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February, 2010
Anthony February 6, 2010 6:31am
for the last 2+ years, i've had the slip of paper from a chinese fortune cookie stuck in the tachometer of my car, right front and center where i see it all the time. the side that aren't my lucky numbers reads:
It could be better, but it's good enough.
when i got this, i was in a very particular spot emotionally. i'd only recently moved out here, and i was feeling less close to a bunch of people i'd moved away from. i'm not very good about being active about making new connections, and i thought maybe this would help me make fewer comparisons to what i'd moved away from. i was a bit despondent seeing a bunch of long-standing personal institutions in disarray or decay. and then i got this fortune cookie with a message which seemed, to my slightly shaken psyche, to be offering a much easier view i'd never really grasped.

i spent much of the past 2+ years trying to get myself to believe that line. to believe that (in a charitable interpretation) even in the face of major problems, some inherent worth would shine through. that it was okay to leave messed up things alone. that i didn't have to worry about things being perfect all the time; that it was okay for them to just be good. that i could relax.

it even worked, for a little while. but i can't, not really. at my core, i'm a fixer. when i see things broken, even just a bit, i want to work on them. when i know how something can be improved, i want to do that. that's not without its down sides (most notably, for me: fixers are not inherently makers), and Lord knows i don't always get the execution right, but it's a big part of who i am. and, really, i like what it's done for me and who it makes me.

when i moved out here, i was all excited about household projects. i've done a lot of really interesting work on ASP, but i've never lived in a place i could apply any of that directly. i wanted to fix things. but my enthusiasm and energy for it was quashed pretty quickly by a response of what i took at the time to be disinterest. it was really confusing. i tried to come up with rationalizations for not wanting to fix what was broken, and had a really hard time of it. then along came this fortune cookie, and i thought "huh, maybe i'm just not seeing it right." i tried to take a step back, see the inherent goodness in what was there, and just enjoy things as they were.

you know what? i was right the first time. the uninterested response wasn't a zen okayness with the inherent brokenness of the world, or whatever. it was mostly a bad combination of depression and laziness. turns out that, no, the stairs really did need fixing, and leaves really are easier to rake before rain than after, and that emotional energy i spent on rationalizations would've been better spent on maintaining some focus.

trying to believe the fortune cookie had exactly the opposite effect on me i'd hoped. i didn't put the energy into things that i cared about, and (unsurprisingly, in retrospect) they didn't get done or didn't get better. the inherent goodness sometimes needs some help cutting through the muck. the work required can be daunting, and the change required can be frightening, but the fact that something's hard isn't a good reason not to do it. in fact, it's often a good reason to do it. i think, really, the point is this:

if you know something you care about could be better, you really ought to think about improving it.

because, y'know, you care about it. that means things, in real life. if it's just theoretical, it isn't real. "faith without works is dead" and all that. people really ought to work for what they love and care about, ought to want those things to be the best they can be, and ought to try and see if they can help get them closer.

now, note that i said "think about". it's not always the right call. like i said, change is disruptive, often painful, and if there's a lot that goes into the decision of whether or not it's worth it in any particular case. but the starting point should be that question. if you care about something, you should want to make it better.

there are things i can't fix. there are things that are beyond my capability or capacity, and there's a whole host of things which simply aren't mine to fix. i understand this, even if it's something i sometime struggle with. but when i'm at my best, i start with that question and ask it well.

i forgot that for a while. i remember now.