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On the Other Side

We have finally moved. It was a long time coming. This has been one of the most significant transitions of my life, and it was not easy.

Photo by Michal Balog on Unsplash

Regular readers know the ups and downs, so I won’t reiterate the journey. What’s important is I’ve come out on the other side, and I’m sitting typing this at my new desk in front of my new window with a new view. I’ve been cleaning, unpacking, and moving things around all morning, and I didn’t want to stop, but I made myself. It’s been ten days of nonstop work.

Reducing chaos and disorder is one of my favorite activities, but it’s exhausting. My partner and I are bruised, stiff, and sore. My hands are chapped and my fingernails broken. Yesterday afternoon I finally got our teeny tiny shower clean enough to use without gagging; I’ve been showering at the pool facility where I work.

On Monday I went back to my regular work schedule after taking a couple of days off, and I walked to work! Amazing. In fact, I walked to the lower parking lot where I always park and laughed at myself. I don’t need to go there anymore. I can just walk straight to the building door.

Our new place, an old colonial, is sadly dilapidated and was very dirty, so I moved in the day we closed last week and got to work. My whole area is floored with old “punkin” pine floors, which consist of pine planks aged to a warm brown-orange with wide cracks between the boards. The floor, probably original to the house, is terribly battered and stained. It could use a sanding and refurbishing, but we had no time for that and it will have to wait until sometime in the future.

The house is heated with baseboard hot water and the old radiators are bent, broken, filthy and rusted. I’ve spent hours and hours on my hands and knees with a long-handled flat head screwdriver cleaning out the cracks in the floor and pulling debris out from under the radiators.

I excavated needles, screws, nails, other miscellaneous hardware, children’s socks, hair elastics, bobby pins, hair clips, at least $5 dollars in coins (mostly pennies), broken glass, food crumbs, dry cat food, rubber bands, paper clips, all kinds of beads and plastic toys, dental picks, a kitchen knife, small toys, pencils, pens, crayons, markers, lip balm, lint, pet hair, people hair, costume jewelry, toothpicks, lollipop sticks, candy wrappers, pieces of plastic, pieces of paper, popcorn kernels, thumbtacks, and one green jellybean.

I swept and vacuumed, swept and vacuumed, swept and vacuumed, every time finding new layers of dirt and debris. Then I damp mopped with a couple of drops of dish soap several times. Finally, I used a special wood floor cleaner, applied with a damp mop.

The plumbing and wiring need to be updated. The yard is full of trash. None of the doors shut well and all the knobs are loose. Most of the exterior doors don’t lock. Many of the windows are painted shut. At least half the blinds are broken. More than half of the electrical outlets don’t work.

And yet. This is a wonderful old house with graceful proportions, high ceilings, some of them tin. The windows are tall and generous and the sun floods in from both east and west. We’re on a corner lot and I can hardly wait to explore the garden. A magnolia tree in front is in flower. Spring bulbs are blooming.

In spite of the house’s neglected and outdated state, the structure is sound. The roof doesn’t leak. The foundation is not cracked. I think our heating and cooling costs will decrease, even with skyrocketing prices. My partner and I each have a floor to live on, so we’re not in each other’s hair, which works better for us. We’re in a small city, so groceries, appointments, our car mechanic, the laundromat, and emergency services are all right here. Have I mentioned I can walk to work?

It’s a new chapter, and I’m shaping a new kind of life. As I unpack and sort through my belongings, some of which I haven’t seen or used since I moved to Maine seven years ago, I’m asking myself who I am now, who I want to become, and what I want to do with this part of my life. Objects and habits precious to me in the house we just sold no longer seem so meaningful. Everything is different.

I am different.

One of my goals in moving was to build for myself a simpler, more sustainable life to make room for what matters most to me. I’m all too aware how frequently the people and activities most meaningful to us are squeezed out by carelessness, time and energy destroying habits, being over busy, and having too much stuff.

What matters most to me are my relationships, including being owned by cats, my work, and my writing. I’ve prioritized creating an office space with ample room where I can work, dream, and research. My oak desk sits in front of a tall east-facing window, outside of which I will plant a lovely garden and hang a couple of bird feeders. I have my file cabinets, my laptop, and, most importantly, my books.

Developing a routine in a new place is difficult, and I’m compulsive about getting everything organized and put away, but it’s the weekend. In fact, it’s Saturday morning as I write this, and I’m going to publish today, no matter what. I have promised myself this. So I pulled myself away from the work of settling in to finish this post. It’s good to be writing again. I didn’t take the first hours of my day to do it, as I always did in our old house, but it is still morning, so I give myself points for that!

After two weeks of chaos and confusion, it’s good to be back to the page. Perhaps next week I’ll have more brain as well as a newly redeveloped writing practice. I’m sure I brought my brain. It’s probably carefully packed in a box somewhere …

 

What I Learned

Unless the sky falls (again), we will be moving in less than a week. It’s hard to believe. In fact, it’s impossible to believe, but that’s okay. Today is real, and I know what I need to do right now. The future can take care of itself.

As I moved around the kitchen early this morning, feeding (and tripping over) the cats, making breakfast, heating water for tea, watching the sky lighten, it occurred to me the last seven years in this old farmhouse have taught me a magnificent lesson.

Maine Farmhouse and Barn

When I moved to Maine, I had a solid idea about what I was moving into, a whole set of expectations and dreams, none of which turned out to be real.

The loss of my fantasies was heartbreaking and took me years to process. During that time, I started this blog and later remodeled it, finished my first book, wrote my second, and began my third, started publishing my fiction serially on Substack, put everything I’ve learned about emotional intelligence into action, grew deep roots in my community, found a great job I love, and became part of a second family.

At the same time, I experienced disempowerment in terms of my living space and physical surroundings. Never before have I lived in a place where I had so little power to respond to my needs and preferences, and never have I been so overwhelmed with maintenance tasks I could not take care of.

Because of my emotional intelligence training, my disempowerment was visible to me, and I was able to turn towards what I did have power over, again and again, until it became second nature. It didn’t feel good, but it was invaluable practice at managing my own power, at recognizing my own power.

Always before in my life, I’ve had plans and projects, things I wanted to buy, walls I wanted to paint, the ability to rearrange furniture, make repairs, have new shelves built, and discard what was no longer useful. Such activity gave me a great deal of pleasure and was thoroughly distracting. It was never finished, so I stayed firmly focused on externals.

In this house, that distraction has been unavailable. To stand in my own power has been to stand still with myself, to work internally, to feel my feelings, create, stretch, grow, learn, explore. It’s been lonely. It’s been uncomfortable. It’s been transformative. It’s been internal, invisible, and has nothing to do with a shiny presentation.

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

Most of us would acknowledge real change and healing come from the inside, not from the surface. But understanding that intellectually is not the same as spending years living it. I would never have voluntarily given up the power to manage my surroundings. When I realized it was happening I had a choice to make, and I chose to explore this new, unexpected territory.

That choice is one of the best I’ve ever made.

I have learned a dream home, a dream wardrobe, a dream body, a dream library, is not a life. What others see of me and my possessions and home is not me. My presentation has nothing to do with my state of health, presence, and groundedness.

Our new home is old, though not as old as this farm, and it needs some work. Sure, it needs new exterior paint and other cosmetic help, but that’s not where I’ll start. Those changes are fun and everyone can see and appreciate them, but the invisible, internal issues like plumbing, wiring, and insulation are what will really make a difference to my experience living there.

The looks of the new house are not what matters. It’s the life we create inside it that matters.

The color of my hair doesn’t matter. It’s what’s inside my head that matters.

The clothes I wear don’t matter. It’s the health and peace in my body that matter.

Attaining perfection (and perfect control) of my space is not what matters. It’s the ability to manage my thoughts and feelings, maintain integrity, and live well that matter.

In these last few days of packing, sorting, and endless tasks and details, at every step I’m thinking about what I learned and how grateful I am for the lesson. I didn’t choose to learn it. I wouldn’t have volunteered to learn it. I was forced into it, tricked into it, even.

But that’s not important. My life has consistently taken me exactly where I need to go, in spite of how much I whine and complain about some of the places I’ve been. Now, just ahead, is a whole new chapter.

I wonder what I will learn.

(Next weekend we’re moving, so you won’t see a post here from me. I’ll be back in two weeks!)

Photo by Michal Balog on Unsplash

Avoidance

One of my greatest unconscious defaults in life is avoidance. I know now, thanks to Peter Walker and his work, avoidance is a natural trauma response.

Nothing makes me crazier than people who avoid unpleasant things.

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

Is there a pattern here? (Laughter in the wings.)

I’m thinking about this because I’m steadily publishing my fiction in serial form on Substack, week by week, about 10 pages by 10 pages, and it’s a challenge.

Something in me wants to avoid revealing my own creativity. My writing takes me to some dark, and some people would say inappropriate, places. Every week (I just posted for the 8th week), I push myself through whatever the content of my post happens to be. More than that, I deliberately take it on in an accompanying essay.

I’m an expert in self-sabotage. I’ve been doing it my whole life, largely through simple avoidance. At the same time, it appears my previously intermittent and now increasing tendency to call a spade a spade and be honest about my experience is one of the characteristics others struggle with most when they deal with me.

It’s a strange paradox, and it creates ongoing internal tension.

The avoidance part of me is childish and disempowered. The direct, take-the-bull-by-the-horns part of me is powerful and hangs out with Baba Yaga.

I love the direct part of myself, but I don’t think anyone else can. I think others want the avoidant woman, because she’s so damn “nice.”

Ick.

When I first began writing creatively, I thought it would all be sweetness and light, love and romance, happily ever after.

Photo by Peter Forster on Unsplash

As the years passed, and I expanded out of (mostly bad) poetry, played with writing oral stories, and then started seriously writing fiction, my output took a darker turn. The sweetness and light included bitter and dark. The love and romance became raw sensuality and included detailed sexual content. I took old fairy tales, cleansed by the brothers Grimm and others, and excavated the darker, dirtier, more violent roots. My characters graphically tore out eyes and watched them change into marbles. They killed people. They ate people. Shapeshifters had sex. Towers fell. People went to war and practiced genocide.

My writing wasn’t dark on every page, but it wasn’t sweetness and light on every page, either. It made me cry. It made me cringe. It made me uncomfortable because of its emotional power. I wondered at myself. Yet never have I been so captured, so challenged, so confident, so happy as I am when writing.

After all, in those days almost nobody read it! I wrote for myself, and held nothing back.

Now I’ve deliberately changed that. Now anyone can read it. And some people are.

For a while I considered cutting the parts I judged as being too … what? Too honest? Too sexy? Too potentially offensive? Too violent? Too real?

Yes. All those things.

My impulse was to avoid revealing myself. Stay safely hidden. Stay small. Refrain from making myself or anyone else uncomfortable.

Even as I considered that, I knew I wouldn’t. I knew I couldn’t betray myself that way. If I’m to be judged as not good enough, I want the judgement based on the deepest, most complex, most powerful and honest work I’m capable of.

Because that’s the only way my writing is good enough for me.

My Substack post last week included explicit sexual content. There will be more, but that was the first. I wrote an essay to go with it titled “Creating the Webbd Wheel: Sex.” I’ve been worrying about that post for weeks. In the end, I kept it simple and direct. I was writing about sexual content. The title was clear. Why prevaricate?

Substack provides writers with statistics 24 hours after they post, and I was informed my essay got the most reads of anything I’ve posted so far.

I’ve been giggling ever since. So far, nobody’s given me a bad time about my sexual content, but even if they do, I know I was right in what I wrote in that essay. Nobody wants to talk about sex, and we all have a lot of judgement and fear around it, but that doesn’t mean it occupies none of our private attention. We can’t amputate ourselves from our sexual nature, no matter how much we wish we could or others tell us we should.

I will probably unconsciously default to avoidance for the rest of my life. It’s a deeply-rooted pattern. I’m socially rewarded for being “nice.” On the other hand, I personally value authenticity and honesty far more than I do niceness. I want to grow up to be direct and clear. Not mean, but not avoidant or arguing with what is, either. It’s a fine line, one I don’t walk steadily or gracefully.

But I’m not going to avoid trying.

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

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