Guilt has been an impressively persuasive source of motivation for me. Getting ready for bed, before picking up a night read, I review what didn’t get done that day. I quite often withhold affection for myself until my list is all checked off. As a life long teacher, my to-do’s drive my day. Education loves stated objectives.
In River of January I had to come to an understanding of what motivated my main characters. Chum simply had ambitions to fly airplanes and, later, any other vehicle that propelled forward at high speeds. Helen aimed for show business success, and her formative years pointed at nothing else but training and performance. Somehow the two of them appeared more prompted by better internal motivations than guilt. It seems that neither were moved by negative impulses–they didn’t waste their energy feeling inadequate.
They did struggle with personal problems–serious childhood issues each silenced the best they could. Yet, ambition overrode, or at least, held in abeyance the guilt and doubts that had the power to paralyze their resolve. Chum took big risks, such as the air race in 1933, and when Helen auditioned for parts she was legally too young to take. It’s as though professional details presented no barrier to the greater prize of success.
I found, through their records, that both were methodical, committing to paper extensive to-do’s. Helen painstakingly recorded list of agents, theaters and studios along Hollywood Boulevard in 1930. Chum kept concise records of his air routes, (weather, ground contacts, and flight anomalies) beyond the required logbook. These people were organized!
Perhaps the moral of this brief installment is reconfiguring the daily humdrum, and not confuse vacuuming with anything near achievement. That is what one does to have a clean floor. Chum and Helen kept their eyes on the prize, to steal a phrase, and didn’t confuse the mundane with authentic success.