Josh Irby

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True Grits 2: In which I discover I am a mayfly

[box] This is part two of a seven part story on Grit called True Grits’ Guide to a Grittier and More Successful Life. You can read the previous post here. Join the discussion in the comments below.[/box]

“The first thing you need to know about Grit is that it ain’t just something you do.”

I was sitting in an abandoned saloon on a Hollywood back lot talking to a man named True Grits.

“Grit is a way of seein’ the world.”

Photo by Jehane (Creative Commons)

Photo by Jehane (Creative Commons)

I started scribbling notes in my journal.

“Let me give you an example. The may fly lives for less than 24 hours. She is born. She eats. She reproduces. She dies. All in the time it takes you to fumble through your day.

“On the other hand, a bowhead whale can live for up to 200 years. People come and go and he’s still livin’. So here’s my question: Do you think the may fly and the bowhead whale see time the same way?”

I ventured a guess. “I don’t know, the may fly is probably so busy buzzing around trying to make his short life count for something that he doesn’t have time to think.”


“And the whale can take his time. I guess.”

“Okay, so one more question: How long do humans live?”

“I don’t know what the average is, maybe 70? But I have known people to live to 100.”

“That’s right, ‘bout half-way between the fly and the whale. Then tell me, why are people always buzzin’ around like may flies on the way to the grave? Why is everyone so busy?”

I felt my blood pressure increase. It was not that True Grits was wrong, but that he was sticking his finger in a wound. I stay busy. I feel empty when I am not.

I raised my voice and pushed back, “I don’t know, because we want to actually make something out of our lives? We don’t want to go down in history as a worthless fly? Success goes to the one who gets the job done.”

True Grits replied in a softer tone, “Does it?”

His response cut through my tension, “Doesn’t it?”

“I met this snotty-nosed kid the other day. He musta been 20 or 21. He’s whining’ ‘cause nobody’s reading what he’s writin’. Does he deserve an audience just for breathin’? He’s buzzin’ around like a mayfly, pissed because nobody’s listening to the drivel he’s spent the past 18 MONTHS working on! Doesn’t he know that history is full of writers whose works weren’t read until they were six feet under! They’re down in the dirt, worms chowin’ down, before they get an audience. Whiny punk!”

I had nothing to say. I was that whiny punk, always rushing from goal to goal and task to task, frustrated because I had not arrived.

“Listen, this is a mayfly world. But you have to think like a whale. Take it slow, build it up, don’t hurry.” True Grits shifted on his stool and looked at me in silence.

“I think I get it. Gritty people don’t have to have everything now, they are aiming for the long-term. Life is a marathon. If you sprint in a marathon, you won’t make it very far. You have to pace yourself.”

“It’s not just that. This is not about bein’ lazy. This is about peakin’ at the right time. Do you know when men are at their peak? I mean the time when they can get the most done?”

“I don’t know. 40? Isn’t that when you are over the hill?”

“Wrong mayfly. It’s ‘tween 50 and 65. At that age, a man has somethin’ to say, his experience has earned him an audience. That is, if he hasn’t melted his candle. You watch them boys who shoot out the gate like the grave is bearin’ down on them. Maybe they fly high, but they fall hard. Can’t take the pressure. Can’t sustain the speed. If you’re smart, you aim for 50. You take it slow. You sneak up on those goals real quiet like and then they don’t see you comin’.”

“I get it. Instead of racing through every day I need to see all of life at once. Instead of complaining about what I haven’t done yet, plan to peak later and build towards that.”

“And when that little mayfly voice starts buzzin’, get the fly swatter.”

“So, how do you break out of the mayfly pattern? How do you start thinking like a whale?”

“You have to start with the end and work backwards. Success don’t mean getting’ there first, it means finishin’ strong. There’s no medal for fastest first mile in a race. The prize goes to the winner at the end.

“So I’d ask myself what winnin’ looks like at the end of my life. Where do I wanna be and what do I wanna be doin’ when I am 50? What kind of person do I wanna to be? Write some stuff down. If your goals don’t go further than next week, should you be surprised you live for the moment?

“And, when others are getting’ awards at 20, just keep your head down and go to work. It’s a long life.”

My hand hurt from scribbling feverishly in my book. I knew I was a mayfly. I was  jealous of my peers who were ahead of me. That made me try harder and work faster. I was getting tired but going nowhere.

“Okay, I’ve got it. You said there were 5 things, what’s next?”

“How ‘bout a drink first?” True Grits slid off his stool and circumvented the bar. The clink and clatter of glass filled the empty saloon as he dug underneath the counter. At last he set a bottle on the bar.

“What do you have there?” I asked.

True Grits was about to answer when the bottle exploded, sending shards of glass in every direction. The shock sent me backwards off my stool. From the floor I saw the light bulb shatter and the room when black. My heart pulsed in my neck and warm blood trickled down my left arm. Reaching with my right, I pulled a chunk of bottle from my bicep and winced.

A hand grasped my foot and pulled.

It was True Grits. “Get behind the bar.”

I slithered across the floor to the back of the bar, glass continued to rain down around us.

“What is happening?” It was half question and half cry for mercy.

“What’s it look like? Someone’s shootin’ at us.”

[box] Questions for Discussion: Are you a mayfly or a whale? What are some of your long-term goals?

Read the next chapter here. [/box]

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