gratitude, motherhood

wait it out, find the shine

Continuing my funk from earlier this week with my distaste of the stubborn Georgia heat, I’ve also ended up with some kind of allergy to the fall blooms or maybe the latest incarnation of my kids’ school germs. Whatever the cause, my throat is gravely and my eyes sting.

I rallied for Jude’s soccer game today, but other than that, I’m indulging in a lot of self care this weekend. I dropped in for a yoga nidra workshop Friday night at a local studio, which was essentially a long guided meditation. I found some homemade chicken soup hiding in the very back of the freezer today for lunch. I walked in the garden with my grandad pinching off early shoots of fall greens and fresh peas. I’ve listened to podcasts and read in a quiet house. And now I am writing a bit before an early bedtime.

I caught the latest On Being this afternoon and was completely hooked on a stunning interview with Ruby Sales, a prominent player in the early civil rights movement who still works as the Director of the Spirit House Project.

Being white and growing up at the end of the twentieth century, my life has little in common with the life of Ruby Sales in most noticeable ways, but she spoke so much about faith and optimism and anger and hard work and where those things intersect. It is in some surprising ways actually very reflective of the conflict I feel present for me now, the outer pressures I wrote about earlier this week when your own inner landscape doesn’t always match what you see in front of you.

She explained that she “grew up in the heart of Southern apartheid, and I’m not saying that I didn’t realize that it existed, but our parents were spiritual geniuses who created a world and a language where the notion that I was inadequate or inferior or less than never touched my consciousness.” Can you imagine? There are countless examples throughout history of these families who somehow created a new world in their own home. A place that was a respite from the pressures and opinions of the outside world and inspired social change that influenced generations. How do you do that?  How do you achieve that spiritual genius she speaks of and create a reality for your family that is so counter to the outside world?

She explained something that became a truth for her, an unarguable mantra. One I could use more of in my own life: “I can’t control the world, but I can control myself. And you are not going to coerce me into hating.”

Remember that this world she speaks of was a world where violence was an everyday act. Spiteful words and actions everywhere. Hate marches and constant messages of your own inferiority and yet, as she says when referencing an old spiritual, “That’s the meaning of the song ‘I love everybody. I love everybody in my heart. And you can’t make me hate you. And you can’t make me hate you in my heart.’ Now, that’s very powerful because you have to understand that this spiritual — it was an acknowledgement not only that we control our internal lives, but also it contested the notion of the omnipotent power of the white enslaver. That was very revolutionary and very profound.”

Revolutionary indeed. This is common sense, I know. But it is not in our human nature to respond to discomfort or conflict by just not participating in it. We always want to push back, but no conflict can exist if you choose not to participate in it. For whatever reason, today is the day my ears needed to hear this, and it turned a light on for me in a big way.

I can learn to use this with people around me who expect me to respond to resistance or hate with more of the same. I can use this in my own practice of self-compassion by not resisting my own growth, even when it is ugly. I can use this with my own kids by not resisting their own ways when it’s often just an expression of childhood and not purposeful rebellion anyway. We control our internal lives for sure. But we don’t control much else.

Katie-37

Ruby Sales closed the interview with some reflections on lessons learned, and she said, “I don’t like aging a whole lot. The ankles, the knees hurt, et cetera. But one of the things I do like is that from where I sit on my front porch, I have hindsight, insight, and foresight. And that’s a beautiful gift of aging.” Ain’t that the truth? I am half her age and just beginning to see it unfold. Hindsight and insight are coming easily now, foresight is yet to come. But one thing I am learning is that love and truth always prevail. Always. Sometimes I just have to wait them out, I guess. Sit through the funk and wait out the discomfort. Try to find some shine in the meantime.

Katie-11

Refusing to participate in hate or resistance and looking for the shine is actually a revolutionary act, I’m finding. People don’t know what to do with you when you don’t buy into the conflict or the constant messages of inadequacy that we hear everywhere. This is me, same as I ever was but different. I don’t believe in “happy” as a goal or a real state of being. I believe in surrender and honesty and all the things that come with that. I believe in grief and pain and having to wait it out until a new season arrives.

The hardest part about parenting is that you really don’t know if you are doing a good job or not until your job is all over, and then it’s too late. I want to create that world of spiritual genius for my own kids, that space in our hearts and homes where we don’t recognize the world’s messages of inadequacy or its false promises of happiness in all the predictable places. That’s not where joy lives anyway.

In “A Brief for the Defense,” John Gilbert writes , “Sorrow everywhere…But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants. Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women at the fountain are laughing together between the suffering they have known and the awfulness in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody in the village is very sick. … We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. …  We must admit there will be music despite everything.”

Despite everything, I hear the music sometimes. It’s faint but it’s there.

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writing

some cluttered thoughts on writing

I’ve considered myself a writer in the general sense for years and years, but it’s only recently that writing has become such a guidepost for me and a lifeline as I figure out what I’ve learned in these past few months and how best to move forward.  If you follow Sweatpants & Coffee on Facebook, you might have seen that I had an essay published last week as the first installment of their “Right Time, Right Place” series.  You can read that here if you’d like.

I’ve been writing a lot this summer, and I’ve collected all sorts of efforts and first drafts – some of which I post here and some I don’t.  A little of what I write about is concerning my background or parenting thoughts, but much of what I reflect on right now relates to the recent few months of my life and what has occurred. It’s natural that I’d focus on that given that the whole idea of memoir or creative non-fiction is that it is your personal history and your own perspective, and so much of my perspective is growing and changing and taking shape as a result of this year’s events and, more than that, as a result of my willingness to sit down and write it out.

It was HARD for me to hit the send button on my submission with the essay written above. It is by far the most personal thing I’ve ever written, and it deals with some inner thoughts and subjects that are hard to discuss.  I admit I felt things I wish I didn’t feel, and truthfully that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Writing is difficult, I’m finding. — not just because of the craft itself and the act of sitting down to write and having to flesh it all out, but it’s harder still when you consider being truly open and honest and putting your whole heart on the page. It’s like being naked in a crowd and asking people to point at what is wrong with you.

It’s terrifying and liberating at the same time.

I’ve started listening to the Magic Lessons podcast this week, and there was an episode recently with Cheryl Strayed (whose book I wrote about a few weeks ago) discussing this idea of putting yourself out there. Her advice to someone who felt stuck but wanted to write?

“Write. See what’s there, and see what comes. There’s the fear of revealing others, and there’s also the fear of revealing our own hearts on the page. For that, I say you don’t get to duck behind anything. You do get to delve into the deepest, darkest, most interesting waters. And it’s a really fun thing to do and it’s a little scary, too. But the best things are a little scary or a lot scary.”

It’s harder than you’d think – not ducking behind anything. I heard a writer give this same advice once with the reason that a reader can always tell when you are holding back and not being completely forthright.  You don’t want to feel that guarded sense of ego when you read; you want connection with the writer. I agree with that for certain, but it’s hard to put it out there.

But as difficult as it was and as intimidated as I felt, I’ve been rewarded tenfold with the feeling of liberation to finally share such a heavy experience and also the kind messages I’ve received from friends and even from people I don’t know who say they see their own selves a little differently after reading my words and my shared experiences.  Isn’t it amazing when something broken becomes something beautiful?

Have I received harsh words, too?  Of course I have. Not from strangers but from those directly involved, and it’s just an equation I have to continue to weigh and consider as I decide what to share in my writing. My aim is not to drag anyone through the mud, but to share my own piece of the journey, and I hope that is evident in what I write and how I approach it. I will never know someone else’s motivations and thoughts on my experience. That is not my job and not the role of memoir.

The older I get and the wiser I become, the more I realize not everyone will like me and that’s fine. As Jennifer Pastiloff wrote recently… (wow, she resonates with me lately!) “You ABSOLUTELY cannot make everyone happy. (So stop trying.) It’s a no-win situation. It’ll drain you and leave you like a pile of coffee grinds. People will be disappointed for various (often weird) reasons. Sometimes those reasons will make sense, sometimes not. …So stop worrying so much. There is most definitely someone out there who doesn’t like you or feels you’ve failed them. But, on the bright side, the really blinding bright side, the I-need-my-glasses-this-sh*t-is-so-bright-side, there are many people who love you, who think you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, who could’ve never made it through X, Y and Z without you, who trust you, who care for you … So let’s do our best to keep moving forward with less second guessing and worrying, less ‘I-wish-everyone-loved-everything-I-said/did/wrote/wore.’ Less, ‘I am a bad/mean/awful person because I had to say NO.’ Let’s try not to intentionally hurt others but for the love of sliced bread (with gluten), let’s give up worrying so much, people pleasing, and all the other time-sucking, love-wasting, energy-vampirish things we do.”  Amen and amen. 

I’m working on abiding by this idea in my writing life and my regular life as well. I am not everyone’s cup of tea maybe. But to others, I am loved fiercely or connected with intensely or appreciated uniquely. Moving on from those who don’t love me – for whatever reasons – is the greatest gift I can give myself and the hardest lesson to learn for this lifetime “people pleaser.”  It’s an ongoing process that requires you thicken your skin on the outside so that you can soften up on the inside.  And for now, I’m getting better at it.

I have every intention to keep on writing.