A vicissitude is defined as, “a change or variation occurring in the course of something.” Its connotation is typically negative, meaning you probably didn’t see a variation coming with such extreme velocity and whatever it was, it terrified you almost into madness or despair. Apocalypse Now!
Other definitions include: “a reversal of fortune, downturn, twist, shift, ups and downs.”
I was always pretty good at avoiding vicissitudes. I flattened the mountains or skipped over valleys. I ignored the smiling ones staring me straight in the face. I put my head in a book or hit the road and they disappeared.
Right now I am living through the largest, most terrible vicissitude of my life, a Mt. Everest and Crater Lake happening day in, day out, often within the space of an hour. It is the ultimate unknown Territory of Lost and Found.
I think, though, during all of this wandering, I may have learned something useful about navigating (or riding out) vicissitudes—the other part of them not defined in the dictionary. That other part is when the reversal reverses, when the up comes down. I guess you could call it a “back and forth,” a quasi-Newtonian law of metaphysics, a letter-less law with only one constant: the “back and forth” almost never reciprocate each other in real time. One direction backward could be a tank; one direction forward could be a keyhole limpet. Perhaps years later, however, through time, the long run, a person might notice a reapportioning of that particular back and forth, and the keyhole limpet becomes much greater in force than the tank.
These “back and forth” moments are legion to me these days. I lose something, I find something. I find something, I lose something. I suspect others have already experienced this so-called inevitable, inequitable “back and forth” phenomenon in their own vicissitudes, but I never perceived anything remotely like it until I found myself lost in the criminal justice system and seeking a way to survive, and maybe even transcend a dramatic reversal of my fortune.
Recently, I started listing the back and forth moments of my current situation. As I said early, they were almost never reciprocal, at least as of this writing. In fact, some were wildly unequal but I won’t provide the percentages here because I don’t know them—yet.
- I lost entrance to a thousand familiar doors of creative opportunity but found several unfamiliar ones open slightly to me.
- I found a job as a custodian and then lost it before it began, then found it again, then knew I had to lose it.
- I lost my husky but keep finding her in my dreams.
- I found hope I could get a job to save my house and then lost it.
- I lost my teaching career but have found another way to teach.
- I lost being an island and found strength on my family’s shore.
- I lost my greatest collaborator but know I can find another one out there, perhaps even the great collaborator herself, repurposed, reanimated, remade, the two of us perhaps born anew with new unpredictable energy to create.
- I found a promising new business client and then lost him for no reason that I ever discovered.
- I lost faith in the old sound of the ocean but found faith watching a deer eat an apple in my back yard.
- I lost a belief in facts but found the truth in novels.
- I found an exciting fresh idea out of nowhere and then it lost it practically just as fast.
- I lost my conviction for rain then found it after a little help from a library and someone who still believes in me.
- I found incredible new friends while I lost incredible old ones.
- I found my hometown of Oregon City as an incredible river of story inspiration and lost the absurd idea that what happened to me there in my youth was like everywhere else in the 1970s and 80s.
- I found a throwback sports metaphor on how to rally and haven’t lost it yet. (Hint: tennis with a wooden racket on a clay court. Thank you Oregon City High School tennis team.)
- I lost all judgment of others and found a new ability to walk in another person’s shoes.
- I lost all interest in self-aggrandizement and found joy in silent, good work.
- I lost everything and found there was more.
I don’t know if recognizing the “back and forth” in my vicissitudes will continue to register with me. I don’t know if these musings will prove beneficial to anyone reading this. I certainly don’t offer them as a prescription for handling a major reversal in your life. To me, at this point, it’s a working theory, but I like where the work is going and believing in some reapportionment later.
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