Tuesday, 5 January 2010

On Transitions (with some abuse of Alice in Wonderland)

One of John Tenniel's beautiful illustrations of Alice in Wonderland

Why is it transitions can seem like voids to be leapt into rather than an alteration or addition to our current situation? I've been thinking about this because as well as the topical transitions of New Year's and the movement from waning to waxing, I started a new job on Monday and am starting my MA next week.

And despite knowing the gist of what my new job was like, and the study requirements for my course, it seems surprisingly easy to imagine that the change is some sort of rabbit hole that needs to be fallen through and who knows where you might end up? Is this one reason why change tends to freak people out?

And yet, I know from one of the biggest changes I've ever made, going to live in China, that this rabbit hole is often our own construct. Before I stepped out of that plane in Beijing, I couldn't imagine what my life would be like once I was there. I didn't speak any Chinese, I'd never taught before, I didn't even know that much about China (and what I did know turned out to be embarrassingly out of date). When I first got off that plane and found myself on the other side of the rabbit hole, I couldn't have been more culture shocked if there HAD been Cheshire pussy cats or croquet played with flamingos.

Then, sooner that I could've imagined on that first, overwhelmed day, everything became ordinary. I did what I do here: I went to work, I met up with friends, I went to the supermarket, I grouched about public transport, I ate, I slept, and surfed the internet and watched films. In just a couple of weeks, I'd completely normalised the situation, and suddenly going to Beijing for the weekend was no more exotic and strange and unknown than popping up to London is in England. Things that looked like flamingoes at first, just turned out to be pink mallets when I'd been used to blue ones.

Seemingly big changes often don't seem to be that significant - who hasn't felt a slight deflation after a supposed milestone event? But, conversely, the really big changes, the ones that have changed how I look at and feel about myself, other people and the whole universe shebang, seem to creep up on you, sometimes without you even realising. You don't notice that you've fallen down the rabbit hole until you've played a couple of rounds of croquet with your flamingo. Or sometimes, perhaps, that you're the flamingo that 's being used a croquet mallet - which might be stretching the whole Alice in Wonderland metaphor somewhat, but seems quite apt for situations where you realise that you've lost control and ended up feeling sad and lost and are thinking 'how the hell did I get here?'

I've realised that making changes even potentially big scary ones like going to live in another country or doing a postgraduate course, the course of my life might bend, but it's not going to suddenly becoming an unrecognisable land overnight with me going 'I don't understand anything, how did I get here?' Ok, I did have a few moments like that in China, but I had friends, and people willing to help, and phrase books, and maps, and how could I forget the 18 hour slog that was my London-Beijing journey. And there might have been a brand new backdrop but 'I don't know what to do' or 'I'm lost' seem to work much the same the world over. Conversely, I'm intrigued by finding out how I can know when I'm on a life bend before I'm surprised by those damn flamingoes again.

So, this year, more noticing of the bends as they're happening than making rabbit holes. How to do this? Private journalling, mood mapping, listening to my intuition rather than steamrollering it with what I think I should be feeling - these are my first ideas, if any of you would like to share what you do, please go ahead.


  1. I'm a big fan of change, though I didn't used to be. I do believe in giving at least serious consideration to any available opportunity... because it's easy to miss the rabbit holes if you don't keep both eyes open. Good luck :)

  2. I like the Alice metaphor. Hope you come out the rabbit hole with your crochet mallet ready to rock.
    You have a lot of exciting changes coming up. I hope it's all fun.

  3. I, too love the Alice metaphor! I have often viewed transitions with fear of the unknown, but with heart pounding, I jump into them, knowing I can handle anything that comes my way (which is usually true, but not always). You're right about certain things in one's life not changing much. Those are comforting stabilizers through the journey. My faith in God pulls me through lots of stressful circumstances.

  4. Rachel - true. Or think that they 'aren't for you', I've done that!

    Janie - Me too. I'm looking forward to waving the metaphorical mallets next week when I start my MA.

    Pat - You've made a good point (one that I totally missed but is so obvious)that the belief that you can handle even something is a real gift.