I have been thinking a lot lately about the language “life churn” that I originally used to describe the violent process of life change. I talked about the churn of giving up my apartment and putting all my belongings in storage (after throwing many away) so I could travel to Brazil and elsewhere. The churn seemed like a perfect word, because churns stir water up and bring new water to the surface. A churn is the act of ripping out the life that existed and then waiting to see what rushes in to take its place, the process of churning your life, with a new career, school, move, baby, relationship even. For me, it’s traveling. Living abroad.
Why do I want to churn, my friend Jenny asked me recently. Dissatisfaction with the status quo must be part of the reason. Boredom. Being ready for the next step, whatever that might be when the churn leaves its wake, and not knowing yet what it is. Giving in to the churn means you know there are lessons you want to learn, you just don’t know what those lessons are yet.
Lately, I’ve been wondering I wonder if churn is too negative a way to describe the process, too dramatic, harder than it needs to be. In an ideal world there would be a way to describe this process as a way of allowing change in without so much resistance. Churn implies some violence, and I liked it for that reason when I first started because disassembling my old life the process did feel violent. Not only did I throw away desk chairs and clothes, I chucked a lot of assumptions about saving money for retirement and the safety and familiarity of a home and a job. The churn implies some resistance, clinging to the old, fighting with the new, in the swirl, as opposed to the joy of newness and change I don’t expect change to be easy, but I guess, I also recognize that I have a way of making things harder than they may need to be, and maybe calling this a churn makes it sound more painful than it needs to be. And yet, traveling has been hard at times–it’s a constant exercise in making decisions, and I still fret about making the right one: where to stay, whether to stay or go, what to do. Life at home with a job means a succession of days where the decision has been made, but travel is constant improvisation.
The way I experience the world is very related to the words I use to describe the phenomena. Language in a sense creates the experience, or can at least deeply influence it. I don’t want all my life changes, like say, if I ever become a mother, or really move abroad, to feel so unpleasant and hard.
So I want a gentler way, a more positive way, a more fun way to describe churning. A new metaphor, then: life evolution, life morph, life amoeba, life waterslide, life rushing in, something more about going with the flow. Nothing there satisfies. There is something about the water metaphor that satisfies but I don’t completely buy into the “go with the flow,” “surrender to the abounding river of life,” kind of wonderful claptrap promoted by places like the nouveau hippie Cafe Gratitude in San Francisco. No! Life change still requires action. You can’t just float in a rivertube and expect to do momentous things like go to medical school at age 39 or travel the world on a budget for a year. All of those things require a kickstart, pedaling, kicking in the water. Maybe it’s swimming and then letting the current carry you. I am not sure yet, I look forward to a better way to think about this all.
A life leap is my most uplifting alternative so far. Taking a life leap into the unknown. That doesn’t address the violence of leaving behind of the old, but perhaps it just deemphasizes it. You have to leap from somewhere to get somewhere new. The leap is scary but brave, It cannot disappoint. Even if the landing place is bad—the new job sucks, the apartment is too noisy—at least it’s a surprise, it’s new. It’s something to learn from! In a sense I am taking a life leap with this blog too. I wasn’t really interested in sharing my travel writing “real time” with strangers on the Internet, but it all begins with a leap. We’ll see where it lands.