Sunday, August 3, 2008

Clear-eyed Gaze

I'm writing this from the deck of our rental house on the Oregon Coast, just south of Newport. The sound of the surf is everywhere, a sweet rushing backdrop to the sun and the wind. It is, easily, 30 degrees cooler here than in Boise - and the cool air makes me want to walk for miles, or ride my bike until I tip over.

We got here late on Friday night. I arrived home from work Thursday fully aware that the list of tasks I had assigned the vacation-fairy on Wednesday (that's me, I just like to pretend I have minions) remained undone. Some laundry, banking, all the packing, load the car, shop for essentials and a few treats for our fabulous housesitter....choose vacation books! I also added roasting a chicken (Road Picnic!!!!) and trying to fix the "broke-at-the-last-minute-Weber-grill"....

I make fewer lists than I used to. I am less well prepared than I once was. I am clear, crystal clear, that preparation has limits and that it can replace joyous improvisation, or provide a false sense of security about the world and our ability to knot up a safety net. I only make lists now when it is to capture a detail that is important (roast chicken Thursday night for picnic!), not because I think a trip will be ruined if I forget my copy of "Oregon for the Curious" or my nail care gear. Here is how I pack now: I have a travel bag of toiletries that I just toss in, and then I just walk around my closet and pick up clothes. It takes me literally 15 minutes, 8 of them spent wrestling the suitcase down and choosing shoes. Whatever you choose, you'll wish for some one other item. Whatever you do to prepare, the world will toss some unprepare-able action your way. Some will read that statement as cynical, or negative - and some will see that it is merely true, and that the acknowledgement of it, the acceptance of it, is a path to joy.

So we're here, and I've walked and walked, ridden my bike to the top of the Yaquina Bay Bridge (SO glad I brought my bike), read two books and several magazines....napped a LOT.

The sound of surf calms me, as I think it does many people. It makes me think clearly. Here is what I'm thinking clearly about this evening. My last conversation with Cameron-the-Counselor was, to me, unhelpful. He is pressing me to accept my life, to limit my dreams, or to "accept my limits." I know why. I look at me as he would and think "give yourself a break, already - in fact, give everyone around you a break and let UP." And I appreciate, sort of, that thought. Thank you, I'm sure your heart is in the right place. But since I'm me...I've an opinion. It is one thing to be sure that a person sees the limits, knows the odds, is aware of what they are up against. But whether to take them on is an achingly person decision. So, say to me "you know the challenges, right?" but not "accept your limits." From...well, forever, I've been refusing to accept limits. Why on earth would I start now? Because it's easier? Pfft. It's easier to limit our dreams. It is easier to stay home. It is easier to drift through your career, numb yourself with TV and purchases and investments. It's easier to grow fat and unfit and "accept your over-40 limits." Yeah, this advice hit a nerve. It's maybe smarter, certainly it is less turbulent. But I want to say to him "did you forget your give-a-crap tie today?" I'm not interested in advice to limit my dreams - until it is proven to be impossible, get the hell out of my way. I'm not an idiot, so I know that I have to keep making make small, necessary adjustments. But I'm a long way from accepting my frigging limits. Maybe this is what he intended, to kickstart my "kissmybuttkusCameron" motor - if so, it worked.

One of the books I brought, and am reading slowly in small sips, is Tony Doerr's Four Seasons in Rome. To read Tony's books is to know something of him, of the smart, generous, funny, careful person that I watched lead one of my fiction workshops. His work continues to delight me, and to be a distinctive and lovely mixture, a marvel of craft and heart and science, truths of the kind that can be researched and the kind that can only be felt. One of the lines in this book caught me, though, both in the offhand delivery and in the truth of it: "We came to Rome because we'd always regret it if we didn't, because every timidity eventually turns into regret."

It is true, I think, that when we pull out the moments we regret, and turn them over honestly, that they are often entangled in moments of timidity, in snarls of self-doubt and fears of unnamed origins. But I suppose it is something of my Scottish roots, or maybe my life experiences, that makes me achingly aware of how much the expression of fear, of timidity, is rooted not in some weakness of character but in the bruising and "lessons learned" from the world's blows. More, I wonder at those who are able to keep it at bay, who get knocked down, stand up, and somehow keep the fear at arm's length. I've long said that I admire most those who are knocked down but get up again. That, for me, is the test. Will you get up, and will you do so with your hope somehow still intact? It's what we hope for in our heroes, and in our secret hearts it is what we hope for in ourselves, and fear we will not do.

So, yes. You can't write something like that sentence, or read of Tony and Shauna and their babies in Rome, or think of the sacrifices my friends are making to make the space to create their art without being humbled, and without grinning. Okay, Ms. Patti. From the top, this time with feeling...give it a little something and make it sweet.

Be well, wherever this finds you!



Anonymous said...

SNAP - you tell the man, sugar!

Mikey said...

More BOOK stuff, please! You know I can't read anything you don't recommend!


Kelly said...

Your posts are always so insightful. It sounds like your counselor needs a counselor. Maybe you should volunteer.