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BlogElul Day 23: Begin

For all their excitement and potential, many people find beginnings to be extremely difficult, if not downright daunting. I think for many, it’s because we view things to be, before we start, to be in some sort of perfect, pristine state. And once we start involving ourselves there’s the very real chance that we’ll make it worse, not better.

But I believe this attitude gets it completely wrong. I’m thinking about a conversation I had recently on Technically Religious with programmer (and Rabbi) Yechiel Kalmenson ( – jump to the 4:46 mark for the part I’m quoting):

“I mentioned the quote from Steve Klabnik in the newsletter he said that “…programming is a moving from a broken state to a working state. That means you spend the majority of your time with things being broken. Hell, if it worked, you’d be done programming!” I mean nobody’s hiring programmers to take care of working stuff. So that’s what we do as, that’s our job description.”

I think about that a lot now, as I start a new project – whether it’s writing a blog post or a book; or starting to code a new script or program; or work on a new project: that when I begin, it’s completely broken. Nothing about it is working. And my job is to begin to make changes until some of it is working, and then all of it is working.

I also think that many of us find beginnings a challenge because we feel obligated to start a project at what we perceive to be the beginning and work our way forward to the end. And the beginning may not (in fact, often isn’t) the best part. The beginning is where you have to introduce the reader to the characters, the world, the conflict. It’s not the good part. That part comes later when the villain intones “I am your father, join me and we shall rule the galaxy together!”; or where the plucky hero outwits the dragon; or where the pirate reveals that he’s really been the princesses long-lost true love and they share a kiss that even 10 year old readers don’t think is icky.

I think Joss Whedon explained it best ( “Some people will disagree, but for me if I’ve written a meaty, delightful, wonderful bunch of scenes and now I have to do the hard, connective, dog’s body work of writing, when I finish the dog’s body work, I’ll have a screenplay that I already love. I used to write chronologically when I started, from beginning to end. Eventually I went, That’s absurd; my heart is in this one scene, therefore I must follow it. “

We can apply this to life, and to the new beginning we are looking toward during the month of Elul, as well. There is a lot of hard work in the changes we may be considering. But there has to be some fun, some joy, some excitement to it too. If it’s all dull, grey, drudgery then you’ve done your homework wrong. Look again at how you can start (and move through) the coming year doing what is right, but also doing it in a way that gives your life meaning and happiness.

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