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Money was scarce and my waistline wasn't. I felt adrift, drowning in self-pity, and my writing had stagnated. Nothing seemed to help and plenty seemed to hurt. To distract myself, I decided to shop the local bargain store and while browsing the aisles, I was inexplicably soothed by a notebook adorned with playful dolphins.

Fascinated by the picture without understanding why, I bought the notebook and the accompanying bookmark and folder. I was drawn, no doubt, to the cheerful sunlight sparkling on the water and intrigued by the dolphins' lyrical dances of joy, but the connection felt deeper.

Touching the shiny blue and silver material, I traced the outline of the dolphins and discovered that, no matter how deeply this graceful mammal dives into blackness, she always returns. And, the further down that she plunges into her bath of risk, the more momentum she provides for her re-emerging splash of triumph.

"Monterey Bay Goddess" by Michelle Waters

"Monterey Bay Goddess"

by Michelle Waters

Cycles captivate me, just as they've resonated with humankind throughout history, and I long to submerge myself in their rhythms. While I can't really comprehend the concept, I'm fascinated how our ancestors envisioned time as circular, when summer, winter, spring and fall sang an eternal song, and all that could happen had already happened, and would happen again.

When I wrote my first book, I chose the boomerang as my topic -- an inanimate object that circles before returning to the thrower. Signals transmitted by beeping fax machines and sterile email systems rely upon a message-receiver; missives to friends and relatives count upon a willing ear; and even the supplication of prayer intimates the presence of an interactive (or at least empathetic) deity. The flight pattern of a boomerang, however, is an uninterrupted connection, a smooth and reliable reflection of effort flung forth, its end goal being the completion of a perfect and self-contained cycle.

Well and good, I suppose. But, while I intuitively recognize and appreciate the importance of cycles, it isn't always easy for me to accept them -- or to find my place within their midst. Extremities, almost by definition, contain powerful truths and make fatalistic sense. Middles feel muddled and I'm not always sure how to find balance. As just one example, I'm currently evaluating my spot on the continuum of give and take.

As a child, it felt natural to focus on the take, to absorb and to flourish. I needed attention and I needed nourishment, and I was the one to worry about, not the one who needed to worry. Fuss over me and scold me. I was budding and fertile and blooming and infinite, and the power of my menstrual flow forecast generations and generations to come.

Logically then, the adult side of the equation should be to give, and I do find joy in giving. I volunteer my time to schools, libraries, and churches, and I'm the first in line when the PTO needs someone to pour juice, sell tickets or walk around with Santa, so that the bearded fellow can "know" the names of the children.

In the quest to be unselfish, however, my giving can veer, dangerously so, into over-giving. I ration out too much of myself to receive praise, which is always seductive, and being in charge of a particular project can create the blurry mirage of having my entire life under control. I definitely belong in the host of self-sacrificing women whose collective hand is metaphorically pressed against the maternal forehead, palm side out, fingers slightly curled."That's okay," I can sigh along with the legions of those who have marched before me. "I don't mind . . . really . . . heck! I don't even need to be appreciated . . ."

I picture the martyred modern-day woman as an incarnation of Joan the Arc and I once penned scraps of a poem that I intended to shape into a chalice:

Then at night
When all else sleeps
Longing licks her limbs
She flings herself
On flames regret
Angel wings on fire

But, while I recognize the syndrome of extreme giving and realize its dangers, I can't accept the easy solution. Even when I'm sinking into the quicksand of too-busy martyrdom, I still can't hush. Instead, I become more frantic and I get sucked further down, until life is too hectic to hear anything more than the sound of my own rapid breathing. Inertia blossoms into guilt, an overwhelming sensation soothed only by more dispensation. I've tried creating phrases for myself such as I'm not stagnating, I'm incubating, but, while those mottos give me momentary pleasure, they don't massage the underlying aggravation; and so, once again, I've transformed myself from a blissfully dancing dolphin that confidently plunges into the waves into one that is trapped in darkness, unable to find the next refreshing breath of air.

Recently, however, when leaping up felt impossible, blessed imagery barged into my thoughts: that of the gull who incorporates the opposite motion, that of swooping down. Wings of gulls often shadow the churning waters of Lake Erie as they search for slippery victims. Gulls aren't sweet, they aren't cuddly and they attack prey without apology. Yet, they only hunt to survive and are void of malice.

So, while I'm enthralled by the lithesome beauty of the dolphin, I must also need the counterbalancing influence of the gull, to avoid becoming a life-long, people-pleasing, always-giving Flipper. Maybe the gull is suggesting that I assert myself, to care for myself enough to find that balance between selfishness and selflessness. Maybe Gull and Dolphin are going to jointly guide me through their watery mazes, to help me find the right spot on the continuum of give and take, accept and renounce, comfort and sacrifice, mine and yours, playfulness and intensity, in both my writing and my life. Maybe the emphatic gull can unite with the dolphin in my soul, and their leaping up and swooping down can form the perpetual circle that embraces the sanctified spirit of balance.

Kelly Boyer Sagert has sold over 1,000 pieces of writing to magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias (Macmillan and Scribner) and online venues. Her first book, >Bout Boomerangs: America's Silent Sport, was dubbed "nearly perfect" by the Australian National Boomerang Coach; her newest book, Birth of Illumination, details the rise of the public library system where Toni Morrison once worked. Sagert teaches three online courses for Writer's Digest (http://www.writersonlineworskhops.com), is the Song & Story editor for Moondance.org and works fulltime as the marketing director for the YMCAs in Lorain County.



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