Jim Klobuchar, Ecumen "Changing Aging" contributor: In 45 years of daily journalism, Jim Klobuchar’s coverage ranged from presidential campaigns to a trash collector’s ball. He has written from the floor of a tent in the middle of Alaska, from helicopters, from the Alps and from the edge of a sand trap. He was invited to lunch by royalty and to a fist fight by the late Minnesota Viking football coach, Norm Van Brocklin. He wrote a popular column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for 30 years and has authored 23 books. Retiring as a columnist in 1996, he contributes to Ecumen’s “Changing Aging” blog, MinnPost.com and the Christian Science Monitor. He also leads trips around the world and an annual bike trip across Northern Minnesota. He’s climbed the Matterhorn in the Alps 8 times and has ridden his bike around Lake Superior. He’s also the proud father of two daughters, one of whom is Minnesota’s senior U.S. Senator.
A Chaotic Search for Progress
The toast was burning in the kitchen while I thrashed miserably in the dressing room 15 feet away, grappling with the waist buttons of my freshly pressed, going-to-church pants. All the rules of rational behavior told me I should break off this unequal struggle and try to avert a bonfire in the kitchen.
Right about then I remembered one of those homely little axioms from my weekly meeting: “try for progress, not perfection.”
You may be familiar with this summons to civilized behavior. The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous have rescued millions of faltering human beings from the roads to self-destruction. Most of its practicing members long ago abandoned any illusions about the strength of raw will power to keep themselves upright and sensible. The language of those 12 steps is a tough catechism of survival. It has now become common currency around the world, along with AA’s taut little aphorisms that make the point unavoidably clear. “If you’re waiting for miracles,” one of them tells us, “God doesn’t drive a parked car. So do something positive.” Or “You’re only as sick as the secrets you keep.”
Generally I accept all of the wisdom there, including the hazards of perfectionism. When I say perfectionism I’m not talking about calling the Geek Squad when you forget your password. One of my problems is Rudyard Kipling, the old poet laureate of the British Empire, whose tutorial on the hallmark of achieving manhood finished with this stirring call to the principle that nothing succeeds like excess:
“If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run, yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, and—which is more—you’ll be a man, my son!”
In other words, time is precious. I have relentlessly applied myself to this proverb whenever tempted, sometimes with awkward results. The morning after the presidential election of 1960 I was working with the Associated Press in Minneapolis, writing the election stories from the Midwest. The race between John F.Kennedy and Richard Nixon remained tight into dawn. There were no exit polls. The world clamored for a winner. Three states were still out, Minnesota, California and Illinois. At 9 a.m.we decided that Kennedy, with a rush of votes from the north, would carry Minnesota and win the presidency. I began writing furiously, declaring Kennedy the winner, summarizing the historic nature of his victory, fingers flying across the typewriter keyboard, giving myself no time to use carbon paper to track the copy. The bureau chief tore it out of my typewriter one paragraph at a time and raced it to the teletype operator. Midway through I yelled to the teletype man, “Bob, how does that last paragraph end?” He tried to be helpful. “With a period,” he said.
But this is 2010. The world has changed but I still have this sentimental fondness, this obvious delusion, about being able to pack end to end action into those unforgiving minutes. I know for a fact that it takes toast 8 minutes to become toast at our house. So I armed the toaster and knew I had time to shave, take my morning pills, dress for the day and be out into the kitchen in time to harvest the toast. I was virtually dressed and ready to bound into the morning when the last waist button on my trousers refused to work its way though the eyelet. I twisted the button, turned the eyelet, wriggled the button, used brute force. Nothing worked. And now my wife in the kitchen was yelling about smoke from the toaster. The coffee pot was whistling wildly. The alarm was about to sound and my wife was worried about the fire brigade heading to our house with sirens wailing. I rushed in and disarmed the toaster. My wife silently rolled her eyes. It was humiliating. I retreated to finish buttoning my trousers.
Someone talk to me about progress.