Just before you draw your terminal breath.

Life's a piece of shit,
When you look at it.
Life's a laugh and death's a joke it's true.
You'll see it's all a show.
Keep 'em laughing as you go.
Just remember that the last laugh is on you.

Always look on the bright side of life.
Always look on the right side of life.

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