No, not the board game! When I was 16, maybe. We used to have these endurance Risk games of about 5 hours, my brothers and I. They were excruciating! At any rate, left those suckers behind in the dark, dark eons of time past.

No, I want to talk about taking a risk. It is one of the common themes wending through my life right now.

There have been points in my life where I have taken a risk and it paid off. The first important risk that I took was asking Bryon if he wanted to get serious. Sadly, he said no. He messed everything up, because my plan was to have our dating anniversary be Valentine’s Day. Cliche, right? Yes, but easy to remember. So, disappointed though I was, I persevered through days of classes until he knocked shyly on my door on February 17th, 1984, and told me he’d changed his mind. As of February this year, we’ll have been Catherine and Bryon for 32 years. So, I’m glad I asked.


In 1992, I quit my high school teaching job in Audubon. I wasn’t a happy high school teacher, and I didn’t want my potential children growing up in a town where they couldn’t read books like Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War. I began studying at the University of Iowa in 1994, because it took us a couple of years to get things around to move. Bryon and I both had no jobs, the PhD program being our only draw. Happily, Bryon started working at Jefferson High School before the school year began, quite by accident, as he was choice number 2. And the connections I made in grad school ultimately led to my job at Kirkwood. Also, I believe we escaped cancer, living in a narrow-minded environment, and eating Alpo in our retirement. You would not have believed our salaries.


So, now I have been living with three kinds of risk. One is the great uncertainty of a health situation. Another is the long and arduous road to publication, paved with ambiguity. The final one is I want to continue to transition in my career. I’m ready for a new challenge. As I’ve been telling friends lately, I love my work here at Kirkwood, but I’ve gone as far as I can here, and I want to build a new thing. Let’s focus in on these risks.

The health situation: in this case, we’ve decided that this will always be in the background, the ultimate case of living with uncertainty and ambiguity. We have decided to negotiate changes as they come, and not worry about uncertainty and risk. But we are ready to negotiate changes if they come. We’re already used to the new situation, even though we were pretty shell-shocked a month ago. So, once we transition to the new state, we’ll work with those odds. This is not a risk we take; this is a risk that will come to us. Or not.

The publishing situation: Publication would be lovely. It’s not my primary goal. I risk myself by putting myself out there for rejection, but that’s a pretty minor risk. You get so used to it after a certain point, and you get some really nice rejections after a certain point. Yes, you do get tired sometimes of the unending stream of no, but if you don’t send things out, there is no chance of yes.

There is another kind of risk here–that of pushing yourself artistically. And these risks you take to move forward as an artist. The Pawn of Isis is the first book I have decided to write from one third person POV. This is challenging for me. In my first draft, I am writing from multiple POVs, but only so I know what people might reveal to Carlo, or what Carlo might see. Then I’ll work my way into the third person. I want this to work. It’ll be a good artistic stretch.

Regarding this risk, then, it comes down to the old adage of control what you can, let the rest slide away. Recently I decided to have a writing practice, rather than a writing career, and I will take artistic risks, including the possibility that my work might be acknowledged publically.

The career situation: The professorship is where I make my money. I am very happy with my nice stable job and all its benefits, and I could be here until I retire. But I am hungry to do something new and challenging, and here I maintain the status quo. With that in mind, and with our retirement goal of living in Florida, I have begun searching for new jobs in that region. Unlike last year, when this was a slip into having something to prove, I realize that this is because I feel I’ve done what I can here.

Now, I have a job interview at the University of Central Florida to really make an English Language Institute into something that fits that dynamic school. They already have a great set up, but I’d like to be part of that growth and shift. It’s a risk. I go from the stable to the new. I put myself out there. What if it doesn’t work out? What if I’m not a good fit? But what if I am? What if we build something amazing and special together? I have decided the positive outcome is worth the risk of the negative one. I hope, honestly, that all the deets fall into place with this one. Bryon and I will have a rough two years transition, but it will make life a lot easier for us when we move.

So, risk. You may not always get what you hope for, but when you don’t, you dust yourself off and try something new. That’s why we hope for continued good health, that’s why we send out stories as soon as they come home, and that’s why we try to move toward the life we want, a rewarding life living where you want to live.

Existence can be more stable without risk. But it is also less fulfilling to me.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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