Waiting At the Bottom of the Stairwell

One section in Rick Rubin’s The Creative Actparticularly resonates with me.

It’s truly an essential concept around Creativity (this month’s theme and meditation HERE).

Namely, the paradox of Connected Detachment.

It’s an eternal dance–– perhaps “negotiation” is more accurate––between investing passionately and then completely letting go.

Finding that balance is essential to manifesting anything, including a smoothly flowing life.

Indeed, Rubin explores this beyond any artistic work, encouraging us to:

“Consider detaching from the story of your life
as it’s happening.

Or, as a meme I’m particularly fond of advises:

“When something goes wrong in your life,
just yell ‘Plot Twist’ and move on.”

In any kind of creative narrative, the unexpected plot twist is almost always delightful, even if it brings unforeseen challenges for those involved.

Rubin encourages us to react the same way within our own lives.

He suggests that when a setback occurs, rather than diving into an existential crisis, one might react with: 

“I wasn’t expecting that plot twist. 
I wonder what’s going to happen to our hero next.”

(And, of course, that hero is always you!)

In that vein, I can’t help but wonder about one particular plot twist in my own life, one that occurred two years ago, quite suddenly, at the bottom of a stairwell.

Given that Halloween aka “Spooky Season” is upon us, you might think my “Bottom of the Stairwell Plot Twist” was something scary.

In fact, the only thing that truly does frighten me is the thought of how easily it could NOT have happened.

You see, my 16+ year-old chocolate lab Belle went to her heavenly reward in January of 2020.

Over that summer, while still grieving, every time I saw a sweet young pup named Dua in my building, I couldn’t help gushing over her.

And Dua was more than happy to reciprocate any affection I lavished on her.

Yet despite my crush on Dua, I’d had only a handful of brief but pleasant interactions with Charlie, Dua’s Dad. 

Our paths rarely crossed.

Then one mid-September morning, walking down the stairs towards my favorite building alcove in order to jump rope, I ran into Charlie & Dua on their way up.

Inspired in the moment, Charlie revealed that they were in touch with the pups from Dua’s litter and they’d been alerted through the group chat that one of Dua’s brothers had been returned to the animal shelter.

(The backstory is largely unknown, but it seems like many Covid-based dog adoptions, someone underestimated how much parenting is actually involved in raising a puppy).

Anyway, Charlie and his wife had actually made an appointment for the next day to consider nabbing this second dog but also realized 2 canines in their small NYC one-bedroom was probably an ill-conceived fantasy.

Instead, he asked if I wanted to take their adoption appointment, even volunteering to drive me to Westchester.

The next day, you can see the future that awaited me in this pic of the very first time I laid eyes on Vlad.

Of course, it was love at first sight.

I’ve never for one second looked back or considered that this Plot Twist was anything short a Divine Intervention.

Thus it strikes me every now and then that this moment that’s shaped so much of my life was based on merely running into Charlie & Dua that morning at the right time.

Frankly, it’s doubtful Charlie would have thought of me for the appointment had he not encountered me bounding down the stairs.

And, since they lived on the second floor, there was a mere 30 seconds window for this connection to occur, or we would have missed each other entirely.

This 30-second Plot Twist changed everything…and yet it so easily could have NEVER happened. 

I’m so glad I live in the version of the multi-verse where it did.

Of course, not every plot twist ends with the embrace of a warm puppy.

Even so, if Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s the value of NOT getting caught in a bad sequel.

Rather than rehashing old formulas and trying to constantly replay our greatest hits, Plot Twists stimulate our creativity, often allowing us to come up with something entirely new.

Indeed, there’s tremendous power in the skillful pivot.

By remaining Connected yet Detached, one can sometimes move from failure to triumph in utterly unforeseen ways.

Science is full of such anecdotes, ones where game-changing inventions occurred because something didn’t work out according to plan, thereby allowing something vastly superior to emerge.

For example:

The Post-it note resulted from scientists’ failure to develop a super-strong adhesive.

Realizing they were nonetheless on to something, the researchers pivoted and turned it into an indispensable organization tool.

Or consider that It the 1930s a substance called Kutol was used to clean soot and dirt from wallpaper. 

Around that time vinyl wallpaper became popular and the cleaner lost its usefulness.

The company’s owners, however, were savvy enough to rebrand this utilitarian product intothe colorful, whimsical toy we all know as Play-Doh.

And, as a third example––and also oddly from the wallpaper universe––two engineers in 1957 were trying to create textured wallpaper without any success.

Realizing their innovation worked much better as packaging material, out of the home decor remainder bin Bubble Wrap was born.

Again and again, even when all seems lost, a booster shot of Creativity––via flexibility and detachment––allows for landmark innovation.

As with everything in life, it’s all about attitude.

As Rubin writes:

“One experience is not the whole story.”

In fact, he goes further to say that our perspective determines the ultimate outcome.

“Zoom in and obsess. 

Zoom out and observe. 

We get to choose.”

Even so, finding that sweet spot of Connected Detachment where things are truly in focus can sometimes be incredibly difficult.

When I think about the loss of Belle, I often reflect on this exquisite Mary Oliver poem.

For me, these last lines perfectly summarize the intense paradox of loving and letting go, of Connected Detachment.

In Blackwater Woods

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Finally, I’m delighted to share the above photo of Vlad from later that adoption day.

It’s his first moments in what was now his new home.

Almost immediately, he encountered a mini Plot Twist of his own.

Ambling around and smelling everything, he was suddenly startled to see “another dog.”

The video is quite hilarious.

You can see Vlad jump back for a millisecond before he realizes it’s just his own reflection in the mirror.

In life, such Plot Twists are everywhere––at the bottom of the stairwell and in our own surprised reflections.

As we celebrate Creativity this month, I want to remind us that we can use them to rapidly accelerate our journey.

The creative recipe really does require a dose of Connected Detachment not only to persevere during difficult times, but also to be open to reinvention.

As Rubin writes:

“This practice–-of never assuming an experience
you have is the whole story–-
will support you in a life of open possibility and equanimity.”

It might just allow you to pivot from failure to invent the next Post-It, Play-Doh, or Bubble Wrap.

Or be open to the unexpected arrival of a life-long companion.

Embracing the Plot Twist through Connected Detachment is essential, remembering that we never really know what’s at the bottom of the stairwell…until we arrive.

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