Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Fortunes of Experimenting

Can you fit the future in a cookie?

I occasionally indulge in fortune cookies. The cookie part is typically forgettable. However the words, though likely written by a machine before being baked in the cookies, on more than one occasion have held a wisp of hope in situations where there was little being offered from other sources.

It seems counterintuitive to place any meaning on something as random as a few less than cohesive words on a slip of paper. But sometimes a seemingly arbitrary idea links itself to an existing project or dream creating a phenomenon we now call a Tipping Point (Gladwell).

Just over three years ago I received a fortune cookie with a birthday dinner. At the time I was struggling to find a platform for writing publicly and had just started my first blog. The fortune inside the cookie read: “Your heart will always make itself known through your words.”

It’s not an especially profound statement but it solidified my outlook that somewhere there was a place for me to write and an audience who was waiting for what I had to say. I do not think I have arrived; actually I think this is something that will always be a winnowing process. Nonetheless I took it as an indication to hang on to writing and not let go.

What happens when the cookie crumbles?

A couple of weekends ago I received another fortune cookie while having lunch with part of our environmental rehab crew. Usually I dive in and read the fortunes but I found my self hesitating. I think partly it had to with uncertainty; uncertain whether it was cool to read the cookie fortunes and uncertain about what it might say and how it might hit me.

After someone else read theirs, I cracked my own and carefully nibbled at the cookie leaving the paper face down on the table. The cookie gone, I slowly turn the paper over to read the following: “Your present plans are going to succeed.”

To be honest, my first thought was “do I have a plan?” And then, the second thought chimed in with “of course I do, I’m experimenting.” And so it is. This is to be my year of experimenting.

Can you move beyond the cookie?

Some people are hit with a life change or interruption and enter a period of reflection through which they discover their second journey or the work of the second half of their life. In my case, although the year of reflection brought about volumes of unpacking and healing, I did not emerge with any clear direction of a specific work that was mine to do.

That doesn’t mean I emerged clueless only that I did not receive any overarching mandate to go do a particular thing. Instead, as the last month of that first year started closing out, several small hints started popping up here and there. Opportunities to stretch and build on a few things I was already doing casually began to arrive at my door.

At first they seemed random and uncollaborated. But the more I considered them the more I heard Allan Bacon’s proposal in his nonconformity essay “Moving to Paris” about experimenting instead of analyzing to find what your true work could be. Of course some of these opportunities involve carrying out full-fledged tasks for which I am responsible but I will be part of bigger groups from which there will help and advice. These groups are smaller units of larger operations and in a way these will be experiments in doing bite-sized chunks of the higher-level work.

Before the cookie there was what?

How can I be okay with the idea of experimenting at my stage of life? Really experimenting is how I have figured out much of my life such as college, homemaking, parenting, and even blogging. So, why not experiment to find my true second half of life work?

Well, there is a tiny issue that gives pause to this experimenting idea: most of these don’t pay, and a few of them have expenses. This is not a total deal-breaker as long as I can also find experiments in generating enough income to keep this boat afloat. So, to the previous list of experiments can be added: experiment in expanding my freelance writing.

So far I have a small regular gig for an arts’ weekly (for those who have been reading a while this is a change of publications). Currently, I am working up ways to pick up the right kind of small writing gigs “in a safe and comfortable way” (to quote Havi).

I will keep you posted.

1 comment:

Britt College Writer said...

I came across your blog because of your references to stage of life moments. I just wanted to let you know I enjoyed it. We're always looking for more people to participate in the conversation and share wisdom and advice with the world. Feel free to add you voice to our project.

Writing Intern