“Well, always busy, busy, huh!” she says. I choose to take this as a compliment. “So, what’s next?”
The question feels like a tag-along echo, in some ways. Acquaintances catching up on the year so far have asked it. Close friends have asked it. Family has asked it. I ask it. Constantly, I ask it.
Maybe it’s just how things are this time of year. I remember, last year, standing on the precipice of summer, a handful of new credentials and certifications under my belt, plans for the autumn and winter already in the back of my mind. Like harvest season had come and gone and now I was wondering what new seeds to sow.
What’s next? What’s next is a collection of poetry, including all the poems I was too timid to include in my first collection, and the hopes that a publishing house specializing in the online poetry renaissance will pick it up.
What’s next is the audiobook for my most recent book, set to release as soon as Audible gives it the greenlight.
What’s next is a return to my roots, using short fiction to hone my craft, to tease out a book idea that continues to dance in the shadows, revealing half of itself and then disappearing when the lights come on.
What’s next is the ongoing/lengthy editing and querying processes for my two completed manuscripts, the blind hope that these will be it, that one of these pieces waiting in the wings will be enough to put me onto the center stage.
What’s next is a three-spot vacation, jet-setting to Las Vegas before driving to San Diego and Hollywood and then retracing our steps back to Vegas (what qualifies as an “easy-going vacation” in this household). What’s next is a summer of events, of skydiving and matinee Broadway shows, of camping in Maine and conquering a few more 4,000 footers.
(What’s next is me following far too many traveling sites and aching fiercely and going, “Perhaps we could go somewhere in autumn, too?”)
What’s next. I’ve been asking myself that across the board. I’ve been asking it in my professional life. I can feel the rumblings, like something in my teaching career, like the ground beneath me, is about to shift. I can feel myself rumble, never content to just conquer something, to fill up my teaching schedule and then invoice happily. What’s next. What’s past the bend. What’s over the horizon.
I’ve been asking myself, “what’s next?” after recognizing just how new of a chapter I find myself in life, these days — and how starkly and decidely different it is from this time from even a few years ago. All right, I’ll happily turn the page — but what’s next? What’s in store?
What’s next. What’s next, what’s next, what’s next. I honestly don’t need anyone to ask me it. I live on the “what’s next”. When I trail run unknown paths, I always go farther than planned. I need to see what’s past that turn, over that hill — and once I find out, I’m already onto the next spot. What’s next — what’s just past the spot that I can’t fully see. What’s past the bend. What’s over the horizon.
What’s next. And next, and next, and next.
It’s a life with one foot always in the future, and it has its benefits. I have a wall full of diplomas and certifications to speak of those benefits. I have four published books and a full teaching schedule to speak well of it. That foot perpetually in the future propels me into it, keeps me from resting on my laurels (or is it my yannies?). The foot in the future is the foot on the gas pedal, and I can assure you I’m never in the slow lane.
But, on the other hand, I get restless leg with that foot. It can be an anxious way to live — one where it’s hard to be fully still. Why just watch TV when I could edit, or research, or write as well. Why sit down when I could go on a walk, or a drive, or explore another mountain instead. Why stay in the state when plane tickets are cheap right now. Why do something that even hints at nothing when I could be doing a whole litany of somethings.
Perhaps the hardest part about having one foot in the future is making sure the other foot stays grounded, that I don’t get swept off my feet by my insatiability. That, when I eventually touch down in San Diego, I can let both feet sink into the sand. That I can let myself just stand by the shoreline, letting the waves slowly wash over my feet.
(You know, wait a moment before I seek out the yoga studios, the circus gyms, good running routes; before I open my notebook and go, “This is the perfect atmosphere to write!”)
What’s next. In some ways, I don’t know. There’s writing on the wall for some things in my life, and all I can do is wait it out until the inevitable happens. Others are like chips thrown to the air and all I can do is let them fall where they may (so long as it’s not on top of my head).
But, surprisingly, it’s all done with presence. Perhaps it’s because I burned out the part of me that used to be desperate for the blueprints — God, I still marvel at the girl from not even three years ago, crying and begging the heavens to tell her how it was all going to work out; if she had been given the sparknotes then, she wouldn’t have understood or accepted them (if ever I (or she) needs reminding that there’s a reason we’re not told the future, that we have to let these things unfold in real time).
Perhaps it’s because this is how I always get once summer hits. My harvest season was when the winter winds were bitter, when a chance to lay out in the sun wasn’t an option (even if it’s laying out in the sun with my laptop on one side and a book I’m trying to finish reading on the other). There’s something lackadaisical about it, something that has no interest in trying to predict.
What’s next is allowing myself to fill up my own cup. What’s next is embracing my summer schedule, even though three of my classes will be on hiatus until September. What’s next is waking up and realizing my to-do list doesn’t have to be a mile long. What’s next is spending more time with my husband — the one person who can commend my achievements while still knowing when and how to gently lift my foot from the gas pedal — even (and especially) if it’s just cuddling together on the couch as we blaze through another season of Supernatural.
I still hear the echoes from what I wrote from this time last year: it’s time for more opportunities to just lay in the hammock (which, thanks to busy schedules and terrible weather, has yet to be put back up). More time to just be. More time letting both feet stand in the present moment and allowing the immediate surroundings to wash over me.
What’s next? Well, how about the what now?