I Call Do-Over!

After seventeen years of no homework, it hasn’t been exactly easy to get started again.  I love my new field of study–in fact, I love just the title of it–expressive arts therapy.  This particular school uses the body as a road map for discovering-telling-integrating life stories, and our first month focused on the legs and feet.  This was all well and good until I got to the homework.  Among the drawing, dancing, and creative writing, the following sneaky question was slipped in:  What do you want to take a stand for and how?

I instantly hated the question.  It made me feel embarrassed that I am no longer doing something big and grand for the world.  I thought back on all the times I had “taken a stand,” both in and out of professional contexts.  They had all been so rigid, so exhausting.  It occurred to me that I don’t really know how to stand for something without locking my knees and digging my curled toes into the ground.  I was sure that was the kind of “stand” the question was asking me to commit to.

But, being the reformed perfectionist that I am, I sat down to answer the question anyways.  The words that tumbled out shouldn’t have surprised me considering who I’ve worked with and the life I’ve lived.  Needless to say, they did.

I’d take a stand for revision.  The right to change your mind, your mood, your life.  The right to keep reaching towards life even when it appears far away or others call you greedy for doing so.  The right to be many things.  The right to adapt quickly or slowly, whichever is more real.  The right to people who love multiple versions of you, throughout the years or within the course of a day.  The right to leave those who don’t, won’t, or can’t.  The right to stand out in the rain until even concrete gets wet enough to melt.  The right to invest resources in following whispers around corners or shouts off the edges of cliffs.  The right to not feel guilty when you stop telling the old stories.  The right to take generic advice until you know what you specifically need.  The right to dabble at the outside until you’re gutsy and well-resourced enough to dive into the center.  The right to fear and confusion.  The right to pride and astonishment.  The right to heart-stopping questions from unexpected places.  The right to dismiss other possibilities without wondering, “What if?”  The right to fail and make a giant mess.  Revision.  I have worked for this and will again.

My heart has been awake for some time now to the joy I have in helping people find their voices, but this was an update to that familiar theme.  Not only do I want people to know, value, and use their voices, but I want to help them follow the changes to that voice, preferably as they happen.  I want to sit next to people as they create, but also as they re-create an outgrown form.

The only part of the question I could not yet answer is ‘how?’  I’ll be getting new homework in about a week though, so stay tuned.

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The Loneliness of Leaving

Transitions are lonely.  Whether you asked for the change in front of you or not, you can’t be two places at once. Leaving an old way of being often requires leaving behind the people, thoughts, places, and routines that used to keep you company there.  Not only is this space inevitable, but necessary in preparation for the new.  You can’t see and adapt to something coming if you’re too busy to look towards it.  Small transitions may require less space, but the need remains.

However, this conventional wisdom seemed wholly insufficient as I read my writing partner’s daily writing yesterday.  He, like many in the Bay Area, is exploring the move towards an intentionally nomadic life–no fixed address, limitless possibilities. The writing starts with the story of his bad day, but the last few lines speak powerfully of the loneliness that can infiltrate everything during transition.  As I often do with his lean and elegant prose, I felt jolted.

Why is transition so lonely?  I turned the usual answers over and over in my head today, like suspiciously perfect pebbles.  After supporting people in transitions for almost twenty years, I felt like I should know this one.  I’ve also managed to stay friends with myself throughout deeply difficult transitions in the course of my life.  This has been no small feat of belief.

During the most recent, leaving public education, there were some astoundingly lonely moments.  I have arguably had the best friends of my life in the last few years, but knowing I was supported didn’t always help.  It definitely didn’t help knowing I had chosen to walk into this place of isolation.  Even when focusing on the beauty this move brought to me, and continues to bring, the beginning still felt like I was stranded on an island with no fruity drinks to take the edge off.

Of all the unhelpful, true things in these times of transitional loneliness, the most unhelpful and true is this: sometimes you are supposed to be lonely because of what you learn there.  Loneliness has gifted me immense healing, understanding, and love, especially when I don’t try to escape it.  But the moment before these gifts arrive?  I still want to know why I am sinking in the quicksand of dislocation.

I have been thinking a lot about the collective unconscious in the last week: the words, themes, and images that hide beneath the surface we present to the world.  Could it be that transitions are lonely because we don’t know what the big ones are really about till years later, if ever?

On the surface, yes, my writing partner doesn’t want to keep spending more than he makes.  He’s after a specific quality of life that can’t be created with those constraints.  On the surface, yes, I needed to leave teaching to learn to exercise all my gifts in a more sustainable way.  But almost two years later, I am more and more convinced that leaving teaching wasn’t really about leaving teaching.

So what was it about?  I am at the outside edge of that answer now, packing supplies for a journey into its forest.  I grasp its form in image and metaphor, and a moment later it’s gone.  But because it’s hard to know the real why, it’s also hard to explain it to people, to plan for it, to talk to yourself about it, to do a thousand other things that would make it feel less lonely.  You simply have to trust and keep moving forward.

Transitions aren’t going to get easier, but you and I can get more curious, more patient, more willing to close the door, draw the shades, and see what comes.