It’s good, every now and then, to pause and take stock. Take a deep breath, stop dashing from task to task, look at where you are. This seems like a good time for me to do that. Actually, there isn’t really a bad time to do it.
When I meditate, I try to focus on my breath. On the sense of my body. On the sounds around me. On the thoughts that inevitably hijack my attempts to focus. I have observed that three general topics tend to be the first to intrude. Writing is number one. I think about my next blog, or my next article. I think about who I should be contacting and what I should say. Where I should go with whatever piece of fiction I’m currently working on. I think about the ms. that is out to two beta readers and worry that the reason I haven’t heard from them is because it sucks. I think about the book I’m about to publish, Awake Chimera. I’m pretty sure this one doesn’t suck, since I’ve had two SF heavy hitters praise it. I’m confident enough in it that I approached a professional artist to do the cover, and did a Kickstarter to fund it. Never done a Kickstarter before. Never attempted crowdfunding. It succeeded, and that is good. I don’t know if I could do it again. I hate asking people for money.
I hate asking people for anything. Why is that? I don’t mind when people as me for favors. For help. Why does it bother me so to be in the position of needing? Is it pride? Hating to feel obligated, like I owe my benefactors? Does accepting help put me in a position of subservience somehow? I can analyze this into atoms, but it won’t change the core attitude. I’ve got this thing about asking for help.
Which makes the other big issue I’m dealing with even worse. I got some bad information from a clerk at the DMV, and so I am looking at a summer without a license. I was very careful to ask questions every step of the way, do everything I was told, follow up promptly. But I missed a piece because this clerk assured me I was all set. She was wrong. I missed a deadline to file for an ALS hearing, and now it’s too late. Even though I’m fine with the court, and the legal system says I can have my license back June 18, the DMV, which has its own rules and procedures, says no. I have to wait until September. Yes, its a stupid, inconsistent, unjust system. It screws poor people. So what else is new?
If I’d coughed up several thousand dollars for a lawyer, I could have avoided this. But I decided against it. I’d already cost my family enough. Even now, I don’t regret that decision, because at least house arrest for the summer doesn’t cost my family anything. I’m the only one who suffers. I’d rather have it that way. Except I will have to keep bugging people for rides. I have to ask for help. I hate that.
So I’m grounded for the summer. Can’t go anywhere without a chaperone. That’s going to have a major affect on the second thing that generally demands my attention when I’m trying to focus on my breath: Hiking. Mountains. Wilderness. And me in it. Some of my happiest memories are of me, alone, out in the woods. Everything I need is in my pack; I just walk. Free. No obligations other than to get to where I’m spending the night next. This is why hiking the Appalachian Trail has such an appeal. It’s simple. Your concerns are weather, over which you have no control, and walking, over which you have absolute control. And food supply. Eat what you have, then stop and get more. Water. Fill your containers whenever you can. Occasionally an opportunity presents itself for you to bathe and change clothes. But no one expects a thru-hiker to smell like a rose.
Just walk, and experience each moment as it comes, pleasant or unpleasant, new trail with its surprises presented to you each morning. Life reduced to pure simplicity.
I doubt I’ll be able to pull off hiking the AT any time soon. In fact, thanks to my inability to drive, I can only walk locally. No way to get to the mountains I love. Unless I get a ride. See paragraph three.
It’s only one summer. There will be others. But that equation means something different when you’re 58 as opposed to 28. I’m running out of summers. I’m running out of years. I had lunch with an old friend the other day. I enjoy the company of adults of all ages, but there are certain life experiences that you can only share with somebody your own age. We both are facing something similar. When you’re down to your last few dollars, what do you spend them on?
The third train that pulls into the mental station when I’m trying to maintain meditative focus is my husband. A lot of good years with a good man. Through no fault of their own, people change. Their goodness doesn’t change, but life has its effect. We all find ourselves bushwhacking through the jungle, and we come out places we didn’t expect. We pick up a lot of scratches and bruises along the way. It can strengthen a partnership or fracture it. One wants to go in one direction, the other doesn’t. Both feel strongly and both are right.
My sons and I often take walks in the evening. We talk, or I listen to them talking about stuff I barely have a clue about. Video games, Dungeons and Dragons, music. I don’t mind, because I want to know what they are into and what they think. And sometimes, like when they are talking about creating their D&D characters and backstory, I can help a little. Otherwise, I’ve discovered it’s best to keep my mouth shut. When things get heated between them, I feel the urge to play mom and try to settle things. Nope. They are adults, now. I’m here if they ask, but otherwise, I’ve done my thing and now they need to do theirs. So I listen.
In many ways they are so much alike. Geeky, passionate about science and truth, outraged by cruelty, injustice, and irrational behavior. But they each have their own take on things and get into vigorous debates, tugging in opposite directions like a couple of terrier puppies. From the outside, I can see the validity of both sides. I also see the impossibility of them coming to an agreement. Neither is going to convince the other. They’ll argue all the way up Blakes Hill Road and back down again while me and the dog trot along behind. Maybe they eventually work their way to some tentative resolution, but on the whole, they have to agree to disagree. That’s just the way it is.
Both feel strongly. Both are right. Coriander: It’s delicious; it’s disgusting. Hiking: It’s the best experience in the world; it’s difficult, exhausting, and pointless.
Whichever way you feel, nobody is going to change your mind. Because, from where you sit, looking out of your eyes, feeling what you feel, having walked your path and picked up your bruises and scars, you are right. You are entitled to your assertions and justified in making them.
Certain choices can lead to disaster. We try to avoid those. But we don’t really know where our choices are going to lead, or what might lie on the other side of an apparent disaster. Or an apparent success. That’s the problem with big decisions, the ones that keep us up at night and gnaw at us. We are scared we’ll do the wrong thing and regret it.
But maybe, just as there can be opposing opinions that are both just as right, there are no wrong choices. Just choices that don’t take you where you anticipated going. Decisions that don’t pan out the way you hoped. There are so many factors out of your control, factors you couldn’t possibly know about. All you can do is roll with it. Improvise. Check you compass, consult your map, scratch your head, and go from there. If you turn left, and you don’t like where it goes, who’s to say you would have liked turning right any better?
So, in this summer of ball and chain, I will take stock. See where I’m at. Do things I wouldn’t have done if I’d had the freedom to go as I’m accustomed to. Wherever you go, there you are.
Here I am.