Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Point...

I started writing this blog when my grandfather died. It is still hard for me to believe he's gone. I keep thinking I can just drive three hours south and walk into his home to hear him playing piano in the familiar style that became the soundtrack of my life. He didn't know how to read the notes, so he read the keys--and isn't that like seeing the forest instead of the trees? No one could tell my grandpa what he couldn't do, because he didn't believe in that kind of talk. He had a little quotation taped to the side of his fridge, "Whether you think you can or can't, you're right." Henry Ford. Another acclaimed Michiganian.

I was sent a video today--a brief talk on Oprah by a Carnegie Mellon University professor--an abbreviated version of his Last Lecture. The man is Randy Pausch, and his Oprah talk was a small sampling of the 75 minute lecture given here, as a farewell to his students and CMU faculty.

Carnegie Mellon. Just saying those two words sparks such a joy in me. Once upon a time I attended CMU--three semesters of my life--and I had the most wonderful experiences! It was a pivotal time when I got very distracted and allowed one of the best gifts of my life to slip out of my fingers like sand. Do you have regrets in your life? Moments you wish you could relive? Recapture? Redo? I don't want to live a regret-filled life--I want to live intentionally. But, I do have one very large regret--not finishing at Carnegie Mellon. One of the most beautiful gifts I received at CMU was the miraculous friendship that remains with a dear man, who still lives in Pittsburgh, and is now a professor, himself, working through cancer with the youngest of his four children.

Leaving CMU isn't something I walk around daily bemoaning. But, it is a sadness in me. I wonder, often, could I ever return to finish those lessons given to me by Mark & Todd, my art & design professors, now that I "get" what they were trying to push into my stubborn brain? How I wish I could sit under their tutelage again. Could I enter more ready? More prepared? As an English, instead of an art major? What might I have done if I'd gleaned more from Professor Jim Daniels than our one magical poetry class together allowed?

I finally got my BA...so that part of things was eventually completed, but my degree is not from the esteemed CMU. And, I started a Master's Degree...but I did not finish it, because I had two children and put the Master's on (permanent?) hold.

Do you know? I don't have to leave that behind. I can pick that back up. I can finish it.

I've not been great at finishing in my life, but my wonderful mentor, John H. Motley, infused in me an understanding of the self-talk that can prevent us from success--it is how we define ourselves by our past failures, or misses. He would not want to hear me say, for example, "I am not a morning person," (or "I am not good at finishing things.") because that kind of talk closes the door on my ever being a morning person (or a finisher). I define myself in that statement. But, "I haven't always been a morning person," leaves open a window...

This talk I watched in its entirety today--Randy Pausch's Last Lecture--it had a strange effect on me. First I just viewed it as sort of an "OK, what's news about that? Be positive. Have fun. Dream big. Don't let the barriers impede your successes." The Happiness Makeover covered that, right? My grandpa covered that, right?

And, yes, the element of Pausch's lecture that made it extra interesting is that he is dying of pancreatic cancer...so he intended to pack into those 75 minutes all that he hopes to leave behind for his children--lessons he believes will grant them success, as he had in life. But, he had great bosses, great parents, and a lot of childhood smiles. So, when you weren't so blessed in life, how can one just say, "Oh, just look at barriers as opportunities to prove how much you want something?" What if your parents didn't let you paint your own room? What if they valued things over people? What if your childhood dreams didn't last all that long? As I watched his talks, I was critical of the pie-in-the-sky presentation from a man who essentially had so many things go well for him in life until he was diagnosed with cancer...

These are the lessons taught by Professor Pausch:
1. Brick walls are there for a reason: they let us prove how badly we want things.
2. Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.
3. Never lose the child-like wonder.
4. If we do something which is pioneering, we will get arrows in the back. But at the end of the day, a whole lot of people will have a whole lot of fun.
5. Be good at something; it makes you valuable.
6. If you live your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself, and the dreams will come to you.

My neighbor is struggling a lot right now--his wife was laid off in December, and the economy has hit them hard, now that he can only retain 20 hours a week of work as a cement truck driver. He said to me today that he goes to (Mormon) church every Sunday and gives his donation, and so he feels that they are blessed, since their church has a food kitchen outreach to them...

Karma. I just don't see the reality of Karma--Kushner would never have written the immortal, When Bad Things Happen To Good People, if Karma always worked.

So, after listening to Pausch, with no eternal purpose spoken of in his presentations, and to my neighbor, who thinks being a good person brings you good things...well, I am sitting here as midnight approaches wondering, what is the point?

I was reminded by our associate rector today that if I speak the words of scripture & Christian faith to others, but live a life that contradicts my words, then I will be a hypocrite. If, instead, I live a life that reflects the demonstration of my savior, but never give Him the credit, than I will be viewed as just another "good person." As one who wears the title "Christian," I must live a life balanced in words and deeds. So I wondered tonight, if I had to give my "Last Lecture" today, would it include any of the six points of Pausch's talk?

At the least, watching all 75 minutes of his presentation in the familiar lecture room of my once-college did make me want to chase after my childhood dreams again.

Among them was that I wanted to be a veterinarian--but real live vets discouraged me as a ten-year-old, because of the depressing euthanasia-factor of their profession. Then I wanted to be a children's book illustrator/writer. So, I collected books by Van Allsburg, and went to art school. I got so horribly side-tracked by love, that I ran off an almost married my distraction. Now, I am not really interested in revisiting the veterinarian deal...but the writing/illustrating...that isn't so far off!

I don't remember my parents' peers having the same make-up as mine--I have nearly a dozen friends who are published writers/illustrators/songwriters. How cool to be here, nearly forty, and know so many people who have done what they hoped to do...what I hoped to do! Yes, I self-published a CD of original music in 2000...but that was almost a decade ago. Where have I gone professionally since?

Do not berate me with comments about my children being my most important focus now, because I agree whole-heartedly! And, they are! Simultaneously, I wonder though, can I teach them a herculean lesson by FINISHING, and achieving, the dreams that I once dreamed?

Two books are in draft form...and have been for a while. What would it take to FINISH them?
1) a Tigger attitude (whoo-hoo-hoo-hoo!)
2) Champions--others who believe in me
3) Discipline--something I lacked as a nineteen-year-old at CMU--but grow more as I age
4) Time--carved out of some secret place where now I blog...I'd have to give up or wane this practice
5) Goals--bit by bit, I can
6) Research--understanding the steps to publication
7) Connections.

OK. How badly do I want it? How can I get over the wall(s)?

Now, you watch Pausch and tell me how he effects you!

2 comments:

Kevin said...

Great entry!! I've been there, I am there...
Whatever I can do to encourage and inspire let me know. If you need someone to read your drafts, I'd love to. Press on!!

ModMomMuse said...

Kevin,

Really appreciate you stopping by! Thank you for dropping a note. ;-D ~me