the elephant, the pendulum and the snowball
It started snowing as I sat down write this.
Right now I have one palm lifted to the open skylight, letting snowflakes fall on it and melt. The other hand types this essay (weird fact; I never learned to type properly and still use one finger of each hand.) I am reminded of BJ Miller's TED talk, where he described the feeling of a snowball melting on his palm in a hospital room. He had lost three of his limbs, and a nurse brought it to him so he could feel connected to the outside world;
' And one night, it began to snow outside. I remember my nurses complaining about driving through it. And there was no window in my room, but it was great to just imagine it coming down all sticky. Next day, one of my nurses smuggled in a snowball for me. She brought it in to the unit. I cannot tell you the rapture I felt holding that in my hand, and the coldness dripping onto my burning skin; the miracle of it all, the fascination as I watched it melt and turn into water. In that moment, just being any part of this planet in this universe mattered more to me than whether I lived or died. That little snowball packed all the inspiration I needed to both try to live and be OK if I did not. In a hospital, that's a stolen moment. '
During my year in a hospital, I had moments like that. Staff would sometimes bring me a book, some paint, a magazine, or show me pictures of their dogs and families. Of course, it was not allowed any more than BJ Miller's snowball was. Yet the little ways in which staff broke the rules to cheer me up made all the difference in the world.
Right now, I no longer have to sit and feel the snow melting on my palm as I look out the window. I no longer have to yearn for freedom and the wider world. I can get up, go outside, get on a plane, create, go somewhere, quit something, meet someone. The only thing holding me back is myself. Learned helplessness. Tony Robbins talked in an interview (I don't remember which one) about seeing an adult elephant tied by a thin rope at a circus. That same rope had confined it since it was a baby, so it did not realise it could break free from it now it was fully grown.
I am that elephant. The rope is gone. School, college and university are behind me, for now. This is real life and I am at last untethered.
These are strange days for me. This point in my life is a sort of transition period between adolescence and adulthood. I suppose I should consider this to be the beginning of my life untethered from formalised education. Yet I keep thinking of it as an intermission, a liminal time before I latch myself to a new institution. This is my first taste of true autonomy and of having almost total control over my life. I dreamt of it for years and now it is terrifying. Achieving our dreams usually is.
I wake up every morning and ask myself: What am I going to do? Where am I going to go?
I don't have to constantly go for extremes anymore. I can afford to pace myself. The problem is, I'm good at extremes. Balance, less so.
In my life I swing from one extreme to another, rarely ever finding the midpoint.
I used to chain smoke all day long. Then I quit cold turkey and now I know that I will revert to that if I ever buy a single pack.
I used to drink until I passed out at every available opportunity. Now I don't drink because I know I am blind to my limits.
I used to be a hoarder who shopped compulsively. Now I own about 100 items and carry them with me.
I was vegan for a long time, even raw vegan at points. Now I have eaten little but fish for the last few two weeks.
Once I was too depressed to ever get out of bed. Now I get up at 6 am and launch straight into my work.
My life is almost ironic in this respect.
Extremes are helpful because they help us to locate the midpoint. It can be hard to establish where the point of balance actually is. Some people have an intuitive sense for it. They know themselves, their limits, their needs. For those of us who are bad at impulse control and self-regulation traversing the spectrum is vital. I feel like that is what our teenage years (and no doubt twenties) are all about: careening wildly between extremes. We know the midpoint is there somewhere, but where?
One of my goals at the moment is to find balance in more areas of my life.
Chaotic pivots are overwhelming. They feel destabilising and disconnected. I find myself at one point of the spectrum, frustrated at the effort it will take to return to the other. This freedom is an extreme (or feels like one.) Maybe I am going to swing to the other end and get some oppressive corporate job and wear a suit.
For now, I am focusing on three main projects. My essays for this site, a book proposal, and a talk I am giving next month. Each is complicated because they lack the sort of tangible, immediate results you get in school. No one is going to hand my work back with a gold star on it. I need to gear myself up for a lot of rejections and failures. A lot.
Otherwise, I am looking for internships. My advantage is that I am not tied to any location and can go wherever. The state of the job market in the UK is that you practically need a PhD and 25 years experience to work as a dishwasher. It's okay for now. The support I receive from readers of this site is so valuable to me that I often have literal tears in my eyes when I read the comments and emails. Seriously.
It's still snowing, so I am going to finish this off, go outside and walk in it. It doesn't matter where I walk to, as long as I can feel the snow on my face and see beauty in everything around me.