I am all out of conclusions. That may be an obvious conclusion to draw if you’ve read my previous two blog posts for the A to Z Challenge. Generally, I write to figure out what I am thinking, but lately, I just cannot seem to wind my way to a conclusion.
I know it is a virtue of age and maturity, as well as a sign of the times in which we live, but answers of any kind seem increasingly elusive. Facts, even when verified, are rejected as untrue and flat out lies get promoted as capital T Truth. We increasingly live in an era of uncertainty, politically, economically, socially. And that uncertainty has crept in to my writing. As I try to find and then follow that thread that almost always appeared, I now question myself. My inner critic jabbers away at me as I type, eroding my confidence in what I used to think of as a surefire way to figure shit out.
One good friend reminds me on the regular that difficult or challenging experiences are simply metaphors. Like when I had plantar fasciitis, she asked me where in my life was I not standing on my own two feet. So, I decided to take that approach here.
Where else in my life am I having difficulty coming to conclusions? Ooooh. Well. I recently (in August) launched myself into a new life, selling my house, buying an RV and hitting the road. It’s been a learning process. I’m not sure yet how it is going to work for me. I am having difficulty settling into #vanlife, and find myself casting about for alternatives: maybe I could live in a condo here, or perhaps I should buy a lot and build a pole barn and RV pad, or I might just need a bigger RV, and for sure I should get an RV with 4WD.
Clearly, I am trying to get some clarity. I’m tossing out all manner of ideas, trying them on, asking friends and relatives what they think. Calling realtors, getting pre-approval, just in case. Just in case. I want to be prepared. But, I haven’t yet reached any conclusion or concensus—
A is for alopecia and aphasia. Also for assault. Anger. And atonement. What might all of these words have in common? Aside from being in the headlines recently? We all suffer from something and usually our suffering is invisible. For a variety of reasons. We may have a hidden or not so obvious physical disability. We might suffer from an emotional issue or be diagnosed with a mental health condition that we don’t generally discuss with others. And when others don’t know what is going on with us, they make assumptions. I’m not here to be an apologist for anyone, I’m simply here to point out that as human beings, we spend much of our time making decisions based on our assumptions which are often wrong. We are great at filling in the blanks with whatever story makes sense to us, and again, because we are human, we tend toward the negative. We generally believe the worst unless we make an effort to choose otherwise.
Take Bruce Willis’ Razzie for example. The Razzie Awards did not consider that perhaps Mr. Willis was suffering a medical issue when the organization awarded him a Razzie. But, after his family issued their statement about his health condition, the Razzies retracted their award. They atoned for their poor treatment based on their faulty assumption. I won’t get into the altercation that occurred between Will Smith and Chris Rock over Jada Pinkett Smith’s alopecia, except to say again, assumptions—this time about a person’s appearance—led to inaccurate (and unkind) conclusions, including violence. We can make all manner of assumptions about Will Smith’s slapping of Chris Rock, but we do not know what is going on with Will Smith. So we make assumptions.
Because we live in a culture that champions youth and vitality, we may not be comfortable bringing up or exposing those parts of ourselves that don’t fit neatly into the cultural narrative. We may curate our online presence to artfully conceal the imperfections that lie beneath. And what happens when we hide our vulnerabilities? Do we feel better? Do other people feel more comfortable around us when we are not authentically our whole selves? Not really. When we let others see the real us, our unvarnished true selves, we become more attractive, not less. As Brené Brown says in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
It’s that time of year again, and I am already two days behind. So, the theme I am choosing for this year’s A-to-Z Challenge is Imperfection. I have two partially finished blogs for A and B, and I am going to post them as they are, unfinished and imperfect. That’s what I have time for.
I haven’t been writing much lately. I haven’t been doing many of the things that I used to do. Instead, I’ve been exploring new parts of the world with new people. It’s been an amazing adventure, and I would like to figure out how to merge this new part of my life with the older parts, the parts that have sustained me, the parts like writing that feel so integral to who I am.
Maybe, by the end of the month, I will have a collection of incomplete and imperfect musings. Perhaps I will write my way to the end of one of these before April is over. I just want to get them out there. I just want to write. I want the circles of my life to align.
My friend Linda swims nearly every day. Her devotion to swimming her mile in Lake Whatcom is as sacred as my devotion to running laps around Lake Padden. We often meet up to write together after we’ve completed our individual exercise routines, and at some point we started talking about her swimming across the lake instead of along the shore.
“How far is it from your beach to the other side of the lake?” I asked. “Could you swim it?”
“Probably a half mile,” Linda answered. “Of course I could swim it, and I have, but I need an escort so I don’t get run over by a speedboat.”
“I could paddle along in my kayak,” I said. “Let’s do it!”
That was last summer, and somehow the sunny warm days ended without us ever having made the crossing.
Recently, as we had a little bit of a heat wave and a string of decent days, I’ve been jumping in the lake to cool off after my runs and then hopping in my kayak to soak up some rays. Which reminded me that Linda and I had yet to conquer the cross-lake challenge. So I brought it up, as summer seemed to be coming to a rather quick and blustery end.
“Still up for a cross lake swim?” I texted her.
“Sure! When?” She texted back.
“Friday? Weather still looks good. I’ll be done with school for the quarter.”
“Let’s do it,” she wrote.
Last Friday morning dawned gloriously pink. “Uh oh,” I thought to myself as I let the cat in for his morning feeding. “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.” I texted Linda. “Wanna go a little earlier?”
“Sure,” she wrote back.
I shooed the cat out the door and hurried to get dressed. Then I loaded the kayak in the back of my truck (so much easier than heaving it up onto the fancy and expensive Thule rack I own) and headed out to Sudden Valley to be the support boat for my friend’s great swim.
I lugged the kayak down to the shore, through the bushes and garden bark, across the vast green lawn dotted with deer poop, which I deftly dodged (you can read more on how I love deer here). I tied a rope around the little carry handle on the end of the kayak and lowered it down the high bank into the water. So far, so good, I thought.
The sun was rising over the mountain across the lake, glistening golden against the clouds. The water, for now, was calm, inviting. And warm. I stuck my toe in. Hmm. I could swim in that. But I had to be in my kayak to fend off bigger boats and wayward jet skis in order to protect my friend. Plus, I don’t really like swimming.
Linda walked down to the water’s edge in her black swimsuit, pink bathing cap, and teal blue flippers. She held two pairs of swim goggles in one hand and a black neoprene swim cap in the other. Her wife Amory trailed behind her, phone at the ready to document this momentous event. But first things first. A goose had left a large, uhm, gift on the bottom step and as I was about to brush it off into the water with my paddle Linda stopped me.
“NO! Don’t put that in the water,” she admonished. “Amory, would you go get a paper towel?”
“Oh, like there’s no other goose poop in the lake,” I said from my kayak cockpit. I suppose if I were getting into the water, I might feel the same way. “I guess you have a point,” I conceded.
“Just so you know,” Linda said, pointing at me, “I count as I swim, so don’t interrupt.”
“Roger that,” I saluted, a little disappointed as I had envisioned a leisurely paddle-swim in which we conversed. Guess it was going to be a quiet journey instead.
Once the goose droppings had been dealt with, Linda descended the five steps and dove in, splashing me, and we were off. I waved to Amory standing on the bank and pointed my kayak toward the distant shore. I knew immediately I had more of a challenge on my hands than I had anticipated, as Linda veered off in the wrong direction, and by wrong I mean instead of heading across the lake, she appeared to be swimming parallel to the shore. I tried to herd her into going the right direction, but she could neither see nor hear me. I sighed and stayed close, assuming she would figure it out eventually.
We zig-zagged across the lake, making it to the other side in about a half hour. I took a picture and sent it to Amory. “We made it!” I wrote. Linda and I chatted for awhile, took a few pics of each other, and then headed back.
For some reason, she swam in a straighter line going the other direction. I didn’t have to herd her nearly as much, though when we were about ¾ of the way across, she suddenly veered to the south. By the time I got her attention, she’d swum a few hundred yards. We would have been back to her beach if she had been going the right direction.
She laughed when I finally got her rerouted and adjusted accordingly. “I didn’t want to tell you how challenging this would be,” Linda said. “I didn’t want you to change your mind. You should have seen me swimming across the St. Clair River (in Michigan, at Amory’s brother’s house, over Labor Day weekend), dodging speed boats and freighters. I almost ended up in Detroit!”
I was very glad that I hadn’t been the support boat for that adventure. This quiet lake swim was
proving to be more complicated than I had anticipated. And we’d only seen one jet ski and three boats, one of which was oar-driven. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to keep her safe in a busier body of water.
Last week I had to write my Spiritual Autobiography for the Spirituality and Counseling class I’m taking this quarter. This particular assignment scared me a bit. More than a bit. In fact, just thinking about this assignment made me itch. By its very nature, the assignment implied that not only am I in possession of some sort of spirituality, but that I have been for most of my life. I’ve discovered over the past 15 years or so that the word “spiritual” conjures up positive happy feelings for a lot of people, yet there was nothing positive about my early spiritual development. In fact, I did not have a positive spiritual experience until just two years ago at the tender age of 51. Everything spiritual in my life up to that point came from either my parents pushing their religion on me or me trying to accommodate their wishes, or me fleeing from any and everything that even hinted of religion, spirit, or the supernatural. That’s what I have to work with: my own fear and dread regarding spirituality.
Sometimes, we get stuck in our stories, so I decided it was time to change the story. Below is what I ended up turning in as well as an art project I created to go with my paper.
It is time to change the narrative that has been my spiritual autobiography. It is time to rewrite my history from a power stance, from a strength perspective, from the view of a survivor rather than a victim. While my parents filled my formative years (ages 5-22) with radical fundamentalist christianity, and while those tenets and precepts haunted and dogged me for most of my life, I somehow found the courage to follow my own inner voice and at the age of 22 began shedding what held me back. I started to develop an ethos to call my own. I used to say that I spent the years between 22 and 51 avoiding all things that had even the faintest whiff of religious/spiritual energy, but in my reframe, I must say that I spent those years searching for a spirituality that worked for me. And, truth be told, I am still searching. Only in the past two years have I discovered the merest thread of a spirituality that may work, but when I look back, I can now identify the many sacred elements of my life that have been there all along. I just didn’t know that I could shift my definition of sacred to fit my needs. What I once thought to be profane is actually sacred, and much of what I learned early on to be sacred is, in fact, profane.
The bible served as my early foundation, and I learned god was angry, vengeful, wrathful, and to be feared. Scripture seemed to mock my most deeply held personal beliefs—equality, justice, fairness, and the right to love who I wanted. I grew up with a sense that no matter what I did, I would probably end up in hell anyway: if I took communion without all of my sins being forgiven, if I had premarital sex, if I even thought about someone with lust in my heart. If I took the lord’s name in vain. If I read “secular humanism.” If I listened to non-christian music. The world became a place not to be embraced but to be feared, a land fraught with temptation and danger. I couldn’t even love to be in nature because if I loved anything more than I loved god, I was committing an act of idolatry.
Somehow, I managed to hang onto myself just enough so that the summer before I started graduate school (the first time, when I was 22), I began to seek out other perspectives. I started reading those dangerous books and making friends with non-believers, and listening to the still small voice inside that urged me to stand up for what I actually believed, not what I’d been told to believe. I stood at my kitchen sink one morning, washing the dishes and decided in that moment that I could no longer be both true to myself and remain a christian. Christianity had to go. Thus began the journey in which I started collecting my own sacred experiences.
I started dating women. Sacred. I met and had a commitment ceremony with my first long-term partner. Sacred (and a little profane, but that’s another story). We adopted Anna. So sacred. I started therapy and exploring my feelings, wants, needs, and desires. Sacred. I learned I was depressed and began taking a new wonder drug that lifted my fog and allowed me to enjoy the world. We adopted Taylor. Sacred. I learned to stand up for myself and my needs. Sacred. And painful. When my ex had our daughters baptized without my permission after our divorce, I returned to church (I opted for the Unitarians) for the first time in ten years in order to provide my children with an alternative to mainstream religion. Sacred, though I didn’t end up staying long.
I bought a house and set about making it a home for my girls and me, an act that I now see as a step on my path to a personal spirituality. I met and married another woman and we lived and laughed and loved for fifteen years. When same sex marriage became legal, we got married with my children as our witnesses. Our love had finally been recognized and validated as sacred. Much of what we shared was sacred—some of it was struggle, and when it ended, we left each other intact, emotionally, having developed a stronger sense of what was sacred in the other.
During those fifteen years, I did not spend much time thinking about my spirituality or my soul or the sacred. From my vantage point now, I can see that I did continue to cultivate and sharpen my own sense of sacredness, however. I spent eight of those years working with for a Catholic elementary school, and I came to understand, perhaps for the first time, that not all who are religious are judgmental and/or narrow-minded. At Sacred Heart, I learned that the individuals in a religion could hold different values than the institution itself, and that community more than religion or dogma is what compelled most people to attend that church.
Also while working for the Catholics, I realized that I needed to start taking my body more seriously, that it was in fact sacred, and necessary to a healthy long life. I started working out, and found a connection with others, sacred bonds of friendship, which, for me, represented the spiritual connections with others I craved. Eventually, after I left the Catholics, I started running and found whole new worlds of spirituality open up. More connections and new friends, time in nature, the dawning awareness that my body really is a miracle in its own right. I started my runs (especially the more challenging runs) with a meditation: “I am thankful for my feet. I am thankful for my legs. I am thankful for my lungs and my heart. I am grateful for the time to run and for the money I have to buy shoes and running clothes. I am thankful I live here where I can run on trails instead of sidewalks.” By the time I got through my meditation, I forgot that running hurts.
Before I started running, I generally felt as if I were living two lives, and I often said in therapy that I needed to pull my circles into alignment. One circle represented the me I wanted others to see, and the other circle represented what I did that I wouldn’t want others to see, probably the real me. As running became paramount in my life, I began treating my running time as sacred, inviolate. Pargament (our text book author) writes that when we discover the sacred, our sense of fragmentation dissipates and the sacred becomes a passion and a priority.
As running began taking over my life, I began to wonder if it might not be time to stop taking the Wonder Drug, if it wasn’t maybe masking my (normal) responses to a difficult world. I found the new clarity to be sacred, and I redoubled my efforts in therapy to seek enlightenment, a search which led me to body work: massage, acupuncture, breath work. And on the massage table I had what can truly be described as my first encounter with The Divine. My massage therapist always finished our sessions with a blessing, her hands on my head, channeling love and oneness (that’s what she said, I just figured it was a nice way to signal the end of my session). This time, however, she stood at the head of the table, her hands hovering over my hair, and I could feel a new and different energy fill me up, a surge and a tingling from my scalp to my toes. She stood there for a good ten to fifteen minutes while something or some being left her and entered me.
Once I dressed and asked her what had happened, she just laughed and said, “You’ll have to ask Spirit.”
I wrote a haiku (that’s another sacred thing in my life: writing) to commemorate the event:
She laid hands on me Channeled a Divine spirit– Broke through to my Soul
That encounter with Spirit (or whatever/whomever) on the massage table served as a breakthrough of sorts, or at least it opened me up to the possibility of a spirituality absent of religion and a sense of The Divine unattached to the particular form of god on which I was raised. I felt pure love. And though my skepticism wasn’t completely eradicated, that experience gave me permission to explore my spirituality in ways I didn’t ever think I would want to. I now attend what I call Not Church, the local Bellingham Center for Spiritual Living, on a somewhat regular basis. They offer a 9:30 a.m. service in which there is no music and no singing, no “meet and greet your neighbor,” all things from traditional church services that tend to make me anxious. We end with a 10-15 minute meditation.
I’ve dabbled in meditation and mindfulness. Both sacred experience, and in the process, I’ve sort of fallen in love with Buddhism—the sacredness in not grasping, in letting go, in silence, in pausing. I feel as if these past two years have made up for a lifetime of ignoring my spiritual life, and if I were to describe myself spiritually, I would have to say that I am becoming a Warrior of the Light, as described by Paulo Coelho:
I was hoping to have a blog on more recent events, but I just can’t put my thoughts into anything coherent. Today Facebook reminded me that I wrote this piece two years ago today. So, here it is. It’s aged pretty well.
Lately I’ve been lamenting the disappearance of my haiku muse, and yesterday I had a bit of an epiphany about this apparent abandonment. I was sitting on the deck, inhabiting my favorite summer writing space—our gazebo or what The Little Woman has dubbed “the man cave” (since I’m the butch in the relationship, and, I guess because I occasionally drink beer out there). Anyhooo—as I scribbled in my journal, writing random lines of bad poetry, revising, creating better lines of poetry, a thought occurred to me. If I were to think about running in the same way that I think about writing, I’d just be sitting around falling out of shape instead of getting fitter and faster.
Which is to say—my running only improves because I am out there on the trails every morning (honest to god, six days a week, 8 a.m., at least five miles each day). Even on days when I don’t want to get out of bed, when I’ve slept like shit, and my feet and calves ache, I hobble to the kitchen, put on the coffee, make a smoothie (or toast), and pull on my running clothes. I tell myself that I will feel better soon. I remind myself that my running buddy awaits, that we will have coffee after, that after the first quarter mile, the aches and pains will shake out. I know that if I can just propel myself around the lake once, the endorphins will kick in and the next lap will be so much easier.
I know these truths about writing too, but for some reason I have more difficulty remembering. As much as I remind myself how good it feels to have a new piece published, whether on my blog or picked up by an anthology, I have difficulty motivating myself to put my butt in the chair and write. And really, the process may look different from running, but they are much the same thing—do the work, reap the rewards.
Last weekend I ran in the Great Sedro Woolley Fourth of July Footrace. After a bit of a dry spell, I have entered a spate of footraces recently—a few weekends ago, TLW and I ran the Camano Crab Dash with our running buddies April and Karen, then the GSWFoJFR with Cami, Bill, April and Karen and some other lovely women from The Fit School, this weekend The Chuckanut Footrace, the following weekend, my friend Cami’s Windhorse Half Marathon, and more into the future. Probably the Bellingham Waterfront 15k, and the Bellingham Bay Half Marathon, Run Like a Girl . . . and so on.
Something happened at the race in Sedro Woolley that I never even imagined might be possible—I placed third in my age group! Like my friend Kari said, that’s some compliment, being told you run fast for your age, but THIRD IN MY AGE GROUP! Usually I’m pleased to run under 10 minute miles and come in in the top half of the total field. Last Friday, I ran 5.17 miles in 44:16—that is smoking fast for me, a series of 8:30-ish miles, sustained for 5 miles! Even on my best training runs, I don’t string together more than one or two sub-nine minute miles but put me in a crowded field and my competitive juices start flowing.
Along with the competition and adrenaline, there’s another factor: I tell myself I can do anything for an hour. Anything? Anything. Hmmm, I thought to myself yesterday, maybe that mantra can apply to writing as well. And how had I so quickly forgotten what I could accomplish after two fairly recent months of writing a blog post a day? How did I let myself get so out of writing shape? What might happen, I wondered, if I sat down for an hour every day and just wrote? Might my writing muscles get as developed as my running muscles?
So, I sat longer yesterday and didn’t get discouraged when the muse didn’t show up right away. I kept writing, doing word maps, stretching and challenging myself to find better synonyms, more complex words, words I could use in double entendres. It’s the same in running—I don’t just run flat courses (though I work one or two in every so often). I generally run terrain that challenges me. My favorite course has two good hills and many ups and downs in between. No matter how often I run there, I still find the hills difficult—some days more so than others. Yesterday I ran about two miles longer than I do on an average day. These runs make me stronger, mentally and physically. When I run a race on the flats like I did last weekend, I can fly (you know, for my age).
Eventually, the muse returned to me yesterday. And here’s the thing about the muse—it’s me. The muse lives in me—she is not some external ethereal creature who decides to occasionally grace me with her gossamer presence. I own her wings and her wand, as much as I own my running shoes and shorts. And just like I drive myself to the running trail every morning at 8, I need to put my butt in the chair and flip open the computer and make my hands move across the keyboard. I need to challenge myself like I did a few months ago with the blog a day or something similar, some writing exercise that will improve my writing, strengthen my storytelling abilities, improve my dramatic arc.
I read enough writing books to know that even the most celebrated authors don’t possess a magic bullet or super secret writing regimen. No writing will occur if one does not sit and write. No running will occur if one does not put one foot in front of the other. I may occasionally find my inspiration outside of myself; I may credit this person or that circumstance for providing an impetus for writing or running, but ultimately I am the one who needs to do the work. Only I can move the words from my head to the computer screen, only I can propel myself down the trail and across the finish line.
Today I had my very first real client. (It went well enough that we have another appointment next week, and I am SO glad the first one is behind me), and I am excited that I have chosen this career. To sit and hear people’s stories, to have them share their fears and triumphs, to be a part of the healing process. I am feeling honored and quite fortunate.
I know Mercury is in retrograde (whatever that means), but my stars seem to finally be aligning. My practicum is shaping up nicely, I’ve made some great inroads for my upcoming internship which starts in the fall. And, then I realized I am very far behind on my school work. I need to Stop this blog-a-day thing at S.
I love the challenge of writing something to post everyday (and even though I’ve clearly not posted everyday as I should be on W, I have actually written something each day, but not everything is worthy of being shared). I’ll miss it, but I took a look at my syllabus today and realized I have to do a 3-5 hour online trauma training and write a paper this week. I also printed off about 200 pages of “supplemental” reading material I need to delve into (besides the two textbooks, and I’m about 5 chapters behind there too).
One of the concepts our instructors bring up in nearly every class in this program is the need for self-care. If we don’t take care of ourselves as counselors, we will not be fit to help anyone with anything. So, something has to give. And for now, blogging everyday is what I have to let go of. I need a lot of time to think about what I want to write, to ponder, to come up with a point. And even if I take the better part of a day to do that, I still need more time to edit and revise and rethink what I’ve written. I don’t want to just throw something up here–it has to be somewhat meaningful and decently written.
So, since I don’t have time for long hot bubble baths, or the extra money for massages and pedicures, I’m going to have to take care of myself by cutting back where I can and for now that means cutting back on blogging. I have to keep running or I’ll become very crabby, and I can’t possibly cut back any more on housework without endangering my health (besides, for me, having a clean house is self-care). So, here we Stop. With S.
Thanks for reading this far, Dear Readers. I’ll check in now and then to let you know how things are going.
I can’t believe I haven’t finished my first blog for the A to Z challenge yet. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks, planning, scheming, writing it in my head, but clearly I’ve not put any words down yet. Until now. These few, uninspired, last minute words that seem so unequal to the task, so small and worthless and hurried.
A is for Apology, apparently. Abject. Abysmal. But I’m at AWP this week, a conference all about writing, and so, apology or not, abysmal or not, tired or not, write I must.
I am going to write about Anxiety. My plan for this year’s A-to-Z Challenge is thus: I want to spend this month writing about my experiences as a student in the Clinical Mental Health Counselor Program at Antioch University. I want to weave together a narrative, exploring the concepts (from A to Z) that I study as a student of mental health counseling and how my studies intersect with my life. How my coursework shows up in my day-to-day world.
I haven’t studied Anxiety, per se. I have taken many relevant classes, delved into the DSM 5 and learned how I might diagnose a client who presented with symptoms that fit the criteria for, say, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I learned to write a treatment plan and theorized about which therapeutic modality I might employ to best help my client regain his or her equilibrium.
Most of what I’ve learned about Anxiety comes from first hand experience. I am not one who has been plagued with Anxiety for much of my life. No, my familiarity with this particular demon has only been recent and is one of the reasons I started running regularly a little over two years ago.
I started waking up in the mornings with a pit of dread churning in my stomach and found that if I went for a run, somewhere around mile two or three, the pit of dread loosened and eventually abated. I guess the endorphins kicked in, the oxytocin released, and the runner’s euphoria lifted the anxiety. Cured, if only temporarily, I could get on with my day. The next morning, the anxiety would return, and I’d start over. Run. Rinse. Repeat.
A nice side benefit to running off all my anxiety was that I started to lose weight. I felt healthier. My blood pressure dropped, as did my cholesterol, and my pants size. But, I digress. I still woke up most mornings feeling like something horrible was about to happen. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the axe to fall, for the bottom to drop out, for . . . well, you get the picture.
Anxiety chased me into my running clothes and out of the house each morning. But the thing about being a graduate student in a counseling program is that these sort of disruptions don’t slip by unanalyzed. While one part of me succumbed to the anxiety, another part of my tapped my forefinger thoughtfully against my chin and asked, “How do you feel about this, Pam Sue?”
Some people have angels and demons sitting on their shoulders. I now have Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, or their modern day equivalents, Jack Cornfield and Tara Brach. I can have a panic attack and simultaneously know for certain that while what I am experiencing might feel real, it isn’t true.
It’s weird, living with this meta awareness. I had all sorts of anxiety about traveling to AWP this week–logistical stuff that I know I’m capable of handling but for whatever reason just kept spinning on: how am I going to get to Sea-Tac from Bellingham? To the airbnb from LAX? I can’t check in until 4 p.m., but I arrive at 9 in the morning. What would I do? These questions dogged me for weeks. I envisioned myself in dire circumstances, dragging my carryon around LA for hours, sad and alone and dazed. Yet, I simultaneously knew my fears were unfounded and not based in reality. I could make a shuttle reservation, find a friend to stay with in Seattle, even one who might take me to the airport. I just couldn’t see the logical steps in the midst of my anxiety.
Something similar happened when I realized how expensive it was going to be to eat and drink here in Los Angeles. The first day I spent way too much money on so-so food and paid $8 for a mediocre beer. So, I took myself to the grocery store, but instead of going shopping at the end of the day, when the conference was over, I went in the morning on my way to the conference and so had to schlep my groceries around the conference hall, from one panel discussion to another.
I was so anxious about not having drinking water back at the airbnb that night, I bought a six pack of bottled water and stuck it in my already heavy backpack. All the while I’m hearing Jack and Tara on my shoulders, telling me not to believe the anxiety, reassuring me that all will be well, that I will be fine, that there will be water at the conference. That the universe will provide. But, do I listen? No. I buy the water. And I vow to do better tomorrow.
Every writer I know has trouble writing. —Joseph Heller
Nearly every night I sit down with my laptop and open it to a blank Word document, convinced that this is the night I will begin my masterpiece, my opus, my version of the Great American Novel. And then I get distracted: laundry, dinner, cats, a funny lump behind my earlobe, the stupid TwoDots game on my phone. Words with Friends. Something. Anything to keep me from putting my thoughts down. There are a million things I will do before I finally succumb to that little voice, that growing voice, that roaring voice, the one that pushes and pulses behind my eyeballs, that makes my heart pound faster. I have to, at some point, listen to that voice, give in to that voice or I will explode. Maya Angelou is credited with saying that there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside. I agree.
Another trouble with writing, with being a writer, particularly if one is a writer of nonfiction, memoir, creative nonfiction, is that telling the truth, or our version of the truth, is bound to offend someone. Probably we will offend someone close to us, a family member, a good friend. And we may throw lots of other folks under the bus—there’s an entire cast of characters from which we can choose: teachers, grandparents, doctors, lawyers, therapists, the barista who forgot your regular order. The waiter who seated you near the kitchen. Really. This is an endless list.
And there are so many reasons we need to keep the peace with all of these folks. We need them to like us. And, what we often forget is that the chances of anyone actually reading what we write is slim. Oh sure, our writing group might, and a teacher, if we’re in school. But Grandma? Uncle Ed? The barista? Not likely. So, really, this is not a good excuse to suppress the urge to write.
Never mind the friends and relatives, though. When I think about writing, about what I want to write, an overwhelming sense of responsibility immobilizes me. I can’t write anything frivolous, I tell myself. What I write should be Serious. And Thoughtful. Well considered. And I should have read as much as possible on the topic. I don’t want to offend anyone. What I write should have a moral, a takeaway, but subtly. I don’t want to be too didactic. My prose should be poetic and authentic. My metaphors had better be spot on. My grammar and punctuation, impeccable. Most importantly, I don’t want to be misunderstood.
No wonder I freeze up. No wonder I’d rather play gin rummy on my iPad.
But no more. This year I resolve to write the stories. And if you happen to be a character in my life, oh well.