The Tortoise and the Crow

  • Posted on: 1 November 2014
  • By: Shawn DeWolfe

I have come to the realization that I have been under siege for over 20 years. Under siege, I armored up and hunkered down. I looked for ways to build sturdiness. I focused. Twenty years of readiness. I closed off access to opportunity all bent on survival. I grew into a tortoise: slow, hard with a shell to rebuff assaults, but carry heavy loads.

That spartan exercise can be character building. For me, it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to be in a state of perpetually planning for crises. Whenever I hit a situation, a decision tree explodes in my head and it all gets gamed out rapidly. Each branch quickly becomes a tree. The cycle repeats again and again. I hop across the branches of options to do what I have gamed out, because of what I predict will be optimal outcome. Sprinkle in a dash of photographic memory and that’s a lot to load and a lot to keep on file. That huge amount of historical but unused material is so much junk in the filing cabinet.

Hunkering down and moving slowly leaves one incapable of seizing opportunities. The ground can change underfoot, but a tortoise is ill-equipped to adapt or make the most of it. Our world changes all the time. Our world is full of opportunity. People who try to sell you on scarcity want you to be desperate and pliable. They want you to think you’re at the last gas station but that’s anything but the truth. In so many ways, we’re not at the last gas station for 100 miles; we’re at the rain bucket in a rain forest. I hear time and again,”our world is overcrowded.” In listening to an interview with Chris Hadfield, he was talking about how much of the Earth is entirely devoid of a human presence when viewed from space. Our world has plenty. Sometimes there’s a traffic jam-- a queue up-- for what people want. When there’s a traffic jam, that doesn’t mean we’re about to run out of road, it means there’s a temporary mismatch of supply and demand. I was locked into a mindset of scarcity for a long time. I shed the mindset, but the reality was that I was still hunkered down.

For the first time in a long time, I have something that feels like stability and a proper chance for compartmentalization. Work used to bleed all through my life and make everything else secondary. The war without end that was self-employment has, well, ended. Even before this job, the risks and problems with self-employment were a trade across from jobs where all of my hours disappeared into toils. This change frees up A LOT of mental space. Those blooms of decision trees and jeopardy resolutions are not so necessary. There’s an irony that the imagination can be boundless, but the mind is where the real scarcity can lay. This career change is modest in the grand scheme of things, but it’s seismic in my daily and weekly routines.

Last month, I embarked on a rebuild. I am in a long process of moulting. In truth, the moulting is perpetual. I’m not a reptile, I’m a person. People shuffle off skin cells all the time. In May of 2013, I gave up my old name as part of a rebirth ceremony. That freaked a lot of people out. It put them ill-at-ease. Had I said I was switching to Buddhism; that I were gay; or that I was running away to join the circus, that all would have been okay. To me, it’s weird that we haven’t pulled out the boundaries of acceptance, we’ve just allowed for more exceptions to the narrow rules. I don’t like models with exceptions. That’s like putting band-aids on gears. A finite capacity for acceptance feels like a busted model that will become unsatisfactory or cumbersome. In doing something unconventional, I came looking for acceptance when none of the models had established ready room for me. When a million people chant, they’re a religion. When one man chants, he’s a lunatic. I was one man looking for a place in the model.

Where I am going in my life needs to fit into some sort of a model: a theory of me. I like holistic theories. They’re economical. If a theory works well, it can be applied outside of its domain with some success. I’ll do that all the time: I will graft theories from physics and biology into social and political contexts. I have the theory of me worked out. To lend from my day job as a programmer, I would say that the theory of me is not a set of values and variables: it’s an object model, with properties (each of which are elaborate) and methods to process things (sort of like a goals engine). As new situations are applied to my model, the outcome is reproducible and internally consistent. Right now, my model has new input so it’s working in a new way: turn down the stress and turn up the stability and voila! Something that appears to be new or surprising emerges. It’s not new, it’s just a manifestation of me given the available circumstances-- new inputs. Why did I wait until October to begin exercising? Easy: I didn’t have a venue that worked for me and I didn’t have the time. Why did I start a novel in December and let it linger semi-started for 10 months? All of my mental energy was sapped into being hunkered down. All distractions were pushed aside. That’s no longer the case.

Without living under the heavy tortoise shell, I can do new things that I have always had the capacity for. I have just swapped by capacity to handle jeopardy for a capacity to make the most of opportunities. The antithesis of the tortoise is the crow. They’re smart. It can more nimbly jump those branches, but launch off and soar. If you hear my last name and look at the top of the blog, it’s easy to see that I identify with wolves and their whole thing. The metaphor of rebirth matches the phoenix, but the phoenix is a creature that emerges from a slumber borne on flame in a perpetual cycle of death and rebirth. That is not my cycle. Crows can surprise people with their ingenuity. I’m a smart ass: I like to show off my ability to be clever much more than I like to show off my ability to be resilient.

I’ve been living a long time as a tortoise and the metaphor of the rebuild it about embracing a more nimble alternative built to soar.

*artwork from:

Last updated date

Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - 01:28