Written Wednesday, June 10, 2020

I sat down earlier this evening to think a little bit.


I do a lot of reflecting these days - a habit I started (due to a combination of necessity and lack of meaningful alternatives) early in 2019 - but this session was different.


I have been introspective for most of my life, but mostly in bursts or short stints, until 2019. I've written before about what that year entailed for me and what came from it. Until today, though, I've looked at my own story as a sort of thread of continuity - a consistent but sometimes distant or distorted voice of experience across three decades of life.


I've traced the path of that thread many times before, mostly noting the significant turns, snags, tangles, and interesting changes in direction. But until today, I'd never really attempted to look at the larger context of everything around that thread - not merely at the places where I have gone, not even the places I could have gone - but the total setting of everything else that was going on around it all.


A few nights ago I wrote a short summary of major life events that I titled "things I survived." It was just a sentence, maybe two, about each thing that seemed like a serious ordeal, either at the time or in hindsight - the kind of things that would make me viscerally shiver in empathy if someone else mentioned a similar experience.

The list was just over three pages of dense prose when I stopped writing from emotional exhaustion. The final paragraph trailed off with a string of allusions to "lesser" experiences that, if I'd heard someone else mention, would still at least summon a heartfelt wince.

By itself, the exercise seemed interesting, but somehow lacking something. I resolved to never show it to anyone, because it almost seems too made up to be true. After some more consideration, I resolved to never show it to anyone, because - in all honesty - it feels self-aggrandizing, or like fishing for pity, or maybe one of those otherworldly tales where someone just remains unfathomably pure and optimistic in spite of almost caricatured hardships.

In the face of current events, with all the undeniable attention aimed at the sheer inertia of systemic racism, with the inescapable focus on longstanding oppressive cultural, political, and economic norms, and the very real loss of life and perpetuation of suffering in the world, it felt unspeakably trite to share my own list of "stuff some white girl lived through" - despite much of that list being rather horrific in its own right.

This evening, I realized what was missing from that exercise. The list is not important. What is important is that the list is about much more than who I was then, or who I am now.

The story of my life has taken thousands of turns - some larger than others. Some have been for the better. Others have not.

I don't want this to sound like some sort of sermon about how I always wound up making the right decisions and some kind of strength of character guided me back to being a reasonably good person. I don't think that is true. Many of the more intense twists and turns in my story reflect some of my worst decisions and mistakes.

What matters, I think, about this story is that it is not a monologue. It cannot be told with a cast of one character, and it cannot be told authentically without spending generous amounts of stage time with the endless line of people who have, at one time or another, called me on my bullshit.

Say what you will about temperaments and personalities, very few human beings ever truly exist in any meaningful degree of isolation. Quarantines during a pandemic don't count. Perhaps more pointedly for the current moment, imprisonment doesn't meet the criteria for true isolation either: imprisonment (unjust or otherwise) could not occur if there was nobody to put people into prison in the first place.

Like it or not, we cannot escape the fact that our lives are interconnected. In perhaps more flippant terms, everybody has parents, at a very minimum.

I've wondered a lot, since April of 2019, about what it would ultimately look like to tell "my story." After tonight, I don't think I should - at least, not like that.

But I would very much like to tell a story - one in which I have had a part, to be sure, and also one with so many more parts than I could ever properly capture on the page.

My life is riddled with interventions and interactions, major and minor alike, that served more to steer the "thread" of my experience than anything I ever could have done on my own - elementary school teachers, friends, colleagues, writers, thinkers, musicians, others dealing with similar experiences in their own lives...

I feel, now, that what I really want to do with this project is to help people find ways to discover alignment - the shifts and steering that change our individual courses, whether that means from day or day, or across our entire lives.

I have sensed, on several noteworthy occasions in my life, a sort of feeling in the air of uncertainty, of tension, of stagnation, of perhaps even hopelessness. Sometimes those moments give way to collapses, and sometimes they are revealed - in hindsight - to be the gathering of immense energy that just needs somewhere to go.

That ambiance has, for me, usually been contained to a relatively small set of circumstances. What I've felt this past week seems to literally touch the entire world.

Life, for each of us, is going somewhere. We may like the direction, or we may not. We may see good possibilities, or we may feel trapped. But one thing I can say for certain: in any group of people, no matter how big or how small, when people begin to move in the same direction, things get interesting.

Find people who are clearly moving in a direction that seems better. Move with them, even if it is slow or hard or seems pointless. If you can, point others to that alignment, that activity. Give the energy a direction.

The momentum builds, and perhaps far more quickly than any of us ever really expect - even people like me, who have seen this pattern many times, and even been a part of directing that momentum before. Nothing is ever quite as surprising as the sheer power of people pushing in the same direction.

So let's all go somewhere lovely.