You Are Here

you are hereI don’t know about you, but I spend a considerable amount of my energy fending off my feelings. I put myself down for feeling, I push little Bethany to put on her big-girl panties and deal with it.

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, I tell myself. The truth, however, is that all my emphasis rests on “Do It Anyway.” The “Feel the Fear” part gets skipped over.

If you’ve spent any time in the company of young children, then you’ve witnessed the tantrum. I won’t try to describe your child, but with mine it never, never worked when I tried to snap them out of it or even just to hurry them through the thing so we could get on with our day. (Why it worked for my mother to slap me and say “Knock it off” is an issue for me to discuss with a licensed therapist.)

What worked for me was to let my kid flail and cry and feel her feelings. What worked for me was to sympathize, which sometimes meant getting on the floor with my kid.

It worked with students, too. I had been reading Kids Are Worth It by Barbara Colorosa, when a student came up to me after class and exploded. I can’t remember what he was frustrated about, a grade, an assignment, something another student had done, but he sounded completely out-of-control and angry at me. Thanks to my daughters, I recognized that it was not about me at all. It was a tantrum, and logic was not the issue.

You are really angry, I said.

He stopped dead and his eyes widened. It was like magic. But it wasn’t magic. It was mirroring. All I had done was sympathize — feel — what he was feeling, and name it for him. And that’s all it took. We had a great talk. He got down to what was really bugging him, and we brainstormed a few strategies for fixing it.

Right now I have a lot of writing out — poems and stories and even a piece of a longer book. Waiting for rejections or acceptances or comments is scary. I start feeling this free-floating anxiety. I want to sleep, but I can’t sleep. I try to escape by burying myself in other writers’ novels. I self-anesthetize by playing games on my phone. But I know myself pretty well, and when I’m doing these things, when I wake up and see these behaviors, I recognize that I’m trying to turn off my brain (and heart) and not feel what I’m feeling.

Denying what I’m feeling doesn’t work on me any better than it used to work on my child. What works is for me to say, You’re anxious. You’re afraid. It’s okay. You can feel this. I’m here, 

Fear Itself

“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may be.” –May Sarton

angelpicI have been thinking about fear. A lot. At our wonderful social-justice obsessed church, our pastor is doing a series on fear, and this coming Sunday I’m going to do the children’s time talk about “the fear of not having enough.” The result is that I’ve been reflecting on what my big fears were in the past, and what they are now.

When I was young I was afraid that my home would be destroyed by fire. I liked to take pictures and I began keeping my negatives in a metal box, so if the house burned down, I would be able to reprint the photographs.

When I was in my twenties and lived alone, I was afraid of unknown intruders. In each of my apartments, I made sure I had a telephone with a long cord so I could lock myself in the bathroom with the phone, should I hear the door of my apartment being broken down.

When my twins were small, I was afraid that we would be turned in to CPS and that a sheriff or another equally scary agent of force would be sent to take our daughters from us. I kept our preschool teachers’ phone numbers and an attorney’s phone number where I could grab them so I could convince this person or persons that they could not do this.

My fears weren’t absurd or even unreasonable. Houses do burn down, violent intruders do break down doors, and CPS does get called. It was my enormous, jumbo-sized fear of these things that was absurd. What good did the fear do me? Several years ago I was teaching in the college’s temporary classrooms in a building shared with DSHS, and one day as I was doing prep in the lobby, I overheard two social workers talking. My twins were in third or fourth grade by then, which would make our youngest, three or four years of age. I found myself recalling my old CPS fear — a nightmare I’d often awakened to in the middle of a night, a cold sweat of fear and more fear — and I laughed!

First of all, I laughed with relief because I no longer worried about it, but also I saw the absurdity of it. As parents we may have been messy and unorganized and harried, but we loved our little girls to pieces. And they were stuck like glue to us. (What also made me laugh was a little tiny vision of respite care and counseling: “C’mon, girls — go quietly with this nice man and I’ll see you in two weeks!”)

Of course something terrible could happen. Terrible things happen all the time. But lying awake at night and nursing a fear until it grows large doesn’t stop anything from happening. Do I still give in to fear? Of course I do. Worry about my girls — even though they are now 23, 23, and 17 — grows large when I give it a lot of rope. I worry about money.

In my writing life, too, I am guilty of nursing a host of absurd fears.

  • What if I’ve worked all these years on a book that will never see the light of day?
  • What if no one ever publishes this novel?
  • What if I never get another book of poems published?
  • What if my dream of being a “real” writer never comes to fruition?
  • What if I’m a big old fraud and everyone is laughing at me?
  • What if I only think I can write and I really suck?

When I was a teenager and I put my negatives in a metal box, I stopped losing sleep about everything being destroyed in a fire. I don’t think my fear dissipated because my photographs could be reprinted (what was the likelihood of them melting? would I even be alive to reprint anything? could replacing photographs replace the real life home a fire would destroy?) but because that small action brought to light — to awareness — the absurdity of wasting any more time being afraid.

I gave up my fear of spiders with the same panache when I was about 27. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop worrying about my daughters, but I think it’s time to give up my fears around writing. I can start by shining a light on the fear. And I can write anyway.

Last Sunday, our pastor shared this clip for Bridge of Spies. It’s too perfect not to pass along.

Giving Up

screen-shot-2017-03-15-at-9-29-49-amFor Lent I’ve given up perfectionism.

From March 1 to April 15 this year I am giving up on straight A’s. I’m giving up my great love of A’s and the A’s that I always dreamed my daughters would care about (yet don’t). No A’s for perfectly good behavior, either. I’m embracing being the good-enough parent and the good-enough partner. I’m embracing being the good-enough, perfectly imperfect friend that I’ve always been anyway.

For Lent, I’m trying to leave my make-up on the shelf. I’m dressing down. My husband will happily tell you that I have already been experimenting with leaving the dishes undone, the furniture undusted, the toilets unscrubbed, beds unmade, floors unvacuumed. But if I’m giving up perfectionism, then I think I’ll give up worrying about not being perfect, too.

Even more important, for Lent, I’m writing imperfect poems. I’m sharing my imperfect poems, reading them aloud to friends and posting them on my blog and even letting a few of them slip into my submission file. For Lent, at least, I’m embracing the imperfect poem and admitting that maybe that’s the only kind of poem there is.

I’m giving up perfectly designed baskets of daffodils and perfectly weeded flower beds and perfectly edged lawns.

This year I’m giving up on the perfect, award-winning, best-selling novel, the instant and beloved classic. Maybe I’ll write a short, bad book. Maybe I’ll just open my journal and scribble. For Lent, I’m winging it. No more caring about who will publish me. No more caring if someone guffaws or gasps at the awfulness of my attempts. My job, during this season of Lent, is to keep writing anyway, no matter if anyone ever listens or reads or passes my work along to a friend, P1040082and says “You’ve got to read this.”

During this season of Lent, I’m going to write it even if no one reads it.

Lent comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning spring or growth–the season opposite of fall–and it has a cognate in lengthen. For Lent this year, I’m giving up perfectionism. I’m letting things grow, willy-nilly. I’m letting them lengthen, and I’m going to see what happens then.

Happy Birthday

hobbit house

I don’t have very much time this morning, as I am heading over to see my mother today — in good Hobbit tradition, I am giving her a bunch of flowers and a present.

I was also thinking that a blog post is a sort of present, a way I could give all of you a present on my birthday.  This is one of my poems that I’ve always loved (and shouldn’t I love my own poems? Plus, there’s the riff on the Emily Dickinson line…), though it has never managed to find itself published anywhere. Until today. So, Happy Birthday.

Like Emily, She Hears a Buzz                                                   

Maybe I did hear a fly buzz
but I hadn’t died.
I wasn’t dressed in white.
I never said, “I do.”

So if a fly buzzed, what
stopped me from buzzing, too,
zipping right out that window?
I don’t think I was a fly—

I was all in black and gold
like a bee or a queen.
Everyone bowed and buzzed
as I passed by.

 

 

If I Had Three Lives by Sarah Russell

I discovered Autumn Sky as a result of my recent flurry of send-outs — and now I’m getting a poem a day from them. This one strikes me as a great writing assignment. Pick up your pen!

Autumn Sky Poetry Daily

If I Had Three Lives

After “Melbourne” by the Whitlams

If I had three lives, I’d marry you in two.
The other? Perhaps that life over there
at Starbucks, sitting alone, writing – a memoir,
maybe a novel or this poem. No kids, probably,
a small apartment with a view of the river,
and books – lots of books, and time to read.
Friends to laugh with, and a man sometimes,
for a weekend, to remember what skin feels like
when it’s alive. I’d be thinner in that life, vegan,
practice yoga. I’d go to art films, farmers markets,
drink martinis in swingy skirts and big jewelry.
I’d vacation on the Maine coast and wear a flannel shirt
weekend guy left behind, loving the smell of sweat
and aftershave more than I did him. I’d walk the beach
at sunrise, find perfect shell spirals and study pockmarks
water makes in…

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Nothing Is Wrong

Lately I seem to spend a lot of time feeling as though something is wrong with me. I had a splendid and welcoming and in general sort of enveloping experience reading my poems Thursday evening with Kevin at the longhouse at Hibulb Cultural Center (“more than a museum” and truly worth a visit). Kevin was wonderful. I sold books. I made new friends. Lots of my peeps showed up to cheer me on. And yet on Friday all I wanted to do was sleep. Ditto for yesterday.

 

piano-01

The one thing I had to do on Friday was my piano lesson, which I’d had to postpone earlier in the week because of an urgent visit to see my mom. I had scarcely practiced. I didn’t know the new songs. I wanted to stay home in bed. But I remembered the advice that got me through my last few years of teaching–in essence,

Your job is to show up.

There’s more to it. With a good attitude. Prepared. I couldn’t do anything about not being prepared, or not feeling prepared, but putting on my clothes and leaving the house was enough to lift my mood and get my attitude rolling.

At the lesson, I began by apologizing for practicing so little. Every week I think that I will break through some invisible wall of time and spend 30 or 40 minutes on each session. But this week I’d been lucky just to sit down on the bench and play through one song. “It all counts,” Susan said. “It all adds up.”

I played one of my new songs, and stumbled mightily. Susan made me slow down and count (one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and) to get all the eighth notes in. “You’re running amok,” she said, and laughed her sparkly laugh. She sat down beside me and showed me how in the duet I had to wait for the million notes that she would be filling in around the melody. We played it twice, and the second time–when I was breathing, when I was counting–it sounded beautiful.

Nothing was wrong. Even the one measure I rushed, Susan took in stride, using it as an opportunity to rein me in yet again and walk me through the notes. A learning opportunity. This morning, reading a chapter in Sage Cohen’s Fierce on the Page, I found this, which pretty much sums up what my piano teacher gives me :

“The beauty of a great editor is that she can offer friendly encouragement from a bit farther down the road and awaken you to the distance you have yet to travel.” (p. 123)

“You’re doing great,” Susan told me as I went out the door. “Baby steps.” Nothing was wrong.

Bethany Reid, “The Temperature at Which Paper Burns”

I’m preparing for my reading at Hibulb Cultural Center tonight, and realized that I never let you know about this lovely publication, back in December. So — here’s a link — and an invitation to regularly visit Clementine Unbound.

Clementine Unbound

orange line

The Temperature at Which Paper Burns

In the dream heaven was like “Fahrenheit 451”
that short story by Ray Bradbury a place
where someone has decided the past
was a mistake a minority of us choosing
to keep it anyway so one woman’s job
was to remember Dwight D. Eisenhower
and another Lyndon Baines Johnson
one assignment was to memorize
the Emancipation Proclamation another
the story of Marian Anderson and Eleanor
Roosevelt plus every note of “My Country
‘Tis of Thee” in the dream ours was
the American History cell or so it seemed
a whole contingent of us assigned Jefferson
and the Declaration and Sally Hemings
one group committing to memory
the native peoples before Columbus
on waking I almost lost heart seeing how
we are already living in an afterlife
where memory has ceased and children
wander the earth hard-wired to God
shouting hallelujah into their cellphones
my…

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