"The best thing one can do when it's raining is to let it rain."

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Taking chances, diverging roads, and the Monomyth

Celine Dion, Robert Frost, and Joseph Campbell. Those are the three people that keep coming to my mind and making me think about things. It might seem like an odd assortment of individuals, but they all have one thing in common—they have been encouraging me to be brave and do hard things and all that stuff.

 I’m gonna start with Celine Dion and explain her role in all of this “encouragement.” When I was in high school, one of my best friends was Maggie Brown. We were bonded by our love of Anne Shirley, musicals, alias, and many other things. We also played on the tennis team together and had quite a few classes together. We giggled about boys together and all that good stuff. Our love of Alias inspired us to learn Morse code so we could pass secret messages in class. Let me just tell you, passing codes in Morse code is not that time efficient, but you feel super legit doing it. One of those “many other things,” that we shared a love for was actually a person. And that person is Celine Dion. We were big fans and we got to go see Celine’s show in Vegas (just a fun little fact that on our road trip to Vegas, we actually watched Alias in the car). Everything about the trip was awesome, and Celine is just such an inspiration. She is always there when you need her—be it for a dance party, a long car ride, a bad break-up… This week she has been there for me with this reminder…

It's a weird music video, but you get the idea. Hopefully. “What do you say to taking chances? What do you say to jumping off the edge?” These past few weeks… or past few months.. this past year… let’s go with that! This year was one of those years where I had to answer the question: “What do I say to taking chances?” Am I going to stay in my comfort zone or am I going to try new things? Am I going to push myself? Or am I going to stick with the status quo? One of my esteemed friends asked me that recently, and I thought it was a very apt description of my current situation. Am I going to stick with what I have known? Am I going to stay in Provo? Or am I going to Boston? Or elsewhere?
As I almost broke down crying in Smith’s market the other day, I realized that as much as I might want to stay here—stay home—that isn’t going to help me grow as much. And yes, my almost breaking down in embarrassing sobs near the apple cider was a real thing. The apple cider had nothing to do with it, though it is a very nostalgia-inducing drink. I kept it together, but only until I got home. And when I got home, I listened to this song and cried...

I’m not dramatic at all. My mother would tell you that too. “Tara? Oh no, Tara is not dramatic in the slightest.” We shall pretend that it adds to my charm… or something… or that it makes life more exciting? Just pretend with me, here!

Anyway, as I was making my decision, I started into the whole “Why the heck did I even apply for this in the first place?!” I tried to blame my mom for letting me, but that didn’t go over very well because in her version of the story, “She tried to talk me out of it.” Or something like that. She seems to think I’m slightly stubborn and strong-willed. I’m not sure where she gets that idea from! That is all beside the point, however, because for some reason I did decide to apply and sometimes I have to remind myself why I applied in the first place.

When I first heard about Teach for America, I was a college freshman and I already knew that I was going to go into English teaching.  I was (and probably still am) an idealist and believed all of that “be the change you wish to see in the world” stuff. I believed that education changes lives and that literacy improves quality of life. I believed the words of Anne Frank as she said, “Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!” Anne Frank knew there was something great within each of us, but so many youth in the world today lack that same understanding and knowledge of their potential. Every student has that “piece of goodness,” but they do not always see it. Or worse, others do not see it in them. As Goethe says, “The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.” I still believe those things and Teach for America is all about helping students across the nation recognize that they are awesome by giving them the best education possible. I believed all that, and I still do.

But, realistically, kids everywhere need to hear the good news that they are awesome. Not just in the “ghettos” and low-income communities of our country. They also need to hear that in Provo and I’ve sure been doing my best to try and help my students push themselves and try new things and all that good stuff, so I was trying to find reasons to stay. 

Which brings me to my Robert Frost segment… I feel like Robert Frost is one of those poets that everybody loves. I bet there is a very alarming statistic for how many times some of his poetry has been recited at, like, high school graduations and stuff. The pessimist in me is all “Yeah! Nothing gold can stay! You are totally right!” But then the rest of me is just like “But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep.” So when I’m in the midst of all these decisions and stuff, I hear Robert Frost’s voice (or some other guy reading his poems, cuz I can’t claim to actually know what Robert’s voice is like..) being like, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…” And yeah, we all know, you took the road less traveled and that has made all the difference. Well, bully for you, Robert Frost. Bully for you. We are all just soooo happy for you (please note the sarcasm).

As I was looking at my two roads, I was thinking about the “less traveled road” option and I started thinking about what the point of taking the road less traveled would be, or rather, could potentially be. It seems silly to take a road just because it is "less traveled." You have to have a reason! 

So I started thinking about this whole idea more and sure, Frost wrote of these two roads, diverging in a wood. But, he never told us what to do if both roads were an adventure. He never said what to do if both led to the fulfillment of different hopes and dreams--different end games. Everybody has a different role and a different responsibility in life and the roads we take lead us to fulfill that destiny. Or make our destiny. However you choose to look at it. Maybe there will always be two roads that diverge, but maybe the person we become could be the same, no matter the road. Frost spoke of the importance of which road we take. I’m no expert, but I can’t help but feel that instead of talking about the paths and choices, instead there should be talk about the reason for choosing a path. The reason for choosing a path is far more important than the actual path. Making that kind of a choice requires an understanding of self and when we understand ourselves, we don’t need some path to make the difference for us, because we can be the ones to make a difference. And the reason we choose a path will make all the difference. Or maybe Robert was totally right and I just am overthinking. Which I never do. Ever. Just ask my mom.

And that is where Joseph Campbell enters the scene.  In all of this overthinking, I thought about these two options. And thought about them. And pondered. And prayed. All through the process, I knew it was one of those things that I had to figure out on my own. At least six different times I made the choice and told myself that I was going to Boston. I was determined and knew that it was the most logical of the options (I mean, a masters at Boston University and fulfilling my East Coast dreams?!). But each time I settled upon this choice, I just felt awful and it just didn't stick. Usually when I make the right choice and move forward, the other options sort of fade away and I don't think about them again. This time, however, the other option kept coming back to my mind, making me uncertain. I didn't feel right about Boston, but I didn't feel right about staying. By this point, I was getting a little frustrated. So then I started thinking about other options. Because making a choice between two options isn’t hard enough, I just figured I would throw another one into the mix. I’m smart like that (again, note the sarcasm).  

Now, in order to tell this properly, I feel like I need to go back in time a little bit. Rewind, if you will… .A few months before I was in major decision-making mode, I had this wild idea, a crazy notion, and thought about applying for a masters program at Oxford. As I was thinking about doing that, I had this “hallows” and “horcruxes” moment where I realized that I was wanting to chase hallows, but I really needed to stick with the horcruxes. If you don’t get the reference, do humanity a favor, go to your local library, and get yoself a copy of Harry Potter. STAT. And ASAP. I didn’t apply for Oxford and I wasn’t really sure why I didn’t feel it was right, but I didn’t. Then I went through this month that I like to call October (other people may or may not call it that too), and, to be perfectly honest, it was a crazy month for me. And crazy in the “I have no idea what I’m doing with my life” sort of way. Also the busy kind of crazy. I don’t like using the “r” word, but the “r” word probably applies. It was a little rough. I was trying to figure a few things out and though I knew that Heavenly Father was very aware of my situation, I was not getting too many hints.

 So consider that just a little flashback, and now we are back to the part where I was considering a third option. I was in my classroom pondering these potential “third options” and then I checked my email. In my inbox there was an email from a BYU guy that I had never heard of. Usually I skip over these emails, but this one I actually looked at. In the email it said something like “You meet some of the basic requirements for these scholarships and programs, you should think about applying.” The first one on the list was this Cambridge program. I felt a thrill in my heart and thought, “Hmm… this is a stretch, but it could maybe be my third option. Can’t hurt to try.” Maybe not those exact words, but that idea. My application was due like the next week and everything sort of just fell into place. I felt good about applying and just went for it. One particular evening, I was having a really hard time writing and so I went for my usual "writer’s block walk" and had a little heart-to-heart with Heavenly Father and begged for help. When I got back to my apartment, I started over and wrote something ten million times better than I originally had. Miracles are real!

About a week after that, I got this really frightening email inviting me to an interview. With Cambridge people. Over Skype. Frightening in the sense that the email was beautifully worded and the phrasing was impeccable and so proper-- I vacillated for over ten minutes as to whether I should end with “sincerely” or “respectfully” or some other farewell! Talk about pressure!

  I was pretty pumped about just getting an interview, and I prepared as much as I possibly could. My getting ready routine was probably a little ridiculous, but I felt pretty prepared going in—or, as well as one could be prepared for something that they totally aren’t prepared for. I’ll just be honest in saying that the two ladies that interviewed me were super intimidating. One was this stoic, firm Russian lady who speak English with a hint of an accent. The other lady was a little younger and a little more chipper—British. They both gave nothing away. I got the British lady to smile a few times and felt pretty accomplished. Then she asked me about Posthumanism and I felt a little less awesome about making her smile….

 The interview ended and it was intense. For reals. They told me they would be in contact soon. Fast forward a few days (no, literally, just a few days). I was driving home from some family thing and I had this moment where it just hit me that I really wanted to go to Cambridge. I really wanted to study literature, especially ridiculous, impractical literature. That is my favorite kind. I had always told myself that if I ever went to grad school at a “big school,” I would study something totally crazy. Studying literature at Cambridge would be a dream come true. I wanted it real bad. I have only ever felt that intense longing on one other occasion—and that was a few days before I opened up my mission call. 

 I went to bed with a prayer in my heart and I woke up to an email from Cambridge—I had been accepted. Dreams do come true. And miracles happen. (Adding to the miracles of the situation, I actually found out that you can't even apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same year. The whole not applying to Oxford thing made a little more sense when I found that out!) 

 To tie Joseph Campbell into this crazy tale, he wrote about the monomyth, or hero’s journey, and in this journey, there are these seventeen different stages for the hero to accomplish their task or challenge or quest. Or whatever. I’m no hero, but I do think that everybody is the hero of their own life… so by those standards, I am the hero of my own life. I was thinking about this hero’s journey and I realized that I went through some of those stages to get where I am now. But I also realized that I have a few more stages still. I’m not going to bore you with the parallels and details—but I’m just telling you now, the applicability of the hero’s journey is a real thing. You should try applying it to your own life sometime and I think you will be surprised at how heroic you actually are. If you ever want to talk about the hero's journey, just give me a call. I love talking about it. It's fascinating to me. For realsies. (For more information on the hero's journey, you can try this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monomyth)

 Anyway,  I’m to this point now where I still have those diverging roads, and I still have my good intentions and dreams and all the stuff in between. Whether I end up in Cambridge, Massachusetts or Cambridge, England or Provo, Utah, I'm not sure. But, I have Celine singing to me, reminding me to “take chances.” I have Frost to encourage me to “take the road less traveled”—while I still maintain that it is important to analyze intentions and the reasons for taking a certain road. I have Joseph Campbell to remind me that I am a hero in my own life and being in the belly of the whale and receiving supernatural aid are all part of the journey (along with all those other steps). Whatever adventure I choose, whatever thresholds I cross or do not cross, at the end of my story, I just still want to be the hero that never gave up on the quest.

Cue Don Quixote singing this...