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!