lower the stakes {day 24}

24 Oct

In my twenties, I begin to misplace the things I love.

I put away the music. First, the clarinet with its reedy melodies, which I had played since eleven. Then, the piano, which I had played since six. When I looked at the clarinet with its black body and silver keys, I heard the missed notes in a Schoenberg piece I played in the college band. When I felt piano key ivory, I remembered the hot tears I cried after I forgot the third movement of a piece and sat there for thirty silent seconds. I placed below the girl who played a beginner’s version of “Amazing Grace,” with whole notes in the left hand. I cannot keep the music safe. So I put it away.

Then I put away the languages. I put away the Chinese I learned in China: on the street, in the karaoke bar, in the host family’s house, on the bus. I had worked for every stilted sentence of it, every half-right word and mispronounced tone of it. It had been a quest. I scribbled words in notebooks, talked to strangers on trains, listened until I could understand 25% of what was being said in church. Every awkward phrase meant communication instead of silence, every half-right word meant rice instead of hunger, every greeting meant love. I return to the States, and I try to speak Chinese to a student, and she does not understand. I am naked and ashamed. The language is no longer a game and a tool, something you use. It becomes a relic, a gem, a precious thing, something I will ruin with my mispronounced tones. I put it away.

Last, I put away the writing. I care about it, want to keep it safe the most of all. It is the only thing I have ever wanted to do, and because of that, I cannot do it. It is too precious. It is an heirloom handed down to me by a younger self who did not know fear like I do now. I fold it carefully, smooth its wrinkles. I put it in a box where I cannot ruin it.

I put them away for safekeeping. For someday when I will do them right. I put them away, and I forget how to take them out again.

In our session, the SuperTherapist asks me what I want to work on together, and I confess that I have misplaced nearly everything I love. “I want to play music again, to speak or read my languages or write again. But I can’t do it, because if I screwed it up, I couldn’t take it. It’s better not to do these things at all.”

She looks at me like she is grieving something loved and lost. I look through her eyes. My life that was large has become small. It is lived in safe places, the place between the store and dinner, Facebook and seven episodes of something on Netflix.

I wonder if you could lower the stakes,” says SuperTherapist. It is a real question, not one that she already knows the answer to. “If you could lower the stakes so that you could do these things again.”

The stakes have never been low.

It was always Harvard and Yale I was shooting for. First chair in band and first prize in piano. Chinese like someone that couldn’t have just been here for a year, sermons like someone who can’t be a beginning preacher, pastoral skills like someone who is wise beyond her years.

“I don’t know if I can lower the stakes,” I tell her. “But maybe I will try.” I don’t want depression, the trickster, to take more from me than it has. I want to find what I love.

I search for them, and one day I find them. I take the music out of the box, lower the stakes for one afternoon. I play Sara Groves songs on my little keyboard that’s missing an octave. I sing over those missed notes, and when I think, I’m worse than I was when I was twelve, I sing over that too. I put the music back.

I hear some people speaking Chinese at a National Park, and I sit down. “Ni hao,” I tell them. Hello. They laugh in surprise, and we talk for fifteen minutes, and then we say our zaijians and leave. I put it back in the box, worn on one side, but no worse for wear.

I take out the writing. I smooth its wrinkles, run my fingers on the edges of the fabric I love. I put it on and find it fits me still. I wear it once and put it back, wear it once and put it back. And one day, I put it on and do not take it off. There are awkward sentences, words that should be cut or added. There is the possibility that no one will read or that someone will snicker about it to their friends, and I won’t even be there to be ashamed.

The more I write, the more it doesn’t matter. Someone reads, or they don’t. They like it, or they don’t. There will be more words for tomorrow and the day after that. With every word, every letter, I lower the stakes.

I wear it straight for these thirty-one days. The hem begins to fray, one sleeve stained. I don’t care. It is mine to wear.

This post is part of a series, 31 Days of Healing. Check out Day 1 or the complete list of posts. If you want to follow along, you can also subscribe by email or subscribe in a feed reader. Or “like” the blog on Facebook. (We’re all about options here.) And thanks for reading!


14 Responses to “lower the stakes {day 24}”

  1. Morgan Guyton October 25, 2012 at 5:42 am #

    I can relate to the stakes being high. I’m scared to death of the book I think I’m supposed to start. When you write blog posts, nobody expects you to have a citation every other sentence so that you’re “in conversation with the scholars” and cover all the possible vulnerabilities where some uber-hipster Ph.D. preceptor could attack with red ink and say, “Ha! B+!” But a book is so much more adult and serious than a blog. So I’m hoping that somehow I can trick myself into writing the chapters for my book in blog form and then just fill them out once I see that I accidentally started a book.

    • Christina October 26, 2012 at 11:51 am #

      I like the idea about tricking yourself into thinking it’s not as much of a big deal. Books feel Very Scary, I agree. I’ve been wanting to work on a novel for several years now, but the pressure (completely of my own making) gets to me. Maybe this blog thing is a good experiment in lowering the stakes and it can give both of us the confidence to try something else, too.

      • Morgan Guyton October 26, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

        I referenced your “Empty Hands” post in my blog today. Did anybody click over to your site?

      • Christina October 27, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

        I did get a couple folks that clicked over. Thanks so much for linking over, Morgan! Humbled.

  2. Lindsay Collins October 25, 2012 at 6:57 am #

    I loved this. I found it so freeing. Thank you for writing it. Your blog slowly becomes part of my morning devotional routine. Keep writing. You offer hope. :)

    • Christina October 26, 2012 at 11:52 am #

      Thank you! There are so many chains, sometimes of our own making. (Oh, and being part of someone’s morning routine is no small compliment. Thank you for sharing that!) :)

  3. Kate LS October 25, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    Thank you for this. I had tears in my eyes while reading. I am currently falling head over heels in love with a new career, doing this internship that has no relation whatsoever to what I’ve been studying the past two years. I’m learning everything for the first time and I battle every day the self-consciousness that would have stopped me from even trying (or even dreaming) in the past. I keep having to show my work to my bosses, experts, when I honestly have NO CLUE whether or not what I’m doing is any good.
    I’m doing this as an almost-30-year-old (alongside another intern, who is a decade younger).
    But I have to choose to let it be exhilerating instead of debilitating… because if I don’t, I’m shutting down even the dream of making this my future.
    It’s not easy.
    Re: the comment above–every time I read your blog entries, I think, “This should be a book.” I always feel like I am curled up, reading your words by a fire, instead of on my computer screen.

    • Christina October 26, 2012 at 11:56 am #

      “But I have to choose to let it be exhilerating instead of debilitating… because if I don’t, I’m shutting down even the dream of making this my future.” – I love this. This is gospel truth. How great about your new adventure — and that the love for what you’re doing can overpower the self-criticism and self-doubt.

      Oh, and thank you! This makes a girl smile.

  4. Laura Beach October 25, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    Christina, I’m so thankful you let yourself lower the stakes and that you share your words and your heart with us! I’ve been sharing this blog with so many people (hope that’s ok!). Your words speak healing and hope and grace- I’m grateful for these words and for you!

    • Christina October 26, 2012 at 11:57 am #

      I’m glad to be able to share. It’s freeing and wonderful to peck out some words and find that your scribblings mean something to somebody. And of course, I am thrilled that you’re sharing. Writing is meant to be shared–I’m glad I finally believe that. Love you, girl!

  5. Suz October 25, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

    I have been blessed for 24 days because you took your writing out of the box. God bless you child for your courage, for the beauty of your words. If everyone who wrote, wrote like you, everyone would love to read. You give words life, thanks!

    • Christina October 26, 2012 at 11:58 am #

      Thank you so much for these kind words! I’m blushing. Hope you’ll keep reading!

  6. Mallory October 26, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    Please continue to write! I relate to you on so many levels and look forward to this every day.

    • Christina October 26, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

      Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll be putting these comments in my pocket for when I need it–and when the stakes seem too high.

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