Shane Battier, current Miami Heat backup and erstwhile Duke Blue Devil, recently said "Sometimes you've got to eat a turd sandwich. Makes the ribeye taste better next time."
Happy breakfast, sports fans!
While his choice of analogy was perhaps somewhat inelegant or distasteful, his point was perfect for recent (and current) events in the life of this fancy-pants writer and wanderer.
For a multitude of reasons, I've recently taken a position far, far away from home, with "home" being defined as that place where I live in peace and harmony with my beloved Miss Aunt Lisa, Toby, the Notorious Z.O.E. (she loves it when you call her big Paw-Paw), and sometimes the lovely and wholly insane Lady Lauren.
While at an intellectual level these circumstances did not appear to be particularly daunting, the effect has been unsettling to say the least (though I rarely ever say the least).
I traded our beautiful home in Winter Springs, Florida for a one-bedroom apartment just outside the heart of downtown Johnson City, Tennessee. Instead of spending evenings with my beloved bride, I sit alone in a mostly empty apartment, in a new city and state away from all family and friends, furry or otherwise, starting at a new job where I know no one, even in a brand-new industry that is as foreign to me as the language spoken by East Tennessee natives.
Of course, on a scale of "I just won the Powerball!" to "I live under the sewer," my "plight" certainly falls somewhere nearer the big money.
But life isn't lived on an intellectual scale. It's lived in the feelings and emotions of the now.
For more pragmatically oriented folk, our situation is really not that bad. However for someone like me who embraces the feelings and sense of life's experiences, it has been a pretty "turd sandwich" of a week.
But the beauty of life in this realm is that we can draw positives even from the turd sandwich times. The key is to keep on chewing because the sandwich ain't gonna go away on its own.
This seems particularly true for writers. As the reaction to Battier's turd comment shows, people aren't interested in reading stories about ribeyes. But tell one "turd sandwich" story and people start quoting it in their blogs.
Stories of people's struggles are interesting. People don't struggle through the good times and as a result, these rarely make for interesting stories. But everyone has rough times, the times that challenge who they are and their ability to navigate life's challenges. And the truths that emerge from these experiences are the things that fuel good stories.
As I mentioned, my experiences of this week don't compare to the life-and-death struggles of people who are living in war-ravaged lands, wonder where their next meal is coming from, or suffering abuse or worse.
But my experiences are human experiences. Humans have them and dark experiences -- and navigating them -- are at the heart of good stories.
One thing that's stayed in my mind throughout this week is that my experiences and the accompanying feelings provide fodder for future stories. As a result, I've written a lot this week, mostly rambling, hand-scribbled, angst-ridden screeds in my trusty notebook. And as I reach the end of this first week of being apart from my Beloved, the following themes have emerged:
- I love my wife. As we write the mission statement for our life, it begins and ends with "together."
- People are kind. If you let them, people will demonstrate a seemingly endless capacity for compassion and caring. Throughout the course of the week, I've had more meaningful human interaction with my mother, sister, sons, and wonderful friends than in the previous two years combined. Sad, I know.
- "Different" does not mean "wrong" They talk funny up here and Ingles is not Publix. But differences pry my brain open so new stuff can get jammed in there. This is good.
- There is comfort in the familiar. Though different can be new and exciting (and not terminal), there is profound comfort in the little things in life. Throughout this week, it was the little things that brought comfort. Stopping by the local store of our favorite grocery store chain, for example, made me feel like I was walking alongside the beautiful Miss Aunt Lisa. That was nice.
- Hot Pockets are not a dinner. OK...not all of these lessons are profound. Some just make good gastrointestinal sense.
So I guess the moral of this little drama -- if you have to have a moral -- is that bad times are sometimes good. They're good for the spirit because they force you to reassess where you are and where you're going. They're good because they give you a chance to see what really matters to you and to connect with others.
For a writer, bad times are good because they force you to remember what they feel like. And these feelings are the heart of good stories. The bad times force you to dig deep into the human psyche and what you find there are the things that the characters in your stories will feel as they face their dark night of the spirit. These feelings are what you have to be able to call on in order to bring your stories to life, to make them real and identifiable for the readers.
So sometimes a turd sandwich is necessary for a writer, therefore good.
And sometimes a turd Hot Pocket is all you've got for dinner.