It’s falafel night at our house. Lucky for me we have an amazing falafel shop nearby with what can very easily be life changing selections on super busy days like this. Falafel night means my schedule has been overwhelmed, I am absolutely out of time, and there is nothing but loose ends for every project on my desk. For me, this is a fantastic feeling because it means progress is at hand. It is sheer bliss, no matter how uncomfortable the hours surrounding this kind of climax can be. Personally, this crunch is much better than the holding pattern which precedes it though both times require a particular kind of approach and handling, especially since it can easily feel like the whole enterprise could go off the rails at any moment.
Did you notice that schedules and deadlines can get incredibly complicated almost without us noticing it? It happens here, usually because ‘process’ seems to be a thing that has a mind of its own. For example, a lot of my work depends on content provided by others. The final product is usually achieved by consensus so most projects involve team planning, an outline from me, then waiting for others to develop their particular portion of the content, which is fantastic. Most of my colleagues are scientists and usually do not need to interpret their work for anyone but a scientific audience. I am not a scientist, and know next to nothing about their disciplines, so we must collaborate closely. My job is to form their scholarship into anecdotal and engaging material for many different audiences and mediums. The science must be at the heart of the content. Everyone has to have confidence in our team process, be comfortable with the materials we create, agree that the outcome meets everyone needs. At different times, all of us experience a lot of waiting time between the beginning of a project and that consensus document we end up with. Somehow the deadline always arrives before the process has had its full opportunity.
That’s actually a good sign, despite the nerves, because we are accomplishing so much. It is often more useful to respect the process in all of its glorious parts than to try to put pieces of the puzzle in place prematurely. Sometimes things just have to be allowed to happen in a certain order, no matter how much we would like to skip over certain steps. A lot of things need to come together. New things will come to light. Maybe we do not even realize what steps need to be taken until we make a little, incremental, progress.
Progressing through the study year is a lot like my professional collaborations. In the beginning, and even in the middle of a project or study year, it can be quite uncomfortable to want and need to get something done yet find I have more questions than answers. It can feel like some key point or connection to the material, which will tie everything together, is still missing and elusive. Yet no matter how hard we try, we can’t push the river.
Sometimes it is important, especially when studying independently, to appreciate that making our way through the work is the real pleasure and reward. There are a lot of steps between starting to study and achieving the goals of our program. It is true, to paraphrase Jeff Bridges in ‘The Dude and The Zen Master,’ we usually excel and achieve beyond our wildest expectations because of the unknowns involved. It can get a little hectic when opportunities and the questions they open up are suddenly recognized. Then we can see something wonderful happening as the result of our efforts, even f it can feel a little uncertain.
Which brings me back to falafel night. I am munching on falafel, skimming ‘The Dude and The Zen Master,’ and thinking aboutJeff Bridges recent interview on the Charlie Rose show about his new book with Bernie Glassman. I was going to watch the Big Lebowski tonight, to help tie all the pieces of my various thoughts and projects together, but this is much better. I can enjoy my coffee, my falafel, my book, and abide.