Do you ever have an idea you want to write about floating around in your head that is so big, so interconnected with other ideas that you don’t know where to start? I have one of those rattling around in my brain going on two months now.
My notes file grows. Each note is like a jigsaw puzzle piece except I don’t have the box and have no idea what the picture is supposed to be or even how many pieces there are. Every time I pick up a piece and think, Oh I will begin with this one, I see another piece sort of like it but just different enough for me to stop and think, Well maybe I should begin with this one instead? Trouble is, it keeps going on like that; picking up the pieces and putting them back down.
When I do puzzles I like to find all the corner and edge pieces and build the frame, or most of it, before filling in the middle. I am searching for the edges and finally realized there aren’t any. But I keep looking, you know, just in case. And because I keep looking, I am not working on putting the pieces together.
Let’s leap to a different metaphor. I have been collecting the tinder for a very long time and it wasn’t until I finished Richard Powers’s novel, The Overstory, a couple months ago that a spark hit the tinder and began to smoke. Here is a bit of the spark:
The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.
There is nothing particularly special about the quote. It is an idea I have come across before. This time though the spark that flew finally caught.
Stories are the way we make sense of ourselves, the world, and our place in the world. I have been creating a new story of myself for a while now, though I have not thought of it as a story. Nonetheless, I have been searching for stories like mine out there in the world. At first there weren’t many, but their numbers are increasing. Or rather, the stories have always been there but I didn’t know where to find them and now I do. This past year I feel like I have made it through the dense, dark woods and am now standing on the shore of a deep, clear lake swimming with stories and I don’t know where to begin.
Do I dive in or take my time, dipping in a toe and then wading to my ankles, knees, thighs until I am immersed?
You know, I think I have actually been on the shore of this lake for a while, walking around and sticking in a toe here, waggling my fingers there, squinting against the glare on the water and trying to see what is below the surface without having to fully commit. It’s time to stop messing around with edges and get on with this story; start putting the pieces together, dive in and flail around, sink, swim, float, see what happens and where it all leads. An adventure.
If you are reading this and wondering, What the fork is she talking about?—all I can say is, I don’t know exactly what I am talking about either. What I do know is that the current stories we are living by, stories about what and who we are as humans, stories about America, the World, The West, Capitalism, Democracy, Science, Nature, and all the things we think we are owed and entitled to, these stories are broken. They are failing us and the planet. We are in the midst of a slow motion catastrophe the likes of which we have never seen or experienced before. We can die holding onto the broken stories or we can start creating new ones.
WE can make these stories. Don’t wait for someone else to tell you what the story should or could be. What do YOU want the story to be? As the old stories collapse around us, here’s our chance to create something new and good. Here is our chance to step up and contribute to new stories that build something beautiful amidst the ruins.
It is not going to be easy, real adventures never are. A lot of it will probably suck. But not all of it. There will be mistakes and wrong turns, backtracking, confusion, getting stuck and plain lost. But there will also be moments of grace and peace, joy, celebrations, new friends and community, purpose, and satisfaction. A good many of us might not live to see the end of the story, might not make it there and back again. There might not be anything to make it back to, but you know what I mean. We all have a part to play, a piece of the story to tell, and we can choose our part—hero, villain, coward, leader, it’s a long list.
‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.
‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’ (J.R.R. Tolkein, Fellowship of the Ring)
With a New Year on the horizon, what better time to start a new adventure story?
Recognizing that we can choose the story we live from can be liberating; finding a good story to take part in adds to our sense of purpose and aliveness. (Joanna Macy, Active Hope)
Think of it as a “choose your own adventure” story. Ready or not, here we go.