centrifugal force: a story in two parts


(part 1: written sometime around 5/6/17)

My life in a lot of ways flows like a stream. Mostly, time has flowed along, with the occasional period of rockiness and white water, the stretches where the water flows with such stillness and clarity that you have to look closely to believe it’s really moving at all.

But it’s the eddies that have caught my attention lately.

By eddies, I mean the times life has circled back to a place I’ve been before. I’ve had probably more of those experiences than the average person.

The eddy I’m thinking about mostly now, though, is the one that circled back around in December two years ago. I left college in 1993 for a number of reasons, some of which were a lot more complicated and painful than I realized. It took writing and fine-tuning a difficult essay and making it through this past semester to bring that truth to the surface.

I’ve always viewed this pattern of returning as a gift. It’s a second chance, another opportunity to gather and add to the memories. It goes beyond nostalgia, though. Nostalgia stays in one place, holds the memories frozen in time. I’ve never really understood the attraction. The memories I’ve encountered in my two years back have been overlaid and intertwined with new ones. It’s more like I’m picking up where I left off this time, finishing something left undone. In a sense, Des Moines was somewhat like that.

But this is different.

What is different about it has been occupying my thoughts for the past couple months. My time is about up here. I graduate in May, and I don’t want to leave anything undone. But, yet, I have to be done. I suppose that’s the difficult thing here. I’ve

[This is where I was going to go into how I wasn’t going to continue on with my education… but I stopped writing, for whatever reason.]

(part two: 5/19/17)

But –a lot can happen in a few weeks.

Monday afternoon, I was sitting in the stands at my kids’ track meet –the same track meet, I was thinking to myself, where, between my kids’ events, I mentally wrote a risk-taking revision to a piece that was already bordering on dangerously vulnerable. I took the risk, partly because that hour or so spent at the track meet left me with little over an hour to revise that piece, which I was to read in public that evening. (No pressure.)

And the risk proved a good one, by the reaction of those who had also read the previous, struggling version I’d submitted for workshop the morning before. It may have saved the story, actually.

This year brought another unexpected confrontation with the risk monster. While musing on that memory, I pulled out my phone to check for messages, and found an email from the MFA program I’d been accepted to. Apparently, it seemed, they were still expecting me. Sigh. No big deal, I thought, I’ll call them tomorrow morning and set them straight.

And then, another email. “There was a mistake,” the email said, “we had you in the fiction concentration. That’s been fixed: your new class code is [some number code] with [the prof I would have hand-picked, given the chance].”

My heart about stopped. Suddenly, the whole reason I even decided to take the step to pursue the MFA came together, like my entire educational life flashing before my phone screen. The whole reason, you see, wasn’t to add another three letters (expensive letters, mind you) to my name. It wasn’t to prove I could do it. I wanted to do it so I could use it beyond myself. I wanted to experience writing in community, to be pushed to write something that would make contact with a reader. I wanted the option of teaching in higher ed myself someday.

Sam and I have had a running near-joke for a while that it would be a fun endeavor to find a Native-focused college somewhere –maybe Sinte Gleska or Red Cloud– and teach together. What more exciting thing could there be than to be in a classroom with young people brought up in a world that treasures story and storytelling, and to help them find their own voices, to give them the tools to better tell their own?

I don’t want to give too much away here, but the prof/mentor they had me set up with, I believe, is someone who could uniquely relate to that desire. This had to be God showing off again. Suddenly this whole MFA thing was, again, bigger than my own desire to do it. In two days, a lot of prayer, and a lot of counsel, I decided that there is no real reason beyond fear to postpone pursuing getting my MFA.

The program I’m admitted to, at Augsburg College (soon to be Augsburg University in September) in Minneapolis is a “low-residency” program, meaning I’ll do most of it via online and email correspondence with my mentor(s), and a ten-day summer residency each year. The other amazingly rare thing about this program? They offer a concentration in teaching alongside the main program, something few low-res programs do. This would better equip me to be able to teach at the college level once I finish –a job possibility, as well as a ministry opportunity. And I won’t have to commute further than my own desk, except for the yearly residency. I can be home with my family while I write and read my way through this next adventure.

So, there you have it.

Moral of the story: track meets can be dangerous. Or, maybe better, God is still working beyond my own stubborn resistance and fear.

This is where I should tie in the “centrifugal force” title to the second part. I don’t know… a track is a circle, right? I suppose in a way, I was led back around to the question that put me on the road back to Dordt: what is it that God desires, what do I desire, and is there anywhere that those two things intersect?