Friday, August 23, 2013

What AM I Running From?

"Walking and walking across the world he will gradually find consolation, and one day, when he is too fatigued to take another step, he will realize that he cannot escape sorrow, he will have to tame it so it doesn’t harass him.” 

~ Isabel Allende, Island Beneath the Sea

Hello, invisible audience. Long time no talk. It’s been a whirlwind month for me: I was in a show at the beginning of August through the local English-speaking theater, that we then took on tour to a beach town near Panama City, and I took the opportunity to go visit some friends then pick up my dad. He came in time to see my last show, then I spent the next 10 days showing him the best that Panama had to offer in Panama City and near Boquete.

It’s interesting to see your life through another’s eyes, especially when that person is your father on his first trip to see your new home. In some ways I am sure my existence surprised him with its simplicity -- "Geez, you live way the heck up here. Don't you want to live closer to town, or think about getting a car?" -- and in some ways I think he was impressed with the comfort that I live in for spending so little each month.  More than any of that, I like to hope he felt somewhat comforted by knowing that I have carved my own little niche here.

“Do you know where you’ll go next?” he asked one day, over yet another cup of local coffee. “And when?”

“No,” I said. 

No, I don’t know, because I don’t currently have a desire to go anywhere. No, I don’t know, because suddenly the thought of carrying everything with me and traipsing around on a bus through unfamiliar territory sounds more tiring than it’s worth. No, because I like where I am, and I’m not ready to leave.

This could change. Up to this point, it has changed regularly for me. Even if I’ve stayed in a general area, I have not lived in a single house, apartment or other shelter for more than a year since I went to college when I was 18.

I don’t want to leave. One of my co-actors, the lead in the show, pointed out to me that valley Boquete is in is shaped like a cradle: it’s a nest, it is comforting, sheltered, and quiet. She said this on the night before she left; I agreed, and unlike other times in my life when friends have left on a new adventure, I have no desire to pick up and go, too.

“What are you running from, Morgan?”

I’ve heard this a lot in my life, and depending on how tired or angry I was, my answer changed, as did the amount of venom in my retort. As much as I have been angered by this question and would deny its validity, I would find myself asking it, too, in the dark of night, staring at the ceiling of yet another room that I found myself restless in. What was I running from, and have I lost it now, or just managed to find a better hiding place for awhile?

As always, I think my answer could change with my mood, but for now I’m feeling introspective and calm, so my answer is the same: introspective, detached, and calm.

I was running from me. I was running from the part of me that was unable to say no, unable to say that I was tired, that I was overwhelmed, that I felt I didn’t have the strength to be all the things I had always presented myself as. I was running from a life I built that was not sustainable, that did not allow enough time for me, and did not honor what I wanted and needed: a star-studded sky, the ability to hear the wind in the trees, and, in that silence, the ability to hear the small voice in my heart that can be so easily drowned out by any other voice.

Over the last month and a half, I have gone from near hysterics – and one time, actual hysterical tears that were so long and violent that the next morning a local coffee shop owner asked me if I was taking anything for the terrible congestion that made my face look swollen – to a calm serenity. Suddenly, the questions that I have been asking myself forever seem to be unraveling, and one day not too many days ago, I realized that for days I had felt something that I can only call contentment. I say that hesitatingly, because it is not a natural state for me, and that is the only word I have found that comes even close to something I can tie to the feeling.

Yes, I have been happy here, but happiness is a fleeting emotion that cannot withstand the deep questions and soul-searching; it is a state that suspends itself when confronted with deeper questions about who I am and what I want from my life, not to mention how I’ll fund that journey. Contentment, on the other hand, seems to have appeared as a magic carpet that both happiness and sorrow have landed upon and yet keeps them and me afloat: it is not an endorphin-rush high with an inevitable crash, instead it is simply realizing that I have asked for this, all of it: the time to soul-search, the capability to look deep, the words to bring the feelings to light, and the ability to recognize what I am doing is incredibly important to whomever I become in the future. I do not have to suffer for my revelations; I can simply have them, know that my fears and walls have served me in the past, and now I have the time to examine those walls to see how they were built, and dismantle them, one brick at a time. There is contentment in that, even at the times that it is painful; even when what I uncover is not something that I can be happy about in the moment. Instead, I can recognize that unleashing these demons that have been eating at me for years – self-doubt, self-criticism, perfectionism – will ultimately lead to more happiness and contentment in the future, much like  ripping off a band aid to allow the wound to heal in the open air.

I have been going back and typing up my journal, and one of the overarching themes from the past year is exhaustion. I am tired of living a life that doesn’t feel like mine, I am tired of being unable to say no, I am tired of hiding who I am, I am so very tired

In Boquete, I have found a place to rest. I have found a place to stay put awhile and write a book where I unburden myself not only of the last year, but also of the years that preceded it: all the pain I caused myself and others, all the fears I lived by, all the times I put down what I wanted and needed in favor of what I thought I was supposed to do, despite the fact that no one said out loud that I was supposed to do it. It seems that I perhaps have finally run out of steam: that finally, after all my running, escaping, and searching, I have found something worth standing still for. As Isabel Allende so aptly named it in her book, it is the need to tame the sorrow so that it will not harass me; it is the point where I can look at what has dragged me down and finally let it go, to sink to the bottom as I ricochet to the top, no longer held underwater by old burdens, ideas and emotions. It is realizing that I can stay here if I want to, and bask in the gentle swaying comfort of this place forever, and that maybe – just maybe – this place has become an inner sanctuary that can now always be my home wherever I am, instead of a mythical land that I am always striving to reach. 

Love and run-free kisses,

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Writing 101: What's I've learned in 101 Blog Posts

Last week I wrote a blog post without realizing it was the 100th blog post I had written on Confessions of a Travel Addict. Although I mentioned the big 100 when I posted it on Facebook, in no other way did I bring attention to it in the blog itself. I’ve been thinking about it some, however, and as much as I am not where I thought I would be when I first started the blog four years ago, I have nevertheless discovered many things, especially about writing. So, in honor of my 100 blog posts before this one, here are some things I’ve learned along the way.

Writing is hard, and not in the way I imagined.

Anyone who goes back and looks at some of my first blog posts and then reads some of my last ones will hopefully see what I mean by this. It is not that writing is hard as in sitting down and spilling words onto a page – although that’s not easy, either – it is that writing authentically is hard, sometimes so hard that I find I can’t do it. It is obviously not like this for everyone, but my need to show a vulnerable and introspective side of myself takes courage that I have to muster every time I sit down to write something I’m going to share, and courage again to share it. Writing is hard because, while the words come to me anyway, sharing them is a vulnerable act, and unlike what I always thought, being vulnerable is something I have to choose over and over again. I can’t just decide once that I’m going to do it and voila!, it’s done and easy forever.

Writing takes time.

I mean this in two ways. One, the actual act of writing out what is in one’s head takes time. This may sounds like a “well, duh” statement, but I have found that every time I put an end date or a deadline on my writing, I was killing the project before it started, because I could claim myself a failure for not finishing on time, even as I was trying to gather courage to keep going. The less reasons I have to berate myself the better; realizing that writing takes time is one of them.
The second part of that is realizing that there are many things that can only be learned through experience. When I say that writing takes time in that sense, I mean that I am a better writer today than I was a year ago; if I keep writing, I will be a better writer a year from now than I am today. I cannot rush or hurry this process; I can write every day, but it is the actual passage of time that lends itself to my improvement; time is not slipping away if I am writing, it is adding experience, emotion and credibility to what I have to say.

Not all writing is writing

I think a lot. Maybe more than most. I think a lot about writing. I think a lot about how I would write what I’m thinking or experiencing. And sometimes, I just can’t write or think anymore.
I’ve been stuck on my book, because I’ve been trying to gather courage. I’ve been stuck, and yet I think that it’s important to allow myself the rest before moving ahead. There is nothing more torturous to me than trying to force a solution that is not coming easily, and with artistic expression, forcing something like creativity can turn it into a ugly beast that looks nothing like it’s supposed to. I cannot write what I write with the idea that I must have it out in a certain amount of time; I cannot write with the idea that my life depends on my finishing it within a certain time period. Instead, I have to write remembering that it is being in the present moment with my words that means the most to me; that writing for a future outcome means nothing if all I’m ever focused on is the future.

Sometimes, silence is golden.

Sometimes, invisible audience, I’m really glad that you’re invisible. I have the ability to see the countries where my readers live; I know some of you who read my blog because you’ve told me, but there are others whom I have never heard from that keep the silence, and yet show up every week to see what else I have to say. While some part of me wonders at the lack of feedback, another part of me is glad, because it’s not always easy for me to write what I write here, and knowing that someone is listening and yet not trying to tell me how to change is a balm on a sometimes raw wound that I open to the air here, in the hopes of letting it heal.

Sometimes, feedback is wonderful.

On the other side of that coin, it helps me a lot to know that I’m not alone, and especially to know that I may say something that resonates with someone else. It helps me to know that I am not alone, and that perhaps what I have said has caused someone else to realize that they aren’t alone, either.

The answers are in the minute details.

If there is any single, large and overarching theme that I have learned from writing, it is that the answers come in the small moments. You cannot write a book in a night; you cannot become a best selling author if you lack the courage not just to publish something, but to sit down, day after day, and write like it doesn’t matter what happens to your book. Fighting the fear and the demons is not about one long, drawn out battle with your unconscious fears. It is about getting up every day and taking the smallest steps to combat them: giving yourself 15 minutes to write; giving yourself an hour to run; feeding yourself well and surrounding yourself with people who will cheer you on, not because they are excited about the end product, but because they recognize the beauty, the depth and the relief in the process. It is turning off the idea that writing is a machine that must be fed words daily, and realizing that even if words spill onto the page at the same time every day, the real depth is in the joy felt in holding the pen; in looking up at life from behind the keyboard and knowing, beyond a doubt, that the ability to paint a picture of that world with even a few words is a gift all in itself.
It is knowing that Rome was not built in a day, and that a mountain of sand can be constructed one grain at a time. For me, building that mountain seems to have become the important part, not necessarily what I will see at the top.

Love and learning-along-the-way kisses,