Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Persistence is Key

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Nothing gets done in this world without one, simple truth: persistence.

Without persistence, we wouldn’t have one of our greatest American Presidents, Abraham Lincoln — admittedly an exalted example — because what most people fail to remember from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas Debates is that Abraham Lincoln was then a candidate for the United States Senate from Illinois.  And he lost, which ultimately was a great thing for the country (how could Abraham Lincoln have become President in 1860 if he’d been a sitting Senator?), yet he couldn’t have known this in 1858.

In the writing field, the career path of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller has already been discussed, extensively, by me, as they are shining examples of what persistence, faith in yourself and genuine talent can do to keep dreams alive. 

In the music field, the career of Art Pepper (1925-1982), alto saxophonist, is an insightful example.  Pepper had major drug problems, and ended up in prison for over ten years in the 1950s, just as he was starting to make a name for himself.  He resumed his career after that ten years only after he met his third, and last, wife, Laurie; some of his best work was recorded between 1975 and 1982, the year of his death.  In his autobiography (transcribed by Laurie Pepper), STRAIGHT LIFE, Pepper described the difficulty he had in believing he could still make great music, and credited his wife, Laurie, for her faith and belief in him until the end of his life.  (Sometimes, behind every great man really is a great woman.)

And not everyone becomes famous or appreciated his or her lifetime; Charles Ives (1874-1954) is a famous example in music (he was a composer, but was known more for being an insurance executive than as a composer or musician).  Ives’s best-known composition, “Variations on America,” features bitonality and polyrhythms, and was far ahead of its time in how melody and harmony were conceptualized.  Ives, in general, was at least fifty years ahead of his time in how he conceptualized harmony and melody.  (This is partly why Ives’s music wasn’t much appreciated until he was near death, and afterward.)

Going on with this theme, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was barely-known during her lifetime; she’d written thousands of poems, but only a dozen were published during her lifetime, often altered by publishers to “fit the rules of the times.”  (Haven’t we all heard this, writers?)  She was known for writing poems without titles; for using “slant rhymes,” or close-to rhymes (like “ill” and “shell”); for short sentences, and for unconventional capitalization and punctuation.

All of these examples — every single last one of them — shows the importance of continuing to do whatever the person (or people) in question was good at, because by doing so, that was eventually what caused the breakthrough in every single life.  It wasn’t always noticeable at the time — I’m sure Sharon Lee and Steve Miller had no idea their Liaden Universe (TM) books had become so popular before the advent of the Internet (they’ve said so, in other places) — but that was what did it for them.

In other words, PERSISTENCE IS KEY.  Because we cannot force a breakthrough; we might not even recognize a small breakthrough when it happens.  But we can persist, and keep on going; we can continue to believe in ourselves, and keep up “the good fight,” while refusing to surrender our creativity to anyone for any reason.   And being married to a good person — as Sharon Lee is to Steve Miller, as Charles Ives was, to Harmony Twitchell, as Art Pepper was, to Laurie Pepper — can really and truly help.

It is that last quality that I tend to highlight, being fortunate enough to marry the right man for me, Michael B. Caffrey, and I do my best to remember, every day, how much faith and belief he had in me.  But all of the other qualities — talent, self-belief, drive, honest ambition, a willingness to “do your thing” regardless of what anyone else thinks about it — are just as important; in some cases, like Emily Dickinson’s, if a person was relying on finding and marrying the right person to propel him or her to greatness, it just wasn’t going to happen.

So I urge you, once again, to keep on trying.  Refuse to give up, no matter how long it takes.  Give yourself a chance, even if no one else will . . . and do your best to let your dreams take shape.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 13, 2011 at 11:34 pm

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  1. […] back in 2011 I wrote a blog called “Persistence is Key.” While I’d reword a number of things differently now, I feel much the same […]

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