So, in addition to my sidewalk poetry endeavors, I've been painting rocks.
What the hell is a grown ass woman doing painting rocks? You ask.
I don't know, for the same reason grown ass women do yoga with goats. Or stage equestrian competitions using stick horses. Or dye their hair to look like rainbows. Or pretend to be real-life mermaids.
Because these days it seems like the world is just one Tweet away from becoming a racist, sexist, elitist, homophobic, xenophobic, bigoted, patriarchal hellscape and we are just grasping for something– anything– to offer reminders that our life here on this wacky spinning piece of space debris still has room for joy, silliness and magic.
To avoid getting swallowed into a pit of despair, I decided to paint rocks and then leave them in shared spaces around my neighborhood. At the playground, by the pool, on the walking path, outside the library. I recruited Lily and Jovie to join in the fun, too. Oh and a few neighbors (you know you've found your people when you tell them you've been painting rocks and they turn around and throw a rock-painting party complete with brownies and wine).
They're not masterpieces or anything. Not destined for the Smithsonian (unless, of course, I should happen to leave a couple on the Mall... which now that I'm writing this might have to happen). I decided on rocks because they're plentiful and free. Plus, I always have plenty of acrylic paint on hand. The girls and I stick with bright colors, fun patterns and sometimes a little glitter.
We're not changing the world here. Not doing anything big and bold. Probably the opposite. Little and goofy. But it makes me happy and maybe it makes someone else happy, too, and that is enough.
Yesterday, I received a sign from the great beyond that I'm on the right track with this rock thing.
I was helping my parents move out of their home in Lancaster, Pa. when Mom mentioned there was a bucket of river rock in their shed. She said I could take it if I wanted. To which I squealed and probably jumped up and down while extolling the merits of river rock for rock painting projects (they're soooo smooth and sooooo flat! The perfect little canvases). The bucket of rocks was really, really heavy. As buckets of rocks are wont to be. But I hauled it from the shed and into the car, next to the gallon of maple syrup I also scored from my parents (we took bets on which item would make Brad's eyebrows go up more).
Last night I was scrubbing the mud off of some of my new rocks, something happened that I think is pretty much the definition of magic. And that something, was birds:
It was as if a fellow weirdo had reached out across time and space to say, "right on."
The question for me recently (recently and always) has been, what's next?
What do I do next? Who will I be in this next phase of life? What things do I pursue? What dreams do I leave behind (or at least lay fallow for now)? Where do I find inspiration? What will drive me? What will pull me out of bed each morning? What will will lead me to my big I AM MOANA! moment? (Or, you know, I AM SUSAN! Which doesn't sound nearly as poetic and triumphant. I'm guessing it also wouldn't happen while I'm sailing solo across the Pacific on a raft).
Such big questions. It seems we never get to stop answering this question.
The rest of the world asks this question at all stages of life post childhood. Where are you going to college? What will you major in? What will you do for work? When will you get married? When will you have children? When will you have more children? When will you return to work? Where will you live? What are you going to do with your life?
And, of course, I ask it of others, too. It's how humans seem to converse with one another.
I asked Lily's high school-aged soccer coach the question at the team party. I asked the young woman on the train who'd just graduated from UVA that question. I asked my parents this question, too. Now that they've sold their house in Lancaster and are moving back to Colorado for the time being, Where will you go next? I asked.
I've asked this question of myself for decades. After high school. After college. After marriage. After babies. And again recently.
We all spend a lot of our lives agonizing over this question. And because of that it makes it difficult to settle into our lives right now. Right now doesn't seem to matter as much as what's next.
Except when you are perpetually focusing on what's next, you're not really living your life at all. You're planning all the time.
Or, if you're like me, you're not even planning. You're just sort of flopping about the floor like an overtired three-year-old who's just been told that, no, there won't be ice cream for dinner and that they also have to take off their own shoes. I mean the horrors! THE HORRORS! What a hideous, manipulative, demanding mistress this thing we call life is.
So here I am, still flopping about the floor. One shoe partially off dreading what will no doubt be the worst dinner ever because, as mentioned previously, no ice cream.
And I'm reminded of an anecdote Liz Gilbert shared during that retreat I went on.
Just a few days before the program, Liz's partner and person for life (PFL), Rayya Elias, became very ill. I guess its not that she became ill. Rayya was diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer last year. She's been ill for awhile. Except that on the Tuesday before the retreat she was extremely ill. Throwing up blood in the bathroom for hours ill. So ill Liz was convinced she was witnessing the last moments of her PFL. All she could do was sit on the bathroom floor and hold Rayya.
And of course, because she's human and all, ask the question, "What's next?"
What was she supposed to do next?
Liz said the answer about what to do next came from Rayya, who said she was cold.
The next thing to do was to get a blanket. So she did. And she trusted that she'd know what the next thing to do was when it was time to do it.
Liz said life is like this. We'll know what the next thing to do is when its time to do it. We shouldn't discount all the teeny, tiny, incremental steps we're taking toward that thing. They matter. They keep our PFL warm. Obsessing over the towering colossus of "what's next?" does not answer the question "what's next?"
But living will. Living and honoring each teeny, tiny, incremental step will.
As I was taking a walk through the woods yesterday, I listened to an interview with artist Enrique Martinez Celaya. He said something I think we all need to hear:
Maybe I won't have that Moana moment, afterall. Maybe I don't need to. Maybe I stick to doing the things that seem important to me– even if they seem insignificant to everyone else– and those are the things that will define me. Those are the things that will quiet the endless drumming of "What's next? What's next? What's next?"
What's next isn't as important as what we are doing right now. That's both the groundwork and the evolving masterpiece of our personhood. Even if I can't see what it all ends up looking like, it's OK.
As Liz Gilbert's friend Richard from Texas always said, "It's all gonna be alright."
And as my inside voices say, "It's time to paint another rock."