Pay Attention

a reblogged post from In Flow

In Flow

munchow_0949-072.jpgI think all creatives yearn for some kind of success, some kind of recognition for the work we do. Success is maybe not why we photograph, write, paint or travel—or whatever creative activity we do—or ought not to be. The work itself, being creative, is a reward good enough if we only let ourselves not get obsessed with the thought of success. The craving for success can actually get in the way of our creative endeavour.

Nevertheless, we do feel good when we experience some kind of success, whether it’s monetary gain or just some heartfelt feedback from a good friend. I am sure you know what I am talking about.

Success is all in our minds, though. You cannot control how the world will receive and perceive your artistic work, but you can be in command of how you feel about it yourself. If you let yourself feel good…

View original post 823 more words

The Dream of Turning 40

My birthday’s gift to you? Getting personal–one day early.


Each time I’ve thought of this coming birthday, I have heard Meg Ryan’s immortal lines:

“And I'm gonna be forty!”
“When?” asks Harry.
“Some day,” Sally adds weakly.
“In eight years!” Harry reasons.
“Yes, but it's just sitting there like this big dead end. . . .”

As with many of my favorite movies, and even ones I don’t like much, I occasionally hear these movie lines from When Harry Met Sally running through my head as I go about my day. These days, this particular record is broken.

Sally wants a family and has just learned that her several months’ ex-boyfriend Joe is engaged. Harry has gone to her place to comfort her. She’s crying rather hysterically, having shown no signs of grief post-breakup. Finally, the bubble has burst, and Harry and Sally’s friendship takes an irrevocable turn.

What’s my point? Lord knows. But isn’t that a great scene? More entertaining than I find everyday life, which is probably why I live in the cinematic fantasy world a significant portion of the time. (Don’t need the video; it’s all memorized.) Besides, the trauma is happening to someone else. I’m comforted, safe, but it also often means the joy and rapture are more likely found elsewhere. What reward without risk?

My eight years have passed, and 32 more besides. That reminds me, I’ve decided to state my age as “ten and thirty,” as in the days of yore. That sounds much more forgiving. Go for it, 60-year-olds! Say, “I am twenty and forty” or “I am twice thirty.” Sounds younger. I got this idea from my husband, who is nearly 14 months younger than I. Very thoughtful, Dear.

No, my husband is a hoot and adorable, and my parents, bless them, still vital and being parents. But I currently have no pets or children to look after (besides the backyard birds), which is the most accepted form of daily joy. No little ones to amuse me each day, which is, of course, the primary function of kids. Right, parents? Well, maybe not “primary,” but it’s mixed in there with all the exhaustion, stress, bewilderment, and worry.

The truth is I’m on the fence about having kids and have been for a while, but the inevitable alarm bells for presumably fertile women go up in volume a few decibels with the introduction of that dreaded digit “4.” No more thirties, not that I’ll miss the years themselves. No more legitimately falling into the young category. I’m entering that middle zone some refer to as “too young to be old and too old to be young.” Sounds like license for a mid-life crisis, for sure. 

But it’s certainly not a mid-reproductive years crisis. No, if it is a crisis or anything like, it’s that we’re coming down to the wire. As Sally Albright says after “this big dead end,” “and it’s not the same for men. Charlie Chaplin had babies when he was 73.” Harry replies: “Yeah, but he was too old to pick ’em up.” Sally starts to laugh but it returns to sobs.

Generally, women who want children and haven’t found a mate by their mid- to late-30s have more cause for mid-life crisis than men do, but science and evolution give us hope for higher numbers of fertile years and higher survival rates amidst high-risk pregnancies and complications of childbirth. Risk is always there, and danger still increases with age, but the 21st century is patient with late bloomers, whereas even as recently as 150 years ago, unmarried women past their twenties were already doomed to spinsterhood.

Risks and rewards come in many forms, and mean different things for different people. We as a society seem to believe we have no right to seek, let alone expect, healthy challenge or happiness in work or marriage itself or travel or the arts, especially not instead of in reproducing. Shouldn’t we take growth and joy everywhere we can get them?

You might think it depends on whether you’re passive or active in the “getting.” Actively seeking seems more honorable somehow, more adult, more enlightened than waiting for manna from heaven, as if we’re helpless, inert, ineffectual, and faithfully convinced of it. I.e., sheep.

Two movies intercede here. The Sound of Music and She’s Having a Baby, another 80s gem. “The Reverend Mother says you have to look for your life,” Maria tells Captain Von Trapp. And: “What I was looking for was not to be found but to be made,” says Jefferson Edward (“Jake”) Briggs of his wife and newborn son. Love that John Hughes.

Yet, even when we look for and make a life, nothing that results is absolutely great or horrible. Just as important as the issue of seeking actively or passively is to weigh the potential risks and rewards together.

For me, added risks come with carrying and birthing a child. Greatest of these besides age is that, due to inflammatory arthritis, any pregnancy would be considered by clinicians to be “high risk” from the start. I can imagine, have imagined the possible rewards as I watched my friends expand their families and now watch their eldest become teenagers. I’ve made my mental pros and cons lists and thought about all the right and wrong reasons and good and bad ways to have children. I’ve assessed our suitableness for parenthood and the question of passing on hereditary health conditions. Most important, after all that careful consideration and consultation, though, is to feel the desire rise above fear and doubt.

But whatever ends up touching us, however strangely or improbably it happens, however deliberately, desperately, or passionately we reach for it, there it is. It can either be good or bad for us, or both. We receive the good with the bad whether or not we want either of them.

The universe presents good, bad, worse, and better to us sometimes as options from an à la carte menu. The tongs grab the casual sex instead of the terrifying emotional chemistry that means risking great loss. Single woman will take slavery to meddling, co-dependent mother with side of slaw, instead of daunting freedom of looking for life, with unsweetened iced tea. But we always get a full plate. Another memorized movie brings the idea to a head:

“I have this theory of convergence that good things always happen with bad things, and I mean, I know you have to deal with them at the same time, but I don’t know why . . . . I just wish I could work out some sort of schedule. Am I babbling? Do you know what I mean?”

An enamored Lloyd Dobler replies, “No.”

But I got it perfectly! “Diane Court, whoa.” Genius of 1988, valedictorian of the class in Say Anything . . . Weren’t the 80s golden for rom-coms? She finds love just when her father’s life is falling apart. She can’t pick and choose. They both descend unbidden, and neither is going away any time soon. So she does the logical thing and pushes away the good out of loyalty to her lying, thieving father.

We do that sometimes—make self-sabotaging choices, afraid of happiness, scared of the sin of it, especially as others suffer, whether we play any role in their suffering or not. It feels wrong to be happy when loved ones are not. Fortunately . . . perhaps, Diane rights herself, rejecting Dad for Lloyd. The ending is open ended.

Love does not guarantee happiness; the opposite is more likely. But that doesn’t mean we should shun love. Pain is a powerful teacher. Once in a while, we learn something valuable to apply to the future.

Oh so much wisdom can be found in film. Our movie and TV heroes show us how we stumble and how to recover. They demonstrate how it’s done. The best stories at least hint at the fact that it’s an ongoing process, until it’s not.

If we’re lucky, we get to choose to embrace life or embrace death. “Get busy living, or get busy dying,” says Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption. Even more fortunate is the blessing of joy in this life. We may make our own happiness. We can certainly try.

Failing that, we can preserve our sense of wonder, mystery, beauty, or hope, even when rapture is out of reach. Even when disability, disease, injury, mistakes, conflict, or loss seems to mock our reaching.

In truth, fortune is fickle, and navigating it takes effort and patience, of initiative and waiting and recovery, and, for some, of praying. It really does seem to be all about the balance.

Whether equilibrium or tipped scales, the balance holds all. A 40-year-old can wobble like a toddler in heart or mind or body. A six-year-old can dispense ancient wisdom effortlessly. A 90-year-old can cut through the bullshit with razor sharpness. Nothing is completely as we might assume. Expect to have your expectations defied.

When you do, the likelihood of it may just increase. Sometimes a taste of the possibilities outside convention opens up the horizon like a star exploding. It’s messy, destructive even, but creative, too. We are all more resilient than we suppose, more capable of renewal and starting fresh after a fall or fallout or the numbing effects of time. I must remember this.

I think about death a lot, particularly my own, and not just because it’s my birthday. I expect to be struck down at any moment, much of the time. Especially any time I get in a car. I don’t really fixate; I just let the thoughts meander through. There’s little to stop them. Sometimes, I think I focus on death as a way to force myself to embrace life more vehemently. Losing grandparents, aunts, uncles, former classmates, and friends hasn’t done the trick. The terror does not yield to carpe diem, and some darkness lingers.

Losing the dog last February, however, brought new emptiness, which I greedily filled with guilty pleasures and renewed ambitions. Seen another way, I dusted myself off and kept going. However, along with vigorous effort and focus comes not just hope, but expectation.

We have no right to expect positive outcomes just because we are open to them or want them or reach for them or demand them. But while we’re here, we might as well try to build and enjoy something that is ours. Few will remember us for long after we’re gone, and eons from now, no one will.

Nowadays, almost as much as I think about death, I wonder about having kids, and my husband and I discuss it periodically (no, not monthly). The questions arise, along with the concerns. Answers are few and indefinite. In short, neither desire nor aversion has yet won.

People like to say, “It’s never too late,” but frankly, for everything, one day it will be. The line cavalierly sanctions procrastination of major life decisions. It’s little different from “There’s always tomorrow,” but that may truly never come, and one day, it just won’t. Do now, be now. All we know for sure is now. Do what, you ask? What is most true to yourself. This notion has become a trend and may now be somewhat out of fashion.

I’ve read my share of self-help books, most before the age of 30, and some have pearls of wisdom I’ve tucked away. You may know one that says, “Your mission in life is where your deep joy and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (I won’t say which one; I’m promoting movies, not books, today.) In reading these, and favoring this quote, I’ve trained myself to be alert to my inner truth and its expression, and it seems to be working as I work. I don’t seek out those kinds of books anymore; too many better options await my attention.

If we all cop out or settle to some degree and at some point, or even if only most of us do, it’s no great tragedy. On the other hand, if we ignore our soul’s longing completely, it may not be a mortal sin, but it could become a terminal regret. My fear of regret keeps me asking important questions such as, How can I make the most of my life? What am I meant to do?

Like today, even tomorrow may be nothing but a dream. In that case, I choose to embrace the dream, and the dreams within it. I’ve made it this far. I survived. I fulfilled the dream of turning 40. It’s a milestone, a benchmark, a signpost, a weigh station (I try not to stop at those). As if life is an aging contest or some sort of race to the finish, as if the finish line were not death itself.

Age is a sort of accomplishment in our culture. For people with, say, a terminal illness or violent household, this may well be true. Obviously, war-torn countries are so described because of death and maiming, where celebrating survival may become almost necessity. Still, in places and times of relative peace, we celebrate birthdays from year one forward, and in weeks and months before that. When birthdays are used to celebrate life and becoming, it makes sense to add some hoopla.

Otherwise, encountering another year really isn’t much of an achievement. This time, a song borrows the old adage: “Wisdom doesn’t follow just because you’ve aged.” Experience doesn’t guarantee learning. “Been there, done that” doesn’t mean you’re really any better off than someone who hasn’t. So don’t gloat so much, old fogie.

I’m certainly not done yet, not done trying to “fulfill” my “potential.” At some point, you’ve got to deliver, Dodo-head, or find yourself going the way of the dodo. And who would mourn the loss? The inability to evolve, to persevere, maintain a foothold on earth, on behalf of your species? To represent! I always feel that pressure to achieve, to make a difference, to leave a legacy, but with long-term pressure, I risk overcooking.

One side of you is saying, “And so you should.” And perhaps: “How selfish of you, how typical, to lament the inevitable passage of time, to make excuses for not using yours wisely. More selfish still, just spending (wasting) the time thinking about it because you ‘have the time’ to do so.” That’s my projected criticism from all those busy family people my age who don’t have such a “luxury,” the disapproval from the other voices in my head.

Why do I choose to look at it this way? Is that motivating? Even with these last quote marks, my defiance comes through. “I am what I am and that’s all that I am,” says Popeye. It’s a defiance to convention, conformity, being ordinary. It’s an insistence on forgiving myself for not being perfectly healthy, at my ideal weight, in shape, and bursting with energy while also juggling two jobs, a home, and children. Besides, I do juggle many parts of a busy life.

I defy contempt for privilege, I defy the progressive insistence that moral rightness means impoverishing oneself in the name of equality, and I defy the stigma and misconceptions about writers’ and artists’ lives. I could do office work, and I have done lots of it. I could do manual labor if I really, really had to, but I don’t. Now I work to be an artist, I teach for some income, and, thanks to my husband, I’m not starving. There, I said it.

Of course I would consider writing about, which requires dwelling upon, turning 40. I am a writer. And what’s more, a writer in a culture accustomed to celebrating and obsessing about birthdays. I’ve often thought that I am better suited to life as a free-wheeling scholar from the Age of Enlightenment or something than to traditional, modern-era work. Rather than snub the blessing, I embrace the chance to be just that kind of scholar and writer, while still working toward greater individual contributions to our income.

I usually try to keep my defiance in check in my writing, never wanting to seem too selfish, self-righteous, self-absorbed, too forthright, feminist, emotional, emotionalist, or otherwise stereotypically female, except in jest. But also because I claim a cherished penchant for reason and logic. True, the suppression is a bit neurotic, but, hey, awareness is the first step.

I really like that first step. I walk it all the time. It’s an infinite loop, as though I have one leg much shorter than the other and am walking in circles. Selfish –> anxious about it –> neurotic about anxiety –> selfishly neurotic. It’s oh so productive.

Suppressing defiance or anger, though, just comes across as being cold, rigid, emotionally distant, or, perhaps worse, dishonest. Unlikely I’m fooling anyone but me.

Defiance leaks out, anyway, eventually, in other contexts, the rest that I have—tutoring, friends, family. I’m human and American. Overall, I like to think my students and loved ones are pleased with me despite my egocentric leanings. (I would say that, wouldn’t I?)

Maybe I shouldn’t try so hard to defy expectation and to be different. The effort has become its own sort of tedious convention. Those who know me have come to expect it. Who, in the end, is truly 100 percent original? We are creatures of habit, pattern, and imitation. Relax a little when faced with things you really can’t change. Do everything in moderation, even moderation. Let loose on occasion. Balance.

And so, I revel in the riches of imagination, in all its forms, mediums, shapes, and colors. “God is in the rain,” says Evey Hammond in V for Vendetta. In nature, in reverie, in reflection. That’s where God lives for me. Where I can find something of grace, of beauty, of serenity, invigoration, balance. It is my universe. I can touch it, see it, hear it, taste it, examine it, love or hate it, reject or accept it.

We all need ways to shelter ourselves from the certainty of death, at least long enough to invest in our lives and to dream new dreams. The only soul I have to live with is this living, sensing one. I mean to do right by it. Invest in the balance, and then, “wait and hope,” as the Count of Monte Cristo says. And smile.

My new dream? Only one of many: the chance to see how I feel about all this at age 50. What of effort, deepest joy, money, ego, pain, employment, God, imagination, kids, limits, convention, neurosis, the world’s hunger, potential, balance, or wisdom then? I hope I’ll see–and hear those movie lines calling.


img_2155

graduate school graduation, age 31, or “ten and 21”

Save

Save

Nothing I Own: Original Poetry

And your deep thought from Philosofishal today? An anti-Thanksgiving sort of excerpt from my poem “Nothing I Own” (2010). Inclusion neither constitutes nor forbids endorsement.

And she said to me,
“I would give nothing
That I own, if asked.”
Appalled, I then realized,
Mine is worse, or no better, 
for I would own nothing
So as not to feel obliged.

copyright © C. L. Tangenberg

Looking at just this part of the poem with fresh eyes and new cultural context, I think I’ll file it under Nativism–in all senses of the word. Or Socialism or Communism. Or just re-title it. Or maybe False Freedom. Relativity? Solipsism? Extremism? Bald-faced Sin? Excuses? Seeds of Evil?

But, well . . . how to choose?

Does the first speaker mean she would give only when NOT asked? I.e., it has to be her choice, her original idea? Or, does she really mean she’s keeping it all to herself always?

Is the second speaker, because she is the “I,” the person whose perspective the poem is most squarely about? That would seem to indicate which title fits best.

And yet, can we trust her statement? Are the motivations we claim to have really those we hold? Are the ones we actively claim really the most active among our reasons? How much does social pressure shape our response?

Can there be light, as in true enlightenment, without closely examining the darkness?

Not recalling the rest, can I really analyze only part of a poem, even my own poem, with any authority? How much does context matter? Some say it’s everything. I don’t go quite that far, but it is significant.

So, in order to know what’s at the heart of the art, what message might emerge from the words, you really have to read the whole thing and, in so doing, seek to learn things like:

  • What else was said? What was happening? What is their history? Who are they?
  • Are they both speaking freely or under duress, or is one dominating the other?
  • Is the speech itself merely an instrument of a different, hidden purpose? Is that better or worse? Does she like or dislike her audience?
  • Is it a contest to see who is worse? Americans are generally pretty attached to those.
  • Do they mean what they say, or are they just afraid somehow to be honest?
  • Which is speaking–the authentic self or the wounded inner child?
  • How mistreated do you have to be to feel the need to avoid others at all costs or reap punishment for self-absorption?
  • Is this their way to ensure they get nothing themselves, a sign of self-hatred?

I know. You’ll say I’m reading too much into it, but I’m not really seeing one conclusion or another at all. It’s been too long since I read the whole poem. I’m asking. Because I don’t have the answers. It’s an examination of a small corner of the possibilities of human psychology, social morality, and subjective truths.

So how can I judge? How can you? What can we really know?

If we don’t know what to conclude, there seem to be two active responses open to us. (I’ll get to the passive ones farther down.)

  1. Find out more in order to judge properly, if possible, or
  2. Simply be more open to revelations and to getting it wrong, more tolerant of the lives we are not living in the skins that are not ours, and withhold judgment, learning from the outcomes in the process.

This second option may seem passive, but it is active when it takes skill in self-control to achieve openness, humility, tolerance, and restraint, greater skill than it takes to shout our precipitous verdict from on high.

I try to do the first–investigate–when I can and when I feel it is important to, but I know the effort is often fruitless, takes a lot of time and thought, and rarely aligns with the personal goals that matter more to me, where my energy is better spent. Which leaves the second way.

The active withholding of a decision when you know you’re missing vital information to make it wisely is actually rather wise.

So if it’s not our literal job (yes, literal meaning actual earning of an income to feed oneself and one’s family) to judge something, or if it is our job to know what the heck we’re doing, then what legitimate basis (let alone right) do we have to label someone, to declare a just course, to say what should or should not be done, when knowledge is nowhere to be found?

True freedom is to be measured by what we allow other people in our midst to be and do, not by how free the judging of them makes us feel. A free society must evolve from citizens freeing one another. But do we love liberty or each other enough to evolve into that society? Or, do too many of us prefer the hollow promise of equality and the illusion of government protection to a freedom that demands more individual responsibility?

People seem to love to claim they are holier than thou, which belies any claim to love equality. All claims require basis in fact to be true. And what fact do you know about yourself that cannot be legitimately disputed by those who know you relatively well?

Think about it. All the things we’re most sure of about ourselves–the ones that aren’t patently obvious and therefore unimportant–are often the most objectively questionable. So “Let he among us without sin be the first to condemn” actually means “How dare you condemn, you hypocrite!” There should be no “first” because there is none without sin.

A passive response to not knowing what to make of things, whether it takes the form of forever ignoring a fundamental life question or choosing an arbitrary answer, is more unconscionable to me than the highly visible sins being judged in the first place.

So it has to be either judge wisely or don’t judge, but can such a non-judgmental approach work for everyone, in every role in life?

Can a president, for instance, afford to suspend judgment or be uncertain–ever?

Sure, they have to project a strong front to ward off threats to the country. Frankly, though, and yes, in ironic judgment, I find a publicized persona of sustained high confidence–along with rote, platitudinous rhetoric–in political leaders to be a sign of idiocy and incompetence, not to mention dishonesty. Verdict read. So apparently, the only people I judge harshly and permanently are the judgmental, or those who seem to have more confidence than I. 😉

But in all seriousness: However covertly or discreetly displayed, without actual humility and openness, meaning the capacity to learn, improve, and course-correct, a leader is lost. And what does that make the leader’s country?

Your thoughts?

 

Five-Phrase Friday (22): Why Freedom?

Five-plus phrases of things to celebrate about freedom of the press and free expression:

  1. revelation through openness: unfettered expression of facts, opinions and impressions, making possible the discovery of truths
  2. diverse, idea-rich culture and personal responsibility instead of sacred cows and “safe” spaces for absolutely everything: Such riches flow out of sources ranging from irreverent comics to wise, reasonable academicians and beyond.
  3. constraint and dissent against bureaucracy and corruption: government transparency, accountability, restraint of power; courageous whistle blowers; the repeal of bad and excess laws
  4. greater personal safety, freedom, and fairness–and less fear: no to a military-style police state, no to federal intimidation, no to economic imprisonment, no to political entitlement, no to terror, no to executive power grabbing, no to detention without charges or trial, no to knee-jerk litigation, no to more prohibition (yes, upholding the Constitution in general is essential to numbers 3 and 4)
  5. lighten up, get real and get out of your own way: uncork childhood and let them breathe, laugh at ourselves, leave the Internet unregulated, and say “yes” to risk, to play, to innovation, to experiments in arts and sciences–to better life

Roosevelt was right: Our greatest enemy is our own fear. And guilt is a close second.

Most of us theoretically want the foundation of the five conditions above; we just advocate different ways of getting there. For my part, I say:

Self-control is a skill worth cultivating alongside rational and critical thinking.

Let not your pulsing heart scream silently in ready offense, righteous indignation, outrage, despair, doom, panic, self-hatred, or vengeance. And if you can’t help it, delay the impulse to give your heart voice until after it consults your mind (or a neighbor’s if you are out of yours).

To kick our addictions to dread and catastrophe, and curb our bad habit of trying to change others, if we really want to make life better, first we have to change our own hearts and minds. Adaptation propels us beyond mere survival into thriving.

You find what you look for, so look for the good in others. You cultivate what you rave about, so, if you must rave, rave about the good you have found. Replace the need to spread anger and fear with an addiction to the highs of good news and hope.

Oppression rules when we approach life as an error to correct, as a problem to solve, as something broken to be fixed. Hypocrisy and idiocy reign when we engage with and operate from assumptions of imaginary woes and wars within society.

Out of such an atmosphere spring useless, tyrannical communism; insidious, oppressive fascism; and volatile religious fanaticism–and their attendant violence. Feel free to despair at that point, but then quickly dust yourself off to fight the now-real war.

Either way, no one is getting out of here alive.

Therefore, let life pursue its natural course–improvement. Let there be creativity on earth, and let it begin . . . with freedom. Only under this necessary first condition can we hope for truth, love, integrity, respect, and trust in ourselves and each other to foster widespread, lasting peace and prosperity.

Synchronicity: Coincidence, Answered Prayer, or Something Else?

~  Read the post (contains explicit language), then take the poll.   ~

Here is my aIMG_1945dapted definition of synchronicity: A mild (positive) shock of recognition of the convergence that alerts your mind to a potentially important connection between one object, person, place, or idea and another.

The phenomenon is neither deja vu nor ESP, but something akin to both. Whereas these two focus, respectively, on the past and the future, synchronicity lives in the present, with us, urging us to be captivated–now. Yet, there is a predictive factor in play with any associated time delay between one half of the connection and the other. Perhaps it is a form of ESP after all.

It serves as a kind of homing beacon, saying simply, “Yes. Yes, this is for you and you alone.” The meaning of the convergence is unique to the recipient; the recognition is one that only the recipient can experience in just this way. The effect on the recipient may be an urge or need to follow up–to say, write, or do something to acknowledge the synchronous event.

Why does it happen? Because we asked for it somewhere deep in our subconscious mind. Why do we respond as we do? Because we realize it is an answer to an unspoken (or perhaps spoken) question we had sent out into the ether.

You could call it an answered prayer. Some call it meaningless coincidence. Whatever you call it, it is good, for our good.

The Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron explains that when we open ourselves up to these connective possibilities, the flood gates open, and these moments may arise more frequently. If our answer to the “yes” of the synchronous moment is also “yes,” in the way we keep ourselves open, receptive, unafraid, even in awe, and lovingly curious about what may happen next, the chance of these recurrences increases.

An emotional rejection of the moment, whether through fear or scoffing skepticism, will discourage the shy matchmaker that is synchronicity from reappearing and offering its gifts again.

For me, the visitations have been relatively few and infrequent but, mainly, consistent with the definition and “rules” of relationship the experts present.

The most vivid recollection I have of this phenomenon is of an instance while driving in my daily commute from Cuyahoga Falls to University Circle in Cleveland several years back. It was so vivid that, in retrospect, I almost believed I must have made my query aloud. How else could the reply have come with such stark, unmistakable delivery?

Traversing a highway bridge in relatively bright daylight, I spotted a dark object ahead of me near the end of the bridge but in the middle of the road. It was fairly large, so I thought it might have been a shredded semi tire or large trash bag.

As I drew closer, details revealed a flapping motion toward the top of the somewhat rounded object. It did not move like a bag and moved too much to be heavy rubber or any other usual debris.

Considering the possibility of its being a dead animal, I was puzzled, as no road kill I had ever seen, whether squirrel or groundhog or raccoon or even deer, would present this kind of motion. Within range to see the object clearly, I gasped when I realized what it was.

The shock of recognition in this case was neither mild nor particularly positive. It was a dead Canada goose, on its back, with its stiff, webbed feet waving in the wind of the traffic on a bridge.

I had seen such geese alive hundreds of times, so ordinarily, a witnessing of this deceased version should not have disturbed or frightened me much at all, I suppose. But I immediately recalled my unspoken question of recent days, which even in my mind had been more of a passing observation:

“Hmm. I’ve never seen a dead Canada goose before.” I had thought it odd not to have seen one, or realized seeing it, in my nearly 30-year lifetime.

The universe gives us what we ask for.

After I gasped, in consternation and with furrowed brow, I said aloud, “Oh, no, that’s not what I meant!” I brought hand to face as I refocused on the road ahead of me. Being a bird lover and an animal lover makes seeing dead animals, however repeatedly, a slightly saddening experience for me, but I rarely tense up or feel the need to say or do anything in particular but sigh or inaudibly exhale and keep driving.

Even though I had no particular love of Canada geese–we all know they can be obstinate, loud and disgusting nuisances in large numbers–seeing the answer to my question lying there, in that ridiculous position, trying to swim upside down through the air while glued to the asphalt, struck me as rather horrifying. But it took the question’s existence and this clear answer of that question to create the full impact.

Was this synchronicity? If so, what ever for? Was it mere coincidence? If so, why was my reaction so vehement? Was it answered “prayer”–God, I hope not! Thinking that the last option might be the case, I was stricken with a sense of guilt and fear that I had somehow made it happen, that I had provided the outcome for myself.

How could I say “yes” to such a perceived power? Who wants to be able to kill innocent creatures one normally admires and sometimes loves by simply wondering about their death? Was it a sign that I needed to think more positively, else I could start offing things with my brain waves?

After all this, providing these definitions, rules, explanations, and the sense that I must know something of what I speak, I must confess: I don’t know why it happened or what it meant, if anything. I do know, however, that my awareness of synchronicity as a phenomenon had been heightened around the same time, though focused, or at least tossed haphazardly, in other directions.

This was certainly an unexpected confluence, an unanticipated call and response. Unwelcome is more like it. If there was anything to do, what could it possibly be? Too freaked out to follow up, to face the strangeness of it any more than sharing the story with others, I never did pursue, or seek to create, any meaning from the experience.

Is this writing piece itself the answer? Is the point merely to make material available for writerly pondering? Why do I bring this up now? Why not?

The truth is I crave positive synchronicity in my life and art. It’s a way of overcoming reluctance to express myself, of beckoning what I perceive to be external motivation to make it a regular part of my life. Yet, I have not decided exactly what constitutes regular enough or legitimately constant self-expression. Perhaps this desire is just a childish way of shirking routine responsibility.

These misgivings are the kind that lie at the heart of the purpose of The Artist’s Way program. Art is legitimate, Cameron hammers home. You do have something worth expressing. Stop asking for permission and seeking some undefined legitimacy. Just express you. Let the creativity, the communication, the thing to give flow through you out into that same ether where your questions linger and sometimes receive answers.

As a philosopher, I stand by the notion that seeking and knowing the right questions remains largely more important than having the answers. I’m good at asking provocative questions. They serve me in personal growth, as a tutor and teacher, as a mentor and writing peer, as a wife, a daughter, a caregiver of a special needs pet, and a friend.

Like anything, though, in excess, questions merely cripple, and they strain to serve the pursuit of art. This can take the form of self-sabotage.

Whether that’s what the goose encounter was or not, it definitely felt counterproductive and thwarting. It only raised more questions and fears. And it was just downright unpleasant in itself.

So, am I to redefine or relabel more appropriately, if that’s the case? Was it not synchronicity, this supreme, benevolent source of all good, as I had interpreted it to be? (Really, I thought God was saying, “Here you go!” in a cruelly cheerful tone.)

Are we all just full of shit? Sometimes I think so.

If it didn’t really mean anything, why do I feel compelled to frame it in this way, or to talk about it at all? Is the interpretation more of a twisted desperation to experience life-saving synchronicity? Or, is it a way to close the door on synchronicity’s potential forever, by saying, “If this is what it looks like, I’m not looking!”?

I wish I knew, but I don’t. All I can do is move forward now. That did happen about seven or eight years ago, anyway.

I have experienced what I would label as positive synchronicity since then, again in the context of re-raising my awareness of it, particularly in re-reading The Artist’s Way, though that isn’t the only source of discussion about it I have read. And this time, art was served, in the form of a poem, or, rather, the affirmation of a poem I had just created.

My recognition of the occurrence took the form of exclamatory marginalia, which are anything but marginal in my studious life. It impressed upon me a subtle encouragement to continue on the theme I had chosen, to try it out in new works, to dwell in the world of this general theme, which happens to be my relationship to animals.

That’s not coincidence. It’s not answered prayer. It’s not really synchronicity either. It’s just part of who I am, a thread of personality running through my experiences and artistic tendencies.

Whatever the causal label, the effective reality is authentic living, being true to myself. And by thinking and writing about it, I reinforce and hone my understanding of who I am.

That’s really all I can do.


Note: For more authoritative sources on the subject of meaningful coincidence, see texts that reference Carl Jung’s psychoanalytic theory of synchronicity, such as Jean Shinoda Bolen‘s book The Tao of Psychology, or this one I Googled. Alternatively, read Jung’s theory directly. A more concise definition appears as number 5 of Dictionary.com‘s entry for synchronism.

Now about that dead goose . . .