The Light in the Dark

Time for an Animal-Wise Tarot blog.

I’ve been rewriting my story. Not the novel I’m working on, though I’m writing and rewriting that as well.

I’m talking about the story that is my life. My family tends to live a long time, my great grandfather married for the third time at 90 and lived to celebrate his 16th wedding anniversary. My grandmother lived to 99. I’m about to turn 60 (51 days and counting). It’s possible that I could still have forty years more. But even with that amount of time, I get it that time is limited. Our lives are limited. Limited to the time we have here in these bodies.

Okay, let’s say there is such a thing as past lives and that one day this life will be a past life for a new incarnation. That incarnation still will not be me in this life time.

So the question I have been asking myself is – what is my story? I’ve tried several on for size in the past. They didn’t fit. It’s interesting that I wrote two short stories for which the critique was, “This is really a novel.”

I resisted that. And now am working on making one of the short stories a novel (I will probably do the same with the other one). I’m finding that it was true. I was trying to compress something into a form that didn’t fit the story.

This is definitely not to dis short story. I’m still not sure how to write one. I hope to master that eventually.

It’s just to say that there’s more to my life story than I was allowing room for.

So today, I pulled the Devil card in my reading. The animal is the Raven and the meaning is Light in the Dark: Shapeshifting. The book says this, “We must be our own light in the dark.” And “Raven teaches us how to shapeshift our lives, but it also teaches us that how things shapeshift may not be exactly as we imagined. Regardless, we must take our responsibility for those changes.”

So here’s is what my shapeshifting is about, at least today. I have come to understand that I have expected to be turned down. To be thwarted. To be silenced. To have my head lopped off (figuratively) if I tried to rise above what others expected of life.

I can point to events that happened between the ages of ten and eleven that cemented my commitment to that particular shape – that particular belief system. What those experiences were is not important. What I think is important is to recognize that those experiences reinforced belief, not faith.

And I have come to define faith as the willingness to take action in the absence of certainty.

So I am in the middle of shapeshifting, tossing out antiquated rules and banishing fear from my workshop (thank you William Faulkner). It doesn’t mean I’m not afraid – I’m just treating fear as a friend for whom I need to set some boundaries.

I guess shapeshifting is improvising with life. Being willing to go with something to see if that really is the place you want to go. It might very well be the light in the dark.

Note: my name, Karen Lucille, means pure light. I probably should remember that.

Also, I think the saying goes both ways: “God is in the details,” and “The devil is in the details.” I suspect both are true.

So There is Time Enough

Today’s New York Times has two op ed columns (Frank Rich and Timothy Egan ) that talk about Mad Men, the AMC series that follows Madison Avenue ad men in the Sixties – the Sixties that start in 1960.

So far it has covered the span of history that includes the 1960 election, birth of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), death of Marilyn Monroe, and Cuban Missile Crisis.

Racism, sexism, drinking while pregnant and/or driving, and smoking like a chimney were deeply embedded as cultural norms. Perfectly acceptable.

Tonight’s premiere begins in 1963. Should be an interesting season.

Note: Spoiler alert follows. Although, if you haven’t been watching the series, I don’t think it will spoil anything if you start to watch it.

The protagonist, Don Draper, is who he says he is, though only after assuming a new identity. He lifts the dog tags from his dead compatriot after he is burned beyond recognition in a scene that takes place in Korea.

It’s the moment that Dick Whitman changes his story and become Don Draper.

Story, Robert McKee, says is a metaphor for life.

I have become fascinated lately with rewriting the story. Not a short story or novel I’m writing. But my story. The story that I’m living.

Perhaps the best birthday present I am giving myself as I turn sixty (still two months away, but nonetheless), is to recognize that the story I thought I was supposed to live is not my story.

And so I have started rewriting my story.

Compassion, I believe, is at the base of all good story writing. That means compassion for myself for having tried to live a story that wasn’t mine; compassion for those who wrote the story I thought I was supposed to live; and compassion for the human condition.

And today, at least, I think the human condition is that we do the best we can with what we have. At its highest, the human condition allows us to learn that the best we can do can be really quite extraordinary – once we learn compassion.

In the old story, I was a monster. Monstrous because I asked questions; monstrous because my questions provoke the possibility of change.

In my new story, I understand that I have been given gifts: the gift of asking questions, the gift of being willing to embrace change; the gift of uncertainty. I have come to believe that faith is acting without the benefit of certainty.

And so I have faith in story: to allow story to unfold, reveal character with compassion, and let it end in ambiguity if necessary.

I have come to look at safety in a different way. I don’t think we can make ourselves safe from the unexpected, from the event that pulls the rug out from under us, from losing people we love, or even our own lives.

Now I think safety is more about living life fiercely so when it comes time to face my own death I can say that there was time enough.

Mad Men is good story. It shows the wages of living a life of quiet desperation. What it’s like to live a story that isn’t yours.
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As a coda, there is also an op ed column about the American poet Marianne Moore. Ford Motor Company asked her to come up with names for a new car it was getting ready to sell. They turned down all her suggestions – and named it the Edsel.

What I Want to Say

The first assignment in my Literary Hybrid class at last year’s Iowa Summer Writing Festival was to write a list that responds to the question, “What do you want to say?”

I wrote down favorite product instructions (and, yes, they really are product instructions):

For best results use joy.

Let go before you think you should.

And then Isabelle Allende’s comment that experience is what you get right after you need it.

Which led to . . .

I’m approaching 60—the age, not the speed limit—and it’s making me think. More like churn. About my life. And what it means to be alive. And what it means to be authentic.

Even if I live to 106, like my great grandfather.

Or 99, like my grandmother.

Or 83, like my mother.

For best results use joy.

Let go before you think you should.

Experience is something you get right after you need it.

That’s what I want to say today.

What do you want to say today?