Sitting in Ambiguity


Life is not going well for us liberal elites.

I’m not just talking about the surprise election result. I’m thinking of the rising wave of anti-intellectualism, anti-science, anti-common-sense that pervades my world of late. The rise of fundamentalism around the world is not new. It’s just closer to home, suddenly.

Sure, Trump has damped down a bit from the vitriol of the campaign. He’ll no longer try to put Hillary in jail. His wall has now become something with “fencing” and we hear no more of Mexico paying for it. He’ll not automatically deport 15 million Muslims.  He even likes Obama now.

Everyday there are new stories, new speculations, new exclamations, new explanations. It’s easy to latch on to any of them as they whizz by. Too easy.

I remind myself that I really DON’T KNOW what’s going to happen. I really DON’T KNOW how bad it will get.  I do believe it will get bad, but I don’t yet know just how bad. Trump prides himself on keeping others “off balance.” He likes his unpredictability. In that, he’s been consistent.

It’s like I wrote a few weeks back in the post, Tolerance: the first plane has definitely hit. In fact, for this metaphor to work, the second plane has already hit too.  Remember those hours?  Two planes had intentionally hit the Twin Towers, then another hit the Pentagon. All commercial and private airplanes were immediately grounded. The Towers fell. A fourth plane was unaccounted for, then discovered crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

No one knew what would happen next. And, for a short time, President Bush was himself unaccounted for.

It was all quite frightening.  Do you remember?

For years, I read the bios of the people who had died in the towers, one per day in the New York Times. We heard survivors recount acts of heroism. We listened to rabid and often racist explanations, and we were told we would not “let the terrorists win.”

I took up that call. I was not afraid to be in New York City, then just an hour away from my home in Philadelphia. So, I arranged for singing lessons in New York City and, to pay for it, I put together a therapy group that brought me into lower Manhattan every two weeks. That was something I could DO.

Then, we watched as our country prepared for war.

And Woody and I joined the Peace Corps.  We wanted TO DO SOMETHING more.



We’re at a similar place in our life today. We want to do something. 

Yet, other than that long list I offered mid-November in We Always Have Choices, we can’t yet be sure what that will be. We are surrounded by ambiguity. Uncomfortable, unpleasant ambiguity.

And, oh, how we hate that place of not knowing.

For aren’t we supposed to know? Aren’t we supposed to have it figured out? Gather information, assess, and decide. Isn’t that the process?

Trouble is, I’ve got too much information coming at me. Because of social media I feel bombarded. I have no time to process; no time to sit still with it all and allow myself the luxury of rumination.

It’s why I left the life of the political hack. (We political hacks use the term in only the most positive ways). During a political campaign everything is needed NOW, everything becomes a crisis, and decisions are made from gut instinct, not from rumination.  I flew back to graduate school where I knew I could ruminate away.

I like life slow. I see more, feel more. And, eventually, I like to think, know more.

Currently, with court cases brewing, theories evolving, and protesters dying, life as I thought I knew it is slipping out of my hands.

And all I can do is sit still.

I’m reminded of an adage I was taught back in the early 90s, when my personal life was in turmoil.

Don’t just do something; sit there. 

It’s not easy.

How about you? How are you sitting these days? 

18 Responses

  1. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    I’m not just sitting there: Writing is my outlet. Case in point: Speaking out against racial prejudice on my blog today, my small bit for our collective dilemma in these strange times. To say I’m incensed and filled with indignation is an understatement.

    But I have a little bell with a small chime; it’s all I know to use these days.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I envy you your indignation, Marian. It sounds like you are at a different stage than I am. I am still lost. And when I get that way, like after 9/11, I have generally jumped into something new. This time, I’m biding my time a bit. I know I’ll figure it out, but in order to know what’s right for me, I must be able to listen. And for me to listen, I must be still. Being still, for me, means sitting. I imagine it’s not unlike your prayer in that we are both listening. Thanks as always. I enjoyed your post this morning. Brought back memories.

  2. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    I’m writing too, Janet and trying to focus on the things that matter the health, my family, my faith and controlling what I can in my little corner of the world. It’s all too overwhelming to take on at once. I love Marian’s idea of a “little bell with a small chime” to help one get centered in the moment.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes, thanks Kathy. It’s that “next right thing” idea. I hadn’t thought of that. And certainly focusing on what I can do is helpful. I can contribute (but I must choose among many), I can speak out (yet, I feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of words already out there), I can stand up (well, I still have my safety pin, which feels a little silly up here in the rural — and very white — northeast). And I can write (yet I don’t want to push away subscribers who signed up here for something quite different.) Yes; I have a dilemma. And I am sitting in it, still.

      A little bell with a small chime sounds lovely. Is that like the Buddhist singing bowl?

  3. Yvonne Hertzberger
    | Reply

    Yes, the amount of information, much of it false, is overwhelming and it is all but impossible to sever truth from fiction. Yet, as I see it, that is precisely what we must attempt to do. To do less leaves us even more vulnerable to the babble. In between, though, sitting, breathing, an recouping is necessary to maintain sanity and perspective.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes. In between. I like that. I believe really great music happens in the spaces between the notes. I will apply that here as well. Thanks, Yvonne.

  4. Nurken
    | Reply

    I wish could put my thoughts together and write a worthy comment, but I have some assignments to do, so I have got to run.
    Love reading you, Janet. I think you are definitely not the only one who is in the state of being lost and trying to adapt to the new world order. It’s getting more chaotic, dangerous and frightening at times for many. You say you DON’T know what’s going to happen once your NEW president will take charge of the matters, well, I DON’T know what is in the store for us after our OLD president goes away. But I’m still concerned about many issues in your country and the one that I read from “Between the world and me” by Coates is not something that I was aware of.
    Hope you’ll learn to cope with the flow of negativity on the media by taking things one at a time to process and think critically about certain things that are written and not let the world madness rain on your prior belives, hopes and dreams.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Nurken, your comment is more than worthy; it is important. And I thank you. I looked up Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me, and discovered it is recommended by Toni Morrison as “required reading.”

      It’s also a National Book Award winer, an NAACP Image Award winner, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and many more. Here’s part of the books description:

      “In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis.”

      iTunes link:


      Thank you, Nurken.

      I’m glad you mentioned your concern for when Nazarbayev is no longer in charge. That is a big one, I know.

      I’m reminded again of the call to “never lose hope” that Kathy Pooler advocates for so well. And it’s what I’m finding in the many holocaust memoirs I’ve been reading the past few years. The survivors were the ones who held on to hope; that what they did, each day, made a difference.

  5. L. E. Carmichael
    | Reply

    I think it’s really easy to become paralyzed and overwhelmed. I agree that it’s really important to take a step back, figure out what you can control, figure out what you can influence (to quote Chuck Wendig), then try to let the rest go. You do what you can and try not to flog yourself for what you can’t. Hugs.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Absolutely. I’ve never doubted. Thanks for stopping by, Leslie. I trust your foxes are “doing well.”

  6. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    I think you will figure out what you can and want to do after you’ve had a chance to sit and rest.
    I thought Marian was using her bell with the small chime as a metaphor–that she is one person writing what she can. Either metaphorically–doing something by sending out that small chime in poetry or prose, or ringing it to center one’s self is effective at different times. 🙂

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hmmm, I never thought of it as a metaphor. Perhaps that’s why the overwhelm hit me: I’m taking life literally. We need more poetry, Merril. Get cracking.

  7. Cathy Monaghan
    | Reply

    Loved your blog, Janet and I liked all the comments above too. I’m also still shaking my head and wondering what the hell happened to the USA. I too will sit by and watch to see what happens next. “The rise of fundamentalism around the world is not new. It’s just closer to home, suddenly.” Yes indeedy, and we both know there isn’t much fun in fundamentalism. 🙁

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Cathy. You made me chuckle with the “fun in fundamentalism” reference. A few of the way-too-many articles I’ve been reading, dealt with this rise in fundamentalism. One, by a young man who came out of the demographic that supported Trump — white, rural, fundamentalist, high school education only — talked of fundamentalism as a “closed system,” one that didn’t allow for new ideas, fresh air, to modify its stance; he likened the system to that of spinal column fluid. I found it fascinating, though a bit long. Thanks to the spinal fluid metaphor, I was able to Google it successfully. Here’s the link; I think you’ll enjoy it.

  8. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Janet, once again I’m reminded of how strangely synchronized we seem to be in our thinking. I, too, like life slow — where I can “see more” and “feel more,” etc. And like you, I’ve also felt overwhelmed by the dizzying flood of opinions, theories, and narratives emerging in the election’s aftermath (which explains the radio silence on my end).

    From the way you describe it, I’d guess that, like me, your default way of processing may be intuitive rather than purely analytical — where understandings often start as faint shapes in a sea of fog, and emerge (sometimes) slowly, (but always) in their own time. (And sometimes, the more you look directly at them, the harder they are to make out). Anyway, just a little psychological speculation on my part 🙂

    I say, take all the time you need. I have no doubt your eventual thoughts and insights will be well worth the wait. – T

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hey Tim, I’m not sure how I missed your Comment, but I do appreciate it.
      Do I detect another INTJ (or INFP) — I’ve been taking the Myers-Briggs for about thirty years and those last two keep switching on me, even within a year of each other. And, while the N is constant, my I is slowly morphing into an E. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. […] a quick refresher on my take on “Sitting in Ambiguity,” I give you this […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a blog you'd like to share? I use CommentLuv Click here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.