I didn’t even realize I’d done it until I looked around and saw that I had. I’m superstitious and fear disappointment just as much as the next person. I believe in Murphy’s Law, and that the universe is random and chaotic, and have a Midwesterner’s tendency to downplay good fortune. I do this to avoid inviting bad luck. I don’t count the eggs even after they hatch and have been sold at a profit. I try to be prepared for the worst, because doing so ensures a fairly well-prepared today. I have built a life on avoiding discomfort by attempting to maintain balance. I try to look out for myself and make healthy choices. The view I have of my life is a precious, hard-earned stability to be cherished. It wasn’t until very recently that I was forced to peer below the surface where I confronted a glaring truth: I had worked so hard to manage expectations for myself and my life, that I’m not striving for anything more than stability.
Is that all there is? Really, that’s it? That’s the highest point? So, now that we’re there, it’s just a level, grey grind into the future, or sliding back down? At what point exactly did stability become the end-all be-all? And why, and how exactly did I accept a life without dreams?
If you know me, you understand some of why balance is critical to my ability to have a sane, healthy life. If you’ve been following along here, you’ve read about the times I was down in the hole, my life a chaotic wreck. Sometimes it was all in my head, but still. When you’re out of control, stability is an essential mission. You realize that if you could just figure things out, change the right things, you might get there. When you’re ready, you work and work at it. For me, it’s keeping my head down, nose to the grindstone, forward progress, all other be damned to ascend. It took years. Shit went off-kilter, haywire, OOC in little, irritating ways. Or big strong gusts of bad luck that took long periods of time to sort out. Sometimes it was a slow, steady, low-level misery where life is one big, long blahhh. Things got bad and didn’t get better. Or things looked like they were on the up-and-up and then slid back down, right at the precise moment I let go and started to trust. It was a clusterfuck, a mindfuck. Fuuuuuck.
My way, and I’m just coming to terms with this now, was to change my expectations. If I lowered them, my life might just meet them. Stark realism became the name of the game, and my natural sunny optimism was slowly edged out, each endless, sunless winter in Seattle ushering it away. It looked like this: well, if I stop thinking about what I want, it won’t matter what I get. You go into a deep state of comfortable numbness, which feels like a relief after the crushing ennui, the prick of unfulfilled hopes, the gut twisting envy. You cease wanting and focus on putting one foot in front of the other. This is how you achieve stability. You’re moving through the world at a certain clip.
Then you look down and you see you’re on the low rope about two inches off the ground. Oooh, so you got balance just a smidge above the low, wow. Congratulations! Like six years ago, when that really did represent progress. Seriously, this happened to me. I managed my expectations down to nearly nothing.
I was well aware I’d lost my ability to dream, that I could barely remember the last time I even had one. OK, I remembered my last big dream, and how I felt so certain of it, believed so strongly in its beautiful vision, and how terribly it hurt when I fell so far from the mark. It was then I screwed the lid on tight and dreamed about nothing, opting for practical scenarios. I didn’t see my life had become colorless, an endless tunnel with a light that shined but never appeared closer.
I’m stable. I’m healthy. I’ve been going on like this for the better part of a decade. The causes of the creeping terrors that kept me focused on a life narrowed down to the head of a pin have ceased. I am managing. I can manage. It’s just now I’ve glimpsed something shimmering off in the distance, above the place I’m so firmly rooted. And now that I’ve seen it, the idea of staying on the low rope is as crushing as the experience of trying and failing once was.
I’m going to manage expectations, alright. I’m going to manage them up. I’m going to expect more, and maybe now I’ll be in the right place at the right time. It’s worth a shot, isn’t it? I can always get stable again…
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