"There are two words when you compete that are interesting — 'Since' and 'Never.' I'm glad we're in the 'Since.' Let me leave it at that."
Coach Mike Krzyzewski
Duke’s in the Final Four and many a ticker on ESPN seems enamored with the fact that it’s been six years since Duke’s had a Final Four appearance. Many pundits point to this lull as a strike against Duke’s overall competence. No doubt, it’s a factoid other pundits use against many a team when they meet with success.
Coach K recently said, "There's a reason why not many people win these things over and over again. It's because it's very difficult. You have a different team each year…Since 2004 we've still gone to Sweet 16s. We've won as many games as anybody the last two years. You're not always going to win a national championship. You're not always going to get to a Final Four. Those are difficult things to do. As long as we're competing for it every year…So again, 'Since' and 'Never,' look at those words and see which category you'd rather be in. We like being in the 'Since' category."
Interesting fact: Duke’s been to the Sweet 16 11 times in the last 13 years.
In a similar critique of the impatience and skepticism of our culture, especially the media, President Obama said yesterday, "Can you imagine if some of these reporters were working on a farm? You planted some seeds and they came out the next day. 'Nothing's happened. There's no crop. We're gonna to starve. Oh, no! It's a disaster!'”
In the face of historic legislation, no matter what the verdicts centuries later will be, true wisdom advises: “Let’s wait and see.” Let things unfold in the now, and let the time for judgment come later.
So if my writing were held to the same standards as the pundits keep in politics and sports, I’d be told that it’s nice my next book (Teaching Julius Caesar) releases Monday, but, “Hey, it’s been THREE YEARS since your last book, AND that was with co-authors. So you’re telling me, you’re in your forties, and this is your FIRST book ever done solo?”
Why not instead, Wow, you’ve published three books since 2004, and, you tend to play well with others in order to get the job done?
It’s a flight of egotistical fantasy to claim I’m getting called on the carpet for anything. I’m no celebrity. But the voices in my head sound like the ones in the media. Those voices are eager to hate on any signs of success, and right now, no matter what your sports allegiances or your political affiliations, you can’t argue the fact K and Obama have been successful.
Perhaps my problem is that I keep staring at the nevers and not noticing the sinces.
If you knew from the age of seven your lifelong mission was to write stories, and your first one wasn’t published till you were 40, you might have some doubting voices in your head. See, I lead a dual life—my education writing and my fiction writing. The education writing brings great rewards, and while not an enterprise promising filthy lucre, I like to think my work helps teachers. I love to write lessons and constantly improve pedagogy. But fiction writing? A whole different beast. I work the craft daily, but the brass ring, the pot of gold, the Emerald City, it’s my Olympic challenge, and I’m not even Division 3 until after twenty-five revisions of a piece. Truly. I work for every word. And while I love, love, love the process, I sometimes feel many days that my sinces are slight and my nevers, overwhelming.
Even so, the writer must find joy in the moment. One must find the sinces and forget the nevers. The truth is, you can’t look outwards for reassurances of your competence, and you can’t look forwards with angsty impatience you may ultimately be a never.
I believe those who make it to the Final Four of writing are those who love the now and embrace what is.
And even if I had already written a YA series with the impact of Twilight, or a novel of the quality of Salinger, or how about literary fiction on par with Lahiri or Strout, the pundits, the critics, the haters would tell me it ain’t enough, and the echoing voices in my head would say much the same. Why else would those at the apex of society—celebrities of all stripes—struggle mightily with addictions? Maybe to escape all the voices?
Krzyzewski has 73 NCAA Tournament games—a record—to his name, and overall, 864. Then there are the three national titles and that little ol’ Olympic gold medal from the 2008 Games in Beijing. Even with all this, people still tell him his last few years are a lull, a dive, or a failure.
Us workaday writers, take note: shake off the inner and outer disdain. Look where you’ve been and where you are today. Love today. Don’t hate it. There are sinces to embrace, and if you really doubt, sit down at the desk, and start one, now.