Our Little Worlds / by Michelle Cowan

Today, I listened to a story on This American Life about a woman who hd collected dozens of books over the years, all inscribed with dedications from loved ones. However, every dedication had been written in her own hand… and most were addressed from relatives who were no longer living at the time of the supposed signing. A mixture of thoughts came up about this. Certainly, a certain sadness surrounds her actions, but a hopefulness, too. Instead of pity or puzzlement, I primarily felt amazement at her creativity.

Personally, this sounds like something I would do. Why not imagine that people I once knew cared enough about me to give me books I truly would enjoy? Thinking of what they might say, what I’d want them to say, and the difference between the two would be very revealing. It is very revealing—an unanswerable quandary worth examining.

A second story concerned a woman who periodically quits whatever job she has in order to take care of her children, who she raises by herself. Sometimes, when she needs to return to work again, it takes months to find employment. She built a whole strategy behind looking for work, including how long to wait before she stops being picky and takes whatever job becomes available (60 days).

Do many people do this: quit jobs without having another one in their back pocket? It seems like an incredible feat to me, even though I realize that people do it all the time. It makes me wonder if I should quit my job, thereby pushing myself into a position where I have to make music, write, and be creative in other ways to make ends meet. Pushed myself into that corner strikes me as something romantic and exciting. I hope the creative juices would be forced out, and my energies could be channeled into areas I never considered before.

I have considered the quitting and blazing a new trail option many times. Just quit, I tell myself, and see what happens. I’ll have to pay the rent, so I will pay the rent. I’ll need to make money. But how? A way would emerge.

Will I one day be brave enough to step out on that ledge? Could I cope with a life without as much security as I have now? Part of me doubts it—mostly because I’ve proved how insane (for lack of a better word) I tend to become without external structures. It gets very difficult for me to live outside any set boundary or even to adhere a framework of my own creation.

Or am I not trusting in how much I’ve grown and my own abilities? What if I fully trusted myself? Do you fully trust yourself to live without a paycheck or a job to go to most days of the week? Many of you live that way. How do you feel about it? Where do your structures come from? Do you need any?

I have no idea how healthy my current thoughts and propensities in this area really are. One day, I will back myself into a corner if that’s what I want. But I’d rather find innovative ways to start shining right now, in the midst of my cushy bimonthly-paycheck-inclusive life.

But so much potential exists—in me and in every individual. How can we find the circumstances under which we will flourish and grow? Can we find the courage to look? Or will they come on their own? Is it about trying anything and everything? Is it about removing expectations and figuring out how to “show up” for life? What happens if we don’t “show up”?

Is the act of writing a dedication to yourself of the same value as a book inscribed with someone else’s writing? Is working creatively within the bounds you currently have equally important as reaching beyond boundaries and finding new places to thrive? I can only pray for avenues of expansion to appear and for me to have the motivation and bravery to walk down them. I pray the same for you.