“I’m Doing the Best I Can”

For my birthday last year, a friend gave me a book, one that I probably would not have bought for myself because it’s a memoir. I don’t tend to read memoirs. But I loved the title: All the Way to the Tigers. Who wouldn’t be intrigued? And the author’s name rang a bell—Mary Morris. I checked to see what else she had written and recalled that many years ago, I had read one or two of her novels. So, I thanked my friend and looked forward to reading the book.

When the book finally reached the top of my to-read pile, my anticipation was rewarded. Morris is an excellent writer, and this is not a typical memoir. She largely focused on two times in her recent past, a bad accident in 2008 when she shattered her ankle, and then the trip she took to India—all the way to the tigers—a few years later. Interspersed were ruminations on her childhood and her parents; the wonderful story of how she met and fell in love with her husband; and other tidbits, particularly information about tigers. About two-thirds of the way through is a brief section, a few paragraphs, that doesn’t connect with what comes immediately before or after, and that contains the quote pictured above. I read it once and then read it again. And again. And bookmarked it. And wrote it down in my book journal.

To quote the beginning of the passage: “The Tahitians don’t have a word that means ‘art.’ The closest expression in their language translates to something like ‘I’m doing the best I can.’”

That’s it. Not, as Morris notes, perfection. Your art requires only that you do the best you can. And then there’s her writing goal: “write a good scene every day or so.” This is significant. No, you don’t have to write like William Faulkner, or Toni Morrison, or Maggie O’Farrell, or whoever your writing hero is. (O’Farrell is mine.) And you don’t have to write for hours every day. You don’t have to write twenty pages every day. Challenge yourself to write one good scene a day. And then write another one the next day. And even if it’s not a “good” scene, don’t stop writing. Go back and try again.

It’s the best we can do.

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In which I blog about the days I write and the days I don’t write; about teaching about writing; about reading (which is never enough); and occasionally about music, because sometimes a three-minute song can tell as good a story as a novel.

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