When I was given the opportunity to write this book, whatever God is up there said, You got your dream. I said, Actually I was hoping for a lighter topic.
“The best way to improve your writing is to cut.” A less-than-stellar professor I had in grad school used to say that. I disagreed with nearly every aspect of his pedagogy, but that piece of advice about cutting has proven relevant to far more than writing.
It’s been established in my earlier works that I’ve cut many people out of my life, cut bad habits, cut out excuses, cut through barriers, and, yes, cut thousands of words and ideas along the way of learning to write, writing to learn, teaching writing, and writing to teach.
As a matter of fact, I had three single-spaced pages of notes to write this blog—before these past few days compelled me to abandon my work altogether and deal with a more pressing matter of the heart. Unfortunately, this kind of writing is about vulnerability; it’s a carving out of oneself while everyone watches.
So, here is my momentary truth: The pandemic is stirring up old anxieties about the fear of being happy; in my mind, at best, happiness is an illusion and, at worst, it’s a set-up on the part of the universe. I am losing my patience. I am becoming less interested in the lesson behind these circumstances. Though I can honestly say that I don’t wish my situation upon others, I am jealous—even irritated—when I see others’ lives aligning in ways that mine is not. As Chanel Miller communicated in Know My Name, this story “does not have a happy ending. The happy part is there is no ending, because I’ll always find a way to keep going” (p. 325). I am trying, with no happy ending in sight, to not contemplate, or strive for, happiness, to just let the moment be what it is. For better or for worse, Miller also reminds us that “The world is not fixed” (p. 322).
I am actively working to replace “but” with “and”—to say “I am blessed and there are ways that I am struggling” rather than “I am blessed but there are ways that I am struggling.” This allows all the circumstances in my life to co-exist rather than compete. I can recognize my privilege and my struggles; to conceptualize my identity as either/or is a gross oversimplification of humanity. I, therefore, am also actively working to not let impatience and jealousy and frustration and sadness take up more space within myself, and more time in my life, than patience, grace, and appreciation. But I can feel it all. As the tattoo on my back—“the gentlest survivor”—implies, I strive to be equally tough and empathetic.
As part of that identity, I am a fixer, a problem-solver, a planner, and a doer. The pandemic, however, is showing me just how little any of the identities I’ve prided myself on actually matter at particular moments in life. And yet I know that I have been here before, feeling somehow trapped in a box and nevertheless lost at the same time. And at each period in life in which I have felt this way, I have both found and created better times, even if on a small scale. So, I am trying to balance fixing and solving and planning and doing with waiting. Just wait. “The world is not fixed” (p. 322).
And because I have no happy ending to this story, recognizing it’s not the story I wanted, or the one I currently know what to do with, I will leave you with an anecdote from Miller—knowing that, someday, I will know better what to do with the material given to me at this moment, where to cut and where to nurture the narrative. So, Miller writes:
I think of our backyard pond growing up. Of the goldfish we’d bring home, bobbing in plastic bags on the surface of the water. My dad explained they needed time to adjust to the temperature of the pond before being released. If such a small creature required such care, imagine the complex process a victim must work through in order to integrate back into daily life. There is no right way, there is only listening to what is good and comfortable for your body. Maybe now you are terrified, bobbing inside the clear plastic container around you, thinking, I am trapped, this is not how it’s supposed to be. Just remember: the temperature is slowly changing, you are adjusting. You will make it into that pond. With a little more time, you’ll be free. (p. 267)
 Miller, C. (2019). Know My Name. United States: Viking.