Inching: How I’ve Learned to Get Anywhere

I have been dreaming of a small-scope life like a paint peeling front porch hosting rocking chairs and suckle-sweet honey hues. I imagine writing stacks and stacks of essays and poems and stories of which I am pleasantly proud. Heaps of quiet fall into the atmosphere of my future life like snow. Not real snow, of course. The fake kind that doesn’t host such chilly molecules.
My ideal future never consists of spotlights flipping color screens while I top every music chart. I do not fantasize about wealth or owning acres of Astro Turf. I want a simple life that celebrates calm and stability and creation.

Thus, I find it tragically hilarious that I landed in an MFA program with three years to generate creative works and to grow deep and wide as a person, and still I toss myself into my blanket scrambled bed after watching hours of television, leaving stacks of dishes in the sink, without having written a single word of anything.

The problem with fantasies is that you rarely think about the legs you’ll stand up under them to carry them into reality. Even the simplest dream, vague as a color with which you swathe the walls of your future, has to be constructed on a real palette in real life.

Even if you do develop some process by which these dreams fall out of pixelated imagination into tangible shapes and skins, you have to make sure that the processes themselves aren’t idealistic steps you’re starting to fantasize rather than implement. For instance, when I dream about doing yoga I often think, YES, I WILL GO HOME IN A HALF HOUR AND POP IN THAT YOGA TAPE AND I WILL BECOME A MASTER! I imagine my bamboo-illustrated mat in the center of my dingy tan carpeting. I imagine opening my drawer of workout (or veg-out) clothing.

Hours later I am not a master, and oddly enough, I have been sitting in front of my television watching Psych episodes until I’m sick of them but still watching.

I have encountered this issue so many times. I’m sure many people have—particularly students who have relocated hours from home who are trying to feel comfortable in an unfamiliar space with expectations that still feel a bit nebulous and terrifying. I have my simple dream of a yellow painted life, washed in sunlight and calm. And I’ll have it, in tastes. And I do need to begin taking steps—very very small steps—to get there.

Sometimes we have to go one inch at a time. Lately I’m trying one inch of writing and a few more inches of reading a novel. I’m trying one inch of yoga and a few more of eating potato chips in my yoga pants while watching an episode of Murder, She Wrote.

I expect myself to move too far too fast. What’s surprising about setting very small goals is that you almost always surpass them. When I set out to write for five minutes, I get hooked. I write for an hour. Then I don’t really feel like that episode of whatever show I’m onto next. I’m up for a walk down the autumn dashed street.

Now I’m going for coffee and working on my research paper. I’m on a roll.

Michelle Potgeter is currently earning her MFA in poetry at Virginia Tech. 

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