The Path You Might Have Taken

Favim.com

Favim.com

As the last iPhone holdout on the planet and blind without virtual powers, I could only guess that the 91 straight ahead was going to stop up in five miles as usual. Do I move left and hit Fastrak or make my way over to the right for Toll? Which will get me to Orange County faster? At 60 miles an hour, there came a point where I was committed. And to stay in the lane was to decide.

We play out this moment more dramatically many times in our lives, often at the crossroads to wildly differing futures. While we can inhabit only one place at one time, language enables us to travel many roads at once in our wondering over what might’ve been. On the TED stage, Classicist Phuc Tran takes a look at this versatility afforded by the subjunctive mood. Remember that the indicative expresses factual action (I am blogging) and the subjunctive, nonfactual with its nuances of possibility and potentiality. (I wish I could blog more. If only I could blog more! I might’ve blogged today if only…)

A brush with tragedy often sends us on the subjunctive ride. Some have marveled that they were sent to a different office the day the Twin Towers fell, others that they had missed their plane. Under the rubble of mishap or suffering, we also often retrace that path. What if I hadn’t taken that dive? What if I hadn’t bumped into her? What if I’d married him? Tran shares, “The night that my family was fleeing Saigon, my entire family, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, were all scheduled to board a bus. And as that bus was loading passengers, I began crying, shrieking uncontrollably, so much so that my entire family decided to wait for the next bus. And as that bus pulled away from us, it was struck by artillery fire. It exploded and everyone on board was killed. As a kid, I thought a lot about our good fortune in escaping and about what would have happened if we hadn’t.”

He goes on to muse that his native Vietnamese tongue uses no subjunctive. His father never dwelt on what could’ve been, for better or worse. He never pined that he should have held security and status as a lawyer and aspiring politician back in Saigon. He did what he had to do in the indicative strength of his mother language, driving a cement mixer to support his family in America. But borrowing from the resources of the English language, his son grew up to explore the possibilities for his own future, crafting joyful work as a Classics instructor as well as a tattoo artist. While saving simplicity can protect us from the bitterness of regret, it can also keep us from life-giving promise. After all, the question of what could have been springs from the same emotional impetus that asks what could be. Isn’t what if the stuff of dreamers and visionaries? It’s what gets people out of North Korea, impels us to look for a better job, start a blog. We don’t just declare our present reality and sit back with a bag over our head. This is my life. This is my body. We devise a better way and move toward it.

Tran cites the 2011 Gallup International that surveyed feelings of optimism among various nations. Which country do you think came out on top? The one “whose language doesn’t allow its speakers to obsess over the idea of what could have been“. The most pessimistic? France – whose language has “two subjunctives and existentialism.” (The audience laughed.) Let me throw in that South Korea reigns as Drama Queen in Asia with her notorious tear-jerker melodrama series that remains in demand across the seas. Korean happens to weigh in as a language fraught with the subjunctive, its history full of pathos and saturated in longing. Just fascinating, how language forges the paths we might take in the mind and heart. And then look what we do with that language.

Something in us not only calls up the prospects we missed but finds so intriguing the ones ahead, that we have come to devote a whole genre called fiction to exploring the unreal – what might have been – and make it real in the indicative. The most powerful novels that stay with me long after I close them sound the echo of steps not taken by characters who had a choice. Because that is life. Able to choose only one moment in time, we forgo competing realities, sometimes let go the dreams that chased us. “The subjunctive is the most powerful mood, it’s like a time-space dream machine that can conjure alternate realities with just the idea of could have or should have. But within this idea of should have is a Pandora’s box of hope and regret,” says Tran.

As for me this year, I am to take neither Fastrak nor Toll in the homeschooling and all the TO DOs but to stay the course, on foot. Grounded. I am working on keeping more grounded, attuned to my needs. All 90 pounds of me have felt as though I could blow away with the wind. I was surprised to find the other day that the inviting rebounder didn’t feel as good as the treadmill I am usually not dying to hop on. My feet sought firmness. It feels good to be cooking again, chopping my beets, the juice of the earth on my hands. I am seeing that it’s not either-or, where I thought life had me in the teeth between the dictates of my indicative circumstances and muzzled hopes. This path of nurture will slowly give way to possibilities.

Burial

It was a summer sun and autumn wind. He felt both uncomfortable and snug in the sweater as the heat bore through and the air blew in tidal breaths about him. He couldn’t help look up as he made his way down the gully using his spade for a walking stick. The sky, a wash of azure, held out a gorgeous cleanness – a tableau vivant of redemption after the fierce rain.

Reminding himself to breathe with the wind softening above, he followed the redolent trail of conifer to a line of trees tall against the strike of sun. Right there, by the rock. That’s where he’d dig. The clods eventually gave way because they had to. All those years: longing and defeat marked a hundred thousand steps that made a life, and he hadn’t lived. The dirt crumbled under the work of sure hands. When he made his way back out to the deepening sunlight and noise, will people know that his heart had stopped, that in death he had prevailed over beguiling hope? No. They will just believe his depthless smile. The hollow was now big enough. Calloused palms smoothed the bottom and bending, like a father over the cradle, he buried his dreams.

I Hear Voices

First Grade, NYC

First Grade, NYC

I imagine people don’t know what a recluse I am. I socialize at church and in the homeschool gatherings stand tall, take initiative, make announcements. My parents, struggling to piece together a life in a country where they were Other, taught their little girl to write large and speak loudly. That’s me in the school play, mike in hand. (My husband would now like me to lower my voice by 20%.) I’m usually the one to notice inefficient or unjust ways things are done in our different communities and the one to speak up. So I can pull off extrovert and can be sociable because I know it’s rude to sit next to someone for half an hour and say nothing. But all I want, oh all I want is to bolt the door and write. Bury myself in what novelist Dani Shapiro calls the Cave to give attention to the voices in my head, meet myself on the page. Because inside is where so much of my life is.

I would probably long for love and community if I were granted the hermit’s wish (er, I think). ‘Tis human to want what is out of reach. Look at me glaringly not in step with the vogue practice of being present. No, I can’t be fully feeling the current of the moment around my feet when my head is in books, ideas, memory. In my defense: we women are wicked multitaskers.

Speaking of tasks, I asked Husband to scrape the stovetop stains last week. With equanimity he announced that he had just vacuumed and was done for the day. “I’ve done enough,” he declared pleasantly. I marveled at the male self-preservation mechanism in action. Granted, that was a lot of carpet. But it was the question corporate executives, business owners, moms, students knot themselves in angst over. When is enough? And he had solved the cosmic conundrum with such ease. Buddha Man just might be able to undo the problem of world peace. I laughed, “Done enough. Imagine mothers saying that. The world would stop.” No skin off his nose, he agreed – feet up, on the couch. I shouldn’t grouse about the responsibilities. It’s a blessing, not a burden, to have places to go, people to see, (aaalll these) things to do. George Eliot debuted at 50, Laura Ingalls Wilder at 65. There are others enjoying their second life publishing in their 70s and 80s. I don’t plan to wait another 30 years to go and to see all that’s in my head but in the meantime, I show up where I’m needed. Whether or not I can show up for myself, I will keep writing large and speak to be heard. Poor Husband.

I Should Start Charging

So you say you get a lot out of my posts. I think I’m done writing for free. See the picture? It’s at least 55 years old. My inflation calculator says that’ll be 40 cents for the counseling services on A Holistic Journey. Except you have no idea how messed up I am. (People forget Frankenstein was the name of the doctor, not the monster. Wa HA HA HA HA.) Keep reading at your own risk. I am not responsible for migraines, indigestion, schizophrenia, divorce. But wait: likers will get 5 cents off, commenters 8 cents, liking commenters 10 per post. A bargain if I ever saw one. At least stay through the new series. We have a lineup of writers who’ll be sharing moments where they didn’t feel seen. I’m sure you’ll be touched, if not enlightened. And they won’t charge.

Lucy-van-pelt-1

When My Blog Died

EKGgreenI want to file an official complaint as a subscriber to the Holistic Wayfarer for going MIA on us. (Completely forgetting she’s been out week after week with his son while keeping the lessons going.) You need to blog again, be reminded there are good people all over the world. They want to hear from you. When you don’t blog for a while, you crawl into yourself and scowl about the people who are !@#!. You become deeper, happier, and look out when you engage your readers. You should take a few days off school, give T a break, and just BLOG.

~ Mr. Wayfarer last night

Tenny_studio2015C(Gasp. Break??)

Where I’ve been is a good question. The kitchen, trying to keep up with You-Know-Who’s sumo appetite. Foodie is growing before my eyes. We’ve been at the annual appointments I saved for the summer (photo shoot, physical, dental), and there are his classes. I’ve had all four hands in homeschool business – convention and conferences to boot. Also got off to a running start in preparing for the Fall cycle we’ll be entering with our group, working on a music project and gathering material. I remind myself I signed up for this. I’d rather choose my own curriculum than have the schools do it for me.

I believe that child rearing must come with an imperative, must be driven by a sense of longing and even destiny…I’ve witnessed this longing in other people…but I never felt it in myself. Moreover, as I aged, I discovered that I loved my work as a writer more and more, and I didn’t want to give up even an hour of that communion. Like Jinny in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, I felt at times “a thousand capacities” spring up in me, and I wanted to chase them all down and make every last one of them manifest…Katherine Mansfield wrote in one of her youthful diaries, “I want to work!”

I, too, wanted to work. Uninterruptedly. Joyfully.”  ~ E. Gilbert in Committed

So what do you do when you can barely get your hands around both desires? When your whole wonderful life feels like an interruption of the work you want to do and your burden is heavier for the guilt of one who should be more grateful? As long as your child is young (or as long as you homeschool), you let go the notebook with your thousand capacities spilling over its pages and as it falls watch the rain bleed the ink into the ground. You take the hand you’ve emptied and close it over his. And you die just a little. Writing, after all, is only your oxygen.

At the conference last week, we were presented a chart that helped us sort our priorities. At the top was a section for

VITALS, what our life is about. This will depend on your worldview but most of us will fill this box in with relationships (with family, friends, self, God). Below that we had

NECESSITIES, where our time and money go. The things we need to sustain our life and our vitals. Food, shelter, health, education, transportation. They are not what life is about but postmoderners forget this in the grand Pursuit of Things. Below this box were the

ACCESSORIES, our happy upgrades. We need to eat but not at high-end restaurants. We need a car but not a Bentley. We need to work but don’t need to hanker after the position that will take us away from family. Last came the

DISPOSABLES. TV, Facebook, iGadgets. Many of us, especially in America, have turned our priorities over on their heads.

I appreciated the list but am still struggling with a part of it. Where does my writing go? The question at least explains the frustration that’s shadowed me this summer. While I live and work within the relationships that are important to me, writing fulfills me as nothing else can. It balances me, as I feel incomplete apart from it. It is a necessity because it feeds my relationship with my self – not to mention friends around the world. I feel at my best, approaching the summit of who I was meant to be almost like Gilbert’s Alma Whittaker who sets out to put a lifetime’s scientific study on paper, “not merely alive, but outfitted with a mind that was functioning at the uppermost limits of its capacity –  a mind that was seeing everything, and understanding everything, as though watching it all from the highest imaginable ridge. She would awaken, catch her breath, and immediately begin writing again.” ~ The Signature of All Things

But my words have been excised from my list of priorities this season as though they were disposable. (What do you do with that?? You eventually risk sabotaging your delicate sleep and write at two in the morning.) No wonder I’ve felt amputated.

I grew by an average of 1000 followers a month last year. But blog growth right now is a luxury of a thought. All these piles and piles of notes and drafts for posts, the books I’ve wanted to share with you, the personal challenges I’ve needed to process in print. Here I’ve sat before a keyboard that might as well have been calling from across the ocean. My Stats have read like an EKG of someone lost to us forever. Oh, my heart. But we can administer shock to resuscitate hearts, can’t we? When Opinionated Man asked for my keys and offered to run my site if I had to stay away any longer, the thought was enough to zap me out of the grave. statsNEW

 

Ode To My Blog

How do I miss thee? Gasp! Let me count the ways.
I miss thee to the deep, the space, and skies
My soul can reach as I strain for my prize,
For the ends of thought and ideal phrasings.
I love thee with the ease of every day’s vernacular
In most quiet need to velvet utterance on devilish wings.
I love thee unreservedly, be thy taskmaster or a friend avuncular
Through the days thou art my handmaiden of laughter.
I love thee like my child; I feed thee tenderly
And when I can’t I begin to starve; breath labors.
Oh, if time were more giving, more patient
I might dance another dance and sing what hides latent.
I miss thee that loss fills my well of joy with gravel
A week feels like two, two fortnights like four.
Parched, I am run aground on a lone shore
‘Til time should stall and bid the ink on my paper travel.

May Elizabeth Barrett Browning forgive me in her grave.

Never Too Old To Dance

As fun as it was to shake it, I buried my dance clothes in the treasury of happy memories deciding that I barely got away with it at my age. Mr. Wayfarer disagrees. Forty-two is hardly a time for him to start hanging hats. Yoko Ono seems to have proved him right. She shows what it means for 60 to be the new 40. So now I’m rethinking my dance avocation. If you’re 50 or older (in real time) and inspired by the video to do a jig on camera, email me your work of art in motion and I’ll consider posting it. Actually, it can be any display of creative or physical activity that might inspire us to adjust our self-imposed boundaries.

That like button is still under lock and key, by the way. I can’t believe you went ahead and tapped the Reader. Please. I am very busy on the home front and will stress at the sight of my inbox spilling over. *scowl*

 

Thanks to Leprosy on the Wall for the fun link.
holisticwayfarer@gmail.com

Readers’ Choice

Please respect my wishes. I. Do. Not. Want. Your. Like. On. This. Can I be any clearer, well-meaning friends? Tell you what. I will let you know when I really want it. I’ve hidden the button under the post so please don’t go tapping it on your Reader.

We’re not done with beauty. But on the heels of the party the neighbors complained about, I wanted to take the occasion to ask: What are some kinds of posts you would like to see more of here? We’ve talked about dreams, persistence, hope, death, loss, love, shame, fear, faith, parenting, achievement, money, childhood, race, culture, identity, belonging. There are the posts on clear writing and effective blogging, my helpless series on men and women, the behind-the-scenes exchanges between Mr. and Mrs. Wayfarer, dialogue between Mom and Boy – the blog plaited with poetry, with a touch of song (and dance). You seem to enjoy how I’ve used series to kaleidoscope through a topic. Thanks for welcoming our guest writers. One said that her blood froze every time she saw mail from me (laden with the edits). Wahahaha. Let’s just say your spirited support smooths things over. So suggestions and requests? You’re welcome to help steer the ship.

I’m Not Ready to Die

Dear God,

You caught that I’m not feeling too great but please don’t seize the occasion to take me home. At least let me get my Valentine’s series out. It’s not like you need me. Far better writers over there. And once I’ve arrived, I won’t be going anywhere, right? No hurry, no hurry.

——————

Dear Reader,

I think I’ve bought some time. Please be patient. If it’s been a while, you know I’ll visit back. Comments closed so I don’t fall behind even more on those.

Love,
HW

Seven Mental Habits of Highly Effective Bloggers

1. Think big.
I really have to start living the the way I’ve come to blog. On unsure terrain in those early days, I put out safe posts, ones within my interests. On homeschooling, for example. I felt assured I was “doing the right thing” looking like other bloggers. But gradually, I began to tap deeper into the ideas that really grabbed me. Last year, blogging stopped being a train of posts I shot out one at a time wondering what I’d write about next. Rather than post linearly, I started architecting this blog, figuring out how many floors (that is, topics) I would erect in the next six months, going backward to furnish the rooms (the posts for each topic). The blueprinting gave me direction, control, and purpose. But I didn’t stay bound to these plans. Plenty of posts arose from whimsy and those moments where life happen.

2. Stay flexible.
Stay tuned to your hot topics and see what you can do with them. Moving into 2014, I watched the post on Black Santa generate enthusiastic discussion and was reminded that everyone has something to say about race. It is, after all, as close to home as you can get. So I bit the bullet and launched the ambitious Race Around the World. The cultural tapestry we pieced together those 80 days gave way to more series. On class, identity, belonging, guilt, shame, money, opportunity, hope.

3. Stay happily discontent whether it’s wanting more out of your content or your subscriber base.
We never arrive, do we? And success, especially in cyberland, is an endless stretch of horizon. A word on unfollows. I’ve seen funny posts with bloggers screeching that they lost three followers. I value every reader, especially the active supporters, but feel dependent on none. You will get unfollows. It’s the ease and democracy of blogosphere where people come and go. Don’t pin desperate hopes on anyone. Set your sights higher, and higher still. I tend not to reach out to readers who seemed to have stepped away. I don’t want to obligate them to visit if they’ve moved on, though I often discover life pulled them away for a season. Or WordPress wiped me off their radar, an unfortunate glitch in our system.

4. Don’t play it safe.
The empty post page is a blank check I write myself. Create opportunity, for yourself as well as others, which can birth more opportunities. Twenty-two months ago I never imagined I’d host a forum where a worldwide community of artists and thinkers could share their history, fears, and dreams. Blogs are a safe place to test the boundaries that in life you may not be able to play with. Experiment, try new projects. You’re limited only by fear and imagination. Staying static is like painting your whole blog one color and keeping it that way.

5. Remember how small you are in blogging and in life.
There’s always someone with more readers, someone faster, smarter, more talented and savvy. You’re not all that, and neither am I. That’s why I try to keep it real. For all the rewriting I do here, I don’t want to end up editing my image when you’re coming to me with a level of trust in my honesty.

zimbio.com

zimbio.com

6. Know how big you can be.
Not only are quantity and quality not mutually exclusive, they can feed one another. Have you thought about why it is you want to grow your readership? The answer can be more meaningful and fulfilling than your own popularity, your ego. There is a satisfaction that comes from resonating with a larger crowd, degrees of insight and perspective a larger following can offer. You expand possibilities for yourself, viewers, and your community.

7. Know why you’re here.
I got chills watching him carve in the sky the triple somersault and half-twist before slipping clean into the water. Last summer, the commentator said of Gary Hunt who was known for his inventive cliff diving, “He knows exactly why he’s in the air.” The power, the grace. The hours and hours Hunt devoted in the search for his best self. In the writing, dreaming, collaborating, I’m exploring my capacity as an artist and a community builder. I create something bigger than me, something that extends beyond the bounds of my own life. The extraordinary discussions, synergy, stats were not my goals but the unexpected payoff of one simple purpose: excellence. I’ll never be a medalist but my blog is where I test my reach, and enjoy visible and lasting rewards for the time I put in. Know why you’re in the air and why you want to get there. Doesn’t have to be serious or profound but if you don’t know why you’re here, we don’t either.