A Good Struggle

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I’ve often wondered how Odysseus spent his days after returning home.

Once the euphoria of resting in bed, embracing his family, eating his favorite meals had passed, was Odysseus content or restless? Without a constant struggle to define his life, did he lay back and get thick around the middle?

Did he tempt fate with sailing trips, hoping that winds might overcome his vessel again? Or, did the circumstances of struggle lose all appeal, having lasted so long? Perhaps he found a balance point between effort and achievement.

How much change is necessary to keep one’s experience fresh without becoming disruptive? When is a struggle pointless?

On Sunday, with thigh muscles burning as I held a deep squat for our substitute yoga teacher, I realized that I haven’t felt challenged in some time. Not to say that Denise’s classes aren’t physically demanding, but lately I’ve found that I always overcome the struggle.I don’t fall out of poses anymore and I barely sweat.

More importantly, I no longer question my ability to master the challenge set before me.

Last year, I began to wonder when I’d be “ready” to move on, but Jorge’s class revealed that I’ve been coasting for months in the beginner class.

As he asked us to take our squats still deeper, if we were able, I realized that I had a choice: stay with what’s comfortable—my circle of peers, my teacher’s philosophy, the predictable spot where I lay my mat—or add more struggle to my practice and discover the results.

Looking back, I see that my question of readiness was the desire for Denise to tell me that I had earned or achieved something. I wanted a hint of praise and promotion, perhaps even permission—a wise person assuring me that I am ready for more.

But no one can tell you that.

Looking back to Civita, I remember feeling excited but unsure of how to weather the challenges of living in a foreign country, creating something of artistic merit, and actually finishing a book, all of which were firsts.

The struggle I faced was as steep as the footbridge; ultimately, that potency shaped my life.

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What I realized while sinking back down into the squat —for the third time— is that I have become adept at handling my struggles outside of yoga class as well as within. Collectively, they’ve become routine. When I sat down to write this week’s essay, I thought, What am I revealing? What’s the larger purpose besides observations and armchair philosophy? Where’s the sense of a good struggle?

After years of being subtly (and not so subtly) reminded at work that I am not the talent but the talent manager, it was no small thing to play creative director in Civita. Without asking permission, I sought out people and places that made sense to the story I thought was worth telling. I explored the things that interested me and let myself wander off task when it felt right.

Along the way, I realized that I needed to learn how not to apologize for or diminish my work, but to stand firm in my vision as an artist. Looking back, the end result of that experience is as good as it is because I lived authentically.

As we struggled in those deep squats, Jorge urged us to seek humility in our practice, meaning that we should seek to be our authentic selves. He noted that the word humility derives from the root humus, meaning earth. Humility is not degrading oneself or one’s capabilities, nor is it about elevating them with ego. It’s about being grounded, being true to one’s nature and inherent gifts—being authentic.

It occurred to me that the humility I found in Civita—that sense of knowing and accepting—has waned in recent months without a greater sense of purpose to guide it. I’ve sailed forward on dying winds, wondering when the next adventure would begin, hoping that someone might give me an extra stripe—in yoga class, at work, in life.

But, again, the only person who can do that is me.

My struggle with career versus creativity can be just  that: a petty struggle—something that both abases my true talents and is egotistical and self-involved—or it can be the bit of sand that creates a pearl, like CivitaVeritas. I believe that it can be Hidden City Diaries, too.

Last night, I watched a documentary on Bill Cunningham that brought it all home. It struck me when Bill said that he never wanted to accept money for his work because with it went creative control. By working on his terms, he refused to fall sway to someone’s agenda that might be completely contrary to his own (such as with Women’s Wear Daily)—that’s how his work would always remain true. The other was this quote,

“I don’t decide anything. I let the street speak to me, and in order for the street to speak to you, you’ve got to stay out there and see what it is.”

When I heard Bill say that, I thought: I’ve been inside too long since Civita. A slow degradation of that experience is exactly what I feared —and knew was inevitable— when I returned to the work-a-day world. Knowing that I would lose a measure of authenticity in my life was exactly why I tried not to return.

Tonight, I realized that Hidden City Diaries will help me find my way back. The overarching quest isn’t just about walking around downtown or driving through the countryside. It’s not about eating in trendy restaurants or seeing live music. It’s not about interviews or even about travel or writing per se.

It’s about searching for —and within— myself in those cities and gaining a better understanding of my generation and how I fit within it.

We Gen-Xers aren’t the Boomers rebelling against our parents and we’re not the Millennials seeking to art-craft-and-crowdsource our way into a better future. I’m part of a lost generation that author John Ulrich describes as, “without identity who face an uncertain, ill-defined and perhaps hostile future.” Re-reading those words made me ask how much of it is me who has felt lost all this time, and how much of it is we.

Exploring those questions, finding out what lies beneath, understanding how we’re all lost to a degree, and discovering threads of meaning that hold tight throughout the country no matter the location is what authentically excites me.

It involves taking risk in where I go, who I talk with, what questions I ask and what I reveal. It demands that I neither bury nor elevate my findings but tell a story grounded in humility—the story that I believe is worth telling, without question or apology. It means that I’ll hold up a mirror to myself and allow what’s real to come to the glass, no matter how it looks.

I can’t say how the journey will end, but it sure feels like a good struggle.

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One thought on “A Good Struggle

  1. Cara Gabi,
    Grazie tanto for opening up and sharing the heart and soul of your GenX life journey with us. Know that by speaking your truth, you enrich the lives of those around you who appreciate your insights and reflections for all of us!!!

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