I drove up to Flint on Tuesday to see my T., whom I met in Peru a couple of winters ago and who now runs a great little Vietnamese food counter in the Flint Farmer’s Market. I admire T. greatly; he is one of the few people I know who seems to have a total trust in the unknown. When he came back from South America he started a food truck on a whim, and just a few months later he was asked if he wanted a spot in the market. Doors seem to open magically for him; last weekend he was a contestant on a Food Network cooking show, and now local investors are talking to him about opening a restaurant. He mentioned too that the Flint water crisis has led a lot of different groups – media, politicians, volunteers – to converge on the city, and one silver lining is that it’s been a boon for local businesses.
Maybe it was seeing T. again that put me in a reflective mood. That and the sense that, as I wait for another round of feedback on the manuscript, the writing process for this book is drawing to a close. On my drive back I started thinking about old projects and hobbies, particular the ones that I had long abandoned, and I wondered what the difference was between those and the things that I stuck with till the end. I tend to hold follow-through in high esteem, but at the same time I’m wary of tunnel-vision. How best to consolidate the two?
There seems to be a moment toward the end of every process (or stage in a process) when your head comes back up and you see with a sudden clarity the implications of going further, of moving on to the next part, and the work that follows. I can think of two specific projects at my former design studio in New York that we had had ready to go but nixed at the last moment. More recently and personally I stopped kendo a few months ago, and it happened shortly after the sensei gave me the go-ahead to buy the necessary pads to start sparring with the other students. I suddenly saw the path ahead – more and longer practices, yearly exams and tournaments – and I couldn’t see myself walking those steps. What I told myself at the time was that I was in a place in my life where I was trying to shed my armor, not get more of it.
But I wonder about these things. They’re my what-ifs, because they could very easily have happened, and impacted my life greatly as a result. Why didn’t I follow through? How much of it was the fear of letting my life get taken on a trajectory I had not fully anticipated? Or a fear having a part of myself out in the open, susceptible to criticism (or the strikes of a bamboo sword)? How much of it was indeed clear-eyed, and led to freedom from things I was stuck doing for the wrong reasons? How should I approach choices like these in the future?
I don’t think there’s a blanket answer to any of these questions. I don’t think it’s as easy as following your fear, either, because sometimes surface fears hide deeper ones, and they weigh on both sides of the scale. All I can think to do right now is accept the complexity of those cold-footed feelings, and not try to rid myself of any fear or indecisiveness. I can admire follow-through without seeing the willing departure from something as a lack thereof.