April 3, 2014 § 34 Comments
I haven’t banished procrastination forever by writing about it, but the prospect of a public shaming turns out to be an excellent spur to keep going. – Adam Green, April, 2014 Vogue, “Late or Never?”
I was recently honored by Lindsey’s invitation to join the blog tour about The Writing Process, which I will do on Monday. I was also a bit chagrined, as I actually have no writing process (evidenced by how infrequently I post here). For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a writer. But, can you really be a writer if you don’t write?
On Monday, we left North Carolina for Legoland Florida, and I do what I always do at the airport and spend way too much money on fashion magazines (which is totally ludicrous as I live in Gap jeans, tee shirts, and Chuck Taylors). Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed the recent Vogue piece by Adam Smith in which he honestly details his experience as a chronic procrastinator. After just narrowly making a deadline, he tries to alleviate some anxiety by surfing, only to come face to face with these questions about his inability to write:
“Did it stem from fear of failure? How about fear of success? Was I crippled by low self-esteem? Or did I withhold my best efforts because I thought that I was special and the world owed me a living?”
Yes to all. And also, None of These.
For me – like many other writers, and of course, Joan Didion who first said this – “I write entirely to find out what I am thinking, what I”m looking at, what I see, and what it means.”
Lately, I haven’t wanted to know what I am thinking. I haven’t wanted to feel much of anything. Lately, all I can think of is Scott’s upcoming deployment, which embarrasses me, because I am Too Old For That. We have been together for eleven years, and I should be a seasoned veteran at this point. This whole deployment business should be Old Hat. I should be like the Marine wives around me, the ones who wave their hands in the air when I ask how they are doing while their husbands are in Afghanistan, the ones who tell me that it’s fine, that they are used to it, that sometimes, its even easier.
This is not my experience. Right now, I watch Scott do the dishes and think that in another six weeks, he won’t be here to help with anything. Today, he replaced the battery in my car, and I thought, Lord help me. On Friday nights, as I sink into the couch with a glass of wine, I remind myself that when Scott leaves, I will need to be Sober At All Times, because I will be the only one in charge.
Rationally, I know that Scott is leaving because his job demands it and I knew this going in. And yet, it feels a lot like being abandoned. Waiting for him to pack his bags and go reminds me of all the other times I have been left, even if now I am grateful that all those people are no longer around. There is something about standing still that feels like falling behind, and some days, it causes me to put a hand on my heart and take a breath.
This leaving that we are all waiting for is affecting the boys too, or at least Oliver. It’s common in the military to be told that if the mother is fine, everyone is fine. Maybe this is true. And maybe, kids have their own feelings about things. I haven’t written much about my children lately, because life at home has been challenging. I haven’t wanted to write about Oliver’s stubbornness, his defiance, his 8-year-old explosions. After a very difficult week, I took Oliver to lunch and to the bookstore and he told me he was sad his dad was leaving and a little mad too. “Why can’t they send someone else?” he asked while crossing his arms over his chest, and I did my best to explain that sometimes we are the Someone Else. At night, Oliver and I have been reading Harry Potter or The Secret Zoo series and as he snuggles against me. I remember that while I may be saying goodbye to a partner, he will be missing his dad.
The first day of Legoland wasn’t much easier than home has been. At the suggestion of going on a ride outside of Chima Land, Oliver shouted “NO!” or sulked, or crossed his arms over his chest. All of these reactions frustrated me immensely. He’s going to grow up thinking he’s entitled, I thought, or He’s spoiled or Here we are in Legoland and he can’t appreciate any of it. Scott and I exchanged many looks that day which said mostly the same thing: Be patient. Yes, I know this is hard. and Don’t lose your shit.
Recently, a dear friend and mentor reminded me that when parenting, the wise choice is to choose love over fear. Sometimes I can remember this and sometimes I can’t. After that first harrowing and hot day, our eyes exhausted by primary colors, we found a small Italian restaurant for dinner where they brought homemade foccacia to the table and bowls of pasta so hot we burned our tongues. Afterwards, we walked to the small lake behind the restaurant where I cautioned the boys to watch for alligators. Undaunted, they ran on, while above us, a large bird circled and cried so loudly we all stopped to watch as it careened on enormous wings over our heads.
“What kind of bird is that?” Gus asked.
“A peregrine falcon?” I wondered.
“It looks almost like some kind of eagle nest,” Scott said.
Finally, Oliver said, “Why don’t you do a search for “raptors” and “Lake Wales, Florida” on your phone?”
The quick iPhone search revealed that the bird was an osprey, which have survived habitat loss by nesting at the tops of dead trees, channel markers and abandoned telephone poles. Before we went back to our hotel, we watched the male circle again, his wings arched and his talons out. While he was circling, the female sat in the middle of their enormous nest, observing it all. Nature is chaotic, I thought. Love over fear.
The second day at Legoland was easier than the first. We picked a few rides to go on as a family and then realized that what the boys really wanted to do was examine the life-like cities and buildings of Miniland and play in the treehouse-like Forestmen’s Hideout. I kept thinking of the female on that nest, watching her mate circle and the people below her come too close. If life is teaching me anything, it is that most of my problems can be solved by just calming down. Being still. Choosing love over fear.
I used to think that “comfort” and “stillness” were wildly different things – comfort being synonymous with decadence while stillness was aligned with a more monastic quality. But now I am wondering if the two intersect. Maybe, comfort is even found most reliably in the act of being still, in not circling around a moment but rather, sitting fully inside it. Perhaps my own procrastination has to do with avoiding my turn being the Someone Else. Maybe not writing is the way I dig in my heels, cross my arms over my chest, and resist. And yet, resistance is cold. There is no comfort in a fight, but I am always heartened at how quickly comfort returns when I stop resisting the way things are. Warm nests. Hot pasta. Fashion magazines. Uncrossing our arms. Being still. Maybe they are just different versions of the same thing.
Resistance is cold. Love over fear. Stillness & comfort. Yes. Yes to all of it.
Thanks for the reminder to “choose love over fear” and the parenting advice of “Don’t lose your shit.”. Your writing always puts a smile on my face and tears to my eyes. Thinking of you and your family in this time of transition. Looking forward to seeing your essays in book form – Is it available to purchase yet?
Thank you Carol! Ha ha – no book:) Hopefully our next “transition” will lead us to the Pacific Northwest. We are hoping for Bremerton – not super close to you, but in the same state!!
Wow – an incredible post. Thanks for sharing this. I am sending all of you good thoughts as this transition happens. It is not easy. I can only imagine how difficult it must be.
Thank you Mary Ann! I can already feel those good thoughts. I tend to write about what is hard and sometimes don’t write about the good things. There are lots of those too:) I appreciate your good wishes! xo
I’m right where you are, in the position of having to make the active choice to choose love when my natural reaction is fear. Thanks for this post. Gave me comfort that I’m not alone in what I’m going through. Great to also read your writing again. x
We are never alone in what we are going through, are we? I find that comforting. xo
Pamela, your posts are so beautiful – isn’t it funny how the more we dig, the more we realize what we learn is right in front of us, inside of us, all along? I love where you landed…comfort and stillness intersecting – so true. Thanks for standing in front of your procrastination and writing; love when you do!
Thank you Kerri! You are so right – what we need is always right here. Thank you for reminding me of that!
How incredibly lovely. It is so comforting for me to see where I am in someone else’s words.
Thank you Julie. It’s so comforting to me to know that we are in this together. Thank you for pointing out that there is always someone out there who knows what we are going through.
Even though I am not a writer, I understand your lack of interest to write when difficult anxiety proving things are happening. As a reader of your blog I appreciate your insights into confronting challenges in our daily lives. Been thinking of you lately because of Laura Plumb’s spring cleanse. Thank you for leading me to her blog from yours! Wishing for you lots of courage and love in the coming weeks.
Hi Jean! I am so glad you are doing Laura’s cleanse and that you two connected. It’s a small world! Thank you for checking in. Thank you for your good wishes and I am sending you happy kitchari thoughts! xo
Yes, yes, yes! Slowing down, sinking in, taking life moment by moment. Your writing has a way of bringing me back to this place. Thank you. Hugs to you!! xoxo
Thank you Jessica!
Welcome back. I have missed you and your writing. I was at Legoland last Summer so while I read your prose I was visually imagining your journey through the park.
I have great empathy for the transition you are about to experience. Again. Your boys will be missing their Dad and you will be missing your Partner.
How long is Scott’s deployment? Does he get a stay during his time away to come home for a visit?
Thank you Trish! It’s hard to forget Legoland, isn’t it? In all honestly I really do like that place:) My husband is gone for 12 months but he will be working on a base in Bahrain so we can visit him and he gets to come home once too. We will make the most of our mideast adventures! Stay tuned:)
Oh, Pamela, your writing always manages to break my heart and then put it right back together again. Sending so much love to you and your boys – on your trip and always. xoxo
Back at you! Thank you for taking the time to comment. xo
I think they are versions of the same thing. Beautifully put. I, too, cross my arms and don’t write when I don’t want to face stillness and simply be. It seems counter intuitive, but it’s quite the defense mechanism.
I came here the other day via Lindsey, and I’m stunned that we haven’t crossed paths before!! I sat and read post after post, nodding my head and sighing at the beauty of how you string words together. It’s nice to meet you! xoxo
Yes, it’s so great to cross paths with a kindred spirit. Do you have a blog? If so I would love to read it! Nice to meet you too!
You are so immensely fabulous!
Thank you Laura!
Pamela, your essays are always worth the wait. Don’t worry about not writing more, when what you DO write comes from such a deep place and speaks to us so profoundly. I agree with Kristen: as always, you break my heart and heal it at the same time. ( Love over fear: I have to remind myself, too, all the time. )
Thank you Katrina.
Um, where do I begin with how beautifully insightful this was? Firstly, your emotions in all of this are completely validated. Why would you ever get used to not having your love around? What a beautiful thing to have that connection and to want to hold it so close.
Love over fear is a hard one. I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately with all of my life changes. But it never fails that when I focus on love, there is warmth and comfort. And then I’m still.
Thank you Britt. Your blog is my go-to place for reading about true love and following your heart. xo
most of us, if faced with something as fearsome as a spouse leaving to go into danger or ‘deployment’ would utterly lose our shit and entirely give into fear. having resistance must be the coping, the fitting it into a space where it can be handled. how to not have fear? Love over fear is the greatest work of our time, all of us. good lord, you can write. . . . thanks for letting me share your writing.
Thank you Kate. You are always so generous. And you make me laugh:)
I love your writing–it makes me want to write, like responding to bird cries or cicadas. Maybe I write, when I do write and I’ve been away from it as well, it’s in the hope that some sort of sheltering blanket will bring both stillness and comfort to that feeling of abandonment so many of us carry around with us. And I hate separation and want to send virtual hugs as you face it–and love and safe wishes for you and your family, BD
Bruce. I have no words. Even your comments are poetic. Yes – like bird calls. When you come back I will be the first one to read. Thank you. xo
I echo both Kristen and Katrina about the breaking and the healing. You are such a wonderful writer, even if not one who comes to this space on a regular basis. I especially love this line: “There is something about standing still that feels like falling behind.” Boy can I relate to that. I, too, no longer write on a regular basis — two posts in a whole year, to be exact! — and I am trying to let go and trust that I will come back to it when the time is right. I, too, am not sure I want to find out what I think at this juncture, although it always seems to find a way to come out anyway, like the weeks upon weeks of jagged sleep punctuated by wild dreams. In any event, your NOT coming here on a regular basis gives me permission to do the same, and I am SO glad when you DO come here, because I love everything you write. I’ll be thinking about you and your family in the coming weeks.
Thank you Elizabeth. You certainly have many reasons to not write. Your last post was so incredible and has stayed with me. Yes, you have my permission to wait until you are ready because I know what comes out will be breathtaking!
This line made me tear up: “Maybe, comfort is even found most reliably in the act of being still, in not circling around a moment but rather, sitting fully inside it”
It’s a message I really need right now. Thank you. I’ll be thinking of you.