Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fear on Hallowe'en...

We all strive to feel competent. Feeling competent doesn't jibe with our feelings of vulnerability on the surface. Yet, we are our most competent when we feel most vulnerable. It is those moments in life when we feel most alive, and possibly most like a fool. I am proposing that feeling like a fool is the best feeling in the world, and the most competent place to be in as a human being.

Isn't that opposite of the way we are taught to be successful in the world? We are taught that we'll feel most competent by being safe. If we find the right career, marry the right guy, have children at the most logical time to have children, eat right and exercise then everything will work out just perfectly. However, somehow life gets so much more complicated than these instructions are prepared to address.

Sometimes the right career for us has bad timing in the world - like say - journalism in the age of social media. Suddenly, we have to learn an entirely new way of getting our work out there. Maybe what we loved about journalism was the news room. Now we're working alone in our basement. Success is measured by the number of followers, but maybe we are used to getting awards to measure our success. Suddenly our competency has fallen into disrepair. We feel uncomfortable minimally or terrified at maximum feeling of incompetency. Suddenly, everything about our plan to be safe is wrong.

Now, there are a lot of New Agey books that tell you this. "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway" by Susan Jeffers was one of my favorites in the genre, but I couldn't really figure out why it worked until I started trying it. The first time I tried it out, I was walking on a trail in New Hampshire on a beautiful fall day with my ex-husband. He was way ahead of me, and with each step I became more and more afraid because the leaves on the ground were dry and slippery, and I felt like the ground was literally being pulled out from under me. I was so afraid that I had to sit down and catch my breath. I couldn't see him anywhere, and I panicked. I thought maybe that I'd missed the trail somehow, and now not only could I not walk, but I was also lost about as far away from Hollywood as I could get on the same continent. Denying my fear was not helpful. I decided that I had to allow myself to feel my fear first of all. Knowing that I was not going to move, that wasband was unconcerned that I was so far behind he couldn't even see me, and that day would become night and night would be cold and I wasn't dressed for cold weather made me feel really afraid, but it didn't make me as afraid as I felt when I was walking on the slippery leaves...I was more afraid of falling on the slippery leaves, I had to admit to myself, than I was afraid of being alone in the woods on a cold autumn night. That's when I realized that true fear, as opposed to dread, was entirely temporal. I realized in that moment that I was more than my fear. It was a simple thing to face the moment of fear once I felt it for what it was. I got up and walked down the trail with absolutely no trouble.

Shortly after that I found it possible to walk away from a job that wasn't right for me. Then I found that I experienced a feeling of aliveness every time I faced my fear. It seemed that I was invincible for a while, and that I was evolving by leaps and bounds. I went from nearly bankrupt to successful within a year. Walking off cliffs would have turned into flights of fancy if only I hadn't become overwhelmed with fear again. The fear that I caught like a virus came along in the most unexpected way, and to be honest I have never been able to shake it since. I believe that I haven't been able to do what I did on that trail in New Hampshire because I'm so afraid of it that sometimes I really believe it, this fear, is bigger than me.

This is the moment then, to sit down on the trail and to face the fear for what it is...I had a child. This precious life brought back all the fears I had spit out like watermelon seeds on a summer's day. I had this child and now my mouth was filled with those same seeds, doubled it felt like, and I swallowed them whole. Then just like a child who is teased by a caring grandparent not to swallow watermelon seeds, I believed that those seeds of fear sprouted whole watermelons of fear. Why am I, nearly fourteen years later, with a sweet girl and lovely son, still afraid? And, I can say I'm still terrified.

I had my daughter at home, trying to face the fear head on as I had been doing so recently before she was conceived. Yeah, it hurt, but it was beautiful and I don't regret it. It didn't get rid of the gripping fear though. So, I can conclude since I've survived two home births that birthing children wasn't the fear. Also, I faced the fear of leaving her dad, and setting out on my own, and for a short time of blatant denial, one of the five stages of grief, I thought that maybe I was afraid of not providing her with the perfect nuclear family. Went through the divorce, faced a custody battle, and still the fear lingers. I fell in love again and brought a new man of a different color, different way and different background into my kids' lives and they embraced it and I still feel fearful. This means nothing else besides the fact that I haven't yet faced whatever it is that I am so afraid of. Finding out what that thing is, the slippery leaves, the thing that makes me feel the fear so acutely is my ferocious goal. I have the feeling that it may be as simple as slippery leaves if I can sit here and be quiet enough to look at it. I know that once I face this fear full on, that I'll have my mojo back and I'll be able to do the trail again...until then on this most haunted of nights...I'm sitting here watching myself squirm. Boo!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pause to Consider - A Blessing

Part of being vulnerable is dealing with over-reaction. As a writer, I already have a crucial tool in my hands for doing just that: the witness mind. Being a witness first and foremost allows every vulnerable person (i.e. all of us) to take one step back from reacting, and several steps back from over-reacting. However, you will notice as you take this time that the people you interact with expect that certainly, and always, you will react one way or another right away. I'm here to tell you that this is not necessarily beneficial for anyone, except perhaps for an Emergency Room Doctor, for a soldier fighting a battle or for a fire fighter.

I have found that holding my reaction even for a few moments in most situations is essential for taking true responsibility for my actions. It is more of a practice for me than a habit, still.

One thing I've always loved, about movies in particular, plays and sometimes books, is when a character reacts right away to something that has been said or done with a snappy remark. This is a fantasy. One of the roots of story telling allows us to skip over the boring parts like -- pausing to consider -- and right to the pithy reflection on the facts. That's because the story teller has done the pausing to consider part for months or possibly years before writing that meaty-meat comeback. Unfortunately, most of us don't realize this. We're steeped in television jokes, and sixty-minute lifetime resolutions as we go about our business. We feel the pressure to come back; to stand up and deliver on the first try.

That gets us into trouble nearly every time because it creates that "fight or flight" feeling of being excruciatingly vulnerable. Making decisions in a panic, defending ourselves without contemplation, and imposing order on the world around us from a knee-jerk perspective tends to pull down our house of cards faster than a Colorado wind-storm. Writing in this way is exactly what leads us down tangents that leave us wondering, "how did I get here?" With a story or script we can go back and erase those tangents leading nowhere, but in life it gets messy. There are really no strike outs or erasers in life that actually get rid of these mislead adventures completely. They have marked our souls with indelible markers. It behooves us, then, to have some inner peace about misadventures and dead ends or we would refuse to be vulnerable.

When we accept that being vulnerable is essential to using our abilities to do our best in the world, then we open ourselves up necessarily to the judgments and attacks of the insidious thoughts that have been placed there by often well-meaning people in our lives. Our behavior makes us look strange, nonsensical or even lax to the people who are used to defense mechanisms influencing or even ruling our action in the world. They may over-react with their own defense mechanisms: with panic, by justifying their actions, against the evidence of our own inaction. Pause to consider the option. Refusing to be vulnerable is firstly, an illusion or delusion, and secondly, vulnerability allows us to be authentic, and finally, being authentic means we do our best.

So, say, your ex-husband continues to send you emails years after your divorce demanding that you behave this way or that with your children. Your initial over-reaction may be to write back a snappy, cursing retort. Where would this lead you? Into a fight. The fight that has gone on for so long. The fight you tried to leave by divorcing him. Take a few steps back. Your reaction now is to shrug, to write a flip, "whatever" and close the door. Where would this lead you? Into a fight about your flip attitude and not taking his concerns about your children, your remaining joint responsibilities, seriously. Take another step back and pause to consider the issue. What he is saying about it? How do you actually feel? My guess is that you feel, as I have, vulnerable.

Sitting with vulnerability is initially excruciating. It is, surprisingly, something you can get used to. Only when you sit with this vulnerability will you allow yourself to take the time to find the authentic response. It may not be the response an other person wants or expects, but it will be the only true response you can give. You will find yourself choiceless, and for the first time maybe completely unconfused about the whys and the wherefores. This is the goal for heroic resolution in any story. Finally, the choices for the hero to be successful are narrowed to one. This is what it means to exercise true free will. So, indeed, vulnerability exercises ability, and makes the choice authentic -- a true blessing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ability equals vulnerability

It is a great ability to be able to conceal one's ability.
- Francois de La Rochefoucauld

This has been my mode of operation for as long as I can remember. I used to think that it was because of fear of success or fear of failure. I used to think it was cool to get out of daunting and overwhelming tasks by taking on less than what I was capable of in truth so that I could write privately. However,since I rebooted my life, I've been thinking a lot about why I haven't made greater strides as a writer within and beyond copy writing and consumer products, game scripts and teaching. Sure all of those things have kept me going but have never felt like "me". I always felt more like they were a perfect expression of that quote up there -- concealing my ability.


I don't know if the above link will work for you because I am still figuring out how blogs work, but I hope that it will. I loved this video by TEDxHouston with Brene Brown. So, if you can see it and keep it in mind as you read the rest of this post, you'll really get the full picture of what I'm writing about. If it directs you away from this blog, please come back...

Daily, when I sit down to write and am frozen in a paralytic conundrum, I feel that fear thing. Now, go a bit deeper. Why feel fear? What is there to fear? Something that comes up in Brene's talk is the concept of excruciating vulnerability. The kind of vulnerability when you dream you're taking a test and everything is going well, until you realize you're the only one in class who has no clothes on. Shame and blushing are overwhelming at times. The question goes from "why can't I write what I want to write?" to "why would I want to write???"

I just read a pot boiler mystery written by two women in the style of a Dan Brown occult mystery. As I read, even while I couldn't stop turning the pages, I had a running commentary going about how I knew what was going to happen, and that I felt it unworthy of my time. I was up until 3 am reading it to the last page this morning,mind you, but but but it was a pot boiler. What is that a sample of in my fear pool? That is feeling vulnerable, I suppose, followed by a numbing out to the joy of a book that kept me going nearly all night long.

Another example is "Eat, Pray, Love" which I've written about before with some disgust in these archives. A friend asked me to share my thoughts about the book, and again encouraged me to write about the difference in my own divorce experience. I phoo-phooed that as quickly as I could. Frankly, I don't care to expose myself. The feeling that comes up for me about writing extensively about my post-divorce life is nausea and pain, and post-divorce isn't all that bad. It is not that I'm unhappy with the outcome at all. It is that feeling vulnerable that I've been resisting.

So, I like this concept of authenticity being married to vulnerability. I believe it. I know that in my intimate relationships now, this is what truly makes them work. I am not uncomfortable with a friend who "unzips their arms and shows me their veins," as one put it a while ago. I am not afraid to show my ugly and beautiful parts. I know that is why I found such a good partner in my second go-round at marriage. In this at least I feel safe in my vulnerability finally. I don't feel like I'm burying some secret now.

Beginning my "big" project has been a fits and starts process already. Since only in the past few weeks have I started feeling normal physically, I've forgiven myself and have not given up. But, what I can tell you is that what I've been writing about here in the blog - point of view, voice, preparedness, practice, and commitment all have their roots in AUTHENTICITY. I am unable to move along in a story until it feels authentic. Unfortunately, when it feels authentic, my joy in the POV, voice, preparedness, practice and commitment is very temporary because then I feel vulnerable, and this on any given day is about a twenty minute process from start to finish.

My attention span is pretty short, I realize. My first inclination is to numb out. I reach for dark chocolate, a cup of coffee, or a stupid TV show. Then I am miserable because I haven't done anything. So then I start cleaning the house, cooking or worse yet FACEBOOKING. This pattern is so terribly predictable that I worry that I am not up to overcoming it. I don't know how to overcome my general feeling of unworthiness as a writer. Cringe! But day by day I'm trying to add minutes to my acceptance of vulnerability because I believe minute by minute I can become more comfortable somehow, as if by magic.

One of my writer friends suggests that was there a paycheck attached to writing these speculative scripts and novels, then of course, that would motivate us to get work done and get past the emotional namby-pamby fear and shame factors. I know that this is not true always. I have made a great deal of money in the past for copy writing and sometimes have nearly had to nail myself to a chair to finish the product.

The shame goes spiraling deeper into my psyche the more authentically I write, and yet only when I write authentically can I stay interested and intrigued. This tension of avoiding vulnerability and yet understanding that it is really the only reason to keep going has made my career field of choice a minefield...of opportunity. My first question is always, "how can I make this a blessing?"

Friday, October 15, 2010

Caught between worlds this election...

Still I beat the drum for my party, the Democrats in case you missed it along the way, with hope that there will be renewed humility and hard work to come out of the party in the years to come. Our values are in the right place. I still believe in a broad list of progressive ideals in spite of becoming more jaded and cynical in the last five years than I've ever been before.

For instance, the reason I really like Senator Michael Bennet is because he's so darned successful at being himself. He has never looked at a problem without turning it into an opportunity to evolve. He progresses, with each job, to be of better service to those around him. This aligns with a way of being that I believe in more than a list of positions and votes. This may seem counter-intuitive to a political campaign but I find it refreshing that he's actually chopped wood and done home home, and then turned around and earned $11 million dollars by turning a failing company into a profitable one, and then turned around and worked as a Chief of Staff in Mayor Hickenlooper's office, and then accepted the challenge of heading the Denver Public Schools. That he's been in Washington, D.C., as our Senator for the last year and some months has simply been an extension of his life path -- being of service to others. I can see a congruent set of values from this apparent evolution that benefits not only his family but also fellow human beings. I simply feel good about Michael Bennet as a man, and I have faith that he will view the challenges he seeks in the Senate as opportunities to bring about those benefits to Coloradoans rather than as opportunities to get attention or power for himself.

What my sweet Republican sees is something different. He sees a conundrum of mixed priorities. He wants a clear number one priority from our elected officials and that is money in our family's account by virtue of a good job and benefits, reasonable taxes and low expenditures. Now this may seem selfish, but I assure you he is not ungenerous in any way. He simply looks at the world through a lens of survival of the fittest, and he's not feeling very good about much of anything that has come to pass over the last two years of Democratic majority. He doesn't believe in good intentions because he sees everyone in politics as potentially corrupt, so he wants their corruption to lead to better jobs and opportunities for him to make it on his own without government interventions. In fact he views congressional gridlock as a possible solution to bad choices.

I don't think he's alone folks. The mere fact that corporations do not know what their taxes will be for this year and coming years does not get blamed in my Republican's mind on the polarization of two parties, but on the leadership of the party in charge - uh the Democrats. He sees the Democrats as effeminate, and over-sensitive to a fault. (Yes, I'm a feminist and I just said that.) He calls our President "no balls" and obviously this is somewhat painful to him as they are both black men of the same generation, succeeding at a level that seems predetermined no matter how high on the ladder they get. He wants President Obama to hold his own rather than explain and explain and explain how it is going to work someday when everyone agrees.

This makes me think of Co-Housing. I used to have a fantasy about living in Co-Housing. That's how liberal I am. At least that was until I learned that everything is done by consensus in Co-Housing. I do believe this is a principle Democrats of a certain age believe in fervently. Perhaps it comes out of the basic "Question Authority" bumper sticker age. The enmity and suspicion of anyone who claims authority is often palpable in crowds of Democrats. We're not the kind of people who want someone in charge who actually believes that they are in charge. It seems almost fascist to us somehow to think of a structure where one person, or a very select group of people are allowed to run with decisions and make it work.

I know that some Democrats, Independents and Republicans plan to sit out this election because they're disappointed, but folks this action is not going to have the impact you want. I understand it is important for everyone to have a voice, but we live in a Republic of representative government, and someone has to stand her or his ground. That is what is ahead of the next Congress. That is what is ahead in the State of Colorado. Open your eyes and think about who you want to have stand his or her ground for us in Congress and at the state level.

I do believe the slate of Democrats we could send to Congress and to our local State House are a unique group in that they are willing to stand their ground, even if it isn't perfect for everyone. We must accept the incremental process of democracy. It was designed to move more slowly than your PC, but it must become more efficient than it has been for the last two years. This country looks like it is for sale right now. There is a big sign on our front lawn, and foreclosure is a real possibility. If we keep the attitude we've been nursing, that everything must be decided by consensus, then we will face harder times in the years to come.

When I look at the alternative Republican candidates I am appalled, frankly, by their point of view, no matter that their priority seems to solidify behind the idea of making money some how or other. It's a question of who is going to profit and how they will benefit Colorado? From Dan Maes and Ken Buck to my local State Senate candidate, the over-riding attitude of disregard for the well-being of women, for our education system (which is our future), for the world we live in makes me want to vomit. That we would actually choose to sink backwards towards this disregard and into a world that is only profitable to a few seems hopeless to me and evidential of our failure, Democrat's failure, to unite this country behind a concept that seems to be second-nature to Gubernatorial candidate Hickenlooper, Senator Michael Bennet, Representatives Salazar, Markey, Perlmutter and Polis -- SUCCESS.

Monday, October 4, 2010

It may seem...

I know that it looks like nothing is going on. The field of the future orchard is now full with above waist-high rye, and I don't seem to be doing anything about it. I wrote all summer, but still have not found the voice I'm looking for. Stories that I think are funny came out "sort of sad." Therefore, I'm still searching for just the right heirloom peach trees to plant, and eating peaches now is kind of disappointing to be honest. Where they were sweet and juicy a month and more ago, they now show up in the markets hard as rocks and then turn to meal in your mouth. Therefore, a delay seems to be in order.

Ack! I hate the notion that I may be procrastinating. However, doesn't procrastination require some full-fledged plan that one is avoiding? In writing a person has to have a story to tell, right? A peach grower has to have peach trees to plant. It may be that I have too many, or not enough, but whatever it is, I feel totally stymied.

If you've been reading here, you know that I had surgery a mere three weeks ago to take out an actual organ and bizarre growths from my belly. That should be my ticket to rest, but as it turns out for most moms, as soon as I was well enough to walk around one of my children had a virus. So, I just jumped back into activity-ville and sort of feel like I might as well keep on going. I don't feel like I can excuse myself from forging on because of a little bit of cramping. Sigh.

The purpose of this rye cover crop (writing only for voice) in my imaginary future orchard (writing for production) was to nurture the soil, because I guess it draws some nutrients up through its roots. Then also it is meant to crowd out weeds (which in a writer's mind would be all of the distractions that come along). My rye crop has been sort of anemic on these points. Here is what I nurtured my mind with over the course of months: several short stories, a cosmological essay, reading the Tao te Ching.

Still weeds got into the area. Some of the weeds were terrific nettles with their gorgeous purple flowers protected by sharp, minuscule thorns. Nettles reach even deeper into the earth for nutrition than rye, and so I can't resent their presence because they did get me in touch with concepts I'd forgotten to keep forward in my thinking - namely the Goddess, and her many faces. Having to deal with my feminine health and a hysterectomy took up most of my thoughts for months. It was both a beautiful and thorny focus. The richness it brought back to the surface is rare and will feed my writing for years to come.

I had this super high tech surgery that took a pound of flesh out of me through four holes less than an inch wide. I've been thinking of "The Merchant of Venice" and what Shylock might make of the fact that I survived losing a pound of flesh, so well. I've been thinking what my pound of flesh is paying off, balancing out. In "The Merchant of Venice" Shylock, the Jewish money-lender, is a wounded individual on many levels and he's often played on the most evil of terms, but years ago I saw a sympathetic Shylock at the Barbican in London, and since I'm half Jewish myself I've always sympathized with his character somehow. The only control over the world he has is his Jewish faith and money lending, and in this play he loses control of both. Clearly, he hopes for revenge and the death of his tormentor, Antonio, by making a pound of his flesh the payment of an unmet loan. Meanwhile, meanwhile, the women in this play, who have even less power over their world than a Jew, manage to take things into their own clever plans. Though Antonio and his "team" in the end get everything they want, nothing goes as they planned. This play touches on revenge, betrayal, faith, desperation, love and justice.

In "The Merchant of Venice", Portia must dress like a male law clerk to met out justice and save Antonio's life, but the audience is well aware she is an intelligent woman. I wonder if hidden in this message that Shylock may take the pound of flesh but no blood, is a subtle understanding that women understand the loss of blood better than any man can. Between puberty and menopause a woman loses a lot of blood. I figured out that I had had approximately 400 periods in my life. That's a lot of blood, and yet we live. A man as powerful as Antonio cannot lose blood like that and survive. Yet Portia can slip in and out of his world by simply changing clothes.

I offered my over-abundant womb as a sacrifice to Ereshkigal, the dark, underworld Goddess of Sumeria. Though the pathological lab wouldn't give me the actual remains I trust that intention carried the day. Why would I do this? Ereshkigal is both the underworld itself, and its judge and mistress. The desire by all living beings is to transmute the "unproductive cycle" that we understand as winter, and which is associated with death. So to escape my own death perhaps in part, I dedicated my surgery to Ereshkigal. But, it wasn't physical death I was thinking of, it was the death of what I could create on earth.

My children came out of me, 8 and 9 lbs of flesh, due to the womb I once had. They are without a doubt my greatest contributions. Since my son was born each year I had lost more and more blood, which turned out to be actually vitality. This surgery was a bargain with my body, to give it more blood, more vitality, to give up the potential of creating another life to go out into the world and make wonders. Since I paid the fee up front, I am hopeful that now I will have the energy to produce smaller, less important works that can somehow, someday sustain me.

I have all fall, which just started a week after my surgery, and early spring in which to plant my peach saplings. I want to fulfill my end of the bargain of giving up my physical fertility in favor of the fertility of my mind. We're still having 80 degree days, and haven't experienced our first frost yet. So, I will be soothed somewhat by acknowledging there is an honest delay, but I haven't forgotten my commitment. Patience is my practice. Cheers to an extended Indian Summer!