On U-Turns

Last weekend, I made a vision board using cut-out images and words from a pile of old magazines. I chose photos, phrases, and colors that caught my eye, drew my attention in. Stripped of their context, these cutouts took on new meaning. Once pasted on my board, the 2006 National Geographic’s photo of Yellowstone bubbling mud pots transformed into a symbol of steadiness and calm once. The quote “Same Kid / New Tricks”–snipped from an article in Parenting Magazine–seemed like a good motto for a new year full of learning and changes. I liked the colors in a full page photo of a bright yellow cargo ship alone in a wide expanse of empty ocean. The photo, taken from above, had a lonely, surreal quality to it. In the vast ocean, the massive boat looked small. Next to the ship, in the middle of the water I pasted the cut-out word “U-turn.” I liked the contrast between the ship’s straight path through the water and the nimble curve of “U-Turn.” I imagined the boat’s captain spewing cuss words as he realized mid-way across the Atlantic that he had forgotten his passport, then turning the ship around in a slow wide arc, doubling back.

U-turn. The written word perfectly describes the action. A reversal, a return, an abrupt change of direction. At stop lights, U-turns are harried and panicked, a car whipping itself around a median to avoid oncoming traffic. U-turns are urgent, necessary, sometimes dangerous. With word “U-turn” plastered next to the image of the ship plowing mindlessly towards its port, I wanted to remind myself that sometimes dramatic, whip-lash inducing change is necessary. As necessary as plowing straight ahead, maintaining momentum to reach the destination.

In the last quarter of 2018 I made a U-turn. In one fell swoop, I enrolled in an MFA program, closed my business, and started a new job. My business, which had grown from a passion project in my kitchen to a full-blown commercial operation, had been draining me. I wasn’t making real money, and I no longer felt inspired by the products I was creating. I had also rediscovered my passion for writing. I wanted to give writing a bigger space in my life. Overwhelmed by the confluence of these two developments, I realized that incremental change wasn’t going to cut it for me. I needed a radical shift. I reversed my course, returning like a migratory bird pulled South to my writing, something I had once nurtured and then abandoned.

U-turns are electrifying and terrifying as carnival rides. Jumping from small business life to writing/regular employment life was invigorating–scary, yes, but the freshness of my new path kept me speeding ahead. But now, in a new year, with the dust settled, the big changes out of the way, I’m facing down yet another straight path. All I see is blue water ahead, no land in sight. I can see how fatigue and disorientation might set in without the quick-burning fuel of adrenaline rush. I’m talking about writing of course. I’m plodding forward, trying to form good writing habits that will sustain me and the craft. The thing about U-turns is that if you take too many, you end up going nowhere. And I want to go somewhere–to have my work published, to improve my writing, to make something real and powerful. My 2019 vision board is a reminder that there is a balance to life: equal parts agility and perseverance.


Author: Lauren Rhoades

Entrepreneur, vegetable lover, writer.

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