Being great isn't about the end

Notes on the struggle

“Sometimes I think you ain’t got the sense God gave a lemon.”

My grandparents used to love to watch the movie Driving Miss Daisy.

It’d been 20 years since I’d watched it, myself. But after Ted Lasso wrapped up I was hungry for something else with heart, so I started hunting classics and found it again.

It’s a small movie.

Sliced finely, not much happens: two stubborn people learn to rely on one another over the course of 25 years.

They start old, and get older.

There’s a lot to say about the story’s time period, and the undercurrent of American race relations, but that’s not what I love about the movie.

What I love is its subtlety. Nothing happens—but everything happens.

All those scenes that look like nothing are life.

With so many movies, you could watch the first few minutes, and the last few, and get the gist of things. The middle is fun, but not essential.

Driving Miss Daisy isn’t like that. Skip the middle, and you get:

  • a proud old rich lady who wrecks her car

  • an old man feeding the old lady pumpkin pie

It’s a reminder how much the middle matters in the best stories.

How much is really happening—even if we don’t notice it.

“Driving Miss Daisy,” Warner Bros.

Four quotes: from Bill Withers, Charlie Chaplin, Anne Lamott, and Harrison Ford.

One lesson.

The best writers aren’t the best at writing.

They’re just the ones who know that greatness happens in the middle . . .

  • Reminder: you won’t learn as much from success (so go easier on yourself when things don’t go to plan).

  • The best things are on the other side of fear (and I’d add consistency).

  • Incredible tweet from my friend Sean, on how we pretend to do the work by doing this instead.

  • And this incredible reminder about why we write. WHY we struggle. Because it’s to feel this. To help others feel it, too:

What about the student who is not good? Who will never write much? It is possible for a good teacher to get from that student one poem or one story that far exceeds whatever hopes the student had. It may be of no importance to the world of high culture, but it may be very important to the student. It is a small thing, but it is also small and wrong to forget or ignore lives that can use a single microscopic moment of personal triumph.

Richard Hugo, “The Triggering Town”
  • This week, I learned that my college writing professor and former state Poet Laureate, Cathy Smith Bowers, has a book out called The Abiding Image. It’s like reading her class lectures—and inspires me all over again. If you like inspiration, Cathy has your number. Find it on Amazon here.

  • Don’t hide the struggle. Show it. Share it.

  • Deep down, do you worry you’re playing too small?

  • A comment from Alan Moore on the genuinely helpful reaction to have, for when you want to cut to your feeling of triumph.

  • Brilliant (and reassuring) thoughts on struggle: What if your ambition outstrips your talent?

🧠 and ❤️