Saturday, July 11, 2015

Just Do What is in Front of you

I've been reading David Carr's commencement speech to UC Berkeley School of Journalism. I like to read commencement speeches by people I like, and he was one of them. He died of metastatic lung cancer, worked till the end - was found in the NY Times newsroom February 12, 2015. This talk was published three days later - a fitting monument.
David Carr

In it he refers to the places where the homeless congregate as "open-air mental health wards."  Here's another passage in which he tries to inspire those journalist kids to look for the story somebody has to do, meaning research it, write it, get it published.
Right now there are people who are spending enormous amount of times deciding what kind of car to get because they have so much money they don’t know where to put it, but because it’s San Francisco they don’t want to buy a car that’s going to make them look like they’re rich. That’s their real problem, is trying to figure out how do they manage the optics of being wealthy? Very young people, very rich people, driving through — as I pointed out — open-air mental health wards. I think somebody should do a story about that.
Somebody should do a story about why we tolerate the disparity of wealth in this country, and the "open-air mental health wards," the gatherings of the homeless. Maybe he's talking to me. There is a story I know mental health wards. I've written a little here about my own journey pretty much on my own through the mess we call the mental health system of America. Maybe I haven't written enough. Maybe having a life with this chronic illness was a heroic journey worth telling.

I just finished Cheryl Strayed's Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, reading it, not writing it - wish I had. She inspired me to go read some of her column Dear Sugar on The Rumpus and then order an encouraging coffee mug so obscene that I'll hide it from my house cleaners. After that, just wanting to keep enjoying the book, I read an intelligent article by another smart, talented woman, Kathryn Schulz, that suggested one reason Wild is so popular is that it is a record of a pilgrimage. I love that word, don't you? I had a friend who wanted to take one, and the internet was getting in her way in her life, and she disappeared from it, and then I had to change my email, so I don't know. Connie, are you out there?

A pilgrimage may seem like a walk to your Holy City or a year at Walden Pond, but it is always a journey to yourself. With a serious mental illness you don't go from having lost yourself to being perfectly found, despite what some writers want to tell you; once bipolar, always bipolar. You journey from bowled over by a life-threatening illness to learning to function, then to looking for a life.

Some of the things Strayed writes about are devastating even to read. I don't now that I would be able to write about them, or to relive my own story. Like many MI, I am emotionally sensitive. The past is too near to me as it is.

Near the end of that speech, Carr pounded away at his theme. "Just do what is in front of you. Don’t worry about the plot to take over the world. Just do what is in front of you, and do it well. . . . Just do what is in front of you. Don’t worry about the plot to take over the world. Just do what is in front of you, and do it well." That's so Zen. If you don't think it is, after that he says, "Be present."

Artist Kiki Smith at work

Above, an artist who is quoted as saying much the same thing; this happened my way on Facebook today.  ""Just do your work. And if the world needs your work it will come and get you. And if it doesn't, do your work anyway." 


  1. I love the The Dalai Grandma. Every blog has something that I feel compelled to write into my journal. Except that I write so much of your blog, I feel that I should print out and start collecting them and keep in a binder. Your blogs are so often helpful as to where I am in my day to day inner conversations.

    1. Thank you so much, Lori. This is very en-couraging.

    2. I love the Dalai Grandma, too. And I also find myself in your writing, Jeanne. I'm so grateful.

      I'm a Strayed fan. Her book, Dear Sugar (based on her column) nudged me...wait, no kick started my writing. In Carr fashion. She said to forget the world of excuses (not good or prepared enough). Just write like a motherfu*&er.

      And Kiki. Oh yes. Jeanne, I had a nice Kiki experience. I was in yoga class and noticed the tattooed stars on the back of a woman in front of me. Then it clicked. It's Kiki. (Kiki is adorned with constellation!) It was. After class, we went across the street and did ginger shots chased by a swallow of orange juice.

    3. Susan, it's always so nice to hear from you. There are yellow daisies blooming rather weedily in front of your old house, so I think of you and wonder if you planted them.....I am reading Dear Sugar now, and keep being impressed by her wisdom, and so young. She has also done a lot to open up our vocabulary.