Crossroads

Today’s post is inspired by San Diego Momma’s PROMPTuesday No. 207: Who was your crossroads person?

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My biggest worry lately is that my college-aged daughter will hold back when something great comes her way. She’ll mistakenly think she has reams of time, that offers pop out of the underbrush at every curve in the road, that maybe if she’s in a relationship that it should come first. For most of us, if that one great thing comes along, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Do we take the risk or hang back in the safe zone?

Back in my 20s, the publisher of one of our downtown daily papers took an interest in me. He’d read an essay I’d written and wrote me a personal message in response.  He also invited me to visit his office some day. He was a dynamic man, highly regarded, a great people person and a mender of fences.

After a first meeting, he invited me to come back shortly before graduation. He thought I had what it took to work in the business. He would help me land that crucial first job. Could a few-credits-shy-of-graduating college student with writerly aspirations ask for a better connection? Not only did I have a respected publisher in my corner, but also I had out-of-state relatives offering me a place to stay should I land in their area. I was standing at the intersection and lucky and fortunate.

Unfortunately, that’s not how I saw it. There were terms and conditions. One of those was I had to end my relationship; the guy I was with said I had to choose between him and my career. He would not follow. The other was I had to go where I was sent. I would not get to choose. I felt I was clinging on the windowsill of a burning building with masked characters holding nets below.  Were the nets strong enough? Would I have a chance to ask a few questions before they whisked me away to points unknown?

As I stood on that threshold, uncertain, I chose the familiar. I didn’t trust the unknown at that point. I’d jumped from one burning building to the next in the past few years, each time thinking the guy with the best offer was the safe one. As it was, I already had one foot tangled in another net, one in which the purported rescuer was working quickly to cut and run. As it was, I was estranged from my family and had no other support system. I felt lost and confused.

This drama prevented me from taking the risk — and possible great reward — that came with the offer. Without the publisher’s boost, I’d likely never rise above the community journalism ranks I dwelled in for 20 years. I know now I held myself back; back then I blamed my relationships. Fear of change, fear of a loneliness beyond what I’d already experienced, kept me tangled in my net.

“I’m in love,” I told the publisher on what would be our last meeting.  My boyfriend and I were now engaged; he successfully convinced me my life was here, not somewhere arid and cactusy, where I was bound to fail. Besides, my family was in crisis. How could I leave them?

“You’re an idiot,” he said, shaking his head.

In shock, I studied the pattern on the carpet of his top-floor office overlooking the Detroit skyline. Did he just call me an idiot?

“Love is important, but you shouldn’t put it above opportunity at this point in your life,” he said. “True love will wait for you to make your journey. Opportunity will not wait.”

I didn’t believe him on that rainy afternoon as we sat at opposite ends of his expansive walnut desk. I had a job, I reasoned, and they promised me a full-time position when I graduated. After I married, I’d check in again.

But it didn’t work like that. Months after I turned down the publisher’s offer I was pink-slipped from my job. Three months of unemployment gave me plenty of time to think about that offer and the prospect of marriage.

A year later, I returned to that newspaper office to apply for work, to make another appointment with the publisher. He never granted me another office visit. It occurred to me then that I had been tested and failed.

Even so, I had 20 years in the business, working at smaller, local publications. It turns out I really enjoyed connecting with community on a street level. I was never comfortable hobnobbing with mover and shakers. I was compensated well and made many lifelong connections. I eventually married and divorced the boyfriend. I reconciled with my family. Ten years later, I received in the mail a letter from that publisher, written in the wobbly penmanship of the elderly. He’d found some of my work and had nice things to say.

It came back to me then on that day, as I beamed in the praise of this man who’d once called me an idiot, that he was a stand-in for my father, to whom I was estranged during that difficult time. He believed in me when no one else did, not even myself. He was willing to pull strings to send me away from the entrapment of my life. He was willing to call me out on my cowardice. I simply didn’t have the mileage at the time to understand it.

Fear

fork

By Sun Dazed via Creative Commons

“You must do everything that frightens you, JR. Everything. I’m not talking about risking your life, but everything else. Think about fear, decide right now how you’re going to deal with fear, because fear is going to be the great issue of your life, I promise you. Fear will be the fuel for all your success, and the root cause of all your failures, and the underlying dilemma in every story you tell yourself about yourself. And the only chance you’ll have against fear?  Follow it. Steer by it. Don’t think of fear as the villain. Think of fear as your guide, your pathfinder — your Natty Bumppo.”
From “The Tender Bar: A Memoir” by J.R. Moehringer

I’m reading “Tender Bar” as part of a book club series. Maybe you’ve already read it since it came out in 2005.  It’s a memoir about a boy who grew up fatherless and all the colorful characters in and around a Long Island neighborhood bar who played stand-ins for the role.

I came upon the passage above and stopped. I watched the words leap off the page like a swarm of fruit flies rise off a blackened banana. Like the pesky insects, the words buzzed around my head. No amount of hand waving sent them away. I had an issue to chew on for a few days: Fear.

After Moehringer’s words settled back onto the page, I decided that they might have been of use to me some years ago. It’s quite possible someone did say something like that to me. If nothing else, one thing I know now is that you can stuff words into a young person’s head, but you cannot prevent them from seeping out the other end.

I’m curious what happens next in this young boy’s life. I know where he ends up. But the choices made along the way, the decision to pick the high road over the low road, the dangerous trail over the sidewalk, these are the things that sometimes make the difference between a Pulitzer Prize and Happy Meal prize.

What do you do about your fear?

Granola brain

granola

from www.thefoodsection.com

Like a bag of granola, this week has been a mix of stuff:

The nuts: Always there must be the philosophical challenges with those connected by blood. How about this one?

If I believe chocolate is the way to inner peace and you believe peanut butter will save the universe, unless we can come together in a Reese’s candy cup, forever we will be wrapped in separate packages. Is it possible to be on the same shelf? Why do you buy me peanut butter when you know I don’t eat it?*  Why do you make it your mission to change others? Over here in chocolate-land, we see a lot of unhappy peanut butter eaters waging a battle against chocolate lovers. Why would we join the ranks of those so obviously unsatisfied by their own choices? 

The sweet fruits:  Tucked between days swaddled in gray and showered with rain came a few breathlessly beautiful bursts of heat and blue.We discovered an urban oasis cut with hidden trails, opening to duck ponds, and hills for climbing up and running down. 

I realize the best things are free. It is a joy to have true friends. My wish to live a simpler life may be manifesting itself in ways I had not anticipated, but I will become a better person for having lived through them.

Those pesky sunflower seeds that always get stuck in your teeth: Our own personal challenges of staying afloat in a Titanic economy are as unpredictable as ocean swells. Sometimes the horizon is in sight, sometimes the sharks circle. 

Chewy raisins that are good for you but don’t taste the best: Engaging in activities that nourish my mind and body aren’t always easy or pleasant.  If it weren’t for them, however, I’d be smoking crack outside tent city near the casino district talking to my pet rock.

Mystery item that looks soft, but when you bite it, threatens to dislodge a crown: Realizing that the things that tick me off the most are my biggest lessons. I don’t have to defend my position. I don’t have to take the bait. But why, oh why, am I always the one to clean out the litter box? Huh?

* I’m speaking euphemistically, of course. Actually I love peanut butter as much as chocolate.