Defining Moments

One day this week as I was driving home and the mountains turned a light rosy color from the setting sun, it occured to me that some moments in our lives matter more than others. Like, how many times have you put the dishes in the dishwasher or shoveled out cat turds from the litterbox? I'm not sure I can single out a remarkable moment from either of those examples.

(DIGRESSION: well... wait, maybe I can. It was 2011, and I was in the bay area pursuing my MFA degree. I lived in this 250 square foot cottage with a bathroom the size of a hall closet in which there was a toilet, sink, shower and, because I have a [big] cat, a sizeable litterbox. Anyway, at some point in the Winter of 2011, there was an earthquake, which I remember because I was shoveling cat turds out of the litterbox at precisely the moment I felt the tremor. My thought in that moment has remained with me in the subsequent years, and I repeat it to myself on especially bad days when I need a good laugh: "At least I didn't just die while cleaning a cat box." ) 

But, there are the days when you win that one important race, or are in a really scary car crash or you learn that something you wrote has been accepted for publication and now your name is in print. Those are the big-big moments. But, I think there is another kind of defining moment, the little-big moments, the ones that seem like they don't matter because they are so small, but that stay with you, even years later.

There are the lazy clouds of snowflakes falling outside the small boutique in an abandoned mall in Tahoe City where I worked one year after I finished my first two graduate programs. I remember the moment as silence: the power had gone off due to the volume of snow that came with that storm, and I, alone in that abandoned mall, watched it fall, and wondered what would happen to me-- if that sort of thing was going to be my life, and what that would mean for a person who wanted to write and be a competitive athlete.

And then, not so long after that storm, life (again) changed. I still remember a dream I had before I committed myself to the MFA program at Saint Mary's College of California. It was a stressful decision because the program was expensive, and MFAs are notorious for not really creating job prospects in life unless you're one of the few who graduate with a book on its way to being published or already out in the world. I didn't have a lot of money at the time, and a local community college had offered me a job teaching French and English to undergraduates. So, my choice was: do the safe thing and stay home and teach or, be completely crazy and irresponsible to follow your dream to be a writer. 

So, the night before I had to submit my decision to the MFA program, I dreamt that I was sitting on a couch perched on the very edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. One wrong move and the couch and I would tumble down the sharp rocks and crash into the raging surf. The next morning, I woke up and called the MFA program, telling them to sign me up for the Fall semester.  To stay (for me at the time) was more dangerous than the expense of leaving.  Leaving meant that I would be challenged, that I would grow and change. Staying meant that I had been defeated by fear of the unknown, and I wasn't ready to do that. 

I'm still not. 

I want to keep growing, changing, learning new ideas, skills and odd facts--pushing myself on the bike and as a writer. I guess I bring all of this up because I find it so interesting how scary the unknown can be when, really, sometimes change is the best thing for a person. 

As I watch the snow fall from my office window, I can't help but notice all the ways I have changed. As an athlete, I am learning to trust the training -- the miles on the bike, but also the days I do other things to be kind to my body. As a writer, more than ever I treasure the time I spend with language: reading the works of others', journaling, writing this blog, writing for work, interviewing others to hear their stories, ghost writing and (most recently) working as a translator for authors in other countries who want their work to have a voice in English.

I wonder what happened to that couch in my dream five years ago-- if the ocean swallowed it up, or if it's still sitting up on that far away cliff, waiting for someone else?  The snowflakes are falling today like they did all those years ago, but looking back I can't say I regret any of it. Instead, I'm ready to embrace this crazy cycling/writing life for all the little-big (big-little) moments ahead.