Friday, July 16, 2010

Κυκλάμινο (Cyclamen)

Back when I was in the hospital after falling off my horse and fracturing my skull, a dear friend brought me a plant: a beautiful cyclamen with blood-red flowers. When she lived in Greece, she explained, she always saw κυκλάμινο, the cyclamen, growing in wild and dangerous places. When she saw the plant in the gift shop, it reminded her of me.

Photos I’ve seen of the cyclamen in the wild show its flowers springing up from leaves nearly invisible in cracks in the rocks. That lovely, tenacious, tough little plant flourishes in “impossible” situations. The cyclamen feels like a symbol I can hold on to, not just because my friend sees me like that, but because I recognize those qualities in myself. And I need that symbol in my life right now, when I’m trying so hard to find the next steps on my life’s path.

I have never thought of myself as a risk-taker. I was a pretty timid kid who never rode fast on her bike, was scared to cross a creek on a log, hung out by herself, and never broke a bone (until a month ago). But there were exceptions to this.

Throughout my life, I have found myself taking on certain risks and challenges because of something I believed in very strongly. Sometimes the risks were in relationships, sometimes they involved goals or directions in life. Like the cyclamen growing on a dry and rocky slope, I’ve persevered at these times, sometimes with little or no encouragement and, seemingly, with little or no chance of succeeding. Sometimes things worked out; sometimes they didn’t.

One example is my dissertation. The dissertation was its long and wrenching process, or maybe the process was the dissertation. Either way, to call it unconventional is an understatement. It took six years of watching “nothing” happen, of trying in vain to piece together pieces that didn’t seem to go together, and waiting—just waiting—for understanding to emerge from chaos. Not even my advisor truly believed I’d finish—I know he was convinced that I was going to be just another “All But Dissertation” PhD student.

But I just kept going, despite how dangerous it seemed in terms of ever getting it accomplished. It took a very long time indeed! My dissertation defense occurred within a week of my "drop-dead" date, the absolutely last day, after which my entire eight years at Pacifica would have been for nothing, at least officially.

I certainly never envisioned myself as radical in any way. But when I first proposed my topic, my advisor said, "Wow. That's really out there!" And the statement in the abstract, “a radical approach that … refigures the traditional distinction between research as scholarly reflection and the act of being in the world” is almost verbatim my advisor’s response when, after a couple of years of hearing nothing from me, he read the final draft. Interestingly, the same friend who gave me the cyclamen was with me the evening I heard those words over the phone.

The dissertation process itself was so emotionally risky. During that time I ended up questioning pretty much everything I thought I knew, everything I thought I was. Some of it held true, some had to be let go in order for new wisdom to enter. But I kept it up, day after uncertain day, until finally the thing coalesced and I could piece together the final story.

I need to keep that process, that journey, in mind as I move along the path toward building a viable career with my horses. It seems so unlikely that I’ll ever make a go of it financially, and no matter how emotionally and psychologically rewarding the work is, I and the horses have to eat and have a roof over our heads.

I just have to trust the process as it unfolds, follow where I am led, and keep moving. No old, outworn story of loss and defeat must stand in my way. I choose to move forward now, toward my dream.

Κυκλάμινο, be my guide!

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