Ideas that are big enough

My essays are a form of mind travel, of walking toward answers with an acute awareness that I will never come to the end of the road. I use my own experiences the way I use the experiences of others – as insights to further an idea.
– Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking, 2014

This week as I have been writing about the importance of work in the development of communities, I have been guided by this quote from Siri Hustvedt. My friend and colleague, Melissa brought Hustvedt’s work to my attention. I was immediately struck by her clarity of expression and the precision of her language. She describes in two sentences here how I think about my encore work.

Gary 1973 bI have recently seen and commented excellent examples of community: organizing for village political candidates, daily life on a small island in Puget Sound, care given when great loss is sustained. I have also been assaulted by the disregard for human life, avarice, and incivility, by a disregard so blatant that it seems breath-taking. Writing each day has allowed me a way to use these experiences and those of others to further the idea of community.

I will likely never come to the end of that idea, but not because I lack intelligence or perseverance or longevity. I will not come to the end of the idea of community because the idea is big enough. It seems that many – if not indeed most – of us go through our days with a heuristic for addressing life’s big issues. For some, the device is God; for others, money. For still other people, the solution lies in God and money. They pray to win a lottery. Even despair and a sense of powerlessness can be the road to a solution of sorts. These truncate solutions through avoidance of accountability, through a misunderstanding of the power of concerted work. But I have seen despair and powerless used to dig deep into oneself and, in the process of examining personal defeat, reaching out to others in partnership and solidarity.

In accepting an award last month, my friend and confidante Leonard spoke of an idea of his, one that he has worked on for the past 25 years. He said the idea was daily guidance for him because it was big enough to persist beyond his lifetime, big enough not to be accomplished alone, and big enough to be worth the efforts involved.


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