Uncertainty and Hope

Beloved, let us sit down together in the shadow of the oaks; let us take deep draughts of fresh water from the clear, swift stream. In the scorching heat of the middle of day, let us take refreshment like the dragonflies that skim the water’s edge, and be restored by the caroling of birds in the distant shade.Digital illustration from a photo: By the Cooling Stream

The days are long and our work makes wearying and seemingly infinite demands, and we know that this will not soon change. There is change of many sorts ahead, this we know too, but what it will be is yet beyond our imagining. Thus it has been, and so shall it ever be: we travel our paths, seldom knowing quite where they lead, and we labor in darkness the while. Some days, the destination is sparkling joy, and on others it is marred by sorrow and strife; at times, the mists of uncertainty part and the way ahead becomes clear, and at others it remains quite fully obscure.

Photo montage: Beloved, Let Us Sit

What I know, Beloved, is this—that no matter how hard or easeful is the road and no matter what the destination holds for us, we walk our way together, you and I. We may long for clarity and even for the strength to wait for it, but in the meantime we will take our stops for breath along the way, sitting in shade when we may and drinking deeply from the icy stream, traveling always hand in hand no matter what the journey brings.

Changing Directions

Digital illustration: Changing Directions

Do I move at the whim of the slightest breeze? Often enough, I suppose. But what really changes my direction in life? Chance? Passion? Accident? Will?

I’d say it’s been one or another of all of those at various times, and perhaps occasionally a combination of elements. What I would say most definitely and commonly is that I have rarely known very far in advance what direction my life would be taking, let alone exactly when. Living with uncertainty is at the heart of the human condition. We can’t know (nor would I wish to know) much of what lies ahead for us. Being an artist, and married to an artist, I have made some choices that guaranteed perhaps an even deeper and more frequent susceptibility to wondering what comes next. While both of us have taught at times, an occupation that has a degree of predictability and dependability absent in most other employment that involves our artistic skills and training, it never prevented the question from arising in other ways.

For me, as a longtime adjunct at the university, it meant that though I’d been there for nearly seventeen years (most of those, full-time) before I stopped teaching, I never had a contract in hand for more than a year at a time, nor was my class load or schedule in any way predestined; I taught what I was asked to teach, when I was asked to teach it. For my spouse, a tenured full professor and director of his division, he still had questions about how he might change and grow as a teacher, never mind whether to apply for or take any of the other positions on offer at other places from time to time.

We are, I think, pretty much the ordinary pair when it comes to that sort of thing. Even now, after many years of doing particular kinds of work at specific places and getting plenty of satisfaction from those various tasks, it doesn’t in any way stop us from asking, What next? Will we continue on the present path exactly as we are just now? Do we opt to  make any kinds of transitions, either changing the way we do what we do or the venue for doing it, or does something entirely new entice and draw our interest? If it does, is it attainable? Is there some utterly unimagined thing lurking just around an unsuspected corner, waiting to draw us in?

At times, it can make me feel as though I can never quite catch my breath or my balance. I tire of asking myself all of these whys, hows and what-ifs, yet I can’t resist scratching at the questions the minute I thought I’d put them to rest for a while. Even when I’m most happy and fulfilled and contented, I always wonder what lies ahead.

And that, of course, is the very heart of that human condition. We know that change is inevitable. We know that some of it will be by our choice, and much of it will be thrust upon us or sneak up subtly and surprise us all the same. And we know that, in some ways, the only guarantee we have is that we will all die wondering. It’s what we do, and it’s who we are.

Make a Note of It

I do, and learn, new stuff all the time. I wish it’d stick with me! It seems my approach to learning is very much of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back variety, or possibly, one forward, two back, if I’m to be entirely truthful. So much seems like water flowing through a sieve in this ol’ brain of mine.

That is one of the prime forces that made me such an inveterate list-aholic. I fear that if I don’t have lists for every occasion and purpose, and lists of what those lists are, I am doomed to lose whatever motes of mindfulness I have collected in the course of my journeys. Not that lists aren’t perfectly able to be misplaced, forgotten and misinterpreted themselves.

There is probably no perfect solution to this problem. I end up thinking about my lists almost more than about the contents of them or what I might do with said contents, most especially avoiding the thought that if I spent the list-composing and writing time on simply doing what I am making notes to remind me to do, I might not even need the lists. Heresy.

What can I say. I am a pessimist: I don’t think I’ll ever find enough time in a day to get all that I want done accomplished. I am an optimist, too: I think that if I hold something so dearly important as to document its urgency on a list, surely I will someday get it done. Obviously, I am just a good old-fashioned, self-deluded fool. But I have a whole list of reasons that that’s okay and will still get me to my goals. Eventually.digital illustration

Tell Me Not What Lies Ahead

digital illustration from a photoEven if I could I would rather not see the future. If it’s not to my liking, then I’ll despair and give up all attempts to improve upon it; if appealing, it will tempt me to live in constant yearning and not invest my heart and hands in my own present.

That doesn’t stop me from persistently trying to scry any hints of what’s to come in whatever handy crystal ball I can conjure. We’re curious creatures, we humans, and impatient at that. I wish and want and hope and dream, along with all of my fellow mortals, thinking that if I just knew what lay around the next bend of the road, surely I would be content, or at least if not content then prepared. But few who have access to dates and deadlines, foresight and certainties actually prepare in full, and once the approaching events are known they so often become the sole focus of the journey, not a point along the way, in fact distracting us from all of the possibly meaningful points that do exist en route.

I would rather not give myself any excuses for being even less attentive than I already am, and to be honest, I think it would take a fair measure of the charm out of discovering my life with a degree of surprise as it happens. Do I hope that what comes will be pleasurable and kind and fulfilling? Naturally. But whatever it is, I will let it keep its secrets for now; there is a lot to be seen and felt and done long before I get there, wherever there is and whatever it holds.

Crawling & Leaping

photoDo or Die

I am not brave, not big and strong, and change gives me the creeps,

But when the moment comes along, my crawling turns to leaps,

Because my innate sense of time and self and hope, my drive,

My dreams and aspirations, climb and make me feel alive–photoSo much so that I can’t keep still, must jump right up, arise,

And spring to action, and I will push onward to the skies,

For all that lies ahead is unknown, hid, but what may be

Is great and magical and fun, is grand and wild and free–photoIf I don’t take that daring chance and forge ahead at speed,

How will I, short of happenstance, find anything I need,

Or grow, improve, achieve, emerge? How can my sorrows sleep?

I know I’d best just fight the urge to crawl, and rather, leap!digital illustration from a photo

Ultimatum in a Kindly Voice

From cavernous frog-hollow bogs and willow darkened border ponds, from spiky sun tied down in strands of those explosive irises so wild that they spread right over the water as unharmed as magic fire; from restive ducks and cat-sprung goldfinches among the blackberry vines and the easement’s stripling trees and soughing weeds; from these—from all—comes in the dawn a rustling, chuckling dance and clatter, and a call to come to morning, to rise up, come and fly: Move out! Move on!

photo

Everyone should Retire Early

The creaky proverb ‘Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’ has irritated many a dedicated night-owl, and presumably even more so, many a person who was committed to belief in the axiom and assiduously followed its recommendation while continuing to fail to become healthy, wealthy and/or wise. This precept, of course, is only one of a great many that would seem to promise the same sorts of desirable results to its practitioners. And also, of course, only one of as many that consistently fail to deliver on the promise.

Since on average, life rarely puts anyone directly on the path to success and a wonderful, comfortable retirement enjoying it–and the aforementioned life coaching doesn’t generally nudge anyone toward it either–I would think it best to choose and pursue, each of us, our own different paths as needed to try to achieve those ends. I’m not entirely sure that I see it as particularly useful to accept the proposed and codified definition of the desirable kind of aging and retirement anyway. How on earth could (or should) there really be a one-size-fits-all solution to the puzzle of what every unique human wants or should want as life goals?

The only thing I do think makes sense as a somewhat universal goal is to be as well as one can manage to be, and be doing what one loves, not more, not less. For some, that might well mean employment; there really are humans who love their jobs. For many, it would mean either finding work that is lovable or finding ways to get by without having a standard sort of job. In any case, whether it’s called Retirement or Finding Your Bliss or just plain means discovering what makes one happy and managing to capture it somehow, I like to think that doing such things at a particular time in one’s life or in a certain way is pointless and that the best solution is to do what one loves as soon and as constantly as one can possibly do. Retire at age six? Why not, really? If by retirement we mean doing and being exactly what we’re meant to be and loving it, that seems like exactly the right thing to do.

Go ahead. Put me out to pasture.graphite drawing

Sources of Brilliance, Such as We Are

digital drawingTropical Splash

A-chatter in the curling fronds, the wet-leafed canopy, the ponds,

Among the tangled twining root of every vine-choked tree’s broad foot,

Wild birds spread out their neon wings in this green palace of such kings,

Shout to a sun that’s seldom seen, deep in this hot palace of green,

But bring a blaze that’s all their own, as bright as such a place has known.

Take flight! Take wing! Aim for the sun–race with them upward, every one,

Above the canopy, to see whether a sun can really be;

And if it’s not, let no bleak night deter a second from our flight:

Upward and forward, light or none, we always ought to seek the sun–

And if not found, our calling is that we must light these palaces.

Que Sera

digital paintingThe Ides of March have passed once more, untroubled. Caesar falls but is replaced by another king, another president, another boss–and the world continues to rotate with a placid, almost stolid steadiness. Even Internal Revenue has accepted our tax return.When the seasons flow and while night and day continue to trot after each other without cease, the sky withholds and then sends down her rain, her sun, her snow–though all of this is change, it’s change in which we all comfortably believe, a future we feel safe to say we can predict. Prognosticators and seers and soothsayers have always wanted to believe–wanted us to believe–that they could cast the runes and fortune-tell what is to come. And even on the wings of simple faith, these are bound at times to be fulfilled. What we trust will come to be will be–when it will. The answer, an answer, always comes.

But what if the answer is not what we had hoped? How if we have built our plans on something we expect, the future we assume or even long to be? Lovely as the concept seems, small few are truly able to go about our day after the fact, chirpily singing ‘Que Sera, Sera‘ with sanguine calm.digital paintingI’ve always had a little bit of fatalism about the whole thing–if Life ever throws me something I truly can’t handle, why then it’ll kill me, won’t it, and such things won’t matter to me when I’m dead. That’s a little fatuous and silly, of course, and no comfort at all when I think things are pretty awful.

All I can really say that keeps my armor fairly intact then is that if my faith in general is bound to what I’ve seen and my confidence that it will continue or return is that so far Life’s been kind to me. So far, what has happened has always led eventually to good and pleasing things in my world. As winter follows autumn and is supplanted next by spring, as day and night keep dawning and turning over to dark, one after another, I trust that the fallow times of my life will be pushed away by cycles of productivity. That weariness will be refreshed by energy; dread will be reversed by hope. That sorrow will return to joy and chaos or misdirection will remember its path or will find a whole new way.

The door that closed is only redirecting me, however slowly I go, to another passage. And where that goes may well be the very fine and happy place I thought I was aiming toward to start.digital painting