Tiny Revolutions №29: Losing Sight of the Shore
land ho! ⚓️
Hi, I’m Sara, and this is Tiny Revolutions, a weekly dispatch of personal writing and links about mental and emotional fitness. Reply anytime, I love hearing from you.
Photo by Daniel Mercadante
“Much of what gives one’s life meaning stems from accidents, interruptions, and serendipitous encounters: the ‘off time’ that a mechanistic view of experience seeks to eliminate.”
Once upon a time, there was a girl who was ambitious. From an early age, she wanted to try things. She wanted to try experiences and food and places, and she wanted to try people. She liked talking to strangers and looking at them and finding out what they cared about. Most of all she liked books, because they were the easiest way to satiate her curiosity. To see what it was like to live another life, to be in another head.
Her own head was a difficult place, filled as it was with desire and longing and dissatisfaction at its limitations, whether perceived or imagined. So she sought out other sources of information. Books of course, but magazines and newspapers too. TV shows, movies, songs of all stripes. Even video games, such as they were. Anything that could take her away from herself and show her what the world was like.
She went to school and got mostly A’s. She made friends. She joined clubs and played sports. She was a good girl, and people liked her. She liked that people liked her, so she found herself increasingly drawn to doing things that would make them like her more.
She often struggled to tell the difference between what she wanted and what the world wanted her to want. But she so loved the world that she trusted it more than trusted herself, so more often than not, she took its advice.
She wanted to be a writer but the world said writers were poor. She didn’t want to be poor -- she knew what that was like -- so she got a job in public relations. She was good at this because she’d been mainlining information since she was little, and she knew what kinds of stories people liked.
And the girl did well. She moved to a big city where there was lots of opportunity. She got promoted. She changed jobs. She got promoted again. She became an executive, with all the money and trappings that accompanied it. But all along, something was missing. Somewhere inside, the girl knew that climbing the corporate ladder was not for her. That there were wilder fields awaiting.
So she left that job and embarked upon a new path, one where writing and thinking for herself -- not just for clients -- was a priority, not an afterthought. And it was exciting. There were so many avenues to explore! Everywhere she turned there was a new possibility to get out of her shell and into conversation with the world she loved.
But she was scared. Scared she wasn’t good enough or clever enough or enough enough to earn a living in the world of ideas. She didn’t know what “enough” looked like or how to get it.
So she did what she always did when she wanted to know something: she turned to literature.
She read self-help and spiritual texts and the wisdom of the ancients. She meditated. She went to therapy. She took long walks. She cried a lot and struggled financially and fielded lots of questions from concerned loved ones who just wanted her to get a job like the one she used to have. One that gave her good benefits and an enviable title. One that promised her a comfortable life and a comfortable retirement too.
But she didn’t want comfort. She also didn’t want to be lost, but she had already learned the path that was the easiest to see had made her miserable. She didn’t want to be miserable.
So she soldiered on. She paid the bills, sometimes easily, sometimes with difficulty, sometimes with the help of some very generous people.
And over time, a funny thing happened. She realized that in all her attempts to figure out how to be enough, she had learned a great deal about how to just be.
And she realized that if you listen very hard -- to the advice, to the ancients, to the tea-wielding therapists and the people who’ve been alive on planet Earth for a long time -- that all you need to do is to *be*. To accept yourself -- no, to love yourself -- even if you don’t think you’re that good. Or smart. Or brave. Or whatever you wished you were.
That the fact that you exist is enough.
And ironically, once she could see that, she could also see that the path to take was clear. She would remind herself of this simple fact every day. She would find ways to remind others of it too.
And that, my dear readers, is the story of how Tiny Revolutions came to be. Two years after I started writing it -- and more than 11 years after I left my last corporate job -- I have come to see that this is the work I am here on Earth to do.
I still don’t fully know what this work looks like, but it’s clear to me that the newsletter is just the first step. And I’m telling you all of this for two reasons:
To thank you for being with me on this journey. There are so many other things you could be reading right now, but you’re here. That’s something.
To tell you that if you yourself are wondering why you’re here on Earth, to just keep going. Keep wondering and keep trying and keep your heart open. Awareness arrives at inexplicable intervals.
This quote by French writer André Gide has always held a strange resonance for me: “In order to discover new lands, one must be willing to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”
I lost sight of the shore 11 years ago when I quit my job at a large PR agency. 11 fucking years! I honestly didn’t know if I would ever see it again. And now somehow, some way, through some mysterious grace, I can. It’s looming in the distance, inviting me to wash up and throw down my anchor. And it beckons with the promise that while my seafaring days may be over, my adventures on land are just about to begin. Thanks for coming along.
On to some things I found worth sharing this week:
One of the best quarantine projects I’ve come across: WindowSwap, a brilliantly simple website that lets you look out someone else’s window for a change. I just watched the sunset in Dubai and saw a tail-wagging beagle in Bangalore. (via the Public Announcement newsletter)
“We have to become detectives and figure out what works for us and why in order to build a life of connection and joy.”
— Loved this line from an interview with Amanda Eyre Ward and Jardine Libaire, who wrote The Sober Lush, an excellent book about how to have the wild, dirty, and decadent life of your dreams without booze. Highly recommended!
Pretty sure Susan Orlean won Twitter this week.
Speaking of André Gide, it’s been a good 20 years since I read Lafcadio’s Adventures, but if you’re looking for an absurdist caper to get lost in, you’d be hard pressed to find a better one.
A Tiny Assignment
Is there something that’s been tugging at you? Something you want to see, to learn about, to explore? Do it. Even if it takes you away from what you “should” be doing. Even if it doesn’t make sense. Trust that there’s a reason.
p.s. Reply or comment with something weird you’ve been thinking about lately. Or maybe just tell me about your favorite bird.
p.p.s. I joined Compound Writing to help me tighten up my work! Thank you to the members who reviewed this post: Joel Christiansen, Nick Drage, Michael Shafer, Patrick Rivera, and Stew Fortier.
New subscriber. First time commenter (is that a word?). Spellcheck says no, but...
I have spent the last 19 months circling the intersection of severe depression/suicidal ideation and sobriety (14 months and counting!). After several false starts, I made a commitment to my mental health in December of 2018. This required that I do something that I dreaded...group therapy in an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). I moved in and out of this therapy 3 times in 12 months. I had one serious breakdown that almost left me hospitalized, but I got through it. I believe that I had to get myself healthier mentally to be able to address my drinking. I now feeling better than I can ever remember.
That long-winded introduction leads me to my point. I now actively seek out "stuff" that makes me think and feel. Things that make me happy. Tiny Reolutions is one of those things. Thank you Sara and all of your followers for being there.
I respect and applaud your bravery of doing what’s best for “Sara”! It takes an Amazing Amount of courage and strength to go against what “you are supposed to do”! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻