I am struggling with the direction of a writing project right now and it has me stuck. I alternate between staring at a blank computer screen, taking copious repetitive notes, and mulling over it while I’m running or taking a shower. What I am seeking is THE ANSWER, despite the fact that I know there isn’t one. I mean there is a solution, but probably not just one. There are no doubt many, which is nearly as discouraging as if there were none. How can I decide which to choose? At 64, as much as I understand that life is complex and confusing, I still long for neat and tidy. It’s why I like the Monday crossword puzzle. It’s a challenge, but one I can figure out, unlike this book project I’m fighting with. And sometimes the fight is more than I want.
Sometimes I just want to know what I am supposed to do with this. And while we’re at it, I want someone to tell me exactly how to lose the 10 pounds that won’t budge, and I want to know that everything is going to work out just fine for all of my friends, and their kids, and dogs, and money troubles, and health worries. This, despite being fully aware that this is not how things work. The joy of life is in the journey and all that. But, if I’m really being honest, on many days that journey is more than I can bear.
When I was 15 and enrolled in high school algebra, our teacher would pass out worksheets for us to complete during class. I would stare at the empty piece of paper for most of the period, hoping that the answers would magically reveal themselves to me. Inevitably, the teacher would come by my desk and, in her best encouraging voice would say, “Just try something to see if it works.” What she didn’t know is that I was trying something, only I was doing it my head. As an algebra idiot, I knew very clearly that this wasn't going to work, but I couldn't imagine the risk of just playing with a variety of possibilities.
What that teacher wanted me to do was to dive in and swim, not stand on the side of the pool and think about freestyle. She wanted me to try and fail and experiment and immerse myself in those symbols until they finally meant something to me other than, “This is stupid.” Sadly for me—because I honestly think my fear of math caused me to miss a whole level of thinking that would be useful to me—I never could take the dive. I scraped by, got my friends to help me, memorized things without really learning them, and somehow passed the class. But I never figured out how to come up with the answers because I couldn’t let myself be vulnerable enough to do it.
It’s no coincidence that, nearly 50 years later, I am grappling with what to do with this writing project, and admittedly a lot of other unsolved mysteries of life. I am schooled enough in my own psychology to know that this represents every conundrum I’ve ever faced. There is no easy answer and no obvious one, either. There are nooks and crannies holding pieces of the solution and long, windy roads where there is no resolution in sight. I get it that if I can endure this, if I can push forward and pay attention to this and that, if I can stand the heat of not knowing exactly, I will end up figuring out what works best for me at this time.
On one level, that is not exactly satisfying. On another, the bravery and tenacity this requires is exhausting. But in the end, I will have had an interesting voyage with these dilemmas of mine and with myself, learning many things along the way, and I suppose that is a pretty great answer in itself.