Choice

I live on a pond. A spring fed, well-behaved stable kind of pond with one outflow near our house. When it rains a lot the pond level rises since the outflow can’t compensate fast enough, and that’s when I start to panic. Since our house is right on the water I fear flooding. Or do I? It would have to rise a biblical amount to flood the house and even in hurricane Irene, we were fine. So why do I get all tense and sleepless? Obviously my overreaction—I would call it terror—is not normal. Then one morning during yoga, a snippet of memory flashed.

I was on my dad’s sailboat and we were heading for Bermuda. A storm was settling on us and I was steering–my dad standing next to me. As it rained harder and the wind picked up, my dad said “I don’t know how much more of this the boat can take.” At his comment, my knees buckled, and it was only my hands and arms gripping the wheel that kept me upright. I thought; if my dad thinks we’re going to sink, we’re going to sink. I’m going to die.

Obviously I didn’t, but it was a fierce storm, made worse by my belief in my dad’s words. Now when it’s raining and the water level rises next to my house, my emotional memory is screaming at me to get this situation under control even as my intellect knows it’s impossible.

How do I sort this out? I think the answer lies in choice. I could blame my father for saying that thing that scared the bejesus out of me and left me with the emotional memory, but I could also choose not to. I could say: I do such-and-such unhealthy behavior because of the way I was brought up. But now I’m fifty-five and an adult, and if I’m still doing that behavior, it’s because I am choosing to.

Acknowledging choice creates space. And creating space gives us some objectivity. There are aspects of my childhood that taught me unhealthy behaviors. But in order to see that I had a choice to be a different person, I had to create space—I had to get away from that ‘normal’ to see other possibilities. It’s like clearing a garden in a tangle of forest. We clear it inch by inch until there’s enough space to realize we can plant what we want rather than accept what is there by default. So that ‘s it. We have choices. Always.

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Expectations

The soft mewing of a wood duck as she calls to her chicks distracts me, and does that tiny cacophony I hear in the blueberry bush mean that the kingbird chicks have hatched? And the bullfrog! Can’t be more than ten feet away as he booms out his message. I am writing  outside on a beautiful June morning but that may not be the best idea if I want to get this done.
However, I wanted to talk about expectations.

I have a lot of unfinished projects: A quilt that’s just pieces of squares, a half-finished chenille scarf on the loom, a partially completed crewel work design, a sketch for another piece of embroidery and pounds of wool roving that would like to be spun.

So when I read in one of my writing books that the biggest mistake beginning novelists make is to not finish their projects, at first I thought:  ”Uh-oh, better remember that.” The odd thing is though, that I think of myself as a person who makes up her mind to do something and does it. That doesn’t seem to gel with all the unfinished craft projects.

When I sat down to think about it, I realized that the craft projects were all begun for specific reasons. I started making the quilt squares when I moved to this new house as an intuitive way to help me piece my life into a new pattern. I put the scarf on the loom between semesters in anticipation of needing something repetitive to do as I teased out the words for grad school papers. I embroidered to infuse some color into dark winter days.

These projects were all started to fill a need, and now I realize that they are incomplete because those needs have been met: I have a new life in a colorful pattern, turns out I didn’t need the loom project to jump-start my writing brain, and with the end of winter the colorful spring began. So although the projects are unfinished in one sense, they are finished in another sense–the sense that my expectations around them have been met.

If a project is no longer fulfilling, ask yourself why. Maybe it’s because you’ve already completed it. It’s not the actual physical finishing that makes something complete, it’s the fulfillment of the expectation.

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Potential

Earlier this week I researched female education in the late 17th — early 18th centuries in Massachusetts for an essay I’m writing for my local historical society and I can honestly say that I really, really love research. I love finding little snippets that seem like gold, the piecing together of bits to make a story. I love the quiet and the books in the reading room of the research library. I love the sheer amount of potential that surrounds me–the potential of learning, of discovering, of finding interests, of creating.

On the drive home my friend and I were discussing our new life changes—a new career for me and retirement for her and she said how the funny thing about retirement is that people tell you what it is like, but what they really mean is what it is like for them. That resonated, because that’s how I feel about this nascent career of mine in writing children’s books. People tell me how hard it is to get published and make a living and then ask me what I’m working on. If I say a picture book, they tell me I should really be writing a chapter book because that’s what’s popular now. If I say a young adult novel in verse, they say verse doesn’t sell.

But, as with my friend’s experience with retirement, these people are telling me what it is like in their sphere of knowledge, based on their experience, in their own life. Which is, when you pick it down to its bones like that, a pretty limited viewpoint.

All of our viewpoints are limited. They can’t be anything but because they are necessarily based solely on our own experience. Which is not going to be someone else’s experience or the next person’s experience either.

So here’s my idea–instead of giving people advice “for their own good” (which is almost never why it is given) how about we all just encourage the heck out of each other. Let’s all admit that we don’t know the first thing about someone else’s potential and so the best thing we can do for them is to trust that they are onto something and tell them to go for if that’s what they feel like doing.

What we are really doing when we encourage another person is telling them that we believe in their belief in themselves. We are supporting their belief in their own potential–and that, to my mind, is the truest ‘advice’ we can give.

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About Time

There is a term used these days that rankles me like fingernails on a chalkboard–real time. And I may be going on a little rant here–sorry. The vernacular “real time” has become a synonym for the “present”. And I suppose it’s because there is so much information available to us via the Internet that a qualification is needed between what is an original interaction and what is disseminated through the layers of media stratification. But it’s the subsequent illusion of knowledge–because of all this information accessibility–that makes the term “real time” so annoying for me. Because time is not a quantitative entity–something that can be packaged up into a neat glib term–it’s a profound mystery, and to my mind, we need more profound mysteries to dwell upon and less information minutiae.

Here are some interesting ideas about time:

Einstein discovered that time slows down the closer a moving entity comes to the speed of light.

Mircea Eliade wrote about sacred time—a circular time incepted in ritual, where the very act of performing a ritual connects that time to all the previous times the ritual was enacted.

 Zen Buddhists say time does not exist, as in; there is no three o’clock in the afternoon as something separate from ourselves–time is one moment after another.

In the space/time continuum theory, space occupies three dimensions and time is a fourth dimension.

Closer to home, time can be both the grandfather clock with its precise tangible mechanisms, so carefully handcrafted, and the electric impulse of the digital clock.

And time can be an internalized boundary—an asset or a stressor–“plenty of time” or “not enough time;” “out of time.”

And finally, the Buddhist belief again: there is no future, just an endlessly changing present.

Which would–happily–mean that all we ever have is real time.

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