My heart swings in wild arcs over canyons of the unknown
Hang on, white knuckles to the slippery bar and tattered rope that threatens to drop you one way or another
Down into the breaking of hearts unmendable succulent burn of muscle and fiber fighting to hold on to the imperfect known and not fall into the unseeable future.
Have I so little faith in the universe’s plan? is my human failing to fear so strong? when the only worse case is just death in itself only a doorway to another journey another dark canyon another unknown
Cling tightly white knuckles until the shaking trembles unbearable and you have no other recourse than to let go.
You can go back, but you can’t go back all the way.
Last weekend I was able to attend a writers conference in my home state of Wyoming. I graduated from the University of Wyoming many moons ago. Long enough for them to completely move my Anthropology Department home into a brand-spanking new building and rearrange so many other departments that my morning run through campus was surreal.
The world keeps spinning around us, and the evidence of it is magnified when we’ve been away.
The conference goers came from all corners of the state, Colorado, and even Florida. It was a small group but friendly and supportive. I enjoyed meeting everyone and getting a chance to speak about publishing options to a crowd of over thirty (I managed not to vomit, so let’s all take a moment in recognition of that).
I couldn’t help but notice, however, that during some of the talks about trying to bring more diversity into the state and the writing group, dissent from a few gentlemen at my table.
Eye rolls and curses, crossed arms and head shakes.
Psh…Diversity. Libtard Bullshit.
Some things don’t change.
And the evidence of it is magnified when we’ve grown into more decent humans, while our past stays stagnant.
Sometimes you move on while the world you once knew stands still. The world that raised you and built you; the world you want to be proud of coming from, remains encapsulated in a time and space that relies on fear and old beliefs to such a degree that you almost want to slink away and change your own story.
My sister and I have discussed this. She said she could never move back, that the minds were too small. And I agree. There are some pretty petty, tiny minds there.
But this weekend I also saw a lot of open and gracious minds. I met “typical” rancher types who wrote magnificently about the importance of land stewardship and the quintessential diversity and equality of hearts. I met people who shared poetry and thought even though it was hard for them, who took outsiders into their arms and world and accepted them. I saw the stirrings of change.
So I can’t agree with her.
The potential for something better is like a river being stopped up by a long-left beaver dam. If we refuse to take out the dam and just leave the stagnant pools lie, then we leave entire worlds and cultures isolated enough to breed their own hate and misconception. The more people start moving the wood, start letting the fresh water in, start encouraging the current, the faster and cleaner that river will flow. The more good and open hearts we put into a place, the more good and open it will become.
I’ve come to many cross roads in my life, I’ve had challenges both self created and imposed upon me, and it’s taken years of experience to know that growth comes with great discomfort. And choosing a road doesn’t always mean you’ll stay on it. And quite often we’re lost in the boonies…but it doesn’t mean we should stay stagnant, or allow others to stay stagnant when their potential is for something much greater.
Challenge yourself this week writer. Step forward into paths that scare you, take chances with your writing and your ideas. Join that critique group, invite an outsider in, always work on the side of fairness, equality, and love. IF we all choose that road, this life will be a much more beautiful place to travel in for all of us.
Gentle readers, today I’m writing to you from a house full of tile breaking, wood tearing, abhorrent hammer striking, and general disarray. The bassets are petrified, the cats have taken to hover beneath beds and cower behind me on an already ‘cozy’ chair.
Times of transition are like hurricanes. Confusing, loud, messy and intense. There is uncertainty and a sense of powerlessness that directly affects our peace and sanctuary. Some of us deal with the changes with decidedly more grace than others. Some are rocked off their foundations, never to be the same again.
The point is that no one is safe from change. And why the hell would you want to be?
Change is the great motivator. It is the one unequivocal trait of the progression of human life. Without it we are stagnant lumps. Change breeds invention and new ideas, it sparks, hopefully, encompassing understanding and empathy. Compassion even.
What happens though, when we have too much change? When we are in a constant state of upheaval. When everything in life is a transition?
It is proven that children who suffer chronic instability (experiencing transitions so often that instability becomes their norm) can suffer from toxic stress.
Toxic stress increases the risks of several physical and social problems including but not limited to increased risk for cancer and diabetes, heart, lung, and liver disease, increased risk for smoking, drug abuse, suicide, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, domestic violence and depression.
While a normal amount of stress can be good (it stimulates healthy growth, promotes resilience, and helps us to learn coping mechanisms), constant stress and insecurity in our lives actually causes the body great physical and psychological harm.
The effects are more pronounced in children but adults are not immune. Just ask the millions of people living with high blood pressure, depression, cardiac disease etc. We are in over our heads.
So how do we balance the change and transition? How do we grow and push our boundaries without breaking apart our safety net?
Balance seems a cop-out idea. Of course balance (*eye roll*). That’s like asking “how do I lose weight” and some smart ass saying “Just diet”.
True…but too general. Diets, like balance, are not a one size fits all idea. What is balanced for me is way too much for someone else. One man’s half-dozen donuts with no metabolic detriment is my sure-fire step towards acquiring the diabetes.
How do we find our balance? How do we find the right amount of change? I think the answer lies in retaining sanctuary in our lives. Now I’m not talking humpy-backed bell swingers walled up inside the cathedral, sanctuary. I’m speaking of it on a more personal and sometimes mental level.
Are you safe in your own mind? Do you have a place to go, in your brain, where you can let go, remember to breathe, where your shoulders can drop away from your ears and you can feel at peace? Or is it all hell-fire and disaster, 24/7 from the moment you wake from stress-induced nightmares to the moment you’re knocking yourself out with Nyquil just to escape?
We all need peace. We all need change. How much of each is dependent on who you are.
One person may be content taking 15 credit hours, while raising a family of six and working part time for the PTA. Another may be perfectly happy chiming into an online forum on bee-keeping once a week and counting her reading in hours not minutes. One person may be at home living from a suitcase, jet-setting to all parts of the world for a story and a perspective never gleaned. Another may never leave their childhood hometown and yet still maintain contentment in the smaller world around them.
I’m not here to tell you how much change to accept. I’m here to tell you to accept some change. Pursue some change. But if you find that all you do is change, and you can’t recognize yourself or the people you love anymore, then it’s time to come back home.
Use that one word…what is it? Shoot, I’m not very good at this word, though I’m learning to let my lips form it’s simple monosyllabic music…it’s… NO. The word is NO. If you’re genteel you may even tack on a “Thank You” at the end.
NO is a great place to start. No I do not want to go to that party. No, I do not want to volunteer sixteen hours a week when I’m barely getting my chapters written. No I don’t have time to bake seventy-two cupcakes for the basket-weaving club…would you take a donation instead?
Conversely…don’t forget your YES button in the gleeful mania of refusing. Yes, I would love to meet you for coffee, it’s been too long! YES I would love to take a weekend class in basket weaving. YES, it would be an honor to help out for five hours a week. YES, I’ll go to Italy with you, tall-dark-and-handsome stranger…(*guffaw* still waiting for that one to come around).
You know you best. If you aren’t sleeping. if you’ve bitten your nails to the nubs and can feel the bonds of your family life deteriorating. If you’ve sacrificed what you’ve loved to do what you “should” for too long, then its time to take a long hard look at your hurricane and find a graceful exit from the storm.
If you’re still in a dead end job because you’re too afraid to throw caution to the winds of the hurricane blowing outside, do yourself and everyone who loves you a favor and chase that storm. Live a little for gods sake, we only go get so much time! Don’t waste it wishing for something better, when you are perfectly capable of hunting down the something better and taking it back to your sanctuary.
Now I’m going to go see how the holes in my walls are fairing and make myself a quiet cup of tea whilst in the eye of the drywall free hurricane. Ductwork is fascinating.
A child of the late 80’s and 90’s will remember the daring and billed crime fighter and his catchphrase of “Expect the Unexpected.” I’m pretty sure that phrase has since been taken over by an insurance company, or pregnancy tests, or police searches; but once, it was the mantra that a hero lived by to always be on the ready.
Adults live by it in more boring ways (insurance, family planning measures, radar alert gear on the dashboard of our cars). We’re taught to prepare for the unexpected. At least, in all of the adult ways we live by. But to expect the unexpected isn’t just about saving for a rainy day or assuring ourselves, in the most pessimistic of ways, that something bad will inevitably happen and we must be prepared for it, it’s also about preparing for opportunities.
How do we prepare for something that can’t be predicted? In a similar way as with expecting the worst; by keep open in our mindset that anything can happen and allow for flexibility in our plans.
Now, I’m a big believer in the fact that the only constant in our lives is inconsistency. Change. We can always count on things to change. The world turns, human’s doot around in their peculiar and quirky little ways and the tides of life fluctuate. Sometimes they recede, sometimes they tsunami. The more ridgid we are, the harder we are pushed against by the ever-changing, chaos-driven shift of time that swirls around us. Or the more disappointed we become when that tide draws ever farther away from us.
But if we can shift our mindset to accommodate this certainty of the quirky dance of life around us, then we will be prepared to deal with the challenges and also find opportunities in them. Because when you open your mind, you can look past the immediate hurdles of a change, to the bigger picture beyond. This is the important part. Remember how I italicized that “anything” up there? Pay attention to that.
I like to call this the “Anything Can Happen” moment. Here’s the caveat; shhhh…come closer and I’ll tell you…little closer…little closer… okay that’s too close, did you have onions at lunch? Back up a bit, here’s it is:
You have to look at what’s beyond the obvious challenge, with a positive lens.
UGH! Positivity! No! I’m a bitter and jaded, starving artist! I don’t DO positivity! It’s sooooo naive!
Yep. Sometimes it can be. Trust me, I’m a former, card-carrying member of the Pessimistic Society of Debbie Downers. I still get stuck in that rut too. But, it always leads me to nothing but dead-ends because I’m limiting myself by the perceived constraints change seems to bring.
I’m not asking you to be all zipidy-do-dah-Disney-slap-happy-blind to reality. I’m asking that you take a step back and be a realist with an eye for what good can come from the situation. There’s always something good.
Expecting the unexpected means being at the ready. Not just for danger and doom, but for the possibility of something better. To always be in a position where you can slip through the crack of those opening doors and explore new paths, different ideas, an unobstructed view. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but this can lead to an ever-increasing sense of well-being and a little more calm when faced with upheaval.
Stagnation may seem safer, but it will leave you treading water eventually and you’ll look back on the things you should have, could have, done but didn’t have the open mind and the faith to try.
In your writing life, which can often seem to err on the side of challenging rather than rewarding, I urge you to keep your mind open. To throw yourself into opportunity and be willing to accept with a sense of curiosity and humor the outcome. Life is chaos and beauty; destruction and creation. Remain flexible and willing to see the challenges in your life as opportunities to grow, to learn, and thereby succeed.