My One Thing

Long before to parent was a verb, my mother and father got some big things right. Two in particular seem worth sharing. First, if there were one piece of cake left and two siblings who wanted it, one child did the cutting, while the other got first choice. King Solomon smart, right?

The other clever parenting move was that each child (there were six of us) got to choose “one thing” that we were allowed not to eat. I don’t remember there being a strict accounting system in place; a clever child might have been able to change her “one thing” with some regularity to avoid both spinach and lima beans, but that’s not what I did. I chose a category: fish was my one thing, and I had graduated from college before I realized that I actually like fish.

It might be because I’m writing this essay during Lent, or maybe it’s because a former student asked me for advice on Linked In late one recent night, but I woke up the other morning thinking about my one thing.

The young man wrote me a note

because I finally updated my LinkedIn profile to show that I’ve gotten a new job. In a recent(ish) post here I noted that possibility was my word for the year. Right after that, I landed a job as managing editor at Vero Beach Magazine, a beautiful publication in a beautiful town that my husband found for us online. Possibility indeed.

“How do I break into a job like that?” my student asked me. I was checking social media on my ipad in bed, one of those things all the healthy lifestyle people tell us not to do. I didn’t say much in response, mostly because I don’t really understand if LinkedIn messages are public or private and I didn’t want to wax ridiculous in public (“Why stop now?” you might be asking, to which I can only reply, “touché.”) The gist of my answer was to tell him to knock on the door; to be honestly himself and ask if the organization has a use for someone like him.

I woke up the next morning

thinking more deeply about my answer. I have some energy powering my knock that a twenty-something young man doesn’t have. For one, I have decades of work experience in a few different fields. I have had time to figure out what I’m good at, time to burn off the constraints that might stop me from naming those things out loud. In other words, I’ve got some oomph in my knock.

I don’t know how to write things like “Keep a learner’s mindset,” or “go in with beginner’s mind.” If I did, I’d be a lifestyle blogger and have millions of followers and a book deal. But when I read those blogs, I often think, “Yes, that’s what I mean.”

Then I started thinking about my one thing. It’s true that I have management experience, teaching experience, and lots of fancy letters after my name. But in this case, for this job, those aren’t the things that made me confident enough to knock on the door.

My one thing these days isn’t something I avoid,

it’s one good habit. Almost every weekday morning, I get out of bed at five to write for an hour. That’s my one thing. Giving up one hour of sleep to be awake in a dark house is the thing that let me knock on the door of my dream job. I loved teaching; it called things out of me that I didn’t know were there, and I don’t regret a moment of those seventeen years. And yet, it was never enough. In some important way I’m struggling to describe, it was what I was doing, rather than who I am.

Now, I get to play with words all day long with other people who like to play with them, too. I write during normal working hours. A colleague and I have deep conversations about whether a writer’s one-sentence paragraph adds important impact or just slows a reader down. We agonize when a sentence with a comma between the subject and the verb makes it (how? how did we let that happen?!) into print. The day flies by, and then the days fly by, and I realize it has been a few months since I’ve posted anything on my blog.

To be honest, I’m trying to figure out

how this blog fits in now. Writing these posts taught me to take myself seriously as a writer; it taught me that there are people who want to hear what I have to say. I’m hesitant to say that it has run its course, done its job, and that I’m moving on now, but that could be happening.

The other day at the beach my husband and I were watching a kid doing tricks on a boogie board. He was making little arcs; he would run, drop his board on the sand, jump on, and then glide out through the swash as a wave came in. Then he would twist his body and ride the wash back into shore. Out and back, into the water, back onto shore.

I’m still writing at five every morning. My fingers hop onto my keyboard and I try to catch a good wave. I plink away at my novel, add a few lines to an essay I’ve been working on. Out and back, every morning. It’s a work in progress, this life, this blog.

Thanks for reading. For now, let’s just say I’ll keep you posted.

Heraclitus on the Beach

I was talking on the phone with my brother on Thanksgiving evening when he said, “I don’t really care for the beach.”

If you’re reading this essay you probably know that I recently crossed the whole country, from New Mexico to Florida, to live near the beach. I wondered why he doesn’t like it.

“It’s always the same,”

Pat said. “The water comes in, the water goes out.” Look left, you see sand; look right, you still see sand. I can see his point.

Since early October, I’ve been walking the same stretch of beach almost every day. Some days there are birds everywhere, seagulls flocking on the shore, pelicans skimming the waves, egrets fishing in the surf.

Other days, I don’t see so many birds. It could be that I’m looking down on those days, hunting for seashells. Some days there aren’t any shells at all. Other days, you can hardly walk barefoot because thick shell beds threaten to slice your feet.

One day I saw a sea turtle lug her heavy body from the salt dunes into the water. Two other days I saw baby sea turtles washing in and out with the surf. One day a giant coconut washed ashore. It sat on the beach for days and then one morning it was gone.

Sunday morning we walked past a big dead fish that looked like it had just washed up. One especially calm day I watched a commotion offshore. A helpful man told me it was a bait ball. (I didn’t know what it was either. Follow the link–it was pretty cool.) One day Fred watched a fisherman catch an eel.

In other words, the beach is different every day.

I’m not saying my brother is wrong, just that we look at a beach and see different things.

So here’s the point where I was going to say something like, “As they say, you can’t step into the same river twice.” 

But then I got curious. Who exactly said that? I asked Dr. Google, and the internet’s short answer was the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, hands down.

Then I followed a few links, and realized things weren’t so clear cut. According to the scholars at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, you can trace the idea that “everything is in flux” to Heraclitus, by way of Plato.

But scholars are still discussing what Heraclitus actually meant. I’m not going to try to summarize the argument, (you can follow the link if you want to get your inner philosopher on), but it hinges on a scrap of papyrus where Heraclitus presumably wrote,

“On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow. ”

It’s pretty, isn’t it? You can read it over and over and not really be sure what he meant. The scholars note that the writings of Heraclitus were marked by this “linguistic density,” and that he liked to speak in riddles.   

So let’s interrupt this weird foray

into philosophy for a minute so we can all figure out what we’re doing here. It’s Tuesday afternoon, and I haven’t posted an essay since the shootings in Pittsburgh sent me reeling. Lots of important and awful things have been happening in the world. Midterm elections, more shootings, horrific fires, and still more shootings. Those things crashed right into Thanksgiving, and I just couldn’t find a grateful path through it all.

I also haven’t been able to find my rhythm. Daylight savings hit just when I was starting to know when to expect the sun. I’m rising later, and evenings feel longer here. Diurnal tides sweep the ocean in and out each day, and I’m still surprised every time by just how far the water recedes.

None of which really explains why I’m writing about Heraclitus this afternoon and not something important like the vote that’s happening in Mississippi.

The Stanford philosophers explain that “…the message of the one river fragment, …, is not that all things are changing so that we cannot encounter them twice, but something much more subtle and profound. It is that some things stay the same only by changing.”

So all that is to say that my brother and I are both right–the ocean has to change in order to remain constant. The philosophers put it like this: “flux” is not “destructive of constancy; rather it is, paradoxically, a necessary condition of constancy…”

Now we’re talking.

Roughly eight months ago, my husband and I upended our perfectly good lives by deciding to move across the country. We could have remained constant; we could have just stayed put and continued to live as we had been. But this move felt, and continues to feel meant, even though it’s eight months later and we’re still in flux.

I’m inspired by Heraclitus to relax into the paradox. It’s comforting to think I had to change in order to remain the same.

Heraclitus also believed in the “unity of opposites.” I don’t have enough brain cells left today to try to understand what he meant, but it brings up another paradox I wrestle with. I am sure that we live in a world where love wins, and yet it’s clear that hate flourishes. I guess that’s a paradox for another day. Maybe I’ll think about it after we find out who won in Mississippi.

For now I’ll just note that Theophrastus, another Greek philosopher, attributed the fragmentary nature of Heraclitus’s work to “the author’s melancholy.”

That seems about right, too. It’s cold here today. I’m sitting at my friend’s desk and looking out the window at the sea. The water is coming in and the water is going out.

I think I’ll head out to the beach and see what’s new.

As always, feel free to share this post if you enjoyed reading it.