On letting go

A strong theme for the past two weeks has been letting go of things that it doesn’t do me any good to hold onto anymore. Holding on too long is a bad habit that I inherited from my mom, who would only get rid of a lot of things under duress—to give you an idea of the persistence of this habit, even though I could probably count on one hand the number of arts & crafts projects I’ve done since I graduated from college, to this day I have a phantom urge from my childhood to save all sorts of packaging and other recyclables on the off chance that I might use them in an arts & crafts project someday. It’s the same urge that drives me to obsessively label and archive far more emails than I actually need to save, on the off chance that the information might someday be useful (“But what if I’m running a campaign someday and I actually WANT to go back through and read all of the 2012 national campaign emails that I automatically archived when I got them the first time?”, the voice in my head asks).

The realization that it’s something I need to work on isn’t new; it’s a recurring theme in my journals that I’m always reminded of every time I go back and re-read them, and I even have a convenient mental image that I use to remind myself that the best moments of my life have been times when I let go and allow myself to be fully present in the moment: the first time, as a beginning snowboarder, that I stopped clinging to my comfort zone by zigzagging down the bunny slope on my heel side, turned toeside, and trusted my instincts. I fell down a lot more, but I also fell in love with the sport. Improv has been an exercise in getting out of my head and being more present in the moment, too, although it’s very much a road I’m still walking down.

There have been two big things that I’ve been holding onto this year: the significant portion of my self-identity for the past four years that’s been derived from my job in the Mayor’s Office, and the ring from my broken engagement earlier this year. Getting rid of the ring, interestingly enough, was a gateway to realizing what I needed to do to mentally make space for whatever chapter is going to come next in my life after last Tuesday’s election results.

In order to understand my attachment to this ring, you have to understand that aside from my journals it was the most precious object that I’ve ever owned or created. The stone was a rough yellow American diamond from Crater of Diamonds State Park, which I’d visited with my family as a kid in Texas, that I spent 4 months hunting for; and I spent 6 months or so painstakingly designing the ring with a local jeweler (Cindi from Goldmine Designs down by Pike Place—I can’t recommend her highly enough if you’re looking for any kind of custom jewelry), did the casting myself, and hand-engraved an inscription around the inside of the band. When I held the finished product in my hand it was the first time in my life that I understood the plot device from Lord of the Rings whereby Sauron endows each ring with part of his power and essence. This object was the physical manifestation of our relationship in a very real way for me, and the moment that I had it back in my possession was the moment when the breakup truly became real to me.

In the beginning I kept it around so I’d have it on hand whenever I needed to sneak past my emotional defenses and just break down and cry, but as the months wore on I looked at it less and less and came up with excuses for not getting rid of it: maybe I can use it to propose to someone else someday (I was quickly disavowed of this notion by every woman I consulted on the subject), maybe I’ll put it up for consignment (no market for such a unique ring, according to Cindi; melting the gold down for scrap and keeping the stone would have been my best bet, but I didn’t like the idea of converting such a precious object into money anyway)…but I think underlying everything was the fact that there was still a lot that I’d liked about the relationship of which it was a symbol, and the reason the memories it brought back were so painful was that looking at it reminded me of a specific, happy period of my life that’s now gone forever.

I probably would have kept it around indefinitely simply as a talisman, a reminder of a bygone time, if not for a friend’s Facebook post last week. Someone had broken into my friend’s friend’s car in California and stolen a lot of very personal items from her backpack, including a laptop, several of her journals…and the engagement ring that she had been planning on surprising her partner with. My brain made the decision to offer her my ring before my heart fully caught up with it, but in the instant that the idea occurred to me I knew it was the right thing to do, for her and me both. I wrestled silently with the decision for almost a week before I finally dropped it off at FedEx yesterday morning on the way to work, and over the course of the last week I reclaimed whatever energy I had invested the ring with to make room for it to bond with its new owner. The last time I saw it it was just another object, nothing more, and the feeling of having successfully let it go was so powerful it was almost addictive.

The ring in its final state is pretty much how I’ve seen every job I’ve ever had before this one—just a job, nothing more. Regardless of how much I enjoyed it or how much I learned from it, no other job has ever informed my identity the way that working in the Mayor’s Office has—Seattle is a completely different city for me now than it was when I set foot in City Hall for the first time in January of 2010, and my relationship to it has in large part been defined by the work that we’ve done over the course of the past four years. Realizing that I’m going to have to redefine that relationship in some fundamental ways was the biggest emotional impact of Election Night; I knew there was a real possibility that we’d lose, but I’d only prepared emotionally for winning the election, so the past two weeks have been largely about processing not only what I’ll be doing after December 31st (I have a couple of irons in the fire, but I could always use more; please pass along any leads you think I’d be interested in) but also what my relationship to the city of Seattle will be, both in the general sense and in the local government sense.

I’ve realized in the process something that was crystallized through a great conversation with a friend last night—that once I can let go of my desire for the safety and security and order and all the rest that working for the City entails, there are astonishingly few restrictions on what I can choose to do with myself now. Anytime in my life that I’ve spent a long period of time in one specific context (college, job, city, etc) I’ve found it useful to get outside that particular worldview for a bit and give myself some time to decompress and achieve equilibrium before I start into my next venture; in my younger days that would involve long road trips and extended overland travels, whereas now it might just mean a few weekend trips and carving out more free time to reflect and think things through with good friends. I know that I’m definitely staying in Seattle, but otherwise the sky’s the limit.

Or, in my internal language, I need to learn to turn toeside and trust my instincts again, to give up some safety in exchange for my next spark…even if it means getting burned along the way.

One thought on “On letting go

  1. What an amazing solution to the ring problem!

    Looking forward to the next chapter in your Seattle work. I have a feeling it’ll be fun…

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