‘Sometimes I wish I’d been a little braver and jumped into the unknown.’
I was talking with a friend about the writing life and the unwelcoming reality of making a living as a writer and teacher during what is now the second economic crash of my lifetime.
It was Tuesday morning and we were sitting in a café I’d only discovered a few days before despite it being a ten-minute walk from my home and opened for over two years. The chai was creamy and spicy, and the older male waiter wore alarmingly short-shorts.
A few days earlier, four out of town friends came to visit, none are writers and only one is a reader.
The spooling conversations about food, travel (or lack thereof), music, climate change, health, changing careers, politics, our dogs, and retirement pried open my tunnel vision and reminded me that there is more going on in the world than my doctorate, my manuscripts, the course I am helping teach, and this blog.
It feels a little like waking up a train, only you can’t quiet remember how you got on it or where it’s going, but hey, you’ve been here for a while, so you figure you may as well ride it out to the end.
Plus, hopping off the train doesn’t mean you’ll step out onto a platform — it’s a scientific fact that you’ll topple off into the massive void of unknown.
When talking about decision making with another friend, she asks herself, ‘If not this, then what?’
The void is a scary place. It’s unknown. Empty. It lacks certainty. There is no map or path. It’s living in a cardboard box. Losing all your money. Failure.
But it’s also possibility.
Staying on the comfortable train has its own perils. There’s the fear that you’ll hop off at the end having arrived at a wasteland; there’s nothing here for you (or anybody else).
You stayed comfortable and safe; you got your money’s worth and were rewarded with nothing.
There’s a Virginia Woolf essay where she talks about crossing Oxford and following in all the (male) footsteps that had gone before her and she worries how (and if) she has become complicit to that system, that process, that way of being.
So, do we hop off or stay in our seat?
Or perhaps, the even better and more gluttonous question is: can we do both?
Can you stay on the train and hop off into the void?
Can you keep your seat warm and jump off when the urge for adventure strikes? (Presumably while passing a particularly inspiring landscape).
The train and the adventure will be different for everybody, and both can change form.
Perhaps the train is a day job, and the adventure is starting a podcast, a novel, a new short story.
Perhaps the train is a novel, and the adventure is a part-time gig or saying yes to a work collaboration or opportunity.
Perhaps we need to find better ways to get out of the ‘this or that’ thinking, and instead find ways to ‘have it all’ – while also recognising cost-benefits, time and energy limitations, responsibilities etc.
Like The Fool from tarot, maybe we need to take a leap of faith. Step off the train and onto the terrains of unknown lands, trusting that we are capable, that we will not losing our footing, and that another carriage will eventual come by if need be.
Removing ‘this or that’ thinking means that we can choose the bigger life.
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