I’m running late but actually walking, on my way to meet Nancy and Kim for one of our writing sanctuary days. The sun warming my nose mitigates the distress in my heart about the events of the previous weekend.
Wouldn’t it be a great turn of fortune if the bus just happened to come by right now or better yet, a friend I hadn’t expected to see who happens to be going just where I’m going, and driving a limo stocked with mimosa fixings, picks me up and gets me to my destination, perfectly on time and delightfully champagned?
I pass the bus stop, call to check the times, and it’s actually ten minutes away. No miraculous bus. I might as well just walk the ten minutes to the corner where I’d need to transfer anyway.
For a few blocks, I keep my eyes open for that unexpected friend.
Another block and my shoulders slump under the weight of my backpack. I realize that I’ve failed, horribly.
I failed to conjure a magical bus, a synchronous friend moment with a luxury car and breakfast cocktails, or any kind of E-Z pass from here to there. How could I have so deliberately ruined everything? What is wrong with me?
“Listen, Jen,” I say gently to me, “what if you’re just supposed to, you know, do the regular stuff you need to do to get from here to there?”
Well balls, that doesn’t sound nearly exciting or important enough. Don’t you know I’m supposed to be extraordinary, like all the time?
“Or,” I say, leaning in closer to me this time, “what if the real magic trick would be for you to conjure the grace to be with what is?”
I roll my eyes at myself because I can be such a know-it-all pain in the ass sometimes.
I remember Kim sharing with me her favorite definition of happiness, which goes something like this: not being in conflict with what is.
Oh I loved the sound of that. In theory.
This past weekend, while Mike’s car is in the shop for massive price tag repairs for at least the next week, he was borrowing his dad’s car. Somewhere in the dark early morning hours of Saturday, the car was stolen, from the little parking lot right in front of our apartment. I have to say, I’m in conflict with that. The violation of having something taken from you while you sleep. It’s left me feeling like I need to keep showering to get the ick off. Not to mention that Mike has been in the midst of a series of unfortunate events for some time now.
Although I would love to be happy, I’m not sure how not to be in conflict with at least some of that misfortune. The suffering of the person closest to my heart. It makes me want to take a battle axe and do some damage.
So okay, maybe I haven’t graduated to the not being in conflict with what is. But do I have to be in combat with it? Maybe I could accept some lower degree of happiness. Maybe neutrality is not being in combat with what is.
Sure. I could go for neutral. Even-keeled, pleasantly taupe, unsalted cracker kind of neutral.
Except that ultimately, I know I want happiness. I won’t really be able to settle for neutral. I hate taupe. ACK! See, I’m in conflict with neutral already!
I may have a lot of work to do.
Part of writing, well, okay, part of Jen-ing, is being able to imagine other realities and possibilities, to say, what’s next? To invite a reader to turn the page. That’s my work as a writer. But my work as a human seems to be to ask, what’s now?
I know this isn’t just a writer issue. I think we all struggle with the question: can now and next peacefully co-exist? Well, I believe the answer is yes, and not just peacefully, but with some amusement. Let me explain.
At our last writing sanctuary day, I felt stuck, and I wasn’t the only one. All three of us tried to force our way into a writing prompt, but just couldn’t get there. Finally, Kim called us out on our disgruntlement. “Let’s just write into that,” she said.
I laughed and suggested the prompts, “At my worst” or “On my worst day.” We set a timer for nine minutes, and the pens flew. None of us were at a loss for words anymore.
When we shared, I felt myself dislodged, like my misery hit the eject button. We read our words and laughed at our respective onslaughts of judgment and despair. It was actually entertaining.
Not to mention that after that, I easily moved on to write other things. My self-contained battle of Me Vs. Everything screeched to an awkward halt. The warring sides set down their weapons and had a playful picnic, and I was able to go about my business.
So now, a few weeks later, here’s my aha: to create forward movement, we must entertain the present.
I’ve realized before that accepting what it is helps to step into what will be, but the new nuance here is the entertainment factor.
And now, dear creatures, comes the part where I nerd out over individual words and their gooey, multi-layered deliciousness.
One of the definitions of entertain is “to consider.” So yes, to create forward movement, be present to the present. Allow it. Consider it.
Great. But there’s more!
Another, more familiar, definition of entertain is “to amuse.” So to create forward movement, why not amuse the present, too? Considering and allowing are fine, but frankly kind of, well, taupe. Maybe the present, like me, has a strong distaste for taupe. So why not give it something to giggle about?
Give it your over-the-top life soap opera to watch. Tell it all about the evil twin who is sabotaging all of your relationships and endeavors with her heinous behavior. Show it your devastated heart and how you’re forced to move to Barbados to escape your tormentors. The present will eat that stuff up. Seriously.
Which brings us to your FHP activity for this week, should you choose to accept it: entertain the present.
Pull out your pen and paper, set a timer for five minutes, and write into the beating, bloody heart of what is for you, in this moment. Let yourself be as angry as you want, or giddy or sad or whiny or whatever. Don’t settle for drama. Really whip up some melodrama. Not “I feel a little hopeless,” but more like, “All is lost! I am in the bleakest darkest corner of the loneliest cave where even the stalagmites look down on me.”
Read what you’ve written out loud, and see if that doesn’t shift some things for you.
Better yet, find a friend to do this with. That way, you’re not only entertaining the present, but also each other.
So back to the present…
I’m walking and giggling with the present over my trip into the I-ruined-everything-zone. I feel loosed, relieved, and I enjoy the last few blocks to the bus stop. I sit in a sunny patch on a blue bench, and enjoy the almond butter and pepper jelly sandwich I didn’t have time to finish at home. I sip my coffee. As I get on the bus and another woman gets off, she glances at my feet and notes under her breath, “purple shoes.”
She’s found me out all right. I am in fact wearing purple shoes.
I put my ticket in the machine, and the bus driver says, “Nice January day.”
A little too loudly and dorkily, probably because of my purple shoes, I respond, “Why yes it is!” And I mean it.
I set my backpack on the seat next to me and smile, riding to somewhere new.