Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Powerlessness is one of those notions you hear bandied about in 12-step programs. We pay homage to it, congratulate ourselves on our deep grasp of the concept, practice it whenever we can, and shrug our shoulders at events we deem beyond our grasp.  We are powerless over people, places, things, the weather, the neighbor’s irascibility, and the fact that gasoline will be twenty percent methanol within a short time, thereby fouling any car that still has a carburetor.

Powerlessness is an interesting idea. It’s linked to almost all organized religions and most people have adopted it without even being aware. When Mark Twain in a celebrated speech said, “We all grumble about the weather, but nothing is done about it," he perfectly illustrated the concept of powerlessness. We bitch, whine, complain, mumble and rumble, but in the end events—including weather—occur as they will.

But, as a friend once commented, “We may be powerless, but we’re not helpless…”  I take that to mean that yes, I very well may get hit by a bus in the near future, but if I opt not to walk in the middle of the street, I can improve the odds of not getting run over.  For the most part, I can choose to be out of harm’s way, thereby bettering the chances of survival. If, however, I choose to go into what another friend calls “the idiot spotlight,” i.e., dancing the tango in the middle of I-66,  I’m going to get flattened.

The powerlessness/helplessness conundrum slices through pretty much everything we do. If I accept that my best efforts are just that, and not necessarily deserving of miraculous results, then I have “helped” the outcome of a situation as best I can and am not in need of the idiot spotlight.

Lately, I’ve felt powerless over agents who don’t read my stuff or return calls. Such a lack of basic courtesy infuriates me.  My temptation is to bombard them with emails and phone them incessantly, but then an agent friend of mine tells me he routinely has thousands of pages of manuscripts to review… I’m sure successful agents handle dozens of writers and are deluged with manuscripts, so my harassing won’t serve a useful purpose. Powerless, damn it.

I still have to work on this stuff. I’ve gotten better over the years, but I’m a long way from achieving serenity and acceptance of all things. Like anything worth getting, it’s a long slow process, and I’m impatient.

I remember a Seinfeld episode where George’s father tries to reduce his stress by yelling, “Serenity now!”  

Maybe that’ll work.

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