December 7, 2010 § 3 Comments
It’s been a month since I last posted and it is good to be back. I left because for a change, I had people paying me to write. And then I paid people to teach me how to write better. I had deadlines!! (Such a glamorous word to me, because I have always wanted to be a writer. And deadlines is such a writer’s word.) This fall I took 3 writing classes through UCLA Extension Writing Program and was paid to write two articles on local food and farmers. I knew the articles would be work, but I thought the classes would be easy. I mean, it’s extension, right?
All 3 classes were outstanding and I learned a great deal about the craft of writing. Additionally, I was able to workshop the first 40 pages of a novel I am finally putting on paper. This was probably the first time I have been out in the world like this (even though it was all online) since my oldest son was born 5 years ago. It felt good to do something for me, to learn something a little more tangible than how to mother, how to care, and how to love well.
It’s also been the first time in as many years that I had to do a bit of balancing, or maybe juggling? The first three weeks of class, I tried to do it all, and then stopped going to yoga in order to spend more time writing. The result was not so good. For the remaining six weeks, I tried to balance a bit better. I drank more tea and more green smoothies. I kept going to yoga but decided to stop my blog for a while. I stayed up really, really late most Monday nights. The result was better but not perfect.
I used to think that balance was about doing everything perfectly and just not letting anyone know how hard it was. Now I see that balance is sometimes about doing a little bit of everything, and sometimes it’s about making choices. And sometimes it’s just about trying to laugh as you fall down yet again.
My last post was about locking myself out of the house. For some reason – maybe the $236 price tag to get back in – that day has stuck with me. I have thought a lot about being locked out. Locked out of opportunities, locked out of youth, locked out of my own heart. That last one is a place familiar to me, or at least it used to be. I used to live there, a good distance away from myself, too busy trying to get everything right and make everyone happy.
It’s really my children who have let me back in. They gave me the keys home. In the last five years I have lived closer to the ground. Instead of circling around myself and running away from anything I didn’t want to face or acknowledge, I have had to sit still through the murky bogs of discomfort. With two babies in the house, where is there to go? And yet, when I don’t go – when I can finally stop running and just stay – the world cracks open. Who I thought I was cracked open. A few years ago when I was just starting out, when I was just realizing that I could listen to my own small tune instead of the steady thrum of the world, my yoga teacher stopped me outside of class. “I just want you to know,” he told me, “that I see who you really are.” And then he gave me a huge smile. I was stunned by this comment, and then I burst into tears.
I still don’t know who I really am. I am still learning. And there is usually a point every day when I look for an escape route. Each day I am reminded of what Pema Chodron says: “Never underestimate the inclination to bolt.” I am still learning how to be still, how to be brave, how to mold my own life into what I want it to be. But now, I can say that I am here, somewhere under my skin, swimming slowly towards the center of myself. So I have missed this blog, because it’s all part of the navigation system. And it feels as indulgent as a box of truffles. What is it about telling the story of ourselves that gives us permission to live the story out loud?
A few days ago I picked up Mary Karr’s memoir, “Lit.” The first part of the book is a letter to her son, and the first line of the letter is, “Any way I tell this story is a lie.” I loved that. That my life is not the only one with more than a little fiction in it. But I love more how she ends the letter: “Maybe by telling you my story, you can better tell yours, which is the only way to get home.”
October 15, 2010 § 4 Comments
Yesterday, one of my worst fears was realized. It is a petty fear, one that has nothing to do with my family or with anything really important. It is a fear of the ego, but one that feels so very urgent. So very gripping. I have always been afraid that someday – any day – the world will realize what a fraud I really am. It’s like that dream, where I have no clothes on and the only thing I can hide behind are parking meters.
Recently, I wrote an article for the San Diego Reader on local food and where to get it. I’m a big fan of local food and local farmers, and my piece “Local Harvest” was meant to support San Diego farmers and direct people towards their produce and milk, meat and eggs. I defined local as “in San Diego county.” I was given 1000 words, paid $300, and spent over 40 hours on it. I thought it was good. I talked to farmers and chefs and butchers. I asked everyone I spoke to where I could find local meat, and the answer was always the same. “You can get local cows but they’re sent up to Imperial Valley to be slaughtered.” Or, “You can get local eggs, but no local chickens.” I wrote in my article that local meat – truly local meat – was impossible to find.
Yesterday, my editor sent me a note. You need to write an apology on Twitter, he said. And he forwarded me a link to a blog that skewered me for saying there was no local meat in San Diego. The writer of the blog owns a small restaurant in San Diego and uses local produce, California meat, and he makes his own sausage. He – like me – is a big proponent of local food.
On his blog he accused me of “screwing the factual pooch.” He said my article was a shame “because there might be people in San Diego who are thinking about looking into eating better food or local food, who then read some phoned-in nonsense and erroneously decide there’s no point in even asking for good food.” He said I misquoted the people I spoke with.
I read it and felt a growing sense of horror. I’m on your side, I wanted to say. Did you even read my article?
Regardless, Jay, the mean blogger was on a roll. He took bits of my article, made fun of it, and soon he had 15 commenters talking about what an idiot I was. Each comment seemed less and less based on reality. Each commenter grew more and more militant about things that had never happened. This, I thought is why we are at war with Iraq for the 9/11 bombing committed by Saudi terrorists. One of the commenters was even someone I interviewed and praised in my piece. Maybe she didn’t read the article either?
My favorite comment was from someone named “Becky” who said I wasn’t a “real reporter.” You’re right, I wanted to tell her. I’m not a real anything. I’m trying to be a stay-at-home mom. I’m trying to do some writing. I have a degree in biology, half a clue about parenting, 3 hours of paid childcare a week, and no idea how to do much at all except bake a pretty good pound cake. I wanted to cry, except the babysitter was leaving and my son wanted me to play with him.
Luckily for me, my husband shooed me off to yoga later that night, and on the way to class, I thought about how compassionate my editor was to me, how kind. “Write another article,” he told me. “Call the cranky blogger and follow his leads. See what happens.” I was so relieved, I was so grateful, and then immediately I was so ashamed. I never let people off the hook. Although I don’t want to, I believe people need to pay for what they do. They need to atone. The fact that my editor let me off so quickly, without hesitation, showed me how I keep everyone on the hook, from George W. Bush for the war, to the lady at the dry cleaner for yelling at me for losing my ticket, to myself, for everything.
In yoga last night, Kathy, my instructor started off class talking about teachers. “Our teachers are everywhere,” she said. “The word Guru means to take away the darkness.” Deepak Chopra wrote something similar in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. “Our tormentors and our teachers are one and the same.” I thought of my editor. I thought of my son, who pushes me to my furthest limits. I thought of my husband. I thought of Jay, the mean blogger. I thought of Becky, who didn’t think I was a real reporter. What is real anyway?
The real reason I was online yesterday and had a babysitter was that I am taking some writing classes through UCLA Extension. Some of the people in my class think I am OK, or at least that is what they say. One side of my computer had my gmail account up, my editor’s email to me and Jay’s blog about my phoned-in nonsense and factual pooch. The other side of my computer had a window up to my online writing class. “I like your story,” someone said. “I think you’re brilliant,” was another comment.
In yoga class, as I lay in Savasana, I thought about my computer, those disparate messages on my screen. “Not a real reporter.” And “You’re brilliant.” “Screwing the factual pooch,” and “I love how you write.” Opposites, staring up at me. They both can’t be right, I thought. And they both can’t be wrong.
I did some coaching with Rolf Gates this summer and he often reminded me about a poem by Rumi:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.
Rightdoing and Wrongdoing. Wasn’t that how the world worked? You’re right, I’m wrong. Black. White. None of it made any sense. I wasn’t brilliant. I didn’t screw the factual pooch. I wasn’t a real reporter. I wasn’t a fraud. I finally got – lying there on my back in a stinky, sweaty yoga studio – that in the end, it didn’t matter what people said. They would say I was great. They would say I sucked. Neither was right. Neither was wrong. In the end, all there is is the work. In the end, all there is is yourself. You show up. You do what matters. You do your best. You do what you can. Finally, I saw that the reactions – even the good ones I have built my entire life around – were meaningless. Reactions were only other people. Reactions were only their work.
To understand the magnitude of this is to know that my entire life has been based around pleasing people. My whole life has been a huge effort to make sure people don’t know that I am really a fake. That I am not who I pretend to be. And now I see that it just doesn’t matter. What matters is kindness. What matters is love. What matters is letting people off the hook.
I watch my children to whom all of this hard stuff comes easy. My sons fight about Thomas trains. About LEGO catalogs. About crayons. And yet, in the back seat of the car, three seconds later, they are holding hands. They are interlocking a finger. They are holding onto each other. They are showing me what a fraud I am and how, in the end, it doesn’t really matter very much.