Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Reasons to Live List

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine tried to kill himself.

I talked to him yesterday, and have found myself grappling with a whole plethora of feelings that I am only beginning to sort through. Initially, when I suspected that he might have tried suicide – this is not the first time – I was scared and worried for him. Second came a strange detachment that I can only attribute to a lot of working on the idea that I do not actually have the ability to save anyone else and that whatever choice anyone makes in their life has nothing to do with me: his suicide attempt happened around me, not to me. This may sound incredibly callous, but it’s really true: it is not my job to save or help anyone, especially someone who has decided not to help themselves.

I may know that to be true on some growing level of awareness that I have been cultivating after years of thinking it was my job to fix, rescue and otherwise take care of people, whether they wanted it or not, but there’s another piece to this that I am only just coming to realize that has made his suicide attempt that much scarier for me: I am a highly suggestible person.

It is for this reason that it took me so long to finally step out of a system that was not working for me in the States; it is why I have agonized about quitting jobs that I hated and didn’t serve me; it is why I have tried so hard to convince others that I have a right to make my own choices while everyone most likely stood around thinking, “Jesus, Morgan, we get it, just GO already.”

I have been missing a level of defense: the one that sifts through the messages coming at me and decides which ones to let through. When I say I am suggestible, I mean that my first step until recently has been to believe whatever anyone else tells me and try it out, feel guilty about why it doesn’t work for me, cry to others about how I’ve failed, and then finally let it go before it occurs to me that if I had just asked myself about whether whatever scam or belief or system would work for me in the first place, I might have saved myself some effort and some heartache.

It costs me a lot to stop these ideas from coming in. I shy away from conflict because of the emotional energy it takes out of me to defend my position, and even if you manage to get me riled up, it is actually because I am getting more and more desperately in need to protect my OWN ideas FOR ME, not because I am going trying to get you to agree with me.

Basically, for the most part I think that life is a wonderful, magical existence, and when I surround myself with people who feel the same, I can see the wonder in anything. When someone immersed in negativity comes along, I find myself stuck on two levels: one, I am fighting a need to help them or fix them, and two, I am trying my best to keep their ideas and feelings from becoming my own. It’s sort of like trying to yell at someone casting seeds of doubt in front of you, without realizing that their ears are plugged and moving out of the way may be a better defense.

Let me be clear: I am NOT suicidal, but I can feel my friend’s pain. Certainly not to the depth and extent that he can, but there is a ball of anxiety and fear and sadness in my chest that has absolutely nothing to do with how I see the world, who I am or what I am experiencing. In the past, this ball would have caused me to empathize with him to the point of detriment; I would have been unable to separate these feelings from my own, and been unable to hear my own voice at all.  Instead, I would have continued to fight with him, trying to change his point of view to better match my own, not to save him, actually, but to save me from starting to internalize his feelings.

This is how it has always felt, until now.

Now, there is a new part of me that I have only recently discovered, and invisible audience, she is PISSED.

This new part of me is not the still-quiet inner voice that whispers what I want and need in my life to be happy. No, this is a mama-bear type woman with the mouth of a trucker on her, big fists, a wide stance and a tattoo on her very large bicep that says, “Don’t you mother fuckin’ FUCK with me.” She doesn’t give a lick what anyone thinks, and her only job is to take care of that still weak-voiced part of me that has found herself unable to be heard over the din of everyone else’s needs. She stands up in the middle of a room full of mild-mannered people and bellows, “Shut the FUCK. UP. Little one’s got somethin’ to say; first person to talk gets their face rearranged for free.” (I have been watching Deadwood lately, and I like to think she’s a lot like Calamity Jane.)
And they all sit there, stunned, as my timid inner child swallows several times and whispers that she wants a glass of water, please.
And Bertha – shall we call her Bertha? – takes those kind eyes and patient gaze off the child, turns her face to stone and barks, “What, are you all fuckin’ DEAF? Get the girl some WATER.”

Bertha has emerged lately as my protector. She’s the one that helped me rewrite the rules that I now live by. She’s the one that helps me look at situations, like a nervous solicitor trying to sell his wares, and decide whether or not I want what he’s selling, whether I want her to kindly escort him out, or if I want her to throw him into the manure pile where he belongs.

I talked to my friend yesterday, and at first found myself where I usually am: trying to argue with him – and ultimately, with myself – about why he should want to live and what this life might still have to offer him. At 4 a.m., though, Bertha woke me up, pissed as all get out at the pain I was feeling on his behalf.

“Fuck that shit,” she said. “You want to LIVE. We both know it. Make a list of why. It will help you reconnect with yourself and put his feelings down.”

It’s hard to admit how susceptible I am to others’ thoughts and feelings; it feels like an admission of failure that I haven’t been able to figure this out already, or that I haven’t built up stronger walls to protect myself from this before. However, beating myself up from what I haven’t learned yet is a fruitless task. (“DAMN STRAIGHT,” says Bertha.) So instead, invisible audience, I’m going to write a list of all the reasons that I adore my life and would miss it if it were taken away from me, and then I would appreciate it if you added your own reasons to it, either in the comments here or on the Facebook post, to remind me of all the reasons there are to continue to experience this beautiful, magical existence that I believe in, and that Bertha is helping me protect.

Love and living loudly kisses,

The Reasons to Live List 

(in absolutely no particular order)

Being loved and loving in return
Sunsets and sunrises
Swimming in freezing cold fresh water
Hikes to mountaintops to see the view
Scuba diving
Delicious meals
New food concoctions that become necessary dietary staples
Goat cheese
Writing by hand with a big thick pen
Falling in love
First kisses
Pretty much all kisses
Mind-blowing sex
Oral sex
Huge deep hugs that say, “Put it down. I can carry it for awhile.”
Laying out under the stars
The smell of a freshly showered man
Getting off a plane in somewhere new
Meeting new people who really see who you are
Emails and video recordings from friends
Shared introspection
Intelligent conversations
Work that stretches your abilities and teaches you something new
People who stretch your abilities and teach you something new
The smell of snow coming
The smell of baked earth
The smell of fall mornings, right before sunrise
Sunny days on a ski hill
Skinny dipping
A really good book that you don’t want to end
Being rewarded for vulnerability with new, deeper intimate relationships
Soul-touching poetry
Dark German beer
Cuddling with a cat
Squished-faced dogs
Sitting in an empty bathtub fully dressed with three of your friends, drinking way too much champagne
Laughing until your face and your sides hurt
Crying until you’ve cried out all of the pain into a lake of tears around you
Music that makes you dance and sing out loud
Road trips
Getting stoned and working your way through a whole pan of dark chocolate brownies while laughing over absolutely nothing
Outdoor concerts
Skiing moguls until your legs collapse under you
River floats (and THE Riverfloat)
Sitting on front porches with friends
Potlucks with friends
Christmas and Thanksgiving prime rib, slathered and cooked in kosher salt until there’s a wonderful crispy crust on it
Children’s laughter
Cold white wine on a hot day
Staggering natural beauty
Human connection
Having crushes
Completing a well-done task
Unspoken understanding
Books, movies and theater that touch your heart
Fresh-picked apples
Honey lavender chevre
Coconut oil
Holding hands
Learning something new
Thunder storms
Lightning bugs
Bike rides

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Rewriting the Rules

I have suddenly and recently realized how much I internalized and followed a set of unspoken rules that in reality make absolutely no sense to me. Suddenly, I have the ability to think something, catch myself in the thought, and think, “Wait a minute, where did THAT come from, does it really serve me, does it have to apply to me, and have I actually found it to be true?”
And you know what, invisible audience? In a lot of cases, the answer is no.
So I made a list of 9 new rules that I’m going to strive to live by that make more sense to me than the unspoken and unconscious ones I've been buying into for so long; rules that haven't served me and have, in fact, made my life less fulfilling or much more difficult than it needed to be.

1. I do not have to work hard for my money.
Last week I wrote about how I don’t need to be so miserly with myself; that it does not actually serve me to deny myself simple pleasures and creature comforts in the name of cheap living. Another realization I’ve had lately is that working does NOT have to be hard. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that I don’t do my best when I do a job, but at the same time, somewhere I picked up an idea that it’s only worthwhile if it makes you sweat: if it’s long hours, a sacrifice of time away from things you really want to be doing. That’s just not true. Work can be fun and rewarding without being hard – it doesn’t have to be an all-consuming sacrificing mind suck.

There are actually more choices than parenthood or a career, or both, and “having it all” doesn’t mean having to have everything.
I don’t have to focus on my job. I don’t have to be a parent, either. I can have a completely blissful and fulfilling existence, living the very most of every single day and wringing the very life out of my life, without my life having to be defined either by my career or my family. I identify as a writer because writing makes me incredibly happy, helps me process and feels good, but if I never wrote a word that I wanted to make a living from, I could still be a writer, and I would STILL be a functioning, worthwhile part of the world.

I can be my own guru.
I do not have to listen to someone just because they speak with authority or are considered an authority. I can agree with someone’s message and totally disregard it because I hate the messenger. I can decide that a tried-and-true method is not going to work for me, and I can borrow small snippets of many different ideas to make up my own idea of what living a compassionate life of integrity looks like. I can discard any piece of any message that I don’t like. The most important part is that it resonates with what my gut is telling me. Period.

I get to choose my own priorities.

Even if I have nothing better to do; even if I’m totally bored out of my mind; even if I have a gift for whatever task you need done; even if it will only take me 5 minutes; even if I need the money and you’re offering it, I don’t have to do it. EVER. I don’t owe anyone anything: my precious time, energy, skills or abilities. This doesn’t mean that I don’t ever help people, but I don’t ever HAVE to help people, for any reason whatsoever. That means that when I do choose to help people, it’s because I want to, not because I’m manipulated, forced to, or adhering to some deeply unconscious idea that it is my duty as a member of the planet to sacrifice myself for others instead of helping someone out of my own volition and because I want to.

My worth is not diminishing as I age.

This one is pretty deeply ingrained and totally underground, but it’s true: every magazine, advertisement and unspoken mass media message has told me that my worth diminishes with the amount of wrinkles I gain, the amount of gray hair that grows, the more my boobs sag. That’s bullshit. With every day that I learn something new about myself, become more comfortable in my own skin and develop relationships based on what is important to me, the more beautiful I become. The people who can’t see that can’t really see me, and fortunately that invisibility can work to my advantage: I’m not on their radar, and I can spend my time with people who DO see me instead.

I don’t have to respect my elders if they don’t respect me back.
No one deserves the right to be a condescending asshole. It’s true that there are people who know more than I do about many, many things, but that does not give them the right to treat me with disrespect or talk down to me. Respect must be earned, and the idea that we’re supposed to politely listen to people who are older than us for no better reason than that is ridiculous.
On the flip side, I have many, many friends that are older than me. They have already gone through the things that I am currently struggling to wrap my head around, and yet they never tell me that my journey isn’t worthwhile or tell me how I should walk it. Instead, they are wise enough to offer me support, give me advice when I ask for it, and let me do the same thing that they did that brought them to where they are now: figure it out for myself.

I have a right to think the world of myself.

I once had a coworker named Murph. He was old enough to be my dad, and he had a daughter my age. He was telling me about her once – how proud of her he was, how self-possessed she was, and her ability to surround herself with people and boyfriends who valued her for the wonderful person she is – and I asked him what he had done to ensure that kind of self worth.
“All I did was constantly work to boost her self-confidence,” he said. “When you believe in yourself, everything else falls into place.”
If anything has become apparent to me in the last year, it is that I have been crippled by self-doubt. It is only now, after more than 30 years on the planet, that I have finally started to listen to my gut; to think that I might know better than anyone else what is best for me, and to strive to surround myself with people who see me for the beautiful human being that I already am. It feels a hell of a lot better than it ever did to have to humbly deny my abilities, play down my intelligence, interests or personality, to try to not be seen or heard so that the brilliant flame within me wouldn't burn anyone else. No more playing it small. It’s not helping anyone; it certainly wasn’t helping me.

There is nothing needy about needing people.
There is more strength in vulnerability, in opening myself up to others, and in asking for help when I need it than there is in silently trying to suffer through everything and do it all myself. It’s ok to admit that I am sometimes afraid; that I often just need a hug; that I am not an island. If I want human interaction, it’s because I’m human. There is nothing to be ashamed of about wanting to share myself with others who are worth investing time and energy in. There’s also nothing wrong with that being a very small, select group.

And most of all, I have the right to fuck up, over and over again, without having to think less of myself.
Some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned have come from situations that didn’t work – things that I thought I wanted but didn’t; things that I knew weren’t going to work but went through with anyway; ego trips that told me that I had to do whatever for whatever reason if I wanted to consider myself worthwhile.
For me, it’s become clear that striving for perfection leads me away from my humanity, and enlightenment comes in small moments, not in a bolt of lightning where all of sudden I know everything and can do everything right.
To be honest, I hope I always have something new to learn and discover about myself; otherwise the world would get really boring for an introspective person like me. However, I need to remember that just because I haven’t learned a lesson yet doesn’t mean that I have done something wrong – you can’t know what you don’t know, after all. This whole existence – all the moments of intense joy and soul-crushing pain, all the beautiful sunrises and dreary rainy afternoons – is part of the package. There’s no hurry. I will learn as much as I can in this lifetime – no more, no less. The only person I am striving to know more than is the person I was yesterday, and the only one I am now striving to be is the one I will be tomorrow.

Love and new rule kisses,

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Taking Up Space

A couple of weeks ago I bought a box of Kleenex. Not a knock-off version, not the small box, but a big ol’ box of name-brand Kleenex. You would think that this is hardly worth mentioning, but it has become a symbol of sorts in a drastic shift in perception that I’m still trying to wrap my head around.

I can’t even tell you the last time I bought a box of Kleenex, because ever since I have had control of my own finances I have chosen to skimp and save – why buy Kleenex when toilet paper works just as well? You’re just going to blow your nose into it – or, especially recently, sob into it – then throw it away.

For that matter, why buy half the shit that people do? Nice lotions, hand soaps, aluminum foil, good knives, new shoes, jeans that fit, bras that enhance rather than just suspend breast flesh?

All of these are things that I have denied myself in the past. I can still tell you how much money I spent on Victoria’s Secret bras when I finally broke down and bought a bunch. I feel better when I wear them, but some part of me can still take that amount of money – $200 – and turn it into how long I could have eaten on that same amount, or how many nights in a hostel it would have bought me. To some extent the ability to be a spendthrift is helpful, especially for stretching funds to live longer abroad, but there’s also a point where enough is enough.

Invisible audience, enough is enough.

My dad loved his work as an orchardist, but the orchard never did much more than break even, so when we tore out the trees – still one of the most heart-breaking days of my life – he considered himself a failure, despite years of patient and diligent work and hundreds of bins of beautiful fruit, not to mention the happiness it brought to him to do his life’s purpose. My mom, on the other hand, is an incredible nurse but was always in it for the paycheck – she used it to buy all the creature comforts any of us wanted, but would come home exhausted, spent and hating her job.

I thought that growing up with this difference in career strategies led me to fear seeking my dreams less than I would otherwise (taking my dad’s view) but I think that I internalized some pieces I wasn’t aware of until now. Now, looking at how much I have proudly denied myself in search of my dreams, I think that I learned that you either 1) made money or 2) followed your dreams. I learned that the two sides were mutually exclusive, and that perhaps the only way to know that I was really following my dream was to allow myself to suffer for that time and effort.

It stretches far beyond actual income, however. With this unconscious mindset, I have allowed myself to work for less than I have ever been worth; I have worked for others when some part of me knew it would not ultimately work to my benefit; and I have settled for less than I deserved in both the amount I earned and also the work I did. Some part of me embraced this as part of martyrdom: see how much I’m doing below my capabilities in the name of my dream? See how I’m suffering? See how I embody the starving artist? Because all artists must suffer, you see: it’s the only way to do it; there’s nothing to make art about if you aren’t suffering.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been sick. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been letting go of so much. Perhaps it’s because of all the soul searching I’ve been doing, but suddenly I have no more patience for denying myself.

I have suddenly realized that although there is pride choosing where I spend my money based on what I really want, it is actually detrimental to deny myself basic comforts and experiences just so I can claim that I live on $800 a month.

I deserve more than this, invisible audience. I deserve to live well, to believe in myself enough to keep searching not just for the type of writing that makes me feel alive, but also to find the way to make that fun, fulfilling and amazing life experience into my life’s work – work that will support me, too. This feels different than making a decision that I HAVE to make money off my writing and more about finding work that makes my heart sing AND brings me a paycheck. On top of that, it is finally deciding that I am WORTH the kind of money that will not just support me, but make me financially stable and comfortable, and living a lifestyle that may not necessarily cost a lot more, but will feel a lot less like denying myself for the bragging rights of living a small existence.

Does this make sense to anyone but me? I’m still trying to wrap my head around what I mean, but I guess that part of it is letting my talents sing instead of hiding them, waiting for someone to accidentally stumble across them. It means taking up the space I have always denied myself –letting go of the idea that I have to hide or apologize for being different, and also, once and for all, letting myself live as largely as I deserve. This isn’t necessarily about living in a mansion, but it IS about being less apologetic for my differences, and embracing the lifestyle that I have nothing to apologize for, and in fact can be proud of. If I’m going to be proud of myself, it’s important for that to be reflected in how I act: buying the jeans that fit, wearing the bras that give me confidence, and wiping my nose with Kleenex, simply because I’m worth the extra effort, the extra time, and the extra money to do so.

Around the same time I bought the Kleenex, I started wearing earrings again. I started wearing my hair down. I got new tennis shoes. I took some effort in my appearance, because I realized that I felt better when I did it, and when I felt better, I acted like I was worth more. And if I act if I’m worth more, I am treated better, not necessarily because other people see me differently, but because I see me differently and in turn I demand what I deserve instead of being apologetic or trying to fade into the wallpaper.

There’s a quote that I keep seeing on Facebook. Of course I can’t find it now, but it basically says that you aren’t doing anyone any favors by playing it small. I guess that’s where I am now. It’s time to take up the space I deserve, and stop playing the humble martyr who gives away all she has in the name of some undefined ideal that she no longer subscribes to, especially since the original subscription was unconscious. Now that I’ve figured it out and given it a name, I can’t abide by the feeling or the lifestyle it has given me: one of self-deprecation, denial, and apology for the smart, sensitive and wonderful person I am. When I’ve seen it in others it’s made me impatient with them; it’s no wonder the same thing in me made me want to punish myself by denying me everything that I have ever been worth, both in terms of connection, intimacy, love, and basic creature comforts. No wonder, invisible audience, I have felt so diminished trying to hide myself.

Until now.

Love and living large kisses,

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Me, On Being an Empath

My entire life I’ve been told I am sensitive, and very rarely was it presented to me like it was a good thing. Within the last couple years, though, the word, thought and significance of empathy came to my attention; someone called me an empath and it finally prompted me to do a little bit of research about what it meant for me specifically.

Described by Psychology Today:  

Empathy "is the experience of understanding another person's condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling."

What I found astounded me because it described me so well. The layman’s term empathy means being able to feel what another person feels; actually taking it into yourself. This is different than sympathy, where you simply imagine what it must feel like to be or experience something from someone else’s perspective, and perhaps think about a case where you were in a similar situation and how you felt then.

Even though I had known the word empathy before, when I started to look into it and how it applied to me, the more parts of my life came into focus and made sense.

There are many positive parts about being empathic. In general, empaths are good listeners; they’re the people you can talk to when you need support and encouragement. They’re the type of people who are really good at finding the answer to questions like, “I want to surprise my loved one in a way that they would really enjoy. What would they like most?” Because an empath can feel what you feel, they’re less likely to go out of their way to hurt your feelings; they’re better at giving constructive criticism and being able to sandwich suggestions between compliments; they can be soothing and caring individuals and amazing therapists and healers.

In that sense and for an empath who knows how to deal with what they’re receiving, empathy is a powerful gift, much like acute hearing, good eyesight, or a great sense of balance. For the unaware empath, however, these “gifts” can feel like a nightmare that won’t end.

For most of my twenties, I compensated for my oversensitivity by being a rock hard bitch. When that started to dissolve, I became even more sensitive and, especially over the last couple years, I've found it tough to cope with how much I feel, not only with my own emotions but also emotions that I couldn't always attribute to what I personally was going through.

I never realized how tuned into everyone else I was until recently. I would even blog about how the volume seemed to be turned up on everyone else’s needs and ideas while my own voice was barely audible over the din without making the connection. In fact, I have realized that this is the reason I enjoy living and traveling in foreign countries. Even if I speak Spanish fluently, it is not my native language, and therefore I still have the ability to “turn off” my eavesdropping in public places. If someone’s speaking English, especially loudly or emotionally, I can’t help but understand, process and take on. Spanish-speakers, on the other hand, I can tune out, leaving me to a blissfully silent world full of noise.

The way that this has been the most harmful to me is when it comes to saying no or even saying what I think or feel to other people. I have realized that when I am having a conversation with someone, especially when it is obvious that they need something or are in pain, my first response is always going to be what they want to hear most, regardless of what those words – or actions, or jobs I agree to – will do to me, physically, emotionally or mentally. It is my first response because I have picked up on what they need, it becomes my need in the moment, and I want to fix it, partially because I want it to stop hurting them, but most especially because I want it to stop hurting me. (Note to self and others: this doesn’t actually work.)

It was also harmful to me because I would imagine how anything I wanted or needed would affect someone else, and hesitate to say it because I had already felt that pain for them and didn’t want to feel it through them again.

Before I knew this was the case, I had at least finally gotten to the point where I realized that I could not trust the first response that wanted to come out of my mouth when someone asked me for something. Instead of giving an answer in the moment, I now say I will think about it. Then I go home to my quiet space where I live alone and reconnect with what is best for ME underneath all those whirling emotions and ideas that I was caught up on in the moment. Almost always, the answer that reflects most what I want is different from the one that I would have blurted out in the moment.

I’ve been beating myself up for this for years. It is not ok in our culture to not have an instant answer; to not be able to negotiate in the heat of the moment, to not be able to state your needs when asked. It is part of a larger system, you see, which I recently learned was called the paradigm: (once again I knew the word, but never in context to myself) unstated yet understood rules about the way the world works. Or, as Merriam Webster puts it, "A theory or a group of ideas about how something should be done, made, or thought about."

Not only can I pick up on what others want or need, especially if I’m close to them, but I am also extra sensitive to this overarching idea of what I should be doing to be considered a successful part of the machine. This is why it has felt like such an uphill battle with each of the decisions I have made about my lifestyle, and why, over and over again, I have tried to justify myself and my actions: I have been trying to shut out of the ideas of what I should be despite the fact that it seems to be screaming at me in Dolby Surround Sound while I’m trying to hear myself on a cheap ass cell phone with a broken volume button.

A couple months ago, I found the Empath Community. Not only are there like-minded people there, but the woman who founded the site created a survival guide to turn down the volume on others and up on your own voice (it sounds ridiculously simple, but imagine two knobs. One says, “me” and one says, “others.” Turn yours up and the “other” knob down. Practice and practice. Also, create imaginary shields, and think about distancing yourself from anyone else when you need to connect with what you want.)

I almost cried when I started reading through the pages. Not only was I not alone, I wasn’t crazy for feeling this way, and I wasn’t weak for being unable to disconnect from what others wanted or needed, or what the culture as a whole was telling me. It had nothing to do with strength and everything to do with having the tools and believing myself when I realized that the feelings I had and the desire to fix things weren’t always my own. It’s as if my ego was trying to fulfill orders for comfort, help and support and handing them back to my body and soul without looking to see if it was more than they could handle.

There’s a single phrase that has come out of this that has become essential to me: “I believe you.” Before, I would sometimes get a pain in my chest and a panicked feeling that I could not attribute to anything going on in my own life. Now I know it’s someone else’s pain or panic I’m feeling, because I believe me when I know that instead of thinking that’s a crazy possibility. Instead of trying to unpack an emotion that isn’t mine, I let it go. When it seems like a task is small and no big deal and I should be able to handle it, but the little tiny voice in my head says no, I believe it. When my intuition tells me that even though all logic is pointing in the other direction but that tiny voice of mine chirps in to say that she thinks it’s not a good idea, I believe her. With each instance, her voice becomes a little louder, and my ability to hear her and ignore the other ideas and feelings coming at me gets better. Despite all this, I still tell someone who wants something from me that I need to think about it, because it’s still easier to hear myself when I’m alone, and I’ve decided that that’s ok. If I’m going to turn down the volume on the paradigm, I can turn down the volume on that idea too: instead of thinking I’m a failure for not being able to connect to how I feel in the moment, I can let go of that yet another self-worth-crushing idea, because the little voice that is me told me it was ok to do so, and I believe her.

Love and believable kisses

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Letting Go

When I first moved to Panama nine months ago (!!) I sent an email to an author I knew who told me that after self-publishing his own book, he eventually got to the point where he had to have the majority of the stock destroyed because it didn’t sell.

When he told me this story – as we were sitting at a Farmer’s Market and I was trying to sell my cookbooks – I remember being astounded that he could admit it so easily and without any self recrimination (it was years later, mind you, and he did admit it was a really humbling experience) but I also remember having a sense of envy that he’d been able to let go without it being a sign to him that he had failed.

Somewhere along the road, I started to hate my cookbooks. There are many reasons for this. One, they never made me any money. Two, for the first time in my life I was (and am) in debt because of them. Three, I felt like a fake when it came to talking about wine; I learned a lot about local wine from writing the books, but it was also the part that I needed the most help with, and I felt like a fake pretending that I knew anything. Four, and most importantly, it felt like the books were tying me to North Central Washington when everything else in my body was telling me it was time leave: that my destiny and my heart lay elsewhere. Cookbooks were never what I wanted to write when I quit a corporate job in Bellevue to write a book, but there was a niche and I had the skills to fill it. Even if I didn’t know a lot about wine, I did and do know about layout, design, cooking, project management; I had just spent a year researching the publishing industry for books closer to my heart, and of course I knew how to write and edit. I also knew the people in the local wine industry. All of this made sense, but it didn’t really make my heart sing the way that other writing did.

Before I go any further, let me say that I know this is a skewed perspective. When my first cookbook came out it was invigorating; I was on a high and I loved it. It was only later that the cookbooks began to weigh me down, and that I realized I had veered off of the path where I had originally wanted go. Obviously I learned a lot from writing the cookbooks, and any experience that teaches you what you don’t want is just as important as teaching you what you do want, so I don’t consider it a complete loss. All I am saying is that I am finally processing some things that I pushed down and out of the way in the process of writing the books because what I was hearing and experiencing from everyone else didn’t jive with what I was feeling internally.

Anyway, when I first got to Panama I sent an email to this author, asking him how he had arrived at the point where he could let go of his books and simply move on. He gave me some simple yet profound advice: they will be important to you, until one day they aren’t. That day, his advice implied, you will finally be able to let go.

That day arrived about a week ago. In the midst of being sick, I have started to really look at my life: what I’m still carrying around that doesn’t serve me and the things that I keep to myself that cause me to be alienated. My cookbooks are something that I have wanted to let go of for a long time.

So I did. Without much ceremony besides a post on Facebook and some emails, I put them down. I deleted the Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest accounts that I only had because of them, I started selling them at cost, and I completely let go of what I had been holding onto, because it was no longer important.

Invisible audience, I have not felt this free in a long time.

I’ve been doing some SEO marketing work for a freelancing blog lately, and one of the final nudges I received was from this blog post. It talks about how many of the most successful people in business today never finished college, have never really followed all the rules, and that they know when to let go and move on.

It made me realize that not only was it ok to let go, but it was actually the BEST THING I could do: put down what wasn’t working to make room for something new, something that DOES make my heart sing, doesn’t feel like a drag and will make me money. Not only that, but I realized that with every other big life-changing decision I've made, I have had to leap first, and THEN the net appeared: with my cookbooks I had been waiting to pay off my debt before letting them go, instead of trusting my intuition and past experiences that told me that it was ok to let go first and find another income source to pay off the debt in the new space I'm creating.

It also made me realize that, as much as it appears I don’t follow a lot of the rules, I can actually disregard the rules entirely. I see a counselor here, and many of the conversations we have are comprised of me telling her something that I think is true and her asking gently, “Whose voice is that?”

The number and depth of these “rules” that I have internalized is staggering. I am selfish for moving far away from my family. I am selfish for wanting to take the time to figure out my own emotional issues and try to heal them when I should be focused on a career or starting a family. I am worthless because I’m not making more money. I am unsuccessful because I don’t have more to my name. That if I possess a skill, I am required to use it; if there’s a niche I can fill, then by God, it is my moral obligation to fill it. That there is something wrong with me because I write a blog like this one, where I share the parts of myself that should be kept quiet. There is something wrong with me because I need a lot of alone time; that the thought of the white picket fence “American dream” existence literally makes me want to run; that I will be burned at the stake for admitting that I am not Christian or atheist, but pagan. That no one will love me if I finally let go and admit that there is a growing part of myself that I have kept hidden for too long that is fascinated by a divine feminine power, astrology, the phases of the moon, tarot, energetic healing, and herbal remedies. 

There. I said it. All of it. And you know what? This is not new information. It is simply information that is no longer important to keep to myself. I have finally let go of the idea that I can control anything that anyone thinks about me by hiding the parts of myself that are most sacred for fear they will be trampled on. If you’re going to think I’m a failure because I gave up on my cookbooks, there’s nothing I can do to change that. If you’re going to think I’m loony because I would rather celebrate the solstice than Christmas and because I feel more connected to God, the Goddess or the Universe on a hiking trail or with my feet in a river, then you’re in the wrong place, invisible audience member. I have already let go of you, and you are welcome to let go of me.

I am letting go, and in that process I am making room for better things to come along: opportunities, people and situations that make my heart sing instead of making me want to hide my head in the sand; adventures that energize me instead of those that suck the life out of me and make me feel like I have to hide who I really am if I want to be loved.

So here’s to letting go, and the lightness of my new existence outside the rules.

Love and light kisses,