Start again and again. Make your life poetry.

Street Art on the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and N. Orange Dr. (artist unknown)

I believe, wholeheartedly, we are designed with an innate ability to endure change because we too are malleable. We change our direction, our minds, our feelings about the world all the time. We are fluid. We flow, filled with as much water as we are. Our capricious nature, our changeableness, our pliability are enviable, and the more flexible we can be, the better. The reed bends in the wind but doesn’t break like the oak. Plenty have heeded such wisdom. It’s admirable to be the oak at times, too. The trick is to know when to be which. 

The other morning, I went for a run. I like to let my mind go when I run. It’s the best form of relaxation for me, and it helps me think. I don’t decide what to think about. I don’t try to solve problems. I just breathe and the thoughts come. But the other morning I caught myself having a Proustian moment. A smell didn’t get me, though. Rather sound sent me back to the past. The birds were chirping in the trees with that lovely singsong that is the epitome of the here and now — being in the NOW. I’d imagine you can only ignore the sound with a solid effort. But when you don’t, it’s kind of undeniable. You can’t hear birds chirp — I mean, really hear them — without realizing you are an entity that lives and breathes and affects the world around you. It’s primal. You are alive. 

So it was that sound that took me back. I was twelve again, walking down a residential street about six miles from my home. It was early morning, and I had just gotten off the last of three public buses I would ride to get to my new school. I had recently transferred to finish out the school year there, so the route was short-term and the situation temporary. (Back in those days, parents didn’t drive kids to school.) And the distinct sound of the birds was comforting to me. They sounded happy. 

It was springtime then, so the morning air was Canadian crisp and the birds were garrulous in their shout-out to the world. It was fall the other morning when I took my run, so the air was So Cal stuffy, but the birds were still garrulous and happy and alive. The commonalities here are not really situational, and the settings are different, but that’s probably why the remembrance impacted me. It was revelatory because the associations are my own, stimulated by nothing but a primal sound. The birds are the catalyst for my lesson, the reason I could connect past to present and present to past, to see the change in me. 

I had transferred to that new school midway through the year because I had been bullied. Relentlessly. I was at the end, on the edge, ready to step off. Society wasn’t as hip to the damage constant fear of bullying can have on a young person. Options always seem limited. But then change comes and you survive and you overcome and get out on the other side because you cling to that innate ability, which is a form of resiliency.

I’m not sure if I ever acknowledged that toughness in me. It didn’t matter until I thought about it again, when the birds sent me back. I’m going through a rough patch now, too, for different reasons. But the past returned to remind me of that strength, that admirable quality we have to be the reed when we need to be and the oak at other times. We are malleable, we are agents of change, we are receptacles of hope. We can be twelve and alone and think we will live that way our whole life. But one day, we’ll be forty-six, and still going, and dreaming and fighting for the life we never thought possible. Time is the only marker in between, but it’s our construct so let it be just as pliable.

Why my pocket stones …

I suppose it’s a bit of an inside joke, calling my creative words pocket stones. Writing keeps me from loading my pockets and jumping into the void. It’s my armor against the outside world, the one I can’t control. And I enjoy the creative process. It suits me. I’m a gardener* and live to see my flowers grow.

But I also think fondly of engraved rocks, the kind you carry in your pocket to ward off worry. I see them as tokens of the doer-dreamer. A friend gave me two stones when I moved to New York City. Everything was magical then and laden with meaning, like those rocks. I lived on West 70th street and Columbus Avenue, and walked to Broadway every morning to get to class. I would stop on the corner and look down the busy street to see Times Square in the distance. I was sure I had been reborn. I survived the chrysalis and was transformed. My destiny was unfolding. Anything was possible. With sheer will, I could make everything I desired come to fruition. My potential was infinite.

Engraved with destiny and perseverance, the stones represent the two poles of my dream pursuit, as my friend explained. I couldn’t have one without the other. My destiny would only come about if I persevered, and I could only persevere if I was chasing my destiny. I would grow tired otherwise and give up. I liked the thought of this very much. I still think about it, twenty-two years later, as I pursue my current dreams. They have changed, of course. I no longer want the same things, but the life I’ve built suits me better. And so do my dreams.

I can’t say whether they’ll change again. But I know it’s possible. If I decide to give up on writing, I’ll know it’s not my destiny. I haven’t been writing stories since I could hold a pencil, and I wasn’t the kind of child with her nose in a book. I was often out on adventures, in my backyard, or at the park pool, or in the basement in front of the TV. I grew up in the eighties, with what seemed like unlimited freedom. But I also lived in my head. All. The. Time. When I think about that now, I realize I’ve been creating worlds out of nothing forever. That I enjoy writing fiction makes sense. And whether it’s my destiny to continue doesn’t matter. I’ll know if I never give it up.

* “The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows.” – George R. R. Martin