turning points

Welcome to the inaugural post of ‘Til Queendom Come.

‘Til Queendom Come is an online publication of real stories about the slow, sudden and awkward (r)evolutions humans endure in this experiment we call life.

Being that I am female and considerably thorny, it is an understatement to note that themes of “womanhood” and “cringe-worthy awkwardness” shine through, shall we say, dazzlingly in the forthcoming writing and illustrations.

That’s right, illustrations. There are pictures! Meet “Q” — ‘Til Queendom Come’s ridiculous and iconic mascot:

Welcome to the Queendom.

Shall we begin? Let’s start at the beginning.

Mark Twain once argued that the most influential moment in human history — if you had to pick — was Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon. To some, Caesar’s act is considered THE event that snowballed into other grand moments, which propelled humans forward to their current state of existence. In other words, Caesar’s wading across the Italian waters is credited as the OG of “passing the point of no return.”

Humans have been stuck on this idea of “point of no return” (or as the cool kids call it, “PNR”), for quite some time. It offers the feeling of something absolute, in an otherwise mushy world.

In the case of Caesar and his Rubicon, the river was nothing to write home about, but its significance was mighty. After Caesar dominated in the Gallic Wars, he developed a thirst for power, so marched his troops across the Rubicon into territory not-his, inciting an obscene amount of conflict. (In Game of Thrones terms, it’d be like Cersei Lannister directing her unwanted army into Stark territory. Bold move, with lots of consequences that would set the course of history for the Seven Kingdoms.)

Soon after Caesar’s act of power-hungry defiance, he tore down the Roman Republic and established the Roman Empire in its place. Eventually, like all great superpowers, his Empire crumbled. Christianity rose from its ashes, spreading like wild fire across the known world, then to the unknown world.

One could argue, after Caesar’s fateful crossing of the Rubicon, the rest is repeated history. It goes something like this — superpowers came and went, sometimes in the name of religion, other times in the name of progress, most times in the name of whatever trumped-up psycho held the reins of power (pun definitely intended).

At times, we humans have had a magnificent history. And other times, it’s been reproachable and wicked.

Twain was asked to write about the turning-point of his own life for Bazaar magazine, and in true Twain form, before he could answer the personal question, he was inclined to address the existential crisis known as “being human.” He references Caesar’s river crossing, then takes a one-two punch at the arcane writing prompt, saying:

“This gives it [the turning-point] too much distinction, too much prominence, too much credit. It is only the LAST link in a very long chain of turning-points commissioned to produce the cardinal result; it is not any more important than the humblest of its ten thousand predecessors… to have left out any one of them would have defeated the scheme and brought about SOME OTHER result.”

Twain is right. Turning-points are so 19th century. Linear thinking is archaic, and he knew that in 1910, the year his turning-point essay was published, and morbidly, the same year he died.

Turning-points are so 19th century.

If you follow the turning-point theory, then if Caesar never crossed the Rubicon, the Roman Empire — in all its gloriously corrupt archetypes of modern day democracy — never would have been. And if the Roman Empire never was, then we may have seen Buddahmaic religions rise as our dominant faiths, instead of Abrahmaic religions. Or no religion at all. Maybe India, not Europe, would have won the race to conquer the waters and lands beyond the flat horizon. Instead of Abraham Lincoln on our copper pennies, we’d have the image of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of fortune.

And, I’d like to think U.S. President Orange Hitler would have remained Donald Drumpf, and I’d perhaps have a healthcare plan that doesn’t make me choose between getting a routine pap smear, or paying for my cell phone bill.

Damn you, Caesar and your fatalistic river crossing. Trump is your fault. YOUR FAULT, I say!

If only it were that simple. If it were, the U.S. could blame Michael Jordon’s pathetic comeback to the Washington Wizards for its decline in global favorability. (When we all know, it was his performance in Space Jam that made people detest Americans.)

Our past, present and future do not balance on a single, precarious tilt, ready to sway any which way with the breeze. Neither is life predetermined by tea leaves, oracles and baptisms. We are our actions and our words. We are a lot of luck, mixed with an intrinsic will to live, with a dash of hope for something bigger than ourselves.

I think we all seek some understanding of that definitive trice that put us on the map. And, so long as it remains elusive, we cling instead to a moment — like Cesar’s Rubicon crossing — that we can point to and say, “That, right there — that’s when everything changed.”

Our past, present and future do not balance on a single, precarious tilt, ready to sway any which way with the breeze. Neither is life predetermined by tea leaves, oracles and baptisms.

Maybe you believe: 14 billion years ago, the universe went bang, tiny microbes decided it was cool to be alive, and wrote some killer code on their DNA so they might reproduce and stick around for a while; then evolved into (insert high-speed, visual montage of billions of years of evolution), badass homo sapiens that traversed the deserts of Africa to survive and spread across the known world.

Or, maybe you believe: in the beginning was this sagacious, clairvoyant being that just was. He/she/they/it got lonely; or, felt this thing called Life would be a stupendous gift to bestow onto others. So, they created. And created some more. Then destroyed their creation. Then re-created. And created the cosmos to prove their omnipotence and kept the stars (and all of Life’s answers) just out of reach to make us conjure wild, and imaginative tales of why and how we exist.

Perhaps an intelligent designer is behind it all, and if so, in the words of Neil deGrass Tyson, “the more I look at the universe, the less convinced I am that there is something benevolent going on.” Or, perhaps all we are is dust in the wind, and if so, the remarkable science and history of human beings’ evolution and survival is the most spiritual thing about us.

Whichever side you fall on, our human story is epic, tragic and miraculous. In our moments of altruistic compassion, we soar. When we fall, we fall hard.

Five years ago, I took a hard fall when I realized I was in a sad, harmful, sham of a marriage. One March day, seven years into the relationship, my (now) ex-husband phoned my father and told him some very unsavory things about me. This phone call left me hysterical, which made my dad incredulous. My father flew in from Chicago to visit with us in Baltimore for exactly four hours. He happened to be on the east coast for work, so rerouted his flight home through Baltimore, so that he could stop through.

He asked to speak with us both separately — first me, then the ex. Dad and I went to lunch, I barely ate, but for the first time started sharing story after story of what my life had been like, married to this man. I didn’t know where to begin, so I started with stories.

I told Dad about the time my ex drove off, leaving me standing on the corner in below-zero weather to walk two miles home without a coat, all because I’d shut the car door too hard when getting out. Or the time he spit on the kitchen floor, because he felt I was not doing a proper job keeping the home clean, and “if I wanted a clean home, then I should wipe up the spit.” Or the time he left me in the ER, being prepped for a spinal tap to determine the cause of an abnormally painful migraine, so he could go home and get a good night’s rest. It was a Saturday.

For the first time in my life, I saw my dad loose his appetite. No joke — at lunch that day, the man never touched his spicy noodle bowl. Seeing his reaction to my stories was like an anecdote that I didn’t know I needed. By sharing my stories, I could finally see the absurdity of my life, and my marriage, through Dad’s look of sadness and disgust. It shook me.

We drove back to the house. While Dad discoursed with my ex at home (a conversation for which I would’ve loved to be a fly on the wall), I drove to a nearby abandoned park, and sat on a splintering bench. I lit a menthol cigarette, and sat there shaking for twenty minutes. All I could think was, “Please let this be the point of no return.”

I didn’t want to go back to that man or marriage, but I had not learned how to leave yet. Eventually, I learned. I left that house, and I left that man.

It was tempting that day on the park bench to claim “Point of No Return!”, driving a stake into the ground to mark “Before” and “After.” While it was a beginning as much as it was an end of something, there was a whole lot of in-between. The 10,000 preceding moments, and the moments that awaited me in the near future, weighed heavily on me. I took a quivery drag on my minty cigarette, and began to link those moments together, curating one story after the other in my head.

When I’d linked all there was to link from the past, I began telling myself stories of my future. I stamped my cigarette butt into the dirt, and drove back to the house muttering the words from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s novel, Slaughterhouse-Five over and over on my lips:

“And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.”

There are no points of no return. Only turning points, followed by more turning points. We understand when we’ve turned from this to that, by telling our story.

I need stories. I need to tell stories. I need to hear stories. Characters, settings, plot lines, climaxes, internal and external struggles, conclusions and resolutions — it is the stuff of stories that nudge me back and forth, and forward through endless turning points. I believe there is truth in story, and it comes alive when we share them.

This then, is the story of how I built my Queendom. It is a precarious and gritty thing, this Queendom. Like anyone’s story, the story of how my Queendom came to be is a chain of thousands of mini-turning points and moments in time, with thousands more still to come. Some there by luck, some there inevitably. Like time, always moving forward.

In this story, there are lessons for the taking or chucking. I am a subject matter amateur on most things. I have an unfortunate habit of repeating mistakes, believing the fifth or sixth time’s a charm to really learning a life lesson. I’m about two more ran-out-of-gas mistakes away from either learning not to push my luck, or learning just how far I can push it — 30 miles once the empty light turns on.

We are our actions, our words, a lot of luck, mixed with an intrinsic will to live, with a dash of hope for something bigger than ourselves.

I do not advocate this way of living or learning, so, I thought it best to share the stories of mine, and other’s turning points. This way, people I love — that’s you, niece Julianna Clark, future redhead Wonder Woman — and people I don’t know — that’s you reader X — might learn from the mishaps and thrills.

Or at least, simply enjoy a good story.