Monday, February 21, 2011

Waiting for Perfection

A lot of my life has been spent waiting for perfection, and it is high time I re-define it for myself.  Seems to me that the definition of perfection is where I always go off track. Perfection is perfection, right? This is not to say that I haven't actually redefined it before. In my mid-forties that would be totally naive. So, let's say I'm redefining perfection again.

Being an optimist, I've always been inclined to believe that everything is perfect, even if I cannot perceive it. That's rather vague though, and, when disappointment sets in, can make me feel as if I've gone blind or something. I cannot, at times, even discern what I mean when I say I believe everything is perfect because I'm often very disappointed by the world at large when my sense of justice is offended, or I feel impatient. When I find my mind changed about a long held opinion, I wonder if my previous belief in the perfection of my argument is evidence that nothing is perfect. The ground becomes shaky for the concept of perfection, the longer I live. It's one thing to not be able to grasp the perfection of some oddity, and another to really feel "this is not perfect."

More and more I've been feeling "this is not perfect." I have realized that the choices I made so breezily when I was a young woman led me very far away from my inner home. I've described feeling that I was falling off of a fragile perch of fantasy, but it didn't end when I hit the ground finally. I've often felt disoriented by my new life. The give and take of every day life has sometimes felt burdensome. There are even times I have felt that the only thing to do was to go back to sleep and walk through my life in a dream-like trance, the one where I thought I knew what I was doing.

Yet enough moments of clarity have popped through the fog over the past few years that I find myself in a rather good position, though it is imperfect in my heart. How can I reconcile what I feel in my bones perfection must be, and what it really is? Because until I redeem perfection, my notion of it, my very life's rhythm is always on the edge of a cliff, ready to fall into an endless abyss of suffering, and honestly, I dip my toes into that suffering far too often for comfort or progress.

I thought perfection was very simple: my two kids and a loving husband at home with me, creating a lifetime of memories, and a pleasing writing career. Also time to walk the dog, dance the tango, and do my little daily rituals for the love of God. I thought it was having a house with a garden, and a decent  car, and clothes to wear. I thought a vacation every year would do it. I thought extra money to buy gifts for family would do it. Very simple. I am chagrined to report that I don't even have this simplicity a lot of the time. The only consistency in that list is time to walk my dog, and there are days when even that is hard. I vibrate with a sense of injustice about my inability to manifest this simple list all of the time. What I have seems far more complicated and full of unwanted conflicts with the very perfection I desire. I find myself envious when I perceive that other people have what I want, and then hopeless about ever achieving my perfect life.

It occurred to me this weekend that waiting for that list up there to come together is not only painful, it is futile. It simply doesn't and can't match what is - ever. Ever. So, if I hang onto these simple ideas of perfection then I will always be resentful and angry or sad and depressed. It is not my nature to be angry, resentful, sad and depressed for the rest of my life. Why would I purposefully choose that which I cannot have as my ideal of perfection??? Well, isn't that a long and over-told story? Yes, yes, I've read all the Secret books trying to get there from here, and have concluded it is so convoluted and insane to even hold the imaginary dream together that I've decided to stop. Halt. I'm yielding to another idea...

It isn't that I can't have everything on that list up there. I can and I do have some of it, and it won't be hard to have some more of it, if I do one thing: accept what is.  It is what it is. For instance, my kids live with me half the time. Half the time I have my ideal perfection with my kids. So, my task is to accept that the other half the time is perfect, too. Well, the other half of the time I have is time to write and teach during the day and pursue the interesting career I desire. My task is to embrace that time without mourning that it is different from my time with my kids. My husband is loving and supportive and is often out on the road pursuing his career. When we are together we rarely have any conflict that isn't me feeling upset that it doesn't match my perfect idea of what we could have if he were here more. So my most loving act would be to let that go and be with him fully while he is here.

Understanding time seems to be part of the quantum leap I need to make. Linear time has allowed me the opportunity to divide my life into all of these little compartments of full attention. I always said that perfection for me was to be fully awake and aware of the moment, and I can do that because I'm not really being pulled simultaneously in a lot of different directions. Maybe this won't always be, so maybe I should enjoy the perfection of what it is for a while? I really do have a life where I am capable of focusing on a few things. How many times have I experienced this? Maybe I could trust it, and fill the empty places where I've been known to feel sorry that I didn't have what I thought I wanted in that moment? Maybe, just maybe, that empty space could stay empty and WITHOUT the mourning.

It occurs to me that I've had the "setting of intent" and acknowledging and envisioning of desire all wrong. It occurs to me that I may in fact get everything I want, just not the way I've been expecting it...all at once. Maybe life is an unfolding fan, one rib opening at a time, and maybe it isn't until that very last breath that we get to see the whole perfection of the open fan. Maybe waiting for that moment is kind of a silly proposition because it means it is over. So, rather than that whole perfection, I want to enjoy moments of perfection unfolding, one-at-a-time, accepting each one for what it is. I can't look back at the fan bits that are open already, and wish they had been of a different design, because then I wouldn't be able to see what this rib, this one I'm unfolding right now, is and I'm really curious.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Paint the D&*(#$ Corner!

            I have been having an argument with myself about writing for the past few weeks. Maybe you noticed. I’ve been thinking about what I’m willing to sacrifice for the right to write. I have hit my bottom line, I am happy to report. I thought my bottom line was self-imposed poverty, but it turns out that was a bounce point. I went there mentally, emotionally and physically and tried it out, but found that I need to be up a little higher or I simply flat-line. This all has to do with my beliefs about writers that are somewhat messed up: I have cultured and curried the belief in a little jar called “Writer,” that writers need to be reclusive and be willing to sacrifice abundance, if, perhaps, only for a while until their hunger and suffering drive them to write, finally, that insanely commercial story of a lifetime. There was always supposed to be that eventual exit from isolation. I pursued this belief as far as I could pursue it by painting myself into a veritable corner. I walked away from almost everything to try to be this writer, so starving on so many levels that I would finally write. I forced myself to believe that my only ticket out could be writing that perfect story.
            All that rye grass in my field on the right hill, with the somewhat compromised Western light, and drainage problems, has been sitting frozen, un-harvested because it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t a peach orchard, fully developed and producing succulent heirloom peaches grown from peach pits. It was rye grass. Pfft. I forgot what I put it there for so consumed with digging holes in frozen soil was I, and living my frustrated pit-iful dream of writing something important someday. To mix metaphors, I thought that the only way out of this corner I’ve painted myself into was to produce those peaches.
            Something happened last weekend to change my point of view. A concerned friend read my last post about sacrifice, and stepped out on a limb by suggesting that “until grocery stores accept prayers” I might want to accept my own need, and the needs of my family, to make a living even as I’m writing and transitioning out of the corner. Oriah, thank you! It was a meaningful exchange that helped me to receive support from various sources that I’ve been rejecting out of pride for quite some time. Just that little bit of accepted flow last Saturday, turned into a sustainable trickle by week’s end. That trickle has helped me to feel not so pinched, not so trapped into the corner I painted myself.
            Low-and-behold somehow the paint I used to trap myself in this corner has dried, and I cannot actually pretend anymore that I’m not allowed to cross the floor now.  Right now.  Upon the realization that I can’t live in the corner and write the story I dreamt of, everything shifted.
It is funny how things change in a quick moment. The Universe immediately takes notice and begins to shift the whole world around us – just like The Fool who in a moment of ecstasy doesn’t notice he’s about to walk off a cliff and so God moves the mountain to meet his feet – unexpected paths appear right underneath our feet that we missed seeing with our eyes.  I’ve been reminded of lessons I learned so long ago, and tucked in the shed by the future orchard, like rusty old tools. Can you imagine realizing that I don’t have to dig the holes with my hands? You may laugh at the concept of that silliness, but really, that’s what I was trying to do metaphorically. I remembered just last week that I own a shovel, and a plow and even a funky looking screw thing to get the holes started. What’s more, the ground is thawing.
Let me put this is plain language: I reached out to the world last week, and it reached back.  My shed of tools is quite extensive. I have lots of experience to share with some lucky people…if only I’ll let them know that I’ve taken the pad-lock off.  I decided this absolute isolation thing is for the … not the birds …it’s for some other creature. Therefore, I’m volunteering for a full day in a co-working space in the town next door. I’m hoping I’ll meet some like-minded, forward thinkers who have a twinkle in their eye about whatever they’re passionate. I re-did my resume again and started to send it out into the void just to see if the economy really has turned a corner. People started calling me again, as if they knew I’d actually pick up the phone fearlessly. The birds have returned even, red-winged black birds twirling their songs so casually in spite of the chill air, as if they know it will pass soon.
My plan is to return to writing as I always have written before, squeezing it into a full life, because I found out, after a year in the corner, that my misery doesn’t produce the whole truth I look for in my work. Partial truths of anxiety, alienation and sad stories may work for some writers, but not me. In order to plant this orchard, I have to be able to afford the peaches, and yes, it may take even longer, and I’m late already, but the vision isn’t gone, just shifted a little towards my heart. So I’m walking out on my freshly painted floor, and I’m turning around, and painting over that corner so I can live my life.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What is this Sacrifice-Thing?

In case you missed what I was getting at, by sitting in my frozen fallow field, and in case I missed it (which is more than entirely likely) it is this: My writing vocation cannot come without grave sacrifice. Geez. This is not what I want to hear from my unconscious mind. I want my ease and effortless now! I didn't know that this is what "sacrifice" meant. Can I give my calling back now? No? Shoot.

This is what it is like: My daughter wants extra money for a field trip, and I have to say, "No, sorry, honeybee. Mommy is a writer."  My son wants some new food treat at the store as I am frugally buying groceries, and I have to say, "No, sorry, little peach. Mommy is a writer." I would like to buy a new winter coat, and I have to say to myself, "Get real. There is no extra money while you are developing this writing. No, you can't buy a bottle of wine. No, there is no vacation yet. No, don't expect little goose-bump treats and surprises while you are laboring in the field of writing." It is either, "No," or it is giving up on my calling. It is agonizing to understand this fully now, late in the game, and to look at the big picture of my life and to comprehend that nothing will change until I fully accept this bill.

So when someone excitedly announces to the world that they've been "called" to do something, I am not likely to be the one who cheerfully high fives them. I'm the sober one in the corner, thinking, "uh oh." I know it is possible that had I answered this call, made these sacrifices when I was much younger and less obligated to be responsible that it might have felt differently. All I can say, is that I was doing the best I could under the circumstances, and this is the first moment in my life when I felt that, "Now, it is possible to focus on that calling." That may be the way it is happening for you, or maybe your calling is buoyed by a different kind of angel-winged support. At any rate, I do believe that old saying that "nothing good comes without a sacrifice." It is just unpredictable what will be demanded of us.

I know that I am lucky beyond measure to find myself in a supportive relationship. Even my children will back down from their age-appropriate demands when I say, "I'm writing." I have friends who are equally good writers working nearly full-time to support themselves while they write. They may not have children at home, but they have bills to pay. The sacrifice is always there.

There are no guarantees. I may write into this void until my dying days, but it is somehow a requirement of my soul. Freeing myself from the fantasy, that I can serve everyone else’s needs and desires instead of writing, or still writing, is terrible. I have spent the better part of a year second-guessing this lesson that’s been poking around my heart. While I have made easy money before in my life, it was strange and dehumanizing to me. This experience, even sitting in the frozen, fallow field of my dreams is very human feeling, and, for even this truth alone, I am grateful for the sacrifice and my good fortune to follow it to its end. I hope by setting this example that my children will have the grace to follow their dreams early and ruthlessly, but I know that every person has her own journey on the spiral staircase. I hope that my orchard of peaches, my writings, will one day bring pleasure to those who stumble upon them. I feel like these are not fantasies. I hope I’m right.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Lest you think I've gone on vacation

Fallow Fields Redoux - only this time it is different

I have to laugh at myself because I easily, so easily, forget the lessons I have already learned. Does that happen to you? I've often called this tendency of mine "the spiral staircase" and the point of that is that life is a cycle, but it is not a flat cycle, it is an ascending and descending cycle, and we can, by our choices, go either way. Very rarely do we end up exactly at the same point, but rather at a similar point or in a similar situation.

For me January and February seem to be hard, my body seems to resonate with a deep loss. Last year at this time, I had a miscarriage. Four years ago a custody battle with my ex-husband started and I was afraid I would lose my children. Five years ago at this time, my first marriage finally fell apart. Ten years ago, my ex-husband did the unthinkable to me and hit me while I was pregnant with our son and I was afraid my marriage would never get better. Twenty-four years ago, my ex-husband hit me for the first time. Nearly thirty years ago, I was date raped and my naïveté was lost. It goes on and on, and between these big years is a re-visitation of those losses of the past sneaking up on me strangely, or setting me up for the next big loss. Some years seem like a piece of cake in comparison, but I have a reckoning with loss and confronting expectations. It appears this is a life pattern worth recognizing. I must allow this mourning to unfold or life will hand me a big grievance to deal with and I feel this in my body more than my brain. My brain forgets to pay attention, honestly, but this year it is different.

This year is the first year that I've appreciated this pattern. I can see it so clearly today, that I'm actually shocked at its precision. It begs the question: What am I holding onto with expectation that will tear away from me in one way or another? What expectation can I confront consciously, be aware of and release before the big bad Universe comes to collect it? That sounds like fear mongering I realize, but it really isn't that at all.  It is an effort to become cognizant of false hope, to comprehend my own fantasies.

I rush to sit in my fallow fields before I'm forced there by unforeseen circumstances! Yes, the fields are still frozen solid. However, as I sit here, I remember that I'm not going to plant saplings right now. I'm going to grow my writing career from seeds, from peach pits. That is a completely different scenario from trying to grow a writing career from an already mature pattern. Oh yeah. Peach pits. I don't have to dig huge holes on the hill of my orchard. I have to wait for perfect timing, the last frost which may be months away, and spend my time instead shoring up other parts of my finances, for instance. Is it pure, unadulterated fantasy to believe that I can plant peach saplings in the frozen dead of winter? The expectation that I can be dependent on a frozen budget that has no give is a clue.

For the last 23 years, I have been avoiding writing with my whole heart by taking on work to support my wasband, my children, and myself. I easily buy into making a success of other people’s projects. It is harder for me to invest this time in my own success, knowing that everyone I care about has to live with less while I am after it. My dear, sweet husband will not make the decision for me about whether or not to take finding another job seriously, no matter how I beg him to make up my mind. The guilt and shame of my fallow field rises daily as he works overtime to make ends meet while I struggle to write from seeds. I cannot explain in words how excruciating this dependency feels. Yet, he has faith in my writing, he believes that the peach orchard will grow if I just focus there, and sacrifice now the comforts of financial gain. How strange to have someone else have faith in my writing, when I second-guess it everyday. To find my patience is truly my spiritual lesson. We are not starving. We have, in general, necessities cared for, but no extras; no progress can be made today, right now. If, as I sit on the frozen, fallow field, I could locate patience then perhaps the field would thaw.