Tuesday, May 17, 2016

"You Were Not Built to Play It Safe, Darlings" — Ali Trotta and "The Other Side of a River"

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Today, I'm delighted to introduce writer, dreamer, and coffee aficionado Ali Trotta. I was introduced to Ali and her work by novelist Deanna Raybourn (A Curious Beginning, et al.) and I love palling around with both of them on Twitter. (We're all friendly! Come say hi!) Recently, Ali wrote a blog post that resonated deeply with me — about change, fear, boogeymen who try to steal your dreams, and the never-ending battle against cynicism and defeatism.

And here she is — 

ALI TROTTA: If there’s one thing I know, it’s the power of choice. The power of looking at a situation, with all its flaws and potential disasters and difficulties, and choosing it anyway. Sometimes, it’s so easy to look at a situation and get scared, because of how difficult it is or how much might go wrong. It’s incredibly daunting.

Sometimes, too, the idea of actually getting what you want is terrifying too. Because it almost always involves an upheaval. No decision, no fight, is devoid of change. It’s impossible to think otherwise. And let’s face it: change can be the adult version of the Boogeyman. Because there are so many variables that can’t be accounted for, so many unknowns.

And that’s why there are times when we allow ourselves to stay where we are, doing what we’ve always done, even when we’re miserable. Even when we know that it isn’t healthy, that it doesn’t make us happy.

Fear is a strange monster. Sometimes, it is as subtle as a whisper. Other times, it’s a shout—someone or something hitting a nerve in you that’s always raw. An old wound never quite healed, always so close to breaking open, a piece of yourself you’re forever struggling to protect. This old hurt can be aggravated by so many things, seemingly reaffirmed by circumstances. Because, honestly, there are times in life where it feels like nothing is going right and everything is impossible. And it’s so much easier to retreat than fight, because we are emotionally exhausted. Beat down. Disheartened.

So, the fear creeps in just at the right time to make you feel…hopeless. To play on your insecurities in such a way that you start to believe that torrent of bad things in front of you, the heaps of mistakes, all the ways things haven’t worked out before. But history is not how we measure the future—it’s what we learn from.

The saddest thing in the world, to me, is someone who has given up. The look in a friend’s eyes that says, “It doesn’t get better than this. This is how things are always going to be.” Don’t get me wrong: I both hate fighting and change. And it’s always a gamble to gear up for a battle, to take steps toward something knew. You look ahead and see a million what-ifs, and it can be suffocating.

But that’s what your fear wants you to see and feel. The truth is that, sometimes, people like to keep us still, doing whatever they can to root us to a place. Because it’s easier for them. Because can’t bear to entertain the idea of something more. And, well, I don’t ever want that to be you—I don’t ever want you to find yourself entrenched in a situation and think it can’t change, that it can’t get better.

Rest assured, it can. As long as you don’t give up. It can be scary as all hell to stand up for what you want, what you believe in. Standing up for yourself is hard. There’s always going to be someone who wants to keep you small, keep you hurting, keep you guilty. They’re going to use that power over you to get what they want.

That person deserves a house dropped on their heads and their shoes stolen. Because that person isn’t nice. And sometimes, it is hard to recognize that kind of manipulation. It’s hard to recognize that kind of villain for a million reasons. But don’t allow yourself to be gaslit into thinking a situation is all your fault. Or that you’ll never be able to accomplish [insert dream here]. Take your power back, and remember how to fight, remember who you are.

You are made of stars. You cannot be contained.

I’ve said this before, but: life is full of battles. You decide what you’re going to fight for, but here’s the kicker: you’ve always got to fight for yourself. It isn’t easy. It’s like hopping over crocodiles to get to the other side of a river. And maaaaaybe there’s a lion waiting there. But maybe your hope for this life is waiting there too.

And it helps to have someone in your corner. Someone who looks at you when you’re being an idiot and tells you the truth, even though it’s not pretty. Even when it is through tears. Someone who sees you for who you are, especially on the days when you cannot see yourself.

Life is finite. There’s no way to guess when the sand’s going to run out. I have been reminded of this so fiercely, lately. Time is short. Life is short. Spend it loving. But more so? Allow yourself to be loved. Don’t close yourself off, because in an off-the-wall distortion you’re justifying it as “easier.” Don’t let your past get in the way of this moment, right now.

Fight for what you want. And, if it’s applicable, allow yourself to be fought for. You can put up as many walls as you like, you can put as much distance as possible between yourself and something/someone else. But all the walls and all the distance in the world doesn’t change facts—and it certainly doesn’t change feelings.

You were not built to play it safe, darlings.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Lovely Reds and readers, do you ever find yourself playing it safe? If so, why do you think that is? What do you do to (in the words of Winston Churchill) "Keep buggering on"? Please tell us in the comments.

Ali Trotta is a poet, editor, dreamer, word-nerd, and unapologetic coffee addict. She is always scribbling on napkins, closing her eyes while crossing the street, and singing along to songs at the grocery store. When she isn’t word-wrangling, you can find her cooking, baking, taking photographs, or hanging out in parking lots. Her work has been featured in Uncanny magazine, and she’s on Twitter as @alwayscoffee. You can also read her blog at http://alwayscoffee.wordpress.com.


  1. Ali, thank you --- this is such an insightful post; so much to consider and think about . . . .

    I think we’ve all “played it safe” at some point in our lives because, as Ali said, it frightening out there and it really is so much easier to stay where you are and play it safe. It does help to have someone in your corner, but, in the end, you yourself must make the decision [as scary as that might be] and take the leap.

  2. This is one of the best pep talks ever.

    So often I hear people giving excuses about why they can't do something, or why they are limited in some way. Stepping out of one's comfort zone, though, stretches us, and gives us the confidence to take on more. If you think you can't, you won't. If you dare to try, who knows? You never know unless you go for it.

  3. This is one of the best pep talks ever.

    So often I hear people giving excuses about why they can't do something, or why they are limited in some way. Stepping out of one's comfort zone, though, stretches us, and gives us the confidence to take on more. If you think you can't, you won't. If you dare to try, who knows? You never know unless you go for it.

  4. This is a wonderful post Ali, and can apply to so many facets of life. It is a pep talk, isn't it Karen?

    And I can tell you're a poet because there are so many beautiful lines. Maybe I like these the best: "Fear is a strange monster. Sometimes, it is as subtle as a whisper. Other times, it’s a shout—someone or something hitting a nerve in you that’s always raw."

    thanks for visiting today!

  5. This is just wonderful. And to make it even more powerful, there is that moment when a simple typo leads to ever different meanings and lessons.

    The line above is:
    "Don’t get me wrong: I both hate fighting and change. And it’s always a gamble to gear up for a battle, to take steps toward something knew."

    This is likely supposed to say "new," BUT as written, isn't it just as true? I think in many ways, we know what those steps will lead to - it's just the taking of the first one that is so hard.

    What a pep talk! Thanks for stopping by Ali. I'm off to follow you on Twitter. :)

  6. Welcome, Ali! So glad to have you with us today! I have bookmarked your piece so I can refer to it when I need to -- so lovely and strong and supportive. Brava!

  7. P.S. Why am I late today? Because Hubby is working and I took his place as parent coordinator with Kiddo's early morning book group. Did I say no, as discussed yesterday? NO! Must try harder, but those kids go wild if there aren't a few adults around....

  8. What a wonderful way to start a morning! This is such an empowering and reassuring message. Having just stepped out of any Safety Zone I may have lived in, I found great comfort in your message, Ali. I knew it was time for change and instead of deciding where I CAN live, I chose to decide where I WANTED to live and then figured out how I could make it happen. Scary to move out of a home after 33 years and rent a tiny cottage and buy a"tindominium." (Trailer soon to be "glamper" I hope.) But one is on St John in the Virgin Islands and the other on Outer Cape Cod next to the most beautiful Audubon sanctuary in the world. Sometimes I wonder, dear God, what have I done? But most of the time, my heart is singing with joy.

  9. What I needed to read today. Printing it for future today-I-needs. Fave line - "Don’t let your past get in the way of this moment, right now."

    Thanks for sharing this, Susan MacNeal. Just added Ali Trotta's blog to my Feedly lineup.

  10. I love this line, "You were not built to play it safe, darlings."

    I played it safe at a former job for way to long and yes, I was miserable. It took getting fired to kick me in the seat of the pants and take that gamble to start writing again.

    Now, chocolate, a few tears and the shoulder of a good spouse and a good friend is just what I need to get past the rough spots. Thanks for the pep talk!

  11. I am so glad that this resonated so much -- and I appreciate all of your comments so much. <3 Thank you all!!!

  12. Lovely and thought provoking. Ross and I both had our moments of safe and unhappy as lawyers. We both left the profession, me to write and Ross to become a special ed teacher. There have been scary moments, and financial insecurities, and skeptics who wondered how we could uproot our livings with three kids.

    Would we go back? Never. Taking that leap was the best thing for both of us.

  13. Thank you thank you...

    (And at one point I burst out laughing. "..and steal their shoes"? Oh! PERFECT.

    I say to myself--leap and the net will appear.

    And there's a quote from Anais Nin on my bulletin board: "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."

  14. Ali, lovely post. It made me think of the leap I took when I wrote my first novel--and every one since! And many other leaps, past and future, I'm sure. I'm going to bookmark this for times when I need a kick in the behind...

    And Hank, love the Nin quote. Someday you should show us your bulletin board.

  15. Wow, perfect timing -- I'm so glad I popped by today. Thank you, Ali.

    A little while ago I was driving and whimpering--that about-to-cry feeling--and I realized it was an anxiety reaction. I often feel fear about this here writing thing I've chosen (choice!) to do. I've been struggling with the ending of my WIP--I know the whodidit and the whydidit and the howdidit, so ... why isn't the ending falling into place?

    I realized that instead of wasting my time trying to shoehorn up a first draft ending, I need to rethink everything before it! That this is why I'm having trouble now. Great, after all these months of writing, *now* I realize I might have huge plot issues?

    So, here's the fear: My story might actually be okay as is--I'm up against deadline, so do I really have time to do an overhaul? It's the writing equivalent of "keep buggering on." Ultimately, it's about trusting my gut, but man, sometimes that's a scary proposition! Whew, anyhow ... I need to breath and brainstorm now. (And get more coffee; I'm with you on that one, Ali!)

  16. This is not only a lovely pep talk, it was perfectly timed for me! Out of the blue I've been headhunted for what sounds like a dream job, and my initial interview is coming up a half hour from now. This was the perfect thing to read before I go into it! Thank you so much, Ali, and thank you Reds for always finding people with such wonderful things to say.

  17. What a powerful and inspiring message today. Thank you, Ali, for bringing it to us today. It's a message we should share with our friends and family, and I will. Of course, the fact that you are a coffee junkie, I mean aficionado, like me makes your words completely trustworthy. Hahaha!

    Michele, you struck a nerve with me on your deciding where you want to live. I feel like such an idiot these days. Last year, I had mucho work done on the house and had a gorgeous new bathroom put in. What is crazy is that I have lately been feeling like I need to live elsewhere, but I have no idea where. My husband, who works and lives away, would have to be consulted, and I don't see how I could ever live any further away from my granddaughter, which are currently an hour away. But, I'm finding it hard to escape this feeling that I am not in the right place. It may just be a temporary fit of unrest and it will pass, but I will remember this post today in future thoughts about it.

  18. "... and steal their shoes" — yes, one of my favourite lines, too!

  19. Susan,

    Not sure if this fits the topic here. Due to my childhood illness (spinal meningitis(, which affected my inner ear balance, I remember starting ice skating lessons at the age of 2.5 years. I remember holding on to the railings. Despite many attempts to skate on my own, I fell down! One day when I was about 6 years old, I tried again. I tried skating again on my own and I did NOT fall down! I was happy that I could skate on my own without falling down. It took me about four years. I am glad I did not give up!