Sunday, July 19, 2009

On the Threshhold of Happiness

Lately I’ve been feeling that peace is within my reach--that I’m right on the cusp of freedom. I’ve lived so long with fear as a companion, dogging my steps--that pit-of-the-stomach dread that always floated at the periphery of my thoughts. Now I want to grab ahold and give it a good shaking, see if it’s a real dog or a phantom.

I’ve been noticing my own happiness. Yesterday, I reveled in the wind, which all but blew me over on the top deck of the ferry. I am happy when I’m teaching, happy when I’m planning lessons, happy when I’m having a conversation with a student, happy when I’m reading or writing, happy when I’m riding my bike. I’m even happy when I’m budgeting or cleaning the house. I was surprised to realize that I am happy almost all the time now.

The fear comes when I believe I am about to fail, to be irresponsible, to disappoint others, to look unprofessional. The fear comes from the things that are yet undone—the things that interrupt my thoughts with the menace of my neglect.

I have stopped using the word “procrastinate.” It is a useless word. I really don’t procrastinate, which would assume that I have loads of leisure time and that the one important thing is the thing I am avoiding. There is more than one important thing and as I pay attention to each one, I am not able to work on the others. That’s reality.

What I have done, though, is hide from the things that scare me. I may make lesson plans instead of calling my dad, or counsel a friend instead of making lesson plans. I may clean the kitchen instead of paying the bills. What seems to scare me the most is being scared—of fear wrapping its tentacles around me and not letting go. (Yes, I see that the dog now has tentacles. It is a very scary dog.)

I have only recently realized that not everyone lives with anxiety at the back of their thoughts. Since I’m experiencing expanses of time without it, I’ve begun to wonder if it’s possible to be rid of it for good.

I’m trying to pay attention to the pit of my stomach—to notice when and why I am afraid. Right now I am edgy, nervous. My hands are clammy. It’s because I’m thinking of people reading this—of being shameless enough to post it instead of keeping it in my journal.

Shameless is not the word, though. The word is shame. And that’s an interesting thing. A few months ago I was late picking my son up from an after-school event. Twice. I’ve struggled with time all my life. And I’m ashamed of this. My lateness not only distressed my son, but it kept the teacher and parent volunteers waiting. One of the parents came out to my van to tell me that I simply couldn’t be late. I told her that I didn’t think my tardiness was okay and that I was mortified. She said, “Oh, all right. That’s good, then.”

And it struck me that we think it’s good for people to be ashamed. And maybe it is. Maybe I need to feel the pain of the trouble I cause to others. But I don’t know if I need to feel it all the time. I don’t know if I need to let it define me. And I don’t know if my shame is truly of benefit to anyone else.

I told one of my dear young writers how often I feel like a complete failure and she laughed. She was astonished. Her perception of me is different. She looks up to me. And I want her to. She, too, struggles with anxiety and I want to cut a path for her through that wilderness. I want for her to believe we don’t need to live in fear.

That’s why it’s so important to me that I find the honesty, clarity and courage that seem to be so close. I want to hold on to my happiness while I am facing down my fears. I am feeling fear now. God help me.


Friday, February 20, 2009

World and Wilderness

Yesterday I walked and talked with a very insightful woman whose career is in marketing. She is a naturally intuitive person, picking up immediately on the nuances of things I said, and willing to challenge me on my assumptions. I want to get better acquainted with her. What she reflected back to me was that I love writing and I love teaching, but I hate marketing. She wondered aloud why I would want to run my own business, this being the case, but she understood that I like to have control over my endeavors.

This last sounds unsettling. I'm not eager to be perceived as a control freak. But I do understand that I'm happier and more effective if I have creative freedom both in my writing and in my teaching. When I have this, I am able to share more authentically my thoughts, feelings, visions and dreams. And these things, both in writing and in teaching, are at the heart of what I do.

Of course, it helps to be reassured that these things are helpful to my readers and my students -- that we have somehow made a human-to-human connection. When I receive emails from a classroom full child readers, as I did the other day, or words from a parent that my class is sparking her teen's creative imagination, I use these good words as fuel to continue my work.

My friend, J, calls the dual realms of creation and people-connection "wilderness and world." Sometimes I think that for me, the two realms overlap -- as they do now, while I blog very private thoughts, knowing that there may be a reader or two. Maybe it is my inclination to live as an open book that brings me to jarring moments where wilderness and world collide and I want to scurry for cover. (This is why I avoid PTA meetings.)

Do others have some extra layer of protection that I tend not to bring with me? I have the writer's "thick skin" recommended by all editors. But I do not seem to have it in the world of "marketing." If I get a vibe that I'm annoying someone with my notices of classes or church services or books available for sale, I use that as fuel to postpone mailings until it is nearly too late, to hesitate before sharing, even sometimes to procrastinate on sending information to interested parties.

So if marketing is about perceiving what people need and then seeing if I have something to meet that need, I seem, in my more vulnerable moments, to be favoring those who don't need what I have.

And this is silly.

What I need is a sense of "holy apatheia," similar to, but not exactly the same as the Buddhist's detachment from the self. I am clinging too tightly to myself, to my ego, so that I am not allowing the Spirit to work in me. I am equating my gifts with my survival.

Today I will focus on the work -- the writing and the teaching -- as its own self, an entity that can exist under its own power with or without me clinging to it like a worried mother.

And I will bless each emotion that comes and let it come and move through me, but I will not follow that emotion until it leads me away from my center.

In order to do the work, I need an emotional attachment to it. But I also need a strength to separate from the work and trust that neither it nor I will disappear.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

On the Disequlibrium of Success

I didn't pick the title of this blog to be ironic. Truly I didn't. But since it's my secret "unloading" blog, it's often not very mirthful.

Within the last hour I have finished a rewrite of my novel. This is a good thing, I think. Why am I filled with panic? I finished it earlier than expected after having left home and gone to a friend's house where I have been writing my patootie off. And my patootie is rather sore, thank you very much.

I did major overhaul on the early chapters and not so much on the later ones. As this is probably the 7th rewrite, I shouldn't be nervous, but I know it's not done. And I know I have absolutely no perspective on it and that an agent is waiting to see it. And that I've just spent the last 4 1/2 years of my life on this one book and the next one better not take that long.

As soon as I was done, I checked my email and herein is where the trouble lies: Taran is in a parent partnership program where we need to submit progress reports every month. And I do this, but twice I have done it late. So I did this month's report early -- only they never got it and now they're "disappointed" with me and unsure whether I can handle the writing class I'm going to teach there. And of course, I can, and will. But really, I just want to be independently wealthy and not have to teach writing in order to pay for groceries. I'd rather teach it as a grand favor to humanity.

I'm not very happy with being flawed tonight. The manuscript is flawed, but I don't know where (see: no perspective). My report-submitting is evidently flawed (thought I really DID do it early this month.) My inbox is so full and I've been away from home since Sunday. I miss my family. I miss Lancelot.

And it is very, very silly for me to be posting all this on a blog.

I must make something deep and philosophical of it.

Somebody sent me the following scripture:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
- 1 Corinthians 4:7-10

Well, I can say that the surpassing power certainly doesn't belong to me. My afflictions I seem to bring on myself -- with a little help from modern technology. And I would qualify as perplexed. I don't feel particularly persecuted at the moment. This scripture seems to be about really good people who don't screw up as much as I do.

I KNOW that I'll have more perspective on this once I've had some sleep and can go through the emails one at a time.

One thing about being a writer is that you have to feel things -- you know, emotions and such. Fear, dread, joy, sorrow -- stuff like that. If you can't feel it you can't write it. So you open up the emotion doors and POW.

I would do well to watch some Monty Python.

the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

And (I think) I finished my rewrite.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Salesmanship and Stillness

I've been posting on my author blog. Lots of pictures of the kids at the writing workshops. Taran very good-naturedly took some head shots of me as all my existing pictures were awful or really out of date. I stopped having pix taken when I got fat, but now I'm getting skinny again.

The author blog sounds kind of sales-y. When I'm trying to earn money I get like that. It's irritating, cloying. I want to tell people that's not really me. But then, I don't know if long, brooding posts are what parents are looking for when they are trying to find writing workshops for their kids.

I cried through the inauguration, from Aretha Franklin to the closing benediction. What a day! I feel some hope for this country for the first time -- ever? Was this how people felt about Kennedy?

I spent some time with the icons in the new chapel Lancelot put in. (Maybe I will post a pic. What the heck?)

I'm loving the chapel more and more. In a sacred space the heart is more willing to open. Mine has been heavy this evening, despite the inauguration. Breaking over Maverick again. I have felt Christ telling me to get back into my heart, but it's full of pain. He says, "Don't worry; I'll be there." To be a mother is to have a broken heart. But maybe that's how we find our own way back home.
Will I write about this one day? Sometimes I think yes. Other times I think it would be career suicide.
And I need to just get really, really quiet in order to write authentically. No salesmanship. No mailing lists. Stillness.