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Clearing the path

I know a lot of people who’ve had to make some very serious, heavy decisions in the past few weeks. Some have had to leave business partners, back out of deals that were seemingly a dream come true, or leave relationships. It seems that though the year of the horse is in full swing, some people are still shedding their skins, as though year of the snake continues on indefinitely. I, too, have been shedding, though it feels like it’s been many small things as opposed to one huge thing. Well, that’s not true. I tried to shed my dream of fiction writing last week, but it didn’t take.

I got a rejection. Another one. On a story on which I’d worked fairly hard. What’s worse, the rejection came from an outlet that I adore and I was mortified. How could I have sent them something so obviously not for them? For the record, that’s all the rejection said. Not for us. How could I have let them in on the secret that I suck at this? (Writers well know this downward slide. I’d call it a spiral, except a spiral seems to take more time than this one did. This was an instantaneous and gigantic thud on the playground. Like when my daughter swings on the bar above the slide to get a little extra momentum and then leans back into the slide to make herself more aerodynamic. Only I think she has fun doing it.) 

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Yeah, it felt like being kicked in the face by Santa

I don’t usually write about the fear and loathing that come with writing or the process because, as we say in the law, it would be cumulative. There are posts on the topic that will make you laugh, make you nod your head in agreement, and make you want to send some therapy referrals. It’s been done. So I won’t go into it further except to note that it happened and now I’m glad it did.

After the thud, I decided to stop writing fiction. It’s not the first time, though this time it wasn’t driven by the “I suck at this” that got me to the top of the slide in the first place. For the past five-plus years, I’ve been searching for my purpose. In fact, those who know me well are probably bored with this topic. “What does it matter?” some say. “Just follow your bliss. That’s your purpose.” “Isn’t our purpose enlightenment? Does it matter what you do if it’s all just an illusion anyway?” And my favorite, this one from a spiritual teacher, “Who are you to ask what your purpose is anyway?” Right. There are so many different theories on purpose finding, various techniques to use, and classes that could suck your life saving’s faster than my kids can get juice through a straw. It all left me dizzy and nauseated. 

So I sat down with my mortifying rejection and I gave it up to the divine. I said, “I don’t want to waste time on this if it isn’t what’s in the highest good. I’m done striving.”

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Only replace “heart” with “ego” and you’d have my efforts well summed up

 

To back up a bit, I joined the Twitter writing community a year or two ago. It was wonderful at first. I found my people! They get me! Only, after a while, it became an effort to keep up with all of the discussions about what I’ve submitted and to whom, where I’m at on the novel I won’t quit rewriting, and, more importantly, showing up so I could interact with people be it about writing or kittens or Dr. Who. I was striving. Big time. It was like trying to be popular in high school all over again, only now I’m on the cusp of 40 and that shit wears me out. I’m not interested. So, I dropped out. Sort of. 

I kept checking in from time to time. Reading journals I loved, reading the works of authors I respect and admire. I have a whole lot of love for my writer friends on Twitter, don’t get me wrong, and I learn so much from reading their work. But at some point, it’s like being in a crowded bar where everyone is yelling and it’s just so much sensory input. Not surprisingly, because I failed to center myself, I lost my voice, a case of proverbial laryngitis. When I visited Twitter and then went to write, I sounded like someone else when the words went on the page. No wonder I keep rewriting. It’s never me, never authentic, and that’s what I’m always looking for when I write.

It makes me think of how when I put my daughter down for the night (why do these phrases about putting kids to bed always sound like euthanizing a pet?), I sing her the same medley of songs that I started singing to her when she was only a few months old. She’s two now and so she sings with me. It’s adorable. But often I end up being wildly out of key (as opposed to only mildly) and way off-tempo. It’s because I’m listening to how freaking adorable she is when she is singing along with me and I’m not listening to my own voice. This is what Twitter and writing have been like for the past six months or more. Reading other works is ESSENTIAL. But you need the quiet space to clear out all the noise and hear yourself afterward. If that space is instead filled with the voices of a thousand other people shouting at you in 140 characters or less, well, your own voice is going to get trampled by the herd. And so she did.

Circling back to the thud and the handing this problem over to a force bigger and more powerful than myself, I went to bed relieved, if not mourning my decision to pack it in. The fact is, I’m going to turn 40 in a few months and I don’t want to waste any more time doing things that are forced and likely just another person’s idea that I adopted as my own. My mom wanted to write when I was a kid. Is it possible this dream isn’t mine and is just someone else’s? If it is, I don’t want it, as hard as it may be for my ego to accept.

The next day was hectic, filled with home improvement projects, sick kids, and the need to rescue two baby hummingbirds (a story for another day). I didn’t give my decision much thought because I didn’t have the time for it. On the way home from driving the birds to the rescue location, I was listening to Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ LATE BLOOMER and, whabam, my purpose slapped me in the face. It had been there all along. Everyone who said it wasn’t a profession was right. My purpose isn’t to be a writer, though it is still an integral part of who I am and how I operate in the world. It is a muscle that helps the body do its work, on caliber with the heart.

Writing is the way I share my gifts. It is the primary outlet for what I have to give, which is why I am surly and brooding when I haven’t written for a few days in a row. As Natalie Goldberg said in a discussion with Julia Cameron, when I write, it is a generous act, because it allows me to be present with those around me. Otherwise, I am writing in my head. Things are backing up. All that light I have is trapped and circling back in on itself, morphing to darkness. And as Julia Cameron said, it is a spiritual practice. Writing is the way I connect, with myself, with the bigger truths of life, with everyone else sharing this human journey. It only works, though, if I’m able to make enough space to listen to myself.

My story, the rejected one, should have been rejected. When I first wrote it, there was a deep truth there, something I was teasing out. Then I saw that a journal was having a theme issue and so I tried to package the story in the theme. Along the way, it became about the theme and not the truth. That gem that I was polishing got traded for a nice, big hunk of pyrite. And who wants pyrite? Aside from my son, anyway.

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oooh, so pretty and shiny and not worth a dime

I’ve gotten plenty of other confirmation from the universe that fiction is part of this path, at least for now. And I am grateful for that because it really is my bliss. I always wanted to be a medium and this is the closest to it I get for now.

I read last night that the spring equinox is supposed to be one of the biggest times of release for the year. I do a full moon release of what’s troubling me or no longer serving me as often as I can, but this recent revelation feels like it needs something bigger. The timing couldn’t be better since the equinox is on Friday, just a few short days away. 

I know it sounds hokey and new agey, but I believe in these clearing rituals. In the fall of 2007, I became pregnant. It was a complete surprise, but one I was grateful for because I realized then that I very much did want to have children. I was bereft when I miscarried. I couldn’t shake the grief for months. It clouded everything. Seeing a baby would make me break down because I felt so acutely that my body had denied me that after teasing me with the possibility. This was a spiral, a long, winding, interminable spiral. My husband and I went to Hawaii that December, which in normal circumstances would have recharged me in an instant. I lived there for a bit as a kid and it is my heart home. Even that didn’t work and I was grateful it rained almost every day we were there because I didn’t have to try to rise to the occasion. Instead, I sat on the sofa and watched a whole lot of Top Chef Hawaii (set at the same resort where we were staying). Not one of my prouder moments.

Finally, on New Year’s Eve, exhausted by the burden I was carrying and the emptiness of what I wasn’t, I gathered up everything related to the pregnancy: the ultrasounds, the medical records, the genetic testing results showing the defects were incompatible with life, and also telling me it was a boy. That last piece of information caused me more grief than any of the rest of it because that made him real, a ghost child I would never get to hold. I took all of the paper and the emotional hole they signified and I threw it in the fireplace. It felt so good, so cathartic.

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No amount of meditating and yoga and prayer did for me what that little bonfire did. I suspect because I did it with the intent of freeing myself from the whole thing, including the desire to become pregnant again. I burned it all. Eight days later, I did get pregnant again. And now my son is five and a half.

Friday night, you’ll be able to find me out back at my fire pit, watching the story I wrote for someone else go up in flames. The ritual will clear the field of the other voices, the expectations I placed on getting it published and where that would be, and send the conflicted emotions swirling around the story in an upward spiral of smoke. I prefer to think of it as what once went down must arise. Once the path is cleared, I’ll walk it a whole lot more quietly this time, listening only for the sounds of what I know to be true.

 

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13 comments on “Clearing the path

  1. I love this! So well said and I hate to say it, I agree with the issue of twitter. Love it as I may, Twitter is a double edged sword. I am so happy to hear that you will continue writing and that you are seeking out your own voice in the process. I will be here cheering you on any time you need it!

    • Thank you, Jess! The thing about Twitter is that there is nothing wrong with it per se, it’s just how I’m using it. I use it to spend time avoiding that quiet time I need to hear myself because sometimes there are things I really don’t want to hear. And I use it as a measuring stick, which is fatal to creativity and just a bad idea generally. If someone else can write a book in a month, great. But I’ve got other things going on and I often need things to percolate a bit to get to the deeper layers. So, I’m not swearing off Twitter. I’m just committing to more quiet, me time (which means less Twitter because there’s only so much time in a day). xo

  2. I’d have talked you back into writing anywayz, so getting out of it wouldn’t have worked. I have zero advice on getting not-rejected BUT I have some AWESOME advice on what to do about rejection and the landing on your back and having the wind knocked out of you afterward. I’m going to give it to you because 1) you know how much I love to write blog posts in the comments sections of other people’s blogs and ; 2) it’s actually pretty fun advice. One was given to me, one I learned.
    Here we go.
    Regarding Rejection:
    I am pretty sure this is Janet Stevens’ story. She’s an illustrator and sometimes-writer who lives in Colorado. She’s exceptionally funny and delightful and I admire her a ton. When she started out in this business, she got rejected and it was disheartening. She made herself a deal, though: She would take every rejection letter (you might have to print them out, nowadays) and paste it to her wall. Once she’d wallpapered an entire room with rejection letters, then she would know she was in the wrong business.
    She didn’t even make it a full wall.
    Takeaway: Make it into a game or a competition or set boundaries with rejection. It makes it all less personal and gives you something to laugh about.

    Regarding Throwing In the Towel Because You Just Realized You Are Actually the Worst Faker In the World:
    So here is my biggest obstacle – one I think we’ve discussed, actually: I am afraid to put my work out there because I don’t want to be a bad writer. I read a lot of bad writing (and I am not talking about the “Not my cup of tea” stuff, I mean truly terrible writing) and it all got published, some of it even through publishing houses with editors. It’s out there, it has a following, people read it…but it’s still crap. I don’t want to make crap. I want to make stories that stick in people’s dreams, that trigger at unexpected moments, reminding them of whatever it was that happened in the story. I don’t need everyone to like it, I don’t want to be rich…and I don’t want to be fake, either. And so I fear putting my bad work out there and becoming known for being a crappy writer who makes a quick buck off regurgitating crap that came from some emo teen’s poorly-written diary.
    Now…what does that make you want to say to me? Ok, I mean aside from, “Oh good grief, you are so weird and full of yourself” which would be true and, yes, some people say, “Yeah, that’s a valid fear and your writing isn’t too strong so probably, you are making a good decision to not follow through with this” but most other people who either like my storytelling style or who are also playing some version of this game tell me why my thinking is wrong, why I’m going about it all the wrong way and they remind me that it doesn’t matter if my early stuff is crap. It’s all an exercise and while there are those who put out a first piece that knocks the socks off the world (but then they then have to deal with the pressure of doing it again), the rest of us get to build up to a fan base, to let our readers grow while we grow and to become the type of storytellers we wanted to be in the first place and then we can really tell the stories we have had in us all this time.
    Of course, I never believe any of it because I am just not that strong of a writer and I will put out really terrible stuff and it will make me sad.
    But then…if you were to tell me the same thing I just told you, I would argue with you, I would tell you why you are wrong and that you need to keep working at it and I would give you all the reasons, the main one, in the case of this being that lecture to you, is that you weave words in such a way that I am able to see the intricacies and depths of the things you are writing and I would be so sad if the rest of the world didn’t get that opportunity. You’ll find your readers and they will find you and your stories will touch and change lives just like the best stories you’ve read and heard have touched and changed yours.
    Now here’s the advice: You have to start lecturing yourself like you would your friends who have these moments. It is really hard to do because the “No, I’m not good enough” voice is always much louder than the compassionate, sensible voice but you would fight through the arguments to get a friend to listen to you…why can’t you do the same for yourself? Just pretend all your arguments are coming from someone else and then fight back.
    I’m just now learning how to do that, myself. It came because Gabe always has dumb counterarguments to my misgivings and I have to bolster his arguments with my own and soon I am arguing against myself for what I can and cannot do. Because I have psychosis, apparently.

    Also…I am so happy you’re 40 because now I don’t feel like I have soooo much in common with someone 10 years my junior. I mean, I’ve got a lot of friends who are 10 years my junior and I love them and we have a lot in common and it makes me wonder if I am regressing or if I just find really self-aware youngsters who happened to tune into the same TV shows and movies I did? But now that you’re only a year younger than I am, I feel like I have a peer, an age-appropriate one, at that. And I still kind of don’t believe it because my brain sees your picture and says, “She’s going to be 32, tops”

    Man…I just keep going here. Shelling out advice that is really just a manifestation of my own gigantic ego and braggartly ways, then telling you I’m glad you’re an old lady like I am and now I’m going to say I can’t WAIT to hear about the baby hummingbirds! Gah! I have never even seen a real live baby hummingbird! That is soooo cooooool!

    Oh, by the way, I comment as I read so that it’s like we’re having a conversation only you don’t know it until you read my disjointed commentary. But anyway, this is where I always learn the lesson to read all the way through, first, like they teach you in elementary school because now here I am at the part where you have had a giant realization (and I am sorry to hear about your miscarriage…more sorry than I would usually be because my friend just went through the same thing so it’s on my mind…but also – wow, you are very open and brave? loving? trusting of your readers? I dunno, but something…to type that all out and share with others. I am impressed and would probably have leaned over and bitten your upper arm had you told me in person because I have this thing where I suck at showing the proper emotions and overwhelmingly positive emotions come out in the form of biting. It is why I want to bite cute kids and baby animals. Wow. DERAILING!) So anyway, um…yes. Now I realize I should have read all the way through before commenting because NOW I see I not only missed the point of the post but also gave you advice you don’t actually need. Will I go back and delete it all and say one or two supportive and appropriate things? No, I will not because then I would have to think of appropriate and supportive things to say and that could take all night whereas this typed mess of words was a whole lot easier.

    And now to be serious: You’re going the right direction. Keep going. Keep breathing. I’m behind you. I can chase you with a knife if that would help but not for very far because I don’t like running, especially not with sharp objects.

    Alright. I’m done taking over your blog and being weird and stuff. I have to go work on my post for this week. It’s about nose hair. It’s not nearly as deep and meaningful and finding one’s purpose and being at harmony in the universe but it’s what I know.
    Which is really, really sad.

    • As usual, I like to take some time to savor your comments before responding. I like the advice. And I may do the wallpaper thing. Though my husband is a minimalist and I think I already drive him nuts with my clutter and the somewhat insane amount of paper I have floating about. Maybe I’ll use the closet. That place is a disaster anyway.

      As for trusting my readers, I tend not to think about readers when I write here. Maybe that’s why it works. Also, I live my life out in the open, perhaps too much so, so many people know. Hell, my mother-in-law put it in her Christmas newsletter that year, so I don’t think my small readership here is going too public. Maybe I am wrong, though. I don’t know. I just share what comes up and forget that anyone’s reading it. Or, I just write to you because you respond, so I know you’re reading. 🙂

      Thank you for all of the advice, but mostly for the support and encouragement. I feel the same way about not wanting to put bad work out there. Moreover, I want to put work out there that people connect with, that inspires them or touches them. I don’t want to contribute to the dumbing down of our society. I want to light it up.

      And who knows, nose hair could be a beautiful metaphor for something.

      • While wallpaper might work, I’d like to suggest origami… The nice sharp knife edges can be very therapeutic and your fella might not mind a few (dozen?) peace cranes hanging about!

  3. […] of being rigid and fearful.  I didn’t connect it to my writing until I came across this blog post.   The Dharma Diva wrote about writer’s rejection and how she changed a piece to fit a […]

  4. Hi, I just referred to your post over at writeinseattle. Your post inspired me to rethink my approach to parts of my novel. I really enjoyed reading it. Hope you don’t mind:)

  5. Thank you for sharing. Sometimes it’s really hard to remember the bad things happen so we know what a good thing feels like and we then have something to write about. Not to trivialize! Please do not think I think your experiences trivial; it is the huge hurts that cause the huge shifts required on our paths and I honour yours, as best I can from here. And I love your bonfire – a catharsis of spirit by spirit.

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