Habits of Change

I had a thought for this post while I was praying this morning, but now that I'm sitting here in the hotel restaurant so as not to disturb my still sleeping roommate, my thoughts are all of a-flutter and I simply can't concentrate. It snowed last night (!). Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize (!!). I want a puppy (!!!). Jump, jump, jump. My thoughts are everywhere. The point of the post was going to be about how I don't like change, which, at the moment, would seem to be true. This post would be much easier to write if I were sitting in the usual spot where I blog, on the couch at home. It would probably be easier to write if I were able to sit with my laptop on my lap upstairs in the room. At least then I would be in my usual posture as I blog. As it is, I am sitting in a booth with unfamiliar lighting and noises around me, and all I can think about is how I can't think.

I don't, as a rule, tend to like change. At least, I tell myself I don't. I have--as this morning's skattiness is apparently meant to demonstrate--very strict routines with my writing. Everything has to be just so: my desk, my notes, the time of day, how I get into the mood. I spend a good deal of my life creating structures so as to enable me to get to this moment of composition. Nor am I particularly good at change in other aspects of my life, as anyone knows who has ever tried to invite me to do something on the spur of the moment and been met with my hesitant grimace as I struggle to come up with some excuse for not doing whatever it is other than that, "But I had other plans!" My tendency is to want to plan--or have planned--everything well in advance: what I am going to be doing at what time on what day. I may at times plan for there to be times when I have nothing planned, but typically even these "unplanned" times are actually, in my head, planned: for blogging, for reading, for "doing nothing." Even more, I hate surprises; I hate when I have settled into a routine--for yoga practice, for fencing practice, for seeing family or friends--and someone announces that he or she is leaving. I feel resentful, betrayed. How could they decide that they want another job in another city just when my practice is going so well? I need them there for me. I've changed my schedule so as to be able to take their class!

And yet, there would seem to be nothing, in fact, that scares me more than the prospect that things might never change. You've heard me talking about it a lot these past few months. I am afraid that, indeed, This is It: I've made my place in the world (tenured associate professor at prestigious university, D-level foil fencer, mother of one, apartment-dweller) and that's that. That is who I am going to be for the rest of my life. Which, if you think about it, really shouldn't be all that bad. So I don't change my fencing rating, so what? I can still fence. So we never move again, so what? Our apartment is fully big enough for what will, once our son goes off to college in not so many years, be only two of us (plus the dog). So I stay in the same position at the same rank at the same institution for the rest of my career, so what? It's a great place to teach, a beautiful campus, amazing (have I told you?) students. I really couldn't ask for a better job, nor do I particularly want to. So why does it make me crazy-anxious to think, "This is it"?

I've spent years doing exercises, often with the help of The Artist's Way, imagining all of the things that I wish I were doing but, for some reason or other, have convinced myself that I can't. And, indeed, over the years, many of the things that I had told myself, implicitly if not explicitly, were impossible have come to pass. I do compete at a sport (which, if you read between the lines, is what this post is really about--I'm in the hotel because I'm competing this afternoon). I have published, if not as much as I would like (who has?), more ambitiously than I had previously thought that I could. We do own a home, if not in fact a house. Shouldn't all of this change be evidence that, yes, change is possible, I won't necessarily be exactly the same in a year or two or five? But I can't see it. All I can see, now that I've scaled the sides of this particular life-mesa, is a great flat expanse of sameness from now until death, no more Alps to climb, no more goals to reach, at least, none that are in any way attainable.

Sure, I can imagine things that I would like to achieve: I might publish my next book, maybe even a book or two after that; I might earn a new rating or at the very least renew my old one. But...but...but. I can't see it. It no longer seems to be something in my control. I'm not expressing this well. I can see it, but I am afraid that it won't happen anyway. I am afraid that wanting it is not going to be enough. I am afraid, yes, that I can't plan for things to change anymore. Aha. This really is it, isn't it? Indeed, I do not like surprises, I want to be able to plan. Tell me, I beg my coach, how long this is going to take for me to earn my C. I'm fine if it takes some time, but I just want to be able to plan how long. Tell me, I beg my department, when I can expect to be promoted, what it will take. I'm fine if I understand the rules. Tell me, I beg the gods of bigger apartments and houses, when I am going to be able to move again and I'll wait. I just want to know what the timeline is. Change I can cope with; indeed, I need it. So long as it's planned.

No wonder I want a dog so much. I am a dog (yes, okay, a bitch!). Dogs love routine as much as they love challenging tasks to do. Give me a job and I'm on it. But don't ask me to change my routine. Take me on walks to interesting places that I've never been. But promise me that you'll be there for me when I get home. Give me the chance to make friends with lots of new people. But give me a place where I can feel safe, preferably a crate, nicely enclosed. Push me, make me think, don't let me get bored. But praise me ("Good dog!") so that I know that I'm doing the right thing.

Yes, that makes a great deal of sense. Now I'm hungry. And ready to fence!


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