September 18, 2020


I already have one.

To make ready beforehand. Preparation. The word has a Latin etymology, and of course, an Old French ending. Perhaps the origin of a word doesn’t matter much, but we take in words with so much invisible baggage we aren’t aware of how we judge our hodge-podge language.

Judging only by the word’s origin, we attribute the sound of it to be more florid, fancy, a bit more high-falutin’. But “preparation” isn’t a fancy thing, quite the opposite. Preparation is working in the dirt, long, late hours, years of toil.

So perhaps we should shorten preparation to “prep work,” as this has Dutch and German origins, and sounds more populist because of it. Short, hard sounds telegraph the intensity of the journey.

I wanted to write about preparation because of the Olympics.

preparation for camping
Dining room table meal-prep for seven days of backpacking

I wanted to write about preparation because I am going camping soon, and we have been doing prep work for weeks.

I wanted to write about preparation because it is how I procrastinate about my writing.

All of those things are true.

Alexander Graham Bell (think telephones) said:

Preparation is the key to success.

And I suppose he should know. Scientists are notoriously methodical, and part of method is preparation.

But scientists don’t have a lock on that sort of thing. Chefs are taught immediately to establish mise en place before beginning. The phrase is French for “everything in its place.”

preparation for cupcake coma
Olympic Rings in cupcakes.

With professional athletes and Olympians, we know that their athletic training began in their childhood. We look at Michael Phelps or Katie Ledecky, and we can picture in our minds’ eye the myriad of swim meets from their childhoods. How every dinner tasted a little of chlorine.

I’d like to think that I have worked very hard to prepare myself for the life I lead today. Everything from having learned to tie a shoe when I was a child, to the two and a half years of my MFA program forcing me to practice both critiquing and to writing.

But life gives many more lessons, some harder than others. A few more turns around the sun and priorities get separated out, as if our minds were in a centrifuge, circling and circling until the sludge divides from the priorities.

I’m drawing you down this path to say one thing: a little prep goes a long way. Prepare today to prevent panic tomorrow.

preparation to read
The stack just gets bigger.

I sell myself short when I do my prep work, because it is the work that happens before work, and in my impatience, I see it as a waste of time. But reading another book on a topic before I write about it is worthwhile. I am more informed, I won’t make mistakes that I will have to go back and correct.

The submissions I made last week, even if they aren’t accepted, allowed me to practice and refine my query letters further. Not to worry, I’m still collecting my rejection letters. But I am now feeling like I can stand on each rejection letter as a stairway to an acceptance, which is due partly to the fact that I now see each “No” as a way to prepare for an eventual “Yes.”

The word “Preparation” peaked in modern usage in 1947. I think it is interesting that it did so after our biggest war was over. Because preparing for peace might be harder than preparing for war.

We get through our personal hard times because we have to–one day at a time and all of that. But to get through the good times, now that is a challenge. We have to keep ourselves from sabotage, from letting our demons tell us we are failing.preparation

No, you tell them. I’m merely preparing.

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