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Monday, February 09, 2009

The Mystery Gift of Becoming Unstuck

Before I begin this story, I will readily admit that many cool things happen to me. The flip side of this is that for every random gift that falls in my lap at the right time, I am also the type of person who attracts the one crazy person on the Metro. People can ride the Metro daily and never have another person speak to them. But if they bring me along, I promise you that someone will sit beside us and ask us if we want to see his penis and then proceed to tell us all about the Prince Albert he got that week. So you see, there is a flip side to being the person who wins a month a free groceries or gets a strange gift in the mail...


I promised you that the game would be explained, but you'll need to draw your own personal understanding from your answer. After all, what you did on Friday was access your subconscious for a moment--maybe the most accessible tip of your subconscious, but your subconscious nonetheless--but if you sat there longer, you probably could have named many other B.K.s or perhaps people with other initials who were in disguise as someone named B.K.

There was absolutely no thought behind choosing the letters.

Let me explain. Actually, to explain and get to the incredibly cool part, you'll need some background information.

Last week I was cleaning, right? So the folder that gave me pause after I threw out the first box of teaching materials last weekend was labeled Dada Club. The Dada Club was a group I started at my middle school. Once a week at lunch time, students in the club came to my room to eat and play Dadaist/Surrealist parlour games--Exquisite Corpse and the like.

The point of surrealism was to access and use your subconscious. Maybe this explanation will give you food for thought for many a future blog post if you're currently stuck. Think about it this way, up until now, I think most of us have grabbed at things to write about in our consciousness--the way the stirrups feel against the heels or how we felt when we sat on the floor with a negative test. What happened this week. But surrealism is not about floating hats or pipes that are not pipes. It is about meditating until you reach back and randomly pluck moments that you have somewhat forgotten about until your memory is jogged. It is about making connections and finding the meaning behind the act. Accessing the subconscious.

It's taking the first B.K. that came to mind but also then sitting still for a bit and allowing other B.K.s to float into your head. To play out scenarios with them. To set them in a situation and think about how you would act. I spent the whole weekend coming back to the initials and coming up with more and more people that I had pretty much forgotten about who hold those initials as well as wondering why some pretty obvious people didn't pop into my mind until Sunday.

So the students and I would play these games like Exquisite Corpse where you pass around a piece of paper and add to a story, only seeing one sentence before your own at any given point. Or free writing as many linking thoughts as we could get down on paper in a given amount of time. Or playing Conditionals.

That's the only part I miss about teaching and truthfully, I have that same space here sans the students--having time in my day to try out something that matters to me. The Dadaists mattered to me so I brought it to the students and they shared it with me. Look how many other things I've thrown out there via this blog through the years and others say, "sure, I'll join along too." That is my favourite part about having found this community.


Okay, so why the Dadaists? It now comes in four acts, and you read the third act above.

Act One: The first time I learned about the Dadaists and their writing games, I was in high school. A recent graduate came back around Thanksgiving to visit the high school and speak to us about writing programs at college. He started out his visit by teaching us how to play Conditionals. By the end of the hour, I knew I wanted to find a college that had a writing major.

Act Two: In college, we had an ongoing game of Exquisite Corpse that lasted a whole summer. The pages were left out and people added to them at random. It grew to be several hundred pages before fall. That manuscript held huge sentimental value. I still wonder what happened to it.

Act Three: Resurrecting the Dada Club for the middle schoolers since I was no longer friends with all of the people I played Exquisite Corpse with back in college.

Act Four: Here is the story of the mystery gift: about two weeks ago I received an anonymous email. The writer told me that a package was being sent and this item helped her "conceptualize the way I set out to explore the world. Because of this thing, I started to become untrapped."

"Am I trapped?" I asked Josh. I got really hung up on this idea for several days. I kept opening up the email. This person obviously knew me semi-well because they had my address, but I had no idea who they were or if I had ever emailed with them about feeling trapped. Maybe they could tell that I was stuck and needed unsticking. I kept asking myself if I was stuck.


And the fact is that yes, I was stuck. Well, stuck is not the right word. I felt like I was in a canoe without oars. I was still moving forward but slowly; and it was pretty relaxing. Every once in a while I fretted that I had no oars or that I had to be somewhere at a certain time. And then I'd be lulled back into a state of non-worry. I have lived too many years worrying about time. It actually felt nice to make a conscious decision to live the oar-free life for a bit longer.

But the problem with the oar-free life is when you know there are rapids ahead and you don't have a plan to navigate them.

Enough with the analogies: we hadn't really come back to a decision about how we conceptualized the future. Would we return to treatments? Now? In the future? When in the future if not now? Never? Would we choose a different path instead of treatments? Would I go back to work if the twins started school full time? Would I still write? Write and work? Work outside the house? What would we give the twins if we weren't using our savings for treatments? Would we leave the money sitting there or would we use it to enrich their lives?

We made the decision not to do anything active (since trying without treatments is passive) right now without really making a decision. We were supposed to return to treatments this winter once the book was out of my hands, but when the time came to make the appointment, some other things started happening and it ceased to be a sound decision. We made the choice not to return right now to my RE, but we didn't set any other plans.

I am the type of person who needs to know exactly what is going to happen throughout the day. I don't like surprises. Therefore, not having a plan felt very unsettling and yet, we weren't making a plan. And then I'd get lulled into forgetting that we didn't have a plan. I guess my hope was either to get a plan or get comfortable with the idea of not having a plan and letting life play out with the belief that the right time would open without planning for it. Does that make sense?

We almost didn't stop treatments last year even though I was spinning too many plates because stopping treatments strayed from the path. Oh, you should probably know this about me: I don't like to stray from the plan, even if a new idea is presented that is obviously better. Even if sticking to the plan is like trying to shove Cinderella's shoe on the stepsister's foot.

Returning to treatments right now would essentially put us in the same place we were last winter when we quit--it doesn't work right now with our life, with our finances. It would be unfair to the kids we do have and unfair to ourselves. And yet, even knowing all of that, I still felt like we needed a month, a date. A time that we would be returning. Because without it, life felt too up-in-the-air and undecided. But here is the problem with that way of doing things: we could say April, but if life is still like this in April, is it better to stick to the plan and be foolish or break the plan and be miserable? Or, as you'll see in a moment, is it better to not have any plan at all and trust that one day, we will wake up, think about it for a moment and say, "you know what; we have a great window right now. Let's try stepping through it."

Enough navel gazing.


The package arrived and I opened it warily at the post office. I considered asking Susan, the kind postmaster who knows your business because I often tell her what I'm mailing or tell her who I got a letter from if I open my mail before I get home, to take a photograph of me so I could show you the huge grin as I saw the book as well as the identity of the mystery gifter.

The person will continue to remain a mystery at her request, but the book was Lonely Planet's Experimental Travel. It is travel using the ideas from Dadaism and Surrealism. In other words, leaving the beaten path and seeing what transpires, traveling without the sole focus being the destination, treating all possible paths as equal. The book contains forty or so ideas that can be done locally or globally to see the world in an entirely different way. It is about setting aside your old, personal travel rules (always make a plane ticket three weeks in advance, always bring a camera, always buy postcards on the first day and mail them home) and picking up someone else's ideas in order to become untrapped. Unstuck. It is like travel's version of fixed form poetry.

If you have expectations about how things need to go; preconceived beliefs of how travel (or life) should be, you'll often be disappointed. I once had a boyfriend tell me that I would be infinitely happier if I let go of expectations and I told him it was impossible. But now a guide has fallen in my lap that essentially tells me how to do just that. To let go of expectations.

It's a travel guide, yes, but I'm also seeing it as a life guide. Because we should all be able to do with books as we please.

I opened the book randomly to my first travel game--Experiment 14: Counter Tourism: "Varies, but could include travelling to a famous landmark and taking a photograph with your back to the sight; alternatively, photograph some tourists practising classical tourism (see the boxed text The Classic Shot, p104). Other ways of practising Counter Tourism might be to take the opposite approach to instruction. If your guidebook advises you to avoid something, deliberately seek it out."

And you know what, I have been so focused on fulfilling this vision in my head that I haven't ever considered turning my back on it and seeing what else exists. I don't even know what else exists. I guess that is the point--to actually do the experiment; to figuratively travel even through your own decision-making process.

I have a strong feeling that I will find something in the book that we can all collectively do in our home towns. I will post the new project soon. It is slowly forming inside my head; a nice distraction with the possibility of pulling thoughts to the front of the mind.

So to sum up: we're not returning to treatments right now. Upon deep reflection and many talks, we've come to the decision that we can find comfort with a multitude of paths. We are going to throw the travel book in the bag a lot this spring and take some random trips that the ChickieNob and Wolvog will hopefully remember well into their college years (so they can discuss us around the pizza late at night). We are not going to pick a date to return but will allow the moment to come to us. There will be a third child in our family one day.

Thank you, Mystery Gifter, for recognizing that I was stuck and for helping me become unglued. For knowing me well enough to know that this book is a perfect fit. And thank you, happenstance, for having the book arrive three days after that folder went to the dump. Isn't that an amazing coincidence since the gift was sent BEFORE I ever started cleaning?

Would you like to play another game?

Come up with a new superstition (good or bad) surrounding treatments.

Example: If the nurse calls directly on the hour, it means your cycle will be cancelled.

And then answer this question: will you pay attention to these signs even knowing they've been randomly created?


Lori said...

"There will be a third child in our family one day."

Absolutely. I can't wait to see how.

If it's a girl, you might name her "Synchronicity." (Middle name, perhaps.)

You know. The song by the same group that sang "Da doo doo doo. Da Da Da Da."

I can't remember my superstitions, but I'll check back to see others.

Kathy said...

Thank you for sharing Mel. I really enjoyed your post and your updates on your plan, or lack there of right now, for expanding your family in the future. I too look forward to seeing how your third child comes to join your family.

Your post reminded me of one of my favorites quotes from back in my college days from a bizzare movie (Threesome) with not so bizzare thoughts on life. I actually memorized it awhile back, because I thought it was so great:

"My college experience wasn't what I planned. It bore no resemblence to the pictures in the brochure. But I'm not uphappy, I don't think any of us are. It's kinda like when you go on vacation and you find yourself in some crazy place you can't even find on the map, doing something you never thought you'd do. Maybe you feel a little bit lost while its happening, but later you realize it was the best part of the whole trip."

Jess said...

You guys sound like me. I know a general plan: use the frozens, then see what next, probably ttc the old fashioned way (gasp!) but...

Every time I think of going back I panic.

When I think of not going back I panic.

In order to even find out what we needed to do to MAKE the decision on when to schedule a consult (still not done yet) I needed to call my RE. I eventually did, but only with threats from a friend. :)

I feel a little like starting again opens up a huge can of worms, even IF we will be doing the FET and then probably nothing. I also feel like waiting is stupid because, well, my personal motto is normally something along the lines of "Jump if you're going to do it, stupid, no better time than the present!"

Yet...there has been no jumping.

Tash said...


Last winter, I overheard two women talking in the gym, and one said, twice, "Expect nothing, and be pleasantly surprised." I thought I had found my new mantra -- it lasted about a week. Even I -- who doesn't wish or plan -- have expectations, it turns out.

And I'm kinda tired of getting mugged on the paths, so I've set up shop in a tent. But I suppose at some point I need to get moving, even if it is crawling backwards in order to get a new perspective, eh?

great post.

Fertilized said...

Oh I love it. I embrace it. I have never heard of any of this before. I am also a huge planner. Everything has always been mapped out. A few days ago, I feel like I embraced this type of life and I didn't even know it existed. Thanks for sharing this. What a great gift.

Artblog said...

Fantastic post, more than fantastic and what an imagination you do have :)

I'm a hopeless planner, everything I've ever planned has not worked out and then the unexpected happens just when you plan something else!

I love your idea of moving forward, I think you'll do it too, I only wish it were me who thought of the book but then again, If I'd have planned it, it probably wouldn't have worked out anyway and you'd have never got the book plus I don't have your address :) :)


Kristin said...

Fascinating post.

Queenie. . . said...

The gift really is that it wasn't just to you. . .by writing about it, you've given us a gift. . .a new way to think about things. I, for one, really needed it right now, too. Thanks, Mel.

Brenna said...

Such an inspiring post! You know, that's my favorite way to travel--wandering around back streets and stumbling across the best restaurant in Italy by accident kind of travel. Now why can't I adopt that same attitude toward life?! Maybe because there's no infamous ticking clock telling me that the days available for me to return to Italy are numbered...

As for superstitions, I don't really have any. I might ask my mom for another egg bouquet if we're ever ready to try IVF again, since that worked for us the first time around--but it brought us luck more than feeding any set superstition.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this post. You've given me a lot to think about regarding the stuck-ness in my own life.

luna said...

oh mel, there is so much here, I feel unprepared to dive on in...

what a perfect gift. a new approach can often be just what is needed. I think having any expectations on this journey can be a dangerous thing. to be open and willing to explore all possibilities without the need to over plan the itinerary is to realize the value of the travel itself, in that IT may bring you where you need to be, rather than planning every step along the way. that is an important lesson on its own.

so much of this is a process, rather than a destination. so we surrender to the fact that we cannot control how we get there, only how we explore the journey itself.

ok, I'm rambling here. I just want to say that those few months when we were in limbo between our last failed treatment and our decision to adopt -- when remaining childless would be the outcome of our inaction -- I was so unsettled and depressed and confused. it was disorienting not having that compass, not knowing our destination. in embracing adoption, I let go of every expectation I ever had about family-building, I gave up control. and it felt like a huge opening in my life.

when nothing is certain, everything is possible.

I still can't believe you had a dada club in middle school.

Cassandra said...

So you were that kind of teacher. Amazing.

Except that the surrealist club I belonged to in high school didn't have a faculty advisor, because, ya know, it was all counterculture and we had to meet under an oak tree in the starlight. Dada meets goth.

I still have a couple of copies of the "manifesto" we created (poetry, free verse, essays). Simultaneously embarrassing and remarkable.

Shinejil said...

If you crave fish soup, you're pregnant.

Bea said...

You played exquisite corpse? I loved exquisite corpse! Only, I didn't know it was called exquisite corpse, so I was forever having these conversation where I enthusiastically said, "Hey! Let's play that game where blah blah blah..." and by the third blah I had lost my audience. I needed to grow up in your town, obviously. Or maybe just know what it was called.

I love that the first thing you opened up to gave you new insight. How surreal. And I love what Queenie said.