By Laura Moore
Throughout my life, I've wasted so much energy arguing.
And I don't mean on the good kind of arguments: the ones where two parties tackle open issues--thousand sided issues--in an effort to sway back and forth across various shades of gray.
I mean black and white arguments that fail to follow any sort of protocol. The kind where each side talks loudly from behind pre-drawn lines in the sand. The sorts of exchanges where decisions have already been made, and the owners of those decisions are not willing to revisit them, to roll them over or to cut them open.
For a while, I entered those debates with a false sense of valiancy. I felt responsible for educating my opponents about my position on an issue, and if I neglected to do so--or to do so adequately enough--then the other person would walk away without hearing both sides, without seeing the full picture.
Oh how righteous I felt.
Oh what a jerk I was.
See that mindset--and the behavior resulting from that mindset--is toxic. It eats away at individuals and relationships. It inspires a feigned sense of empowerment, and it screams and yells and edges out those who are less aggressive, even when--and especially when--the less aggressive people have something important to say.
When someone takes the opposing side to issues tugging at my heart strings, I can feel my blood pressure rise and my stomach churn. My thoughts spray like semi-automatic weapons, and in truth, I probably only listen to one in every three things the other person shouts. Lodged in a defensive state, I take the one thing I hear and I twist it and I turn it and I beat it like a fragile yolk. I search for rhetorical grenades. I try to present the other side as ridiculous. I strive to make my views so appealing no one could possibly disagree.
But the other person does the exact same thing, and the noise we create in our pointless war makes it impossible to hear, makes it impossible to think, makes it impossible to move our feet in any direction whatsoever--any direction, except back.
Our discussion is not productive or valiant. We are not persuasive game changers; we're narcissistic pontificators. We're both waiting for contradictions, for over-stepping stereotypes, for hypocrisies. We're each looking for the chance to site articles or interviews or research so we can be right. And when the wake subsides, regardless of where it trailed along the shore, deep down, both of us probably feel horrible about every single part of our interaction.
At least, I know I do.
Don't get me wrong, I think it is important for one to stand up for his/her interpretation of truth and justice, but I think it is equally important for us to know how to do that. Issuing a round of verbal crossfire does not yield unilateral results. Spouting off the longest list of "facts" does not necessarily denote a victory, and tossing pseudo-intellectual quips toward someone who does not understand the sarcasm, does not make one unequivocally more right than their vulnerable opponent.
It just makes that person feistier (and insufferably more arrogant).
And it often inspires a deeper trench between people. It does not bring anyone closer. It does not make anyone's point clearer. It does not increase the troops fighting for any one cause.
It just divides.
It makes the world louder and angrier. It raises walls capped with barbed wire spikes. It inspires shields and muffles ears and perpetuates toxic narratives. It gets attention, but it doesn't make people change.
If we want true change, we need to open ears and eyes and minds. We need to listen to one another: even if we disagree, even if we hate the other side, even if we think we know the answers. We need to listen to the words, to the stories, to the subtext, to the ideas, to the emotions, to the feelings, to the fears, to the hopes, to the dreams, to the frustrations, to the obstacles. We need to share our ideas, but once we do, we need to sit down, zip our mouths, and listen. We need to temporarily halt our selfish whims so we can think about how our actions impact others. We need to make an effort to empathize with experiences, we need to consider other narratives, we need to accept the fact that the world might not be what we think it is.
Because maybe if we open up, maybe if we try to find common ground, maybe if we step outside of our own experiences, maybe if we let people speak even if they don't have all of the right words, maybe if we think about how our version of justice impacts theirs, maybe if we think about the consequences of both action and inaction, we might find a way to tear down the seemingly insurmountable barriers between us.
See despite our differences, most of us just want what we perceive to be fair. We want what we think is right. And because we all have slightly different opinions about what that means, if we want to move forward, away from all of the noise, we need to consider a variety of interpretations of what right entails.
We need to listen to both traditional and nontraditional voices. Really listen--not so we can trounce on stories, experiences or ideas by calling one another names--so we can learn why people feel the way they do. So we can escape flying fingers, cruel euphemisms, and glass shattering decibels, and actually arrive in a reasonable space where we can not just coexist but co-thrive. So we can feel safe enough to admit we have much to learn. So we can help our loud monologues evolve into constructive dialogues. So we can give our ideas a chance to inspire epiphanies and partnership and progress. So we can help our children find a way to begin smearing lines.
I don't know about you, but this is my goal for the final weeks of the year....and all the ones that follow.
By Laura Moore
Last week, in an effort to avoid the rush, I scheduled my dog's veterinary appointment at 9:30 in the morning. I figured most people would be wherever they intended to go by then, and I would be free to dash from one end of town to the other without enduring a series of seemingly unnecessary stops.
At first, my plan unfolded perfectly. Because we went second thing, instead of first thing, I was able to throw in a load of laundry, read 35 pages, and head out to the road in time to hit every single light and encounter a total of nine cars during the ten minute drive. The doctor's appointment went perfectly well and twenty minutes after Finn and I left the house, we were back in the car and heading home.
Twenty feet past the green light at the corner of Fishinger and Kenny Road though, our car was forced to sudden halt. Directly in front of us, gathered like flies swarming around a summer trashcan, we encountered a flock of birds frolicking and gathering for no apparent reason whatsoever. The asphalt was clear of dead animals, trails of food, and puddles of water, and there were no sticks or leaves to tuck into their beaks and cart off for good nesting material. Furthermore, it is cold as all get-out in Columbus right now, so it seemed rather imprudent of them to socialize when they should be getting their tail feathers somewhere much more habitable.
The birds, however, disagreed. They seemed perfectly happy with their existence there, in front of me, huddled in the center of a road, prancing around on chilled, cracked pavement, darting their heads back and forth, and up and down, eager to welcome incoming birds who were clearly late, but nevertheless welcome to join the party.
If I had to guess, I'd say there were at least a hundred birds in total, and either they had boldness in numbers or they were so consumed with their reunion they didn't notice my rather large mechanical object capable of inflicting a great deal of harm to them. They didn't bother to turn their heads toward me and acknowledge the fact that I had the green light, the priveledge to proceed, the power to steamroll, like a bully, directly through their spontaneous little party.
Shocked, and a bit perplexed, I sat there, staring at my unexpected delay, a delay no amount of planning could have avoided, watching for at least three or four full minutes before I decided to issue an "excuse me" of sorts, hoping my brief tap of the horn would encourage them to scoot over and let me through.
Instead, the moment the sound escaped my car, all one hundred of them jumped like frightened children. All one hundred of them rose in waves, like I imagine a tornado would, dipping and diving, frantic and fearful, spinning and turning and scattering all around me. And as they dispersed like fractured particles of smoke fading in the sky, I felt horribly guilty pressing the gas. I felt horribly guilty that one of me desiring to go about her day without delays, managed to disturb so many of them, managed to cause so many creatures to spread, and swirl and disappear before they were ready to leave.
As I moved farther and farther from the stretch of road where the birds gathered, I couldn't help but look into my rearview mirror in an effort to search for them. I couldn't help but listen for their chirping and wonder where their sudden flurry took them next. I couldn't help but feel nostalgic for their strange reunion, their bold bandying, their frenzied final minutes before my uninvited presence drove them away.
As my delay disappeared into the past, and I turned down my street, I realized those birds and their joy was the only real part of the morning that I'd truly remember. And I wondered how often it worked like that, how often the bumps in our road serve as an unexpected gift, serve to humble us, to force us to pause our lives and take notice of our small, but often overbearing, role in the world. And I hoped, for the sake of those joyful creatures that I selfishly drove away, that they found some place more beautiful to fly and someplace far kinder to land. Next time, I promise to wait my turn, to remain fixed in my moment while they get the chance to live theirs.
By Laura Moore
For the last four weeks, I've been busy creating my own world: carefully crafting characters, civically engineering neighborhoods and inventing all sorts of problems for my lovely young adults to solve.
I spent roughly 240 hours (probably more, but I rounded down) over the course of a month, swirling around in the clouds of my imagination, running my fingers through thoughts as if they were sculpting clay, turning them into sentences and paragraphs and metaphors in an effort to make something that would get my high school kids to think and talk about big things, things they've inspired me to write about, things like life and death, things like dealing with the pressure to succeed, things like being too scared to step out of boxes, things like seeing the value of slowing down, of realizing there is no finish line in life where the challenges go away and everything suddenly gets easier.
The process was awesome.
It was all of those things because the journey mimics life. The journey to create anything is about hope and then confidence and then doubt and then fear and then confidence and then hope all over again.
Sometimes the path is clear and easy and the weather is perfect; at other times, the storm clouds cluster the moment you hit the steepest part of the mountain. And as easy as it would have been to turn back and hide under the cover of shelter, I couldn't pull myself away from the challenge. I couldn't rightfully give up because deep down I knew that trudging through the mud and testing my grip was all part of the experience if I wanted to understand what I was made of.
And so I kept going.
For the first four days it was sunshine and rainbows. My fingers danced. My ideas were pouring out just like they appeared in my head, and because of that, despite hearing expert advice to the contrary, I felt like I had ample time to edit as well as write. In fact, I started each day by editing the previous day's writing. Then, several hours later, once I felt good about what I had, I launched into the new stuff.
My first draft is going to be polished, I said to myself each day as I went down for my third cup of coffee.
But then, on day five, the editing demon (and a massive headache) swarmed my body, and I found myself paralyzed with panic. Despite earlier editing efforts that added words to the word count, on that day, my three hours of revision cut out almost 320 words, which, unfortunately, meant that I now had to write 2,720 words rather than 2,400, and I had three fewer hours to do it.
Upon realizing this, I pounded the heel of my hand to my forehead, and right then and there--in the wake of a self-inflicted headache--I vowed to shut down my compulsive desire to nit-pick, to edit, to revise, to fiddle and fiddle and fiddle until my words sounded good in my ears. While other writers suggested this action as a vital mechanism for success, until I squared up with just how hard it was to move with an inner critic holding my feet in the mud, I couldn't shut him down, I couldn't bear to see what I created without him looking over my shoulder.
The minute I was at risk for failing my daily word count though, I knew that I had no choice: if I wanted to keep going, I had to rip off a strip of duct tape and slap it across his mouth.
And so I did.
"If you keep making me turn back," I told him sternly, "we are never going to get anywhere."
He struggled briefly with my retaliation, but he ultimately acquiesced, deciding to give me a chance to prove myself, deciding to give me the chance to write, to move without handcuffs and a three ton weight strapped to my back.
He stayed silent for three days, and for three whole days my fingers lifted ideas from my brain without any care or worry in the world. For three whole days I moved the story forward and I enjoyed the ride my fingers took across the keyboard. I could see the storm clouds up ahead, I could smell the rain, and I could hear the thunder, but I didn't want to believe it; I just wanted to keep going--I just wanted to keep joyriding--until I couldn't go any further, until something physically made me stop.
Maybe it'll miss me, I thought as the sky grew darker. But all along, I knew there was something brewing. All along, I knew it would eventually collapse on top of me. All along, I knew I would find myself beneath massive amounts of angry precipitation without any rain gear or shelter to dull the severity of the attack.
And just as my gut predicted, this happened on day ten.
When I sat down to write that Monday, my stomach churned the entire time my fingers pounded the keys. I kept going to see if I could fix the problem, but by the time I got to the end of my word count, I knew there was no fixing it. I hated what was happening to my characters. It didn't feel right, and even worse, the more I thought about the way my plot was unfolding, the more I realized the entire manuscript was headed toward the dreaded land of contrivedville (yes, I just made up that word).
I wanted to throw up.
In fact, the night the storm clouds dumped pounds of hail on my head, I laid in bed staring at the back of my eyelids for a good four hours before the nausea made me get up and sprawl out on the bathroom floor.
I can't keep writing something so stupid, I told myself over and over. You're 15,000 words in and this is absolutely, pathetically dumb.
Twisting and turning my ideas, I grasped for straws, hoping to figure something out so I wouldn't have to abandon my project and start over, but my mind could not move past the negative voices. I could not get the inner critic to shut up so the problem solver could swoop in and fix things. I could not stop doubt from swimming through my intestinal tract, jostling things up inside of me, and taunting me with his I-told-you-this-was-going-to-be-dumb mantra.
So I stared up at the bathroom vent and gritted my teeth.
Then our baby cried.
Crap. Crap. Crap.
I rubbed my temples, picked up my body and made my way to his crib. I rocked him until he fell back to sleep and I lost myself in his sweet face. Ten minutes later, I leaned down to set him softly on the mattress, but the minute I let go, he woke up again and screamed. We tried the process twice more, and after the third melt down, I carried him back to the kitchen, prepared a bottle and decided to feed him. Six ounces later, he fell into such a deep sleep he didn't mind returning to the crib.
It was now three o'clock in the morning.
Now what? I thought, staring at the clock. Too frantic to sleep and too tired to write, I sifted through a pile of books beside my desk and picked up Anne Lamont. Two paragraphs in, everything clicked. I pulled out my journal, and let my mind do its thing. Jotting down a revised game plan, I made notes about how to fix what I had already written, what I needed to delete and where I needed to go next. As I wrote, the nausea faded, and once I captured my epiphany, I decided to sleep on it.
The next morning, I deleted almost 5,000 words, revised the ones that stayed, and then set out on my new course. That process eliminated 1/3 of the work I had done up to that point, but once I cut the excess, I could see the fog lifting and the problems untangling. Ideas began forming again and I let myself follow their lead. My work was venturing off of my original plan, but it was exciting to see where it went. The entire experience was sort of like an out of body movie unfolding before me, and sometimes the plot would make me gasp: Woah. I didn't know that was going to happen to HIM! I'd say to myself, shocked. Or That's what she was trying to get him to see?
When I'd explain the developments to my husband, he'd always smile at my reports. "How are you surprising yourself?" he'd ask. "Aren't you the one making it up?"
"It's magic," I would say back to him, and in a totally nerdy sort of way, that's exactly what it felt like.
This magic continued through the end, even when I realized my book still had problems, even when I realized there were plot gaps and point of view issues and two characters that needed to be merged. And I think that magic continued simply because I allowed myself to accept the fact that what I was writing could be fixed later. I think it continued because I resigned myself to just keep going, to just keep plugging away, to just get out the story so I could figure out what I had to work with when I had the time to dig in my fingers and rework the clay.
When I uploaded it to the word counter for validation, I felt good about my imperfect manuscript. It wasn't pretty, boxed up or "finished" in any sort of way that would make sense to another human being, but buried in mountains of prose that is sometimes beautiful and sometimes messy, lies the promise of an idea I brought to life, lies a world that I made, a world stuffed with questions and fears and hopes and dreams. And even if no one else sees it, that world will always be alive, that world will always change the way I see mine, that world will always be something that exists because somewhere along the line I silenced my inner doubter, my inner criticizer, my inner voice that says you can't do it, and I filled the silence with a heart that says, you can.