He’s 94, but his eyes are still clear, and he drives his car, albeit these days only to the store and church and, sometimes, to the doctor. His deft fingers that once repaired watches are still steady, and his eyes crinkle as he tells you a story, and the closer he gets to the punchline, the deeper the crinkles.

He’s been a preacher longer than I have been alive and still preaches in the small church in the town where he lives every Sunday. He comes from a long line of preachers. His ancestors were hard folks with a hard religion, preached without electricity from brush arbors in rural Arkansas and Mississippi and Tennessee in a time that needed hard folks. I’ve never heard him preach, but his people are Bible-beaters with clenched fists that punch the air to make a point.

He buried two wives and a daughter, and when he was a young man, his government put him in a green uniform and sent him from the hills where he grew up to a destroyed city in Japan, where he helped clean up the aftermath of the atomic bomb. After you see death on that scale, not much surprises you anymore.

And every Saturday, he fires up his ancient computer and makes a PowerPoint presentation with the Bible verses he will use in tomorrow’s sermon, along with the key points of his message. And at night, when he misses his wife and his daughter, and the house is a little too quiet, he will get out the old box of photos and scan them into his computer, and then share them on Facebook, tagging my wife to show her how pretty her mother was when she was a teenager.

I learned about the weekly Powerpoint ritual a few years back at Thanksgiving. He had driven in from two counties over, where he was living at the time, to eat with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I said how impressive it was that he was proficient with a scanner and Facebook. One of his granddaughters mentioned the weekly PowerPoint presentations.

I told him that I had never quite gotten the hang of PowerPoint. He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “It’s not hard. I could teach you if you want me to.”

The thing I fear most as I grow older is not the inevitable decline in physical ability, or even the loss of my mental faculties, although that is a concern. No, the thing I fear most is that bit by bit, I become less open, less accepting, and more fearful of that which is different or novel to me. More than anything, I fear stagnation.

I know many people who were at the cutting edge of the Civil Rights movement or who fought literal fights to get women ordained in their churches who then quit progressing. I was in a meeting once with a revered, legendary civil rights activist whose story has filled many a book, and watched him poke fun at people for announcing their pronouns and heard him call the term Latinx “silly.” It was sad, really. One day, he decided he had gone far enough, and the world passed him by.

Progress is a moving target, of course. What was seen as progressive in 1964 is basic human decency today. Yesterday’s radical is today’s Rotary Club member. Just like Great White Sharks, who must be in constant movement lest they suffocate, we must ever be moving forward, ever open, and not content to rest on what we did once, long ago.

The Gap

My Aunt Louise could not swim. At all. She was afraid fo the water. We used to joke that she was scared of deep dishwater. Ten-year-old me loved the water and would grab any excuse to be at the beach. Some things, I guess, don’t change.

So it baffled me that she couldn’t swim.

“My mom was afraid of the water, and forbade me to go near the water until I learned how to swim. It’s hard to learn to swim if you are not allowed in the water.”

I can see that it would be. Most things, like swimming, require you to be not good at them first.

I hate not being good at things. Ira Glass has a famous interview where he talks about the gap we experience when we begin to learn a new skill. There is how we envision it in our head and how it actually goes. The gap between those two is what we have to overcome.

Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?

A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit. And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be — they knew it fell short, it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have.

And the thing I would say to you is everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, if you’re going through it right now, if you’re just getting out of that phase — you gotta know it’s totally normal.

And the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work — do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week, or every month, you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions. It takes a while, it’s gonna take you a while — it’s normal to take a while. And you just have to fight your way through that, okay?

I hate that part – the fighting your way through the suck. And yet, I don’t think there is any shortcut. You must do a lot of bad work before making good work. I wrote hundreds and hundreds of horrible, embarrassing blog posts before I ever wrote anything I was proud of. My first sermon was supposed to be 15 minutes long – it lasted 4 minutes, and honestly, I sorta stretched that last minute out.

Glass mentions that some people get intimidated by the gap between their taste and their reality and quit. And that’s tragic. But equally tragic is the people who do not recognize the gap. Who write mediocre things and think it’s perfect. Who don’t put in the hours because they think their game is already good.

So thank God for recognizing it’s not there yet.

The web today prioritizes video. Kids these days grew up with a video camera in their pockets. It’s their first language. But it isn’t the first language for me. I’m a writerm, both by training and inclination. But I try to not get too caught up in the medium – at the end of the day, the message and it being heard is what matters to me.

So, I decided to learn video storytelling. But first, I need to understand the platforms. So, I’m shooting a short (less than 90 seconds) video daily and posting it to Instagram, which then cross-posts to Facebook. I’m also uploading them directly to TikTok and YouTube, so I understand the workflows there.

None of it is very good. But I’m taking some comfort in that at least I recognize that it sucks.