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  • Drew Dotson

A semiperturbed post about a jack-in-the-box

Let me start off by saying I wrote the first draft of this post yesterday afternoon. As I worked on what I’m sure would have been a very clever and mind-blowing ending, an error message popped up on my computer saying, “Upload Failed.” I scrolled down to where I’d written the post, only to discover it had vanished. In fact, the document looked exactly like it did when I first opened it, despite having autosave enabled. I tried every document recovery strategy possible, but it was as though that hour of writing never even existed.

So, I’m back to write a semiperturbed inspirational post about a jack-in-the-box.

For most of my life, jacks-in-the-box/jack-in-the-boxes (Merriam-Webster is undecided.) have been a source of anxiety for me, sources of moments of uncertainty so incredibly overwhelming that my pulse speeds up just thinking about it. Plus, the jack is usually downright creepy.


I say that as though I’ve spent significant time with jack(s)-in-the-box(es), which is false, but jack(s)-in-the-box(es) are imperative to the point I hope to make with this post.

Finger pricks make me significantly more anxious than blood draws. The poof test at the eye doctor is my archnemesis. If someone gears up to pop a bottle of Champagne, I scurry in the opposite direction — then hurry back because … BUBBLES! And when it comes to opening a pressurized can of biscuits or cinnamon rolls, hell no. Let me know when they're ready.


In those milliseconds of waiting, my anxiety goes through the roof. Even though I know exactly what’s coming, I flinch because it seems so sudden.


Not too long ago, I was on a call with the CEO of a company that I've freelanced for since 2020. She asked for the latest update on my personal writing endeavors. I told her about a few pieces I was working on, some connections I’d made, and, of course, the status of my memoir. I said I was taking steps here and there with the hope that they’d all add up to create something magical.


“Like a jack-in-the-box,” she said.


I shuddered.


But then I realized the beauty of that metaphor.


With every step I take toward pursuing my dream of becoming a writer, I slowly turn the handle on the jack-in-the-box. And, with each revolution, I add tension to the spring inside. All I can do is keep turning the handle until the energy builds and the jack pops out.


I don’t get to decide the moment the jack springs forth from the box (i.e., the end result), but I do have the power to keep turning the handle (i.e., to continue taking steps in the direction of my dreams).


So, that's what I'll do. I'll just keep turning the handle and trust that it will culminate in something bigger.


And I encourage you to do the same — whether that means doing the next workout, recording the next podcast, or writing the next semiperturbed inspirational post about a jack-in-the-box.


These are beagles, not jack(s)-in-the-box(es). I didn't want to be responsible for giving you nightmares.

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