Musings on personal growth, books, motherhood, writing, and more.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted here. It’s been a busy spring (but when is spring not busy?) (by the way, an update post on the kittens is coming shortly!). But it’s also just been another one of those times when I’ve felt the need to keep my thoughts and words close. My ocean of creativity was at low tide. But now the tide has begun to sweep out again, bringing me back to you, my blogging community. And now, all of a sudden, I have lots of things to tell you! I’ll save some for future posts, but this one might be a bit long–my apologies!
I turned thirty this year, and oddly enough, I actually feel older. For one thing, my fat cells seem to be emigrating from the various extremities of my body to settle in my middle. But there are invisible changes too: my perspective on things seems to have shifted–lengthened–calmed.
Everything used to be such a Big Deal. I was like a high-strung puppy, constantly moving and having very intense feelings about everything; and now I’m growing into an older dog who takes longer to get up and loves to sleep in the sun. These days, I’m finding it easier to sit back and keep calm, to not take things so personally, to trust that problems will somehow work out, to let things be and be where I am.
Just as I look back at my past self and want to tell her, “Shh. Just be still. Everything will be fine. You don’t need to try so hard”–I also imagine my future self (as, say, an eighty-year-old) looking back at me right now and speaking the same words. I guess it’s a matter of taking a long-range, big-picture perspective, as well as of just generally chilling out. (I think it very likely that my dabbling with meditation this past year has helped!)
Here are a few examples, manifestations of this shift:
• I find myself using fewer words when I speak to people sometimes, because I trust them more to understand what I’ve said and to handle their own thoughts and feelings about it.
• I’m learning how to “go with the flow” of events more–something I was always terrible at. The more I practice accepting it when my plans don’t work out (such as a plan for how I would use my time on a Saturday), the better I get at it. I think the secret to this is having a strong foundation in self-care…but that’s a matter for a whole separate post.
• My journal entries have changed. In my teens and twenties, when I would record some problem, I would explain the problem and then immediately shift into attempts at self-comfort. If you were to go through those journals, you would never find an instance where I stated a problem and then left it at that, except when the pointed implication was utter despair. Short of that, I always had to try to find a way to make myself feel better about whatever it was. But now, more and more I’ve noticed a willingness to let a problem hang there in my journal, raw and undressed. Doing so does not imply despair now; I just don’t need to expend as much energy on written self-comfort as I did before. I know I’m going to be okay; I know I will be able to pick up where I left off tomorrow and record the new developments and my latest thoughts and feelings about the problem. (Unless I suddenly die first, in which case the problem won’t matter anymore.) So I write it down, close my notebook, and return to the activities of the present and to my baseline calm. It’s kind of amazing, actually!
Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle plenty with unnecessary anxiety and frustrated intentions, and there are plenty of times when I still need to journal for self-comfort or to work through my feelings. But now those times are saved for the truly Big Deals, which for me are most often about relationships or–most frequently–writing.
Writing is the one thing I still have a hard time chilling out about. I have so much yearning, such high hopes and dreams, and such frustration with my lack of writing time that patience does not come easily. I want to write something really good really fast and make money from it so I can quit my job and have more time to WRITE!!!
But it doesn’t work like that.
There are some practical things that help, such as making plans with my husband for ways we can work towards a future that will better align with our dreams, including my having more free time to write. But until then, the task is to do the best I can with what I’ve got.
And toward that end I have found my way lately to some very helpful insights, which I’d like to share:
1.) A friend showed me this wise and punchy little essay called “To Anyone Who Thinks They’re Falling Behind in Life” about giving ourselves permission to be where we are.
2.) When I attended the annual West Virginia Writers conference a couple weeks ago, my number-one takeaway was an offhand statement made by one of the presenters, novelist Meredith Sue Willis, in a workshop: that it’s actually easier to get a first (“debut”) novel published than a second or third from an author whose first book/s didn’t sell well.
That gave me pause. I don’t want to rush and get something written that’s merely mediocre, if getting it published could jeopardize my future publication opportunities! I’d rather wait until I have something written that I’m truly proud of and that comes from the core of my heart. (But really, I would prefer that anyway, regardless of publication…I just get impatient sometimes!)
3.) I’m (finally) reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and wow, almost every single thing she says hits exactly on what I feel. She talks honestly about envy of other writers (check), despair from looking back at what you’ve written and seeing it to be complete trash (check), the sense of being overwhelmed and just blindly groping when writing a first draft (check, check), and more; and she has great advice about all of it, including tips on how to listen to your intuition, write only what speaks to your heart, and–most relevantly here–loosen your reins on the process. I especially love this particularly poetic passage:
“It helps to resign as the controller of your fate. All that energy we expend to keep things running right is not what’s keeping things running right. We’re bugs struggling in the river, brightly visible to the trout below. With that fact in mind, people like me make up all these rules to give us the illusion that we are in charge. I need to say to myself, they’re not needed, hon. Just take in the buggy pleasures. Be kind to the others, grab the fleck of riverweed, notice how beautifully your bug legs scull.”
4.) All of the above insights and my own thoughts combined to lead me to this conviction: I must write for the joy of it–and no other reason.
I start out writing because I love it, but then I layer on it all these goals, expectations, and rules–like Anne says, to give the illusion that I am in charge, and to make me feel like I’m hurrying closer to my dreams. And then I end up feeling stressed about the thing that I’m doing, ultimately, for fun.
I have so much will–but it’s wasted energy. Life is not in my control. And it’s not like I have to remind myself that I want to write (as the essay I linked to above talks about); all that internal motivation I have is not going anywhere! I will write what I write, and what happens will happen. I can’t dictate my future; I can only be where I am now.
It helps to remember that even if I never reach my dreams for my writing life, I will be okay; I can still live a fulfilling life. So let go, I tell myself, knocking at my fingers to pry them from their grip on ambition. Relax. Just do what brings you joy.
And that applies to all of life, too, not just writing. I need to do what brings me joy–what my heart wants and needs–in any given moment. Listen to myself and trust my heart to lead me in the right direction. And bleed as much joy out of every little thing as I can, breathing in each moment deeply, with gratitude for all the blessings, big and small, that life gives and has given me (as well as grief and compassion for those whom life has given mainly suffering, and openness to ways I might be able to help them). At thirty, I am beginning to understand that life’s too short–and has been too good to me–for me not to love it.