Life is the creativity of the storyteller, not the blueprint of the architect

I was swimming today and my kids joined me. They rarely swim with me now that they’re teens. But when they were elementary school age, they loved being in the pool.

Today, one floated in the pool with me. The other sat on the edge testing the water, talking about the science of pH. Recreational time with my teens is so important. Our conversations wander. Sometimes it’s quantum physics, sometimes it’s the newest Star Trek Online release, and sometimes it’s water.

Today, we talked about water, how it’s soft flowing around our legs. My youngest pointed out if you tried to push through it fast, however, it becomes hard.

He thinks about life and philosophy a lot (he’s the one to bring up quantum physics), and after I connected that observation to Dao, his analytical mind immediately identified the problem with my belief.

I say “problem” because that’s what critics, like my son, say. The “problem” with Laozi is he’s a fatalist, even a nihilist. After all, isn’t he telling us willpower may be a problem, that competition is a failure of imagination, and that life’s foundation is chaos born of creativity?

Yes.

Like water, Dao flows and when we move with it, we find peace. When we fight the current or push through the softness with demanding strokes, we struggle. It’s the difference between trying to make options appear versus choosing among the options that do appear. It’s the difference between deciding who we’re going to be versus discovering who we are.

For my son at 14, Dao is limiting. Daoism tells him that life is mysterious and unpredictable, so contrary to his perception, his days are not really about making his life happen as much as responding to what happens. He sculpts his life from the clay he’s given and finds that depressing.

To me at 53, Dao is unlimited. Daoism tells me that life is mysterious and unpredictable, so as I’ve discovered, my days are not about structuring everything around me, but adapting and responding. I sculpt my life from the clay I’m given and find that exciting.

Life is the creativity of the storyteller, not the blueprint of the architect. I love approaching life this way because I’m liberated from the responsibility of making things happen, making things work, from achieving and competing. I leave all those “shoulds” behind and simply live my story.

My dad once told me he had had a happy life because he never really had any goals. He told me that when I was young, and I found it funny. Of COURSE you’ll be happy if you never care to achieve something, I thought, because you never struggle and compete, risking failure. In time, I saw his words differently, because my dad absolutely had failures and successes, sad times and hard times, joy and blessed events. He only meant he didn’t live with a plan. He had no expectations from life but took what came his way.

I’m so much my father’s daughter.

I find the uncertainty, the surprises, the serendipity to be the joy in life. I prefer not to know what’s coming next, not because I fear it, but the joy of life is the process of adaptation. I so much don’t want to predict and plan that I don’t even want to know what’s going to happen next in my fiction writing: I’ve never written an outline but the story unwinds on my keyboard. This adaptation to the unknown is another feature I love about CrossFit: different work outs every day and I never try to look ahead at what they are before I show up.

I’ve made so many strange turns in my life, lived vastly different lifestyles in nearly every decade, and I could not have planned or predicted most of what happened.

I embrace change. In fact, I’ve had people tell me I am “change incarnate,” but I’m sure that’s because it is a hard experience for them.

Seeing my children grow up has been a hard change for me. Every age is a joy to see, but there’s grief at the loss of the former, and I could never have predicted those feelings. I miss my cuddly babies, my curious toddlers, my preteen adventurers. This loss, more even than deaths I’ve experienced, has softened me to the difficulty many people have with change.

So I appreciate the lesson…and keep coaxing my kids to swim with me.

My 15-year-old knows everything

This week has been filled with conversations with my oldest child. The conversations are about his future, as well as opinions on everything I have to say about life.

In other words, my 15-year-old knows everything.

As I listened to him telling me I was wrong to think this or label that, I held myself back from arguing. I had my say and let him have his say. At the risk of sounding condescending, I realize I have 4 decades more of life experience than he does. And while his perspective is and will be different, experience in itself changes us all in similar ways.

I’m not sure there is any benefit to a young person having the perspective that I have. I can’t imagine the difficulty a young person would have striking out into the world with the circumspection, compromise, and humility that my 53 years of life have given me. Building a life, relationships, education, and career are helped with the belief that the world is black & white, that people and events follow principles one can know, that maintaining one’s principles through hardship is a virtue, and that an ultimate meaning exists and will make itself obvious at some point in the future.

So, young people, don’t sweat it now. Stay busy connecting, gathering, and building as you create your life.

It was a similar situation with my girlfriend, who was 25 years younger than me. After three years together, we broke up this winter. It was a wonderful relationship in many ways, even when we disagreed. We often talked about life in general ways. She had different priorities, and I had twice the life experience as she, so there was quite a bit of disconnect. Still, I wasn’t there to change her, to convince her of anything. I just wanted to share my thoughts, but she wanted a right and wrong. I was sharing ideas about which we were both “right” from our own perspectives, while she felt one of us had to be wrong and argued as such.

In time, she will likely see the other side of the dichotomies she now ardently enforces through her language and choice. In time, she may come to believe, like me, that the differences are less about right/wrong than about both/neither and not really oppositions at all. And much of what we discussed was context-dependent, something you can truly understand only when you see yourself change. But gaining that perspective at her age rather than at my age, as a product of debate rather than from living, is not helpful. The perspective she has now is how she navigates her twenties. She needs to live her twenties without a 53-year-old perspective getting in the way.

I was thinking about this because I ran across a few writings by Daoists that mention age as an aspect of Daoist belief.

One mentioned that children should not be raised Daoist by their parents, because they should make their own choice when they are mature. The other mentioned that Daoism is a way of living that appeals more to those over, say, 50 years old. I’m sorry to say I don’t have the links. I try to keep track of such things so those reading here can read further elsewhere, but I’ve processed quite a lot this week.

The ultimate pursuit of the Dao is about cultivating oneself — self-transformation. Noncoercive action (wuwei), unprincipled knowing (wuzhi), and objectless desire (wuyu) allow the process of living to unfold spontaneously on its own terms. This is a place age brings us to as we begin to lose our social and economic powers in the world. But it’s also a way of living that many of us embrace because we come to realize that we never really had control, despite what youth had us believing.

As a young person, I knew if I could clearly label the world, make “good” choices, and maintain my principles through hardship, I would be successful.

I smile — affectionately — at my 20-year-old self.

What’s a hedonist after all

My oldest sister experienced a midlife transformation. She had been a rather “wild” adolescent and politically liberal until she was about fifty. At that time she joined the Catholic Church, became highly involved in her parish’s activities, and then judgments rolled from her tongue with the sweet blindness of a person blessed with 2000 years of a patriarchal thumbs up.

She became estranged from my mother and me after a Facebook argument that turned personal, as they tend to do. I was blamed for escalating the argument. Perhaps I am to blame. I defended my mother who felt humiliated by my sister. That was about 10 years ago.

Today, I am the evil in the family. My sister warns her grown kids to avoid me because I am a “hedonist.” The word popped into my mind today due to a falling out between my niece and her mother. If my niece attended church and just stayed away from me, she wouldn’t be falling into ways that are “not of god.”

When I first heard the label applied to me, I was hurt. Summing up all I am in this one-dimensional word was disheartening. But today I laughed because, for a hedonist, I sure don’t have that much fun.

I assume my sister uses that label because she heard from someone at some time that I live a polyamorous bisexual lifestyle. I wonder what her imagination conjures up.

It can’t be the reality of self-discipline I apply to: what I eat, when I eat, how I push myself to exercise consistently, reading and reflection, meditative work, the committed relationships I develop, the limits I place on what I buy, the internal work I do to minimize my judgments, the time I set aside from personal pursuits for my kids, and the jobs I purposely choose to challenge me to grow as a moral entity and friend. Hell, I’m even looking at returning to pursue an MA. Where’s the “pleasure” in any of that?

I mean, it’s not like I’m a smoker who doesn’t quit, obese because I don’t control my desire for sugar, parroting arguments I find online because I haven’t made the effort to reflect on these moral ideas for myself, having lied and cheated on a partner, and in a marriage lacking in serious ways because I don’t feel it’s my responsibility to compromise. In other words, I’m not someone who treats god’s creation as shit because I can’t control my appetites for food, stimulants, physical comfort, and pride. Now that would be a hedonist.

The argument I have received from Christians when I point out their hypocrisy is that yes, we are all sinners, but that doesn’t mean you get a pass on your sin just because I sin, too. I see where they are coming from with that. Except that judging others’ sins is exactly what Jesus said we should not do. It’s the Church who would have you swimming in self-righteousness as you decide to speak for god. As if she needs the help.

Humans do a good job of corrupting a good message in pursuit of power and authority.

I will try to do more not-doing. I would like to spend less time reflecting on judgmental Christians. If the intersection with my niece didn’t present itself like it does, I would rarely think about my sister. So today, I’ll leave the nominal Christians to commit their Pelagian heresies in ignorance.

I care less about sin than stories. And my story today is, I sure wish I was a little more hedonistic.