Education, inspirational

Taking Counsel

Life is a Battleground

I found myself walking across campus yesterday and wondering what I was doing there. It’s not that I feel like I don’t belong, although I have days like that, too. It’s more that I was feeling sick, stupid, and used up. I’m too old for this. I ought to have done this twenty years ago. What am I doing? Have I risked everything on the feeble powers of my own brain? How dare I pretend I’m an adult… 

Oh, yeah, that would be because I am one. Even though it feels otherwise, since I’m back in college and floundering through classes as quickly as I can. This has been, as I know some have noticed, a rough semester. Next fall is on track to be even more difficult. I know I worry every semester about whether I will pass the classes that give me difficulty, can I do this? is a constant refrain in my mental voice, and so far, I’ve held on. But I’m beginning to get that fingernails-on-the-cliff’s edge sensation more and more. 

Stonewall Jackson made a quote that is often referenced without connecting it to him: Never take counsel of your fears. 

I’ve been taking counsel of my fears.  

The time to take counsel of your fears is before you make an important battle decision. That’s the time to listen to every fear you can imagine! When you have collected all the facts and fears and made your decision, turn off all your fears and go ahead! –George Patton

I’m afraid I’m just not smart enough to do this. I suspect this is a fear on my classmate’s minds, as well. I can’t change my native intelligence. All I can do is try. And then I can try harder. Quitting won’t get me to the pinnacle of my goals, and neither will being afraid. I’ve been reminded recently of a remark Miles Vorkosigan makes in a Lois McMaster Bujold book (I don’t recall which one at the moment), in which he compares his trajectory at that point in the story to running over ground covered in broken glass. If he falls, he will be hurt badly. So the only thing he can do is maintain momentum, until he’s past the danger. 

I’m afraid I don’t have the strength, motivation, or discipline to do this. I’m three years into it. I can’t quit now. Every time I falter, like the last two days of being sick, I worry it will bring me to my knees and stop that momentum. What if my car dies, or my kids need me, or… This is why I try to take it one day at a tie and not borrow trouble. I’ve already made the long-term plans and goals, I have to keep my eyes on them, and not on the chasms that yawn open to either side of my path. I can only trust that one won’t open under my foot. If it does, I am not without support. So I keep going on. Motivations? 

When I started on this journey, I wanted to do something that would support my family, and feed my own soul. I’ve wanted to be a scientist since I was… forever. I don’t remember when I didn’t, although as a very young child that desire was formless, just a vivid fascination with the world around me. Sure, I could have taken a bachelor’s in business, art, psychology… even the MLS I’d steered clear of as ‘taking too long.’ None of them would have been this mentally challenging. And I would have been left with a little lingering doubt that would always be with me. Was I good enough to make it? Give me a year and a half, and I’ll tell you. 

I’m afraid I made the wrong choices. We all succumb to this one, I suspect. Should I have? Could I have? Perhaps. Life would have been very different had I chosen X instead of Y. But I didn’t. I’m here, now, and there is only onward. There is no turning back. I can make adjustments in my course, as I decided to do last week when I dropped my summer class. Rather than six intensive weeks of anatomy, I’ll be spending time with my family, writing, and maybe relaxing. It’s the last time I can take a whole summer off. I’ll get married, love on my children, and deliver at least one, maybe two novels. It will be different than the press and urgency of school looming over me. Then, when I return to a very challenging schedule in the fall, I will be ready to take the race with my body refreshed. 

I’m afraid I won’t be good enough. There is a possibility that despite having dared take this path, it will end not in a career, but a long and fruitless search for gainful employment. I’ve watched a few friends struggling with that recently. It’s a tough blow, to have invested so much, only to see it devalued by the people you prepared it for. And it is entirely possible that could happen to me. Life isn’t certain, and the economy could go like a pricked water balloon. As of this moment, I can, in partnership with my First Reader, support myself. The writing gig is doing far better than I’d ever anticipated. The other business is quiescent, but it wouldn’t take much to shift it back into full gear. This fear is lessened by knowing that I’ve been there, done that. When I was faced with the terrifying prospect of not knowing where my babies would get food or shelter as a young mother, I learned, and I did. I can do that again, and I have a lot more support than I did back then. I am loved, and I have someone to hold me when I’m terrified, who tells me I can do this, and then sets me back on my feet so I can keep finding my own way. 

I worry about being a burden. The First Reader took me in when I didn’t have anyplace else to go. We’d not intended for me to come live with him permanently, and yet, there I was, suddenly. This is a worry he allays often, and usually with a laugh and a hug. As he points out, he asked me to come and see how it would work, and it has, well enough that he asked me to marry him. We fit together well. This one is an irrational fear, but I fight it nonetheless. Although I no longer feel broken, I am acutely conscious of having been broken, and mended, and not like other people… I’m not perfect. In the dedication of Dragon Noir I call my children my kintsukuroi, the gold that binds my life back together and makes it more beautiful than it was before they came into it. As a mother, I bear the burden of caring for them with awareness that I am not perfect, that I have and will make mistakes. But I can step back and let them walk, or meander, on their own. Hovering won’t help them, it will harm them. Rather, I’m a spotter, here if they fall to catch them. They are all stretching their wings, and growing stronger. 

I’ve taken the time to look at my fears this morning. I’ve taken the time to talk to my First Reader and to enjoy the sunshine flicker over the leaves outside my window. Time to put the fears aside and step back into the metaphorical battle with my work. I have a paper to write, and reading to do (not the fun sort) and a class, and perhaps somewhere in there I can find the time to take a walk and put everything out of my head for a while. Onward! taking counsel-quote

19 thoughts on “Taking Counsel

  1. Never forget that God loves you, that you gave your life into His keeping when you were a little girl, and even when we’ve made decisions without His counsel (as we all do sometimes) He still loves you and wants the best for you! You can ask Him for help, and He will give it (not always exactly the KIND of help we think we need, but He does know better than we do what it is we really need).

    Also, you aren’t alone in having been broken and having to put yourself back together. I know it must feel like it at times — I think it’s probably normal to feel most alone when we are going through our most difficult times — but others have been there and done that and made it through. You can, too! Take it one day at a time — one minute at a time, if you have to!

    For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38, 39)

    1. I don’t talk about my faith directly on this blog often, Mom, but I was thinking of Pilgrim’s Progress when I wrote about the chasms along my path. He is with me always. He has allowed me to pass through fires that have tempered me and made me stronger, and I trust that He will not give me more than I can endure. I only doubt myself.

      1. Doubting ourselves is normal — and probably a good thing, if it makes us trust God more! But we also have to trust that the doors He has opened are the ones He wants us to go through, at least until He closes them.

        Also, He doesn’t give us more than we are able to bear (even though it may seem like it sometimes!).

        Love you!

        Mom

  2. And never forget, from time to time, drop everything and dance like a monkey listening to banjo music!
    The time IS going to pass. We’ve got no options on that. 10 years will roll by, no matter what you do, and you will either have the degree, or you won’t. You are taking the steps to make your future look the way you want it to look.

    1. LOL! I did spend some time today listening to good music. NO dancing, I was writing up an assignment at the same time. But it does help. And yes, time does ease everything. I can look back a mere 5 years and see how MUCH my life has changed.

  3. After leaving the military, I went back to college and had many days of “What the **** was I thinking?” And yet, the sun kept coming up the next morning (As opposed to a mere flaming ball of gas illuminating the world. I, too, am a Pratchett fan). I’m in my last semester, and I must tell you that your posts on classes have been so great! Thank you. It’s great to know that someone else has moments like these, too.

    1. And thank you for your comment! I have wondered if I was being whiny when I post about school. It’s not a desirable trait in oneself. Being a nontraditional student is… interesting. And not always in a good way. But no matter what, even if catastrophe falls today, it’s been worth the effort. I do really want to finish, though.

      Congratulations, you!

  4. *hugs*

    You’ll be fine. You’re going to conquer this, you know? And the summer off will do you good to help get your balance and avoid burnout. Though it won’t seem like much of a mental breather, not with two releases and a marriage and kid time.

    Besides, the fear of failure is always more crippling than actual disaster. You’ve been down to where all your plans have broken… and you made it back out, stronger, with dreams in hand and hopes and future and good times coming. If it happens again, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not even the end of your world. And now, you won’t be alone… not only do you have your loving blood family, you’ll have a husband, a partner, a helpmate, a rock you can lean on. He’s good for it; I know the guy. I’ll vouch for him. 🙂

  5. “Hugs” “Hugs” Hugs.”

    Cedar, I don’t want to downplay your fears, your angst, your torment and pain. This is a very overworked saying, but I’ve “been there, done that.” And came out stronger for it. (As you know you are.) And you don’t sound whiny, you sound overworked, doubting, and — mature. I’ve been “broken” in much the same way, and believe me, while in no way could I say, “I know exactly what you feel” — NOBODY can do that if they think at all — I do have a general (very strong, but general) feeling of what you’re going through.

    Are you good enough to make it? Of course you are! And of course you will have doubts and times when you want to just crawl into a dark closet and let the rest of the world go by. Of course you make mistakes. Of course you aren’t perfect. You are human even though one who has a large burden on her back. No human is perfect. All humans make mistakes. You have someone to love you, to hold you, to laugh with you, and to set you back on your feet. That is a rich gift, even if your life does have turns and kinks and roadblocks. Strength and discipline? You have that. Intelligence? You have a bucketful of that. Sometimes your intelligence, and your dedication, will be stretched to the limit. But if you have to make a change, you can do that. You’ve done it before. One thing I found while bringing up my children was the discomfort of having to make ALL the decisions. Some I made were good, some bad. But we all survived. (And I have always thought the term “bringing up” or “raising” children didn’t feel just right.) Of course I made mistakes, but my main thrust was to let them grow; to encourage them to explore; to encourage creativity; to let them do pretty much what they wanted as long as THEY WEREN’T HURTING THEMSELVES OR ANYONE ELSE. You said it so much better when you said, “They are all stretching their wings, and growing stronger.” That is so important.

    “Pilgrim’s Progress is a good analogy. We did a children’s version of the play (this is a tiny community, as you know, and we are trying to involve the children in a variety of projects; your mom is Chief Costume Designer).

    I think dropping your summer classes was a good choice. Time will tell. But you will have some time to relax, maybe do more reading, throw the alarm clock away, spend time with your kids. I haven’t met your “First Reader” but my female instinct is that he is a valiant, sensible, caring person who knows you aren’t perfect but loves you anyway; and that he is not perfect but he can live with that.

    Wish I could see ALL of you this summer. Love, Grandma

    P.S. How many passengers will your dragon be able to transport, anyway?
    P.P.S. I hope you’re saving what you wrote (above).I can see it very clearly in my crystal ball as part of a book.

    1. I neglected to include one very important point: I’m very sure that the fact that you’ve not been feeling well has gone a long way in influencing your state of mind. So get well!

      1. I am feeling well today, and yes, being sick influences me greatly. I have this weekend off, and I bought my wedding dress yesterday and all I have are two classes today before I can take a deep breath and hopefully, a long walk. With the dear man, and the dog, and my camera. It’s a small goal, but a big reward.

  6. We’ve a week and a half to go and then finals. My brain feels like pudding. I’m sure you know exactly the feeling. You send an inquiry to your brain and your brain returns the word “pudding.” So you send another inquiry and again, “pudding.” And you cry, but I asked you about the rules for integrals and natural logs, brain, why do you keep saying “pudding?” And your brain, natch, returns, “because pudding.”

    Thing is… at this point in the semester you’ve shoved so much in, that it feels like it’s falling out the other side… but it’s not. The brain returns “pudding” but that’s just because it hasn’t finished indexing all the new info yet. Just trust it’s there. Because it is.

    I hope you’re taking a summer break, Cedar. I think that the only thing that’s kept me sane is that I’ve refused to take summer classes.

    I’ve got 5 credits to get my BA in the fall and I’m planning to just do that and BE DONE. But part of me is having horrific thoughts like… but that advanced structure class might be my last chance to do actual research and field geology… maybe I should do it. (And then my brain says… “Pudding?”) And my husband is saying things like… I really think you should go to grad school. (And then my brain says… “Dear freaking DOG, Pudding!”)

    And then my structure prof says… “One thing you know for sure… in a week and a half the semester will be over.”

    I’m not sure why but this always makes me feel better. Bizarre, but true.

    1. Pudding… I should make pudding. LOL and thank you 🙂

      Thank you. I have about four weeks to go – no, scratch that, I just looked at the calendar, I have three weeks to go in the semester. I am so much looking forward to having it finished.

  7. In less than two weeks, I’ll be eligible to go to school free. Georgia lets state citizens 62 years+ attend state colleges & universities on a space-available basis.
    I already have undergrad in psych & two grad degrees in counseling, so maybe I’ll take art.
    Maybe I’ll take calculus again, and find out what it was I was supposed to be learning while harvesting those ‘B’s forty years ago.
    Maybe I’ll take chorus. I have an untrained true bass voice.
    Maybe I’ll take Spanish. I REALLY could have put that to use when I was a school counselor.
    Maybe I’ll run for student government, or join a ….sorority…
    But mostly, I’ll take classes, remembering that I ALWAYS have the option of doing the banjo-monkey dance.

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