Chicago: 8 Months Ago

Dear Keatsway.

I meant to publish this post last November. Better late than never they say. Let’s hope they are right.

[8 months ago!] I flew to Chicago.

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I went to attend a conference on writing. Now not necessarily the kind you do for a living or on paper, but rather life writing. Of course I wanted to do both–learn how to write my life and how to write for a living. The conference was called Storyline.

When I booked a ticket to the conference and the city, Chicago, I was in one fluid motion combining my love of writing, travel, and story.  One of the joys of solo travel has always been the exhilaration of finding your way on your own terms. Being open to whatever the city will reveal to you about it’s character and the person you become as your new surroundings mold you. The city becomes then a coauthor of your experience. You impact it as much as it impacts you.

So as I landed in Chicago I reveled in the challenge of finding the right terminal to track down my CouchSurfing host, get the keys to my temporary living space for the next few days and find my way across this new and exciting city. If I could travel for a living and write about it, oh I would.

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The next morning, as I rocked back and forth on the train from the city to the countryside to the farthest reaches of Chicagoland, I looked out across open fields and endless possibility, feeling equally open and boundless myself.

Keatsway, there is nothing quite like seeing your favorite authors in person, especially if you’re a writer. It’s a heady rush of excitement and revelation. You finally hear them (Donald Miller, Shawna Niequist, etc.) speak out loud what you’ve been reading in their books for years. All their vulnerability, fears, heartaches and mistakes on their journey to a gradual success have twice as much gravity embodied by their presence and shared eye contact. Their presence adds more credibility to their stories while presenting you with a greater responsibility and accountability to live out your own.

This conference reinforced everything I’d been studying about stories for the past two years and reminded me why I was so drawn to them in the first place. Stories have an uncanny way of drawing the reader in by presenting high stakes and an unlikely protagonist. The harder the struggle, the greater the reward, mirroring life.

I’ve wondered, though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don’t want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgment. We don’t want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage. And if life isn’t remarkable, then we don’t have to do any of that; we can be unwilling victims rather than grateful participants.  -Donald Miller

And of course, in between conference sessions, I met my own tribe of writers and storytellers. We ate lunch and dinner together and stayed up late waiting for the last train back to Chicago. We shared backstories about how we ended up at Storyline and dreams for the future, scheming about how we could find the courage to make them a reality. 8 months later, we are still in touch.

Who knew the city where I have experienced the most delays would become the city that would inspire me the most. How’s that for irony?

XO,

Brightstar

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The Holy Tussle : Longing for England

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Dear Keatsway,

Lately I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to write. I’ve started so many new projects this year (a small group based on Storyline, a church sermon, new presentations at work, a cooking frenzy) that I am worried I won’t finish the one project that matters the most: graduate school applications for England.  I feel like I am in the midst of the final struggle between almost finishing and not quite. I fear I’ll end up stuck in this in between zone, the holy tussle.

Transformation of any kind always exacts a kind of holy tussle.  The newborn butterfly struggles to open its wings so it can conjure up the strength to fly.  So, too, with artists, inventors, mystics and entrepreneurs. –Tama Kieves

What happens if a butterfly never masters the struggle to open its wings?
Does it lose its opportunity to transform?

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It took a lot of gumption three years ago to navigate all the major shifts in my life.  To graduate with my first Master’s, apply for an American job, move to America, start a new job, make new friends, orient myself to American culture. And now that I have a steady job and have settled into a routine, making a leap seems like a contradiction. Why move when I live in a nice city with good friends and full time employment?

I thrive on change and challenge, even though it terrifies me most of the time. Yet when I become too comfortable a ripple of restlessness runs through me. I am a nomad at heart, and my desire for travel and adventure take over. To make this crazy dream reality–to become an English graduate student– I have to  first overcome my own setbacks:  insecurity, procrastination, and uncertainty.

Until I send my application my life will feel out of focus. My situation could transform in an instant, but it’s blurry until I move past this transition phase.  I can’t see farther than the next step ahead of me, like a foggy landscape at dusk. I know there is a pink horizon on the other side, but for now all I see is white haze.

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Visions of a new continent, a new city, new challenges whirl past me, and I wonder if my dream to study English in a graduate program in the UK will someday become a reality. I admire you Keatsway for already making so many of your postgraduate dreams come true: working in Johannesburg and in a few days Geneva. I only hope I can use your successes as a springboard for my own.

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In the meantime, I’ll keep doing what I know how to do best. Attend my weekly yoga class and stay grounded.  Keep my shoulders back, my heart forward. Breathe deeper, reach further than I did a moment earlier. Maybe moving past the holy tussle is as easy as deciding to trust yourself. Trust that I know what the next step is,  that I’ve been here before, and I will eventually make it to the other side of this white fog to the bright clarity of a new horizon.

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Hoping this upbeat perspective lasts beyond my yoga class,

xo Brightstar