On a recent afternoon, I had the chance to break bread with several friends here in Nashville. (Actually, we broke chicken tenders.) The conversation was lively, but it was the lingering moments outside, after nearly everyone had left, that stirred me most.
Russ Ramsey asked me what I was writing lately, and instead of answering the question, I updated him on the latest freelance assignments I’d been given. He politely listened to my answer and then asked me again, “What have you been writing lately?” I told him about the essays and ideas I’d been planning to write as soon as I cleared my slate. Simply put, I gave him an embarrassingly short progress report.
After lunch, I went back to the Rabbit Room office and sat down with Pete Peterson to discuss some future ventures for the site. The conversation turned again to my own writing and the exact same thing happened, another gentle nudge reminding me to dig for what is meaningful. Twice in the same day, I’d had someone push me to move beyond immediate tasks for the sake of something meaningful.
Sometimes it’s a hectic schedule that keeps me from plowing the ground I truly want to cultivate. Other times, the fear of failure is to blame. Perhaps both are at work. I don’t know. What I do know is that I often desire to dig more than I actually do. That fear is what Steven Pressfield describes in The War of Art when he writes:
Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
At a recent Sara Watkins show I was reminded of one of my favorite tunes. Her latest solo album, Sun Midnight Sun, came out in 2012 and it closes with the song “Take Up Your Spade.” The song (posted below with video and lyrics) is a beautiful, simple reminder to be obedient to the day before you and nothing more.
Since hearing this song again and taking part in these conversations, I can say with some level of confidence that it’s less about inspiration and overcoming fear, and more about simple obedience. It’s the daily dig, so to speak, that eventually gives way to the garden. I’m making progress and I hope I will have something real to report the next time someone asks.
“Take Up Your Spade” by Sara Watkins
Sun is up, a new day is before you Sun is up, wake your sleepy soul Sun is up, hold on to what is yours Take up your spade and break ground
Shake off your shoes, Leave yesterday behind you Shake off your shoes, But forget not where you’ve been Shake off your shoes, Forgive and be forgiven Take up your spade and break ground
Give thanks, for all that you’ve been given Give thanks, for who you can become Give thanks, for each moment and every crumb Take up your spade and break ground Break ground, break ground, break ground