In the first place, God created – wait a minute. That’s not how it started. (But it is an excuse to have a hyperlink to the Vatican, a first for me.) As a prelude to the August self-publishing workshop the other instructors and I had a meet & greet for potential students. We were there to tell them about the workshop, but as is common with human contact, information flowed the other way too. One of them pointed out that the phrase “In the first place” can be traced back to Ancient Greece where the first place referred to the home that housed the book (probably a scroll) where the topic was described and discussed. (If you find the attribution add it to the Comments below.) The argument could be abstract, but referring to the first place grounded it. Everything has a beginning. Listening to disparate items today emphasized that every day is a beginning as well. Every moment is an opportunity for change and progress. Hey portfolio, do you hear that? Today’s first place can lead to marvelous and positive change and progress.
I’ve lost count of the people that have taken my class in Modern Self-Publishing. Teaching the class is a joy because I witness passionate people with fascinating stories becoming empowered. Of course, I hope they all make progress with their projects, but they don’t have to report to me so I only hear about book launches informally. A recent attendee is celebrating the launch of her first book, The Last Supper Catering Company. The author is Michaelene McElroy who may be out shopping for a beret so she dress the stereotypical part of author. Congratulations! I’ll raise a toast after I’ve posted this entry. It should be cocktail time by then.
Celebrating completing a book and getting a copy in hand sounds like a finale, not a first step. For self-published works, the first time the book is available is the first time that steps can be made to sell the book and share the story. It is the transition from writer to author, the transition from artist to merchant.
It has become a cliche to say “every day is the first day of the rest of your life.” It is true, which is why the cliche persists. Yes, it is true, but so what? It is hard to disassociate where we are from how we got here. I’ve been reviewing my life choices a lot considering my reversal of financial fortune over the last eleven months. It took time, but I am finally spending more time asking “Where do I go from here?” instead of “What hit me back there?” and “How did I not see that coming?” Retrospection has been insightful, but it can’t change the past or where I am now. In my case, I continue to be amazed at the incredible unfortunate coincidences that piled up in my life. Sometimes I even chuckle at it because my recent history is so bizarre. If it was a movie script I’d critique it as too contrived and unbelievable. It has been far more productive to look at each day as In The First Place.
In the First Place – what I have going for me is; and then I list my talents, skills, resources, and opportunities. They all have histories. Opportunities exist because of years spent as an engineer, artist, consultant, volunteer and advocate; but focussing on the history doesn’t change my possible futures. Each moment is a First Place from which I take my next step, which becomes the new First Place.
Within the world of writers there is a long list of First Places that result in a book and a career. Decide to write. Start writing. Finish the rough draft. Read the rough draft. Edit the first draft. Repeat as necessary. Eventually, declare the manuscript complete. Decide how to publish. Publish. Deliver the manuscript. Receive a proof copy. Edit the proof. Deliver the proof. Repeat. Declare the proof good enough. Watch the book appear online. Receive the first copy. Receive the first sale. Start selling the book if that hasn’t already happened. Embark on book tours, signings, talks, and campaigns. And if luck and skill are aligned, make money. Each of those steps is worthy of a celebration as a completion and each of those steps is a First Place from which a new history flows.
My reaction to my personal finances switched a few months ago. For years I was making progress towards having “enough.” I’ve used various definitions of the term, but basically having “enough” means changing my personal label from semi-retired to retired. There are no guarantees that “enough” will always be enough, but I knew my target where I would relax significantly. I’ve been there before. I was close again when DNDN was trading at over $50. Now it is trading at below $7 despite making hundreds of millions of dollars. For months I agonized over how much farther I was from “enough.” I was working and living from what I lacked. Then I started looking at what I had and have. Given what I have, what can I do and where can I go from here? The more I lost the easier it was to turn positive because the fear of loss was worse than the loss.
I’d like to have more money from which to take my next step, and I am taking steps to make that happen. But as a writer I know that a manuscript can always be improved. As a photographer I know that more time with Photoshop can improve an image. As a pragmatist I know that the only way things get done is to use what’s available and proceed. (As a dreamer I also know that wishing may make dreams come true, but I think forcing dreams to fit a schedule may be counterproductive.) I have what I have.
We can lament how far removed from where we were as a society. There’s an example of how different we are from “America is the greatest country in the world.” It is from Aaron Sorkin’s new show, “Newsroom.” The clip (supposedly used with permission) is enough to entice me to sign up for the show, if I wasn’t objectively impacted so much by the consequences of deregulation and bad luck. I like the clip because it concisely exposes our situation; but, also because it ends with what we do about it. “The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one.”
I’m more of an optimist, and a not a screenwriter maximizing dramatic impact. The first step in improving anything is recognizing where the First Place is, and then deciding to step to a better place.
I hope we look back to now and say,
“Well, in the first place, Michaelene succeeded because she wrote The Last Supper Catering Company.”
“Well, in the first place, Tom succeeded because he built from what he had available.”
“Well, in the first place, we never would’ve improved the lives of people and the planet if we hadn’t recognized where we were and where we wanted to go.”