It’s About The Journey

Life planning is really a first world problem, isn’t it?   At least it seems that way to me. It feels so self indulgent. On the one hand it does seem important to discover what your gifts are and to share them with the world, but to get all angsty about it while so many people in this world have the simple goal of not starving to death or getting bombed before nightfall, seems like a mix-up of priorities.

One of the ways of reconciling these thoughts, is to find a way to use your gifts in service. Perhaps if more people did that, there might be less starvation and bombing.  Maybe.

I have been doing some research in the past few months about goal planning, and finding your meaning in life. It seems every few years I hit a point where I realize my life is okay, but there are parts (job, some relationships) that always seem stalled and I can never figure out what to do to improve things.  I always end up not really finding a way to move ahead, so I just accept the status quo until the nagging feeling starts again.

As I was writing this, I remembered a book I bought for my father when he was about the same age I am now.  He had recently had a heart attack and had a triple bypass.  No man in his family had lived past the age of 50 and he was 50 when he had the heart attack.  But he did survive, in fact, for another 34 years.  He had always been sure that he would not live past 50 so he seemed a little unsure about this next part of his life.  I bought him a copy of Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece. It’s a story of a pie-shaped creature with a wedge missing (not unlike a PacMan), who sets out to find this “missing piece.”  Along the way he meets other creatures  and talks with them about his mission and he sees new things.  Then one day he finds his missing piece and he becomes a full circle and begins to roll and he rolls so fast, he can no longer stop to meet new creatures or see anything.  He finally comes to a stop and removes the piece.  He then begins his slow roll away from it singing his song about looking for his missing piece.

My father did not understand what the book meant (if you haven’t read it, I’m afraid you may not understand from my brief restating, either).  I explained to him that life wasn’t about arriving at your destination, but about the journey you take on the way.  I think it took a few more years before that message truly resonated with him. His generation was all about achieving the American Dream and as the son of Russian immigrants, I think he felt that more keenly.

Now I look back – in my 20’s I thought I understood the message, but did I live it?  I’m not sure. I don’t have regrets for the choices I have made. I don’t believe in that. I know I did what I thought was the right thing at the time and even choices I have made that ultimately did not work out, gave me new skills and experience to move on to something else.  I have a “good” life. I love my husband.  I have a job that pays my bills, but it is a vocation, not an avocation. I have very good friends who challenge me and love me.  I have wonderful step-children and the best grandchildren ever.  But those bits that don’t work still lurk in the back of my mind and talk at me while I try to sleep.  I don’t expect a perfect life, but I do feel like I’m missing something I could be doing to make at least my part of the world a better place.

So because the only thing more self indulgent than this journey to create this new part of my life was to start a blog, here I am.

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Maybe or Maybe Not

I have had a love/hate relationship with goal setting for many years. I suppose my story isn’t too different from many people. You are on your way to a goal and something smacks you down. After that happens enough, you begin to question the point of it all. Saving money was like that for me. Every time I saved something for a personal project, someone in my family suddenly needed money. One time, I had even convinced my job to let me work parttime so that I could pursue doing voiceover work. I had spent money on getting a professional demo tape, (back when they were cassette tapes) and created my own marketing package and mailed them to agents, when someone in my family had to declare bankruptcy and I was the only person in the family who could afford to pay for the proceedings. I am the only person in my family who has been able to work full time consistently for all my adult life. I had spent everything I had on getting the tapes done. I had to go back to my job and ask them to take me back full time, which, thankfully, they found a position for me. If I had been a braver woman, I might have tried to keep going after the voicework, but that was the third family bankruptcy I had had to pay for and I chose to be cautious. That cured me of trying to save money or make big plans for about 15 years.

This past year, I felt differently about the whole thing. It actually started in April of 2016. I was ready to take on some new challenges. I had just made a new list of things I wanted to do and was starting a group coaching session on making things happen. Then in May, my mother died, unexpectedly. That whole story may be told at another time, but it is enough to say that I was completely derailed for months. It wasn’t until December that I found the list I had written in April and I was shocked to see that I had actually done many of the things on that list, even though I was unaware that I was doing them. I realized that if I could do those things while basically in a fog, I could accomplish big changes in my life, if I made a complete plan. I started reading books and blogs about planning and goal setting. I was trying to find components of different plans that would work for me. At the very end of the year, I had three days off where I had no obligations to anyone. For three days I wrote goals, and steps and even potential setbacks so that I would not be knocked down again. And when I was done, I had a plan for 5 parts of my life – money, family, community, career and creativity.

At the end of March, I reviewed my progress. I was behind on health and creativity. As I write this, I see these are the two goals that are personal to me alone, and perhaps that’s why they came in last? Anyway, I don’t expect to pursue everything evenly all the time. There’s balance and then there’s crazy. But that’s why I want to review my goals, at least on a quarterly basis. For April, I signed up for a creativity workshop (discussed in my post (An Experiment in Terror Vol 1., part 2) and talked with my husband about me taking 2 weeknights to myself to paint/draw/write, or whatever. I created a health habit tracker for my planner. I am enough of an A-Type personality that filling out that chart became a bit of an obsession. I had nearly a perfect record for the month and I was very proud of that. I was super charged about what I had gotten done and was motivated to keep going.

May brought the smackdown that I was not expecting. The first anniversary of my mother’s death was harder and more emotional than I expected. The fact that is was on Mother’s Day weekend didn’t help.

I had spent hours and hours reviewing our money spending and trying to create a budget. We have been a single income family by choice, for several months, but we have not changed our spending to accommodate that. I showed the numbers to my husband and we agreed to make some cuts. I was feeling good about it as there was potential for saving as well as cutting debt. Then my husband’s car needed major repairs. The car is paid for, and we want to take care of it. $2,000 later, he’s back on the road and a guy runs a red light and hits him and drives off. Another $3,300. That was my bonus and tax refund that I had just paid into the credit cards, gone. In less than 2 weeks.

And finally the night where my big toe exploded. I was watching TV with my husband and my toe started hurting like crazy. By the time we went to bed, it hurt so bad I could not sleep. And I kept hearing my Dad in my head talking about his gout and his big toe. Morning finds me googling gout and I learn that you can get it from taking too much niacin. My doctor had me on very large doses of niacin to combat high cholesterol. I stopped taking the niacin and the doctor did tests and chronic gout was confirmed.

And as I write this, there’s one week of May left.

I now have a third chronic illness. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Grave’s disease, and then a couple of years after that, Celiac disease. None these are life threatening, but had been bad enough that I have been in pain, especially in my legs, almost constantly for the past 7 years. You see, despite the fact I got the gout from the niacin, it wasn’t going to go away by my not taking it anymore. As I understand my situation at this time, I will have to watch my uric acid levels the rest of my life. And this means more dietary changes. I have been gluten-free for about three years, but now I’m pretty much going to have to be meat-free and dairy-free and alcohol-free. I don’t have to be a perfectly sober vegan, but I am going to have get a lot closer.

Having another pain-filled illness was a little much for my emotional state. I stopped tracking, I stopped doing the things I was tracking. I whined to my friends, who were very supportive and gave permission to whine for a bit, but also gave me action steps to pull myself out of my funk. This is why I love my friends. My husband made me wonderful meatless meatballs, and he drank all my gluten-free beer. I’m sure that was for my benefit….

I had to shut down my brain from the negative spiral. Almost everything I had accomplished in the past 4 months was gone and I was hurting and angry. I gave myself permission to just not think about it for a week. Friday, I had an email that I could pick up a diet book that I had requested from the library. Saturday, I sat on the couch almost all day with my foot propped up, alternately watching old episodes of Twin Peaks and reading the book. I started to think about small changes I could make to my diet to start getting on track. I had let go of the panic-inducing thought that I had to change things overnight. I realized I had a three-day weekend coming up where I could spend some time doing some food prep to make changes happen a little easier. I was so much more relaxed when I went to bed. I woke up at 5:30 this morning with my brain buzzing. I got up and journaled for the first time in a week. While journaling, I found a way to turn around my thinking about getting smacked down on goals. I realized that because I had created a long-term plan and trackers, I was going to be able to get moving ahead more quickly than just starting over again.

Then I decided, because ultimately, how I wish to view things is my decision, that getting smacked down was not a punishment for thinking of me. Instead, I have a superpower that unconsciously knows these things are coming and it sets me on a path to be prepared. Yes, it’s a mind game, but I don’t believe in any great force out there that would be interested in punishing me for taking care of myself, so that’s a pretty ridiculous thought process to go with.

Having a superpower brings me back my control. I have not taken good care of myself. I haven’t eaten well and I don’t (except for last April) exercise, and I take on huge amounts of stress. I have the feeling my body has been screaming at me for a long time and I have been too absorbed in taking care of other people to hear it.

Ultimately, it all boils down to me and my mindset and choices in fixing this. I have to write a new plan. I am now experienced at doing that. I know how to create a bridge of steps to get me where I need to be and I know that I will get knocked down again, and I will get up again. There are a lot of changes that need to made, but they only have to be made one at a time.

As long as I’m espousing ridiculous theories, I have one more to add. My father was fascinated with Houdini. He bought me kits and books so I could learn how to do magic. He was also very interested in Houdini’s spiritualism debunking and how Houdini promised that if it was possible, he would try to contact his wife after his death. They worked out a code so she would know it was his message. There are stories, but no proof that Houdini was able to contact his wife, but my father was very much into the idea. He said he would try to find way to communicate from the other side. He always thought I spent too much time taking care of other people at the expense of myself. He also had a trickster sense of humor. The thought that he would contact me through gout to tell me to take care of myself kind of makes me smile, albeit wincingly, through the pain.

An Experiment in Terror Vol 1, pt 2

I went to a workshop on creativity today.   I didn’t decide to go until this week, but I checked out the website (creativeoasiscoaching.com). Jill Bryan, who is the creative coach is also a singer/songwriter. She released a CD some years ago and created this event for women artists helping this international women’s group. I checked out the artists she invited to work with her and I just liked the whole thing.  I liked her music, and the artists she worked with were doing work I thought was interesting, so I decided to pay my fee and give it a shot.  There were mostly women, 1 man came with his wife, but willingly.  Jill had inexpensive art supplies all over the tables, watercolors, crayons, markers, colored pencils and the first thing she gave us was a permission slip to permit ourselves to take this time for our creativity.  Very non-threatening.  The people in the room had a mix of creative outlets – writing, painting, music.  I won’t go through the whole thing, but I did have a revelation worth the price of admission.

I have always had nightmares since I was a child.  They happen less frequently now – they are more disturbing dream than nightmare, usually. At one one point I had those waking dreams where you had sleep paralysis. And I was always convinced there was someone in the room. I would have these things several nights in a row.  Then they would stop for a long period and start up again.  I thought I was crazy, but these are actually not that uncommon.  I read a book around the mid-’90s called Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes.  I still have my copy of this book, although I think there are newer editions.  Estes is a cantadora storyteller  – a keeper of old stories – as well as a Jungian psychologist and she breaks down the female archtypes in folk tales and fairy tales in this book.  One thing she talked about was “Dark Man Dreams,” which were exactly the nightmares I was describing.  But she says they tend to come to people in times of stress, especially when we are making changes in our lives that maybe our brain doesn’t think we are ready for. So it “sends” the dark man dreams to scare us out of moving ahead.  Once I read that, I realized the timing of the dreams did correspond with big changes – like the summer before I left for college. So I stopped being scared of those dreams and I actually stopped having them.

Later, I had nightmares about doors. I was in a room and there was something on the other side, trying to get in and I knew it was something bad.  I have had an issue with doors since childhood.  In the house where I grew up, all the bedrooms opened on to one hallway. If I was the only one at home, especially at night, I would get so scared, that I could not walk down the hallway – and guess who’s bedroom was at the very end?  It wasn’t really the doors as what might be in the rooms, so I would walk down the hallway, making sure each door was closed and then crouch on the floor at the end, with my back against the wall, and watch all the doors until someone came home.

So, in my early 30’s I start having these door nightmares.  By then, I am in therapy for other issues, and we talk about the nightmares.  I am having a lot of trouble sleeping and I’m crying a lot and just seem to be hitting a bad point.  And my therapist decided that maybe I need some medication, but she’s only a social worker and sends me to a psychiatrist to get an opinion/prescription.  So I go to his office.  I open the door and there is a sort of waiting area and facing me are three closed doors with no names on them, no signs, there’s no area for a receptionist – just a couch and doors and I had my first and last panic attack.  A real one, not just the expression.  I ran out and sat in the hallway and cried until the doctor came out. He was very apologetic about the receptionist not being there – I guess one of the doors was where that person was supposed to be when they were in.  I then had to explain the whole door problem and he was really nice about it.  Not surprisingly, I walked out of there with a prescription for Prozac.

I finally figured out what I am pretty sure triggered the whole door thing. My parents separated when I was 9, but they were having problems long before that.  I don’t remember my parents fighting.  What they would do is go into their bedroom and shut the door and you could see Mom had been crying when she came out. The only time they shut the door (except sleeping) was when they were in there, arguing.  I think I knew something bad was happening behind the door, but I didn’t know what it was.

Cut to years later, I don’t really have door nightmares anymore, but I can still feel apprehensive in a room or hallway with too many closed doors.  A couple of weeks ago, I decorated a new sketchbook. I am trying to learn to draw and I have been intimidated of carrying a sketchbook around, although I feel it is necessary to be able to practice whenever I can.  So I decorated and personalized the sketchbook. I named it: “An Experiment in Terror: Vol 1.”  I pasted a picture of a hallway with closed doors inside the front cover to sort of make fun of my fear.  And then I started noticing doors around me and doors as symbols becoming more prevalent.  So now we get to today’s workshop.

The reason I went to the workshop is that I have supplies and I have more time, but I am still finding it difficult to make myself work at the drawing and painting I want to do. So Jill asked the question of all of us, “What is stopping you from being creative?”  And I listened to everyone recite the list I have read over and over in all these creativity books – Fear of failure, fear of success, not worthy, etc, and when it got to me, I said that “I can’t seem to find the discipline I need, but I know it is something beyond that.” Then, with no idea of what I was going to say, “it’s like reaching for the handle of a door and something on the other side pulls the door shut in your face.”  I had never had that image before when thinking about my discipline/self sabotage issues. But it suddenly sounded so right.  Jill said that was a good time to discuss what she calls “small questions”.  What is on the other side of the door?  Who might be on the other side? I started writing some things down and I wrote one question that was actually part of my scariest door nightmare.  In this one, a guy I worked with was in the room with me and there was something at the door trying to get in.  I thought I would feel better because I wasn’t alone, but then he said “How do you know it isn’t me?” And he vanished.  I still remember being terrified after waking up.

I wrote down that question today and then I remembered my therapist’s theory about dreams, that all the people in them are some aspect of you.  And maybe that was the answer all along.  These were my new “Dark Man Dreams.”  The scary person on the other side of the door was just me.  If I could no longer scare myself away from new things, then maybe I could just slam the door in my face.  I think all my awareness of doors, lately, has been my mind still trying to invoke fear about being creative.

I don’t expect my self sabotage issues to magically disappear from this, but having an image in my head for what is going on is going to be very helpful. The rest of the workshop was relatively peaceful, but let me leave you with my haiku about a clementine orange that left the room in stunned silence.

Jill gave us all a clementine when we took a short break.  We were to write all the words that came to mind as we ate it. (she did ask first, if anyone had an issue with clementines, so I’m guessing she had a backup option for those who were orange averse).  I went outside and wrote my words and then we came in and she asked us to circle or mark the words that could also apply to our “creative journey.” Next, we were to take those words and write a haiku. So most of the haikus were all about something fresh, exciting, juicy, fragrant.  But to be honest, my clementine had no smell. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t sweet. My thoughts were more about appearance and function.  Then we had to take one of our words and make it the title. I mentioned that mine might seem a little darker than the others.

Container

Alien tendrils
Small world, explosion emerge
Pieces, shell, empty

No exaggeration, they all just stared at me.  Then one woman seemed to get it – she said “it’s about you eating it, the stages.  It’s not dark, it’s deep.”  I was grateful for that. I really didn’t mean for it to sound as if I felt empty regarding my creativity, I was just describing the orange. But I also think if you fully invest yourself in something to create it, you could feel (temporarily) empty.  It’s funny how people seem to want their art or “art journey” to be all the positive words. I don’t believe you have to suffer to create art, but I do think there is a lot of richness to be mined from acknowledging the places that darkness and fear have in your life.

An Experiment In Terror Vol. 1

(Note: I have been and plan to continue reading many books that I may mention. I will say what I liked and didn’t like, but I don’t plan on “recommending” a book. Books of a self-help nature and really, any books, communicate differently to different people and even differently to the same people at different times. If something I say about a book makes you want to look it up, then that’s great and may even be helpful, but I read for my own purposes and not to suggest options for others, nor do I expect others to get what I get out of the same book.)

I recently finished Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.  She is the author of Eat, Pray, Love, among other titles.  The subtitle of this book is “Creative Living Beyond Fear.” I had heard many good things about this book and I found it’s style and message just right for me at this time.  I am not looking for big answers, but little ones, and her book is includes simple, small things we should consider and do to connect with our creative self as well as some truly magical ideas.

The first chapter is titled “Courage,” and in it she talks about being scared of everything as a child and this particularly resonated with me.

I too, was scared of everything.  Both of the physical world and unseen forces.  And nuns.

We would go for walks and come across a small ditch that everyone else could jump over, but I would get paralyzed and finally have to crawl down in the space and climb up or stand there until someone would help me over.  I couldn’t tell you what I was afraid of except I seemed to have no confidence the other side was real, even with other people standing there as proof. My father would say I moved as if I were walking on eggshells. It wasn’t until I was nine and sent home from school because the only letter I could read on the eye chart was the Big E on top that we understood what was happening.  I had been nearsighted for quite some time, but no one realized it.  I would sometimes wear my father’s glasses in the house and was told to take them off as they would hurt my eyes. I said I could see better with them, but no one heard me.  And it never dawned on me that maybe I should have glasses.  As a young child, I was extremely shy and introverted and pretty much spent all my time in books. Perhaps if I had read a book about a girl wearing glasses, my life would have been different.  So, at nine I discovered that the world was not an abstract painting.  Trees had individual leaves and there really was a safe place on the other side of a ditch.

The unseen forces are for another post.  That was a fear that led to different results.

And nuns.  I will tell about the nuns now, since there is no particular reason to wait.  No one could ever figure out why I was so scared of nuns, but I would start pointing at them and screaming and crying.  Really loudly.  I had no connections with nuns. Pretty much the only place I saw them was airports.  My father traveled frequently and we often were at airports and for some reason, so were nuns.  I would make a terrible scene and sometimes the nuns would try to get closer to comfort me and that would just make it worse. My mother would have to ask them to leave. This finally faded away and it was just a family joke until the film “Vertigo” was restored in 1996 and I went to see it with my then brother-in-law.  Until the end of the movie, I was sure I had never seen this Hitchcock classic, but (spoiler alert if you haven’t seen this movie) when Kim Novak is in the bell tower and turns and sees the nun, I sat up in my chair completely stiff and had to keep from crying out.  Kim Novak, seemingly as startled as I was, falls back and out of the window to her death and you see the nun looking out the window over her.  I now think it is possible that I saw “Vertigo” at a very young age and believed the nun pushed Kim Novak out the window, but I wasn’t able to connect the movie with my fear.  I cannot verify this, but both parents agreed it was possible. My father was a film critic and I saw a lot of movies that were not for kids.

Back to my eyes – I had terrible hand-eye coordination while growing up. It was accepted that I didn’t pay attention, although I was sure I did, and that I was just naturally clumsy.  At 16, I was trying to learn to drive, but scaring the heck out of everybody because I couldn’t seem to tell how close I was to other cars.  Everyone kept saying look in the middle of the lane ahead of you and I kept saying I was.  I said I cannot see what you are talking about.  This time, my mother heard me.  She took me to the eye doctor who said there was nothing wrong with me and suggested my mother take me to be examined for a brain tumor (I was also complaining of frequent headaches.)  Mom wisely took me to another eye doctor.  He discovered I had severe astigmatism in both eyes and my depth perception was way off. This was probably brought on by the pressure from wearing hard contacts for 6 years as prescribed by the first doctor. He thought that I was still young enough for the situation to correct itself if I stopped wearing contacts.  It is mostly corrected. I learned to drive when I was in my 30’s. But I still cannot see a straight line and do not ask me to hang a picture.

It is hard to quantify how these vision problems have affected me. Not seeing wasn’t the issue so much as not seeing what everyone thought I should be seeing. I literally had a different perspective on everything and people seemed to think that I was willfully refuting them, refusing to conform to their world. It was a physical lacking that somehow became an emotional distancing or contrary ideological stance. I was just trying to understand why I couldn’t catch a ball, or walk through a doorway without hitting the jamb with my shoulder, I wasn’t trying to challenge the world order. But it did create in me a difficulty to accept what I was being told, if I felt differently.  I don’t trust what I do not understand or “see.”  I am not without faith in some people or ideas, but I  generally do not accept what other people tell me is safe and right unless I feel it myself. I ask questions and look for proof and this sometimes upsets people that think I should do or accept something because they do.  But I have learned their rules don’t always apply in my world.  I have stopped walking on eggshells and I have stopped crashing into doorways, and I have a path.  But I now know that I am the only one who can see that path and the only one who can navigate it.

And if I run into any nuns on that path, well, I’ll deal with that when it happens.

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