, Gloucester, MA

November 1, 2013

Tackling a problem? 'Start where you are'

Journal Pages
Susan Emerson

---- — The words are scribbled on a scrap of paper torn from a small CVS note pad, still edged with the ragged little line of perforations that connected it to its mother book.

“Start where you are.”

The little slip of paper with such a big idea has been anchored under the base of my bedside lamp for weeks. It’s the first thing I see when I wake in the dark of the earliest morning as I turn on the light, and the last thing I notice at night, when I fall into bed and turn the light off. I don’t recall where I first heard or read it.

But it had caught my imagination, and I thought to copy it down on a page of a hand-written journal, one of many such full-sized notebooks in which I have recorded thoughts and events of my life over the last 25 years. Once in a while, I lift a journal randomly from my bedside cupboard and read a few pages, and, not surprisingly, I see patterns that repeat.

It’s reassuring to see that I have solved many issues of my life, and that it has often happened by writing about them. Writing is a tool that works well for me; my thoughts become immediately clearer when I unravel them on paper.

Also interesting, though, is that sometimes, it feels like I’m reading about some else’s life. Sometimes, I am even surprised at the writer’s insights or, conversely, disappointed by her lack of them.

“Start where you are.” It was a powerful, short little suggestion that for whatever reason, I had chosen to leave in the margin, but not write about.

The four short, seemingly uncomplicated words delivered a punch, and they were a saving grace to someone stuck in circumstances that wouldn’t budge. If you are beaten down by the same problem over and over again, finding no plausible solution, try putting it behind you for just a day, and start where you are — today.

Giving yourself a clean slate might allow you to see something differently. Maybe there’s a piece of the puzzle you have failed to notice. Maybe it will jump right out at you, helping you to turn a corner, to regain momentum, explore some dusty, hidden places.

Bits of wisdom? Pop psychology? Or, are the words an edgy, magical little combination of feelers that push you to view an old, worn out problem in a new light, approach it with a different energy?

In retrospect, I think there was something in my heart of hearts that knew I should hang onto that little bit of wisdom, save it in the corner of some page of a journal, then find it when I least expected to need it, peeking out from under the base of a lamp. So, I took the bait.

I started where I was the other day, and it felt very good. My heart of hearts was at peace for a change, filled with a new confidence that things would work themselves out in the future.

And my other heart, the tangible one, pumping blood inside of my chest — it’s following suit. Everything’s going to be all right.


Gloucester resident Susan S. Emerson is a regular Times columnist.