Saturday, August 14, 2010

Life in Motivation

Two days after my cat, Zenzo, had to go to the vet, I think we're in the clear. The (surprisingly nummy-smelling) pain killers did their magic, along with the antibiotics, and everything seems normal for Zenzo again. She's playing, she's rolling on her back to expose her belly, and she's purring. Truly, my world is set to rights again.

It's shocking to me how profoundly the health of my cats affects my general well-being. When they get sick, it saps my energy. The world grays at the edges, and my focus narrows to what needs to be done to make them better.
And when they get better, it's like placing my frozen toes in a sunbeam: I don't realize how terrible I've been feeling until I feel better.

Does this seem dramatic? Yes, even to me. But I'm on an emotional high, and so, so happy that Zenzo is better.

In the afterglow, I can think about this recent experience objectively, and from this happy place, contemplate the power of motivation.

Most of the time, I'm focused on my goals: writing, eating healthy, exercising, making money, saving for a house. I'm very self-motivated and driven, but it's a slow drive, a simmer, not a fast-burning fuel. These are, for the most part, long-term goals that I chip away at day by day. I'm motivated, but not with a life-and-death intensity—not with the kind of intensity I want my characters to feel.

Which got me wondering: what would motivate me to an epic story-worthy level? What would light that motivational rocket in me, cause me to embark on journeys around the world, undertake missions with improbable odds of success, and inspire me to achieve the impossible? What would launch me from this office chair and into the pages of history in a big-bang kind of way?

In other words, what would it take to motivate me as I strive to motivate my characters?

The answers are pretty universal: if my loved ones (family—including pets—and friends) were in danger, if I were in physical (or even extreme emotional) danger, if my core beliefs were threatened or attacked. I have fairly high-concept motivations, which from where I sit, makes me very happy with my life. I'm not struggling with youthful motivations like fitting in or finding my place in the world, and I'm not struggling with basic-needs motivations like finding a job or a place to live or food to eat.

Life is good. Really good. But as I write, it's good for me to remember the way it felt when my poor little Zenzo wasn't doing well, and how all these wonderful things that I have melted away, and I was willing to do whatever it took to make sure she wasn't in pain and recovered quickly. More than all my cushy decisions—write for an hour or edit, take on another project and work weekends or spend the time with friends—those moments when high-concept motivations are ignited are the moments and decisions that define people and characters alike. It's important to remember how those moment feel, even as I'm thankful that they're few and far between.

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