[Fair warning: This post has nearly nothing to do with Dubrovnik; it’s a purely personal meditation.]
I’m realizing this week that for too long now I’ve been feeling intellectually stuck. Too much time working on and thinking about too many of the same things. Familiarity has bred discontent, and an unrelenting focus on the things that aren’t working rather than those that are. (It’s no coincidence that my most recently-accepted paper was for a “Hall of Failure” track at a conference.)
This morning, while drinking my coffee and browsing my Facebook feed, I stumbled on a spoken word poetry piece by Kate Makkai called “Pretty,” and it took me down a delightful rabbit hole of videos. I’d forgotten how much I liked spoken word poetry, and I revisited some old favorites like Taylor Mali’s “What Teachers Make” and Mark Grist’s “Girls Who Read” before stumbling across Sarah Kay’s piece “B.” It was apparently performed at TED in 2011, but I like the 2008 version from a NYC poetry club better. She must, too, since it’s the version she links to on her website. (Yes, I know, some of those are the top 40 music equivalent of poetry, not obscure indie pieces. I’m not much of a cultural hipster, it turns out. I’m okay with that.)
You should watch it, if you haven’t already. Because spoken word poetry should be heard and seen, not just read. But as I listened to it, I found myself wanting to capture a bit of the text as a touchstone, another poetic lens with which to focus my own thoughts.
There’ll be days like this, my momma said.
When you open your hands to catch, and wind up with only blisters, and bruises.
When you step out of the phone booth and try to fly, and the very people you wanna save are the ones standing on your cape.
When your boots will fill with rain, and you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment.
And those are the very days you’ll have all the more reason to say “thank you.”
Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away.
So much there that speaks to me, after a week where my literal boots have filled with rain more than once, and I feel like every attempt to catch the inspiration I need has ended up with my hands blistered and burned. Still, though, there are many moments of grace, and sometimes it’s easier to recognize them when they are points of contrast rather than harmonics.
She’s gonna learn that this life will hit you, hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.
When I ride a roller coaster, it’s not the climbs or the drops that get me. It’s that moment at the very top of the highest hill, that Wile E. Coyote moment when time stands still. That moment when I realize that going back is impossible, going forward is terrifying, and standing still is not sustainable. And then the bottom drops out, and the plunge knocks the wind out of me.
If I were to plot the past few years of my life as a roller coaster path, most of it would look like a slow climb. Upward progress for a while, fighting gravity, a brief downward turn that feels like both respite and setback, and then more climbing. For a few weeks now, though, I’ve felt as though I’m stuck at the top of the hill–which in many ways is the worst place to be. I’m not moving forward, and I haven’t had the catharsis of the freefall, haven’t taken that first deep and oh-so-painful breath.
On a roller coaster, you can be fairly certain that your fall will be controlled, that you won’t go off the rails. In life, I’m learning, I need to trust that the people I love are those rails, that they won’t let me plummet so hard and so fast that the landing leaves me shattered. But it’s been too easy to cling to those rails and thereby prevent myself from going over the edge.
I needed this time away from my day-to-day life in Rochester to let go of some of the sticky strands of expectations and routine and memory (and yes, fear) that were keeping me from letting go. I think I knew when I started planning this trip that becoming unstuck was the real goal. But there’s a fine line between unstuck and unglued, between letting go safely and uncontrolled freefall. Here’s hoping I’m on the right side of it.