“‘Maybe,’ Mister Ernest said. ‘The best word in our language, the best of all. That’s what mankind keeps going on: maybe.’”
See? William Faulkner actually could write coherent sentences. This one comes from the end of his short story, “Race at Morning.”
I love Faulkner.
I know, you probably had to read The Sound and The Fury in high school and got frustrated and threw it across your room and decided you HATED Faulkner. But really, that wasn’t his fault. It was the institution’s fault for forcing teachers to cram books at students before they’re ready for them and in a way that kills and autopsies the work so that it’s dead, dead, dead. And that’s why you hated it. Not him. Not his beautiful words. Not his ideas.
Like this idea of Maybe being better than a “yes” or a “no”—you have to love that, right?
We’ve become a culture of yesses and nos. This or that. Here or there. One side or the other. We pride ourselves on knowing our own minds.
But where’s the fun in that?
Is there intelligent alien life in the universe?
Maybe. I don’t know. Let’s go look.
Will I have a brownie today?
Maybe. I don’t know, but it’s a yummy possibility.
Is there something real hiding in the dark in the corner that’s making my skin prick at the back of my neck or is it all my imagination?
Maybe. What might it be?
(It’s the vashta nerada, people! Don’t you watch Doctor Who?)
For writers, Maybe is where the magic lives. No preconceptions. No expectations. No rules. We get to explore and imagine and wonder.
But Maybe isn’t just for writers crafting stories on a page, or readers reading them. It’s in the stories we live out each day. Open doors and hope and possibility.
The joy of the journey isn’t in finding the answers—it’s in admitting we don’t know, actually embracing and reveling in the not knowing, and then exploring all those possibilities.
This week I’m going to bask in “I don’t know.” Maybe you’ll join me.
This time last year, I was saying a conflicted goodbye to 2012.
It had been a year of challenges for me: breast cancer diagnosis in January, double mastectomy in February, a serious fall down a flight of stairs (knocked-unconscious-bleeding-from-the-ears-major concussion-chin-split-to-the-bone-five-teeth-shattered-ambulance-ride-to-the-hospital-in-a-neck-and-back-brace kind of serious) in March, multiple breast reconstruction surgeries May through October, oral surgeries to repair the teeth in the fall, and surgery to remove a totally random just-for-fun kidney stone before year’s end.
I was pretty convinced that the whole Mayan calendar “End of Days” was predicted just for me.
Last year was also the first time our daughter decided to stay up and ring in the New Year. We’d introduced her to Doctor Who and it timed out beautifully that she was ready for the Tenth Doctor’s farewell, The End of Time, on New Year’s Eve.
So we said a tearful goodbye to one Doctor (our favorite), a trepidatious hello to another, and then we watched the ball drop in Times Square. As tough as 2012 was for me and my family, it was a year of survival. 2013 was an unknown.
But as the Doctor shows us, time and again, change comes. TARDIS consoles, companions, the faces of the Doctor–they all change whether we want them to or not.
The trick is how we approach change.
The agonizing departure of the Tenth, who was so obsessed with looking back (the Doctor of Regret as The Moment calls him) that he breaks the rules to take a farewell tour and say goodbye to his many companions, nearly destroys the TARDIS. And the recent regeneration of the Eleventh, the Doctor of Forget, who constantly rushes forward to something new and lives in fear of “the question that must not be answered,” happens so violently it serves as a weapon, wiping out the Daleks at Trenzalore.
One is constantly looking to the past and the other is running headlong into the future; neither of them is very good at just being in the moment–understandable for a Time Lord, I suppose.
But being in the moment is the secret to accepting change.
Someone says, “You have cancer.” And suddenly you are a little kid again, frozen with fear as you anticipate crossing a dark room. The prickling at the back of your neck and your heartbeat throbbing in your throat battles the rational thoughts assuring you that there’s nothing hiding in the dark. Will it snake a gnarly hand around your ankle and snatch you away?
For a planner and control freak, like me, focusing on what might be coming seems natural, logical. But I learned quickly that imagining the possibilities–surgery, what the pathology might indicate, potential chemo or radiation, prognosis–only choked me with fear. I don’t know what’s lurking in the dark, and I have absolutely no control over it.
Anticipating the future, living in dread of the changes that might happen or living for the thrill of them, wipes out the joys of the moment. Likewise, looking back to what was, comparing now to then (which we almost always idealize), distorts our attitudes about change.
I walked into a hospital whole and came out transformed. When days later I stood in my bathroom and took off the bandages and let my eyes slide from the reflection of my familiar face down to the incisions that stretched across my chest where my breasts had been, I understood vividly the choice I had to make.
I could grieve for what had been, see the ghosts of breasts that made me wait so much longer than my friends that I despaired they would ever grow, breasts that finally blossomed the summer before my ninth-grade year, breasts that nursed my children, breasts that, despite my feminism, I innately associated with my womanhood; I could let those past breasts haunt me. I could compare my new breasts, also grown (or crafted by the plastic surgeon) over a summer, to those other breasts and forever tether myself to the past.
Or I could embrace who I am now, scars and all.
In this moment, I can find the joy of my transformed body–stronger for what we’ve been through, hopefully healthy, ALIVE. (And these new breasts are round and firm! ; ))
Despite not wanting to go, the Doctor embraces his new self quickly and sets about the work of discovery. (Fish sticks and custard, anyone?)
Rather than spend this New Year’s waxing nostalgic for what was or obsessing over what will be, how about we settle in to the moment and make good decisions just now and revel in the joy of what is.