Robert Bly’s Things to Think is one of those bundles of words I’ve carried around for years. It starts:

Think in ways you’ve never thought before

This — and the grace and clarity of the rest of the poem — bounces around a lot in my head. Sometimes it collides with the ways I learned to work with theory in grad school. Critical theory, at its best, is a set of useful lenses to try out, ways of looking at the world that help you see new things. The lenses aren’t perfect, but they help stretch your brain, and can make old things seem strange and new things seem possible.

Lately I’ve been playing with some patterns of thought that seem useful to where my brain is these days.

This isn’t advice. I’m not telling you to think these things. They’re not always true.

But this winter, they taste like useful medicine to me:

  1. This is where you are supposed to be. You should not be anywhere else. You are moving the right speed. You slept the right amount, woke up at the right time, ate the right things, and made the right choices for today. You are in the right place.
  2. Everyone else in the room is nervous. They’re worried no one wants to talk to them. Approaching someone wouldn’t be an imposition — maybe you would rescue them from awkwardness. Talking to them is kind, not overbearing. They will be glad to meet you.
  3. No one else knows the dance. They don’t know what you were supposed to do. If you fell out of sequence or missed a step — they won’t know unless you tell them. So don’t apologize, to them or to yourself. Make it part of the dance; this is how the steps go now. Sell it. Sometimes I try thinking these things, and nothing changes. I still worry, the fear doesn’t subside, I apologize again anyway.

But sometimes there’s a little sea change somewhere in my breath or head, and my brain loosens its grip. New things seem possible.