TGU on process and result
Sunday, April 11, 2021
3:35 a.m. All right, friends, you wanted a fresh start before addressing Sue’s question to me of last Wednesday that – the ILC group joked – fried the power in my internet connection.
[Sue’s question: “Frank. What did you feel or think before you redirected attention to Deb and away from a focus on Papa’s Trial. Is this something that happens at other times to you around success?”]
You have the floor.
Tell it as you see it.
Re the specific situation, I thought it more important that we concentrate on the healing, as that was immediate and in that sense more important. I didn’t mean that promoting my book had no place or shouldn’t be done, merely that the healing effort be concentrated on first. And I was immensely pleased that they should want to help with the book. I hadn’t experienced that before. [That is, a group, rather than individual, intent to help.]
So do you think Sue was intuiting a connection that didn’t really exist? That is, did she misread your motivation?
Re the immediate situation, maybe. Re the larger pattern, no, I think she sensed something. And if I didn’t think so for any other reason, the fact that you asked for some time and space to talk about it, rather than merely saying, “No, she was mistaken,” would have told me all I need to know. So, as I say, you have the floor.
And as you also know, we will use the specific question as a jumping-off place for a larger question, and perhaps it will have its application for others besides yourself.
I’d be surprised if it didn’t, given how publicly the question was raised. It wouldn’t have been accompanied by somebody’s little electrical drama.
Let us, then, redirect Sue’s question somewhat, and ask it this way: Do you customarily redirect helpful energies away from your own potential success, for whatever reason, and, if so, why do you do it? That is, how does it serve you to do so?
Stated that way, perhaps you can see that it requires a couple of definitions. “Success,” for one.
And I imagine you are prepared to furnish one.
Recalibrate, now. You, and any who read this, because it will pay you to look at the subject slowly, deeply, rather than merely skimming along the surface saying, “Yes, I agree,” or “No, that isn’t right.” Your attitude toward your own answer is much less interesting than toward the question. (And clearly it will be different for each of you, in that each of your lives will present you with choices that offer different opportunities, given that the same question will operate in different contexts.) So look at this slowly, thoughtfully, feeling your way.
To begin with, what is success? It will present itself in different guise, will contain different elements, person by person, according to their values. Surely this is obvious. What is food for one is poison for another. But the internal essence of success is always the same. It flows.
It flows. As opposed to stagnates, I suppose.
You like the Greek definition of happiness that Kennedy liked to quote.
I do, but I can’t quote it very exactly. More or less: the exercise of one’s abilities along lines of excellence in a life affording them scope.
Flow, you see. That definition may be looked at as applying to result, or as applying to process, or as applying to both. Depending upon how you look at it, what it tells you changes.
Yes, I see that. When I write, and the writing flows well, that is success in terms of process regardless what happens to whatever I have written. And I don’t see how anyone could have success in result without success in process. I mean, what would there to be succeed? It would be hollow.
Confining the argument to you, for the moment, can we say your work has succeeded as process?
Yes. You can always wish you had done more, or done better, or even done other, but the result is there on my bookshelf, flawed as it necessarily is. And beyond the books are the blog and the community I have become part of, these 30 years. I know what it is like to have my work not flow: my computer programming years, for instance, and most of my life in most respects when not connected with learning and practicing of greater communication with larger parts of myself. Perhaps the times we don’t connect are necessary for us to be able to recognize the difference when we do.
Nor is it only a matter of when.
No, also a matter of “Where.” Other parts of my life may be stagnation or frustration or blankness. But you asked about my work.
As a tangent for those it affects, we would say: Consider carefully which part of your life is your work and which is not. Is it possible that your entire life should be considered one intricate many-chambered body of work, some of which is easier to address than others?
So, Frank, if you consider your life to have crowned your process with success, what of the result? That is, your process produced tangible results. How do you feel about their reception in the world?
Well, that has been a deep disappointment, stemming from the thing that happened to Messenger. I guess I have long since given up expecting anything much better.
Perhaps you might sketch what happened. You never have, and perhaps expressing it – that is, pressing it out of you – will clear the pipes.
Perhaps. In 1979 I wrote the first draft of Messenger, my first completed novel, in a couple of months. But I didn’t know what to do with it, and anyway it wasn’t quite right. I wound up rewriting it three more times in the years following, until it was a very different book than the one I had thought of first. In time after Bob Friedman and I had started Hampton Roads Publishing Company, I became friends with Danny Lliteras, a local author whose first novel I liked a lot (which we subsequently published, along with subsequent works). I let him read the typescript and he liked it but said I had never given prospective publishers a fair chance at it, since I had given them a hard-to-read physical typescript. He generously offered to act as my agent, and presented it to a couple of New York houses, specifically the house that had published Lost Horizon in 1932, given that Messenger was written as a sequel to that book.
They turned it down – and subsequently published a different sequel that Danny was convinced was inspired by my having given them the idea. Maybe so, maybe no. In any event, I finally decided to have HRPC publish it, even though this had something of the stigma of self-publishing, which in those days was on the other side of the great divide between legitimate publication and vanity press. (I could feel the situation changing, but our ideas usually take a while to catch up with changes in the external world.)
So here is what happened after we published it. My friend John Nelson (who was working for us as advertising manager within the marketing department) submitted Messenger to a contest for the new age novel that best sustained an atmosphere – and Messenger won. In due course I had a query from a German television company, wanting to buy the rights to make a film of it, changing the protagonists to an ex-Nazi, which might have worked very well, actually – only they wanted assurance that we had the right to use the characters from Lost Horizon. So I blithely contacted the James Hilton estate and in return got a threatening letter claiming that I had no right to sue them, and demanding that we not reprint the book, that we cease selling it, and that we give them the royalties that would have accrued.
I see, writing this, how deep the hurt was: Neither Bob nor Ginna Colburn (who was a lawyer) were willing to fight for the book. I was pretty sure that characters per se couldn’t be copyrighted – how many Sherlock Holmes novels like The Seven Percent Solution have there been? – but I was not a lawyer, and I was disheartened that nobody wanted to fight for the book. So we gave in, without even trying to find out if we were on firm ground, and Messenger died stillborn. I don’t think I ever got over it, even though I got more than a dozen books into print, including three other novels. Hampton Roads published Muddy Tracks, then I self-published four books, then Bob published six more. But Messenger was dead.
That explanation ran long, and we’re already well past our hour, but I don’t want you to stop.
Do you feel a difference, having spelled out your emotional reaction to that event, even though so far no one has seen it (and hence you could still conceal it)?
I suppose I feel even more clearly than before that I have had this subconscious assumption that external success would be held away from me.
Much like, “I will be misunderstood”?
So you settled for success as process and regretted (but expected) failure as result.
I suppose, but it isn’t that simple.
No. So tell about Thoreau and Walden.
This part, I have had not at the periphery of my consciousness, but at the forefront. He wrote Walden and he knew what he had accomplished. Walden is a world classic, a masterpiece. I suppose it is becoming a bit dated now, because much of it will be opaque to people who don’t have a picture of the 1840s in New England, but it is a classic – and, he knew it even at the time. But when it was not a commercial success (he was assumed to be merely copying Emerson) he wrote to himself in his journal that perhaps it was just as well, as it left his privacy intact. A lot of people read that as sour grapes, but I knew – reading that comment when I was 24, before I had begun writing – I knew that he meant it, and that it was true. His life was not designed to be a carbon copy of Emerson’s. It had its own path, its own story arc, and he had perception enough to see it. Emerson was for years frustrated to see Thoreau’s external success so slight; said Thoreau’s fault was a want of ambition. But Henry knew what was good for him and what wasn’t. And now that I have nearly reached three quarters of a century in years, it still seems to me, as it has seemed for decades, that much or most of what is called success wouldn’t suit me, and would in fact detract from my life. Yet at the same time, it has been frustrating to see the work per se meet so limited a response.
As we said, success in process, failure in result, and it came not “by accident,” but as a direct result of this internal conflict.
Only now I am not working alone.
Exactly. Also, you are in your final moments and it is time to secure the work lest it be forgotten.
And all this really applies to more people than only me?
Everybody has internal conflicts. Everybody potentially connects to another person’s story. You can’t predict it, nor is it important. But yes, in a word, it applies to more people than only you.
So is this mostly to clear the ground so that I may whole-heartedly accept the help others offer?
Well, what do you think?
I think you had me do most of the work, and I thank you for it.
There is more that can be said, but 90 minutes and so many pages is enough for the moment.
I’ll say! Till next time, then.