By Barbara Clarke

Regarding gaining wisdom… Where to begin? In childhood, of course.

In my complicated family, wisdom was reserved for the grownups and dispensed like Pez whenever conflict arose. By conflict I mean those awkward moments when I challenged my parent’s infallibility. The getting of wisdom became a life-long journey for me.

And yet, I’m beginning to find the word “journey” irritating. It’s not specific enough. Or maybe I’m irritated by it because on a road trip years ago, a friend played her Journey CD nonstop and I did “stop believin.”

Anyway, I looked the word up on Bill Gates’ pathetic Word thesaurus. He offers these two categories for journey: a trip or travel. “Okay, Bill.” Here goes. I’m going to cherry pick a few of the words on his list and try to say something worth your time about wisdom journeys. Maybe I’ll try to be wise and not a wise ass. Disclaimer – this is almost impossible for me to maintain for very long. So, I’ll be quick about it.

Sometimes wising up is a Slog (not on Bill’s list}. This is the crap you have to get through in order to get somewhere hopefully better or at least take a breath before the next slog arrives. The slog list for me is long and includes my entire adolescents, most jobs I’ve ever had, shopping (except groceries), and lately politics. Sometimes it’s a Trek wherein resides the possibility that good things await and are worth the work (try, fail, try harder, fail more, try . . .) to get there.

Sometimes wising up is a Tour. The older I get the more I like this word, wandering around without a guide looking at my own life and the lives of others. I like talking out loud on the tour—Wow! What was that all about? How did I (they) get here? Now where do I want to go?

Sometimes it’s a Trip – maybe not quite the electric-Kool-Aid acid variety, but trippy – surreal, like right now in 2017. Or back in time when my family alternated on various currents—fun and funny and then without warning we switched to sad and scary.

Here are a few more synonyms for “journey” from Bill: Cruise… through your life, but who really can or does do that? Fly—now that’s a turbulent one. Geez, am I this old now? Where did the time go? Now that I’m wise, I know to flip things over, lift the rock and see what else is there. So, if you don’t think about the word “fly” as flying—sardine style with TSA groping—and think about that feeling when life lifts you up in simple joy or a great love, that’s the kind of flying I like.

And, then there’s Do–not that annoying Just do it, which is really a shopping wolf dressed up in the alleged good-life’s clothing. No, the real Do, as in to stay in the game. It’s hard sometimes to pull off staying in the game when striving for authenticity is seen as an annoyance by people around you. Do you shut up because you are afraid that what you have to say or do won’t please EVERYONE? I don’t do that anymore! No, this game of life is the one I’m still designing. As PF as possible—my personal version of gluten free—patriarchy free.

And, finally there’s Ride. Nope, I’d rather be the driver, and if not that, then the official trip navigator on the passenger side. Why? Too many years shoved into the backseat getting car sick. Too many years shutting up instead of speaking up with intention. That’s when my bossy but insecure inner critic took up residency. That girl, the inner critic, she never wanted to leave and overstayed her welcome. Finally, after all these years of getting a little wiser—then dumber—then wise again, she and I have struck a deal. She has promised to ride in the backseat, maybe even take her own journey, leaving me some space, giving me room to fill up with more wisdom.

I have to go now, Cami. I feel a wisdom opportunity coming my way!


Barbara Clarke is a memoirist, a grant-writer, and a wise ass. She is the author of Getting to Home and a contributor to the 2016 anthology Memory into Memoir.

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