Remembering What We’ve Accomplished

On Friday, President Obama had this to say when visiting Hiroshima, Japan:

Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds, to cure disease and understand the cosmos, but those same discoveries can be turned into ever more efficient killing machines. The wars of the modern age teach us this truth. Hiroshima teaches this truth. Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.

His thoughts are my thoughts too, this Memorial Day. Technology does have a way of finding its own worst use.

Indeed, I’ve been thinking a lot about where we’ve been and where we are, and where we are headed, as a nation and as a society.

Maybe it’s too much thinking. But we are all living with some measure of discomfort.

It can’t be too much to ask that we could be putting our efforts toward making things just a bit better.

Writing is a Crap Shoot

I want to let you in on something that I’ve learned the hard way: writing is a crap-shoot.

Case in point: Elizabeth Gilbert is the best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love. I have not read anything she’s written, but I’m sure she’s a fine writer. Fine enough to impress the editors at Esquire magazine, where one of her unsolicited manuscripts was pulled from the slush pile and published–a dream that most writers can only hope to achieve. That one event catapulted her into a career as a writer.

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Actual rejection slip from an editor (I have many).

It does not mean that she is a remarkably better writer than all the tens of thousands who silently toil with no success. Let’s all admit that she got lucky.

And about editors–they are human too. They have feelings, they have biases, and they make mistakes. They can be arrogant, misguided, and sometimes they cheat, steal, and lie. But they are the guardians of the gate, and they will exercise their power to either make someone’s career or make sure that a writer is never heard from again.

Recently, I submitted a short essay to the Washington Post Magazine. For a few years, they have been running a regular feature where the essayist describes a small, seemingly unimportant object that has significant meaning for them. After six months (editors are soooo busy), I finally received a response from an editor. He declined my essay, giving the reason that, while it was a “powerful” story about my grandfather, “there’s not a particular narrative about the object in question–which enters late in the piece.” (I subsequently self-published the essay here.)

Quietly, I accepted his explanation, believing that my essay just didn’t meet the magazine’s standards. I don’t know what constraints exist in the magazine’s editorial processes, and figured that if I studied other published essays, I’d understand what he meant.

Yet, in a recent issue, an essay was published that included everything that this editor said was wrong with mine.

When editors contradict themselves so blatantly, it’s hard for me to take any of them seriously.

If anyone tells you that there is a writing community–a network of support where writers find strength–then they are lying. Writers and editors eat their own, and secretly (or not so secretly) rejoice in the failure of other writers.

A few years ago, I realized that I wanted needed writing to be a significant part of my life. The need is there, the drive and desire. Maybe it is just that I don’t have the talent. Or maybe that I’ve started too late, that I have too many other competing interests in my life, that I don’t have the time and the space necessary for proper reflection.

I continue to roll the dice, hoping that I may get that magic combination that will take me to the next level. But it’s possible that I will never find out.

Take a Survey: Attitudes about work and life

People have various attitudes about work and life. Some are enthusiastic about their careers while others are much less so. Some are optimistic about life while others find it a struggle.0206150838

Individuals, of course, are the product of a complex set of unique variables. But larger groups, affected by similar social and economic forces, tend to share similar views (called the “cohort effect”). These generations may collectively have attitudes about work and life that are noticeably different from each other.

Below is a link to a quick survey (three questions) that I hope will shed some light on this.

Let me know what you think in the comments section of this post. I will share the results at a future date.

Twenty-five Years of Nothing

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On the eve of my 25-year college reunion, something struck me in a recent article in the Washington Post, something that made me take notice:

The first decade of the 21st century produced two recessions and two “jobless recoveries,” and when it was over, the vast majority of Americans found themselves no better off than they were a quarter-century ago.

This is the career landscape into which I and my classmates graduated. Hopes of finding meaningful work have all but evaporated over time. We are now just trying to get by.

I’m not struggling, by any means. I and my wife have healthy incomes. But we have two children nearing college age. We live in a modest house with a modest mortgage. We have two modest cars. We go into debt to take a modest vacation once in a while. I’ve been laid off once, so far.

In contrast, by the time he was my age, my father was the president and part owner of a company in San Francisco that employed hundreds of workers. There is no way I will ever reach that mark now.grads

Nor will anyone of my generation. As I have said elsewhere, people who graduated from college between 1989 and 1992 have, for the most part, vanished from the public sphere. It does not mean that we are not smart enough, or talented enough, or ambitious enough. Rather, it has everything to do with the economy.

And, for those of us who are doing reasonably well monetarily, we are paying in other ways: lack of career advancement. We will shuffle through our mid-level jobs, never rising to our potential. There are consequences to that.

We are part of America too, so our story is America’s story. The Post article wraps up with this:

[America] has waited decades for middle-class jobs to come back, through a loop cycle of political bickering, to no avail.

I can vouch for that.

Ahead is All in Darkness

I’ve lost my vision.

Not my actual vision, but rather my view of the future, the one that guides me forward. I can’t see it anymore.

All the light is behind me, shining on where I’ve been. I can see it much more clearly. And I spend my day looking over my shoulder, thinking of what’s past.

Ahead is all in darkness.