Trust Yourself and Open Up

“One of the things that I’ve worked my way out of doing, and I knew I needed to, was comparing myself to other people. That just poisons everything…Your real job in the world is to be you.” India.Arie on Super Soul Sunday with Oprah Winfrey

I was watching Super Soul Sunday last Sunday and I caught the last half of Oprah’s interview with India.Arie. I’d never heard of her before that interview, but as she talked about her creative life and her spiritual awakening, she might have been talking about aspects of my life. I’ve struggled to be creative on my own terms. I didn’t think I was worthy enough to share my deepest, truest feelings, and gifts with anyone except for a select few. I was a people pleaser.

I was insecure about my writing in the beginning, so, I decided to take a writing class at the local community center. I worked hard on the pieces I presented to the class. When I read over my selections, I thought they were pretty good. However, I was devastated when the teacher told me she thought my work was guarded. I could be sharing so much more of myself and capturing the emotions of the readers. I felt like I’d shared some very emotional experiences in my work, but she didn’t see it that way.

Her good opinion meant so much to me. At the time I was writing a memoir. I took what she said to heart and worked for two years to peel away the protective layers to reveal my true self. My memoir went through lots of revisions. When I thought it was finished, I gave it to a couple of people to read for a critique. They liked it. So, I thought it was ready for a real critique. I contacted my former writing teacher and sent her my memoir.

In my mind, it was ready for publication. But, again, she told me that my work was too guarded. In her opinion, I was detached from the events I was relating. I needed to take more chances to reveal myself, the good and the bad. There was one ray of hope, though. She said that I should keep writing. That I had talent and that from the little she knew of me, she felt like I was a warm caring person. I just needed to let that person show through my writing.

She did me a big favor. Though I was deeply disappointed, I knew I was being presented with a fantastic opportunity. I’d been a guarded introvert for most of my life. Maybe it was time to let the real me out of her box. On the other hand I wasn’t sure I was ready to be that vulnerable. The next week, I told my writer’s group I thought I’d eventually turn my memoir into a novel, because it’s easier to hide my true self behind a fictionalized story.

My feelings about the failure of my memoir were too raw to pick it up again. I set it aside. The beginnings of a novel I’d started years before sat in a file on one of our old computers. I decided to make a fresh start and work on the novel thinking I could maintain my anonymity in a work of fiction. How naive I was.

During that time, I stepped up my spiritual practice and as always happens, little by little I realized that I couldn’t hide who I was any longer. If I was going to be an effective writer, I had to slice through the armor I’d been wearing and let people see the real me. The best stories touch us because the teller has revealed a part of herself.

It’s a scary prospect to reveal the real me to the world, but I’ve decided to risk it. That’s one of the reasons I started this blog.

Not long ago I saw the movie, Snow White and the Huntsman. One of my favorite things to do is to use the Internet Movie Database app on my phone and find out as much as I can about the movie I’m watching. It’s all part of my process of analyzing the plot, characters and themes of the story. I don’t often read the user reviews. When I was reading information about Snow White and the Huntsman, I noticed the titles of some of the user reviews and was appalled at the negativity. I liked the movie and decided I had an opportunity to share my true thoughts and feelings by writing a positive review of the movie. It’s a good place to start, because a review is supposed to be written in a little bit of a detached style, but the writer’s opinion still comes through. I have to say, it felt good to share my opinion and let it go out into the world. I plan to keep writing book and movie reviews when I feel the urge. It’s good writing practice.

If you want to see what I wrote about Snow White and the Huntsman, here’s the link. http://imdb.com/title/tt1735898/reviews-673

I’m still working on my novel. I’ll let you read portions of it from time to time. You can tell me what you think about it. Please feel free to comment on my blog posts too. If you think I’m hiding my true thoughts and feelings. I want you to tell me. Thanks for reading.

Advertisements

Joy of Life

“The most absurd and reckless aspirations have sometimes led to extraordinary success.” 

- Vauvenargues, was a French writer.

I just finished reading Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. A long title for a great book that reminded me what I’d learned from my dad; that life’s an adventure, the good and the bad. Feel it all. If you don’t, the colors fade and life’s a chore, or worse hell. I’d rather embrace life to the fullest. So, I’ll go out on a limb and tell you about a crazy thing I did.

Five years ago, I retired from my secure teaching job to become a writer. I’d only been teaching for ten years, so my annuity isn’t very large. I know some of you will think I was really stupid. However, it’s turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a struggle and sometimes down right frightening.

I may have written in an earlier post about my epiphany on my way to school in the spring of 2007. My soul was telling me I was supposed to be a writer and not a public school teacher. I have to say, I love being in the classroom. I love seeing the light bulbs go off as my students gain new understandings. But, I’d been feeling restless for quite some time. I knew my life wasn’t quite what it could be. Then inspiration, or God, or my soul got through and I knew I was going to be a writer.

On the last day of school I was packing up my room. I’d decided to teach one more year. That would make my teaching career an even ten years. As I packed, I was thinking of my writing life ahead. The thought came to me, I could quit right now. I haven’t signed my contract. The moment I thought that, I was filled with the most profound joy. It permeated my entire being. My skin tingled, my heart pumped for joy. I felt as if I could float out of the room. That feeling stayed with me while I loaded the car and on my hour drive home. I couldn’t wait to tell Barry. I sailed through the door confident that he’d be filled with joy too. Boy was I wrong. When I told him about my experience and the possibility of quitting sooner, a look of fear spread over his face and burst my joy bubble. Mine was the larger income. “How will we make up your income.” Logic set in. The joy was gone. I had no answer.

When I walked up to the School District office with my signed contract, my heart was heavy. I knew that feeling well. When I make a decision that goes against what my soul wants, even if it does look crazy, my heart is heavy and my stomach sinks. It’s so different than the elation I’d felt just a few days earlier.

I worked that last year. It was a good year. I learned a lot about living in the present moment. About taking a breath and getting centered. I was also inspired to apply at the local Community College as adjunct instructor, which has turned out to be a great learning experience.

I can’t say that these five years have been easy. Oh, no. We’ve had financial difficulties. I’ve felt clutching fear about money at times. But, We’ve also faced our fears, and asked for and received Divine help in setting financial goals, which are now putting us on a more secure footing. Barry and I have never starved, we still have our house and we’ve learned to trust again. We’re always taken care of, if we allow it. We’ve worked through our fears and for me at least, I’ve learned that I am not the amount of money in my bank account, nor the clothes I wear, the car I drive, or the house I live in. I’m so much more. I’ve also learned there are so many things to appreciate about life. We’re both finding new creative outlets. And I love writing.

As I was finishing Brené Brown’s book, I remembered a silly little incident when I took Barry home to meet my family that illustrates what it’s like to feel joy in life.

It was our Christmas break. Barry and I had become engaged the winter before, but he’d never met my family. We’d had a great time during our visit. On New Year’s eve, we decided to stay home with my parents. Neither one of us are party people, and we didn’t have friends to go out with. So, we stayed home, watched the celebrations on TV, ate popcorn, and played games. As the ball in Time Square descended and the count down commenced, Barry prepared to give me my New Year’s kiss. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. We were startled when dad yelled “Happy New Year,” jumped out of his recliner and hopped to mom’s recliner to give her a kiss. She had the chair reclined and dad leaned too hard on the chair. Mom, dad and the recliner ended up upside down. We were all laughing so hard we couldn’t get mom right again for several minutes. Barry said, “Now I know I’ll fit into this family.” It’s a moment of joy that we told over and over again at family gatherings. It’s one of the stories we shared at the family reunion just after dad’s death.

My dad had Joy of Life and he taught that to me, even though I forgot it for awhile. It’s back now. I’m grateful for so many things, especially my decision to become a writer. I may never be rich and famous, but I’m doing what I love. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Remembering Dad

Sunday is Father’s Day, which makes me think of my dad. He died in 2004. That was a hard time, because he was my mentor. Even now I have a hard time articulating what he meant to me. The deepest feelings are the hardest to express. However, I’m going to try by telling a story about him that illustrates his character.

When I was a Junior and Senior in high school my dad was the camp director for the youth camps sponsored by our church. The kids at the camps came to love him, because he didn’t deal with problems the same way other adults did. Here’s an example of what I mean.

One year at camp, a rivalry started between a group of girls and a group of boys. One group had played a prank on the other group and of course retaliation was required. I don’t remember how many rounds of this went on before, the girls came up with a smashing idea: Take all the faucet handles from the boys bathroom. Of course, I wasn’t part of the group, they were sure I’d tell my father what they were planning. The next morning, none of the men and boys could take showers or even wash their hands because all the faucet handles were gone. During breakfast, dad announced we were going to suspend the regular schedule and have a special meeting. The girls were shaking in their boots. They were sure they were going to be sent home in disgrace.

During the meeting dad said that he understood how fun it was to play pranks. It could build camaraderie. But, it’d gone too far now and the faucets needed to be returned so the men and boys could get cleaned up. If the girls responsible brought the faucets back, all would be forgiven.Then the girls and boys responsible would need to make amends. All the campers looked around at each other in disbelief. I knew what they were thinking. “An adult is going to forgive and forget and not humiliate us?” We were dismissed to our first activity. The culprits had until lunch to return the faucets.

The girls came to me, “Is your dad serious. If we confess and give back the faucets, he won’t send us home?”

“Yep. He always means what he says.”

“Will he punish us?”

“Well, yeah. But, he’ll talk to you first and you’ll get a chance to decide your punishment. And the guys will too.”

“Man, you’re dad is cool. You’re lucky.”

“I know.”

The girls turned in the faucets to my dad right then. I went with them at their request. When they handed dad the bag, he looked at the girls and then in mock despair said, “Oh, I can’t believe you sweet girls did this. Oh, my, what are we going to do?” He went on for awhile like that until he noticed that the girls were embarrassed.

The girls laughed, but hung their heads. Then my dad said, “Well, we’ve got to fix this. You’ve proved that you’re mature young ladies by admitting what you did. Now, we need to talk about how this got started, who the boys involved are, and put things to rights again. What do you think?”

I could tell by the look on the girls faces, they couldn’t believe it. He was asking for their help in resolving the issue. They weren’t getting yelled at, or slapped, or sent home. In a way it was a much more painful process, because my dad was requiring them to do some self-examination. Then of course the boys and girls involved were required to do extra chores, or some such thing and the camp went on. After that, my dad was the hero of the camp. He’d treated those kids like human beings who make mistakes, but are intelligent and can think of ways to make things right. Not only that, he didn’t humiliate them. They knew, as my brother and I did, that he cared about us no matter what we did. He trusted us.

That’s how I was raised. When I did something wrong, my dad and mom would talk with me. “Why did you do that? What were you thinking and feeling when you did it? What can we do to make things right?”

My dad understood that sometimes people do things out of fear, or anger, or lack of self-love. They go a little bit crazy. Whenever we’d ask dad why people kill, or mistreat others, he’d always say, “Because they’re in so much pain. They think if they hurt others it’ll make them feel better, but it doesn’t. That never works does it?” That’s always the way it was. Dad asked us lots of questions to get us to think. My dad, who’d dropped out of high school because he had undiagnosed dyslexia, used the Socratic Method to teach us great lessons.

I guess he’s the one who started me on the path of personal growth. I’m always asking questions about movies I’m watching, or books I’m reading or things that happen. And I learned something else from my dad. I am not my mistakes. I’m more than that. That’s why my friends liked to hang out at our house. My parents, and especially my dad saw value in them, even when they messed up.

Dad, I miss hearing you say, “I’m proud of you.” Having you as my dad has made all the difference.

Reading is Dangerous

My husband suggested that I might want to write a humorous story to break up the tone of my posts. I wish I could do that, because I gain insight from humorous stories too. But, unfortunately, I’m not Erma Bombeck, or Mark Twain. I wish I were. I may at some point be able to craft a humorous story, but not today. Today I’m writing about how something I’ve been reading helped me understand something that happened that has been a puzzle until now.

Have you ever read a book or a story that affected you so deeply that you continued to think about it long after you finished the last page? I have several on my list. Many of them have made me laugh or cry. They certainly made me think. That’s why reading is dangerous.

When I get emotional while reading, I’m usually alone. Which is the way I prefer it. When you cry in public it makes everyone uncomfortable. This story is about what happened one day, when I was teaching English. I hadn’t thought about that incident for years until this morning.

I was reading the book, The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene’ Brown for my up coming book club meeting. In today’s section, Brene’ was relating an incident when she felt deep shame over a response to one of her blog posts, and how she dealt with it. (In case you don’t know about her, she researches the effects of shame on us and how vulnerability can lead us to wholehearted living.) While I was reading, I was reminded of this incident in my English class and thought I’d relate it to you.

The class was American Lit. We were reading the account of Olaudah Equiano, a slave who later bought his freedom to become an abolitionist in England. The section titled, “The Middle Passage”, describes his capture and trip across the Atlantic to one of the Caribbean islands. It’s a harrowing story, so much like the account in Roots, which made me stop reading the book for several days until I could recover enough to pick it up again. The slaves are whipped and crammed into tight quarters. The description of the callousness of the captors, the beatings, filth and stench were so real for me, that I was deeply affected. When I was reading it at home, I thought, I hope I can get through reading this in class without crying. Of course, I couldn’t.

My students were understandably concerned. I think it’s sad that crying in public is not okay.

The classroom became deadly silent. They didn’t know what to do with a teacher who was crying over a passage in the story.

One of the braver students asked me, “Miss, why are you crying?”

I had no idea what to say, but honesty seemed the best policy. “I’m crying because I feel bad about what happened to the slaves.”

“You mean, like you had something to do with it?”

“Yes, I guess. I feel bad that the whites treated the slaves so badly.”

“But, Miss, you weren’t there. You didn’t do it?”

“You’re right,” I said. “I still feel bad.” Then I wiped my eyes and blew my nose and we continued discussing the selection.

It’s important for you to know, that I was teaching in a school that has an over 90 percent population of Mexican/American students. The school is on a border town in Southern Arizona. Those students understand persecution. I don’t know if the fact that I’m white and I was crying about what happened to the slaves so long ago affected my students or not. I think it did. I hope it did.

I write about this incident because, I think it’s important to write about the good and the bad things about being human. Some of the biggest insights have come to me when I’m reading about a person or character’s greatest struggles. As a writer, though, it’s hard to dig down deep and write about those most painful feelings. At least it is for me. I can write about them all day in my journal, but if I know someone’s going to read them, well that’s a different matter. The thing is, that’s why I should dig down and write about the pain, because someone’s going to read it and gain insight. That’s what Olaudah Equiano did, that’s what Brene’ Brown does.

I’ve been doing a lot of personal work lately. Reading Brene’ Brown’s book is just one aspect of the work. It’s helping me see that if we keep secret our wounded places, it can destroy us. On the other hand if we share them, we can help someone we don’t even know. Olaudah Equiano helped people understand what it was like to be captured, tortured, and transported to a far off place and be sold into slavery. His was one of the first slave stories. Many more came after. Who knows maybe his story touched enough people who saw how wrong slavery was and they started the Abolitionist movement.

I guess that’s why I read. Because I’m looking for insight into myself and into what it means to be human.That’s also why I write. It’s part of my process of healing and understanding.

What books or stories prompted you to think long after the reading was finished?