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Boundaries and Secrets

I’m sitting at my desk this morning, the sun shining on the wet grass scattered with wrinkled leaves outside my window. I’ve just been running errands. My desk, unusually, is piled high with scraps of paper, notebooks, my calendar, receipts, to-do lists, and a new binder and paper I just bought to help me organize. My big grey tabby, Oz, is busily knocking everything off the desk and chewing on a new plastic package of AAA batteries because I won’t let him lie on the keyboard.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

I was sick most of October. I’m finally on antibiotics; I can breathe, and consequently think, more clearly. A week ago an aged family member living halfway across the country with whom I have a lifelong troubled history became openly unable to manage their life and then fell and broke their hip in quick succession.

Sometimes life requires us to muster every bit of learning, wisdom, strength, courage, insight and experience we have in a catastrophic practical test, like a nightmarish pop quiz. This is one of those times. It helps to look at it that way, because I know I have (somewhere) everything I need to manage this situation with all my considerable compassion and clear-sightedness.

This last week I let go of everything. My living space needs to be cleaned. I desperately want to change my sheets after so many nights crying, coughing, and trying to breathe adequately enough to snatch some sleep. I’m longing to escape my phone and laptop, sit in the sun, read, relax, do some gentle gardening (still like late summer here in Maine). I haven’t even started on this post yet, a thing I usually do during the week.

I made it to work. I made it to the doctor for antibiotics. I stayed hydrated. Aside from reactive crisis intervention and coming to terms with what’s happening long-distance, that’s about all I can say for myself. But now, at last, I’m beginning to stir feebly into some kind of normal experience again.

It’s a relief.

I opened this document and started typing without any plan whatsoever. I don’t have to post today on this blog. It wouldn’t matter if I didn’t. I suppose I’ve grown used to the opportunity to organize my life into words every week.

For nearly a decade I’ve worked intensively on boundaries. Ten years ago I knew nothing about personal boundaries. My life was accordingly dysfunctional. It was hardly my life at all, in fact. It was everyone else’s life. I’ve written extensively about boundaries on the blog, and the concept of the difference between your experience and mine is woven heavily into my fiction. I’ve practiced building and maintaining healthy boundaries in the last years, though I’m still far from perfect in working with them.

But I’m getting better all the time.

When we are prevented from building appropriate psychological boundaries as children, we never create an internal world in which we can rest, center, and ground. We become an image in someone else’s mirror, a paper doll, a nonperson.

Nonpeople have no needs, no credibility, and no permission to express themselves as individuals. It’s worse than no permission, though. Nonpeople are severely punished for any independent feeling, need, or expression. Nonpeople have no private life. They’re not allowed to say no.

This kind of relationship, sadly, is often invisible to onlookers. From the outside, such connections look bonded and mutually adoring. The public view never sees the anguish involved in a relationship without boundaries.

Anguish on both sides. Those who seek to prevent others from having boundaries are deeply damaged, insecure people whose own boundaries were likely brutally violated and torn down. They are terrified of being alone, and a boundary makes them feel utterly outcast and rejected.

Photo by Nicole Mason on Unsplash

But for me, boundaries are sanity. They’re safety. They allow the power to choose and respect to flow both ways. They say, “My self is worthy. Your self is worthy. We can choose to love one another as well as ourselves.”

Reshaping a primary relationship with no boundaries into one with healthy ones is excruciating. It may not be possible. I haven’t decided it is impossible, but I wonder. One of the hardest things about it is how it looks to outsiders, who don’t understand why all the harsh edges and corners are suddenly showing in such a perfect, loving relationship, the kind we all want, the kind we should feel lucky to have.

Another feeling I’m present with just now is the nauseating swing between relief and guilt. All secrets, painful family secrets included, have an uncomfortable way of being revealed. Even if everyone involved conspires to keep the secret, eventually, often in a you-couldn’t-make-this-stuff-up kind of way, someone or something like a terrible series of events exposes it.

I’ve posted about such ideas as loyalty, responsibility, duty, gaslighting and projection. The bars of prisons built by family systems are forged out of concepts and strategies like these. But when a secret escapes the bars melt away and we’re suddenly free. We’re not alone in solitary anymore.

Some stranger says to us, “Oh, yes. I’m familiar with that dynamic. I’ve observed that behavior. I understand,” and we realize we are not crazy. We are not mean and ugly. We are not hateful.

We are not alone.

The relief of validation is indescribable. So is the guilt accompanying the relief. When we guard secrets, literally with our lives, for the sake of protecting the dignity of a loved one and the secrets are revealed through no fault of our own, we also feel exposed. The mere fact that we were the designated secret keeper means we failed.

Our love and the cost of bearing the secret’s burden for so long doesn’t matter. The least we can do, the least we can do, is remove all the boundaries we’ve erected so carefully and painstakingly and once again give up our lives, our freedom, our selves. Our loved one’s anguish should become our anguish, their pain our pain, their limitations our limitations. If necessary, their death should be our death. Because we betrayed, we let them down, we failed.

The secret got out.

I can’t see very far ahead. It’s not useful to gaze at the road behind. I’ve already walked it and everything is different now, the people involved and the situation. Right now I know where I am. I can see the next steps. This is a new path, one I’ve never taken before. It’s a new script, a new experience. I’m working on releasing my assumptions. I don’t know what will happen next. I can predict, but predictions make me tired. What I have is right now, today. I know what I will do today, both in my personal life and to manage my loved one’s situation.

This time I will find a way to inhabit my boundaries and support my loved one without sacrificing one for the other. I will make phone calls, send emails, get myself organized to do whatever I can long distance and prepare to travel in case of need. I will grieve.

I will also write, get outside, do some laundry, maybe take a nap, and work on recovering my health, because mine is the only life I can live.

To read my fiction, serially published free every week, go here.

 

Leaping

Last month, Seth Godin wrote about The Lifeguard Hack. Being a lifeguard, it made a lot of sense to me.

This week my team (of lifeguards) and I spent some time in the water training.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Just before Halloween, I pulled the trigger on finding another place to live, right around the same time I decided to serialize my fiction on Substack.

I wasn’t ready to do either of these things, and I’m not ready to have to go in the water and rescue someone at work, either.

Wait! Let me think about this some more. Let me prepare. Let me figure out how to do it perfectly.

Except life doesn’t wait.

Godin is so right. When someone is drowning, I’m going in. It doesn’t matter if I have the proper gear, equipment, attire, or level of energy and alertness. The temperature of the water doesn’t matter. I won’t wonder which form of entry to use. I won’t plan an approach. I probably won’t follow the exact script in our Emergency Action Plan. None of us will. I will blow my whistle, and if I don’t have my whistle, I’ll yell. Loudly. And I’ll go in.

I’ve moved house before. I’ve sold, bought, and figured out how to make it work. I’m not ready, because no one ever is ready, at least not if ready means knowing every detail beforehand. I wouldn’t have planned to decide to do this in late fall with winter and the holidays looming ahead. It just unfolded that way.

I’ve been thinking for years about ways to get my fiction into the world. Why Substack? Why now? Especially why now when I decide at the same time we need to move?

I don’t know. It’s time. It’s just time.

We re-certify every two years to keep our lifeguard status, and we train frequently. I have experience with moving. I have a disciplined writing practice and am an experienced blogger.

Performing a water rescue, buying a new home and moving into it, publishing on Substack, are all things I can do. I’ve done them, or something similar to them, before. There will be no perfect time. Rehearsing won’t help me. It’s just a way of allowing my anxiety and all the critics in my head to sabotage me.

While we’re hesitating, afraid of failure or less-than-perfect, opportunity slips away. While we’re waiting for the “right time,” we’re losing the time we have now. While we’re rehearsing how to pull a passive victim off the bottom of the deep end, they’re drowning.

For me, the key is not so much courage, which I have plenty of. It’s confidence, which I struggle with. But a lot of my struggle with confidence is based on old lies and distortions that are not real. I know I can perform a water rescue because I’ve done it before, many times in practice and a couple of times in real life. It wasn’t perfect. It didn’t look like the Red Cross training videos, where everyone is calm, the sun is shining, and it’s all by the book. But nobody drowned. Nobody died.

I hate moving. It opens up a lot of old trauma. But we need to move, and I know I can do it. I know liquor boxes make the best book boxes. I know how to show a house. I know how to navigate the legalities. I know where my power is, and I know what I can’t control in the process. It’s a familiar journey. Waiting for nicer weather, for the market to get better for sellers, better for buyers, or more stable in general; waiting for loans to be easier to obtain, or interest rates to go down, or to win the lottery; waiting for the stars to align just right because I’m scared, is not effective. The time is now. We’ll figure it out. Whether we have two years or a month of the process ahead of us, it’s begun and it will play out the way it plays out. It will be stressful, and exhausting, and a chaos of boxes (and cats) and belongings, tape and markers, and things we can’t find. It won’t be perfectly thought out or executed.

On Substack, people will read or they won’t. People will like the fiction, or they won’t. They’ll tell their friends and share it, they’ll comment, they’ll help me build a healthy, interactive community engaged in discussing community, story, and how to live more effectively on our planet, or they won’t. I didn’t start out perfectly. I go back every couple of days and tweak things. I’m figuring it out as I go.

We figure life out as we go. Our friends help us. We learn. We adjust. We make mistakes. We do our best.

So, yeah. If you go down in one of our pools while I’m on the stand, I’m coming in after you, and the rest of my team will be right behind me. I’m not ready. But I’m coming in.

Photo by Chris Kristiansen on Unsplash

 

 

A Stone, a Web, a Story and The Webbd Wheel

As regular readers know, for several years I’ve been writing fiction. I’m now working on the third book in my series, The Webbd Wheel.

After I finished the first book, The Hanged Man, I had it professionally edited twice. I was looking for a reality check. Was it any good at all? Did I need to begin again?

Much to my surprise, my editor praised it warmly.

This was wonderful, but not at all the same as attracting an agent or publisher. The writing’s quality takes second place to the estimated commercial value of the work in the current publishing business model.

I understand this. Business is business and it’s not personal. However, writers like me have very little ability to compete with writers who are proven money-makers.

Books require paper, which comes from trees. I love books. They’re the mainstay of my existence. Yet neither I nor anyone else will survive if we kill all the trees on this planet. I’m not much of a digital reader, though many people are. I’d like to be in print, but the money required to get into print and the possibility those books will not sell are part of what’s driving the current publishing model, and I don’t want to be decimating trees for books that sit unwanted on a shelf or in boxes.

Traditional publishing, because it’s capitalist, is conservative. There are rules. Unproven writers, in particular, have to follow the conventions.

You may not have noticed, but I’m not very conventional, especially not creatively. According to print publishing conventions, my books are too long for a newbie author. They’re a synthesis of many different cultures and stories, which raises the spectre of cultural appropriation, a hot potato no publisher wants to handle. There are numerous characters and the story is complicated. (Who do I think I am? George R. R. Martin?) There’s erotica, including shapeshifting lovers. There’s paganism. There’s witchcraft and magic. There’s natural systems collapse. There are all the messy aspects of relationship with family, friends, mates, and children.

In short, I want to write without the shackles imposed by the necessity to please most people most of the time and offend no one so millions will buy my work and a publisher makes money.

The conventions are simply too small for me or my imagination to fit into.

Photo by Andrew Loke on Unsplash

This, by the way, is not a surprise. I’ve never fit into conventions. Why did I think I would be successful now?

For years I’ve been submitting my work, collecting rejections, and researching alternative ways to get my writing to readers.

Publishing, like many other things in our world, is changing rapidly. Technology has opened up new and different ways to share written material.

Success, from a traditional publisher’s point of view, is sales. Sales require good marketing and a vast audience. I’ve been told over and over again if I want to be noticed, if I want to be successful, the only path is social media.

Maybe that’s true and maybe it isn’t. I’ve read a lot of books by authors who were writing before social media. I’ve read some really terrible bestsellers that, as far as I’m concerned, should never have been published, but the authors had a big following and fan base on social media and elsewhere. They were popular. They got rich, at least by my standards!

Here’s the thing. I don’t want to write something I wouldn’t read or buy. I don’t want to be a product for the social media platforms, and I don’t want you to be, either. I’m not producing work that appeals to everyone, and that’s okay with me.

I have no ambition to be popular. Useful? Sure. Provocative, as in provoking discussions, questions, new ways to think about problems and issues? Wonderful. Validating? Great. Connecting? Absolutely.

People who rock boats are not popular, and I’m a boat rocker from way back.

I want an audience which finds value in my work. The size of that audience is not my business.

One of the options for digital publishing is an online platform called Substack, which was created especially for writers. Several well-known authors who are in print publish there, and some have started there and subsequently been “discovered” and published conventionally. Substack allows a writer to deliver serial fiction directly to readers. No middlemen. No advertising. A free or low-cost monthly subscription that can be cancelled at any time with no book to rehome, give away, or collect dust.

This platform supports authors and readers engaging in discussion and creating community. It allows writers to take readers behind the scenes of the creative writing process, not necessarily as teachers, though there are plenty of guides and teachers on Substack, but as playmates. As equals and peers who live in the same world and share the human experience.

I’ve spent the last two or three weeks creating a site on Substack called A Stone, a Web, a Story. This weekend, after I post this in Harvesting Stones on Saturday, I will publish on Substack on Sunday. The starting posts will be the first 10 pages of my first book, The Hanged Man, and a post specifically about creating The Webbd Wheel series. E-mail subscribers to Harvesting Stones will receive an e-mail from A Stone, a Web, a Story every week when I post there. You can opt out of my e-mail list for either site at any time.

I’ve added a new category to the home page on Harvesting Stones below the image links for the blog and resources. It’s titled The Webbd Wheel. A click will take you to a page that tells you a little about the books and provides a link to A Stone, a Web, a Story. You’ll also find The Webbd Wheel on the menu at the top of every page on Harvesting Stones.

If you want to check out A Stone, a Web, a Story, follow this link. Remember, the first post won’t go up until Sunday, 11/28. I’ll continue to publish here as usual.

As I write, it’s Thanksgiving. I am thankful for every single person reading this. When I began blogging in the summer of 2016, I could not have imagined the journey I was embarking upon. Now, more than 200 posts and two books later, I’ve made connections, learned, grown, laughed, cried, and been touched by your comments and questions. I’m proud to begin sharing my fiction with you and I hope you’ll join me and other readers on Substack as I add a community thread and other features to A Stone, a Web, a Story. Thank you.

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

 

Adult Learners

When inspiration struck and I set out to build a new website for my blog and other writing, I assumed the process would move quickly. I could hardly wait to see the vision in my head become reality. I’m a happy and motivated independent learner and felt certain I could fumble with the design software and master it without much trouble, the way I did when I created Our Daily Crime.

Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

The software for Our Daily Crime is nearly ten years old now, a tech dinosaur. The new software requires a whole new level of skill.

I needed help. Scheduling a meeting with a professional took time. Then we had to reschedule due to a conflict. More time. I turned my attention to other things and practiced patience (not very successfully!).

In the meantime, we’ve hired a new team member at work to join us in lifeguarding, teaching, and working with patrons and patients in the pools. He’s older than I am, and he’s working hard on refining his swimming skills and learning new techniques. We’re giving him all the support and practice we can.

I admire adults who want to learn new skills. We’ve just begun to teach private swim lessons again after the pandemic, and I have two adult students. When I asked one of them what her goals were for her lessons, she said, “Not to drown,” which made me laugh.

I did eventually meet with my web designer using Zoom, and I spent an intense hour and a half taking notes, asking questions, and watching her use the design software. Since then, I’ve spent several hours working with it, and gradually I’m gaining mastery and shaping the website I dreamed of. I’m elated. Can’t wait to share it with you!

As a lifelong learner and teacher, I notice how varied our learning experience can be.

Photo by Alessio Lin on Unsplash

Context matters. I was wretched during my public school years. My goals were to achieve good grades to meet the expectations of my family and graduate. Any pleasure in the learning itself, for its own sake, suffocated under the long nightmare of those years. Graduation meant nothing to me, and I would have ignored it if I’d been allowed. My reward was surviving.

College was no better. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t belong there. Once again, I went through the motions of pleasing others and living up to expectations, two hellish years of depression, social isolation, and suicidal ideation before I dropped out.

I still wince when I think of the money wasted.

Somehow the joy of learning has been distorted into competition, capitalism, and perfectionism. Everyone doesn’t have equal access to education and educational tools. Many people don’t complete high school, let alone higher education. We don’t talk about education in terms of enhancing our lives and making us bigger. We talk about getting a good job, making a lot of money (or not), and school loans. Capitalism defines success.

Worst of all, if we happen to be interested in literature, writing, religion, music, theater, philosophy – liberal arts, in other words – we’re steered away from those interests because “they” say we can’t earn a living pursuing them. I’ve got news for you. You can’t make a living as a librarian or medical transcriptionist, either.

Apparently, education is not valuable unless it leads to making a certain amount of money.

Photo by Brandon Wilson on Unsplash

On the other hand, many learners in our communities are in it for the fun of learning something new. Their goals are about real life, as opposed to the construct of consumerism. They don’t want to drown. They want to do a job they’ve never done before and so learn new skills. They want to use technology as a tool to support their passion. Adult learners know learning enhances life. They’re not coerced into learning; they seek it out.

It’s a lot easier and more fun to teach someone who wants to learn than it is someone who’s having learning thrust upon them.

Adult learners have lived long enough to know how to learn. Not how to compete, how to cheat, how to work the system, how to manipulate good grades and references, and how to create their own personal perfectionistic demons, but how to learn. Adult learners also know something about how they best learn, and are able to communicate their needs and goals.

Learning requires time, patience and practice. It takes courage to seek new skills. It’s messy. We make mistakes, flounder, and fail. Good adult learners persist anyway, pursuing their creativity or passion, satisfying their curiosity and desire for mastery.

I’ve had the good fortune to know and work with wonderful teachers who have inspired, encouraged, and challenged me. I’ve also known destructive teachers who permanently damaged my trust, confidence, and sense of self-worth. The difference between them, I’m convinced, has nothing to do with their level of education or training, but rather with their power management. Good teachers seek to empower their students. Destructive teachers not only refuse to share their power, they actively disempower their students.

Healthy communities support learning and teaching, not necessarily as a formal process, but as a natural one. As a teacher, I know my students give me at least as much as I give them. Teaching and learning are collaborative, a sharing of power. To teach is to learn. To learn is to teach. Passing on my love of swimming doesn’t change the world, but it’s a contribution I can make joyfully.

Everyone succeeds when we teach and learn together. My daily crime.

Photo by Chris Kristiansen on Unsplash

All in Good Time

One of my coworkers and his wife had a baby girl yesterday.

I’m thinking about them, and remembering the birth of my own first child.

Photo by Khoa Pham on Unsplash

Creating something new. What a magical process, and what an anchor to our humanity.

What a terrifying, exhausting, consuming act it is to make oneself into a creative vessel, and then, when the time is right, deliver what we’ve conceived and made into the world.

Creativity, it seems to me, is the ultimate act of faith in the world, faith in the future, faith in ourselves and others.

Faith can be hard for me. Trust is even harder.

Yet I am compelled to create, just as I felt compelled to be a mother.

I forget sometimes that creativity is a journey from conception through patience and labor to, ultimately, delivery.

Except delivery, of course, isn’t the end of the journey, but the beginning of a new one.

About a month ago (I had to look back in my notes – it seems like a year ago!) I suddenly decided I wanted to redesign and uplevel this blog.

Step by step, I’ve been working toward that goal ever since, in a daze of inspiration and creativity. I’ve made sketches and notes, researched other popular and award-winning blogs for design ideas, sorted through hundreds of images, written word lists, created new categories for my content, and worked with a web designer.

Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash

It’s going to be beautiful. I wish I could show you the inside of my head as a preview!

It’s also going to be wider in scope, more ambitious, and more authentically expressive.

Creativity forces us to be bigger, and that’s uncomfortable. Once your belly has stretched over a baby, it’s forever changed. There’s no going back.

In order to create my new website, I need to step beyond my comfort zone in several ways, and stretch, and fall back on patience, trust, faith, and resilience.

It’s a stony road, but the vision in my head is so compelling I don’t always notice.

Today, a day off from my bread-and-butter job, was The Day I was going to finally start building the site. All the pieces are in place, all the elements collected. I’ve watched tutorials on using the software I chose to build with. I could hardly wait to start.

Starting looked like opening everything up and sitting in front of the screen without a clue.

For three hours I struggled with more tutorials, trying to find definitions for terminology, and trying to understand how to use this amazing, beginner-friendly, software!

I paused and emailed my web designer. I’m going to need help. We made an appointment for the end of the month.

I don’t want to wait that long. I dove back in. Surely I can figure this out!

At the point I felt torn between hurling the laptop out the window or bursting into tears (maybe both), I set my notes and the laptop down on my work surface (gently!) and walked away.

Sometimes there’s nothing else to do.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I went outside and sat in the sun. It’s a gorgeous day, sunny and warm. It’s also the height of black fly season, and I’m half demented and a little sick from several vicious bites incurred earlier in the week. I’ve always had trouble with insect venom, and it’s unbelievable how savage these tiny insects can be. If you’ve never experienced them, you won’t know what I’m talking about, and I can’t adequately explain.

Anyway, right now it doesn’t pay to linger, uncovered, in the sun, but I gave myself a few minutes to enjoy the birds, the new green growth, and the warmth while I struggled with my frustration.

I thought of that new baby, and I sighed.

Creation takes time.

Conception, labor, delivery, and whatever comes after, take time.

Living creatively is a journey, not a destination.

It is, after all, a day off. Am I going to choose to beat my head against this wall or leave it and go on to something else, like writing this post?

The post I wanted to write was the introduction to my new site!

Not yet. It’s not time.

Gah!

Photo by Bill Williams on Unsplash