Sunday, November 22, 2015

While in the company of writers, the stars aligned and shed light on my self

Once in a great while-- a very great while, I'll experience a life-transforming event. Back in the '80s Codependent No More fell off the shelf in Barnes and Noble, I picked it up and had to take two days off from work to read and process it. When I encountered Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth, I stayed in pajamas until I'd read it all the way through and taken notes.

Well this weekend, some creaky old door within my psyche flew wide open. It started when I was featured as visiting author at Alice Osborn's Wonderland Book Club to discuss Salt in the Sugar Bowl. Participants opened up about their own understanding of and experiences with issues of abandonment, the vulnerability associated with being authentic, tendencies to hide, self-protect and project.

Right after that session of honest reflection and sharing, I drove westward to Asheville to attend the North Carolina Writers Conference. Things got deeper when author Lee Smith stepped onto the podium as the keynote speaker. As far as I can tell, Lee Smith is about as authentic as they come. Her words, her accent, the rich and random stories that seem to percolate from her very being reveal, to me, a life fully lived and processed-- which she generously shares in almosraison d'ĂȘtre fashion. That was Friday night.

On Saturday, an itch--an irritation like an emotional pimple erupted. I had vague conversations about  "being an artist" with writers Danny Johnson, Crystal Simone Smith, Grace O'Casio, Rowena Mason, Alice Osborn, Maureen Sherbondy and Robin Muira, respectively. It was vague because I was unearthing and coming to grips with a self-defeating tendency I'd unknowingly cultivated-- that of public self-protection. I thank them all for their (unknowing) parts in clarifying something for me: Art cannot and should not occupy the same space as avoidance, pretense and toxic shame. 

I believe I have spent decades creating and presenting a self-protected aspect of myself. Parts of my story, my history, are dark and shadowy. These parts have made me gritty (and sometimes coarse). There are other aspects that are tender, optimistic and resilient. But all parts crave expression and acceptance. However, issues of trust, abandonment, fear of rejection and judgment have caused a general apprehension about the safety of being authentically who I am in light of all the places I have been.

I needed the company of artists at this point in my journey to reveal to me that artists can't hide. The general population may have the luxury of digesting societal norms and existing safely within their margins. But retreating to the safety zones might just do the artist in. In the end, our work, or at least my part of this work, is to have the courage to look under rocks and venture into the shadowy corners. Artists share and push themselves toward greater levels of honesty. We wrestle with and reveal aspects of experiences because they need to come out-- no matter how light or frivolous or dark. I don't believe the artist can concern herself with the perceptions of others, or burden herself with keeping up a persona. Such a tendency, I've learned, will consume the energy needed to turn over the boulders and hold them up long enough to capture what we've seen.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Politically Unpolitical

The other night at a reception, I had a brief chat with some folks about the disturbing nature of current politics. I'll confess that I've always been one of the least informed people when it comes to details about political engines.

Politics matter. I vote.  I hear what the media and reigning powers divulge. I feel I really never know the truth beneath any of it.  So I know my well-being can never be hinged on what's happening in the news.

I care. But I have to care more about my immediate energy field. Let's say I've just watched the news and gotten all the way pissed off by the perspective shared about some heinous situation with implications that far surpass the cursory, superficial treatment given. Say I ruminate and talk about it and manage to get others as pissed off about it as I am. Say I generate a small, impassioned, emotional revolution! Perhaps I spark a lively debate. At that point, I become exhausted with the generation of this whirlwind that simply spends itself out, and we go on about our lives-- with a little less oomph.

This is my take: There are many spirits who have powerful political energy who plunge bravely into community, local and broader trenches as leaders and change agents. Their passion for this arena actually generates positive energy because it's their calling, their raison d'ĂȘtre. They need the support of those like me as they find constructive venues for change-making. I can rally behind such folks. I can vote. I can be honest about how I feel about incidents and issues on the table. I can take the highest road I know to take. But it's clear that I need not huff and puff politically because I absolutely will not be blowing down any houses.

So, as I shared the other night, my personal political perspective is about impacting the space I'm in. In my opinion, we have more power in the world if we focus on how we treat the people we encounter and how we make them feel. If we are all wrought up-- even in our homes and communities, we become a little bit poisonous. Constant tirades with our husbands, wives, partners, children, siblings, coworkers or whomever we share our daily spaces will feed the brigade of road ragers, angry kids, rude service providers, unhappy souls. Our anger and frustration-- even over the injustices of politics, spread a pall that keeps the misery going. 

So I'm thinking the best thing I can do for the betterment of my environment is to aspire to be as peaceful, diplomatic, and forward-moving as I can be. I can write about the things that resonate with some element of truth. About how we interpret experiences, move beyond pain, find ourselves as we do the best we can to make positive personal history. I think that's the most challenging task at hand. Positive personal choices are hard, but they help our friends and enemies alike tap into the humanity that we share right here and now.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

If one advances in the direction of his own dreams.....

Last week my friend emailed me to say that my novella Salt in the Sugar Bowl was mentioned at a conference. I felt strange and excited and a little short of breath. The thing about writing, for me, is that it's such a solitary and self-reinforcing endeavor. I'm always working on my stories. They never seem ready for the world. When something is actually accepted, I immediately fear that it still isn't quite done.

Hearing about the mention meant the whole world to me because it felt like an "Atta girl" and success. Because success doesn't have to be defined as some grandiose thing. For me it's knowing that what I mull over and shape into fiction does, indeed, find a place in some other folks' lives.

When I have so many words and pages piling up in my computer and around my office, this part of my life sometimes seems half crazy. And I don't know about other writers, but my own family has never given much of a hoot about my work. To them, it's my hobby, and I imagine that they look askance at me when I prioritize it over something real. When Salt in the Sugar Bowl was released, my husband's co-worker read it and loved it and talked about it to him on the job. Nardo came home saying, "I've got to sit down and read it!" To make a long story short, he hasn't read it yet.

But I'm okay with that. I write because it's what I have to do to stay balanced and put voice to the ideas floating around my mind. So I'm blogging to say we need to keep on doing whatever we do that feeds our spirit and keeps us centered.

And who knows? Perhaps Thoreau's words may actually come to fruition for those of us toiling away, motivating ourselves simply because we know we have to:

If one advances in the direction of his own dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

Didn't read Salt in the Sugar Bowl yet? Order your copy today!  

Friday, August 14, 2015

Happy isn't down the road....

A few months back I told my friend enthusiastically that I “might never actually retire.” I was referring to my teaching job. She thought I’d lost my mind. Never retire? For always, my ultimate goal had been to leave my day job so I could write full-time. A few days ago, with my lengthy summer vacation drawing to a close, she reminded me of my response—checking to see if sanity had returned. I love my time off, so I barely remembered saying such a thing. Never retire? What? So had I lost my mind when I said I might never stop teaching?

It dawned on me today just what happened! I’ve come to the place of  “acceptance” as a way of life.  Eckhart Tolle says, “Acceptance means: For now, this is what this situation, this moment, requires me to do, and so I do it willingly.” He goes on to say:

“When you make the present moment, instead of past and future, the focal point of your life, your ability to enjoy what you do—and with it the quality of your life—increases dramatically. … The ‘waiting to start living’ syndrome is one of the most common delusions of the unconscious state. Expansion and positive change on the outer level is much more likely to come into your life if you can enjoy what you are doing already. … Joy does not come from what you do, it flows into what you do and thus into this world from deep within you.”

So my response had everything to do with fully accepting the here and now, the present. Without even realizing it, I had lost the low-grade frustration and discontent that used to crop up randomly and frequently. I finally embraced the notion that a happy life is not something that’s waiting up ahead for us once all our conditions are satisfied. We often think that once we make more money, get rid of that extra twenty pounds, get a new job, get into a relationship, get the kids raised, fix the roof, get that wart removed, retire, or whatever, then we will finally be happy. 

People can feel depressed, anxious, disappointed, and chronically frustrated because the present state isn’t living up to the ideas they have about themselves and their lives. Since (as I so often say) life is a journey, it behooves us to keep our dreams and goals alive, but know in our hearts that our lives are here and now. If you died tomorrow, you will have died waiting to get to “happy.”

I’ll quote Eckhart one last time:

“Don’t ask your mind for permission to enjoy what you do. All you will get is plenty of reasons why you can’t enjoy it. ‘Not now,’ the mind will say. ‘Can’t you see I’m busy? There’s no time. Maybe tomorrow you can start enjoying...’ That tomorrow will never come unless you begin enjoying what you are doing now.”

So even though this is the last official day of my summer vacation, my soul is very happy because right here and now I’m drinking coffee and blogging in my pajamas. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Learning to walk away cause you can't change anybody but yourself

          I was 22 when I learned to walk away. I left a man sleeping. (We'll call him Jerry.) There was no hint of dawn’s first light, and all I could hear was my heart scraping and bumping with fear, excitement and motivation as I crept around, grabbed the bag I'd packed and released the knob slowly enough to avoid a click. I had found the gumption to put the craziness behind me. Too many arguments, too much struggling, too much tension about money and how to spend it. He'd blown one too many paycheck and had pushed for yet another What the hell? vacation. Because, according to Jerry, when you're already broke and already in debt, what the hell difference did another $1000 on a credit card make?
          I left because I was smart but powerless. We were engaged, but I knew I would not put a wedding band on my finger—binding myself to a life that made no sense to me. So month by month for a good two years, awareness grew like yeast rolls within me until there was absolutely no space left for blind adoration or senseless loyalty. So that morning I took the elevator down to "1" with a gigantic suitcase, a travel bag, and a backpack. I did not stumble or strain as I strode across the vacant lot, up the block, and around the corner to catch the 4:30 train. I did, however, cry the entire length of the ride.
          But by the time I stepped out into the Atlantic Avenue station, I had the first glimmer of awareness that brightened bit by bit until it became a fully-illuminated truth that I never question: You can't change anybody but yourself. It's a lesson that's best learned young because I think everybody learns it sooner or later. People show you who they are, and you'd best believe them. It will save you from stress, disappointment and wasted time. It's not about judgment or about who's right or wrong. It's about what works for you and what doesn't. 
          Jerry and I stayed friends, and I am grateful I had the courage to sneak out at dawn. It might be a coward's way out, but I knew I wasn't strong enough to stand up against the arguments and Jerry's charm. So, four things:
1) Pay attention to what people say and do;
2) Don't fool yourself into seeing and hearing what you want to see and hear;
3) You have to recognize when you and somebody are playing by totally different rules or sometimes playing two entirely different games; and
4) When you get off track, you need to know yourself well enough to plot a course back to your own life.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why I think I'm reasonably sane inspite of many tumultuous periods & longstanding issues! :>)

I grew up in a rather communal setting. My mother, a brother, and a few of her sisters raised their families under the same roof. Today I reflected on a really valuable lesson that I learned in that setting. Although they were young women with jobs and full social lives, we were a house of routines.

Most weeknights, this is what we did:

  • arrived home at different times
  • an aunt or mom prepared an easy three- or four-course dinner as soon as she changed from work clothes into house clothes
  • whomever ate but didn't cook cleaned the kitchen (I was always in this category.)
  • turned off the kitchen lights and retired to the living room to relax
  • took turns washing up, brushing teeth, ironing, talking on the phone (one bathroom, one house phone)
  • watched a couple of sitcoms or a drama (Mod SquadKojak and Marcus Welby, MD come to mind)
  • ran to get hair rollers during a commercial and did our hair in unison with individual mirrors on our laps (Each person had her own curler bag.)
  • dispersed by 10 pm to our respective rooms.
The house went quiet.

No matter how nuts I may have been during various segments of my life, this has always been my sort of mindless, "go to" modus operandi. 

I won't belabor this point, but routines, if they encompass daily requirements for feeling and looking good, breed sanity.  When we don't have a system for taking care of the necessities, stress moves in. Fast! We have to eat, groom, bathe, clean up, etc. When these things happen randomly and haphazardly, it's like having perpetual buzzards flying above your head. When they are taken care of systematically, the buzzards just fly away, and you're left with the satisfaction of taking care of the details of your life.

So find a routine that works for you. Even with classes and sports and whatever comes, make a blueprint that lays out the order of the "must dos".

(Man, I feel like Heloise!)