Do you ever reflect back on all you’ve experienced and how you made it through? All those heartaches, all those twists and turns. You survived them. You learned that good things still happen after them. You realize that you have material worthy of songs and books. Your pain has made you into the beautiful, rich, and interesting human being you are today. Those secret longings, those memories, those places our minds go to when we’re driving with the windows down listening to a favorite song or when it’s late at night and we’re drinking a glass of wine and thinking about that person, that moment, that secret pain, that secret longing—these moments are what make us human, are what make good poetry, good film, good songs. Your life is beautiful. Each experience, joyful and painful, can be woven into the quilt that is your beautiful life… I wouldn’t trade these secrets of the heart for anything. They’re the fuel that keeps my heart burning and alive.
“Trying to follow another person’s path is a sure way of getting lost.” —Andrea Barilla
These past few weeks I have lost my appreciation of the simple things. My usual way of handling stress, of handling overwhelm has been to pull out my Sarah Ban Breathnach books and read an entry on gratefulness, on restoring order from chaos. Then, I will tidy my space—put away the dishes, dust the bookshelves, gather the magazines from around the apartment and put like with like. Simple things. Restoring physical order to my space not only rights the external, it also allows my mind to reflect on those things I am grateful for and then the people I am grateful for (because, honestly, most of the things I own, the things that can fit in my little studio apartment are meaningful and were given to me by people I love). The tangible putting away of an item, of sorting the magazines, brings peace.
Our minds need rest. They need a clearing in which to play.
So often as individuals running our own businesses (and as those who don’t have families nearby), we find that work consumes our every moment just about. If you’re anything like me, perhaps you use work to fill those empty spaces, those empty moments. You use it to fill the heart spaces until you realize your love tank is empty. That your mind is tired. That you’ve forgotten those simple things that bring you joy.
Another thing that can rob us of joy is comparison. These past few weeks I lost track of what makes “me” happy, of how much “I” have grown. As a freelancer, it can take a few years to find those things that really make us tick—our niches, our specialties. And once we find those things, oh wow. That is really something. Freelancing, despite what many believe, doesn’t have to involve bouncing around like a pinball in a pinball machine. Find those few things you are good at, make some happy customers, and you are on your way. (But, yes, it can take time to find those things, so be kind to yourself on the journey…)
Too, finding one’s specialties doesn’t mean one suddenly earns six figures or gets a book deal off the bat. And this is okay. I recently spoke with a freelancing friend who is a great encourager, but we are different. Our paths and specialties are different. And he is making more. I don’t advise talking salaries with people in your field. It is BAD. Not a healthy thing to do. In this case, it just kind of came out. There were no bad intentions. Well, I left feeling like a failure, like I wanted to SINK INTO THE FLOOR. I felt insecure about my income, insecure that I wasn’t doing enough, insecure that I wasn’t charging enough. That I was a failure as a freelancer. That I was a LOSER.
Whoa whoa WHOA.
“Back up girl,” I should have told myself.
Instead, I’ve spent the last few weeks fighting paralysis when I should be crazy excited that I have found my focuses, my specialties, the things that make me tick, the subjects that I can speak upon with authority.
But no, I have sunk into the persona of loser freelancer girl, which is farthest from the truth.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
The fact is, books are my THING. After four-plus years of doing everything under the sun (but mostly spending ten hours a day finding the most minuscule of errors in documents), I am attracting the clients and the jobs I have always wanted. In just under a month, I have been in discussions with four authors whose works all intrigue me and have potential. I am ghostwriting a book. I am embarking upon social media promotions for authors, an avenue that excites me almost as much as the writing and editing portions. My ghostwriting client wants my help with marketing his works and to collaborate on another book in the future.
Stuff is HAPPENING.
Last summer, when my old jobs started shifting due to staff changes and illnesses, I sensed a shift back toward writing, that I just had to HOLD ON and trust day by day that something was happening here. I just knew. I instinctively knew that this shift was a positive thing despite the lack of income. And my faith in God’s provision sustained me.
And sure enough, He hasn’t let me down. He has provided manna.
And, though, yes, I am still living in trust, this is okay with me. I am growing at a pace that fits me. Like Donna Tartt who takes years to write her books, I like to get good at a few things before taking on more. I did this with copy editing, taking on more and more until I was working with some prestigious clients. This works for me. This is my way. (Caveat: This does not mean I don’t push myself at times or take on an assignment that terrifies me a bit. The calculated risk is essential for the entrepreneur. We can’t grow complacent.)
But my way of growing my business, of growing my skills works for me. And I trust in it.
And it is okay.
It is okay to follow your own path of peace and success.
It is okay to take a few hours to clean your apartment because it brings you peace.
It is okay to cry sometimes.
It is okay to not be perfect all the time; but most importantly, it is okay to realize YOU ARE DOING WELL.
Think back on how YOU have grown. Use YOURSELF as your measuring stick. And yes, do try to build a schedule that allows for people time, for those things that bring your mind rest.
We are not meant to work 24/7. We are meant for more than work.
And oh, it can be fun when you pause and appreciate what “you” have done, what “you” have.
Enjoy the sights on your own path…
Give us this day our daily bread… (Matthew 6:11, KJV)
As I was taking my walk this afternoon, letting the brisk air filter in, imagining it filling my lungs with health, I thought of the story of the Israelites receiving manna from above, daily food, and how it was something they could not keep, but rather sustenance they had to enjoy each day, trusting that tomorrow it would return.
Some times are like this, times in which we must focus on the little things, the manna we are given, our physical health, walking step by step with Him.
Getting a cold or other irksome illness brings us close to ourselves, forcing us to pay attention to our physical bodies in a way that we don’t often do. In order to get well, we must eat good food, rest our bodies and minds, get fresh air. We live almost moment by moment.
I suppose I am lucky I can work from home and take naps and walks when I please, but I must say, with asthma, minor illnesses hit hard. A cold makes it difficult to breathe and tends to linger. My energy level is zapped, and I must focus on the essentials, knowing that once health is restored, I will have to hit things harder on the work and home front.
But I am learning to pause, to use these times of illness to restore balance, to take care of my body, to remember that life is more than just deadlines and bills, to remember that there is blessing to self care—to taking one’s vitamins; to eating fresh fruits and vegetables; to the calming ritual of making a pot of tea and letting the steam open the passageways; to taking a gentle walk without the phone, feeling the brisk wind filling up the lungs, listening to the rustle of the trees and the birds flying ahead. There is blessing in taking a nap, in reading an article from a magazine you just couldn’t find the time to read, and in finding poetic passages that enrich your mind and remind you that life is about more, that life is full of beauty and poetry and that even sadness has value.
You find yourself thanking God for his provision, and you let your restless mind wander for a bit (something you are not prone to do in the normal busyness of life), and you find yourself thinking more deeply, thinking about the blessings of manna, thinking about how not everything is permanent. And how this is okay.
He will provide.
There is blessing in the manna days.
The past few weeks have been exhausting yet exhilarating. My apartment is dustier than usual, my hair needs cut, paperwork is calling for my attention—yet they’ve all been sacrificed to the throne of creative endeavors, including my own paid work. Along with my usual editing, I’m helping to ghostwrite a book; I’ve witnessed a colleague land a major publishing house deal (tried my first glass of moonshine to celebrate said deal); sat in on some panels with editors and agents; had a professor tell me I should consider participating in one of these panels next year; had three people reach out to me in one week for freelancing coffees; and received a full pass to a local film festival in which I stood in a swanky filmmaker’s lounge chatting with the crew of a film that inspired me and then on a boat eating chicken, waffles, and grits at midnight, chatting with a female documentary filmmaker about her work, work that I knew I’d be following.
And I enjoyed every single moment.
And I didn’t feel unworthy.
And the interactions were genuine—artists talking to other artists, artists celebrating other artists’ successes, artists learning tips from other artists. Nobody better than the other.
It’s taken me over ten years to realize my worth as a creative person.
This feeling of unworthiness, this imposter syndrome, this feeling I’m not good enough, a fake, a fraud has led me to shrink back from connecting with creatives in my program, has kept me from visiting campus, has stopped me from reaching out to classmates. Having this creative community so near is part of why I moved back to this town. But what am I? I’m an editor. What writing have I done? What major publications have I written for? None, really. What about the book I’ve been trying to write for six years? How is it coming along? Well, I have one chapter and some notes…
I’ve done the same thing with church. When I am struggling with a deeper sin, I stay away. Queen of unequally yoked relationships that led me to compromise my values and faith, I decided that instead of being a hypocrite Christian on the outside, horrible sinner on the inside, I’d just stay away. And I did. Then, when me and unequally yoked guy broke up, I’d be back in church.
I can’t do half-assed.
I can’t do fake.
Now I’m embarking on my first paid book assignment in years, and it is one that allows me to experiment with humor (a secret writing interest), as I insert references to TV shows and other cultural things like mullets, online dating, and the like.
It is wonderful. And it is helping me to see that I can PRODUCE.
I am capable of writing.
I can do this.
Still, I wish it hadn’t taken so long to know this.
I’ve always been a writer, but things have gotten in the way. And I could list them all here and make a sob story out of them—things like my father’s death and the multiple moves and losses; the relationship I was in that was colored by some yucky stuff too personal to mention; the day-long anxiety attack that came with the front-page story I produced for a fairly large paper, an attack that led me to turn away from the second front-page story, from this paper that I knew was priming me to be a reporter, an attack that led me away from writing for a few years—sure, I could list these things and others, or I could share how with help I’ve been climbing out of the pit of unworthiness and anxiety step by step, determined to find my way back to my passion.
I could tell you of how the God I believe in has been with me every step of the way, even when I was in those unequally yoked relationships. How he never gave up on me. How he knew what was in my heart, how my desire to serve him was real. Authentic.
I could tell you of the counseling I went through and the support group I belonged to that helped me through the grief, the relationship yuckiness, the abandonment remnants that remained from childhood, and how the tools these counselors provided propelled me further out of the pit, how they are nothing to be ashamed of.
I could tell you of the church class I took and how one night my Lord gave me an epiphany about my raw honesty—that it was a gift, a gift that may help others find courage and healing themselves. For so long, I felt like an oddball whose need to share her personal experiences was “too much.” That night was the first time I saw its value. And I thought of how another friend’s expressive, inspirational Facebook posts were a kind of church to me when I was too ashamed to go to a brick-and-mortar church.
I could tell you of the burnout I experienced, forgetting that just because you are your own boss, you still need to treat yourself as an employee and give yourself a vacation. I could tell you how this burnout led me to take three full days off to do nothing but eat good food, rest, have fun, and write. How these three days led me to the local arboretum, where I sat in a quiet Japanese teahouse—its windows open to a babbling brook, fresh spring air, and birdsong—and how the tears came, how I just cried and cried with release and a joy rising up out of my heart, a deep joy because I knew that “it” was returning, refusing to be pushed down any more. How that same day I sat in a local coffee shop, filling a legal pad with pages upon pages of notes for the book I had wanted to write for years.
I could tell you how I applied for a residency to have uninterrupted time to write said book and also so I’d actually start the book, how I am anxiously awaiting the letter telling me if I got in, but still knowing it will happen. That it’s time.
I could tell you of the film I went to last week at a local film festival, a gorgeous film in the Western-type genre in which the main scriptwriter admitted that it took seven years to make, and that there were three years that he shelved it, years in which he focused on settling in after a move with his family and a new job. I could tell you how this story inspired me and demonstrated that, sometimes, good things take time, that there were other talented people out there who put their art aside for a time while dealing with real life stuff. That there was hope for me, too, then. How I came home and wrote a Facebook post about the film inspiring me, and how later I’d stand in a swanky filmmaker’s lounge and have the opportunity to read that scriptwriter my post.
One day during these past few weeks, I had coffee with a dear friend. She reached her hand across the table to touch my sweater.
“Is that cashmere?”
“I don’t think so,” I said, because cashmere was luxury. Though I hadn’t bought the sweater (it was given to me in a bag of clothes by a friend), I couldn’t even imagine owning a sweater that typically ran hundreds of dollars.
Cashmere was way out of my league.
Later that day as I grew warm, I took off the sweater and just out of curiosity looked at the tag.
It was cashmere.
Tonight, as the late-afternoon clouds threatened a summer thunderstorm, I began to dust off my long-neglected bike. As I dusted each part, I thought of the summer I rode this bike to and from work at 6:30 a.m. each morning, singing praise songs and breathing in the fresh, slightly salty air on my way to a bookstore job only miles from the beach. That summer lives on in my memory as a happy one; the rust on the bike evidence that it was ridden and enjoyed.
After I dusted off the bike, I vacuumed the spider webs from the outdoor wicker furniture, pounded the seat pillows, and laid some magazines on the side table. Remembering my childhood and lovely summer afternoons and evenings spent reading on the porch, drinking lemonade, and catching up with the neighbors, I had decided to spiffy up the little area I have on my apartment porch.
My wicker is worn, the pillows are slightly stained, and the table a little uneven, but does that really matter?
Since I moved here in September, I’ve barely had anyone over. Embarrassed a bit by how small my place is, how the carpet is stained and torn in places, how the furniture is mismatched, I’ve just let the days go by, leaving the apartment for people time. As such, this apartment is quite lonely. It’s just me and my cat Alfred most days. A friend suggested I invite some girlfriends over—“bring some light and love to the place” is what I think she said.
So last weekend, I invited a close friend to stay overnight with me. When this friend spent a weekend with me at my last apartment in the Amish countryside, a place where I felt isolated and out of place, she made me see the beauty in not only my apartment but also in the world around with her fresh eyes and appreciation for the little things. She spent the first hour commenting on all the treasures in my apartment and how “writerly” my place was. The earlier drive from the airport to the apartment involved numerous stops so she could take pictures of the snow, the quaint churches, the buggies, the gothic college in my little town. I felt so warmed and blessed by her visit. So I asked if she would “christen” this apartment with her light and love.
In the last few months of living in that little country apartment (which was actually an older turn-of-the-century house divided into two), a new neighbor moved in. I’ll call her Barb. Barb brought light and love with her two daughters; a golden lab and orange cat; and a neighborliness that was refreshing.
Upon moving in, she politely asked me if the arrangement of her additional furniture was okay. She then added comfortable pillows, magazines, and books to the porch. Many days she could be found lounging on her wicker couch, reading a magazine and drinking an icy beverage.
Most importantly, though, “she” reached out to the neighbors. She didn’t wait for them to come to her. She invited them over for a drink, for cheese and crackers. She lit the candles on the porch at night and chatted with friends. She and I had many happy moments in my last few months there, sometimes just the two of us and sometimes the dog, cat, and her youngest daughter—a cute and inquisitive little girl with glasses and a slight lisp who aspired to be a writer, a little girl I simply adored. When I needed a break from working, I just stepped outside and either Barb would be there or her little writer would come bounding down the stairs, golden lab and golden cat in tow. We’d relax, talk, laugh, read, and sip icy drinks. Sometimes, other neighbors would drop by to chat as well.
As I put a stack of magazines on the porch table tonight, including a Better Homes and Gardens that reminds me of my lovely neighbor Barb, I resolved to learn from her. My new apartment may not be perfect; I may not technically have a “porch” but rather a section of balcony shared with others, but I can bloom where I’m planted, adding little welcoming touches that make me and others want to sit, talk, drink a beverage, and relax.
Tomorrow, I am having a new friend over for dinner—simple fajitas—and I hope she will sit on the porch with me after. I hope we can share lemonade and some laughs while breathing in the fresh air of summer. Perhaps a neighbor will drop by and join us…
Hi friends! Just a request that you bear with me as I find my writing legs again. I know this blog will find its focus soon, but for now, it may seem a bit unbalanced or unfocused as I allow myself to write again—freely and without too much worry. Thanks!
I think all writers have a “spirit book” or two. This term happened into my head the other day as I pulled out A Year by the Sea by Joan Anderson. Whenever I am embarking upon any kind of writing project, I pull out this book. The cover, the underlined passages, and the book’s premise all speak to me. All speak to the core of my writing heart, the type of writing I long to do.
In short, this book refreshes my soul.
A Year by the Sea found me when I was asked to lead a women’s book club at the bookstore where I used to work. I was taking over for a dear coworker who was struggling with cancer. The manager handed over this book, asking me to read it for the next session of book club.
The night of the meeting, the women—mostly in their 40s and above—were skeptical. One even said (I paraphrase): “I can’t imagine you liked this book as it was about a middle-aged woman. I’m sure you couldn’t relate…” (I was in my early twenties at the time.)
Oh, but I did! I did relate. This book spoke to my heart in a way that few books ever had. And haven’t still.
The book centers on a woman, a wife and mother, who has lost herself in the shuffle of her myriad of roles. Her children out of the nest, she feels lost. And when her husband gets a job offer out of state, she makes an instinctual decision—surprising even herself—to step away, to spend time alone in the family cabin on Cape Cod.
My body became a stranger I chose not to know.
The book talks of finding one’s mental and physical self, as Joan makes the scary move to live by herself in a rustic cabin, risking hearing those authentic voices that don’t always tell us what we want to hear—in part why we fill our lives with so many things, so we don’t have to listen to these longings, these voices that speak from the core of our beings, longings that can hurt.
Joan learns to live with the tides of life, getting a physical job at a meat market, swimming with seals, stoking the fire—all the while reflecting on her marriage, her life—listening to that voice she had been snuffing out all those years.
This book inspires me on many levels, mainly because I relate to this intense desire to step away, to get to know one’s self, to live a simpler, more reflective life.
Probably because I do everything in my power to avoid it.
Like Joan, I fill my days with to-do list items, practical items, items to keep my mind occupied and my bills paid. I make sure that those in my life are okay with me. That I am not neglecting this person or that person. That all is okay. Managed. Organized. This started years ago as a child when my mother floated in and out of my life in a way too confusing for my young mind. So I kept it occupied. I read. Compulsively organized my bedroom down to the inside of drawers. Listened to songs over and over. Anything that didn’t give me time to think. Anything to make me feel that I had control over my life. And this practice stuck. During those book-club days, I was doing the same.
I had learned that keeping busy keeps the tide of difficult feelings at bay, silences the voice of one’s authentic self, whose voice we may not want to hear, whose voice may ask us to do something we do not feel ready to do, whose voice may ask us to face that difficult truth we do not want to face.
But, eventually, we can’t push that voice down anymore, as it comes out of us in a guttural, often unexpected and sudden way, and we know that we can’t ignore it anymore.
Which is why I’m at this coffee shop writing this blog post instead of doing what I “should” be doing. Because it’s time. It’s time to write. It’s time to reflect. It’s time to express. It’s time to feel.
And it’s guttural. And I couldn’t ignore it.
When I lost my father, I sought out a counselor, and after a few tries, I found my match—a woman whose creative heart matched my own, who would listen to me and have the perfect song, poem, book, passage that spoke to the core of what I was going through. And one day she gave me an exercise:
Sit with your feelings. When you begin to feel pain, sit. Force yourself to sit there for five minutes to start. Then ten minutes. Get comfortable with your feelings.
This reminds me of a passage in Joan’s memoir:
You can’t just one day order a body to do what you need at the moment; a relationship must develop. I must make friends with this stranger that is speaking to me with whines, creaks, and groans, coming to life after thirty-five years of slumber, a woman turned inside out, just now in touch with what once was invisible.
And so it’s no wonder that this book calls out to me like a fresh breeze, like a compass whenever I am ready to write again, because this is what my spirit longs for—time to reflect, slow down, pause, delve deeper into life, which is what a writing project allows.
A writing project is my cabin in Cape Cod.
When I lost my father, an unexpected loss of this person who was my favorite person, my father and mother for many years, my biggest cheerleader, I was lost.
And then I thought of Australia.
And a book project.
I was lucky at the time to have a bit of life-insurance money that I used to pay down a few debts and to plan this trip to Australia. It was my father’s dream trip, the one he always longed to take because his mother had been born there. And his mother had been his favorite person. His biggest cheerleader.
As the ensuing days without my father became more and more painful and as I moved back to my home state, shuffling between family members’ and friends’ houses while seeking a job, I returned to this writing project.
Planning, writing, thinking, reflecting.
It was my mental cabin. The cabin on Cape Cod that I escaped to.
While we don’t all have cabins, can’t all take a year off, and can’t all run away to Australia, we can find a practice to return to that centers us, that helps us pause, that allows us room to breathe, think, and get in touch with our authentic selves.
A Year by the Sea is my compass book. My spirit book. When I pick it up, it reminds me of why I write, why I want to write, why I should write. Which is probably why I picked it up a few days ago and why I’ve carried it in my knapsack these past few days. Why I’ve finally started this blog.
What is your spirit book? What is your cabin on Cape Cod?