about spiraling out of control
The vision of a 17-year-old should not be dismissed lightly. “I just want to do something that matters, you know? I want to feed the hungry, or help abused kids, or work with the homeless. I can do it, and write about it. Something real. Otherwise, I won’t stick with it, no matter how well it pays.”
What do you want to be when you grow up? “A poet.”
But, eh, what do you want to do for a real job?
A real job. My plan back then was to burst onto the writing scene fresh from an impressive college honors program, get picked up by National Geographic magazine, travel and write and never look back. Never come back. Never even bother to have a home, just go. I had plenty of reason, plus the nerve, stamina, and fierce will to make it.
“I’m gonna go, see the world, see the world’s people.
Or so I thought. Instead, I dropped out of that college honors program halfway through the first semester; shucked off my full-ride scholarship like some onerous burden; married my boyfriend and got pregnant; delivered pizzas and worked in delis between having more babies, got depressed and got divorced and got my shit together. And got another boyfriend, got married, got pregnant, got divorced, and got my shit together all over again. It just kept happening. And by the time I was 28, I’d had enough kids and enough therapy to know I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.
Except at work. In 1990, my future dropped into my lap like a small bird alighting, a very quiet, shimmering gift of a very part-time position making phone calls to do labor market surveys for a vocational rehabilitation counseling practice. I had no idea at the time, but that phone job would lead into a 20-year career working with homeless men and women.
“You’re a psychologist? psychiatrist or something? from some big university?” they’d ask me. “Oh, no,” I’d answer. “No, no, I’m just a poet with a sweet day job.”
And this is how it begins, decompartmentalizing, hybridizing. Wildcrafting a self, picking the healthy green growing in the wildness of our lives, finding our way back outside expectations and labels, out to where we can breathe.
I’ve picked up a lot of education since those early days. I’m very professional in my work, know the ethics of my field, keep up my certifications, train interns to become the next generation of social workers and case managers. I’ve also helped develop a program of alternative therapies at our center – art group, writing group, gardening group – to meet our clientele where they’re at. They’re homeless…they are clearly outside the social box. So I go outside the box to find them. It’s been messy, creating an art studio, a garden. It’s not always orderly or tidy. In fact, most of the time it’s not.
But a funny thing has happened. Over time, I’ve become more centered. Like the eye of my own personal storm, I’ve found calm at the core. Zen is a good thing. Counseling helped, yoga, tai chi. Maybe it’s the mountain trailrunning. Much of it is probably just age. But when I stand in that calm, I hear the words of 17-year-old me, telling me now, “You have to go, see the world. See the world’s people. You have to go.”
I’ve thought about it for a year. Meditated on the idea. Waited to see if fear would come bubbling up if I sat still long enough. But I haven’t come face to face with fear – I’ve come face to face with my heart’s desire. What has bubbled up is a quiet kind of joy, and along with my ever-present sense of adventure, a feeling of satisfaction with my crazy life path: I didn’t do it then, but I can do it now. And I can do it better.
So I plan to spiral out of control.
Not the self-destructive tailspin of my youth – more like the intentional leaps of the whirling dervish. Like lifting my face to the sky and reaching my hands out wide and open, and just turning, turning, seeing as far as I can see, and letting go. Like an embrace.
I’m gonna go. See the world. See the world’s people.