Friday, November 23, 2012

Sea Change

by Sheila Connolly

Have you had moments in your life when you felt as though your personal universe has rotated on its axis, just a bit, and things aren't the way they were before?

It doesn't have to be one of those big life events—a birth or death, a job loss or move, or (if you're a writer) a phone caller who says, "we want to buy your book."  We all recognize those, and mark them on our calendars to celebrate again and again.

Nor am I thinking of those moments when you hover over the Send button and tell yourself, if I do this, things will change.

I'm thinking of something more subtle yet more pervasive.  You may not even notice it when or while it's happening, but suddenly you look back and say, what just happened? When? It's not any one event but a string of events, small in themselves but cumulative.

I've always called this a "sea change," but online sources tell me I'm wrong, that a sea change is a larger, more significant transformation.  Most sources agree that it originated with Shakespeare in The Tempest.

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

Would that we all could enjoy the "rich and strange" part, but obviously in this case, the late father has been radically transformed by death.

Maybe what I'm thinking of what most people would call "luck." You may believe you have a luck ration for your life—you're lucky, you're unlucky, consistently over time.  Or maybe both—you win at cards, but you get into fender-benders a lot. It's your own luck ranking—and sometimes it changes.

Once upon a time I thought I was a lucky person (or at least that's what I wanted to think).  On the plus side, I've lead an interesting life; I've had wonderful educational opportunities and some stimulating jobs with great co-workers; I'm in a long-term marriage, with a smart, funny daughter we both adore; I've finally found a profession that I love and that is very rewarding to me.

But if I were a glass-half-empty person, I could say that I'm the product of a broken home, with an alcoholic father and a depressive mother; that we moved all over the map when I was growing and even since; that I've had multiple, diverse careers and have been unceremoniously booted from several positions and I never even saw it coming; that my husband is nearing retirement and has no idea what he wants to do with the rest of his life because he has no interests outside of work; that my daughter is still "finding herself" at 27.

Weirdly enough, it all goes into my writing—my last, best career.  I may complain about the non-linear track of my employment, but along the way I gathered experience and knowledge that go far beyond what I could find just doing Google research.  It's as though I've been in training to be a writer for my whole life.

That's what I would call the sea change: the happy surprise of finding a whole new direction in my life, long after I expected to. The turn that lets me use everything that has come before in a meaningful way. And the only choice I have is to welcome and embrace the change.



Edith Maxwell said...

I love this essay, Sheila. My life and career has also taken some sharp turns along the way: linguist, speech researcher, farmer, childbirth educator, technical writer. But one of the happiest is, like yours, the most recent - this budding "last best" career of being a publishing fiction author. Whee! And when I can see my (financial) way clear to ditch the penultimate career of writing software manuals and focus solely on the fiction, I will be content.

Jennifer Harlow said...

I got used to life changing events early on. My dad moved us every three years. I got his restless spirit and since college have moved five times. I've switched jobs multiple times too. To look on the bright side I can talk to anyone in any walk of life, I can entertain myself, I'm highly adaptable all of which is excellent for a writer. I've heard most actors moved around too, wonder if it's the same for all creative people.

Julia Buckley said...

A lovely philosophical reflection! I am familiar with these feelings, but also with the idea that growth cannot happen without those rather terrifying moments, big and small.

Yet what waits on the other side of those moments can be a pleasant surprise--to use your example of The Tempest,King Alonso (the dead father) was indeed transformed, but he was not dead. His son had to go through many harrowing changes himself before he was rewarded with that information. :)

Sandra Parshall said...

I'll always be glad I worked as a newspaper reporter when I was young, because that brought me into contact with people I might never have encountered otherwise. And I'm glad I worked in West Virginia for a number of years, although I wasn't happy while I was there. I always knew I was a writer, but it took me a very long time to gain the experience and maturity to write publishable fiction. No experience is ever wasted.