For many years, I’ve been a story teller. I’ve told stories in nursing homes, schools, at seasonal events and in women’s circles. I think of stories as medicine, as guidance, as blueprints for living. Old stories from cultures around the world contain information we’ve forgotten or lost about how to live well.
Photo by Syd Wachs on Unsplash
It’s striking how often I share a familiar and oft-told story with an audience that suddenly turns out to be what I most need. Oral stories, if written on a page, look static and lifeless. They’re not. An oral story lives. It twists and turns and wriggles unexpectedly in the mouth. Every time I tell a story it’s a different telling than I’ve ever done before. Every time I tell a story I’m different than I was the last time I told it. Every audience is different.
I’ve discovered blogging is like that. As I blog, I think of the reader. I blog to make an external connection. As I create posts, though, I also discover deepened connection with myself. My writing reveals my truth to me, and shines a light on the places where I’m not living what I know is my truth.
Last week I posted about quitting. In essence, I gave permission to all of us to change, to grow, to seek happiness in our work and in our lives. Ever since I resigned from my job (last day will be Saturday) and wrote that post, I’ve noticed an internal feeling of rediscovery, freedom and fizzing joy.
I only worked 20 hours a week at that job, but the choice to force myself to do it, even though it didn’t make me happy or meet my needs, cast a shadow of apathy over the rest of my life. It dulled my response to my own distress. It fed all those powerful voices that tell us there’s no help for it. We have bills to pay. We have responsibilities, duties and obligations. The most sinister voice of all says this is the best we can hope for or deserve.
I was empowering fear, not love.
All of a sudden, I’m operating with new clarity, the kind of clarity that the right story at the right time brings. This week I’m acutely aware of what’s working well for me and what’s not. I feel my power to choose afresh. I’m not motivating out of fear. Somehow, fear is taking a vacation. I’m motivating out of curiosity, pleasure and the desire to actually be happy.
For me, this is a crime of immense proportions.
I want to be happy. It occurs to me this isn’t a childish pursuit. It’s the pursuit of real personal power.
I follow a blog by Dr. Sharon Blackie, who is a writer, psychologist and mythologist. I’m reading one of her books, The Long Delirious Burning Blue, which has a passionate delicacy I haven’t experienced in a new read for a long time.
Dr. Blackie recently returned to the place she calls home in Connemara, Ireland, and her last couple of blog posts are about taking a walk with her dogs on the land that she loves.
Photo by Takahiro Sakamoto on Unsplash
That’s all. Taking walks. She posts pictures of the lochs, a stream, the bog and the mountain. There are pictures of her dogs, and I imagined wet, muddy paws and soft black and white coats tangled with leaves and stems. I think these posts are among the most joyful and powerful things I’ve ever read, not because Dr. Blackie is an extraordinary scholar and writer, which she is, but because she writes as a woman who’s come home to the place she belongs after a long time away. Her delight and reverence for the land and the life it supports radiate from every word and picture.
That’s how I feel this week, but my homecoming is internal rather than external.
I’m familiar with some of my terrain. Over the years, I’ve learned some of what I am. Always, though, there have been caverns, edges and deep forest I haven’t explored. Perhaps I knew all of myself before my memory in this lifetime begins, but if so, I’ve forgotten.
Photo by Cameron Kirby on Unsplash
This week I’m a wanderer, an explorer, a solitary traveler in my own psyche. I leave my well-worn internal paths to roam under trees. I follow the sound of water. I read my own spoor and run my hands over moss-covered rocks. I hunt in vernal pools for singing frogs the size of my toes. I wade through bogs of memory, getting my feet muddy and losing my shoes.
I’ve found old, abandoned structures smelling of rot and damp where birds nest and bats cluster. I’ve stumbled upon shallow graves where, once upon a time, I discarded and abandoned parts of myself. I’ve tripped over fallen idols, are now covered in a lacy blanket of ferns, found forgotten altars and pulled mats of dead leaves out of fountains I haven’t seen in years so clear water can flow again.
I’ve found shed skins whispering and rustling with memory, nearly invisible overgrown paths, and ruts and scars from old burns, floods and landslides.
I suddenly remember the happy feeling of waking early in the morning and going straight outside. I release myself from the expectation that I’ll work well in the last third of the day, a thing I’ve never in my life been able to pull off. I listen to music I love. I read what interests and moves me. I write lists and journal entries, blog posts and edits for my book.
Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash
Like Dr. Blackie’s dogs, I follow what catches my attention. I move along scent trails, noting the passage of all my selves, spiraling from what I’ve been to what I’ll become and back again. I dance from thought to thought, from word to word, from dream to dream. I cast myself into a wider pattern of life.
It’s not that I don’t want to do anything. On the contrary, I want to do a hundred things. I want to do much more than I did when I was structuring my time and energy around my job. I can hardly wait to get out of bed and see what the day brings. I want to play outside, take care of tasks inside, read, write, watch the birds at the feeders, stretch, dance, swim, listen to music, make a list and check things off, be present in my relationships, make new friends, pursue intriguing new connections, earn money joyfully, and see how much I can want and how gloriously I can dream.
I’ve written about leaving home before, and in that post I wrote that in some counterintuitive way leaving my old external home in Colorado allowed me to begin to finally come home to myself internally and reclaim my power. I’ll never think of home solely as a one-dimensional place in the world again. Home is not just a house, not just a beloved landscape, but the place where my dearest friend, my most passionate lover and my most loyal companion reside, along with my deepest power. Home is my own wide-flung arms, my own pulse and breath, my own joy. Home is me, myself.
Somewhere along the way, we forgot that the most important things are also the simplest. There’s great power in being happy. If happy is missing, life is muted and apathetic at best. This is when the power of boredom and the power to quit come to our aid. This is when choice becomes something we must fight to reclaim as if our lives depend on it … because they do.
Claiming the power of happy. My daily crime.
Photo by Senjuti Kundu on Unsplash
All content on this site ©2017
except where otherwise noted
Last week I came down the steep stairs from my little attic aerie, sat in a chair in the living room and cried while I asked my partner if he thought I would ever have a less effortful experience of life.
It’s not that anything was really wrong. What I was feeling was an old, familiar feeling of trying to manage my life and myself as efficiently as possible and feeling worn out and unsuccessful.
Photo by Bradley Wentzel on Unsplash
Trying. Manage. Efficiently. What am I, a machine?
I was tired that evening, and worried about diminished workflow and subsequent diminished paycheck. I wasn’t seeing a way out of my work/income situation, which is a place I’ve been in for several years.
One of the things I did last week during a work shift devoid of work was join She Writes, an online community for, obviously, women writers. I’d been procrastinating about doing so for a long time.
For years, I’ve been trying to find a writing community, both locally and online. I’ve joined a professional local organization, but their programs are rarely offered up here in Central Maine, as Portland is their headquarters. I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to find beta readers for my first book. I put up an invitation to start a writer’s group at the local library and didn’t get a single call. I tried a give and take partnership with another writer so we could read one another’s work and provide feedback, but my partner had other priorities and needed to drop out.
And, of course, I need to work for that paycheck, so my time and energy are largely gobbled up by my financial needs rather than the joyful work of my life. This produces a chronic background tension that grinds away at my soul.
Anyway, I decided the time had come and I was ready to join She Writes and see what possibilities might open up through that community. I had to apply to join.
I knew they wouldn’t take me.
They accepted me (probably some kind of mistake) and the day after I sat in the chair and cried, I had another shift with no work and began exploring She Writes. I came across a blog post titled “The Only Reason to do Anything is Love,” by Bella Mahaya Carter, and had an epiphany.
Engaging with life from a place of love rather than fear is not a new idea for me, or probably for anyone reading this. It’s the kind of thing we hear and read all the time. I would have said I do that. It’s always my intention to show up in the world with love, which is to say kindness, compassion and respect.
The wording of Carter’s post, however, indicates motivation, an internal thing, not external action. Make choices with love, not fear. Decide what to do based on love. Do nothing for fear.
Right, I thought. I treat others and myself well. Of course.
I treat others well because I think it’s effective and I’m afraid of violence, hatefulness, rejection and just plain crazy.
I treat myself well because I’m afraid to be unhealthy, unable to earn a living and/or unable to be independent.
Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash
It’s all for fear. It’s not for love.
Furthermore, treating myself well doesn’t equal loving myself. I caretake my physical form like a good property manager takes care of a rental. I exercise, eat well, brush my teeth, wash my body and take care of injuries.
What I think about myself is that I disappointed my parents, drove my brother nuts (not literally!), failed two marriages and made unforgiveable mistakes as a parent. I think I’ve never made a successful career or had a good enough job. I think I’m ridiculously hard to live with. I think I eat too much, use too much hot water in the shower, like obnoxious music, try too hard and am too sensitive. I think I’m unattractive and few people want to hug or touch me. I think I’ve spent years writing a 300,000-word book that, for all I know, has less value in the world than a roll of cheap toilet paper. On sale.
Those are some of the things I’m conscious of. When I look at my fear-based choice making, it appears I also think if I don’t hold my own feet to the fire at all times I’ll become a lazy, irresponsible, selfish slacker; demanding, mean, dishonest and greedy.
Carter’s post made me realize I could hardly think of a choice, any choice, whether important or mundane, that I haven’t made based on some kind of fear. Ever. From earliest memory.
The greatest motivator in my life is and has always been fear.
Not only that, but I’ve created a whole pantheon of idols I obsessively and ceaselessly worship in order to avoid the vengeful, punitive God I’ve made out of fear. I make daily bloody and brutal sacrifices of time, energy and life to appease them, but insatiable fear just gets more and more powerful. Here are some of the idols:
I read that post on Friday. There and then I decided to start making choices based on loving and believing in myself rather than fear of consequences and see what happened.
Without leaving the chair, I asked myself what the hell I was doing messing around with a job that wasn’t meeting my needs and I was unhappy in.
On Saturday I applied and tested for a job as an independent contractor to do transcription for an online company.
On Sunday I applied and tested for a job as an independent contractor to do transcription for a second online company and was hired on the spot. I also wrote the publisher of She Writes Press and asked for help with the next step for my book manuscript.
On Monday, when I ran out of work, I began getting qualified (via testing) to do various kinds of transcription through my new job and looked up the resignation process from my current medical transcription job.
Yesterday the second online business hired me.
This morning She Writes Press wrote me back with support, suggestions, a recommended professional who might read the manuscript, and what it would cost.
The fear is not gone. In fact, it’s louder than ever because I’m challenging it on so many fronts at once. The difference is I’m not standing nose to nose with it right now. Playing with the new toy of making choices based on what’s loving for myself gives me another option, which means now I can make a real choice.
Fear is not a bad feeling. We need it to survive. It’s just that mine has grown bloated and swollen on all the power I’ve given it over the years. The bigger it gets, the more space it takes. At this point I’ve become its thing. It thinks it can do as it likes with me.
I’ve had a belly full of life based on doing things out of fear. It’s exhausting, demoralizing, joyless and hag-ridden. It doesn’t work well and I’m sick of it. When I think about it rationally, I know I don’t need to beat myself with a stick through every day for fear I’ll become lazy, selfish, etc., etc. If I was going to turn into any of those things I would have done it long ago.
How would it be if I used regard for myself as a motivator and refused to do or not do out of fear? What might a life based on doing things out of thinking well of myself look like? What if I stopped giving anything to fear?
The funny thing is life looks much the same. The difference is largely in the outwardly invisible motivation behind my choices. Am I going to relax with music or a video and stretch because that’s the right and responsible way to treat my tiresome physical needs after a long day sitting in which I earned inadequate money, or am I going to do it because I love the way it feels after a tiring day in which I worked hard, whether I earned money or not?
Life is crazy right now. Everything feels like it’s in transition. I hardly know what to concentrate on in any given moment, there’s so much on the table. Even so, now when I run out of energy in the afternoon I spend a few minutes writhing between making a choice between demanding more from myself out of fear or doing something pleasurable and relaxing. So far, every day I’ve managed to choose rest and relaxation after another wild day.
It appears I’ve begun a new practice. I didn’t know that evening I sat in the chair and cried I was standing on an important threshold. I didn’t know by the end of the week I’d have not one but two new jobs. I didn’t know I was going to finally get serious about putting my manuscript into a professional’s hands and risk failure and rejection. I didn’t know in just a couple of days I was going to begin making a habit out of rolling out of bed and stepping into the day’s embrace with curiosity and a resolve to think well of myself as I navigate, rather than wondering fearfully what would happen next and whether I would manage it adequately.
So far, so good.
Nothing more for fear.
Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash
All content on this site ©2017
except where otherwise noted
Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash
Do you ever wonder what you’re doing wrong? I do. I’ve been up since 4:30 this morning telling myself I will NOT be stressed and overwhelmed. It’s not working
So I’m going to go with it. I’m going to allow myself to be stressed and overwhelmed. I’m going to stop running away from the feeling and embrace it, drooling, like a spider with a plump licorice fly, one of those big slow sticky ones you can’t bring yourself to swat because — you know, guts!
The thing I most hate about days like this is that nothing is really wrong. There’s not a crisis. It’s just life. Everyone deals with life. My life is far, far easier than the lives of many others. Why am I such a jerk that I can’t deal effectively with a perfectly normal day? Why do I have to make such a big deal over everything? Why can’t I suck it up, stop whining, pull up my panties and put big girl socks on?
I own a little black Elantra. I bought it used, paid it off, rarely drove it in my old life because I was in a small town and walked everywhere. I kept it clean, kept it serviced and loved it.
Then I came to Maine and it became the only household car. That’s okay. My partner is a great driver and he’s reasonably neat and tidy. It’s not like having complete control of the fan, the AC and heat, the radio and the windows, but I can live my life without complete control of the car. I’m an adult. I can share.
Then my two adult sons came to Maine. They came in a U-Haul. Without a car.
Just to be clear, they’re both well over six feet tall. I’m talking about a Hyundai Elantra.
They also work at a local organic farm that raises vegetables, pork and dairy.
Now the four of us share a car.
I love my sons. I really, really do. I keep telling myself that.
The car Kleenex disappeared because one of them caught a cold. The lid to the wet wipes came off and when I unearthed them from under the seat they were all dried out. I pulled down the mirror on the passenger side to put lip balm on and the mirror was splashed with dried blood. (“I was playing with my girlfriend’s puppy, and his tooth caught my nose and ripped it, and there was blood all over and it was the only mirror I could find — sorry, Mom.”) The cloth grocery bags wound up on the floor under work boots caked with…uh…farm stuff. The back seat is covered with dirt because they had to haul potatoes from a far field back to the house. There are assorted Gatorade and plastic water bottles rolling around in every stage between full and empty. The seat and mirrors are never in the right place for me, but as I rarely get to drive anymore, I suppose it doesn’t matter.
Don’t even get me started on the issue of gas! (“There’s enough to get to town Mom. I swear to God!”)
Then, two days ago, we got a call from them at a time when they should have been safely and gainfully occupied weeding and harvesting in one of the farm’s massive gardens. You know, earning money to buy themselves a car? The front passenger wheel on the Elantra started making a terrible noise and they pulled over.
So, everyone knows the drill, right? You arrange for a tow, pick a garage or mechanic for a destination, adjust your schedule, find a ride. We did all that. Then you wait, if you’re me, with dread for the diagnosis, obsessively moving money from here to there in your head, wishing you hadn’t bought that expensive thing last week, calculating your next paycheck, figuring out where the money is going to come from and what bills can be late.
In the meantime, we all complained about all the things we were going to do in the next couple of days. What about work? What about the laundromat? What about cashing checks? What about groceries? What about my swimming day? All of a sudden, sharing a car seemed like a piece of cake when compared to having no car at all.
Then came the list of diagnoses, the bottom line dollar figure, the realization that we were half way there and might as well take care of everything that needed taken care of. It’s not as though there’s ever a good time to fix a car. Nobody sits on the side of the road and says, “Oh, good! This is the perfect time to have the car break down! I just happen to have a spare few hundred dollars right now!” At least no one does at my income level.
Then we waited a little while and the phone rang and it was fixed. But we couldn’t go get it because it was in the shop and we were at home.
We’re in rural Maine, so we called a local cab. (Item: On the dashboard a sign with the fare price, including “Puke charge $100. You clean it up.”) Fortunately, no one puked. We got to the shop. We wrote a check. We got the car.
All that was yesterday. So why, I ask you, was I lying in bed awake at 4:30 in the morning agonizing about it all? The car was right outside the window, parked in its spot, fixed and paid for. True, I paid for it out of my mortgage money and now I’ve no idea where the mortgage is coming from. On the other hand, the mortgage isn’t due until September 1, so there’s time, right? I’ll figure something out, or my partner will get a client, or something. Also true that the upcoming day (today) was complicated. I wanted to take my weekly swim. We all had things we needed to do, most of them involving using the car. I had this post to write, in addition to working on my book. My brother is coming to visit Friday, so I wanted to clean a little, change the sheets (hence the laundromat), etc. We all work on Friday, so today was the day to GET ORGANIZED.
Stop it, I told myself. Sleep. It’s not even light yet. We’ll figure out what everybody needs and
Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash
make a plan. It will be fine. Don’t think about the mortgage now. Stay in the moment. Breathe, dammit! RELAX. Whatever happens, you’ll get to swim. Think about that. The car is fixed. Your brother doesn’t care what the house looks like. Just think about the pool, cool, quiet, the rhythm of stroke and breathing. A locker room filled with women! Not a guy in sight. You’ll figure out what to blog about.
But what WILL I blog about? What can I write that’s intelligent, sympathetic, well thought out and interesting? I know, I’ll write about…no. No, that’s no good. My mother will read that and be hurt. Well, then, I’ll write about…no. If I write about that the kids will take it the wrong way. Oh, I’ve been wanting to talk about…mmm uh-uh. My friend will read that and she’ll feel bad.
Oh, good. Back to people pleasing, are we? You know you can’t write around that. Might as well give it up now. Hardly anybody reads the damn thing, anyway. It’s a waste of time and it’s not income producing and the car just cost $300…!!! WHAT ABOUT THE MORTGAGE? What am I going to do?
So I got up. At 7:00. And I hated myself because I wasted three hours tossing and turning when I could have gotten up and WRITTEN THIS POST.
“Honey,” said my partner, “if you feel overwhelmed, write about that. Write where you are. It’ll be brilliant.”
So we had breakfast, organized the troops, gathered up the laundry, synchronized our watches. I had a narrow window to swim in, but we reached the laundromat, got the laundry going, and my partner settled down with a book, I jumped in the car, raced joyfully to the pool, free at last, and found a sign. “Pool closed until Monday, August 22 due to construction.”
There was no Kleenex in the car, and I needed some.
It’s a beautiful afternoon. The laundry is strung on the line, waving in the breeze. My sons,
Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash
shirtless, are going lovingly over a used red (some of the red is paint instead of rust) truck they just bought, trying to figure out what it needs to pass inspection. A mechanic in town is going to look at it at 4:30. I haven’t vacuumed, cleaned the bathroom, written a word of my book or made my brother’s bed yet. I still don’t know what I’m going to do about the mortgage.
But I’ve written this post.
All content on this site ©2016
except where otherwise noted