to be or not to be: deliberate.

Today on a hike I stopped before the trunk of a madrone twisted over the trail. A taller person than me would have had to duck beneath it. I didn’t need to, but I stopped anyway out of curiosity. Edging closer to the side of the trail that brought the leaning tree down to my level, I ran my hands along the smooth, peeling trunk; over dozens of carved initials, X+Y’s, unintelligible scribbles and symbols. A heart carved into the wood caught my eye, it was bigger than most the other little carvings and the second initial within it was mine: L. The first initial was worn and undecipherable, though I spent half a minute squinting at it: Unknown + L.

Then my somewhat fanciful gaze traveled just to the left of the heart, where the word “fuck” was inscribed. My mood bunched up and I scowled a bit. I’ve been a hearty, generous cusser often enough in my life, but that’s a word I’ve decidedly been putting at more and more distance from my own heart in recent years.

Back up twenty-two years. Limp Bizkit’s “I did it all for the nookie” is a hit song the summer before my senior year, and I’m at cross country practice with the girl’s team. Me and my favorite running partner, Katy—one of the dearest souls I’ve ever known—are laughing and chatting as we run, and somehow this song comes into the conversation. I don’t remember how exactly: I think it may have been blaring out of the pool area as we passed. What I do remember is both of us wrinkling our noses over the lyrics, and Katy offers a friendly amendment: “I did it all for the cookie, the cookie, so you can take that cookie and stick it in your milk, stick it your milk…” She sings this with her sort of quiet gusto, inflecting true, in her own softer version, the song’s rough assertion, and miming the dipping of a cookie into a glass of milk. And to seventeen-year-old me, this is a moment of utter brilliance. I already enjoy the art of minutely considering words, and now a sort of happy dawning lightbulb: a newfound, previously unconsidered, finally conscious, graspable power:

the world is editable.

I do not have to take the world at its word.

I do not have to take any word to heart.

The ripple effect of that playful little moment in time—the childishly adorable and yes, powerful reclamation of innocence—was more profound than I know how to put into words. It very literally changed my life, even if slowly and over a large span of time.

So twenty-two years later, I am now well-practiced in the game of spontaneously exchanging words and lyrics I don’t like in songs for words or lyrics I like better, and all other kinds of playing that sort of game with other aspects of the world, other “texts” offered by it. I consider this carved word, “fuck,” more neutrally, a little more removed, and so more softly, too. Then I notice that I can easily form the “f” into an “L.” I smile.

I had had previous experience with editing the world as I found it, before high school—underlying experiences that had made that moment with my friend Katy appreciated all the more deeply. Rewind again, thirtyish years from today. Fourth or fifth grade. I’m at after-school daycare at the local YMCA, and it’s mid-march. Our caregivers, Ms. Lee Ann and Ms. Melanie, have the lot of us out in the playing field hunched over on our knees, hunting for four-leaf clovers in the grass. They have a little bowl of gold-foil covered chocolate coins, and whoever finds a four-leaf clover gets to have one. I dig through the grass hopefully for a few minutes, even with no luck. I am still hopeful, though. I feel my own goodness and deservedness. I want so much to be lucky. Lucky is good. No being unlucky. That is bad. Someone finds a four leaf clover. They get a chocolate coin. They are *so* lucky. I keep searching with steadily sinking hopes. 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, uggghhh…. Then out of a mixture of impatient exasperation, mischievousness, and in defiance of a gnawing sense of despair, I carefully peel one leaf from a clover. Then I select another clover and gently scrape away at the stem with my nail, just where it meets the cluster of three leaves. I check the stem scrape and compare it against the purloined leaf. Satisfied with my work, I jump to my feet and declare: “I found one!” Everyone looks up in surprise, and I rush over to Ms. Melanie. I pass her the somewhat crumpled three-leaf clover, and the little fourth imposter: “sorry, I accidentally pulled one of the leaves off when I picked it,” I said hurriedly.

She examined it, shrugged, and handed me a chocolate coin. Victory. I return to my portion of the patch, pocket the gold foil and eat the chocolate, then resume pawing through the grass. Everyone’s search grows a little more eager. Maybe this is not nearly as hopeless or pointless after all….

No, it’s entirely hopeless, I know. I search for a couple minutes (just in case….) until I feel like a convincing amount of time has passed. I perform my trick again. “I found another one!” I pour just the right amount of incredulity into my voice.
The women are more suspicious this time. Ms. Lee Ann, the sterner of the two (they’re both quick to irritation and sternness) doesn’t believe me at all. She marches over to inspect my clover. I’m animated (which isn’t really a feign–I am genuinely excited by my own little game and its pending rewards) and say again, “I tore the leaf off this one too, sorry, I got really excited when counting the leaves.” [it’s not exactly a lie… I did tear the leaf off again …]

I watch Ms. Lee Ann scrutinize my handiwork, peering carefully and matching the scrape in the stem with the little bit of peeled stem attached to the “fourth” leaf. I hold my breath, banking on my reputation for clumsy awkwardness. She shakes her head. “Yeah, I guess it’s real. Wow, Lisa. Lucky.”

Lucky me, I get another chocolate coin, at the price of a shame I’m hardly sensitive to. My brother comes over and demands I tell him the secret. He assumes I’m lying. He’s not wrong, in this case, at least. I show him the trick and the delicate way to execute it.

Now he gets a chocolate coin. Not even kidding. Everyone exclaims unfairness and these poor women, very literally, can’t put two-and-two together.
Now my friends, also incredulous, abandon their search, expressing such unadulterated wonder and awe that I grow very sensitive to guilt. Tricking a grown up is one thing, they have more power and exercise it freely at our expense. I occasionally cheated at games with my brother, but he did too, so we were even. And I told him the truth when he asked for it.
But tricking my friends… my best friend? Nope. That was solidly against my honor code. So, I fessed up quietly in our own little circle and showed them how to do it. They too began eager, calculated work at faking their own “lucky” clover discoveries. I know the jig is nearly up, now that every person in the entire group connected directly with me is going to show up with a clover and one convincingly, “accidentally” torn off leaf.

I mean, to be perfectly fair, this is the very innocent result of withholding chocolate coins, which could so easily be given away freely, from children unless they can perform a nearly impossible—or at least terribly unlikely—feat. I was only intuitively aware that I was capitalizing on their underestimation of myself, of children: their steadfast assumption that children couldn’t possibly have the cognitive and creative capacity to conceive of such a farce and carry it out so successfully.
Evolution at work. The important childish work of play: logic, reason, strategy, justice, mischief: fun.

Two of my friends get their chocolate coins, and I’ve already told them, if we keep doing it too much, they’re not going to keep believing us. So everyone chill a bit. Then I decide privately to do one last—never mind I’ve gotten more chocolate than anyone else already. When I take my clover up to Ms. Melanie she rolls her eyes and holds out her hand, “lemme see it.”
Ms. Lee Ann calls out with irritation. “I know they’re faking it. I don’t know how, but they’ve got to be. I don’t care how real it looks.”
I hand Ms. Melanie my broken clover. I watch her meticulously squint down and place the peeled leaf against the wound in the stem, matching them, pulling them back apart, measuring them, lining them up again. Like wires or synapses that she can’t connect but clearly appear as if they should, indeed, connect. She is clearly stumped. My feeling of victory fades a little as I watch. The fun goes a bit out of the game. And I can feel the sour energy of the rest of the kids swelling behind me.
Ms. Melanie finally sighs and says, “well, if it’s fake it’s a really good fake.” She tosses the clover, hands me another coin and the adults call everyone up out of the grass. They’re tired of this. I’m suddenly aware of feeling hollow. I look at the prize in my hand and it only takes a moment to choose the immediate gratification of gold foil and chocolate in exchange for abandoning any contemplation of the hollowness I already knew as a constantly lurking companion. Right now, I felt lucky; self-satisfied. Just for now.
But doubt was sewn all around the hollow and I spent most of my life running from it.
So I learned, many times over as I grew into adulthood, manufactured luck is illusory.
And it runs out.

Fast back forward, again, to last October, not quite a year ago. I’ve listened to a recording of a series of seminars—I select one segment at random to listen to occasionally—and this particular one waxed into a discussion about the benefits of letting go of trying to tackle difficulties, of trying to wrestle problems to the ground, of straining and angsting over even the important, sometimes painful issues that arise among family, co-workers, romantic partners, the world around us; the benefit of doing something else entirely for awhile. Play a game. Go for a walk. Take a book to the beach. Gaze at clouds. Sit in the grass and look for four-leaf clovers.
Essentially, anything to get your wadded-up attention off the problem, so that your mind can relax enough to begin approaching things from a new angle. It’s a technique I’ve practiced consciously and with more consistency for at least the past ten years; unconsciously I’ve done it for most of my life.
As I listen, I smile a little wistfully at the mention of looking for four leaf clovers.

A couple days later, two days before my 40th birthday, I’m wandering sort of aimlessly through the park, more or less following my youngest child. My older two kids are occupied, and old enough not to need as much supervision. I notice a small patch of clover, and with the words I’d heard so recently in mind, I shrug, crouch on the ground and begin combing through. I don’t actually expect to find one—I expect to let my preoccupied mind idle a bit: to release some of the nearly ceaseless ruminations I’d been trying to muck and “mindful” my way out of unsuccessfully for a couple months. …Years? Years.
And then, I find one. A real one. A real four-leaf clover. “Hm,” I say aloud, marveling a little and double, triple, quadruple checking that it’s real. Really real, this time. Really, after all this time.

Today on a hike, I brushed through the dirt on the ground, looking for a twig or sharp rock. Then I carefully changed the word “fuck” to “Lucky.”