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Page Two: Hymn to My Own

The untalented, the ungifted, the slow, and the lost

By Louis Black, Fri., March 20, 2009

There are a lot of ways to live, goals to strive for, strategies to achieve those goals, and the widest range of emotional tunings one can set, as well as deciding pace, purpose, trajectory, community, and so on. This is stating an obvious fact; neither by design nor tone is it intended to imply that one need seek my or anyone's permission to do anything, nor is this column insisting on rules or dictating guidelines.

Instead, this is one of those inane disclaimers needed because of the purposefully oblivious responses this column too often receives. These do not attempt to rebut any arguments but instead simply try to disenfranchise the entire column by claiming that, merely by stating ideas, I've engaged in a dictatorial, fascistic imposition of my beliefs above all others: "Do you really think you can just shut down your readers' cognitive process with the same old 'conspiracy' mantra, Mr. Quasi-Liberal Alternative Weekly Editor?" Huh? Think about this: According to that complaint, by presenting a position with which I expect some significant percentage of readers to disagree, most to neither agree nor disagree completely, and, if any, a very much smaller number of readers to mostly agree, I'm trying to stop Chronicle readers from thinking!

This letter-writer is absolutely right. I just throw around the term "conspiracy theorists" because it is a magic word that stops people from thinking. I apologize, recognizing the error of my ways. Therefore, I'll return to the much more accurate and less derogatory label "conspiracy hobbyists."

To clarify further: If what follows sounds like a mandate or command, it isn't. Instead, it is just a reaction to the intoxication caused by the creative energy and celebration of ideas that surround South by Southwest.

If you make a decision about doing something or about how to live or to pursue some project, lead with your chin. Some may caution that this is an exceedingly bad strategy, suggesting one should make small forays instead, consolidating territory before opening oneself up to full, retaliatory assault.

If you put yourself on the line for anything – a project, an idea, a person, a community – there is rarely a safe, quiet way to make it to that goal. Over time, the only consistent successful strategy is the rope-a-dope. Take whatever is heaped upon you, but keep on going. Every time you get knocked down, just get right back up, past the point of reason.

Accomplishment, almost never easy, is rarely achieved without significant setbacks and derailments along the way. Fortunately, from early on I was blessed by a near-complete lack of talent, accompanied by absolutely no skill sets.

There was a sense of doom attached to anything I started out to do. It wasn't even that other people expected me to fail, as that expectation could only be nursed if there was a seed – even if only the tiniest one – of possibility. Even I knew that my attempts were futile; before I began, I abandoned all hope and never housed any expectations.

Instead, with stupidity and inability as my running buddies, I plodded forward. When I failed – and I always failed – I'd just get up again. Just try to move forward again.

In so many ways, that is the great secret. Rarely does one start out at the beginning of a voyage with the skills and knowledge of a veteran traveler. Only in the most extraordinary cases is there a premature flowering.

If I had known better, I would have given up. If I were smarter, I would have retreated. If one starts a band, attempts a movie, stages a play, then there is only one direction to move: forward. One should be neither guided by experience nor fueled by dreams. Consistent, bone-crushing failure only deters the rational, while reasonable ambition is the worst restraint.

To dance, one must move; to sing, one must open his mouth. To achieve, one must dream; to reach for the sky, one must abandon the rational.

In this season of SXSW, the only advice I offer is that everything, from the greatest to the least, demands step by step. Few leap; probably fewer should. Self-restrictions, fear of embarrassment, desire to avoid being mocked, expectation of support, and dependence on accomplishment are not signposts on your journey but advice on how to end it.

My life has been saved by rock & roll and movies, by friends and writing, by sleeping and dreaming. Starting down the path without hope or belief, but simply a determination to keep moving forward, is a perfect form of grace. Giving up is the most certain self-fulfilling prophecy.

Admire others, but don't worship. Ultimately, the only guide for real achievement is how you feel about your work and yourself at the end of each day and at the beginning of the next.

Lead with your chin, with your heart. If crushed, rise up; if detoured, return; and if stopped, begin again. If in love, love. The only way to go the distance is to mark off no distance gone.

Nothing is easy, little is impossible, and movement accumulates. Needing neither belief nor vision, perseverance triumphs – though only on its own timetable.  

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