If you are falling….dive.
– Joseph Campbell
Oh, how I’ve longed to arrange my thoughts in orderly rows. I’ve walked swiftly through the cold air, hoping the forward motion would somehow blow through the tangle in my brain, unknot the spaghetti strands, help me get clearer and clearer about what the most essential questions are. It was quiet, the air was still, the sunset clouds turned orange and rose, and my momentum was true. I walked and everywhere the world tugged on my sleeve, claiming my attention, pointing out endless side paths of diversion. For god’s sake, I thought, can’t I just think? How am I supposed to focus? Will I be distracted at every turn? I had hoped to figure out my life, you see, in the space of an afternoon. Or, if I couldn’t accomplish that ridiculously ambitious task, surely I would at least figure out what to write about.
The problem with figuring out what to write about is that, at least for now, the process of writing is mercilessly entwined with the core questions of my life. I chide myself: You know, you could have made this a lot easier on yourself if you had set up your blog to be about some limited topic, something you’re interested in, but from which you could keep a little emotional distance. You could have decided to focus on experiments in urban homesteading. Or ways to engage in radical activism. Or musings on homeschooling/unschooling/independent learning. Surely there’s a mile-long list you could come up with of topics that you ponder in some depth. But nooooo, instead, you had to forge recklessly ahead and make it about anything and everything that matters to you. You had to seize your most vulnerable moments, right smack in the middle of whatever emotional peak or trough you happened to be in, and write like a banshee, without pausing, with precious little editing, diving into the wreck like the madwoman you are.
Falling, it turns out, is how I’m moving forward. The path is not level; it’s vertical. There’s little choice in the matter. There’s no arguing with gravity. I could flail in mid-air, and often do, attempting to bargain my way back up to a ledge of perceived safety, but it’s a fruitless task. How strangely elegant it could be, I realize, to calm my limbs, reorient my body, and face downwards, diving into each moment as it presents itself.
In this swan dive, there is still so much rushing by my awareness. The questions, they surround me like a motley flock of birds: How do I make the most of my finite life? What thoughts and actions deserve my time? How can I best guide and nurture my child? With whom am I meant to connect? What is my calling? What is my necessary work? What do I need? What do we all need? What is agency and what is surrender? What is love, and how is it best expressed? The questions chirp and swerve and flutter turbulently.
My pattern, with writing, has been to dive. It has never been detached, cool, or tidy; it has always been wholeheartedly personal, risky, challenging, perhaps incoherent at times, aiming like an arrow at the center of genuineness. I could attempt to make my writing and my life orderly, “manageable,” pretty, and inoffensive. But haven’t I tried that already, for years, in a plethora of ways? And does it not suck the vitality out of my every word?
The last thing I wanted was infinite security
and to be the place an arrow shoots off from.
I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself,
like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.
– Sylvia Plath