A Meditation on Control

Type A.  Perfectionist.  Control freak.

How many of you have been accused of any of the above behaviors?  I definitely have.

I tend to walk a line here, because I am without a doubt a perfectionist about some things—mostly how I think I should perform in certain situations (literally and figuratively, being that I am, er, a performer).  I can also blindly and blissfully let clothes pile up next to my bed until it looks like a medium-sized J Crew/Anthropologie/Banana Republic/thrift store swamp.  So maybe I’m not type-A about some things.

But in terms of CONTROL—of our professions, our love lives, our dreams and goals . . . . well, I think that’s something we all can get behind.  But what does control mean?  Part of my chosen profession is the constant reality that I have almost NO control in the process.  I can do my work to the best of my ability and try as much as possible to get out of my own way, but in the end, the decision of whether I am “right” or not for a project is going to come down to a million factors I have zero control over.  And (except the job to job applicant ratio . . . theater is rather unique in that), how different is that from many other professions?  Or, for that matter, anything non-job related.

Taking control of my destiny is something I’ve been actively working on for awhile: creating work for myself with talented friends, learning from the genius female entrepreneurs that I’m lucky enough to interact with, and getting crystal clear on what I want my life to look like.  But lately, life has felt a little out of control.

A few weeks ago, a few days before my birthday, while on vacation, my husband and I were in an awful car accident on a major highway.  I was driving.  Long story short: I was in the other car’s blind spot, they pulled into me, I swerved to avoid being hit, and ended up spinning out across three lanes of the very busy highway and onto a guardrail.  Miraculously, the injuries were relatively minor—although our car is no more.   RIP Pontiac Vibe (2004-2013)

We managed to continue our vacation, thanks to rental cars and buses. Capturing pretty stuff on camera was definitely soothing to the emotional state.

We managed to continue our vacation, thanks to rental cars and buses. Capturing pretty stuff on camera was definitely soothing to the emotional state.

I don’t remember a “life flashing before my eyes” moment.  But I do have a visceral physical memory of being completely out of control of a 2000-pound vehicle with my husband next to me, and the hideous knowledge that no action I could take at that moment would change whatever the outcome was going to be.  When we came to a stop, and I realized that neither of us were bleeding and we were no longer in the line of oncoming traffic, I came as close as I ever have to hyperventilating.  Gasping, gulping for air, and too shaken up to even cry.  It was the scariest moment of my life so far.

The intervening days brought a lot of feelings.  Intense gratitude that it wasn’t so much worse than it was.  Incredible guilt, despite the fact that I wasn’t at fault (what if I had reacted quicker? Differently? BETTER?).  And a near panic attack (another thing I’ve never experienced) next time I had to be behind the wheel of a car—which was basically immediately, considering we were hours and hours from home.

The lessons I learned are not ground-breaking or new—for me or anyone else:  Driving can be dangerous.  Life can throw you a major kink in your plans in an instant—and there’s never a “convenient time” for that kind of thing.  In the most stressful circumstances, our ability to just keep swimming ahead is necessary and important and sometimes hard as hell.  Paperwork sucks and having a good insurance company is golden.  And of course, life goes on.

As for control . . . . sometimes life just gives you a not so gentle reminder that while you can do what you do, in the end, there are larger forces at work.  You can spend your life and your energy trying to control them, or you can live in the flow—on the lookout for, and grateful for, every moment of joy and beauty, and ready to face the ugly stuff with bravery and a sense of humor and an eye towards the lessons to learn.

I hope I’ll never stop learning.  And looking.

Casey Clark