Welcome to the next installment of the Defining Moments guest blogging series. I’ve been fortunate to have Ioanna in one of my workshops in each residency at Fairfield. Not only is she a great writer, but she is a fantastic human. She is kind, trustworthy, intelligent and fun. I’m very honored to have her write something for the blog. When you’re finished reading, you should go check her out at Climbing the Treacherous Mountain.
People who’ve read my work may know that I’m somewhat obsessed with the concept of falling. My MFA thesis begins with a scene in which I’m gazing over the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge, contemplating what it would be like to fall, wondering if I’d really die, and speculating that “it wouldn’t feel like falling.”
When asked to choose one or two lines from our work to be read at our graduation, it was somewhat of a no-brainer for me. I chose, “But it wouldn’t feel like falling.”
To me, this concept relates to at least one major theme in my memoir: how we learn to reconcile contrary instincts—for instance, the instinct to trust completely to the point of abandon, or to fear to the point of paralysis; the instinct to blindly follow our emotions, or to rely solely on our intellect. How do we nurture one instinct without weakening the other? How do we maintain a safe and reasonable, yet emotionally and spiritually fulfilling, sense of balance? If we have to choose to follow one instinct and suppress the other, which do we choose?
A couple days before our residency at Ender’s, I quit my adjunct teaching job. To many, this might not seem like a big deal. Adjuncts come and go; it’s the nature of the profession. But for me, it was like choosing to fall. It was telling myself it wouldn’t feel like falling. I’d committed to relying on waitressing for money so I could focus on my writing for a while—a tremendous leap of faith that felt right.
Until the opposite instinct kicked in. The second day at Ender’s, I had to deliver my graduation presentation and reading. I woke up early that morning, hands shaking, nerves a wreck, knowing these were the final hurdles to jump before embarking on my “new life.” What am I doing? I thought. Am I fooling myself? Will I ever write again when this program is over? And you quit your job? What were you thinking?
I had to do something to calm myself down, so I grabbed my iPod and took a walk around the island. As I did, I began to feel lighter and freer. At one point, I stood on one of the stone steps and took in the view of the Sound. Though the step was about three feet high, I felt the urge to casually glide down to the ground. It’s not that far down, I thought. And then splat. I fell flat and hard on the stony ground—and it definitely felt like falling.
Luckily, I’d braced myself with my hands, but still, it hurt. A lot. I had a terrible gash on my toe (that probably should have been stitched) and some painful scrapes on my knees. But most startling was the awareness of how hurt I could have been, and how I’d careened from one extreme to the other that morning: from fear and doubt to a momentary and overly romantic abandon of reason, and as a result, I’d fallen. Hard. And I was lucky that it hadn’t been from higher, lucky it wasn’t my face or head that hit that rocky ground.
I literally laughed and cried as several kind people came over to help me. I felt banged awake. “Get real,” I suddenly thought.
Sure, it was a risk to quit my job and declare myself once and for all a writer. Yes, it was a leap of faith. And yes, I believe in the power of faith. But now that I’ve made this choice, taken this step, it’s up to me to meet my faith halfway.
Someone asked me later that week if I felt nervous for graduation. I didn’t; I felt I’d graduated when I hit that ground.
All of this is not to say I hope I fall again, any time soon. It’s just, I guess, to say—borrowing from one of my favorite poems, Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art”—that “it wasn’t a disaster.”