Working With What You Have

Some trees can't stand the sun's intensity.

Some trees can’t stand the sun’s intensity.

July is the hottest month for most Northern Hemisphere areas, and we often have 30 days of more than 110 degrees in the Sonoran Desert. Most of those over-hot days happen in July and August. Each year, I buy plants that say “full sun” on their needs. Now, “full sun” may mean 6 to 8 hours of sunshine, but it doesn’t mean the intense heat we have here. And each year I struggle to keep those plants alive. That makes as much sense as trying to keep the leaves on the trees in October in Vermont. It’s just not going to happen.

This morning I quit watering the straw those plants turned into and decided to put my efforts into the ones that could survive without a lot of extra work.

And that’s exactly what happens with your creativity, too. Put it in a place where it can’t possibly survive, and the struggle is ugly and non-productive.

Whether that’s a bad relationship, bad conference you feel you should have loved, bad project you thought would be great, or bad book you are reading, there are some efforts that won’t be rewarded. Goethe, the German thinker and poet, said “Die Arbeit ist nicht immer mit Erfolg gekrönt,” —Your work is not always guaranteed success. (I know it’s not the literal translation, the interpretation was called for here.)

A plant that thrives in the desert.

A plant that thrives in the desert.

So why not eliminate all those dead creative places that aren’t worth saving?  Sometimes it’s far more worthwhile to be very honest, determine that you do not have the stamina, strength, materials, smarts or spirit to make this project succeed, or even move forward. The smart thing to do is to stop pouring your effort into a bottomless pit and spend more of your effort doing something that will give you a better result.

Yes, this is different from stopping because you are bored or tired, or walking away from your job because there is something more appealing to go after.  Spend the precious water you have in the Sonoran desert to nurture the plant that can adapt to the desert. Put your energy behind the projects that will work. You will be better off for it.

–Quinn McDonald lives in the desert and is happily thriving.

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14 thoughts on “Working With What You Have

  1. This is just a tad spooky Quinn . . . how many of us out here are just waiting for a small shift in our lives or thinking, orchestrating events and circumstances, getting ready, itching to move on. The time is almost right for me . . . I can feel it building. It’s like waiting for the right season, the right moon, so I can plant the garden. An end, a beginning.

  2. Dear Quinn, Yes, you are a mind reader. Just yesterday I had been thinking of letting go of relationships that were never going to work. It is sad to give up, but it leaves room for new and exciting ventures. The mind is free from trying to understand why things won’t work. I look forward to your posts because you are able to articulate so well what I can’t. Every day I am nodding in agreement with your thoughts and not feeling so alone. Thank you.

  3. Well…this is a very tricky labyrinth. It can be awfully difficult to know what’s going to be successful, and what success means. A couple of pretty good reasons to stop pursuing a project are “it’s getting dangerous”, and “it turns out to be physically impossible”. And I am, if nothing else, something of an advocate of rationality.

    But rationality has its limits. Some of these are imposed by the nature of rationality itself; these can be shorthanded as “Gödel’s incompleteness theorem” (the longer version is…well, longer). Some are imposed by the shifting sand underlying *most* people’s rationality. These were best described by Will Rogers: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you; it’s what you do know that ain’t so.”

    There is something paradoxically triumphant in dogged pursuit of a doomed goal. Don Quixote (or the real-life Fray Bartolomé de las Casas). Henry Darger. David Foster Wallace. Now, it’s quite possibly No Fun At All to be one of those people. But still.

    • The people I’m speaking about are the ones who do nothing BUT pursue a doomed goal, dooming any feeling of joy or success with them. Some people pursue unhappiness and proof that they cannot do something successfully with a zeal of the Crusaders. And they do it in the hopes that someone will come save them. Anyone but themselves. It is really satisfying, occasionally, to stop trying to grow orchids in the desert. To do something that is hard, needs practice, but has a chance of success because of the effort put into it. Sometimes that is great. Sometimes hard work is not crowned with success.

  4. “some efforts won’t be rewarded……”
    You are so full of insights. I think about these things but you put them into words for me. I can’t tell you how much your words help me. I have decided to put together a book of Quinn. For my own use of course. To read and re-read. To learn and re-learn.

  5. Sometimes I think you mind read across the world…your words resonate . A year ago I was buried deep in the sand,stuck in the desert no compass,shrivelling up. It wasn’t running away or giving up,but I had no more energy left,those words,pouring it down a bottomless pit…..that was so how I felt. So awful I couldn’t pick up a pen or read a book or sleep or do anything. Like those dying plants hanging on to shreds of life and false hopes.
    I have been here back in uk for twelve weeks and the angels have been on my shoulders. The children love new school and have made new friends,I am reconnecting with my true old mates and family….and the kindness and support is overwhelming. Today I find myself in Glastonbury,tickets sold out long ago, doing volunteer shifts in the kids field where someone can’t make it. Our first visit is to an artist tent with the friend I am helping out as we have to help make an installation! I arrived last nite with the sun setting over the Tor.
    I had fantastic dreams when I moved to Spain …I wouldn’t call them aspirations because I wanted a simple life….they didn’t work out,but ten years is giving it your best shot…sure the results weren’t what I anticipated,but having changed course,it’s my heart and intuition I am listening to now and not everyone else’s opinion, maybe we learn that with age and experience. As someone once said,life is to short to read a book you don’t like, it’s easy to put the book down, honesty with ourselves is what we need. I will spend as much time in the healing fields as possible if I can….but will try and fit in seeing The Rolling Stones! Thanks Quinn,starting my day reading you gives me meaning and today I will do art!xxxxxxxxxxxx

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