O is for Old? Nah. O is for being Open to Options

OLet’s face it, I’m old enough to be the mother of most of my classmates. Some days it’s more obvious than others. Like last week, in Crisis, Trauma, and Disaster Mental Health Counseling class, we were discussing the September 11 terror attacks, and I realized that everyone in class except for me and the instructor was approximately eight years old in 2001. Eight. I was 38.

I’m even old enough to be the mother of some of my instructors if I’d gotten started on the kid thing in my late teens. But still. In many ways, age does not matter. And in fact, I’m often envious of the folks who get to start out in this career so young. How marvelous that they know what they want to do in their mid-20s.

And then, I remember that I too knew exactly what I wanted to do in my mid-20s. I wanted to be a writer, so I got a Master’s Degree in English. I had some classmates then who were in their mid-40s and older. I envied them because they actually had life experience to write about. I hadn’t gotten far enough to realize what I was doing would eventually count as life experience. I mean, who’s to say if I’d become a counselor at 25 I wouldn’t now be returning to school to get my MFA in creative writing?

We can only be where we are at any given time. We can’t know what our unchosen life would have been, where the road not takenfork-in-the-road1 might have led us. As Cheryl Strayed wrote in Tiny Beautiful Things, “I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

We can’t spend our lives second-guessing our decisions. We decide what we decide when we decide it. There’s no going back, no do overs. Some people make better (and isn’t that a subjective term?) choices. Some are born into more privileged circumstances, and some people just get fucking lucky. Even if we plan, and listen to our parents, and invest properly and go to the right schools, there is no guarantee life will pan out according to plan.

All we can do is be open to the moment and what it presents, weigh our options, and follow our passions.

 

 

 

On the Road to AROHO: Feel the Fear (and the Heat) and Go Camping Anyway

Good late morning from Twin Falls, Idaho, Dear Readers.  I’m about a third of the way to my destination, Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM.

Let me just start by saying that if you’re in menopause and experiencing random and frequent hot flashes, camping in the desert southwest might not be the best way to travel the 1700 miles between Bellingham, WA and Abiquiu, NM.  Too bad I didn’t consider this issue before I was pitching my tent in 102 degrees last night.
I’ve been planning this trip for several weeks, but somehow camping in the heat didn’t really cross my mind. Perhaps because I’m a PNW “blue-tarp” camper. Whenever I think about camping, all that comes to mind is rain and cold, wet sleeping bags and damp fires that never quite get started.
Nonetheless, I had a somewhat satisfying camp experience last night—I managed to get some sleep, at least until some Muslims pulled in around 1 a.m. and started cooking goat.  I kid you not. I listened to these two guys speak in a language I did not recognize before some English speaker started talking to them. As I lay there not sleeping and cursing their bad campground manners, I learned a lot about middle eastern cooking and spices, the Muslim response to 9/11 (at least these Muslim’s responses), and why these two young men were going to college in Idaho.
Ironically, the fact that two middle easterners were camping in the remote hills outside of Boise actually made me feel better about my own choice to camp alone. If they weren’t afraid, I wouldn’t be either (though I did sleep with my hunting knife within reach). I have to say, there was so much unsolicited consternation about my decision to drive to New Mexico that my confidence started wavering soon before I left, and as I looked for a suitable camping spot last night, I had to beat back my fear.
I thought a lot about Cheryl Strayed’s adventures in her memoir Wild—what she had to say about Fear came rushing back to me as I set up my camp and perused my surroundings:  I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.” 
So, fear conquered, at least last night. I woke up partially refreshed, made myself a thermos of coffee and hit the road.  I stopped at a payphone to check in with my sweetie since there was no cell service, and steered the Jeep toward Salt Lake City.
This morning I thought I might get a hotel for the night, but as of this writing, I’m not so sure.  If I can camp in 102 degrees in remote Idaho, surely Utah has even better experiences to offer.

Some random observations: it is far too hot to take the top off the Jeep which is rather disappointing. I have to stop every hour or so and scrape the dead bugs from my windshield.  Gas is getting cheaper the farther south I go. Drivers here are much more polite and aware than drivers in Washington State (i.e. they move over and don’t hog the left lane on general principles). The landscape is very dry—many side of the road fires, and one very large one near my campsite last night (extinguished the day before I camped).

Writing is Daring Greatly (thanks Brene Brown)

Dear Reader—Tomorrow night is my debut as a published writer—my first reading of a piece of writing that is actually in a book.  Not on a blog, not off my printer, but there on the printed page amongst other pieces in a collection of published writing.
Pretty sweet. I have to say that it is about damn time considering I’m closing in rapidly on the big  Five Oh (mere months away) and considering I’ve wanted to be a writer for, oh, all of my life. So what conspired to keep me silent and unpublished all these years?
Fear. Fear of being known, of being vulnerable, of being reviled. Shame. The certainty that what I had to say didn’t mean anything to anyone else. The terror that what I thought made no sense to anyone else. Scared that if I committed the thoughts in my head to paper that I would be forever judged by what I wrote down, by the ink stains.
So, what changed? What enabled me to throw caution to the wind, to finally put pen to paper and let the world in on my innermost thoughts? Fear. Ha! How’s that for irony? But seriously, the fear that I might never realize my dream of being a writer impelled me to write.
What if suddenly I were unable to write tomorrow? What if I’d played it safe all these years, thinking I had unlimited time ahead in which to overcome my fears slowly, always confident there would be time later to pen my memoirs, and suddenly I found myself incapacitated? I’d be pissed—angry that my fear of vulnerability, the shame of being thought less of had kept me from sharing my most authentic self.
I didn’t write for so many years because I thought that a) I would be laughed at or, more likely, told my ideas were heretical and would ultimately land me in hell (seriously) or b) I didn’t think I had anything worthwhile to say, that my ideas weren’t universal enough to catch on with anyone outside of my own head.
I realized, in small, baby steps, however, that people did listen when I read, my words did resonate, and slowly, I found a writing community, a group of other writers to cheer me on and for whom I could root. As Cheryl Strayed told us at the Wild Mt. Memoir retreat a couple of weeks ago, we should write from a place of abundance, that is sharing our joy and passion with other writers and cheering them on because there is plenty to go around.
I’ve been reading a lot of Brene Brown lately, and if you haven’t had a chance to catch one of her TED lectures, caught her with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday or read one of her books, make the effort. She’s got some amazing research to share, some great life lessons about living with vulnerability, abundance, and passion.
So, tomorrow. That’s it. Tomorrow I lay myself bare in front of complete and total strangers. Wow. That’s daring. Greatly.