Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
The Serenity Prayer (above, minus the usual reference to the deity) is usually associated with Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s a reminder to those in the program that not everything is in their control, and trying to control things that are beyond us often ends in heartache.
I’ve been finding a lot of wisdom and solace in that prayer lately. I’m not an alcoholic – fear about losing control (there’s that word again) as a gay closeted teenager and spilling my big secret to the world kept me from drinking with my peers. I have had maybe five servings of alcohol in my entire life, and there was a time when I could have told you the contents and circumstances of each one.
I see myself in that poem, as I try to control everything around me to make my world a more recognizable and stable place. Still, life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, right?
On New Year’s Eve, a wild windstorm blew through Northern California, knocking out our power, cable TV and internet. It was one of the longest outages I can remember – the power was out for 18 hours, resulting in spoiled food, a cold house and very frayed nerves. But the cable/internet outage was worse.
A pile of redwood branches had fallen on our cable, separating it from its housing (the squirrel chew marks and water intrusion revealed by the cable guy when he finally came didn’t help, either LOL). It took three days to finally get that fixed, which was… difficult, to say the least.
Now I am well aware that these are #FirstWorldProblems – we have a place to live, power to heat it, and generally reliable internet service with which to run our business. And we had our iPhones, whose hot spots served to power our business (albeit more slowly) after the lights came back on, until our cable service was restored. But still, it was a crazy and disruptive few days.
On Thursday, I went to the dentist, who as a routine precaution took my blood pressure. It came out at a scary 171/102, and a second test wasn’t much lower. All of a sudden, they were looking at me as if I were an old man, asking if I felt all right and offering me a place to sit down, presumably so I wouldn’t up and die right in front of them.
I’m not that old… at 54, I’m in about as good a shape as I have ever been, and have always been healthy for my age. Suddenly I’m the guy who needs medication to control his raging heart. Sigh.
Then this last Saturday, we were treated to a repeat of the wild wind storm from New Year’s Eve, once again losing our utility services at around midnight. Luckily for us, they were all restored by 6:30 AM.
And the rain keeps coming. The rivers are a rising, the wind is returning, and absolutely none of it is under my control.
Outside these four walls, a clown show took place in the halls of Congress last week, and yesterday, in another congressional hall far to the south, an eerie repeat of January 6th played out in Brazil. Our unleashed climate rages, bombs are dropping in Ukraine, and in Iran speaking up for freedom is enough to earn you a death sentence.
The world is careening toward madness, and I feel powerless to stop it.
So I stop myself instead.
I take a moment to breathe in and out, deeply. I allow myself to feel joy in the simple act of being alive. And I remember the Serenity Prayer.
I have control of some very important things in my life – I control what I read, and write. I control who I spend my time with. I control the love I share with the people closest to me – Mark, my family, and my close friends. And I control how I react when something unexpected (good or bad) happens.
With my writing, it’s much the same. I can’t control who reads my work, or how they react to it. I can’t control whether or not an agent ever decides they want to work with me. And sometimes it feels like I can’t even control my own characters.
I can control when I write and what I decide to write next. I can do so on a consistent, regular basis. And the rest will just have to take care of itself.
After reading an article a couple weeks ago, Mark and I took another step toward serenity. We started writing daily (sometimes loose) haiku, as a way to encapsulate our thoughts and feelings for the day. Here’s mine from today:
remembering to feel joy,
to let go and breathe.
It’s a great way to kickstart my day and get my creative juices flowing, and it focuses me on creating a mood for the day to carry me past all those things I can’t control.
And sometimes that’s all I can hope for – to remember to let go.
I just have to remind myself to find the wisdom to know that’s okay.
To my writer friends, how do you deal with the lack of control in your writing (and general) life?