Spring Cleaning (and Rediscovery)

– For the dreamers

A few weeks ago, while digging through my family’s storage unit, I found a plastic bin that belonged to me. One of those clear plastic tubs from Rubbermaid or Tupperware or whoever owns the assembly line that makes them and ships them to Target. I hadn’t seen that bin in several years, perhaps a decade; when I moved to Arizona for grad school, a lot of my baggage (so to speak) stayed behind, and my parents became (perhaps unwilling) custodians of the crap of my youth.

Now, nearly eight years since I moved to the Southwest, and nearly two years since I returned to Minnesota, I’ve forgotten a lot of what I’d left behind. I continued to neglect that dusty and deserted storage space that held the crumbling contents of my formative young adult years.

Now, I’m eternally grateful to my parents for holding onto what I left for them to deal with, when they just as easily could have tossed it all out.

I am thankful I found that one particular bin, because I could explore it with fresh eyes and recognize it for what it was (and is)… a treasure trove worth more than the combined caches of Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Calico Jack, and the rest of the legends of the Golden Age of Piracy.

In that nondescript plastic bin, I found a pile of my old manuscripts. 

As a writer, I’d like to think I’ve matured and grown in my craft since I started capturing my imagination on paper, since I started on that ever-exciting-yet-ever-perilous journey to write and publish a novel. However, that growth has at times been quite painful, especially since I’d all but given it up when I left for Arizona, my master’s degree, and writing of a different kind. I had all but forgotten how much I loved to dream up stories that existed in their own universes, with wildly strange and sometimes frightening characters whom I still loved, and whose glints of humanity still shone through. Stories that took me places, that I longed to share with others but of which at the same time was terrified to let go.

I placed my writing away, into the shadows, as I was required to make room for new pursuits that monopolized my time and energy. Career objectives for which I signed up to achieve. Skills and qualifications I purchased, which I was told I would need to “take me places” in practice, in actuality.

I left my writing behind as I stepped forward into a different identity, fell in and out of love in real life, and lost and remade pieces of myself in the process.

I left my writing behind as, healing from a broken relationship and not quite trusting myself, I entered into a circle of truly wonderful, supportive and creative people, enveloped by music and adventures that were rejuvenating and entertaining and diverting in the best possible way. I miss them every day, and my heart dances in anticipation of the next time we’re all together.

In the process of witnessing them pursue their own creative truths, they helped me understand that as a person who creates, it was time to start listening to my own voice again.

I began to listen. 

I found my way back to my writing when I found my way back to Minnesota. Through the continuing parade of trials and uncertainties and insecurities, through my attempts to find my footing on the next steps. My burgeoning career path abruptly coming apart from underneath me, and with the heavy burden of my educational pursuits forcing me to return to a state of pre-independence beneath my parents’ roof. Picking up the pieces once again, education and experience and career goals; pieces that don’t quite all fit together, and maybe never will.

And then I found that dusty Rubbermaid tub, full of the dusty dreams of Seventh Grade Me, and I cried. In those pages, yellowed with time and neglect, I read the soul of a girl who knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up, who absolutely knew what she was supposed to do with her life. I cried for a long time, mourning all of that time lost. I mourned that young girl who held such lofty aspirations, who understood the truth of herself… and who had been sitting so still, waiting, for so long.

And then I dusted myself off, and began to dream again.

In the Philosophy class I took my senior year in high school, we read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and one particular theme resonated with me and lingered to this day. The idea of personal legends: that we all have true destinies that reflect our true selves, and we recognize them in ourselves when we are young, but as time progresses and the burdens of life begin to weigh us down, we forget. We leave them behind.

When (or rather, if) we manage to clear away the distractions and remember what our personal legends were to be, we are then ultimately faced with the choice of whether to pursue them, or let them go for good.

In this springtime of my own personal legend… with these tattered manuscripts in hand, and with bright and shiny new ideas at my fingertips… I’ve decided to follow it, wherever it goes.

 

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Tasks (or, Un Résumé de la Vie)

My first task on this planet was to take a breath, and then another. And then, to fill my lungs with life and shout into the void my purpose for existing. I have not stopped since.

My second task on this planet was to obey. Mightily, I struggled with this task; heavy chains rattling a song of resistance as I fought tooth and nail against the oppressive directives of “Don’t Touch That” and “Eat Your Vegetables.” Mightily, I rebelled against the later executive orders of “Clean Your Room” and “Don’t Talk Back To Me” and “Be Back In This House One Minute Before Your Curfew.” And then, much later, from the distance of new adulthood and the separation of three hundred cell phone towers, “Be Safe And Make Good Choices.” This task has a limited shelf life, diminishing in value as the years pass, and attached is the critical conditional clause: “Unless When Confronted With Oppression Or Injustice.”

My third task on this planet was to be kind. To lift up the fallen and heal the wounded with words of strength and actions of support. The third task is the most difficult of all the tasks at times, when you are the one licking your own wounds, when you must pick yourself up after a tumble. But this task eventually takes a form much like the first. When you hold the hand of a bullied schoolmate, or sit next to the woman wearing a headscarf on the bus to shield her from verbal shrapnel, to perform this task carries the weight of indrawn oxygen.

My fourth task on this planet is to see. To open my eyes and keep them wide open. To witness the life experiences of others through a lens that does not belong to me. To stare at the bright glare of the truth, no matter how it burns through the safe protective shield of my own life experience. No matter how it hurts.

My fifth task on this planet is to listen. If you listen hard enough, you can hear music in the strangest of places. If you listen hard enough, you can hear the whispers of your childhood dreams in dark corners, revealing themselves to you again and again. If you listen hard enough, you can hear what people mean to say, even when they don’t speak out. Or even when they shout.

My sixth task on this planet is to be present. To pay attention to what is happening now, even while remembering what happened a long time ago, while imagining the happenings to come. To stand in one place, unafraid and undaunted, and be here, and belong.

My seventh task on this planet is to create. To fill the void with something other than my shouted purpose. To take beautiful things and ugly things and painful things, and forge the spark that lodges and burns recognition into someone else’s soul. To pull stories from the ether and scorch them into words onto the kindling of my notebooks. To obey the Muse. To lift up the voices, the stories, of the oppressed. To tell the truth. To hear the dreams of my own childhood whispering to me in echoes.   

This résumé will not land me a job; not in the traditional, societal sense. This particular curriculum vitae will not earn me tenure in the career field called Life; none of us live forever. But I have to wonder… in this cosmic karma machine of birth and death, work and play, waiting and doing, creating and destroying, seeking and finding, living and dying… I have to wonder if I’m hired.

 

Author’s Note: This piece originated from a writing prompt “My First Job” for the Waconia Writer’s Group, 2/12/17. (You can see how well I adhere to the concept of literalism.)

 

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