Woody Allen used to tell a story about a guy who claimed he had a brother who thought he was a chicken.
“That’s terrible,” says his friend. “Did you take him to a therapist?”
“We need the eggs.”
That story came to mind the other day as I pondered an aspect to “the flow” that I didn’t write about in my previous entry. To wit: when the flow doesn’t flow, when the synchronicity is no longer synchronized, and centrifugal force flings you up on a rocky shelf, high and dry.
It happened last week, not long after I wrote about the project I was doing on the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. Through a series of circumstances and coincidences, I’d interviewed passionate people, encountered powerful themes and discovered great stories, and it had all happened so easily that I couldn’t help but feel the project was blessed.
After a handful of interviews, I could see that there was a wonderful book in all this material, one with commercial potential that could put the center’s name in the same sentence with places like the Mayo Clinic. I made a presentation to the hospital’s leaders, and gave them a cost-benefit analysis as well.
It was the latter, I think, that led to the call I got putting the project on hold. I asked for a significant amount of money to complete the project. But the potential benefits in terms of marketing opportunities, possible national exposure and reinvigorating the center’s donor base far exceed the investment.
Meanwhile, this pause has put me in an awkward situation. I turned down four other opportunities because I believe so strongly in the Shepherd project. But I’m working on a slim margin. Like the guy in the joke, I need the eggs.
In years past, I’d probably be out on the ledge by now, full of self-recrimination and running worst-case scenarios through my mind. Instead, I am rather calm, and I attribute it to my decision last spring to turn my career and income issues over to God. When I did that, things got better in a hurry. Now that there is a delay, I’m getting an opportunity to practice faith, something I’ve been notably short of.
I was a few days into this exercise when I heard a guy refer to faith as “hope with a track record.” And oddly enough, I’d spent that afternoon reviewing my own track record.
In the early 1980s, for example, I was a journalist in Hawaii and the beneficiary of some extraordinary research by a public health activist who discovered that there had been a pesticide contamination of the milk on the island of Oahu. She fed me scores of documents and filings from the lawsuits and countersuits involving dairy farmers and the pineapple companies that provided the contaminated feed.
Sometimes I felt as if I were sitting beneath a huge funnel and all this amazing material was pouring down onto my desk. The series I wrote was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and generated a leak in the state agriculture department which triggered another expose and another series of stories.
A decade later, I wrote a magazine piece about a kid in Connecticut who gave a bootleg graduation speech, got a standing ovation from his classmates and a blank diploma from the principal. Again, I was guided with almost eerie precision to the kid, his parents, his prom date, school officials and other sources – including author W.E.B. Griffin – who gave the story such depth and texture I could scarcely sleep at night.
At one point, the editor of the magazine told me he was no longer interested in the story. But, like the Shepherd story, I knew it was too good to walk away from, and I told him I wasn’t giving up. I worked on that story for two months, never knowing whether it would be published, never knowing whether I would make so much as a nickel from it.
But when I delivered it, the editor read the story, gave me a high-five and said, “Great story!” Not only did he put it on the cover, that issue exceeded all others that year in requests for reprints. The story also won a national award, and led to an invitation from novelist Wally Lamb (“She’s Come Undone,” “I Know This Much Is True”) to speak to his high school writing students.
So while I pursue other projects, I find that if I remain open to possibilities, I find encouragement in unusual places.
The other day at Starbucks, I ran into a guy who stops in occasionally to make business calls and check his email. He told me he was having trouble closing a deal, and I gave him a pep talk. Then I told him about Shepherd, and he gave me one.
“I made a study of successful people,” he said, “and the one thing they all have in common is that they never give up. So don’t give up.”
I haven’t given up, by any means. And having reviewed my track record, I know something good is going to happen. I just don’t know yet what it is.
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