Red Light, Green Light: A Metaphor

"People love green lights in life. They affirm our way." - Matthew McConaughey

All the Small Things

Have you thought about how much time you spend angry? I’d rather not count the hours awake or asleep. As a teen I would sometimes wake up with with frown lines and a sore jaw after a night of teeth grinding.

After many years, you learn a think or two about yourself. I have learned that it’s easier to relax those frown lines, smile, and unclench my jaw.

It can be as petty as my toddler taking a bite of my food she’s been begging to try…like a cannoli and then she immediately spits it out or when a stranger cuts me off to beat the red light.

Let’s examine the red light, green light scenario a little closer.

Red Light, Green Light

This is the part where I hope the light will turn red and when it does, Oooh-wheeee, my righteous indignation pops up and says a big, “HAH! That’s right,” and there we sit, me behind them, glare smiling at their back windshield, knowing they will not meet my eyes in their rearview. There we sit and wait for the same light to turn green and just for kicks they speed off and we are stuck together once again.

In the alternate version, the stranger speeds off never to be seen again. I can stay mad for at least another minute cursing that individual and then hoping I see them getting pulled over for reckless driving. Another minute passes and I have forgotten all about it. It wasn’t worth the trouble, because In these small pockets of time I just needed to remember to take a deep breath and smile.

The Traffic Light Metaphor

Speaking of traffic lights, this makes for a perfect segue to bring up Matthew McConaughey’s memoir Greenlights. As you can guess from the title, he uses traffic lights as a metaphor for life. The green lights come in each of our lives allowing us to proceed and continue moving along with the AC blasting, belting out our favorite songs, someone or some thing cuts us off and then whammo, the light changes to red and we slam on the brakes. What do we do?

The Reaction

The light makes that quick switch from go to stop and we come to the swift conclusion that life has cheated us. We get angry and frustrated and throw our hands up in the air in frustration shaking our fists in the air saying, “Hey now, why did everyone get to cruise on through while I’m stuck sitting at a red light. It just isn’t fair!”

Reassess the Situation

There are unforeseen reasons why things happen to us that are out of our control. The powers that be have different plans for us, so we can either A) Wait for the red light to change or B) Take a detour and start hitting the green lights again.

Life isn’t an upward projection. It’s more like a party with mystery boxes that sometimes contain a bomb. The bomb blinds us, we become paralyzed and cannot figure out how to go on, but somehow we do manage through it. The smoke clears, we dust ourselves off and continue moving forward. We don’t know how we survived, but we did. We are better for it. I don’t know what you call it, but usually it’s some lesson I needed to learn.

No, no, no, no, na, no, no, no

As in life, writers are faced with challenges. We get rejection letters that come in an e-mail or we get to the end of a book we spent writing for the last two years and decide it’s not the book you wanted to write when you finally finished it.

Nicholas Sparks wrote a novel, his first one, that he never published. Stephen King was rejected 30 times before he was accepted before Carrie was finally published? Was all that time really wasted or did they learn something from those instances? Do you think they felt like it was all just a big fat waste of trees and cross their arms and quit, exclaiming, “How come got it done, but I didn’t. This isn’t fair!”

No way! They continued moving forward and Nicholas Sparks went on to write The Notebook and even got a movie deal. Warner Brothers offered him…ONE MILLION DOLLARS. Say whaaaat?! My jaw dropped when I learned this little tidbit. It’s not a common occurrence, but Sparks is an example of what could happen.

Revise Your Thought Process

Maybe we need to throw out the manuscript, so to speak, or come back to it later. GIve your thoughts some time to cool. In fact, I was ready to submit a short story with only hours to spare before the deadline, but, after my daughter read it, her feedback made me realize I had some gaps that needed filling. She didn’t say anything about the gaps, but asked who a certain character was when I realized I changed the characters name midway.

It’s always good to have another set of eyes look at your work. Merely cosmetic, but I read it again and couldn’t read it all the way through. The flow was missing. For now, I will continue to rewrite and revise and pitch it somewhere else. Sometimes I feel like I’m in this giant rush, clamoring to get it all done, when what I should do is take a breather. Yeah, I haven’t quite learned that lesson yet.

The Human Condition

During that breather, read about others who faced your challenges or something along the same lines. The human condition is one we can all relate to, so experiment with things that make up the human condition (i.e., emotion, mortality, conflict, birth..etc…) Try your hand in a different genre or try flash fiction (500 words). You might find that you like the short story so much that you keep churning out those words into a novel.

What If?

I have this trilogy I’m working on and it started out as a simple love story quandary. Well, it has turned into science fiction. I wasn’t going there, but it did. I went into my what if thinking and it took my story into an exciting direction. It turns out that the first novel I wrote wasn’t a complete waste. I asked, “What if?” with my index finger tapping my chin and then started typing. It’s an incredibly helpful tactic.

The Journey of a 1000 Miles…

You know the rest of the adage. With a determined mind, we persist and move forward taking baby steps and sometimes giant leaps until we get to that part of our journey. Of course it doesn’t end there, so we take another breath or two and continue on to the next thing.

Enjoy those green lights, my friends and if you hit a red one, take a deep breath and smile.

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