Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Truth of the Matter

There’s so much we don’t talk about, invisible audience. The list of people I know that post happy things on Facebook while suffering from anxiety attacks, depression and huge emotional upheavals is endless. The number of people I know who bought houses and feel weighed down by the responsibility instead of lifted up by it – and are unaware that anyone else ever feels this way – is long. The people who contacted me, both privately and publicly after my post on depression, telling me that I had said something they couldn’t say out loud, was almost staggering. And yet here we all are – me included – doing our best to pretend nothing is wrong.
There are many, many things going right for me these days. I’ve been looking back through old journals, and realizing how much better my life has become in the past few months. I have realized how tired I was, how defeated I felt, how bruised and battered I had been. Sometimes, it is only by walking out of this pain that it finally becomes possible to see it for what it really is, and to realize how much of that pain I handled alone, simply because I was sure that no one else could possibly be as insecure, afraid, foolish, or as ignorant as me.
I don’t necessarily feel this way now, but I wanted to share something that I wrote for my book. Every time I read it it makes me cry, because it is so chock full of my own personal truth. I wanted to share it with you, invisible audience, because so many of you have reached out to me – making yourselves visible – to tell me that you, too, feel the way I do; that I am not alone, and that sometimes what I share makes you feel less alone, too. 

“There’s a point that no one really talks about in the life of someone who leaps for a dream. Well, it’s talked about, but from the other side of it, when it is over: the period of time when you are alone with your thoughts, with your project sitting in front of you. It is the time that it feels like no one believes in you except you, and that’s only sometimes. It’s the time that you’re sitting in front of your laptop, typing out one word at a time, without knowing for certain whether those words will ever be seen by a single other person, and, if they are, if those words will mean anything to them.
It is the period of time that you have carved out of what could otherwise be a stable life to sit alone and create. This is the scariest point.
You are taking a chance on yourself. You are convincing others – at least half-heartedly; at least through your actions – that you believe you have a project worth making time for; you are investing in yourself with the idea that it will lead somewhere. You are battling with the voice in your head that wonders if this endeavor will lead anywhere, and you are leaning hard against the door that stands between you and the worst critics that keep marching into your thoughts to tell you how crazy you are.
When you get to the other side of this period, everyone congratulates you on a job well done. They tell your story for you: how Stephen King’s family was almost destitute before Carrie got him a huge advance; how the bloodied boxer in the Hollywood movie got to hug his girl and say, “See? I told you I would win.”
On the other side of this period, and from the outside, it seems like this period is romantic and sweet; from inside the moment, it can feel like the burning fires of hell.”

Writing a book is hard, invisible audience. Perhaps it’s not the same for you, but when I go into a book store now, I look at the endless titles, at the paperbacks and hardcovers, and I imagine them: the authors, hunched over their laptops, facing down their fears, typing one letter at a time; creating something out of thin air and making it into a mass of pages that somehow form a long cohesive thought that someone else can pick up and enjoy.
This can apply to anything: musicians, athletes; anyone who makes a decision based not on what is safe, but on what speaks to their soul. It is terrifying, and exhilarating, and it is not talked about enough.
My fear is not what makes me different. My fear makes me human. Perhaps it is natural to feel alone in my fears, but the quickest way to diminish them is to admit that they’re there. By doing this, I take away the power that fear has had over me. Sometimes, all it takes is someone else saying, “I feel the same way.” Sometimes, all it takes is assurance that I am not alone. 

Love and not alone kisses,

Saturday, February 16, 2013

I Am Here. Here I Am.

Although when I first bought my ticket I didn’t have a specific place in mind, by the time I landed in Panama City I had figured it out. The destination was a property on Isla Pastor, an island made up of solely private property in the Bocas del Toro archipelago on the Caribbean Sea. Maya Point is owned by a man from Portland, OR who is currently sailing around the world on his boat. He advertised to have someone come live in his house, built of native hardwood and perched on a ridge at the northwest end of the island, above a coral reef. In exchange for keeping the termites from taking over the house and maintaining a presence, the lucky candidate would be able to enjoy the solar-powered two-bedroom house, with a rainwater water system. The rest of the property is cocoa plantation, jungle and a smattering of other fruit trees: star fruit, mango, grapefruit, lime and banana.

The website about the property said that there would be an opportunity to pick the cocoa and sell it wholesale, either at the local co-op or somewhere else, presumably for more money if one could find a buyer. It turns out that is easier said than done. Omar, the man who works the property, has been doing his best to maintain the 13 acres by himself, but his hours are not sufficient for him to pick the cocoa and it has been rotting on the trees. What is left is riddled with insect stings and fungus.

Before I arrived, I had aspirations of being a fledgling cocoa farmer. In fact, the property’s owner told me that my experience growing up with fruit trees (cocoa grows on a tree, like an apple) was part of the reason he thought I was a good candidate. Although I knew it was likely it would be harder than it looked, the blow of looking at dilapidated cocoa trees, their pods shrunken and rotting or furry with mold, hit me a little deeper than I expected. Also with that came the knowledge that any seeds planted in the nicely laid out garden would most likely be eaten by leaf cutter ants before they had a chance to grow.

And yet, I sit on the deck, overlooking the Caribbean Sea and surrounded by lush green islands in blue water. Apart from early morning and early evening, when the no-see-ums appear and make it impossible to be outside, there is a breeze that blows across the deck, and I have already sat for hours, writing page after page of my book without realizing that time has passed at all. It seems to be a blessing in disguise: although I will do my best, I have been reminded yet again of why I am really here. It was not cocoa that brought me to Panama, it was needing the space to write a book.

Although I told the owner I wanted time to consider staying, the truth is I am already falling in love. Any time I begin to panic, tire or need a moment to gather my thoughts, I walk down to the dock, set the ladder in the water and push off onto the reef. The water is shallow, so I float a mere 1 to 2 feet above the coral, the fish darting away under me, the sunlight creating waves of light as it reflects off the water’s surface. With each day that I spend here, I am more relaxed, more thankful, and more able to hear myself think.

There is no one here besides me, Sapa the dog, Doc, the 70-year-old man who lives at the end of the dock above the cabana, and Omar, who works in the mornings five days a week. Most of my time I spend alone.

Alone: that is an answer to your unspoken question, invisible audience, and also the answer to the question that many, many people have asked aloud, both before I left and on my journey here.

I am alone, and yet my thoughts, emotions and writing fill every empty crevice and space around me. Contrary to what many think, I am not here to escape, I am here to discover.

I recently had an essay published about a meal I made for my ex-boyfriend and his household when some of their friends were killed in an avalanche last February. I gave my ex a heads up when I confirmed it was going to be published; he was excited for me, and all he asked for was to get the recipe in advance. When the article came out, I got a message from a friend with a link to the post. It said, “So you wrote about your ex, it got published and now you are hiding in Panama? This is great writing Morgan Fraser.” 

Well, invisible audience, that’s the end of it. I should have done it long ago, but here is the official throwing in the towel. I give up. I give up trying to make my choices understood, especially by people who have known me for years.

They are all here with me: my problems, my insecurities, my fears. They stand beside me while I eat, swim and sleep. They are with me when I read articles I don’t agree with, and only back away when I discover something that assures me that my actions are not crazy, that following my heart could actually be the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I am not here to outrun my problems, and it was never my intent to do so. Instead, I have found a quiet island where I can call them to me, one by one. I can size them up, examine them, and figure out whether or not they have any legs to stand on. If they don’t, then I can dismiss them once and for all. If they do, well then, they stick around until I figure out what to do with them. I study them to see how they have shaped my past decisions and whether they should have any impact on my future plans. If it makes sense, I fold them into the book I am writing, the one I have yearned to write for years, the one that I came down here to bring to fruition.

Yes, by leaving the country I left certain people. I am now able to physically stand apart from those who made me doubt myself, those who didn’t even realize that they had their own agendas for me, and those that, like my friend, think I am escaping. By stepping away, I have put distance between them and me. By arriving here, I have created a space bubble that I can invite others into instead: people who support my decisions, who value my need for space, and who understand that often the problems most worth looking into are the ones that will take all your energy to explore.

I am here to write a book. I am also here to remember who I am, all of me: the angry, emotional, loving, kind, sensitive human being that has managed to walk this planet for 31 years without dying of hunger or thirst because of my choices. I have always made it; I have always believed I could. It is not for anyone else to question my sanity, but it is also my responsibility to not let their questioning become my own questioning, either.

I am closing the door now. If that is escaping, then consider me gone.

Love and discovered kisses

Friday, February 8, 2013

Starting Over Again, For the First Time

The relief I felt leaving the country was palpable, except for the last moments before the plane left Miami, when I scrambled to reconfigure my cell phone contract so I wouldn’t be paying for a service I wouldn’t be using.

There are a lot of small pieces that go into moving abroad for any length of time: setting up bills, notifying banks of the exotic places you’ll be spending money in; telling your friends you’ll be gone. All of these things are part of my repertoire; I have done them enough, packed my bag enough, left and come back enough that it is no longer a surprise to my family and friends.

This time, however, it was a surprise to me. I thought a lot about leaving before I left, and although I’ve done this before, this time it feels different; more final; like more is at stake.

It could be because I am older now; because I have an idea of something I want to accomplish abroad this time; because I have said out loud, “If I like it there, I’m not sure I’ll come back.” It seems different, and yet I am unsure, in retrospect, if it has always seemed different when I start my cycle over from the beginning. Perhaps it seems different this time, because I’m here, now, and I’ve forgotten what it was like then.

Nevertheless, here I am. I want to write a book. I have wanted to write a book before. I have realized that I need more time and space than I get when I’m at home and fully employed to do so. I have had this realization before. I have decided to step off a cliff into nothing, and have faith that it will work out the way it’s supposed to.

I’ve stepped off similar cliffs before, and it has worked out better than I could have imagined.

Four years ago, I quit a sales job in Bellevue with a dream to try to make a living as a writer. At that point, I had enough saved up to write, research and try to get published, as long as I could do it within a year. I remember my dad saying something to me about maybe needing to make it more like five years, and the idea of spending that long struck fear deep into my heart.

I did not get published within a year, but in four years, I have self-published two recipe books, and started my own publishing company to do so. I have gained confidence, skills and knowledge in writing, marketing, sales and publishing. I have also learned the hard way that writing is a tough business, that retail sales are dependent on many factors outside of my control, and that if you try to make everyone else happy, you will end up poor and wondering why all your time is being poured into something that is not giving back. 

Despite all the hard lessons, however, I have learned one really important one: that all goals are accomplished by setting one foot in front of the other, and that I will never know if I’m going to make it if I don’t believe in myself enough to try.

So here I am. I am starting over again, but from a rung higher up the ladder. At the very least, I know what I’m getting into this time. I know how tough it is to sit down and write a book, and yet it is still what I want: not a cookbook, but something substantial, something that readers can sink their teeth into; that I would not be ashamed to laugh or cry out loud about reading in an airplane, simply because I could not put it down.

The cookbooks were an important step in the right direction, and yet there is something deeper that has been begging to be let loose for a long time. I read something recently about the 1946 book Man’s Search for Meaning, about how people who believe they have a purpose in life are willing to put up with a lot more than those that are simply pursuing happiness. I had never really thought about it in those terms, but I have realized that somewhere in my writing is my purpose. There is something in my writing that makes my life worthwhile; it is the gift I get to enjoy every day, and the one I can give to others. I have endured much on behalf of my writing, and I would say that, regardless of what becomes of what I write, there is nothing else I would rather do every day than craft my thoughts into words.

Recently, someone asked me if I had thought about going back to school. I told him that I had thought about it a lot, but that it would ultimately be putting off what was inevitable: the need to spend my time doing what I feel compelled to do. A business degree will not help that, nor will a job working for someone else to make ends meet. He said, “Well, it seems like you need to get this book out of your system, first.” Perhaps, but what seems more likely is that there is a mountain of writing within me; that once I find an audience, a stage and a paycheck that can attach to what I have to say, there will be no limit to how much I have to give.   

Love and writing kisses,