Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Obstacles in Writing

I have just finished reading a powerful book.  It's called The Undefeated Mind by Alex Lickerman, MD.  If you don't mind reading through some densely worded, hair splitting scientific jargon, there is gold to be found within each chapter.

Today's post is about identifying obstacles in writing.  According to Lickerman, just noticing your obstacles is what you need to navigate around them.  I'd rather walk around my obstacles when I see them appear, instead of bashing my head against the same brick wall.

After I made the following list of obstacles, I made this surprising discovery:  some of the obstacles have also been reasons why I write.

What stops me from writing are:

1.  Unexpected events such as the flu, subpoenas, storm preparation and violent weather.

2.   Interruptions from family such as random talking and questions.  (Conversations I have with my family have also deeply enriched me as a writer...I'm talking about the little daily questioning and favors which are totally normal in parenting and something I'm not resentful of.  I have to be an attentive listener as I'm also a home educator, and this is a privilege. I also cannot deny that my writing is fragmented when I'm interrupted).

3.   Television noise.

4.   The draw of Facebook.  (I have also been cultivating my writing voice in that realm, but it is a double edged sword.)

5.   Draining social events (play group, co-op meetings, science Fridays)  These are so enriching to Elliot that I will not sacrifice them, but after a long day of multiple conversations, I'm wiped out!)

6.   Grocery shopping/errand day.

7.   The annoying and manipulative game the cat plays with me as soon as she notices me at the desktop computer. (in, out, in, out, in, out, meow, in, out, in out, meow.)  

8.  Texting.

9.   Insecurity in presenting a distorted or privileged view.  (My loved ones do not want to be represented in my writing, and I respect that. However, it's an obstacle because due to the relationships involved, I automatically avoid writing about a complex or interesting story.  I fail to think about the ways I could possibly address that story without harming someone's ego or risking their need for security.)  Is the the door to fiction?

10.  Perfectionism.  The backspace button has destroyed more words that I can count.

11.  Idealism.  When I want something to be a certain way, I might tint the writing with rose colored glasses.

12.   Comparisons.   I often feel like I am coloring with crayons next to a master.

13.    Anger.  When I'm in an angry mood, I am often afraid to give that emotion more power on the page.

14.  Feeling overwhelmed with responsibility. Family, home, education and social connections are the stuff of life.  My priorities are in the right place, but there must be room for more writing.

Ironically, anger was the catalyst for a big action I'm taking now in writing.  In the Undefeated Mind, Lickerman advises us to turn "poison into medicine."  I discovered that telling a certain kind of story has the power to restore me to a place of health and freedom.

What are your obstacles in writing or in any kind of goal you might have?  Making this list was an empowering activity.  I plan to make new lists of obstacles for other areas of my life, such as business and fitness.  I think it could be applied to relationships as well.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Story That Took My Anger Away

This week I was fighting mad!  At no less than about four people, all at once.  It was a lot to carry by day, and difficult to put down at night.  Sometimes I'd wake up at one a.m., frustrated that the noise in my head carried on in my subconsious.  Negative feelings are so upsetting to me.  When I'm in this kind of attitude, it's so hard for me to break free.  I don't eat healthy or work out often, I forget to turn to my creative projects, and I steam like a pressure cooker.

Then bad little things start to cluster around the anger, like accidents and injuries.  Like burning my hand in hot grease, throwing out my back and getting a huge crack in my windshield.  The vacuum also broke during my bad spell, and I barely touched it.

One of my friends says I have incredibly powerful intention.  When I'm mad, other things start falling apart around my negative cloud.  The cat even peed on the carpet on Valentine's day.

During this funk, I barely noticed other people.  But just now, after telling a story about a friend, the anger melted completely away.  So I thought I would share this story with you, in case the writing of it heals me further, and that you experience a lifting.

My friend Anna (not her real name) and I have known each other since high school.  Anna was an only child growing up, and I loved going to her house. I enjoyed times we spent together either one on one or with a group.  She was the kind of teenager that other teen girls felt safe with and drawn to (possessing a rare combination of energetic spunk, edgy wit, beauty and fierce loyalty). She had four cats who used to eat their dinner on the counter top.  She taught them to fetch crumpled Dixie cups.  One of the cats was named Fan-belt, because he survived a harrowing encounter with a fan belt when they started the car.

Anna was generous with love.  She gave me a going away party when I went to college for the first time.  I have kept those cards that were given to me that day, along with a Christmas ornament she had engraved with the words "best friends."

Alas, college life was really a huge distraction for me, and with my father's cancer battle, I lost touch with my dear friend.

Until several years ago, and the life changing event of Facebook. (I'm sure there are a billion stories of those reunions..but I never tire of them).  Since then I've enjoyed renewing our friendship while we share little things online.  I learned that for many years, she was a special education teacher.  She would post pictures of herself with some of her students with a caption that read

 "Down's is not a disability, it is a gift."

She loved her students and would often invite them for events at her home where she helped them to learn horseback riding.

Anna also has three wonderful kids who regularly earn top honors in academics and 4H.  They are a family that stay so incredibly active I wonder how all of it fits into a 24 hour day. A few years ago, Anna and her children experienced a huge life change...she fell in love, finished her college degree and remarried.  Soon after the wedding, this brand new blended family relocated to a different state and purchased a farm.  She began working full time for 4H, a job she was thrilled to begin.  Months later, she announced yet another life changing upcoming arrival of a baby boy!  The announcement was shared in a picture of rows of cowboy boots, the tiniest boots standing in the front row.

While she was carrying this sweet baby, she took her family to Disney World.  (My friend is obviously stronger than Superman and has more stamina than a triathlete).

For years, Anna's posts have brought me happy feelings.  I'm encouraged and inspired by her life and awestruck by the changes that keep rolling through in such rapid succession.

 Two weeks ago, Anna's  baby arrived.

His name is Colt.

He is the most beautiful baby.

He has Down Syndrome.

Deep in my core, I understand that God knew exactly where to send this precious soul.  To my friend with the biggest heart for ALL children.

So, quite suddenly, I'm no longer angry.

  Here is what my friend wrote under one of the first pictures of her new son:

"This is such a blessed experience."

*****And would you believe me if I told you that their Sow recently gave birth to piglets?  It's a house full-to-busted with babies and love.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Thundering Heart

Quakers often speak of experiencing the electrifying presence of the Holy Spirit.  Without having experienced this directly, I might have thought this idea was imaginary.  I would have wondered why Quakers feel it, but Catholics don't.  If God loves everyone, why do the Quakers get to experience this physical connection to the Divine, while in my Catholic childhood I prayed the prayers I was taught to pray, asked for forgiveness of my sins, and led an obedient life, only to vaguely imagine a distant father God in Heaven looking down from a great throne. Most of my life, I was intimidated by religion and even more intimidated by the bible. I was so confused and afraid of God that I clung to secular pursuits of knowledge.  God and religion were two topics that were discussed so often and at such great lengths in my upbringing that as an adult I avoided discussion to preserve my sense of self and well being.  While I remained a believer, I also had been building a wall of protection.

  I understand why people are uncomfortable in discussing matters of faith. It is such a private matter.  I have a few friends who cringe if I happen mention something about God.   I have compassion in these situations, and try not to carry on to make both of us feel awkward.  I'm not trying to convert anyone, but I'm no longer in the closet.  I'm trying to learn to balance my excitement about spiritual happenings without turning people away with my exuberance.

But this week, this incredibly emotional week, something spiritual happened.

When I was full of worry and anxiety, I remembered to be not afraid.  In the final moments, I yielded.  I put down my super-sized ego and waited for God to work through me.  And my heart thundered.   As I sat in a courtroom ready to let God say what He wanted to say through me, I was quaking with the electrifying presence.  Some people might say that this was just nerves.

It wasn't just nerves, although I was nervous at first.  When the nervousness fell away I knew what that pounding heart was all about.  That thundering heart was happening because something powerful was filling me, carrying me.

And suddenly, it was gone.  I was released.  I was not required to provide testimony because of a sudden and unexpected turn of events.  I left the courtroom in a disoriented state of confusion, topped by an elated sense of utter relief.  I'm not certain if I will be commanded to appear at a later time, but now I am no longer afraid.

Today I am so grateful for being released, but also filled with a new understanding.  While we work so hard to be strong in this world, to stand up for ourselves, to build our muscles through resistance training, it is easy to forget the transforming power of yielding.

While I work to build my physical muscles, I have a new challenge. Every day there will be a new opportunity to train the ego to yield, to step down, to let go.  To let all the intellectual debating fall away.  To let the hardened clay of my personality be softened and remolded to new purposes.

In yielding we are empowered by the Spirit.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

To Rant, Or Not to Rant, That is the Question

How do you feel about online ranting?

Have you ever?

If so, did it help?  Or were you embarassed later to read the emotionally tinged words?

I'm cautious of ranting, even when something is burning inside me.  I'm so reluctant to speak my frustration that if a friend happens to call me and the anger falls out of my mouth, I later regret having shown that side of me.

Thursday was a difficult day.  The energy that came with it carried into the weekend.  I'm still trying to release, release, release.

But the noise still keeps going in my head.   All kinds of scenarios are playing out, scenarious that are never going to happen.  Some part of my sick and tired brain must be entertained by this anxiety driven ranting.

I wonder why I was ever kind to certain people.  Isn't that a horrible thought?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Refusing the Call

If I were a Hobbit in the Shire, I would have stayed in my hole in the ground, captured by the beauty of rolling green hills, the bursting fresh flavor of home grown veggies, the companionship of family, dear friends and neighbors.  I once lived in a pastoral pocket of the world, in a Shire-like land with cultivated hills and valleys, where sunlight streamed in golden angles, scored by birdsong and paced by the slow movement of morning into day.  My mother still lives there, on a little hill where three children once ran barefoot on the soft green lawn.

A memory of me skipping to the garden, salt shaker in hand, plucking a small red tomato from the vine.

Of course, there were also long months of winter, deep snows, icy wind and messy slush.  There was mud and flooding in the garden.  There were days and days of low hanging gray stratus clouds that blotted out the will to smile.  There were lonely times, heartbreaking times, and times of boredom.   I used to think that Sunday afternoons were practice for enduring purgatory.  They dragged out so long in silence that I longed to go to school.

There was conflict, and unhappiness, and I knew about it without needing too much explanation, although that was also given, in great detail, over hours of tears in the night.

Then, sooner than anyone was ready for it, I also became part of the conflict, with my moody need to be right and to be left alone.  The programming inside my internal life-cycle clock was ticking.  The clock urged me to conflict and to go out and have an adventure.  To leave the Shire and drive into the unknown, with little more than a vague childhood dream to guide my purpose. I thought I was answering the call to proceed onward toward my one, true vocation.  Then I got called back.  And proceeded to refuse the call of my vocation for most of my life.

I'm probably refusing it still.

I am afraid of the unknown.

My idealism, that incomplete mental model of the way things should be, have repeatedly caused me to impulsively abandon paying jobs.  I am often a tiny bit nervous that I have not embarked on a steady career.

But now the world is changing, Elliot is maturing, and I find myself searching.  I realize that I have unexpectedly arrived at a check-point. Am I completely lost, or on the right path?  The self doubt that arrives with an independent lifestyle is more intimidating than anything I've ever experienced.  There are no report cards, no benchmarks, no tests or critical evaluations by an authority figure.  There are only feelings.

And feelings change like tides and waves and shifting sand.  I am a sailor who has to learn to manage all the rigging and the sails and the rudder without proper training and schooling on even the basic terminology.  It's not that there isn't enough information out there for me to use, it's that I seem to arrive at these thresholds and check-points without being fully prepared for a journey.

I have to learn all the time, as I go, every single day.  If there's anything in my pack, it's the stale bread of doing things the way I've always done them, one ordinary step at a time, trying to avoid the sharp rocks and the black bears.

And this makes it difficult to proceed in a writing and teaching vocation, because I suspect that I have no authority on any subject except my own feelings and observations.  I could be incredibly wrong about everything.

But I hope that I'm not wrong about the things that I value and hold sacred, certainly for Elliot's sake.  I worry that the learning we do is incomplete.  But then, how complete is a traditional education anyway?
I worry that because Elliot is an extrovert, home education is limiting, although we do get out and see children at least four days a week, except for January, when we were sick and isolated by winter. Yesterday, warm spring air arrived and we headed to the park.

 Afterwards, we landed in an uncomfortable discussion about returning to traditional school. Even though Elliot is fearful of that possibility, I went on talking about it.  I don't want him to be afraid if the path leads back to school.  At the park yesterday, I realized that he's grown out of the playground.  I remember when he was eighteen months old and so fearless that he climbed the tall steps to the big slide.  Yesterday he looked at that same playground and didn't see any children even close to his age.  It's middle childhood, that liminal space between slides and swings and the hills of a BMX course.

I am never prepared for callings and checkpoints.

But here I am.  No compass in hand.

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