Brick #518

I have written over five hundred posts for this blog which I started the month I moved from Reno to Chicago. Alone in a half-dozen tiny apartments, I have toiled many late nights. Including this one. It's just past 2AM and everyone I care about is asleep. Alone with my keyboard. This blog kept me company when I was single and had no friends, was neglected during my relationships, and has been one of the only constants in my life over the last half decade. When I started it, I didn't have a goal in mind. I couldn't tell you why I made it. But it has become oddly important to me and only now am I starting to understand its purpose for me.

I moved here to study at iO, an improvisation theatre. Surrounded by fresh-faced hopefuls begging for stage time, we all mis-took classes for auditions, played it safe, hid in the face of fear, and did shitty improv. It's been five years since my first class. I've become more interested in film, theatre, and writing (read: wasn't very good at improv) but many of my friends still chase the beautiful spontaneous dragon. They're grinding away at small clubs and theaters across the city, auditioning for the Second City Conservatory, and still flooding my Facebook events tab. Most of us weren't any good. It is a sad thing that adults need classes in how to play with each other, but maybe even sadder that most people don't take them. We did crappy improv for a while and most everyone moved on.

Then something strange happened.

The ones who stuck around got good. Like shockingly good. Now I watch their shows in awe. They command the stage, play strong, and genuinely make me laugh. It's easy to suggest they were the gifted ones, and the cream naturally rose to the top over time. This is bullshit. I was there watching them from day 1. They weren't good then. They are good now.

In Outliers, Malcom Gladwell posits on a theory of greatness: it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. For perspective, that's five years at a full-time job. How many things, in earnest, can you say you've put that much time into? And while it always seemed right to me, I never grasped it fully. It's easy to agree intellectually, but to believe it in your gut is something different altogether. I believe it now. And it is pretty fucking beautiful.

It occurs to me I've been approaching my projects wrong. I've been banging my head against my keyboard to make them great, hating myself when they aren't. When my blogs fall flat, my sketches don't land, or my play feels like it is an armchair philosophy pamphlet, I'm tempted to quit. Maybe their job isn't to be good. Maybe they're bricks, and every project is practice. Nothing more. An hour here. A couple hours there. If you obsess about every brick, you might never build the house. And isn't the house the whole fucking point?

Sadly, greatness isn't a chisel. It doesn't eliminate your imperfections in sweeping chunks to reveal the beautiful statue underneath. It is the slow, laborious erosion of your flaws. You are a shitty little rock on a beach. If you want smooth edges you're going to have to let the waves of time crash down on your head. Day and night. Over and over. For a very long time. Progress is imperceptible. It is a nearly unbearable process.

But the next time you're on a beach, I dare you to look for a rock that isn't smooth. You won't find one. Time wins every time. When you're done, let's build a beach house together.

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