Pass Go; collect $200; or, On Success…or Successishness

I’ve been reading about the origins of life, the mash of elements plus a pinch of lightning and then an “It’s alive” kind of thing.

It was all so unlikeley and random-seeming, life. Cellular matter, a membrane, some cell division, next thing you know, someone’s got a tail, next thing you know, woop, that tail’s gone out of fashion. And here we are. Surprise!

What’s it all about? The tendency of “life” to want to live in the now and onward. The meaning of life? Well, I don’t think there is intrinsic meaning to this random fallout. You want meaning? Make it yourself. We just flail around, a bunch of bacteria and dividing cells, and then it’s over. Well, except for the bacteria.

Which brings a certain amount of perspective on the idea of success, something else about which I’ve been thinking.

I’ve tried a number of pursuits in my life. Had a number of ambitions, both realistic and outlandish. Numerous fancies. Many dreams. One by one, all these things fall away. Pursuit falters; ambition lapses or faces the grim reality of oh-just-forget-it; dreams, well, dreams are forgotten, tossed aside with regret, relief, bitterness, or remain clutched in the hand like a magician’s coin, invisible but caught in the fingers.

I thought I’d be this thing, do that thing, or be that kind of person. With each passing life phase I’ve tried to get clearer who I am, what I’m here for, and how I define success. It’s an ongoing project.

And ongoingly I’ve tried to broaden the definition of who I am. That whole “contain multitudes” thing. The whole “accept the things” and “wisdom to know the diff” thing.

And I’ve tried to broaden my definition of success. The whole “hey, good for you for trying” thing. The etymology of “success” as a noun is pretty much from words meaning “after go.” Which is a pretty low bar to begin with. Everything that comes after my actually doing something is, by etymology, a success.

And I’m finding lately, in moments, that I’m on board with that, that my definition of success is getting narrower and narrower. Between bouts of garment rending over my 15th manuscript rejection or my millionth cry of “This shit got into [insert name of topnotch litmag here] magazine and I can’t get even one poem in crappy [insert absurd name of some rinkydink stapled-together thing that you were sure you could place a poem in…but were wrong, wrong wrong wrong],” lately I’ve been thinking that maybe success is, as the Grinch learned about Christmas, “just a little bit more.”

If I can try to have fun most of the time. That seems to be key. And if I can try to be kind to others and to myself…well…most of the time, or try to remember to be, anyway, well, maybe that’s it. A little kindness, a little fun, as much laughter as I can fit in. Is that all there is?

But what about that pesky kindness stuff…what if I’m a little shaky on that…? Are there gradations of success? Is there such a thing as successful-ish?

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