Fear means that things are getting juicy. It means that you are challenging the boundaries of what you thought was possible. Fear can be a friend, a harbinger of good things to come. Last night the fear rolled through my body and I welcomed it to tea. I know I don’t need to be afraid of it anymore.
We’ve had a lot of rain over the past few days, and the tree frogs are keen to mate. I love their calls in the night. I don’t know why. The sound reminds me of those battery-operated toy puppies that used to hop and chirp outside the Kay Bee toy store at the mall. It should be annoying, but somehow, the optimism of life calling out to life heartens me—especially when I think of their small, glossy bodies, as perfect and fragile as if molded and glazed in porcelain. I think of that vulnerability, that imperative to raise their voices in the dark, to be heard, no matter the risk, and I realize that what I am hearing, what is resonating in my heart, is the sound of hope.
I am thinking that I will change my posting style on this blog a bit—to write smaller pieces, largely thoughts and vignettes from my daily life, share peaks into my art journal like the one above, and, perhaps, to post more frequently. This week, I’d like to share with you a collection of these.
On Monday, my mother and I were at Hobby Lobby and saw a sign that read:
I said, “That’s what I want to be right now.” She replied, “I was just thinking the same thing.”
On Tuesday, I was going through a journal I wrote when I was in Ireland and Scotland for two weeks back in 2010. I love the funny little things it reminded me of, like the Irish tour guide saying to us in regard to seatbelt wearing “It’s compulsory, but it’s your choice.” Also, that the Australians on the tour started to call me DD, short for Deadly Diana (which, if you know how mild mannered I usually am, is pretty funny).
It got me thinking about the different nicknames I have acquired over the years. In my childhood, Dizzy Diana (all too true, I experienced a lot of vertigo) and Doctor Diana (you had to be there), compliments of my sisters. Sneaky Pete from a teacher in the fourth grade (I think because she thought I was cute? Still curious about that one). Princess D from my friends in college (they had fun imploring me to “let down my hair”). Other than my given name, I am now most often called Nana (a mash-up of Aunt Diana)—this by my nieces and nephew and to the utter confusion of people who think of Nana as another term for Grandma.
I recently started the free daily yoga challenge on doyogawithme.com and am really enjoying the beginners’ practices even though I’ve been doing yoga on and off for some 15 years. They are slow and gentle classes that don’t cause me any muscle ache from exertion the next day, so they are perfect for me right now as I am on a self-nurturing-take-things-slow kick right now. During one of the classes, the teacher encouraged us to feel a sense of ahimsa (a Sanskrit-derived word meaning non-violence) toward ourselves, to demur from self-criticism and negative self-talk.
I was amazed to discover that, after years of attempting to practice self-compassion, in that moment, I still felt an aversion to such a thing. I felt, on some level, I didn’t really deserve my kindness. I was astounded, though I probably shouldn’t have been. But, I will keep trying. It seems to be the only way forward. I have recommitted myself to quelling the battles beneath this skin, amid the walls of this skull. No doubt, I will fall off the wagon yet again and find reason to take up arms against myself, but I will keep trying, keep doing, because it is the only way to heal myself and the only way to help save the world.
So that was some of my week. What are you thinking about? Do you want to be wild and free, too? What nicknames have you had? How is your struggle with self-violence going? I’d also love to hear what you think about my new format. Have a lovely day and thanks for reading! 🙂
Yesterday was a busy day.
So was the day before.
And the day before that.
Life has been piling up. Mostly it’s been good things. It’s been me taking steps in the direction of my goals. It’s been me investing in my family and my community. It’s also taking care of my ailing cat (who is completely recovered now, by the way!). And unexpectedly having to take my car to the garage. It’s been a lot. And, somehow, there always seems to be more. One more thing I must do today, this week, this lifetime—just so that everything will turn out the way I want it to. Do you hear God laughing at me right now? Yeah, me too.
I still have several things on my to-do list for this week, but I know I’m not going to get to all of them, so I am making accommodations. For one thing, this was not the blog post I had planned for this week. I was going to make a video and write about making art every day. I was excited about it, but it’s too much. A part of me says, Hey, just push through. It’s just one more thing. Pour another cup of coffee. You can do it! And that part of me is right. I probably could do it, but at the cost of becoming more energy indebted and less, well, me. Does that make sense? Have you noticed that when you overextend yourself for too long that you turn into an ugly, ungrateful, wretched, slobbering monster?
Or is that just me?
Anyway, the biggest problem with my monster is that she invariably makes things worse. Every little molehill becomes Mt. Everest. Every tiny slight becomes a gaping wound. Every mistake becomes life-threatening. This attitude perpetuates a cycle of unhappiness and, ultimately, under-productiveness.
A few months ago I read a blog post on Kris Carr’s website titled The Myth of Finding Your Purpose. She says it’s her most popular post of all time and I can understand why. In it, she begs the question, “What if finding your purpose is about . . . nurturing yourself?” At first, I felt a little perplexed by this. How can that be a purpose? Isn’t that just something that happens when you pursue and achieve your true calling(s)? But when I thought about it, I realized that my callings—literally, the things that call to me—are simply things I do in service to my purpose. And my purpose is to be the best—the healthiest and happiest and kindest—version possible of this particular conglomeration of cells and spirit that my parents happened to name Diana. My purpose is to spend as little time in the monster skin as possible.
So today, I am taking a nice and easy day. Not a vacation day. Not a sick day. I thought about both of these options. I thought about not blogging, but I realized this is one of the things I do that feeds my spirit, and I didn’t want to rob myself of that. A nice and easy day means being honest with myself about what I can and cannot accomplish. It means not expecting too much. It means reminding myself that even though all those things on my list seem imperative, probably none of them are actually life and death It means going slowly, taking the most important thing first, and letting it take however long it takes. It means remembering to breathe, to release my shoulders from their defensive stance next to my ears, and to enjoy the sunshine flowing through the window.
Where am I losing energy? I ask myself this question a lot. I want to know what is draining me, what is pulling me down. I want to minimize those influences. Sometimes these things are, partially or completely, beyond my control—doctor’s appointments, conflicts with loved ones, stores with disturbing fumes. In these cases, I can take deep breaths. I can take it slowly. I can limit my exposure to necessary, but distressing situations. But, in the end, I really just have to shrug my shoulders and go through them (Squelch! Squerch! See last week’s post about this.)
I’ve been realizing recently though, that there is at least one way in which I am losing energy that is completely within my control. It’s the way that I talk to myself. I know, this is not news. Some 2500 years ago, the Buddha was warning folks that “what we think, we become”. But I’m speaking very specifically here about my attitude toward how I am approaching any given task. I have noticed that very often I am telling myself that I am not doing a good enough job. The song goes a little something like this: It’s taking me too long to shop. I am paying too much for this box of granola bars. Why can’t I write faster? Why can’t I always make the perfect egg? I’m not learning fast enough. I should be making better progress. I can’t believe I spent so much time playing games on my iPad today. I should have been nicer to that stranger. I should be getting more done. I should have gone to bed earlier . . .
You get the idea. If I let it, my dissatisfaction with myself becomes a constant drone behind all my other thoughts. It’s not fun. And it’s been kicking my ass. It’s been me, kicking my own ass, draining my energy, allowing my power to squirt out every which way. Not cool.
So what’s the antidote? Well, of course, there is the wonderful practice of mindfulness in which I catch myself having these destructive thoughts and counteract them by expressing self-compassion—maybe with a hand on my heart and an internal assurance of, “It’s okay, Sweetie.” If there are any casual observers of my behavior out there in my town, they can vouch for the fact that I have my hand on my heart, a lot. It works. But, what if I forget? What if my mindfulness is not working very well, and I get to the end of the day, and find that not only have I been disapproving of myself all day, but I didn’t even notice I was doing it? Well, that’s when I get out my gold stars. You think I’m joking. I’m not. I now have several exciting sheets of congratulatory stickers (like the ones used by kindergarten teachers) and, as I record the events of the day in my journal, I think of at least one thing I accomplished, write it down, and I plop one of those stickers down next to it. Sometimes it’s for doing something I was scared to do—like expressing myself honestly even though I feared retribution. But the bar is not always that high. Sometimes I give myself a gold star for vacuuming. Sometimes it’s for self-care, like say, napping. You’re laughing right now. I get it, but the truth is that if you’re like me, you do a whole bunch of things during any given day for which you give yourself no credit, whatsoever. Why? Because “You’re supposed to have done that. You don’t get a gold star for brushing your teeth, or feeding your family, or hugging your kids when you’re an adult. That’s ridiculous.” I agree, one hundred percent—but ONLY, if you are asking for that gold star from someone else. I can’t expect other people to get excited about my taking good care of myself. I can’t expect them to reward me. But when I acknowledge to myself the things that I am doing—even the stuff that I “should” be doing as a matter of course—I shift my self-attitude from a person who’s failing all the time, to someone who could maybe do some things better, but who is also doing a heck of a lot of things absolutely right. And that chick, definitely has more energy than Perpetually Failing Woman. Plus, she’s a lot more fun to be around.
One of my favorite picture books of all time is We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen. I was introduced to it one summer, almost twenty years ago, when I worked with a class of autistic children as a teaching assistant. This book was a particular favorite among the kids, and I read it aloud over and over and over. It’s a good thing for me that I fell in love with it.
It drew me in with its repetitive and rhythmic nature. And I enjoyed playfully acting out the story. Each section begins with the same chorus: We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We’re not scared.
It then goes on as the bear-hunting family is confronted with one or another natural element—grass, a river, a snowstorm—that they must conquer in order to continue their hunt. And as they face each obstacle the family declares: We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh, no! We’ve got to go through it!
And so they proceed, relating the sounds they make going through each experience. Amid the grass it is: Swishy swashy! Swish swashy! Swishy swashy! In the river, it’s: Splash splosh! Splash splosh! Splash splosh!
My favorite though, is the mud the Thick, oozy mud. I like to think about it as I determine to tackle complications and struggles in my life—the small things, like going to the dentist; the big things, like submitting my novel; and the heartrending things, like my cat acting like she’s on death’s door (though, thankfully, she seems to be improving.)
I could wring my hands and rend my clothing at any of these things, but instead, I try to think about the mud. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh, no! We’ve got to go through it! Reciting these words to myself helps me smile—however slightly. It makes me feel that things are a little less wrought with difficulty than they may immediately seem. Unpleasant though the situation may be, in some way or another, it’s a beautiful day! and the rest is all just mud to be gotten through. One step at a time.
Squelch, squerch! Squelch, squerch! Squelch, squerch!
I spent a lot of last weekend in doubt. This is not an unfamiliar place for me. I frequent the land of doubt on a regular basis. The source, this time, was my last two posts on running. Should I, as a CFS sufferer have written about that? Should I have admitted that I can run now and again? That right now I am choosing to run, even when there are many other things I cannot do? When, on a good day, I can only work about four hours?
I felt strange when I started running again in August. I almost didn’t want to see my sister on my run because I was scared to admit that I was able to do it again. The fear came from two places 1)I didn’t want anyone to think that this meant I was all better, and now could do anything and everything, i.e., I didn’t want people to expect more from me, because I knew I couldn’t give it. And 2) I was ashamed. I was ashamed that I was choosing to run rather than do something that might make money or make someone else’s life better.
And when I shared my two posts about running on this blog, I again felt conflicted and scared, and yes, ashamed because I am always scared of what people will think of me. I am scared that they will think I am weak, stupid, free-loading. I am scared other CFSers will get upset because they aren’t able to run, and my posts might give the impression that they should be able to. Or maybe people will think that I don’t really have CFS or any other illness since I can exercise at all. CFS is a highly variable—not only among the afflicted population, but also in an individual.
On Sunday, I listened to a wonderful dharma talk from Tara Brach about how we try to control so many aspects of life and how these attempts ultimately remove us from those things that most make life enjoyable, namely connection and presence. I realized that (once again) I was trying to control what others think of me—my family, my friends, and all the good people of the internet. And the truth is: it’s a fool’s game. There is no way to win. No matter what any of us say or do, no matter how perfectly we curate our feeds and our public lives, someone—perhaps many people—are going to take issue with some aspect of our behavior.
And it’s not always about us. As a senior in college, I took a class that was meant to integrate all that a student had learned within his/her major. At the beginning of the semester, we were given a list of about 75 names and theories which we were instructed to look up and study independently. At the end of the semester, we would be given a test on the information—20 questions, matching. We were warned how challenging it would be and that often students did not excel at it. I (for some inexplicable, bloody-minded reason) decided to attempt to ace it. I spent hours looking up the names and making notes on whatever I thought the professor might think was pertinent enough to test us on. And then I carried my little index cards everywhere, pulling them out whenever I had downtime. When the professor gave back our tests, he told all of us that someone—not naming any names—had gotten a perfect score—something he hadn’t seen in a while. I didn’t show anyone the 100 at the top of my exam paper, but as we filed out of the classroom, the other students looked at me knowingly. One woman, who I had hitherto considered a friend asked, “Did you sleep with him?” I didn’t even know how to respond. I was so horrified and confused. “How could sleeping with the professor have helped me on an objective test?” I wanted to ask, at the same time wanting to demand, ”How dare you? Is that really what you think of me?”
I am convinced now that it wasn’t what she was thinking of me that caused her to lash out in that moment. It was what she was thinking of herself, how she was feeling about whatever grade she had or had not gotten. In that scenario, I did everything right. I worked hard and I achieved success. And somehow, my behavior (or her reactions to my behavior) still caused pain. If I were to get it twisted, I would think that I maybe I should have dimmed my own drives and accomplishments to make her feel better, but I think we can all agree that that would have been ridiculous.
What’s the answer then? I don’t know what it is for others, but for me, it’s to forget about trying to control others’ perceptions, and, instead, whip up as much daring as I can in order to be authentic—because I think that’s one of the ways we help each other (and ourselves)—by being vulnerable, being honest, and sometimes, admitting that which is difficult to admit.
As I think about these things, my eyes fall on a candle that lives on my desk. It’s from a line called Secular Saints by philosophersguild.com. It looks like the regular seven day prayer candle with which most Catholics would be familiar, but instead of featuring the Sacred Heart or Saint Jude, it bears a portrait of Frida Kahlo. I have long felt a deep connection with this Mexican artist, not only because she composed fascinating and bold paintings, but because she did not shy away from letting people know what she was feeling—the physical and emotional pain that walked with her throughout her life. She did not try to be perfect—if anything, she exaggerated her perceived faults. And though she is not a saint in the Catholic sense, I feel myself wanting to invoke her audacious spirit. There’s a “prayer” on the candle which I like well enough, but my personal petition goes something like this:
O feisty Frida, help me to embrace my flaws and everything that is wrong with my life. Help me to know my true self and to show that self no matter who is watching. Help me to be brave and bold and to act with resolve and passion.
What keeps you from being authentic? Do you call on a saint (secular or otherwise) to help?
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This is a little art card (a part of a larger project that I plan to post about in months to come). I made it a few weeks ago and subsequently tore it up some days since. Why? There’s no very good explanation. It was mostly because I was having one of those moments in which I wanted to lash out and this is the part of the universe that got it. The card wasn’t precious. Just an inexpertly made little piece of almost nothing made from cheap supplies and leftovers. It wasn’t big deal.
But I was a little sad. I had liked the little piece of almost nothing. And the irony of my destroying a card bearing the word connect was not lost on me. I have had some difficulty connecting—particularly here on this blog (it’s been almost a year since I last posted) and even more in other venues—especially considering the current political climate and the fact that tomorrow is the anniversary of the terrorist attack that took the lives of almost 3000 people—including my brother.
I often feel that talking about my brother’s death is self-indulgent (though this may be untrue), and I’m not even sure how many of my social media friends even know that he died on 9/11. I don’t want to burden them, or bring attention to myself, so I say nothing. On Facebook this morning, I began to see the commemorations, and I thought, “I guess I’ll be logging off for the weekend.” Some people will use this anniversary as a call to arms, a reason to be angry, to exclude and to hurt others. Some people will aggrandize their own connection to or participation in the events in order, perhaps, to make themselves feel bigger somehow. I usually stay silent about these things, too. I reason that everyone has their own viewpoint; I cannot dictate how others should feel or react. People should not have to tiptoe around me and my feelings. Even if many of the posts in my feed make me nauseous and angry and sad, I say nothing. I don’t want to fight.
And that’s still true. I don’t want to fight. What I want to do is connect. Yesterday, I dug the four shards of my little piece of almost nothing out of the garbage, and I sewed it back together with black thread and ugly stitches.
This is how reconnecting happens: with small, awkward steps, with the knowledge that damaged ends will never match up perfectly, and with the acceptance that you may always see the place where the break occurred. The funny thing is how strong my little piece of almost nothing is now. The stitches have reinforced it, making it, in some respects, both more durable and more flexible. Also, I like it better than I did before I ripped it up. Which again, is funny, because I was ashamed when I did it—that I had let my temper, my grief get the better of me. I feared it was a sign that I had not progressed as far as I had thought or hoped, that I was less than, once again. But I remember now, that we all have those moments—and we can all rebound from them. We can, with a soft and open heart, rescue those precious bits we think we have lost, come home, and reconnect—if only, but possibly most importantly—with ourselves.
Every year, beginning in 1982, the UN has observed today, September 21, as an International Day of Peace. Peoples in conflict, all over the world are called upon to cease combat, if only temporarily, so that, in the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, we may “create space for lasting peace.”
For those of us who are not intimately affected by war, this kind of plea can sound very far off and inapplicable to our daily lives, but for me, it could not have been more apropos.
Just last night, I once more looked at myself disapprovingly in the mirror, seeing all the faults, the failures, the could-have-beens, the wrinkles, the fat . . . falling deeper and deeper down into the abyss of self-hatred.
All of a sudden, I couldn’t help wondering, “Why do you insist on making war on yourself?”
The answer is simple: It’s a terribly misguided attempt to protect myself from the pain of others’ possible condemnation and to spur myself into life-changing action.
But it doesn’t work. Heavy rain cannot intimidate seeds into growing faster. It will simply wash them away. And harsh sun will only dry them out. It is only with the gentle encouragement of these elements that a seed may eventually find its way to blooming.
So last night, I vowed to make peace with myself. To be kind. And today, realizing the significance of the date, I make the vow again. Because sustainable world peace is an inside job. Each of us needs to decide to stop fighting—not only each other, but ourselves.
Sometimes, I think I live only for the sighs of my little grey cat.
I breathe solely for those moments when she creeps cautiously onto my tender abdomen as I lie on my bed, worn out and vulnerable.
And she discovers that the crevices in my body meld perfectly to her own. She finds that all boundaries between us are purely artificial. Her fur, my clothes, our skins become completely permeable. She relaxes her muscles into mine, allowing her very essence to seep down into my being. Our blood vessels become a greater network, somehow effortlessly pumping through feline and human without care for the difference.
She feels all this and she knows that she is home. She knows that she is safe. And because of this, she exhales completely, allowing every, last, tiny cavity of her body to be emptied. She saves nothing. She holds back no secret store to guard against some future scarcity. She lets it all go. All that she needs, all that she will ever need is here in this moment, on my belly.
She tells me this with her sigh, and I cannot help but be moved and awed by her trust, her faith—in the whole of this kaleidoscope universe—and also in the subtle rising and falling of one human stomach.