Tuesday, June 6, 2017

You Can Count On Uncertainty and Change

This is Essay #22 (a little late) of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished) essay each week during 2017.

I miss a week of essay writing and then totally forget how to write one. It’s hard to get back on the horse, even after missing only a week. Doubly hard when I’m not home in my usual routine. But let’s give this a shot.

This week, I am at the Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers Conference in rural Vermont. I want to emphasize “rural” because I have spotty cell service at best and the wi-fi here has been fickle. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to post this essay while here. So, naturally, this has me thinking about our relationship to both our natural environment as well as to technology.

While I don’t think I’m that old, saying this might make me feel old: I spent my childhood without computers. I was in high school when I learned how to write a computer program in BASIC for MS-DOS (see? we used acronyms back then – the precursor to text language. Haha!). Email was something invented when I was in college. Internet relay chat rooms (IRC) was today’s equivalent of text messaging. All this to say: I know how to live without technology.

Or at least I used to.

Being here, with limited access to the world “out there”, has shown me just how much I rely on technology. And I am one who is mindful of my use of technology in terms of devices (I don’t have many – a laptop and a smartphone. No tablet.) and screen time. So I am surprised by my slight anxiety at not being able to check in on my family. Or, admittedly, my Facebook page.

Still, I am also looking at this as an opportunity. Instead of going online, I will spend my break time thinking about all that has happened here at the conference these past two very-full days. There have been a lot of amazing conversations about writing process and practices, but also discussions about our environment and the role art plays in activism and social justice. I can’t say much about it yet, as my brain needs some time to process all of this into something coherent. But I will say it all feels really good.

And the body doesn’t lie.

Yesterday morning, Camille Dungy gave a lecture called “What If We’ve Got It All Wrong: Writing Into the Liberation of Uncertainty” and it was everything I needed to hear. Generally speaking, it continued my thinking about change as the only constant thing in our lives, as I am reading Pema Chodron’s book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change.

There’s a lot of change going on in the world. Both on a personal level and a larger scale.


I told Ross about yet another instance in which I cried. This, after telling him I cried during his reading on Saturday night. After I told him I cried during parts of Monday night’s reading. My eyes are freaking waterfalls! And each time I shared a moment in which I cried (I even told him about some yoga moments of weeping), I would also say “But I’m not a crier.” To which he pointed out the obvious: “You keep saying that but I don’t think that’s true.”

For most of my life, I didn’t cry. If there was ever an urge to cry, I would hold it in, swallow that lump in the throat and stuff it down into the pit of my belly. Crying was viewed as weakness; and in an Asian family, weakness was not an option. As a child, I couldn’t even cry when I was getting a whip of the belt. I wouldn’t let myself. I tightened my face and squeezed, hoping that would be enough to hold in the tears.

Of course, we all know now how the body stores memory. How it stores trauma. How it keeps score of what happens to it. (An aside: go check out Bessel van der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma! Soooo amazing!)

I said to Ross: “I think I’ve become a crier over the last year.”

To another friend a few months ago: “I think I’m making up for all that withheld crying. It’s all pouring out now, like a flood.”

Talk about change.


There is so much uncertainty in our world today. (For one, the earth just got put on the fast track to death. See: Paris Climate Accord.) I know this is an obvious statement, but sometimes I need to say it aloud in order to make it real, to make sure I’m not imagining things. It’s all so overwhelming. Uncertainty can be daunting to the point where fear takes over and I become paralyzed. But as Camille said in her talk: in uncertainty lies possibility. So much possibility. She invited us to seize that, to embrace it. Because, I concluded, when things become static, we begin to die. So if we’re going to die anyway, might as well make it fun and wild and unpredictable. Make it the life we want to live. Right?

So where do we begin to take action? How do we choose where to act? To seize the possibility in uncertainty? To make the change we want to see? I have to remind myself: one step at a time. Also this: change happens little by little.

I didn’t become a tech-reliant crybaby overnight.

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