A watershed moment is called a “watershed” because the crisis at hand is often resolved through water or water imagery somehow, so says literary criticism. It is, of course, a drainage basin also, if you want to get technical about your topography. But if you think of all these critical moments in a book or a movie, moments that would be termed a “watershed,” and there is a whole bunch of water hanging around. The most obvious example is a baptism. You’re a heathen; sprinkle a bit of water on your forehead, say some prayers to prove your commitment, now you’re not.
If you wanted to take a more Classical approach: Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon (a river) with his army in 49 BC. It was a line that the senators back in Rome had said he (or anyone else with an army for that matter) could not cross without them viewing such action as intent of a military coup.
As he paused on the banks of the Rubicon (if we believe the story), Caesar famously said:
Alea iacta est. The die is cast.
He did, and they were right. Caesar became the dictator for ten years, and just when it seemed he really would get the whole dictator-for-life position solidified, he became a pincushion.
But it was a defining moment, crossing the Rubicon. One might call it a point of no return, or maybe one could call it… you guessed it. A watershed.
One more? Sure, how about a slightly more recent example? In Star Wars, Luke goes to Yoda. What happens that causes Luke to really stay and learn to be a Jedi? Luke’s ship sinks into the swamp, and he can’t get it out.
He trains, jogs through some swampy terrain with Yoda on his back, learns the force, bingo-bango-bongo: he uses the force to raise the ship from swamp, water pouring off of its wings. What would that be? Water shed from the X-Wing?
The water running off of the here-to-fore sunken ship as it hung in mid-air proved that Luke was a Jedi who could match his powers to Darth Vader, and possibly save the Rebel Alliance.
All of this to say, I’m in my own watershed moment, though not precisely at this very moment, as my computer isn’t waterproof.
It has been a week since the last day of my medical career. One week of writing and researching has gone by. I admit I worked a little on the weekends. I couldn’t help it–I have a lot to get done. Just as I worked when I was in my MFA program, I get stuck on a problem, and I go for a walk (then it was a run, but my knees aren’t up for that anymore), and then I take a long, hot shower while I think. When I get out of the shower, I have a solution. My own watershed.
But the best part of this whole thing so far has been the learning process. For various reasons, I’ve had occasion to learn what language Marcus Aurelius wrote Meditations in (Greek), and the origin of Boolean algebra (George Boole, 1850s, brilliant guy who pioneered a logic system that we use in computers. You may have heard of something described as Boolean, you can thank that guy.). I also found out what a party dress for a girl in 1902 would look like, and what Teddy Roosevelt might have mentioned while stumping for President McKinley’s re-election.
Sure, I go to the grocery store when I’m “working,” and I still answer the door when the home-alarm people come by to scare me about crime and buy their product. But mostly, I write. The space and time set aside to practice the art I love every single day is a watershed for me.