What happens now?

I’ve always had a thing for Jodie Foster. Well, since puberty hit, I guess.

I went through a phase where I watched virtually every movie I could find, one of favorites being the original Freaky Friday. I didn’t know it then, but I was especially captivated by her androgynous teenage character. I almost "knew* she was gay even before she came out decades later. I could totally relate to her, even when she didn’t even know herself, or share herself, in that way yet.

In the movie CONTACT, Ms. Foster’s character, Ellie, travels to outer space and on the edge of a major part of the journey into the Great Unknown, she says breathlessly, “what happens now?!”

Matthew McConaughey’s character says the exact same phrase in INTERSTELLAR, another one of my favorite outer space/sci-fi films. Fun fact! Mr. McConaughey also played a major role opposite Jodie Foster in CONTACT. ;)

I’ve been especially drawn to this phrase “what happens now?!” as I’ve intentionally veered off the straight-and-narrow (pun!) path in every aspect of my life, for most of my life. I just recently put together a presentation about living in 25 different homes in 19 years. And that’s just the past 19! I’ve had more than that in my 40 years on this planet.

As I put together that presentation, I realized the guts and glory it took along the way to pull that shit off. I sat at my computer, watching the pictures scroll by and realized the epic courage it took to do what I’ve done. And the more details you know about my story, the more it may dazzle you.

I don’t come from old or new money. I was raised by a single mother who never attended college. I went to school on full scholarships. I left my career due to homophobia in my early 20s. I’ve weaved in and among many different careers including building my own business as a coach and writer and speaker for the past 10 years. I came out as queer in my early 20s and then again as trans in my mid-30s. I put myself through the grad school at the same time I began my transition. I left the long-term relationship I’d been in when I realized it had served it’s true purpose for me and then moved around to find and figure out what Home meant to me ever since.

And along the way, through all those meanderings, I’ve often asked myself when the going got tough, “what happens now?!”

And the answer I’ve learned to hear and trust is: whatever you want.

What happens in our lives is completely dependent on us and our choices and our decisions from moment to moment. It may be why so many people play it “safe” and stay with what’s familiar. There’s a false sense of security when you live your life like that. But you also stay the same, perhaps to a fault that doesn’t serve you to your highest potential.

“What happens now” feels like it’s out of our control, which it often is, but we do have plenty of agency in what happens next. External factors may influence our means and methods but if we let ourselves fall victim to that, we’re in dire straights. When we empower ourselves to act with whatever we have in the moment, we find our way, sometimes one fingerhold at a time. And if you’ve ever tried to plan something, like a wedding for example, you realize how imperfectly Best Laid Plans may actualize.

I think that’s why I loved the movies I mentioned earlier so much, besides my major crush on Jodie of course, because they show just what happens when we choose our own adventure and let go of what happens next. It’s a dance between choosing to act, choosing to see, choosing to try and releasing our grasp on how it will unfold.

Both characters intentionally choose to go into Deep Space with no idea what will happen to them and no idea who they will become or if they will even continue to exist.

I’ve done that so many times in so many ways, my transition being one of many decisions I’ve made, my moving around the Northeast of America being another, and what I’ve learned from the process is how scary and thrilling and wonderful it is to leave the familiar and learn who you become as a result.

Toilet paper taught me integrity.

I can’t go into a bathroom now without feeling the impulse to replace the roll if it’s used up.

Even if it’s not my own bathroom.

I know where the impulse comes from and I laugh to myself how well the synapse is embedded at this point. Or whatever synapses do. Do they embed?

Well, I remember when the synapse did its thing, it was about five years ago, give or take. And it still compels me to this day. Toilet paper taught me about integrity.

Our integrity is really important. When we give our word to something, we basically back ourselves to do or say or come through on something. Our integrity is what drives our lives, it’s what gives them meaning and motivation and bonds us to the lives of other people, as we honor our word and commitments to other people.

So, what is your word currently worth?

A good way to figure it out is to assess how your life is going. Run through the checklist of the ways you move through your day, how you form and fulfill habits and behaviors. What things to commit to and what falls by the wayside.

It’s pretty common that folks here in the West (let’s say America because I’ve only ever lived here) have a complicated or distant relationship to their Word. We struggle with integrity to ourselves, first and foremost. We have a hard time loving ourselves enough to do what we need to do to get and stay healthy and thrive. It’s why the industry of self-care has skyrocketed over the past several years—there’s lots of money to be made in the field of self-love!

And some people will do that with integrity and some won’t. Some will want to cash in on it and some will try to help from a real, true place.

And that’s where that impulse comes from with me and the toilet paper.

Years ago, I immersed myself in the Landmark Education experience. For about a year or so, I took some of their courses and actually participated in one of their higher-level training experiences as a Course Supervisor. This is fancy language for: I paid for a personal development course and then volunteered in one of their training programs for several months.

Basically I did work for free to get whatever I was supposed to get from it. And I got plenty.

I got the ability to see something that needed to be done and do it. To take action. Or at least KNOW I wasn’t doing something from my own free will.

I got what Landmark calls, “related to my Word”. I developed a new relationship to my own word and my own integrity. I became AWARE of it. And now I can’t turn it off. And it’s awesome!

Because now my word means something. When I say I am going to do or not do something, I mean it. And I don’t mean that I will always DO IT, but I mean what I say and I say what I mean. Confused? Here’s an example. When I told my friend I would come over, I meant it. I didn’t say yes to please him or because I felt guilty. I said yes because I meant yes. But then I had to make a new decision to work and I meant YES when I said yes to that.

So now I had to go back to my friend and change my Word. I had to say, “when I said yes, I meant it. And now I need to change that, and I’m very sorry, but here’s when I can hang out this weekend…”

I had integrity to myself, first, and then to him. That’s what my word is worth. It means something REAL. And it can change and evolve as life happens but I still consider that my word means something and I need to remember it.

Toilet paper. We’re back to that.

As part of the Landmark training program, the volunteers (they call them People Who Assist—same thing, because we do assist) would clean the bathrooms and change the toilet paper rolls. And this was done by gender identity because that’s how bathrooms are designated in most places so there was no weirdness about men not cleaning or whatever. Men cleaned the men’s room and women cleaned the women’s room. And it was done according to the same level of cleanliness or not at all. Toilet paper rolls were replaced if they were empty, end of story.

And I did that, because it’s what everyone else did and it was expected I would, too. If I didn’t, the next person who went in to check my work would come back and be like, “yo. I changed them when it was my turn and you gave your Word you would when it was your turn, so what happened?”

And it wasn’t accusatory or nasty. It was just fact. And this person was holding me accountable to my Word. Basically saying, if you can’t do what you say you will, what is your Word actually worth?

This helps make the resolution thing easy as pie to actually accomplish. It’s not about fixing yourself or being more faster or smarter or whatever. It’s just simply, “what do I want and what needs doing and am I willing to be the person to do it?

Set your Word to something you want to do. Or need to do. Or just say you WILL do it. Think of me in the bathroom changing those rolls because others were and it was my job to do it next.

And how I do that stil because my integrity synapse is just so deep now that I can’t look at an empty roll and not think that it’s up to me to change the goldern thing.


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