Making Moves

I talk a lot about looking to the universe – for signs, for guidance, for instructions on how the hell to be an adult… I’m always looking, but I never really expect to see anything. Sometimes, though, the universe slaps you in the face.

 

As some of you may know, I moved to Montana about four years ago, after deciding to take a break from college and leave Florida behind. Since I grew up an hour from here in northern Wyoming, moving to Montana felt a lot like coming home. And while there were a lot of pieces of my childhood in Wyoming that I’ll cherish forever, going “home” was never something I wanted to do. I’ve been planning my departure for almost as long as I’ve lived here, staying as long as I have only because I love my family and I love my job. Like I said, sometimes the universe slaps you in the face.

A little while ago, my mom, sister, and brother-in-law all announced that they were planning on moving. The timeline wasn’t solid, but it would be soon, and they’d be gone. I reeled – sure, we were all busy and didn’t see much of each other, but what would I do in a city that I didn’t like without the people who made it likeable? I started thinking about this place I’ve called home for almost four years, about everything that had kept me from moving. Without my family, the only thing left was a half-completed degree (at a school I hate) and my job. My wonderful, exciting, life-giving job. My job that would be ending within the year, because of my college scheduling and because the littlest would be starting preschool. So, adding all of that up, I’m not left with much… a family moving, a job ending, a school that makes me – a lifelong nerd – dread going to school, and a boyfriend living across the country.

After telling him what was going on, he summed it up efficiently and insightfully, as only my boyfriend can. “The only thing keeping you there is inertia, and that’s not a very good reason.” Universe, thy name is Shane.

 

Over the past four years, I had become very accustomed to things not going my way. I got used to pieces falling apart just when I needed them to stick together most. But that night, on the phone with my boyfriend, all of the falling pieces started to take the shape of a plan. A very scary, very exciting, very possible plan. If all of the things keeping me in Montana were disappearing, why did I have to stay in Montana? I wanted a better education. I wanted a new adventure. And, most of all, I wanted to start my life with my wonderful person (and stop spending ridiculous amounts of money flying across the country to visit him). My feet had grown itchy long ago, and it seemed like the Universe was telling me to let them roam.

The thing about moving across the country, though, is that you’re moving across the country. There is no way to simply move 3,000 miles away just like that. For one thing, despite my dislike of the city, I’ve built a life in Billings and formed my own family here. Saying goodbye to the sisters I’ve found here, the kids I’ve helped raise, and the bosses that have become like family will be like tearing out a piece of my heart. For another, packing up my belongings and driving them across the country will be like tearing out a piece of my bank account. Or, like, all of it. I’m scared to say goodbye to my closest friends. I’m scared to pare down my life to what fits in the back of my car. I’m scared to disappoint the people I’m leaving behind. I’m scared to live in a new state, and I’m scared to take such a big step in my relationship.

But underneath all of that fear is something so wonderful. Underneath is the understanding that in life, sometimes you have to make big moves to get big results. It’s the idea that for the first time, I’m taking responsibility for my own happiness. I’m looking at areas in my life that do not bring me joy, and I’m choosing to put in the work to change them.

I made a lot of changes in the past year. I’ve worked hard to learn a lot about myself, and to grow and improve in areas that need it. I started this blog, started going to therapy, started letting people in… And as I look back, I’m realizing that all of those changes were leading up to this moment. Call it fate, call it a higher power, call it whatever you want – this entire year seems to have been orchestrated to prepare me for this moment. To stand at the edge of a new life, and take the plunge – not unafraid, but not unprepared either.

So here I go. Saying goodbye to family, goodbye to a job that’s shaped my adulthood, and goodbye to a place I’ve (reluctantly) called home for almost four years. I’m stepping into a new year, a new state, and a new life in a deliberate effort to change my world for the better. 

2018 will be a lot of things. It’s going to be the year I learn how to be a little selfish. It’ll be the year I say goodbye to the two amazing children I’ve been lucky enough to help raise. The year I learn just how many books I own when I try to fit them in the back of my car, the year I try not to cut myself with a packing tape-gun, the year I de-clutter my life, the year I cry because it’s so hard to make big changes, and the year I make them anyway. 

We Can Be Both

Words are powerful because we give them power.

I’m a college student working towards my degrees in Secondary English Education and K-12 Reading Education. Words are a big deal to me. It should come as no surprise, then, that when a professor recently asked a group of us to choose an adjective for ourselves, I was ready. I love words, and I know the ones that belong to me. I chose “spirited.” My classmates, with whom I’ve been spending time for about a month now, were given an opportunity to consider my word before offering alternates if they did not agree. Much to my surprise, one immediately raised his hand.

“No offense, but that’s the opposite of the word I would pick for you,” he began. I tried my best to reserve offense, but we all know that “no offense” usually precedes a statement that will inevitably be, well, offensive.

“You’re quiet, and respectful, and so nice,” he continued. My offense faded a bit into the background. “You clearly think of other people before you speak. That’s the opposite of spirited, that’s gentle.”

His “no offense” comment may have morphed into a compliment, but I was still a bit unsettled by his words. I went home and thought about it all night, and all morning today, and I’ve finally realized why.

He believes, based on his comments, that somebody who identifies as “spirited” cannot also be kind, quiet, considerate, or gentle. In fact, he sees gentle as the opposite of spirited. But is that the case? Are these antonyms? My inner English nerd was on the case and rushed to the dictionary.

The dictionary app on my laptop defines gentle as follows: “Mild in temperament or behavior; kind or tender: he was a gentle, sensitive man.” Okay, so far so good. Gentle is decidedly not an offensive identifier. Spirited, then, is someone who is “full of energy, enthusiasm, and determination: a spirited campaigner for women’s rights.” Again, nothing offensive about that.

I may be wrong here, but nothing about those two definitions strikes me as particularly opposing. These words may not be synonyms, but they certainly aren’t antonyms either. In fact, I find the definitions rather complementary. A person who could describe themselves as both spirited and gentle seems like someone that I would very much like to be friends with. So why does this classmate of mine find these adjectives so contrasting?

Well, I can’t tell you for sure. I can’t read his mind, or interview him on the subject, or psycho-analyze him. What I can do, however, is speculate (something that us English nerds know how to do). Our society has created the understanding that if you want to be spirited, bold, and enthusiastic (and, as a result, powerful or influential or listened to), you cannot be gentle. You cannot be kind. You cannot be tender. And if you want to be kind, tender, and gentle, you will not be thought of as spirited or enthusiastic or determined. And I’m not just pulling this out of nowhere – you can see this in the media, in books and movies, as personified by leaders and politicians, perpetuated by protesters and bloggers and alt-right website owners. According to public perception, the Venn diagram of these two words is just a couple of separate circles on a page.

I would like to, respectfully, light this understanding on fire. Because, and no offense here to the kid in my class, it is just plain wrong. According to my dictionary, the opposite of gentle is actually brutal. And the opposite of spirited? Lifeless. I do not want to live in a world where my only choices are to be gentle but lifeless, or spirited but brutal. That world is dark, divided, and unproductive. In fact, it looks a lot like the world we live in right now. But it doesn’t have to! Our world can be light, united, and productive!

I think that this misconception that gentleness cannot accompany spirit is leading to a world full of people leaning into their spirit and, because they think that they must, into brutality. If they have an opinion, they are going to beat you over the head with it until you agree with them. We all know these people. We have all been these people. We’ve all yelled at the friend with whom we disagree, or posted the joke on Facebook that slams the other side, or watched the news network that calls anyone different from them idiotic or dangerous or wrong. There is no gentleness here, but for us to move forward as a country we have to find it.

I’m not perfect, and I have been that person more times than I haven’t. I’ve embraced my brutality, and my anger, on the quest to being spirited. But if I’m being honest with myself, I have to admit that it has never worked. Not once. Nobody has ever listened to me because I yelled loud enough, or lobbed the perfect insult, or let anger take over my mind. No, the moments that I was able to reach people were moments of gentleness. The moments where I reflected and chose to embrace my kindness and my tenderness were the moments that I was able to reach out and affect others. And I did not have to sacrifice my spirit to achieve those moments. I let the emotions work together, hand in hand, to speak with kindness and compassion and enthusiasm and determination. I was both gentle and spirited. I can be both. We can be both.

I’m not going to tell you what to do. However, I am going to make a commitment to let gentleness and spiritedness coexist more regularly in my life. These words are not antonyms, so I’m going to stop treating them like they are. I’m going to stop believing that to be heard I have to be angry, and that to be gentle I have to be silent. That doesn’t mean that I won’t speak up with passion against injustice or for progress. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to change my beliefs or be silent about what matters. It just means that when I do speak, I’m going to speak with love. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”