Dwelling in Possibility

“I dwell in possibility.”
-Emily Dickinson

I’ve always thought this quote was pretty enough, but I hadn’t identified with it until quite recently. Maybe it’s the springtime. The days are getting longer. Trees are budding and birds are singing and people are re-emerging from the layers of winter. It’s a time of graduations and moves. It’s the season of new beginnings.

Whatever it is, it distracts my already easily diverted mind. Suddenly, everything is a possibility.
“Why don’t I be a writer? I think I’ll quit my job and be a writer.”
“Why don’t I lose 30 pounds and become a serious athlete again, a warrior woman?”
“Why don’t we move to the southwest–New Mexico, perhaps?”

We all know people who’ve always known what they want their lives to be. Ever since middle school, they’ve known they wanted to be a teacher. A doctor. A singer. And they go out and live that life, despite difficulties and obstacles. What is it about them that makes them able to stick with their dreams–happily so?

Most of us aren’t like that. Most of us, during that decade after 18, struggle to pare down the possible livelihoods we envisioned for ourselves, and to name what it is we want out of life. We may start down one path, only to realize–better sooner than later–that it is not the path for us.

I’m well past that decade now, but I still ask these questions. When is changing one’s path the right thing to do? (Is there such a thing as “the right thing?”) When is it just being fickle? My dream of being a warrior woman, for example, would be one such frivolity. Much as I’d love to be strong, fast, and lithe, I would not choose to prioritize it enough to give it the hours and sweat that path would demand.

The choice to change paths is made difficult because the options are in fact much more balanced. It’s not, say, a matter of giving up on my current path because it has gotten too difficult or risky. (I am a firm believer that nothing worthwhile is easily gained, anyway.) In fact, one of the things that holds me back from following all those other possibilities is that there is nothing wrong with the path that I’m on. I have a job in which I feel l am doing good, worthy things. (Got to put that law degree, and the hours, sweat and tears that earned it, to some use after all!) The work is challenging but the hours are flexible. I can count on a paycheck and my employer contributes to my retirement (to be banally practical for a moment, and there’s nothing I am if not overly practical). More broadly, I love our home, our city, our friends here. Sure, there are things missing we always wish for–or things we wish were missing–but for the most part, we live content lives.

Neither is it a matter of choosing another path because it is clearly better. I’m not at all sure that I’d live a “better” life were I on a different path. Having never traveled it, I simply can’t know.  But maybe, possibly, it is better.  Maybe.

It may be instead a matter of wondering–always wondering–if I would find more fulfillment on a different path. Is this urge just a case of the grass being greener? Yes, I know no choice would be perfect. But would I be less easily distracted if I was doing something that captivated my interest a little more? Maybe. Or maybe Ms. Dickinson had it right. Maybe this is not a phase. Maybe I too will dwell, always, in possibility. Maybe that’s why spring remains my favorite season.

PS: Two days after I posted this, I saw the following saying, and couldn’t help but add to my earlier musings:

The grass is always greener
where you water it.

Well, yes, there’s much value in making your own happiness no matter what path you find yourself on, but if you’re privileged enough to have a choice in paths, what then?

Waves on my toes

Why do I want to write? Is it to make sense of the inspirations, insights, and demons that tumble through my mind each day? Is it a childish attempt to mimic the beauty that I’ve enjoyed as a reader of true writers? I’m not sure, but it’s an urge that has preoccupied me for months, and it has only grown with time.
So today I will start. Even the prospect of taking the first step thrills me. And frightens me. What can I possibly have to say that’s worth reading? And if and when I share my writing, will I have the skin to tolerate criticisms of it? For writing is not an objective thing. Writing fiction most certainly is not, and nonfiction may not be too different.  The kind of writing I want to start with is a door into my mind: my memories, my relationships, my perceptions, my beliefs. It exposes my inner life to the outer world. And even when it does not, some will believe that it does, and will misconstrue what I have written. But the fear of this is only the first such window into my thoughts. Revelation #1: Mariam does not like misunderstandings of any sort. On the other hand, Mariam loves clear communication, understanding, and world peace.
Misconstructions are unfortunate; disagreements with, or criticisms of, what I have actually said are altogether different. They challenge me to own who I am. The best piece of advice I ever received was in the third grade. My teacher’s wife, who used to invite us to lunch once a week, gave us this gem one day: just be yourself. Simple. Cliché even. But this advice has remained with me. As I see it, being myself—becoming myself—is growing up. At some point in youth, each of us becomes painfully aware of our weaknesses where others are strong, our inabilities where others are talented. And we spend a good part of our latter childhood (those regrettable years sterilely referred to as adolescence) disguising the ways in which we fall short. We spend no comparable amount of time or effort strengthening our gifts. And we all have them. I firmly believe that.  We just forget about them sometimes, that’s all. So what are you? Perceptive? Funny? Analytical? Kind at any cost? Able to talk to anyone? Athletic? Patient? Smart? Own it!
As I have grown older, life has taught me, repeatedly, but often gently, that it brings us contentment when we become more ourselves; when we embrace our gifts and let drift the hopes of becoming someone we are not. We mature also when we face our weaknesses and our shortcomings. Perhaps a temper, or extreme shyness, or an old shame might come to mind. When we begin to work on these things rather than trying to hide them or defend them, it is one way in which we grow. It is one way in which I can grow.
So perhaps this is why I write. Perhaps words are my chosen vehicle for becoming who I was made to be. Or perhaps, after all, being a writer is someone else’s gift, one I need to let pass.