Friday, August 19, 2011

On unreachable goals...

HALLIE EPHRON: Last week I was riveted by Diana Nyad's attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. The 61-year-old athlete lasted more than 30 hours, fighting squalls and swells and shoulder pain and asthma, before giving up.

She'd first attempted the swim in 1978 (in a shark cage) but was unable to finish then, too, but she set records for swimming around Manhattan in 1975 in less than eight hours and for swimming more than 100 miles from Bimini in the Bahamas to Florida in 1979.

The photographs of her on the boat in tears after being pulled from the water are heartbreaking, but I completely understood her willingness to put herself out there, to publicly try something so hard and at which she would probably fail.

Afterward, she told a CNN interviewer: "I was the best person I could be ... that's the message. I dug down, I dug deep ... Whatever you're doing, do your job well."

While I know none of us would compete in the same league with them, for all of us there is something really hard we would set as a goal. Maybe it's climbing a mountain,running a marathon, walking the Appalachian Trail, cooking an authentic cassoulet, or sewing a quilt.

Of course for all of us it was writing and getting our first novel published. But what else is there for you, in the past or future, that you are determined that it's better to try and fail than to fail to try?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yes, the book thing, of course. It's interesting to think about setting an amazingly tough goal and planning to go for it, as Diana Nyad did--versus setting a goal that seems difficult but doable...then realizing along the way that it's tougher than you predicted.

Then you're faced with the decision--go ahead? Or give up? Gosh, have I done anything that's immeasurably tough? Right now I'm worrying I CANNOT think of a new plot. And right now? That seems as far away as Cuba.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm with Hank. That first novel was a huge goal--the one thing I wanted most and thought I would never accomplish. After that, I thought it would get easier, but it never has. So the goals stay the same--write the best book you can, and write it FASTER. And every one is just as scary.

I would, however, like to make a quilt. That might not compare with swimming without a shark cage, but for someone who can barely sew on a button, it's a challenge. I've even bought all the fabric and my friend who makes wonderful quilts has helped me design it. But I have yet to cut a piece.

HALLIE: Hopefully you'll do better with that quilt than I did. I set out to make one for a double-bed and ended up with a handbag.

LUCY BURDETTE: Yes, yes, write the next great book, and faster! That should be more than enough, shouldn't it?

We've discussed this recently, but I'm not big on physical risk-taking. So Diana's swim felt completely foreign to me. I think she said something along the lines of how it made her feel alive to take on this challenge.

Now I just returned from a bike trip vacation that my husband was very anxious to try. Me, not so much. But I went anyway and found myself cycling through Slovakia in the pouring rain at the very end of the pack of riders even though I was pumping like crazy. Why is this fun? I asked myself, and waved down the support van for a ride for the second half. But I did get stronger over the week. By Wednesday, I rode 29 miles, some of it up a pretty good hill.

I think this experience gave me the sense that I could push myself harder. If I wanted to. But since we already work so hard at writing, maybe the pilates and yoga classes and walking the dog and an occasional bike ride at normal speed are okay too. Don't you think?

ROSEMARY HARRIS: The physical challenges are getting harder and harder for me to say "sure, I'll try that" to. Last year's trek to Everest Base Camp was grueling and I probably wouldn't try Kilimanjaro again since I did it once and would hate to NOT get to the top if I tried it a second time. Two years ago I signed on for a kayak trip that included two long paddles. At one point crossing the Drake Passage (and feeling like a cork bobbing in the wake of giant yachts) I thought - like Lucy - "why did I say I'd do this?" and it was because I knew how great I'd feel afterward - even if I'd had to be rescued, I'd have given it my best shot.

But it's smart to know when to quit. Thinking of the recent deaths in Yosemite this summer, I feel sure all of them could have been prevented with a little more common sense (a la Diana knowing when to get out of the water.) You don't go on the rock (Half Dome) when there's ANY threat of rain.

Now I'm pushing myself harder to finish my WIP. It's a departure from the books I've written before and every once in a while I think I should just write another book Dirty Business mystery, but I want to try something new. Hopefully I can stay in the water until I get there.

HANK: Now that you mention it, ROSEMARY, my new book is completely different from my series. On every level. It was a HUGE leap. And I had NO idea if I could do it. We shall see. Or--you all shall see, when it comes out next year.

DEBS: As for the physical challenges, not so much. I'm in awe of Roberta and Rosemary. I have a thing about Everest--strictly armchair--as I have probably mentioned, so to me the trek to Base Camp sounds wonderful. But my big goal, once the weather cools off, is to ride my bike the mile to my town square and back:-)

JAN BROGAN: My unreachable goals have changed. Now that I know I can write a book, I want to find the perfect story, the story that needs to be told. Fiction or non-fiction doesn't matter. Commercial success has no longer become that important. It's weird, I never thought I'd feel that way. But my objectives have changed and I've become a lot pickier about what I want to write -- which of course, puts a bit of pressure on my next project.

Aside from writing, I really have quite the inventory of unreachable goals. Fluent French (I work at it, pretty hard, but even my friends who have lived there six years and speak to their children in French don't consider themselves fluent.) Way better guitar skills. And making it up to 4.0 in tennis. I will definitely NOT run out of goals that I won't reach, but hey, I do a good job of keeping both my brain and my body active. And that's the point right?

HALLIE: Not surprisingly, my goals have been food. Lobster bisque, starting with live lobsters. A country pate made with layers of duck and veal. Homemade pasta, like you get in Italy, with a bolognese sauce that starts with a whole shoulder of pork and a bottle of red wine (that goes into the sauce, not the cook) and takes a day to prepare.

And the pinnacle, Hungarian dobos torte--a cake with each thin crisp layer made from batter poured on the BACK of a cake pan. Mocha cream filling between the 8 layers and a glass like caramel sugar glaze on top. Last time I tried, I gave up after 5 layers, but I'll do it yet. And one day I'll try making a coffee crunch cake, which if you grew up in LA you might remember from Blums. Making it is like running a chemistry experiment with baking soda and sugar and a very hot oven. If it works: sheer heaven.

So, what are your goals, unreachable and otherwise?


  1. Publishing that first novel, of course. Backpacking Labrador. And perhaps (I go back and forth on this one) actually finishing my Ph.D.

    But now that I think about it, this list could go on and on and on.....

  2. Go, Nancy!
    On the Ph.D. -- How funny - I forgot all about finishing my PhD... which I did, but so long ago it's like a bad dream. Like giving birth to my two lovely daughters, it's all a haze.

  3. I'm a big fan of grabbing very difficult goals and launching myself at them.

    My first was learning how to be a lifeguard and teaching instructor in ten days of Red Cross camp. I learned after the first day that I didn't really know how to swim. It took 8 hours a day in the water to catch up.

    Becoming an Magna Cum Laude engineer when I had better SATs in English than Math was tough.

    Writing the second version of "Leading After a Layoff" (added 150 pages to the book) in 4 weeks while travelling on business was a huge recent goal as was delivering Robot Haiku in 4 weeks.

    If I ever do become a NYTimes best selling author, it will be the hardest thing that I've ever accomplished.

  4. When you make that cake, Hallie, can I have a piece? I'll share my hungarian kolache recipe with you.

    Every fall I host The Annual Lofty Goals Luncheon. The girlfriends go out to lunch and I bring index cards for everyone to write their "lofty goals" for the coming year. After lunch, we go around the table, declare our goals out loud, and then put them in a gold box (a former Costco cookie tin) so they can percolate until the next year.

    I'm working on a screenplay that takes this basic premise and expands it into something dark and funny. Can't wait to write FADE OUT.

  5. I'm with Mary, I want a piece of that cake, and the country pate. And now I'm going to be thinking about both all day.


  6. Mary, I love that idea! Goals are much easier to achieve if you enlist friends' help.

    Four years ago I was retired from what I'd been doing for 15 years, and thinking, "Is this it? Am I done striving? Impossible!" Then a friend asked me to join her on a trail ride in Wyoming that summer. I said, "I've never been on a horse; do you think I should take a lesson?" Which started me on a crazy quest (well, for someone who was 55 at the time), and which is still ongoing.

    Riding has become the joy of my life, next to my kids and grandson. Who knew? Right now I'm trying to get proficient enough to do a little jumping. Not much, and you will certainly not see me competing, but just enough that I can say I can jump a foot or so. It's also great exercise, and is getting me outdoors more. And my best friend, who is older than I am by a couple years, is in the same adult riding class. We've made some great additional friendships in the class, too.

    I made my first quilt last year, Hallie. Double-bed sized. But the pieces were pre-cut, so my next goal is a queen-sized quilt for my daughter, with pieces that I cut.

    Cracks me up that you ended up with a handbag! There's still time for a quilt.

    My other goal is to write fiction good enough to publish.

    Ha! My Capcha word is "tackse". (See horse info, above.)

  7. Am trying to get rid of everything that's in the way of my working on what I really want to work on. Getting uber-organized (which is like writing a book ... it never gets any easier). Getting rid of "stuff." Learning to focus on command. Perhaps in 10 or so more lifetimes ....

  8. I want that quilt in the picture! But I still want to make one.

    And I want ALL of Hallie's food.

    So, fat and naps. This morning, after not enough sleep,those sound like pretty good goals. I suspect I will have revised them after a nap.

  9. That torte looks amazing. I used to make a seven layer pumpkin torte every Thanksgiving..maybe I'll resurrect that this year. Okay, secret goal that I've never shared with anyone..I'd love my garden to be wonderful enough to be chosen for my town's June garden tour event.

  10. The cake takes the cake. We all want to eat it. That's my goal this morning for sure. Otherwise . . . . to write something different from anything that came before. To take a vacation without a computer. To unearth the funnybone that first got me published in Mademoiselle and that has been buried deep since. Damn, I love to laugh. And even more to make people laugh.

  11. Reallly, Rosemary? I hope one day you'll post some photos of your garden. Would love to see it.

    Oh, PJ; "getting rid of stuff" is a goal I'll NEVER be able to reach because there's a very sweet husband standing squarely in the way. He's a keeper, so I guess his stuff is, too.

  12. Karen, what a great story! I confess I'm afraid of horses. They are seriously large. And they snort and bite and have opinions about where you are going. Jumping! Wow.

  13. Oh, Kathleen, I think writing 300 pages of funny would be a completely unreachable goal for me. I can do about 200 words.

  14. Melissa Robbins! You win the book from yesterday! Email me via my website...and I will send you the book!

  15. Although I had a respectable list of publications, I really really wanted to publish a mystery. Now that goal is in sight. I think my next goal is to carry it through a series. Then, I don't know. Hallie, I love and share your cooking goals but I also laughed out loud at your quilt that ended as a bedspread.

  16. The cake looks sublime, Hallie.

    Mary, I'm going to steal that Lofty Goals Luncheon idea. I have several friends who would get right into the spirit of that.

    My goals this morning?

    Get my WIP to the point where I feel pleased and proud to send it out. (Finished the first draft last month, now is in revision stage two.)

    Find work/life balance this fall in a way that has been difficult in the past few months.

    And my secret goal: a hole in one.

    Brenda B.

  17. Like you, Ray, my son was in a Red Cross Life Guard class and they needed extra people to sign up or the class would be canceled. I looked at my daughter and asked if she wanted to join. “I can’t pass it,” she said.

    “Neither can I,” I told her, “but if we sign up the class will go, we can swim three times a week, and your brother can be a boating instructor at camp this summer.” So we did.

    We both failed the test by a small margin. The instructor said he give us two more weeks to practice and retest us both. I passed, daughter didn’t. When she cried, I told her, “You didn’t fail. Now you know what your need to work on.” She passed the following year beating all the guys in that class and that’s how we all ended up working at camp the following summer.

    My goal now is to get a story published in Woman’s World Magazine. I keep submitting. The rejections keep stacking up. I keep working toward that goal. Someday, hopefully sooner than later.

    Rosemary, I'd like to see picture of your garden also.

    And now I'm craving that torte.

  18. Sorry I didn't chime in on this. I was on a plane to Hawaii.

    My unreachable goals: never be a good skier. Never win an Olympic medal. Never make love to Robert Redford....

    The still reachable ones are to make that NYT list.. which I have missed by inches several times. To actually WIN the Edgar, not just be nominated. To become a relaxed person who can enjoy doing nothing...

  19. Sorry I didn't chime in on this. I was on a plane to Hawaii.

    My unreachable goals: never be a good skier. Never win an Olympic medal. Never make love to Robert Redford....

    The still reachable ones are to make that NYT list.. which I have missed by inches several times. To actually WIN the Edgar, not just be nominated. To become a relaxed person who can enjoy doing nothing...

  20. Gosh, Hallie, I can relate about the torte. Have never done one, but have ambitions. When a friend of mine heard me whining about a cake that didn't turn out right, she said, "Well, baking is chemistry. When you accept that, you will be a baker."

    My 'impossible' goal is to play symphonic percussion professionally. I've done it in volunteer ensembles, and have even gotten paid for a few one-off gigs, but to get to that top level is another thing. The competition is fierce, the audition process grueling, and I'm essentially self-taught, against young guys fresh out of music school. To get to that level I'd have to cut back drastically on my writing work.

    For now, wish me luck for my upcoming audition with the Tampa Bay Symphony, which is a volunteer ensemble but still tough to get into.