“Sometimes I think we forget that we’re meant to pick up and go when the well runs dry. Our ancestors knew that. You stay put for too long, you get weighed down by things, things you don’t need. It’s true. Then your life becomes this pathetic accumulation of stuff. Emotional and physical junk.”
-Lynn Nottage, Sweat
I don’t know where it came from, but there’s this rule bouncing around my head. “Stick it out.” Can’t manage to finish a poem? Stick it out. Confused by what I’m learning? Stick it out. Worried about the path I’m on? Stick it out.
I think the most dangerous traps in my life are the ones I always respond to in the same way, the ones for which I keep offering the same answer. Here’s an example: for the last fifteen years, when I’m bored, I watch movie trailers online. I like stories, and I suppose I’ve become interested–at least a little–in the way these snippets try to present and suggest a longer arc; all the same, I’m usually as bored after watching the trailers as I was before. It occurred to me years ago that if I would sit when I was bored, if I would simply stare at the wall or look out the window, then after a few minutes I would probably find a new thought that I wanted to follow. I don’t usually do that. I watch trailers instead. I think I watch them because I want them to be doorways toward something new. I want them to reveal the variety of what’s possible. Most of the time, they’re just paintings of doorways hung on the wall, and I’m sitting in my same place at the table. If I would sit for a moment in my own mind, and then pick up and go off somewhere new, I think I would realize that each moment, on its own, is already a new doorway. I just have a habit of walking through it and arranging the next room just like the last one.
“Sometimes I think we forget that we’re meant to pick up and go when the well runs dry. Our ancestors knew that.” We pump a lot of water out of the ground. We plant the same things in the same soil, and ask them to keep growing. And, yes, there are ways to grow crops sustainably, and that’s something to practice, but there are also new woods, new streams, new responses. When I started learning to draw, I didn’t want to keep working on a sketch. Stick it out. That lesson told me to stay with it. As I learned a little more, I wanted to stay on the same sketch, erasing and changing, worrying and trying. “Just start a new page,” my teacher said. That’s an important lesson, too, because “stick it out” would leave me erasing and redrawing while the paper tore away. We don’t need to do that. We can take what we’ve learned and go somewhere new.