Thursday, June 28, 2012

Who And Why?

Yesterday in my reading I came across some advice to writers that encouraged knowing your audience.  It occurred to me belatedly that I might want to think about that idea. Time to put the cart after the horse I suppose.

Of course, at this point I have no real audience, because I've never actively sought to build one.  I have resistances to sort out.

One is that I'm made distinctly uncomfortable by self promotion and hucksterism.  Part of my distaste for the necessary job of marketing comes from a shame issue that may be pretty obvious to any readers I do have by now.  The other part is a simple preference for subtlety and....

Who am I kidding?  It's mostly about the shame.  The thought of trying to convince anyone that I can do great things is....well, it just isn't done.  I want to lower my head when the subject comes up, not lift it and hawk my wares.  I am STILL waiting to be told at any time that I am a loser, a lame-o, a failure.  I'm still expecting to find what I worked so hard and happily on judged sorely against the other competitors, like the banana bread I made for a class competition in 5th grade.  I thought it was good and dreamed of winning--until I realized that the under flavored, badly colored one on our anonymous sample board was actually mine.  I knew I was a loser then.  I hoped no one but me knew which one was mine.

I just judged an ice cream cake contest on Monday.  I hope none of the not-winners felt that way, especially if I had anything to do with it.

Anyway, I have no skill or appetite for self-promotion, and I've never given any thought to who my audience might be, even if only in my imagination.  But it's a good question.  My shame may make me want to avoid the question of audience (read: potential judges), but writing does kind of presume readers, doesn't it?  Who would I want them to be?  Or, to put it in a less self-centered way, who would benefit from reading about my journey through life?  I squirm at the question of what I have to offer anyone, especially when I'm in the trough, but what do I have to give here?

One thing could be comfort.  Yesterday I also read an account of one woman's near paralyzing anxiety before a public speaking event and appreciated it immensely.   That may not be my trigger, but I know the fear.  I bless her for helping me feel...entribed, to make up a word.  (Hey! Making up words is fun).  She's a bright, talented lady who can be honest about some of her trials and still be taken seriously when she writes about happy, "normal" stuff, too.  As if difficulties aren't normal.

So one value in writing about my real inner life could be that it helps someone else who wants to find her people, who needs to know that she isn't alone in her navel gazing, anxious-yet-joyous, always-asking-the-deep-questions ways. She may be encouraged in the same way I was encouraged when I read about that other woman's anxiety.

If I do try to picture my people, they're, well, a lot like me--sensitive, searching, educated, artsy, wounded but walking, dedicated to learning and growing, even when that means dealing with fearful things.  Maybe they're also souls who know much darkness, even as they love and seek the light, and would like to be honest about that without being deemed a flake.  My top aim in life, and the focus of this blog, is to always seek to make life fine and beautiful.  Honesty is part of that.  I try to name and know the bad well, so it won't swallow me.  Then I can appreciate the good even more.

The question for me has always been how honest to be here. Let me be clear:  I DO NOT want to carry on like a Jerry Springer guest, or the customer who once told me way more than I needed to know during the purchase of a cookie.  Revelation has its limits.  There are parts of myself and my life that I will always keep private.  I weigh the potential consequences of lifting my veil often and say nothing here that I wouldn't say to a friend or acquaintance, if it seemed pertinent or helpful.  I may not be a person who needs many secrets, but I do have a sense of decorum.  Deciding to write only about the positive, which I've tried, just causes blockage.  As I said, I'm transparent.  A wee-little all or nothing, maybe.

But despite my desire to be open, the truth is that after pushing the publish button on the Flat Line post, I was even more anxious.  In my morning journaling I found that I was scared because of it, afraid that I'd seem like a tortured, flaky whiner.  The inner toddler was feeling extremely vulnerable.  I seriously thought of deleting it or abandoning writing altogether (again!?).  All the better to stay safe, my dears.

Then I went on to work (People--the extrovert's cure!), where no one emailed me to say that obviously I am not up the this job if I'm going to bare my pathetic soul on the internet, pretending to be seeking enlightenment.  The anxiety storm blew by, and I'm here again. 

As I have come closer to whole in my journey, I have consciously wanted to be the one who could hear people when they needed to share their darkness.  Like the friend with the baby she adored but also the guilt complex for not loving every minute of it because she was up ended and sleep deprived. I don't mind sitting with tears, fears, doubts, and painful stories.  I know how much good it does to let those feelings out with someone who can hear them without fixing or judging. I hope that being the listener makes them feel less alone.  There's nothing like the feeling you get when you know that someone else KNOWS, too--has been there, gets you--and also accepts you even when you bawl piteously and blow your nose.

Whether we're listening or telling, our stories help each other.  I tell mine here and listen to others when I'm needed because I believe that to be true.  We're here to help each other.  I hope that whatever wants to be written through me, as Julia Cameron would put it, contributes even if I don't know how.

And I don't know.  But sometimes that works for me.  We didn't know why we wanted so suddenly and giddily to buy this barn, but it's worked.  I didn't know why I wanted to go to culinary school, but that's paying off for me wonderfully.  I've learned to trust my gut.  She's not so stupid.

I've not always felt that way about myself.  When the anxiety attacks, I still don't, mostly because somewhere back there I was taught by crazy makers (that's a clinical term, by the way) not to listen to my own instincts and judgments.  I could be controlled better that way.  Self doubt and shame hold a person down quite tightly.

And there's one reason to continue.  When I probe my reactions to writing about anything unseemly, like my difficult times, or even thinking about an audience, I feel that 5th-grade-banana-bread shame all over again. The danger is that showing the world anything but the good stuff, or maybe even displaying what I think is good, will reveal me as pathetic, that I'll be rejected when people know how I really am.  I will do whatever I have to do to get past that fear, to shed that shame which seems to be the kernel of my resistance to writing.  I may struggle, but I won't let it stop me from doing what I feel I must do.  It's risky, but it's the only way to grow and be better for others, too.

Contributing to others does matter to me.  I want to be clear about that, as well.  I may write about myself, but it's not because I over-value me.  If anything I do battle with the opposite tendency.  I'm confessional and personal because that's all I've got, and because I find the process of simply trying to be a healthy, full human being fascinating in its illogical difficulty.  I'm not gifted with imaginary worlds and characters like my husband.  Real life is what speaks to me, with its good and its bad, its fabulous dinners and pains that heal.

Well, after all that, I still don't know who my right audience is, but I can live with the question and see what answer arises.  I suspect that breaking through the shame barrier will make it easier to answer it.  I'll write until I know.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

And It Only Took a Year

The supplies I bought last week became, over the weekend, another project done.  Yay!

Dave had noticed at some point that we had thirteen steps in our stair.  The man loves all things classically spooky, so he had the idea to highlight that fact by numbering the risers.  Originally we thought they would be done with paint.  Then I saw a magazine picture of the same idea executed with nail-up house numbers.  Brilliant!  Way less work and still quite affordable:  the whole passel of numbers set us back less than 24 dollars.

Installing them took about half an hour--of Dave's labor, let's be clear.  Because he can do mathematical centering and it involved tools.  It's a man thing.  I do the estimating and shopping.  We both use our best skills that way, and everybody wins.

I absolutely love it when something new happens on our house!  I want a prettified home like I want food.  In order to feed that part of me more regularly, I've decided to identify, each Sunday during quiet, relaxed thinking time, a step I can take in the coming week to move a project along.  I'm trying to prevent the aforementioned lag time between idea and execution, because execution brings the satisfaction.  This particular idea arose over a year ago, if we even remember now.  Definitely room for improvement.

Only eight months elapsed between my curtain tieback inspiration and whipping them out, which took all of twenty minutes, but there's still a seriously skewed ratio there, too.  I want to shift it toward enjoyment and satisfaction instead!

I've waited and worked a long time to feel like doing, so I celebrate every short equation, every home improvement, every task checked off a lingering list. I celebrate even when I can't feel the celebration.  It's my own kind of spiritual defiance sometimes. 

Also, I can't always control how I feel, but I can choose what to believe.  And I believe that those letters are a fun addition to the barn.  That will do for now.

Flat Line

Here's something very true about me:  I may have a lot of failings, but being fake is not one of them.   No, I am a genuine article.  With me, most of the time what you see is what you get, because what I've got is what you see.  I'm transparent that way, not very good at smiling outside when I feel like crying inside.  I'm not sure if the internet is the best place to be so, but that's how I am.

Why did I ever write (semi) publicly that I had been happy for so long?  Yesterday, I read someone else's good news and instantly fell into an emotional hole that I've not entirely climbed out of.  Well, I've climbed out, but I'm still tender and wary.  The instant depression is still with me like a bad taste in my mouth that won't go away.

It's hard to explain how people like me--at least my family members, I've seen them do it--can drop instantly into an alternate interpretation of the world that darkens their eyes and hardens their hearts and curls their lips.  And I should stop using the plural pronoun now, because it's all me this time.

Years ago, I tried to write the experience into a poem (never finished).  I called it Avalanching because that's what the momentum is like.  One small thought starts rolling and gathers feelings like dirty snow with frightening speed until I'm buried in them.  I can dig out intellectually these days, but the feeling lingers on.  I know that the negative spin on the universe is not true, BUT THAT DOES NOT CHANGE THE WAY I FEEL.  The whole experience is exceedingly mystifying and unnecessary, but absolutely real--and terribly stubborn.

So that's where I am on the landscape, a barren flat place with a memory of the sunny hilltop I inhabited just yesterday morning, just 30 seconds before the bottom fell out. I know that it will pass eventually.  I'm still hoping for a new rule, still praying that this is now the exception.

I don't feed this wolf any more.  Surely he'll tire soon. What I felt like doing yesterday was sitting and staring with a mouth like a flat line.  Instead, I painted a little something in the house, did a good deed for someone else, worked on a project for the job I feel lucky to have, and cooked a good dinner (Indian food, yum).  I don't know what else to do but accept that I don't get to feel happy right now, and believe that I will again soon.  Especially when I'm around other people again.  That always helps.  I suspect that people think I am a happy person because of their own buoying effect on me.

When this happens, I don't know what else to do but go forward doing what needs to be done and what seems wise to do.  Forward is the only way to go, the only way worth going.

Life is good.  I will be so glad to feel it fully again. Until then, I wrote the next post anyway.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Frankly, My Dears, I Love You Now

I realized after writing these two posts that one of the reasons I love writing is the clarity it provides.  I learn while I'm writing; I see things I didn't see before.  Thoughts and realizations emerge that I didn't have before dipping into the word well.  For instance, after carrying on instinctively about my feet and skin, and what's wrong or problematic about them, I was struck by a new perspective.

I saw that in telling the stories of these parts of myself, I was revealing how I've defined myself--as a person of lack and extremity, an oddball.  I distinctly remember feeling that way in the awkwardness of adolescence (Who hasn't then?), but it apparently continues now, even though I've worked very had to become my own friend.  I still carry a remnant of self image based on what separates me from others, what sets me apart in uncomfortable ways, rather than on any commonalities--and there are many.  We're all human, after all.

Frankly, I don't care that I'm pale (mostly), and my feet are the only ones I've got.  Neither quality is hurting me in any way.  The earth has not tilted off its axis because my shoes flop around a little or my veins make a visibly branching pattern on my chest.  Why then am I allowing these traits, or my attitude toward them,  to affect my picture of myself?  These "problems" are outdated. They no longer fit the new, real me. Even the painful incidences I mentioned were A LONG TIME AGO.  Everybody's pretty much over it (Other than a few tactless souls), and so could I be.

I also noticed the words I chose to describe myself. I used terms like bony (I narrowly missed scrawny), which sounds like a word for a crone, when I could have referred to my bodily self with terms like slender, porcelain, lithe, or...See I can't even come up with more positive descriptors!  I've got to clean up my vocabulary act.  Language has incredible power, to reveal but also to affect.

For instance, I dropped the word "should" from common usage a few years ago. Instead I try to use "could," in order to remind myself that I have choices and to weigh myself down less with guilt.  I still catch myself from time to time (like two paragraphs ago, I confess), but it works.  Words have that kind of power.  Change "overwhelmed" to "challenged," and the attitude changes, too. It's time in the struggle to like and accept myself to check my word choices because they betray my attitude.

Speaking of that, I almost changed the word struggle to something lighter, but in this case, it's accurate, so I let it stay.  It has not been easy at all for me to be kind to myself, even though I'm (mostly) kind to others.  Crazy, but true.  And I'm not the only one who labors so.  Maybe some of my sharing is for some of those people.  That part I'm not in charge of.

I could have berated myself for writing in an unnecessary, possibly narcissistic, fashion about myself.  The critic demons certainly like to point out that no one probably cares about the topics anyway.  But I find that's it's been educational.  It's helping me cast off old ideas, which are some of the worst prisons, and redefine myself.  Writing brings this kind of self discovery.  That's a good enough reason to continue and a fun one, too, since I've found a couple of millstones I can cast away.

I've been finding it ironic for a while now that I'm able to look more kindly upon my physical self even as it begins to show signs of aging.  It seems backwards, but maybe it's not.  As the body moves inexorably farther from "perfect," or even the chance to be so, I have to let go of the pursuit of it or be miserable, wearying myself by fighting what cannot be vanquished.  The decline of the body makes spirit ascend because it can still be improved and is more durable.

From now on, I will try to cease complaining about my feet or feeling self conscious about my radiant (Now there's an adjective!) legs.  I will simply accept that they are.  Slender-footed and ivory-skinned and Roman-nosed will just be descriptors of me with no more negative weight than the fact that I was born in Tennessee.  They are simply qualities of the body, which will fade away, and the body isn't the essence of me anyway.  I know that now. Spirit is the fuel of true living.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mine for Keeps?

I've been very happy lately.  For six whole months now, in fact.  This run may be the longest of my life. 

When I say happy, I don't mean just the presence of a positive feeling state.  I also mean the absence of my old nemesis anxiety.  There have been what I consider normal moments of angst, nervousness, and stress, but no tightness that makes it difficult to breathe, no psychological-warfare-level Voice of Doom in my head, no constant less-than feeling.  It has been and is wonderful.  This is what it's like to be a real person, or so I have imagined it. 

But still I worry....  Well, that's a strong word.  I wonder sometimes if my happiness is borrowed.  I can't deny the coincidence that it arrived and nested after I got the job I now have.  Am I still succumbing to the fallacy of proving my worth so that I can feel I have some laurels to rest on, or have I finally, after years of counseling, reading, praying, and other retraining, finally reached the promised land of real change and new habits? 

Most days right now, I don't care.  I bless the experience with my notice and gratitude, regardless of its provenance.  I savor it mightily, but do not take it for granted.  I know that suffering will come to me again at some point.  Such is the way of life.  I'm not being gloomy, just accepting.  Understanding that bad will come--and that it's not personal--makes the good sweet indeed.  I am obligated while they are here to treasure each precious moment in which circumstances make my happiness easy. 

Many wise people say that happiness should not be dependent on circumstances.  After all, we can't control the latter, only the former.  I've tried to live that independent-joy wisdom.  I think I even learned my lesson in the fallow time before this dream job.  I certainly hope so because this happiness I want to keep--not jumping for joy, just feeling...sturdy, capable, sufficient, optimistic.  It feels like being really me.  It's perhaps pathetic to be so grateful for what should be a given, but that's what deprivation does to a body--or rather, a mind.  Actually both. That's how anxiety rolls.

But I still wonder if it isn't natural to be happier when we come closer to what we've sheepishly desired for years and years, when what was missing is finally found.  How was I supposed to be content when I hadn't made it to the life in which I could find contentment?  Of course, that may be the anxious person's logic, born of an inability to trust life and the eventual unfolding.  Anxiety is big on scarcity.

Whatever the answer to the Big Question (Is happiness dependent on circumstances?), I hope that this happiness of mine isn't borrowed.  I hope it's mine for keeps.  Well, mostly.  Nobody's the old bluebird every moment.  But I dearly hope that it can be the rule and not the exception, the heart-place to which I can return because it's home, not just a way station in the storm.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pale and Proud

My feet are not my only bodily hang up. Allow me to also mention that I'm quite pale.  I've never liked that trait either.  I've been self conscious about it and displeased by it for most of my life. 

When I recently lamented the fact for perhaps the millionth time, my husband said that probably no one else even notices.  Oh, but they do.  Their noticing is exactly why I became so sensitive about it.

Let's start with the middle school boy who followed me most of the way from school to a friend's house chanting "Ghooosst" and making, yes, ghostly moaning sounds.  He noticed, and made something of it in that special pubescent style.  This event made an impression on me to say the least.

Later, when I was about sixteen, I dared to go to a pool in a two-piece bathing suit--a red one even.  A boy I did not know also noticed and made fun of my pale skin.  That was the first and last time I wore a two-piece suit. 

When I was thirty-something, a man who ought to have been old enough to know better commented that my bare legs were blinding him.  By this time, I was over worrying about my paleness and old enough to speak up for myself.  I replied that if they hurt his eyes, then he shouldn't look because that was how God had made me.  That was the end of that.

So yes, people do notice.  There are other, kinder instances that I didn't mention. I'm pale, and I notice it in other people. Albedo draws attention.  If you're not familiar with that word, it's a measure of reflectivity.  I learned it in astronomy.  Planets seemed distant but that concept did not.  

I know that there are steps I could take to quit being pale.  I could try to tan.  I did try when I was a teenager, but "laying out," as we called it in those innocent, pre-sunscreen days, was boring and dicey.  I usually ended up burned instead of tanned, which isn't a hot look either.  I tried a tanning bed once, but I didn't want to spend the money or the time needed to carefully cultivate color, moving gradually from seven minutes to....well, I didn't know my burn limit.  It was way too much work when it was unhealthy anyway. 

Recently someone suggested that I use one of the lotions that gradually darkens the skin.  I already do--one for medium tone skin, at that. The most it's done is take the edge off the glow, which is enough for me. 

Basically, even though I absorbed the message that pale was not cool and suffered bitterly for years from feeling unattractive to others, I've apparently not been so very tortured that I was determined to change the allegedly unacceptable feature, which I have done with other troublesome facets of myself.  (None of them were physical, by the way. I'm noting my priorities now).  I've been aware of this peculiar reluctance within myself for decades:  I may be unhappy because I think that something about me is undesirable to others but that doesn't mean I really want to change it.  What I truly want is to be loved and approved of just as I am.  It's less that I'm bothered by my paleness, than that I'm bothered because other people are bothered by it.

Way back in high school, I read a magazine article that asked the theoretical question "Who would you rather be?"  I believe they had in mind swapping places with someone famous.  It mattered not.  I realized, though it would be years before I used the knowledge to be OK with being myself, that there was no one else I'd rather be. I wanted acceptance not disappearance.  Somewhere under the squishy veneer of people pleasing and abuse toleration, I was already stubbornly, proudly me.  I just didn't know it yet. 

The crucial person from whom I needed acceptance and fondness was actually me.  Life keeps getting better now that I give it and worry less about what other people think. I'd still rather not be pale (objectively speaking, even I don't find purple vein show-through lovely), or have difficult feet and an imposing nose.  I just spend less time focusing on those aspects and more time thinking of fun, challenging, beautiful things to do.  That's a much more profitable investment of energy, for me and everyone in range of my ivory glow. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cheap Shoe Wisdom

I have super skinny feet.  Not officially narrow feet, so that I could buy narrow-sized shoes, mind you. No, the bone structure of my sled runners is a normal width.  The problem is that there's not the usual corresponding amount of flesh surrounding those bones. (This oddity is proof that being thin does not solve all one's problems, not even the wardrobe ones.)  Finding shoes that fit properly around my pale, delicate tootsies requires quite a search, or adjustments--like extra holes in straps or insoles or fluffy socks for winter clogs and boots.

My poor feet and equally bony ankles, with troubles enough just being shod, have also suffered denigration from their caretaker for their troubles. I have long envied other people their cute, plump little feet that fill out shoes and balance chunky soles rather than appreciating or just accepting my own. I've learned better now though.  I try to hold my body in compassionate regard, because I still have one that works.  Rather than moan, I finally got round to getting the tool that could solve one problem.  I'm being (a little more) proactive now. I bought a leather hole punch.

Yesterday I did the thing I've been thinking of doing for years to deal with the fit issue:  I got out that leather hole punch that I finally bought and added holes to the straps of some summer sandals.  A greater truth was reinforced while I accomplished that chore.

One pair of cinched up shoes was just bought in order to have that career-worthy basic brown sandal that will see me until fall.  The other pair has been in my closet, and moved twice, for at least three years.  Many times, I've donned outfits that could have been improved by those cute and colorful espadrilles.  Many times, I went less glitzy because they were so loose about the ankle that I couldn't wear them if I would be walking any length of time.  Sunday church was about their only appearance and very few times at that. 

We all know how this goes.  I kept thinking that I really should do something about it but continued doing nothing.  When I lived in Oregon, I had a friend with a leather punch who helped me adapt a belt.  I knew the solution existed, but didn't engage with making it mine.  Most people are guilty of this "I really should..." fog.  It's normal and human.  But I had had enough.  

Here comes the lesson:  By the time I got round to adding holes to the three-year-old cute and sassy shoes, the faux leather was flaking off as I buckled up the newly fitting straps.  Cheap and peeling wasn't the look I was thinking of all those years.  Figures. That's what I get for having such a long equation between instinct and action.  That's what happens when I procrastinate.

OK.  Sometimes things work out just fine when I drag my ill shod feet.  And I'm not castigating myself for my utter humanity.  I'm getting out of that business; it has brought me nothing but misery.  This is just a reminder that I could have been enjoying those fun shoes for the last three years instead of only thinking about them. I could have worn off the top layer of the straps, instead of letting them dry rot in my closet.

There are many other things floating around my head that could be enjoyed instead of pondered, too.  I'm on a mission to act on them at least as much as I think about them because that's how life changes.  Action is what life rewards. Action makes life finer.

Of course, the lesson could also be to not buy cheap, faux leather shoes, but I'm looking for greater truth here. So, the lesson stands.  I'll employ whatever soul boosting and thought managing techniques can help me move into glorious, unblocked doing.  I'll have better shoes and a better life that way, with projects done (Bought supplies for one yesterday!), poems written, skills learned, and goodies baked. I won't get everything done--there's no such thing--but I'll get more done.  And not to check off accomplishments out of fear but to add enjoyment to life.  That's the best reason not to procrastinate.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Surprised by Fireflies

Last Sunday evening we stepped out onto our deck to watch the fireflies for a few moments before going up to bed.  They are a summer treat not to be missed, the earth's luminous exhale. 

Before we could settle into watching the lazy light show, our attention was captured by bats, three of them swooping and circling repeatedly overhead, close enough to see the leathery texture of their wings.  Usually I see them when it's already dark, glimpsed very briefly in the glare of a streetlight or the wan glow of the moon.  This time there was still enough light to really watch them and marvel at their sightless flight.

Eventually, with the light lowering, we turned our eyes back to the lawn below to savor the fireflies.  But that's not where most of them seemed to be.  Instead, the tree line that edges our property on two sides was filled with the dear bugs, twinkling like Christmas lights.  We've never even seen them in the trees before, and here was a display to rivet us until dark had fully fallen.  

I wondered how many of them there were.  Surely hundreds at the very least would be required to fill the crowns of well over a dozen trees.  To think that we are surrounded unknowingly by insects in unimaginable numbers all the time!  To think that humble bugs can do something so beautiful!  I teared up just a little and felt such utter joy.  What a great way to end the day.

In the mornings after I wrote this:

Surprised by fireflies

My worries dart and swoop like bats,
indistinct in low light,
sieving the air for
bugs in the system.
They hiss in the hand.
Do they also perform a function--
balancing populations, say--
or are they only stuck 
in the dark hunt?

Suddenly the invisible crowd
displays itself in twinkling splendor.
Tiny paparazzi in the trees
bear witness to magic.
We stop and marvel.
Any dusk with such a show
is a holiday--Full Life Day,
all of us glowing together. 

I want to be with the fireflies, 
lighting up the treeline like Christmas in June.
Nobody told them there's
no holiday tonight,
just the perfect cool of evening
falling gently on my shoulders,
the soft quiet of a summer's dusk, 
the magic of contentment.

Oh, we are wrong dear insects. 
Twinkle on--I choose you. 
My memory is your jar.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Heart of the Experience

I've been thinking for a few days now about what kinds of writing are or could be fun, allowing the idea to bloop along like the coffee in the old TV commercial of my childhood days--or maybe like the original meaning of that term, to filter through or spread gradually, like rain water seeping through the earth, changing its nature into something that can support growth. I've been watching and noticing what parts of the process I actually enjoy.  To riff off Robin Williams: "Fun. You're soaking in it." 

One writing form that has always been enjoyable is journaling.  That's an easy one, after all.  It's just for me, private and safe.  I have especial fun with it since discovering Julia Cameron's morning pages idea years ago.  I ramble, rant, and wonder.  I disregard grammar and spelling.  Well, never spelling, but I do feel free to let conciousness flow from mind to pen.  It feels rather like opening up the box of myself to see what's inside.  I may live as me, but I still find surprises in there.  It also unburdens me of negative feelings or captures positive ones. It is a life-righting tool that I have returned to again and again.  As I sip my morning tea and scribble, I'm havin' me some fun.  I savor it every day, especially when a poem pops out.

Ah, and there's the other kind of writing I find fun, now that I no longer believe that I cannot leave the page until it's done and perfect.  But I'm not really judging the experience as it happens.  I let emerge whatever comes after the warm up of my morning pages.  The really fun part is reading it later and liking it!  A phrase or word pair that catches me with a little "Ooh!" of pleasure causes me a happy moment indeed.  There is such rightness in an apt description, in pegging the exact feeling of a moment into just the words to recall it to myself or in making a connection between things and/or feelings.  I feel as if I've captured something of the amazement and beauty, or the pathos and struggle, of life as I know it. That distillation is what I believe to be the essence and appeal of poetry.  Hitting that mark, even if only in my own opinion, is indeed fun.  
These little essays used to be fun, now that I think about it.  In much the same way as a relationship that ended badly gets remembered that way, I forgot that in the naive beginning I did have fun catching ideas for them and crafting them. I enjoyed the grown-up pretend of feeling like a writer and seeing my words in print somewhere.  Sometimes, I must confess,  I re-read what I've written just for, yes, fun.  Why, I can construct a decent sentence!  Holy cow, that post didn't stink!  To like what I've written is mighty good fun.

Therein lies the secret I think.  Somewhere I stopped writing here for fun and started feeling that I should be making this blog into something, as in something marketable.  I began to compare myself to highly successful bloggers and hope that I could be discovered, become successful like them, settle my destiny.  Ms. Cameron is right.  That's a lot of freight to place on any relationship that I hope to last.  
Years ago, a baseball coach told my son something that I've never forgotten.  He said "Comparison is the source of all misery."  That's a pretty broad statement, but he may be right.  When I'm doing anything with an inner focus or for the joy of it, as if there is no comparison or judgment, it is fun.  When I'm trying too hard or expecting too much, it isn't fun any more.  There may be times when judgment and striving are necessary, but I can't dwell on them without becoming blocked and bitter.

I would do better to remember the following:  Writing something that I find moving rocks; writing like there's no tomorrow rolls.  Writing my truth soothes; trying too hard sucks. Also, I'm too old now to waste much time on anything that does not serve me, as they say in the yoga world.  If writing is something that I can't help but return to, like my yoga practice, then I must drop all comparison and striving, and savor it as one of my passions.

I can try from now on to let fun be not the stray moment that pierces the fog, but the heart of the experience of writing.  As in any good  love relationship, every moment won't be passionate and swept away with bliss, but they can be warm and committed and satisfying.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Point of It All

To support my return to writing, I picked up a book by creativity guru Julia Cameron at my local library.  One of the early exercises in The Right to Write posed a question that was a small mind grenade for me.  The question was:  What types of writing would you do just for fun?

I still have my metaphorical mouth agape over that question.  I'm still having to let it echo and percolate.  I'm still not sure of the answer.  Heck, I can't get past the question.

Fun?   FUN?!

In all the years of my life that I've scribbled in journals and squeezed out poems and even tried to write this blog, I'm not sure I've had much fun.  A little here and there, but that was not, in my mind, what is was all about.  Destiny and compulsion maybe.  Catharsis sure.  But fun?  No, it never occurred to me to make fun the point of it all, at all. 

That seems a little crazy now. I've learned belatedly that seeing how much delight one can add to a task, however necessary, like playing swing music while washing dishes, makes everything go much more happily and productively. I've mostly succeeded in giving up the grim dutifulness that led me to heart-palpitating exhaustion.  I've seen the wisdom in seeking a holy kind of delight in ordinary life, which is of course much easier if I'm following my true calling.  But writing?  I've found it unavoidable, necessary, and insistently beckoning, but not flat out fun.  It was something I had to do, not something I couldn't wait to do.  The old tortured artist routine, I guess.

That's what Julia says is the problem: We put too much freight on something that we should be doing for love and loving the doing of.  We succumb to fallacies ("I need a bolt of free time." Or "I must write well." Or yes, "Art requires torture.") that drain the cheeriness right out of it.  We impose lofty goals on our writing instead of just showing up eagerly every day.

Maybe I have classically failed to approach this alleged love of mine with the proper rose colored glasses, and a little jolt will open my eyes to the possibility of just enjoying each other.  I hope that's my only failing.  I'd love to enjoy this thing that seems to need doing in my life.  If I can find some pleasure in bookkeeping, surely I could enjoy writing, especially since it's supposed to be for me, not a job assigned by someone else.

I wonder if I think I want to write because it's just another layer of trying to prove myself worthy in my own eyes.  The people I admire most are artists and creative types.  Am I trying to be one so that I'll feel as if I'm the kind of person that I think I "should" be?

Sometimes we don't want what we think we want or need what we think we need.  Alcoholics, addicts, and over eaters know about this phenomenon.  They may think they want a drink, a hit, or a brownie, but what they really want might be a loving feeling or a sense of self worth.

One day I was pestered by thoughts of a dress that I didn't buy.  When I investigated my feelings more closely, I realized that the core craving was really for beauty.  After that realization, I no longer worried about the dress that got away.  There are many routes to beauty, and I found another way that day to make some without a new dress.  I was satisfied when I got what I really wanted, not what I thought I wanted.

So, do I really want to write?  Do I really enjoy the process of writing?  Or do I want to bare my soul in the hope of outside approval and smashing success?  

If the answer to the first question is yes, than by God I want to enjoy it.  I want to sit down at my computer and write out of the overflow and delight of my heart, which is the most honest and infectious reason to do anything. If the answer to the second question is yes, than I already know that I can give myself the approval I need.  I will not write if I'm only using writing.  It's got to be real.  Relationships of any kind should be based on healthy desires not usurious need.

For several months, while I haven't been writing, I've found myself missing a creative outlet.  I wanted a puttering passion to anticipate with uncomplicated eagerness.  I wanted a hobby in the best sense of the word, an activity that I could enjoy and yet find fruitful.  I wanted to dust my hands off after a good tinkering-about time, relishing output without pressure.  Frankly, I wanted play with dividends.  

Why in heaven's name did I not treat my writing that way?  Because there has always been too much torture about being good or discovered, and too little freedom to play, trust my instincts, be unabashedly me. This has got to stop.

The blockage and misinterpretation, I mean.  Not the writing.  Unless I'm really not doing this for love.  I'll be considering the question further.  If I don't start having mostly fun pronto, I'll know what to do, and the tiny portion of the world that sees these words will no longer have to suffer them.  If I can start making this a dance, then I intend to enjoy every word, even if no one else does.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

I Know Why I'm Here

Now that I'm back, let's get caught up.  Fix yourself a cup of tea and let me tell you why I'm here.  No, not the BIG PICTURE version.  Not yet. Why I'm here in this little barn and not on the farm that I thought was my destination. 

It took me a year and a half, but I figured out an answer for myself.  We all have the power and freedom to believe whatever we want, and I believe that I was put here in this place on purpose.  The point became to determine the purpose.  I've found two, actually.

One reason that a parental God might put me here would be to help cure me of my perfectionism.  Almost every wall of this charming home is salvaged barn siding, grooved and faded, with strap hinge shadows and nail tear stains in places.  As for the floors, the wide pine boards downstairs are a bit pre-distressed and too soft to prevent further damage; the stair's historic treads were reassembled with their raw sides up; and, as I long ago mentioned, the floor in our bedroom is composed of highly improper top nailed lumber that still wears grade stamps here and there. The kitchen and bath cabinets were hand built; they are neither standard nor elegant. I could go on.

Basically, the woman whose huge desire has always been to have a beautiful, gracious home was practically shoved by divine guidance into what used to be an outbuilding, for Pete's sake!  Now, though, it's a showplace of imperfection--quirky, charming, lovely imperfection.  It's just what I needed.  When there's no possibility that a wall could ever be smooth, I don't have to try or fault myself for not doing so.  It has so much rough character that it's a vacation for my perfectionism tick and a lesson in letting go--with beautiful, low effort results.  I can surrender the standards I wasn't meeting anyway, enjoy my home more, and still have people say that they love my house. Thanks, God!

The other reason to stick me here in this barn in a small town with little job opportunities is to make me lie fallow.  There was an essential question that I needed to answer, and I needed to be quiet enough to hear it.  I needed to have the busyness by which we usually define our lives stripped away in order to heal from overwork and come to understand--nay, decide to believe--that I'm worthy, whether I'm doing great things or not. I'm good enough just because I am, with nothing to prove, no race to win, and no grade report.  I could finally quit trying so hard and just be. About the time I settled that question, I got the job that I'm loving, even though I could never have seen it coming.  

Also, this spot on the map happens to be the town between where my sweet husband works and the town where I now work.  It all comes together if we just go when we're stage-nudged and let the plan show itself later. You know, after all the wailing and impatience are over. Double thanks, God!

Some people would say that things just turned out like this by chance.  They could be right, but it didn't feel that way.  The desire, tingling excitement, and coincidences that have led us this far had such an imperative about them.  I don't mean the shallow yearnings that I've felt for a new pair of shoes, although the soul might need those occasionally, too.  I mean the huge, quivering, gut-level YESes that you can't deny. Or the nagging longings that persist and insist until you have to shut them up or live in constant torture.  Which is why I'm back here again, on the cyber page.  I believe in an inner life, and I'm trying to live it, rather than just watching it. 

Not that it's easy to be truly oneself.  Like I said, it would be so much easier to be ungraced by creative urges--way less messy and challenging.  But aren't the best things in life messy and challenging?  Love, family, education, and more cause us to thump our heads and stretch and grow.  And it's all worth it.

The uncertainty and confusion have all indeed been worth it to be here now, in my conveniently located, bargain Country Living home enjoying self-worth for the first continuous time in my life.  Who knows where we go next.  I still believe that there's a farm out there somewhere for us.  I check the real estate listings every Saturday.  Until the next attack of the tingly leadings, I'm grateful for this cozy detour with meaning.

Monday, June 4, 2012

It Will Be Mine

Last September, I eked out a sad post on a particularly bad night and fell back into silence.  In November, I tried to follow up with some kind of explanation/return attempt.  I gave up and quite forgot about it.  A few days ago I suddenly remembered  that I had an unpublished post sitting here and read it.  It's honest and possibly just as pathetic, but I still liked it.  Mostly because I like myself these days.  I'm kinder to my mind's offspring.  I allowed it to stand, and it appears below, after which I hope to continue the story because I must.  

My last post was pathetic, even to me. Pathetic has been sneaking in for a while now, in absences and mentions.  That night in...was it really September?...revealed it in all its  inglorious nakedness.  But I really was trying to get at truth.  I still am.

The truth is that I began this blog in utter naivete and somewhere lost my first-grade pride in just doing it, succumbing instead to frustrations, outsize hopes, and wasteful envy. I've been frustrated by my lack of progress in photography skills, which was compounded by my perfectionistic desire to have my blog be as beautiful as others I see.  And successful.  Don't forget that.  Hordes of followers, droves of commenters.  I found myself wanting it all.  And that's a lousy reason to do anything.  It smacks of high school approval seeking.  I really wanted to be past that.  Apparently I'm not.

I first dried up after we fell in love with and moved into our barn/house.  I had begun writing with a story line of townies moving to their country dream life.  I blathered on about house and farm plans, trumpeted big schemes---and veered away from all that, without really understanding why (although I do now--more about that later).  I felt sheepish, a little afraid that readers would think negatively of me.  As if it matters.  I have to live my own life, and a blog is, by its very nature, the personal prerogative of the author.  The discomfort was probably entirely my own, but it dented my enjoyment.

Then there was that frustration with photography.  I have not advanced in the mastery of light or of the camera I have.  It just hasn't happened.  That took some of the fun out of this thing, too.

Reading other blogs didn't help either. They're beautiful and/or well written and reminded me that mine was not either.  It all became an exercise in flagellation and envy, leaking through the seams of my posts and finally landing with a thud in the last one.  I was trying to get down to truth in the hope that something good would come of it.  Instead, the pathos ante was upped embarrassingly.

But I still believe in personal truth.  There are moments when it works very well to state honestly and openly what is true for me at the moment ("I'm feeling really awkward right now" etc.), paving the way for honesty in return and usually relief all round. 

So...I'm feeling really awkward right now.  Even this isn't going well.  And now it's time to go to bed and focus on the fact that I have a new job.  Go with what's working and move on.  I don't have to do everything well.  That includes this blog. 


I can't say that I'm proud of this post, but I own it.  I'm human, and here I am being publicly so.  The things that we're truly meant to do, the activities that define us, will not leave us alone until we do them.  Eventually, we have no choice but to follow instructions or live in torture.  Desire nags like a mother.  No, like a whiny, insistent child.

My husband has a similar struggle.  Creativity is hard.  It would be so much easier to work our good jobs, watch a little TV after dinner (if we had TV), and go to bed.  But we can't.  It always seems that there's something missing if we're not doing something creative. 

So we have made a new year pact at mid year.  Starting today, we will return to our creative endeavors regularly and intentionally.  It feels a bit like I'm climbing back onto the wagon---again--but I take that risk.  Making life a finer thing is not without risk and hard knocks and effort.  And I am no quitter.

I don't know what this blog will be now.  But it will be, and it will be mine.