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Space to let go

October 17, 2010

I am one of those people who likes to be in control of my life. As in, I don’t particular care where things are shelved in the kitchen as long as I’m kept aware of where they are. I don’t mind if I have to abruptly change my plans as long as I have some means of letting people know. I can cope with being shitty at games much, much better than with having bad luck in them, because I’m in charge of my (crappy) strategy but not of the random-number generator. I find actual exams less stressful than waiting for results, because I’m in charge of what I write but not of how it’s graded. And so on. Mostly it works.

The point at which, I think, it starts to get unhealthy is when it turns back on itself. When you start voluntarily – if unconsciously – assuming the blame for shit over which you had no control, because that seems like an easier option than admitting that you are at the mercy of bigger things. I’m lucky enough that I’ve only ever had it over small things, but I think the dynamic is similar all the way up the scale from the banal to the tragic. Certainly I’ve seen the argument made in discussions about religion that, because of this, people can still find strict, vengeful gods better than no gods at all – the idea that “It must have been our fault”, hideous though its implications are, is still a less horrible and less cosmically unfair option than “It just happened, without a reason.”

Staying on top of things (trying to stay on top of things) is exhausting, though. And so as I’ve grown older I’ve come to appreciate much more the value of people and places I trust – spaces in which I feel safe just letting someone else get on with it, where I can react to what’s going on rather than having to try and stay one jump ahead.

I think that this is one of the reasons I like rollercoasters. Once you’re on a coaster, strapped in, holding on, the next ninety seconds or so are completely out of your hands.

The last few seconds before a coaster sets off, for me, are generally spent going AARGH WHY and gibbering at whoever I’m with. The first few seconds after The Point Of No Return are generally also occupied with

a) sheer terror;

b) not a little discomfort, especially the first time we hit a bend and Gravity is like OH HAI and I automatically tense up trying to right myself, which is, naturally, completely counterproductive;

c) frenzied self-interrogation as to, once again, why the fuck I am on this thing.

Never lasts more than a few seconds, though, because after that the answer to c) kicks in: because it is totally worth it, and utterly awesome. When I’ve got rid of the initial panic at relinquishing my control on things, I can relax and enjoy the experience on offer. And it’s seriously fun. Speed! G-force! The wind rushing through my hair freeze-drying my face! (Which is not unpleasant, but kind of strange.)

Me hopping on a rollercoaster isn’t a total abrogation of control, though, obviously. I haven’t abandoned the need to look out for my safety, just delegated it, and I wouldn’t do that unless I was pretty damn sure that it would be in safe hands. (To digress, I don’t understand how so many people seem to be worried by the ricketiness of coasters. They may be openwork, but the spars are wider than I am. The rivets are as thick as my wrists. Your average modern coaster is about as rickety as the Sydney Harbour Bridge.) In this case, it’s the structural integrity of the machine itself – and to a lesser extent the competence of the staff – that I’m putting my trust in. But quite often, it’s other people.

The more independent and in charge of my own life I get, the more I value the space to not be in charge, and the people I trust to take over for me. It’s something that’s been . . . on my mind, recently, and not just with regard to rollercoasters.

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