On the Bus # 18– Grace and Angels in the time of Pivoting

Here is what is nice about having a bus crush.

I got some big and somewhat unsettling news at work right before I left to catch the bus. And I was told I couldn’t tell anyone.

Now I am really bad at not telling anyone. I mean, look at me…I blog about my life. I’m not the model of discretion. I make those Kardashians seem guarded.

But the bus is its own weird void of a universe. You see some of the same people every day for four hours a day but you are not involved in each other’s lives once you step off the bus.

So, when my bus crush sat down next to me tonight and said “Keith! how are we today?” I told him the big news about work that I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone yet. He gave me sympathy and support “Good luck Keith!” and no one was the wiser. Who is he going to tell? (Unless he is writing his own blog that I don’t know about and writes about me as much as I write about him.)

The news will be out by the time I post this blog. Basically, there is a big reorganization of the company. Whenever someone uses the word “pivot” in relation to  your job,  it’s unnerving. I am an anxious man and can’t help immediately wondering what it will mean for my future. What if they realize I’m not needed? One of my  biggest concerns is  what would happen to my On the Bus blog if I stopped taking the bus every day.

Mind you–no one said my job was in danger–I just liked to start my anxiety early so I’m not taken by surprise

I have always been somewhat of a nomad and pretty good at adapting to change. You can’t grow up in Cincinnati as a gay boy in the years before there was any sort of acceptance of homosexuality and not want to get out of town at the first chance you can get. Staying there was not even an option. So, the minute I first saw New York City after going through Lincoln Tunnel on…coincidentally…a bus..I knew I was leaving the midwest the minute I graduated collage. And that’s what I did.  When I was in my 30’s, work took me to from New York to LA for many years. Then 9 years ago this week right after losing my mom and sister a few months apart, I drove across country back to New York in a Mini Cooper with my dog Sasha in the passenger seat to start a new job and a new life in New York City.

I was thinking about this this morning. If I hadn’t moved to New York, I wouldn’t have made friends like Sara Helman whose wedding I ended up officiating. Sara decided she liked me the day I walked in to her office while still the new guy at work and confided that I had run into the glass door of the office building lobby. “I love you,” was her response. I wouldn’t have met Marjorie Kaplan or spent every Tuesday evening in a writers group with my cousin Melissa. And I, of course, wouldn’t have met my husband. Or would I have? Was he inevitable and I would have met him another way or was our marriage a result of accepting a job nine years ago?

I  wouldn’t have our cats. They would probably be living like little urchins snorting catnip on the streets of Brooklyn if I hadn’t moved there. And I wouldn’t be sitting on this bus writing this blog. You would probably be reading about some dopey thing Trump tweeted that endangered planet instead.

Change in retrospect seems to turn out to be a good thing, but change in the present is anxiety-provoking.   As I heard in my writer’s group last week—our ego doesn’t like change because it doesn’t  know how to protect us in the murky and unclear future.

So, what is my identity?

What I do for a living?

Where I live?

Who I am married to?

What I write?

My mother once said when I was leaving from a visit in Cincinnati, “I’m sad you are leaving again, but I’ve always known you are a wanderer.”

Is she right?  Is  my identity my desire not to have a fixed identity?

I actually think there is something fixed about all of us even if we move, change jobs or start and end relationships. And I think one of the things I try to do as I get older is to discover what my identity is and honor it.  I think the best way I can say it is that my identity is an essence not a fact.

One of my favorite movies is called Angel at My Table. I love it and I rewatch it every few years. It’s a lesser known movie by Jane Campion who directed The Piano  about the beautiful New Zealand writer Janet Frame. I went to see it at the Angelika Theatre in New York City by myself one afternoon in 1990.

There are two moments I especially love in that movie

In one Janet is having emotional issues and in the time and place she lives in, no one knows how to deal with them. She is locked up in a mental institution, given shock treatments and is scheduled for a lobotomy. At one point, she is locked in a tiny room and sits on the floor in distress writing feverishly on the walls. Even her dire circumstances  didn’t keep her from expressing herself. (Her lobotomy was cancelled when just days before the procedure her debut publication of short stories was unexpectedly awarded a national literary prize.)

At the end of the move, (spoiler alert–don’t read this paragraph if you don’t want to know how it ends), she goes to a psychiatrist and tells him that she is shy and hates going to parties. Her psychiatrist responds with, “then don’t go to parties”

It’s that simple. It was a revelation to Janet and to me. She was a beautiful, sensitive soul who longed to write and, after everything she went through, found  her peace came from being herself. In the last scene, she is living in a small trailer outside her brother’s house writing.  Then she begins dancing quietly to music on the radio. She finally discovered  joy  in who she was.

So, pivot all you want life!   I am going to try to remember as I navigate the changing current, that with each turn around a new bend there is an opportunity to rediscover my joyful and strong self.   The less guarded I am,  the more I let myself be free.  As scary as it is, I find my authenticity through flexibility.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman needs to figure out how LinkedIn works.

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Keith Hoffman lives with his artist husband, dog and two cats in the small town Lambertville, New Jersey 72 miles outside of New York City. He has completed a memoir entitled The Summer My Sister Grew Sideburns.

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