Equanimity Required

Update on the re-fi saga: It looks like it’s back on the table. I went back to the bank, and it seems they overlooked something that threw things back in my favor. Which was awesome. When my loan rep told me, I was ecstatic.

Then, as I walked back to work–I realized that the profound, even debilitating, disappointment I’d felt the week before was due to the fact that I had let myself get ecstatic before. I’d engaged in future thinking, not just counting, but reveling, in my chickens before they hatched. This was fun, but engaging in the emotional high was what had opened the door to the emotional low.

Finding the correct amount of future thinking (my own made up term that for all I know means something else entirely) is a difficult thing. Certainly it’s required for motivation. Motivational speakers and authors say that you need to visualize your future to solidify your goals and galvanize your movement toward those goals. But at the same time, over-engaging can be destructive to those same goals. While Paul seems to relishes future thinking, and it doesn’t seem to raise too many demons for him creatively, I’m not the same way. I have to play a little game with myself, averting my eyes from possible futures. If I look at my hopes and dreams too directly, the intensity of hope vs fear paralyzes me. I do better work if I lay out a few steps at a time, and then walk the path with blinders that block out the pie in the sky.

In screenwriting, the thing you most want to do is ramp up the audience’s hope vs fear for the protagonist. This is the primary tool for creating engagement. So it’s perhaps ironic, or at least amusing to me, that in my own life, I can’t stomach the emotional engagement enough to be my own protagonist. Disfunctional? Maybe, but on the other hand, when you watch movies, the protagonist is almost always yanked out of her daily life. While she might escape from aliens or mobsters, or prevent the world from blowing up, she can’t, at the same time, balance her checkbook or get her daily quota of pages written.

So over-engaging in hopes and fears, is kind of counterproductive in this way, especially if you are dealing with outcomes that you can’t control. I can work to set something in motion, but in the end, it’s not my call whether I get approved for a loan or not–and obviously, the verdict can change overnight. While I have to continue to take every step I can to achieve a desire outcome, to over-engage in hope of the desired result, or flail in the fear of the opposite only makes me vulnerable.

So this was the conversation I had with myself as I walked back from the bank, and it turned out to be timely conversation, because late this evening (I’m delaying this post to comply with confidentiality), I checked my email, discovered I’m a semifinalist for the Amazon Studios annual prize for best script. The prize, $100,000, would be a life-changing amount at this point.

I could start itemizing how, but I won’t.

Because the more I engage in the hope, the more I can already feel the sense of loss when I don’t see my name on the finalist list, or whatever comes after that–and that’s not a good place for me to be, when what I need to do, in the big scheme of things, is write.

I’m happy that when I checked my email tonight, I was writing. And I was working on the project that is in the competition. That felt right, as if being on that semifinalist list is an outcome in itself– it’s symbolic of the opportunities I already have with this script.

I was also glad I mid-writing session when I saw the announcement, because when I am writing, writing feels like the first thing–and everything else feels secondary. Thus the impact of the announcement was mitigated, which I prefer. That’s a relationship I hope to sustain between my writing, and all the worldly things that surround it. Not because I think that’s morally better, but because of my particular make-up, which doesn’t have a big tolerance for excessive highs and lows.

(P.S. If you know me in real life, please don’t congratulate me on my semi-finalist status yet–I’ll be trying not to think of pink elephants. After I get axed, I’ll let you know, and feel free to tell me how great it was to get this far–I think so too!)

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