TURNING THE SHIP

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In the parting minutes of the last writing workshop I attended (not counting the evening long wrap-up and fairwell party!​), Dean Wesley Smith cautioned his gathered disciples that, while everything that he and Kristine Kathryn Rusch had pounded into us about commitment and motivation and productivity and pace was all true, there is another truth. A kind of external uber truth about life and the world and the nature of humans, their relationships, and their endeavors.

Dean said it was really two truths. In his words, the overarching truth was that “the ship turns slowly.​” The second inner truth relates to why it turns slowly, and why for most of us it should turn slowly. That inner truth is that all of us have responsibilities and these include being aware of our existing commitments and priorities, and the need to deal with these reasonably and faithfully as we rearrange our commitments and priorities to a new life course. He noted we would each have our own lists, but in almost all cases two things belong at the top of the list. These are our families and our health.

Smart fellow that Dean. There were so many valuable things that I carried away from that workshop that I can hardly begin to list them all (I’ll share some of the other important stuff as I continue to build the website). But the slow turning ship is one that has resonated with my experience in these past ten weeks since coming home.

Our lives have a lot of momentum. It takes enormous will and energy to alter the direction of a life. Paradoxically, our lives have a lot of inertia too. While some facets of our existence seem rushing almost out of control toward their determined or random destinations, other facets of our lives seem implacably staked down solidly, utterly resistance to movement or change of any kind. Maybe that’s an anchor dragging the ocean bottom behind the ship of our lives. Something. I know that both phenomena do exist simultaneously.

So, I’m coining a phrase. I’m calling it “turning stress.​” It’s that tightness in my gut I’ve been dealing with for about the last six weeks as I keep grasping at the reality I seek, the reality of being a full time writer (or at least as close to full time as my cosmic circumstances will allow). And, as I grasp at that new reality, it seems as though much of the time it is like grasping at jello. The harder I try to hold on to it, the worse it squeezes out between my fingers.

My life has been a pretty consistent take-charge-and-get-it-­done kind of existence. But this transition, albeit one that I have been gradually preparing for over the last fifteen or so years, has been different. I think that is because writing is so personal. And we (OK, I) ruminate and hesitate and fuss and fixate over these changes that so fully redefine identity, let alone activities and social structure.

And of course there is the rejection thing, isn’t there. It is there all the time. The knowledge that this wonderful thing you are writing, whether good, bad, or indifferent, will likely be brutalized along the way before ever seeing the light of day (unless, that is.​.​. my inner demons and critical voice says.​.​. you procrastinate and put off the birthing.​.​. yeah, just stall.​.​. let it gestate a little longer. Think about it some more before putting something down on paper that you.​.​. and then THEY will read and tear apart).

But no. I have already begun turning the ship’s wheel. And as I learned in the Navy (and, Dean, you’ll be glad this fits the analogy) you don’t swing the rudder all in one turn under normal circumstances. You turn a few degrees, check the compass, turn a few degrees more, and check the compass again. Gradually and safely coming up steady on the new course. And the ships around you (family, friends, employers) get to adjust their courses as well to accommodate your shift.

In the right amount of time the ship has turned.

Of course you must begin to turn the ship if it is ever to turn.

So, with the year just about wrapping up, here’s wishing you all a Happy New Year, Sailors!

Cheers,
Bob

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