We’ll have good years and bad years. And we can afford both. Every hour will not be filled with meaning and accomplishment as the world measures such things, but there will be compensating hours so rich, so full, so humanly satisfying that we will become partners with time and not victims of it. Most of us end up seeing our lives not as an ascending line of achievement but as a series of highly interesting chapters.

As someone who makes his living from writing (and has been doing so for over a decade), I am admittedly not terribly familiar with a great number of influential authors. I really ought to be ashamed. In my infinite wisdom more than 10 years ago, I said that one of the best ways to improve your writing is to read more. So I am. Or at least I’m trying to.

An Accomplished Career

One of the books on my reading list for 2018 (and the one I am currently reading) is Startle and Illuminate by Carol Shields. While her name may ring a rather faint bell for me, I really know nothing about her. Prior to picking up this book and doing a little background research, I didn’t know that she was a very accomplished novelist and short story writer.

I didn’t know that she won the U.S. Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Governor General’s Award for her 1993 novel The Stone Diaries. I didn’t know that she was honored with the Order of Manitoba and the Order of Canada, as well as the esteemed designation of Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Long story short, she’s a big deal for Canada specifically and for the literary arts in general.

Years after Carol Shields passed away in 2003, her eldest daughter Anne Giardini (an accomplished author and journalist in her own right, as well as the current serving chancellor of Simon Fraser University) pitched the idea of what would become Startle and Illuminate to her son (and Carol’s grandson) Nicholas Giardini. The book is a collection of Shields’ thoughts on writing and the creative process, but by extension, it also includes a number of insights on life in general.

Life Is a Song

Some time back, I asserted that one of the key elements to happiness is the sense of perceived progress. We all want to feel like what we’re doing matters and that it is actually moving us forward. You graduate high school, so you can go to college. You get that degree, so you can get a good job. That good job? It’s so you can afford a house in the suburbs. And on and on it goes.

Carol Shields, as the excerpt at the top illustrates, had a slightly different view on how we should perceive our lives. Instead of feeling like we must endeavor toward an “ascending line of achievement,” we should be proud of and enjoy the “series of highly interesting chapters” along the way.

Maybe that’s true. And even if it’s not, perhaps it is a healthy attitude to adopt. For most of us, the majority of our time is rather mundane. We’re stuck in traffic, we’re shopping for groceries, or we’re having a cup of coffee. And that’s okay. It might even be better than okay, because maybe we should work harder to appreciate the magnificent in the mundane.

Become a partner with time and not a victim of it. Because if you blink, you just might miss it.