Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

the one thing

Last week we watched a film we've seen multiple times (we do that), City Slickers. We enjoy the camaraderie of the men, the humor, the working with cattle, the performances, and the 'one thing.' It is in the conversation between Jack Palance's and Billy Crystal's characters:
 "Do you know what the secret of life is?" Curly holds up one finger, and then says, "This." Mitch is mystified. "Your finger?" Curly shakes his head. "One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean shit." Mitch asks, "But what is the 'one thing?'" Curly just smiles. "That's what you have to find out."
I always like that scene because I think we are all searching for meaning of life. Or maybe that's most of us. When we have enough to eat, shelter, the
basics, we want to think life is about more than just surviving. When we are at risk of surviving, we put philosophy on hold.

In City Slickers, Mitch has the life he had been taught he should want, but he's unhappy. He feels trapped, and he's sliding into middle age or already there. The cattle drive is where he hopes to find what he feels he's been missing. He wants that one thing and does not know where to find it. It turns out it was inside him all along. It just took the cattle drive to bring it out.
 Always after I watch the film (which is worth watching for me just for its great western theme music), I think about the one thing for my life. 

Some people are born with the one thing drilled into them from seemingly birth. It does not change. They might do other things alongside it, but it's the driving force; and for a lifetime, it will be the same. Some never find the one thing and maybe don't care about it. They are satisfied to just get along and be happy. They don't need a driving force.

For me, at least in one sense, the one thing has changed with my years. I suppose I could say that it was being creative as that has been with me my whole life, but often it took a backseat to other things, and I didn't mind. I didn't have to do it. I just did do it generally with a lot of variety through the years.

I believe for my first twenty years, my one thing was to get to be an adult and be ready for being on my own. It was growing, getting an education, learning how the world worked, finding some friends, experiencing as much as I could to help me figure out what I'd want for the rest of my life. That was my driving force for those first twenty years or so. During that time though I told stories. As a child it was play. When I got older, it was writing down short stories. Even riding in a car, I'd be making up stories in my head, while I was traveling somewhere with my family. For me though, it wasn't a one thing. That was getting myself to being an adult and launched into the world.

Then came a shift and my one thing was raising my children. It became everything to me even though I continued to write, paint, sculpt during their growing up years. Those though were not the one thing for me. They were. Holding my children in my arms, making their lives as good as I could, giving them the experiences I had had growing up, experiences that would help them figure out what they wanted for their lives. That was my one-- maybe even obsessive-- thing. I continued to write down my stories during those years but didn't care if I did anything with them because the obsession was my children. I believe that lasted about thirty years until they were both launched. 

The shift from an obsession can be rough, and they don't call it the empty nest for nothing. In one sense, I was prepared for it if you ever can be. Before I had my first child, I had read Betty Friedan's book, The Feminine Mystique. She said  (paraphrased) that your last child had to be your creative work. She didn't call it the one thing but she might as well have. Still, when you see your children launched into independent adults there is both loss and satisfaction. I knew I needed something to replace what had consumed me.

For the years after they left, I think I drifted a bit without a recognizable one thing. I spent several years doing clay sculpture, painting people, and continued to write stories. At that point, I saw none of them as the one thing. As I look back on it now though I see they all revolved around telling a story of life. I kept this work mostly to myself. I did not have a need to have it be seen. I knew some was not exactly societally acceptable. I mean I painted and sculpted nudes, both male and female. As I created each one, always I thought of them as telling a story. Those were also the years I went through my own explorations of the spirit and made huge changes in what I believed spiritually. I explored my femaleness and took photos that I couldn't ever share with the world. (no, not porn but definitely sensual and sometimes daring at least in my thinking). While drifting, I experienced things in life that I never had before. 

 I consider those years of drifting, without a one thing, as very important for what would come next-- when again I would have a one thing, and it was writing-- possibly the underlying story all along for my life. When writing became the one thing, it involved also acknowledging myself as an author by publishing and promoting my work-- the step I'd not taken with earlier creative endeavors. Writing, and all that goes with it, today is the one thing. It took some doing, but I finally accepted it as mine, acknowledged publicly the work, and owned it as being me. 

That doesn't mean I can't do other things like be involved with family and friends. It does mean there are times where the writing is all I do. Then I need to step away to take care of the human part of my reality. A one thing can be an obsession, but it does not have to be 'everything' in a person's life-- at least not in my life.

Some people need a one thing that lasts a lifetime. They will fit their children into it or maybe put off having children for it. They will do whatever they need to do to bring it to fulfillment. Some don't need a one thing at all. Some though will be like me-- the one thing changes with their changes or remains dormant until the right time.

The photos of the lambs are not the one thing for me ;). They are a seasonal reality right now. They illustrate growth, change, and a part of my life. Having them was one of those life goals that got fulfilled-- and incidentally fits nicely into the one thing

Finally, I'd be interested in knowing. Do you have a one thing? If you do, was it always there or did it change throughout your life?


Celia Yeary said...

What a wonderful, thoughtful post. One thing. I seemed to move from one thing, place, event to another, without thinking where I was or what I might do next. Really, I had no plans. In high school, though, I did ask if I could to college upon graduation with my girl friends. They all were going to a small college about 100 miles away. They would live in the dorm, etc. I wished with all my heart for that "one thing." But no..we didn't have the money, and if I wanted to go to college, I could attend the Jr. College in our hometown, live at home, and work part time in the bank. I gave up my dream. I never remember wishing for that One Big Thing again. Instead...life happened..married young, had children, THEN...with my husband paying my way along with a National Science Foundation grant, I did earn a degree. However, I did it while raising two children, being the best wife and mommy I could be...but it was not That One Big Thing.
I liked this post...thanks so much. Celia

Rain Trueax said...

Thanks for your own thoughtful post, Celia. I understand how you felt. I have had those kinds of disappointments too. I think we learn through them though. I am not sure I've ever wished for the one thing either. Like with writing, it's doing it that is the one thing. If my 'one thing' was that they'd be bestsellers, I'd be putting it into someone else's hands.. a lot of someone elses lol.

Tabor said...

Your one things are so much mine, except for the writing. I certainly followed that same path and empty nest was painful! It has taken me years to realize that my children can not be my focus anymore. Photography and enjoying the outdoors are something I must have every few days or I will wilt.

joared said...

This is an interesting topic which I had never considered before in just this way. I think the one underlying force for me was learning through observation how my life was affected by adults and circumstances around me -- what happened in their lives. Consequently, for as long as I can remember I determined I must always keep my options open for change and be prepared for the possibility I may need to be solely responsible for myself at any time-- no matter how much I might be cared for by another.

Your circumstances with strangers coming to your door for help would well be anxiety producing even in daylight, but darkness would intensify any concerns. Coping with the conflict of, basically, good and evil in various manifestations, I guess, is our conundrum. One more reason why people living much like you do and for other reasons, should be permitted to have firearms, but that's another topic.

Your book's chapter addressed many issues law enforcement figures must experience which you described very realistically and believably -- including some I hadn't really given much thought to. Seems to me I recall hearing in the news just recently of a father and son randomly shot and killed (Wash. state? at a car dealership in just the circumstances you described.

Rain Trueax said...

yes, that's what I was speaking about, Joared. I mean who expects to go looking for a car that someone will start just killing strangers. That's why we need to have this balance of joy and finding beauty where we can. We can't anticipate and yet we have to be ready. What a conundrum.