Where have I been, you ask?

(Well, some of you have asked. A few. One or two have asked, certainly.)

I've been grappling, say I.

Grappling. With everything. I've been a grappling fool. If grappling were an Olympic sport, I'd be standing up there on the podium, gold medal around my neck, confirming and denying things (nod nod, wink wink). Here a grapple, there a grapple, everywhere a grapple grapple. My stomach is in knots, my hair is turning grey, and yet I grapple on. You have grappling insomnia (and two Cider Jacks) to thank for this entry.

It occurred to me today, in the throes of yet another grapple, that it will be one year ago this weekend that I moved here. One year ago today, I was sleeping at a friend's house in Kansas City, all my worldly possessions loaded onto a truck, my mother and I getting ready to get up the next morning, drive up the street, turn right on I-70 and head due east, never looking back.

I was so full of excitement then, about the future that awaited me, so happy, so hopeful, so sure in my heart that it was the right thing to do.


When I was a kid, I would spend hours trying to balance the light switch in my room at the exact midpoint between on and off, certain that if I could hold it at just the right point, magical things would happen.

Well, okay, it wasn't hours, as that would be kind of creepy. But I used to try it from time to time when I happened to be flipping the switch. It made sense to me, that if there was a point where the light was on and then there was a point where the light was off, there had to be something in the middle, somewhere where the light was half on and half off, and if I could nail it down, if I could see it in front of me, I would know things no one else knew.

I read Atonement, by Ian McEwan, earlier this year, and it is an astonishing book, perhaps one of the most profound novels I have ever read. One passage in particular took my breath away. The protagonist of the first section, a 13-year-old girl named Briony, is contemplating her hand. She bends one finger and straightens it.

The mystery was in the instant before it moved, the dividing moment between not moving and moving, when her intention took effect. It was like a wave breaking. If she could only find herself at the crest, she thought, she might find the secret of herself, that part of her that was really in charge.

This idea is a sort of back-burner obsession for me, if you will pardon the oxymoron. I have always been fascinated by that turning point, by the utterly unremarkable moment that changes everything, by the butterfly that creates a hurricane, or however that saying goes. It is one of the essential themes of Atonement, and one of the reasons I was thoroughly captivated by it.

There is another book called Napoleon's Buttons: 17 Molecules that Changed the World. The premise of this book is that on Napoleon's army uniforms, everything was fastened with buttons made of tin, which disintegrates when it gets cold. And so, if their coats and pants and boots hadn't fallen apart when they invaded Russia (which, as we know, is a bit cold, nod/wink), the entire course of history might have been completely altered.

I know everyone's life is filled with these kinds of what-ifs, and maybe if I was content, I wouldn't be quite so focused on them, but I can't help wondering about them now. I know there are freaky coincidences that have changed my life for nothing but the better, the most easily defined of which is the day back in April of 1998 when I stumbled across an article in Salon about online journals. If I hadn't, if the phone had rung before I clicked on that site, if I had had more homework that day, if something interesting had been on TV, if fill-in-the-blank had happened and I hadn't read that article, many, many things about my life would be different right now.

But the thing is, how would I know? If I was in that alternate reality, how would I know about the friendships I wouldn't have had, the places I wouldn't have been? How would I know about the things I wouldn't have known?

So now, I can't help but think of the coincidences that didn't happen, and the things in my life that might be missing just because I had too much homework or decided to watch TV.

I can't help but think of that, because it's easier than thinking that I could have done something about it. It's easier to resign everything to fate, to say "This is how my life was supposed to happen," than to think that somewhere along the line, I did the wrong thing or didn't do the right thing, I chose A when I should have chosen B, I was looking left when I should have been looking right.

It's easier if it's not my fault.

I have learned quite a bit in the year that I've been here. Things I thought were black and white, about the world at large and about the core of myself, have turned out to be very indistinct shades of gray. I'm never going to stand on the dividing line between one thing and the other and find peace or clarity or knowledge. I'm never going to be able to turn the light halfway on.

Moving here was not a mistake. As much as I can be sure of anything, I am sure of that. If for no other reason than because of the friends and family I am able to see on a regular basis, I know that as grand-scheme decisions go, it was the right one.

But it is entirely possible that my buttons are made of tin.

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