Discernment

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Discernment is something Mennonites are expert at; in fact, Mennonites are so good at discernment that it sometimes seems it’s code for clearly we don’t all agree so let’s keep discerning in perpetuity so as to never make a decision. Given that this is my cultural background, perhaps it makes sense that I enjoy process so much. But I do also like to come around to decisions now and again. That said, discernment is rather brilliant, in my opinion. What it does is allow a decision to unfold slowly, with voice given to many different opinions and angles; it’s a process of listening as much as speaking.

This post is a continuation of my thoughts from yesterday’s confession: that I don’t like being the speaker at the front of the room.

I’ve been trying to discern why.

It isn’t that I don’t like being in a leadership position. In fact, I enjoy taking the lead, to which my younger siblings could attest. But there are different styles and types of leadership, and the leadership I prefer to practice is the kind that asks questions, that operates in relationship, that collaborates with, that is creative and responsive and in the moment. I want to ask questions. I want to hear stories, I want to hear and try to understand other perspectives. I want to see my small ideas opening up small ideas in someone else, and I want to be opened up too; I want to learn too.

It’s the reason I like reading and writing short stories, the kind that end in a questioning, open way that unfolds into the reader and the reader’s experience, rather than telling the reader what the answer is. Resonance. That’s what I’m looking for, in everything I do.

Yesterday evening, off I went with my eldest son to coach his soccer team. I was as tired as I’d been all day. There wasn’t time to eat supper. But when we got onto the field, the hour flew by, my exhaustion vanished. I love coaching soccer. I don’t love it because I’m an expert. I’m not. I love it because it’s a creative undertaking, and because I find myself, in this role, engaged with the kids on the team: trying to figure out what will motivate them as individuals, assessing their levels of interest and skill, and asking them to push themselves in small ways—for each player this will be different. I also love it because it’s fun. We’re meeting up so they can play a game.

I think we all need to play. We should all be doing something every day that feels playful, just for fun, something that lifts us out of the ordinary. Something we don’t have to do for any reason other than it makes us happy.

When teaching is going well, it’s for the same reasons. It’s because we’re engaged in a creative enterprise together. Writing and revision should feel playful. I know this won’t always be the case, and writing is work, no doubt about it, but for me—and what I want to share—is that writing, especially fiction, is play. You get to live inside your imagination like you haven’t had permission to do since you were a child. You get to explore whatever interests you. You get to ask questions and wonder and roam freely around your own mind, making it all up, drawing from the back of your mind “perishable moments you hadn’t even noticed that you noticed.” To paraphrase Lynda Barry.

And that’s about where I’ve gotten in my process of discernment. Expect me to release a mission statement in the next decade or so.

xo, Carrie

P.S. Read this, from the New Yorker (wish I had a subscription!): an inspiring and moving essay by George Saunders about his own creative writing teachers. (Side note: how the heck did Tobias Wolff have time to help parent three children, work full-time leading graduate classes in creative writing, thoroughly read every submission to the program, and write and publish his own books?)

P.S. 2 Here’s how I started this morning. I slept in until 6:45. Then I listened to this song and did kundalini exercises for about half an hour, while the older kids started their day too, but before the younger two got up. It was a good start and I feel much more rested. First discernment decision: I’m limiting my 5AM exercise to no more than three times per week; I’m open to dropping to even less if I’m still really tired. I will reassess in six weeks.

Confession
Play, play, play

4 Comments

  1. Yes, yes, yes. I have been thinking about many of these things too, and especially the vital importance of play.

    Reply
    • I keep mulling over the idea of play as essential to the human experience: that we all be allowed and encouraged to participate in activities that aren’t designed for a particular purpose or to achieve a particular goal, but simply offer a forum for joyous, spontaneous expression. Often the form of expression is physical, but not always. I think play relies on improvisation, on not knowing what comes next, and trusting your body and mind to figure it out/invent it in the moment.

      Reply
  2. Ah, just finished the George Sanders essay and it’s so inspiring and humbling. I’ve been thinking so much about the role of a teacher lately and this really struck a nerve. So much of it seems to be offering a safe space to write, the teacher being a protector of sorts.

    (Unrelated: the prosecco you gave me we drank on election night. Perfect!)

    Reply
  3. I liked that I got to play with my three-year-old nephew yesterday, at our own little beach, because of the warmer than usual November weather we’re currently experiencing. He likes sand castles and getting stuck in the muck. I pulled him out with a reed. Disaster averted.
    🙂
    I will definitely read the articles you’ve recommended. Here’s to the experience of play. On to your next post I go.

    Reply

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