This essay was originally published at Stitches and Words. Revised and updated.
"Determination is what you need now."
This evening I turned on a DVD commentary, and because I intended to listen to it more than to watch the TV episode on which it was based, I opened a game on my iPad to entertain my eyes and fingers, the well-known "Shanghai" mahjong tile-matching app. When I'm in the mood I can play this game for hours, and tonight that's what I did.
"Congratulations! You are on your way."
Every time you complete a game in Shanghai, it displays a fortune-cookie-esque saying. There are sets of funny ones and sets of serious ones that you can choose between, and lately I've been using the serious ones. They are mostly trite little motivational things, familiar in kind if not always in specific wording.
"You will take a chance in something in the near future."
"If you continually give, you will continually have."
When I finished my first game this evening, the saying it picked for me caught my attention:
"Now is the time to try something new."
Certainly nothing earth-shattering in terms of either wisdom or clever writing, but I looked at it for a while. On impulse, I got out my notebook and wrote it down. Every time I finished a game, if the fortune-cookie saying pinged something in my mind, I wrote it down too. By the end of the night I had a whole page of them.
"Grand adventures await those who are willing to turn the corner."
Of course, it's not really about the trite sayings. It's about me; it's about something inside me, nudged by these sappy little sayings. I didn't write down every single one, only the ones that I wanted to keep after reading them. The themes are pretty obvious.
"Move in the direction of your dreams."
There's a thing about cliches. However trite and annoying they are, there's a reason they stick, a reason people make them up and hand them out to each other, whether or not they're appropriate or helpful. Somewhere, in some way, a cliche has an attachment to the truth. It rarely if ever reflects the whole truth, but somehow it reflects a tiny, real piece of it. It's that little piece of reality that animates a cliche and makes it attractive, however much it falls short of the bigger picture.
"All the effort you are making will ultimately pay off."
And I think that's also the thing that makes cliches so annoying and demoralizing. Truth is generally pretty simple, when you get to the bottom of it, and a cliche can reflect that simplicity well enough. But "simple" doesn't equal "easy," and truth is often very simple, but very hard. Real truth can be extremely difficult to come to grips with, mentally and emotionally and in all sorts of ways.
Cliches don't tell us that part of the story. Their simplicity misleads us, because they imply simplicity equals ease. They don't tell us there are hard times ahead, and when we smack into those hard times and get hurt by them, it seems like these simple little sayings were only ever leading us on, lying to us about reality, and therefore untrue. They're not, really. They just aren't big enough to tell us everything we need.
"Stand tall. Don't look down on yourself."
"A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something."
"Your mind is your greatest asset."
I've been working hard to figure out the next stage of my life, trying to decide how I'm going to make a living and keep writing and what the most important things are for me to do, and it's really been wearing me down. I don't know what to do, and it's hard to keep up my confidence in myself, to believe that I'll work it out and end up somewhere good. I'm tired, and I feel like I've barely begun, and there's so much more work to do and I don't know how I'll ever manage it.
But all of the sayings that speak to me tonight are about new things coming, about determination paying off, about effort being worth it. These are the kinds of sayings that I wrote down. They tell me to believe in myself and to believe that good stuff is ahead, around a corner somewhere, waiting for me to get to it. It's already there, I just haven't walked far enough to reach it yet.
It's not about the trite sayings, it's about the truth behind them. This idea of being able to work for change and achieve something bigger and better is still attractive to me, still has a huge pull on my mind and heart, even when I'm tired and uncertain. If these things aren't really true, then I wish they were true, wish for it desperately.
If this is real truth, simple but hard, then I want to be strong enough to face it and fight with it and to make something beautiful out of the struggle.
If I'm not strong enough to face it and fight with it, then I wish I were. Whether or not I am, or ever will be. That truth is simple and hard too.