Wednesday Wisdom: Success

When I began writing my memoir, the question most often asked was if it would be published.

In the beginning, I was adamant. Yes! Why else would I write? It was like asking if I intended to eat the plate of food in front of me at the dinner table. I was ravenous for indulgence.

Another year went by. I wrote as consistently as I ate. Writing was part of the day, something to sustain me. It gave me a voice and a safe place to reveal my fears and I grew less afraid of what I might discover about myself. Some days brought feasts of time and some days, a snack, but overall, a reliable practice built trust between my voice and my story. I honored the time I had carved out of the day for myself and my intentions softened. I was no longer anxious about life’s uncertainties or the book’s completion. Writing is like coq-au-vin. It needs time to absorb the flavors.

In the past five years, writing has opened my world. I have shared my story with others, who in turn have shared their own hard stories with me. Vulnerability is less threatening when you trust yourself. With writing, I have grown in authenticity, courage, and compassion, and in return, my tribe has grown enormously on social media and in real life. I am grateful for the tenderness that surpasses familiarity, and witnessing strangers in support of strangers is one of the most amazing aspects I have found through memoir writing.

Today, I was honored to be interviewed by Karletta Marie, in Australia, about the importance of sharing our most vulnerable stories. We spoke for an hour and a half. Our conversation was ignited with passion for the experience of renewal that memoir writing provides. Her mission to interview authors and professional writers about their growth stories is an act of compassion. She has witnessed the fear that holds people back and her work provides inspiration with narratives of courage.

But will my book be published?

Yes, although I don’t know when. At this point, it doesn’t matter. My measure of success is no longer a book deal, a monetary figure, or even a hard copy of my work. My goals to connect with others in honest and gritty exposure of fears and truth without guilt or shame was something I hadn’t considered at the onset of my writing journey. My prerogatives have changed. The book will be done some day, but I am successful today.

Seeley Lake, Montana

Wednesday Wisdom: Creativity

I’ve created good writing the past two days, shirking off exercise and other balancing activities that make me a mostly well-rounded individual.

Creativity requires stepping away from the world to dive deep into the needs of the project. Much like a newborn baby, art demands its needs without a language.

It isn’t until you’ve spent hours and hours agonizing over the possibilities that you begin to understand a project’s needs. Sometimes, the writing wants a detail, the color red to call attention to this spot here, or action, an explosive shift in the plot’s direction there.

I know the struggle and joy of being pulled toward my writing. When we burrow into art, we burrow into servitude. The ebb and flow of creative work requires strong communion with our state of being, opening ourselves to a place of potential and possibility, trusting that we’ve created a sacred harbor for self-expression, no matter how limited in time and space, within our immediate world.

Building the sacred harbor takes courage. You might have to push people away, people who bring toxic and negative energies that deplete you. On the other hand, that space will soon be filled with support and respect for the art that only you can make. Giving ourselves permission to feed creative impulses becomes not just a want, but a need, to engage in communion with our emotional and spiritual landscapes. Often, we are afraid to admit these needs, or, we don’t know how, because we haven’t learned the language.

The art will speak for you. I was forty-two when I began to write. When I allowed my voice to fall onto the page, my world transformed from fear to courage, hate to love, shame to pride. It’s never too late to reinvent a lifestyle based on art or to adopt a new way of living in service of your needs. It only takes courage to try.

Wednesday Wisdom: Identity

Often, our childhood conditioned us with negative messages sent from well-intentioned parents, relatives, teachers, siblings, friends, and acquaintances. Immersed in the world with small bodies and minds, we absorbed the unseen coda via behaviors and patterns that garnered repetitive responses.

“Be quiet” was a common command that came from adults in nearly every arena. Sometimes, it was delivered as a reminder, but most often, as an order.

As an adult, I’m aware how the delivery of our words provides the meaning. I can’t remember the last time somebody verbally told me to be quiet, but usually I’m present enough to follow social cues. Being present is awareness of the setting, tone, and expectations in a given situation. Failure to respond at an appropriate level results in social deviance, or the lack of conforming to social norms.

This lack of conformity implies that the person is seeking attention. A child. I know now that we are all children in the process of growing up for a lifetime. Our unmet emotional needs portrayed by our social skills evolve and change to the breadth of our experiences. Remaining sheltered and holding onto an identity does nothing for maturity.

When I began writing memoir, I had to release myself from the inner child who felt afraid. My childhood years sent me the message of incessant threat, a factor delivered by many people, adults and children alike, who failed to see their own behaviors as hurtful, and myself, who practiced self-destructive behavior as a response to depression. Moving beyond my child-self was an excruciating process, done with therapy and intensive self-care, until my parent-self earned the trust of the inner child.

Often, we are afraid of the world when it is ourselves that we fear. In order to trust ourselves, we must display the emotional and physical attention we would offer our own children. The first rule in medical practice is Do No Harm. Self-talk and toxic energies are often the most destructive barriers to our wellness. Meditation and limiting my exposure to toxic people have improved the quality of my life, and writing has offered me a safe place to voice my experience.

Many avenues exist for finding inner harmony. Former identities don’t have to define us for a lifetime, and we are free to pursue the person we want to be. Respect comes naturally to those with authentic personalities and who have braved the waters of self-reflection with honesty. Change is hard, but it is our adult responsibility to carve away the set-in-stone ideas that hold us, and our children, from achieving our greatest potential. We are more powerful than we know.

Wednesday Wisdom: Notre Dame de Paris

I watched with great sadness the videos of Notre Dame burning on Monday, and a part of me crumbled inside when the spire fell.

My first time visiting the cathedral, the sidewalks in Paris were icy and a stiff wind blew off the Seine, freezing my ears in the cold. I was twenty-two years old, in Paris for a month as part of a study abroad program in college. As a French major, I hoped to erase my Americanism and hadn’t brought clothes warm enough for the unusually cold weather: no knit cap, no winter coat.

I reinvented myself in France, peeling away the identifying elements of American tourists: white sneakers (not that I even had any), too much friendliness, loud talking, no French ability. I would not be the Ugly American.

Much of my adult identity catapulted from ten days of solo travel around France before the study program began. Forced to navigate the language, the culture, and the destinations by myself, I was obligated to interact and engage with strangers. I travelled with people I met in youth hostels. I ate meals alone. There was not much money to rely on, and I didn’t yet have a credit card. I budgeted my experiences with the precision of a surgeon, and grew stronger in the process.

I attended Mass at Notre Dame de Paris despite the fact that I was not Catholic. I didn’t understand the rituals. I didn’t understand the Priest, only the words, Notre père, qui est au ciel. Our father, who art in heaven.

I slipped on ice on my way there. A large dark spot on my tights showed where I had fallen. Stupid girl. Isn’t youth most prevalent when we try to be grown up? I fell a lot in college. Up the stairs. In front of crowds. On ice. In Paris.

Twenty-five years later, the falling spire, burning.

Crowds. Paris. Pain.

Loss is everywhere we turn. We lose identity. We lose grace. We lose family, friends, money, health, faith, trust.

Passion is the invisible repair. Passion to love despite the injury. Passion that dares difference. Passion to invite strangers into our world and commune with shared dignity. Passion to rebuild everything that has been lost and broken, and passion to witness an ending with belief in hope.

Wednesday Wisdom: Writing

This past weekend, I attended AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) in Portland. With 12,000 participants, it was its own city of writers, editors, and agents communed within the walls of the Oregon Convention Center. Long lines for coffee and food trailed into the passageways. People sat on the floor for the one-hour-and-fifteen-minute panels that dealt with every aspect of writing from censorship to the struggle of finding the story and the dreaded heartbeat of every writer: searching for the right word. One message repeated itself over and over. Writing is hard.

Although, technically it isn’t. The act of writing is simple. You put your hand to the keyboard or pen and release words across the page. Why is it so difficult, then? The constraints writers face make writing hard. Every time a writer puts her opinions and creativity into the world, she faces her fears of rejection, judgment, and shame. She tosses aside the current flow of pedestrian life and dares to counter the socialized manner of thinking. She is an outcast.

Why bother? Because it is a must. At an early age, something told her she would be a writer. She read a book that changed her life. Or she lived through something horrible that she wants to prevent from happening again and again and again to innocent girls. A writer seeks amelioration.

The page offers a voice. Humanity is brutal in its censorship of the world beyond the privileged status of white men. It squelches many voices, especially the wounded. It silences a girl from announcing her identity, her sexuality, her worth, by not only dismissing her opinions, but her cries to the abuser to just stop. Now.

We convened under one roof, these girls and women, boys and men, and everyone in-between who have experienced the trivializing and traumatizing impact of shame. We united in one force of commonality: the quest for resurrection.

Writing is hard because we fail to believe we deserve the right to own our ideas. It is hard because we believe our efforts are futile, that we have nothing of value to offer, that we are so small nobody will hear us anyway. This is what we’ve been told, and the story we have once told ourselves.

En masse, we were not small. 12,000 writers dared to believe in the power of story. We communed with an internal drive to create a narrative, sometimes fiction, sometimes true, of human conflict, rife with struggle and compassion, torture and resurgence, grief, and a hard-won lesson of perseverance.

Stories fight the internal whisper of worthlessness and shame. Well-known authors took to the stage to uplift and encourage, to reaffirm that the struggle of voice is real. The unspoken message echoed through the walls and beneath the footsteps that raced from room to room, validating the power of every pen in the building. Keep going, it said. We were there. We are here.

With you.

You have permission to voice your struggles and to author your own life. The story you were told is not the story you need to believe. It begins with a word, not on the page, but in the core of your heart. Love. Honor. Cherish. Choose one word. You are not alone.

Ritzville, Washington on the drive home from AWP.