Everything is Connected

“In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it and over it.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In one of my former lives, I was a journalist. Basically, I got to talk to people, write their stories, and collect a paycheck. Sweet. Especially for someone like me, who believes everyone has a compelling story. I love to parse out the roads we take that get us to where we are. And how sometimes, you think you’re on the road to Chicago and a Pulitzer, but end up in Fairbanks with a heeler-husky mix and a fixer-upper cabin. And why it’s all good.

What intrigues me about most people is the journey they’ve taken through life – how did you end up where you are right now? Did you plan every step of the trip, knowing when to stop and when to ignore a detour? Did you wake up one morning and say, “Hot damn! I want to be a dog catcher?”

Or did you wake up one morning and realize you’re exactly where you want to be, doing exactly what you want to do? And not a clue as to how you got here?

My expedition to this particular stopping place involved so many turns and twists, detours, potholes, breakdowns, and ripped maps, I’m surprised I’m not in Oz. It’s only now, when I look back at the course I took, that I understand how I got here, and how everything I did led me here.

From the time I was about 6 years old, I wanted to be a police officer when I grew up. Back then – and yes, I do remember seeing the dinosaurs go extinct and watching the glaciers melt, signaling the end of the Ice Age, thanks for caring – they told us girls could do anything, but while their lips were moving, the reality was a little different. The barrier to my dream was height requirements – I couldn’t make them standing on a chair; somehow, the recruiters weren’t impressed.

So I wandered off to college and drifted through four years, changing my major regularly and basically going where my short attention span led me. I graduated with a bachelor of arts in International Studies with a minor in Japanese. And an MRS degree. (Think about it for a minute. You’ll get it.)

I ended up in Washington, D.C., working in a communications company file room and trying to get an MBA. Then I coasted into the delivery room at Arlington Hospital, and a new phase of my life began.

I am an obsessive compulsive overachieving perfectionist with control-freak tendencies. I couldn’t just be a mom. I had to be a GREAT mom. I volunteered, organized, led, taught, and worked 60-hour weeks being a mom – taking my three daughters to music lessons, Girl Scouts, field trips, swim practice, doctor and dentist appointments – we spent so much time in the car I’ve written articles about how to bond while driving and using the drive as an educational tool.

As they grew and I saw the empty nest thing looming, I decided I needed a real job, so I went back to school to get a teaching credential. Four years of subbing in an inner-city high school showed me how much I love helping people learn.

I lived a two-hour drive (one way) from the college — popping home between classes wasn’t practical. I was looking at eight hours a day with lots of down time. And, as my daughters say, even I can’t study that much. So I wandered into the school newspaper office, thinking I’d be a gofer and maybe they’d let me write a story once in a while. They made me an editor and here I am.

So how does wanting to be a cop connect with a writing gig and speaking to young, impressionable students, trying to sound wise and all-knowing?

Have you ever gotten a thought in your head and followed it back to its original string? Try it sometime. It’s amazing how a thought can start as one thing and end as something else, until you back-track it and see how each preceding thought is connected to the one before it. Our lives are like that – we start our journey with a certain destination in our heads. Many of us wind up exactly where we wanted to be, and that’s great.

But more of us find ourselves on a road that twists and turns. There are detours and dead ends, pot holes, construction closings, crazy drivers forcing us into a different lane, missed exits, wrong turns, and misspelled signs.

Most of the time, there’s no map, and GPS is not the miracle cure you think it is, so we’re driving blind. On those rare occasions when a map exists, it’s usually wrong, out-of-date, or for another city. We’re pretty much on our own, depending on the kindness of strangers to assist us if we break down. Eventually, we reach a destination, and the journey ends.

Or rather, begins another stage, because if you do it right, the journey never really ends until you’re lying horizontal in a box with a silk pillow under your head.

But I digress.

You look around and wonder, “How did I get here? How did I end up in Fairbanks? I thought I was headed for Chicago.”

But, like back-tracking that thought, when I look back at the journey, I see how each step led to another step led to another step led to Fairbanks instead of Chicago. They’re all connected.

As bizarre as it may seem, when I look back, I was always on the road to get here, even though I couldn’t read the map. See, I love to write. I’ve always written, whether there was a market or not. Rumor has it when I was 2, while other kids were scribbling graffiti on their mom’s white walls, I was frantically filling paper, napkins, index cards – any blank sheet of paper – with the stories and words that have filled my head my entire life. I wrote poetry, stories, essays – given a choice in college between a paper and a test, I always wrote a paper. I pulled a D- minus to a B in one class with a paper. When I volunteered anywhere, I ended up writing newsletters, correspondence – whatever needed words, they always said, “Let’s get Libbie! She’ll write anything!”

I spent four years working for a specialty magazine in Concord, Calif., doing everything from paste-up to editing to writing columns. You can learn a lot by volunteering, even if you don’t realize you’re learning.

Writing led to a journalism degree, which led me to the Fairbanks (Alaska) Fairbanks Daily News-Miner from Roseville, California, which got me a technical writing job at the local hospital, which landed me a marketing job, which introduced me to many, many diverse and compelling people, which got me into freelance writing gigs for people who want to write their life stories but don’t know how.

See the connections? No map, no street signs, just little steps connecting me from childhood to here.

Writing is a passion, but I never, ever thought I could be paid for it. Publishing is a wicked business, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been rejected. Luckily, I never take it personally – although I have a stack of “neener-neener” possibilities 3 feet high! To be able to do what I love – meet people, talk to them, write their stories – every day is a gift. To get paid for it is gravy. (Are you sure it’s legal?)

We humans are social creatures. We like to be connected to others. We form associations whenever possible, starting very young. Preschool, play groups, sports teams, after-school groups, band, chess club – ways we associate with others, not only to feel less alone, but to gain something as well. And, while tangible benefits are nice, we also revel in the intangible – friendship, knowledge, social status – we gain something whenever we mingle with another human being.

We don’t just like connections – we need connection. We seek links wherever we go. We can’t thrive without being part of a larger whole. As a writer, I like to think I’m a lone wolf, single, solitary, on my own. But if I’m not connected – to readers, publishers, editors, someone to feed me while I’m lost in another world – I can’t survive. And humans aren’t the only species craving connections. Most living things do, as well.

There is a colony of aspens in Utah, called Pando or the Trembling Giant. All the trees (technically, “stems”) in this colony are genetically identical. In fact, they are all a part of a single living organism with an enormous underground root system.

Pando, Latin for “I Spread,” is composed of about 47,000 stems spread on 107 acres. It weighs an estimated 6,600 tons. Although the average age of individual stems are 130 years, the entire organism is thought to be about 80,000 years old.

Can you imagine? Although individuals die, the entire colony lives, connected to each other, keeping each other alive. No one single stem can survive on its own; it must stay connected to live.

Like that aspen grove, we must be connected to others to survive and thrive.

But connections formed just to connect are often meaningless. Facebook is a marvelous way to reconnect with old friends, former classmates, former lovers … but it can be a bad thing, too. You can friend anyone who comes into your radar – but really, who needs 1 million friends? Who can keep up with that many connections? And how many of them are actually going to be meaningful?

I can give out my business cards willy nilly to anyone I meet on the street – and in the end, I just spend a lot of money and kill a lot of trees. Will I get jobs or other services/benefits from all those people?

Probably not. People might need a freelance writer, but if we don’t meet in context, they’ll forget me as soon as I’m out of their sight. For a connection to be beneficial, there has to be more connecting the two than just a business card blitz. A shared experience, mutual benefits to offer/receive, mutual interests, mutual needs – without meaning, a connection is valueless.

How do we establish a connection? Motivational speaker Paul Meyer knows. He says, “Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success.”

Communication. We share our experiences, our knowledge, our understanding. We tell one another our stories, find connections and links in the sharing and hearing. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a need. And everyone can meet someone else’s need. Once we’ve established that link, that connection, we have a network. And networking, remember, is the key to getting anywhere on the road.

This blog is about the connections I’ve made along this road I’m still traveling. It won’t be chronological, it won’t always make a lot of sense. Sometimes it will seem like time is standing still; other times, you miss it if you blink. Hang on, ‘cuz to paraphrase an old movie diva, “It’s going to be a bumpy ride!”