Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Showing Up

typewriter

I’ve been reading a lot of books lately both by and about writers. A good friend recommended “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield to me some months ago in response to an entry in this very blog. I found a little book by Margaret Atwood titled “Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing” when I went looking for the Pressfield book. Last week I purchased Stephen King’s “On Writing” and finished it in one sitting. Each of these books has been revelatory in their own way, and each has helped me shape my thinking around what it means to be a writer. They have also shown me that the struggle I face is the same one every person who wants to be a writer faces at some point or another.

Mr. Pressfield talks about a force he calls “Resistance”; a natural force that actively works against us when we pursue our passions. Some might call this power self-destructiveness, some might call it evil, some might even ascribe its workings to those of Satan and his tempters – whatever you call it, the end result is the same, which is that a constant war is being waged against us when we strive to achieve something noble or purposeful in life. We meet no resistance if we choose to pursue activities that are not aimed at making the world a better place or creating beauty; that we can easily do. It’s only when we reach higher that we run into this Resistance.

Mr. Pressfield doesn’t try to explain why this happens; that’s something best left to theologians and philosophers. He knows it doesn’t matter why. The only thing that matters is that we recognize how Resistance works and we find ways to combat it. The one sure way he knows to fight it is to show up, every day, whether you feel like it or not.

Stephen King says much the same thing. His tenacity as a young writer was truly impressive; he kept at it and never lost his joy, even in the face of what others would consider to be overwhelming evidence that he was never going to make his living as a writer. He talks about his process as well as the process used by other writers. The thing they all have in common is that they keep showing up.

What do I mean by showing up? I mean just that – showing up and doing the work. Being counted as present. Having your mind and your body focused on the same task at the same time. Living on purpose. Not getting distracted. Not buying into all the excuses readily available that keep us from doing what we were meant to do – big excuses and little ones.

“I have a cold” is an excellent excuse to shut off my computer and go upstairs and take a nap. I’ve thought about doing just that at least a dozen times today, because I do have a cold. The truth is, I don’t really feel all that bad today. I did feel badly yesterday and spent most of the afternoon in bed. But today, Monday, I’m here. I’ve done the work I needed to do for the day, and I decided I would take a few minutes to work on my blog entry that I usually post on Tuesdays. As soon as I opened a new, blank document on my screen a little voice said “This can wait – you can do this tomorrow. Why don’t you go take a nap? All your other work is done; you deserve to take a break. You’ll feel better if you take a nap now. Don’t you have a conference call at 9:00 tonight? Go – it’ll be fine. You have a cold, after all!” I almost gave in to that voice, the voice of my Resistance. She’s good; she makes sense. She may even be right about some things sometimes. But she’s always on at me about how I deserve to “take a break”. That’s how she gets me, through my own sense of pride in what I’ve accomplished. Look at what I’ve done today! Isn’t that awesome! I deserve to knock off now and go watch some TV! I’ve earned it!

It is extremely difficult for me to persuade myself that I don’t deserve something I deem to be a “reward” for my hard work. To view “taking a break” as a negative thing when I’ve been going at it non-stop for hours. To convince myself to keep going when I believe I am entitled to shut down and goof off. But I see now what these writers are talking about – you have to keep going, even when you don’t want to. You can’t sit around waiting to be in the mood, or for your muse to show up, or for circumstances to be perfect. Stephen King wrote “Carrie” in the laundry room of a double-wide trailer on a typewriter he balanced on a child’s desk on his lap. I’ve told ten people that story since I read it because it just blows me away. That’s showing up. I don’t actually like Stephen King’s novels (I don’t enjoy horror as a genre – it scares me), but the guy knows how to write.

I feel like I’ve taken a good first step towards showing up every day. Months ago when I was contemplating starting this blog I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the commitment. What if I don’t know what to write about? What if I can’t post something every week? The thought of committing myself to a weekly deadline intimidated me and I almost didn’t do it. Obviously I changed my mind, because here we are nine months later, and I’m still going. The surprise to me has been that it hasn’t been as difficult as I had feared to banish the Resistance and file an entry every week. I’m encouraged by that.

I’ve started writing a novel based on events that happened in my own life many years ago. I’ve never made a serious attempt to write fiction, so it is even more intimidating to me than committing to this blog was. I’m finding that the writing is slow, almost painful; I’m reliving my life through the lives of the characters I’m creating, and it’s bringing up all sorts of deeply buried memories. I’m feeling a huge amount of Resistance to the work, and I’m giving in almost all the time. The battle is being fought every day. Most days I lose, but bit by bit I’m getting my feet under me. Everything I’ve read and everything I’ve discovered on my own tells me that the most effective weapon in the fight is just showing up. So, even when I don’t feel “ready”, I sit down at my computer and open the document. Almost fearing what I’ll find, I re-read a page or two to remind myself where I am. Next I think about the characters – who they are and what they want.

Then I close my eyes and start typing. That’s showing up.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: Jeremy Brooks via photopin cc

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Heart Full of Love

Me & Tina 1985     Tina & Me 2-14

I had brunch today with someone I haven’t seen since high school. I considered us to be good friends back then, but we drifted apart pretty quickly when I left for college. After that our lives took off in different directions; in the intervening years when I would think of her I would think that we didn’t have much in common anymore, so it was easy for me to let her go. We had no contact at all until a few years ago, when, through the magic of Facebook, we were reunited. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that we became re-acquainted. I didn’t reach out to her, choosing instead to follow her life from a distance.

I felt very conflicted about my hesitation to re-connect. Part of me wanted to, but another part was unsure about what would happen. Here is a person with whom I had laughed and cried, shared secrets, sang, acted, hung out, celebrated, and commiserated, and yet I felt like we didn’t know each other anymore. What if she’s not interested in renewing our friendship? What if she’s not the person I remember? What if we have nothing to say to each other? I was afraid that if I did or said the wrong thing the possibility of getting my friend back would be gone forever. So I waited for the right opportunity. And it finally came today.

It’s an amazing thing to be with someone you haven’t seen since you were young. To look at them across a table with all the years you’ve lived separating you like a river, wide and deep. It took a little while (not long, but a little while) for us to find a comfortable rhythm for our conversation. I wasn’t surprised; even back in high school we had to make an effort to really communicate. I was sure at the time that it was because of my friend’s challenges with her family; her parents were severe with her (not abusive to my knowledge, but not loving, either), and she learned to protect herself. But even then she was willing to risk loving others. So, after a few minutes of “Do you remember?” the connection we once shared was re-established, and we started really talking.

My friend has had a hard life by anyone’s estimation. She wouldn’t mind me telling you about it but I won’t – it’s her story. Just know that I am amazed by her. She is one of the strongest, most resilient people I have ever known. She has faced down so many challenges in her life, mostly without help from anyone. I imagine many people would have given up and crawled into a hole if they had to face what she has in her life, but she didn’t. There she was today, eyes shining, sitting across from me and telling me about how excited and hopeful she is for the future. I am sure she will make her dreams come true – she just doesn’t ever give up.

I knew lots of people in high school, and I had a few really close friends, most of whom are still part of my life one way or another. I wasn’t sure if the bond I had with the friend I saw today was really still there, but not long after we sat down together it came flooding back. We talked and talked, and when it came time to leave we clung to each other and didn’t want to let go. It is such a gift to have had a chance to see her and to know that, even after all this time, we still want to be part of each other’s lives.

Love is what binds us together; it is the bridge that spans the unknown years between us. Don’t ever let go of the people you love if you can help it; in the end, love is the only thing that never dies. Everything changes except for the love you have for other people, and the love they feel for you. Cling to it.  Nurture it. Respect it. It will see you through your darkest hours and give you the only happiness worth having. This is the only thing I’m sure about.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

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My Secret Valentine’s Day Shame

Valentine's Day

This secret shame has haunted me for years, but now I think I have the courage to confess it publicly. I know this will come as a shock to many of you, and for all the years I lived in denial about my true feelings, I am sorry. I can no longer pretend. I’m ready to admit it now.

I like Valentine’s Day.

Please don’t judge me too harshly, all of you who knew me from my college days when I protested against “V” Day. You know how passionately I defended those members of our society marginalized by this annual ritual of romantic love. You remember those February 14ths past when, in solidarity with my boyfriendless sisters, I dressed in black and donned my “No Hearts” armband and proudly announced my refusal to buy into the created-by-Hallmark-and-Whitman’s-and-FTD-glorification-of-fake-sentimentality. I mean, why do we need this holiday? Are we likely to forget to cherish the one we love if we’re not reminded once a year? Shouldn’t our significant others be taking us out for romantic dinners and buying us flowers and jewelry as a matter of course? Of course they should! Well, I wasn’t going to be taken in by this transparent attempt by corporate America to force people to spend their hard-earned money unnecessarily! No way!

Of course, my militant stance was buoyed by the fact I never seemed to have a boyfriend on Valentine’s Day either. Every February 14th I seemed to be between boyfriends – either because of a breakup just before, or a new relationship was just emerging and couldn’t stand up to the V-Day scrutiny, or I was just in a dry spell. I started to wonder if it wasn’t a plot by every would-be boyfriend to keep from having to buy me flowers – the timing was just a little too convenient. I mean, I had boyfriends at Christmases and on my birthdays. I had dates to all the important events in college – Inaugural, Homecoming, etc. Just never on Valentine’s Day. It really pissed me off. I remember sitting in the lobby of my dorm watching those long white boxes containing dozens of roses – white, yellow and red – come flooding in, carried by my boyfriended dorm mates or, (and this was almost too much to take), being delivered by a florist. Then I got to see the moment of arrival, when some giddy girl would open the box and wave the offering around the room to her admiring audience. Pretending to be happy for these girls (some of whom were my good friends on every other day of the year) was just too much, so I opted to boycott the whole thing.

I’ll fast forward through the years between college and my first date with my eventual husband (because nothing romantic of note happened – at least nothing I’m willing to share). It was early February 1995 when he finally asked me out. Valentine’s Day was the next week. Great, I thought, here we go again – boyfriend in sight but still no flowers for Amanda! And I was quite right; the whole candlelight dinner and box of chocolates thing was way too much pressure for a second date. I knew it, but I was disappointed nonetheless, and it didn’t do anything to change my attitude about “that stupid holiday”. As it turns out, though, that was the last February 14th that I would spend alone. Ever since, my wonderful, thoughtful, sweet husband has brought me flowers and a beautiful card and we have gone out to dinner at some lovely spot and celebrated our love to the full.

Oh the hypocrisy! Well, yes, you’re right, and at first I admit I felt badly about my shameless embrace of all things Valentine. But over the years I’ve come to look at it in a way that has given this annual money grab more substance.

Valentine’s Day isn’t like other kinds of non-religious occasions that center on human beings. Celebrating an anniversary is an acknowledgement that two people have managed to stay together for another year, which is no mean feat these days. Birthdays are the celebration of an individual life; the completion of another year and the looking forward to the next. But I’ve come to see Valentine’s Day as not being about the individuals involved. Instead, I think it’s about the third thing that exists when two people decide to commit themselves to each other – the relationship itself. As anyone who is or has been in a long-term relationship knows, the relationship has a life of its own that must be nurtured by the individuals involved. It has its own history. It exists both within you and apart from you, and sometimes in spite of you. It is a thing that should be acknowledged and protected if it is to survive. I talk about “my marriage” as if it is a living thing, separate from myself, and it is.

Now that I am in a committed, long-term relationship, I have come to view Valentine’s Day as more than just a commercially driven, shallow enterprise. I now see it as an opportunity to hold my relationship up to the light and admire it anew.  It is an opportunity for my husband and I to pay homage to this third entity that lives with us, the thing that over the years has come to be much greater than the sum of its parts. It isn’t about the flowers or the romantic dinner or the gifts – they are just the ritual sacrifices we offer to the god of Romance. Valentine’s Day is about celebrating the “Us” that is more than just “You” and “Me”.

My friends, I hope you will forgive me for my former hypocrisy and jealousy. I have mended my ways, and I now fully and joyfully engage in all the silliness and manufactured sentimentality that Valentine’s Day has to offer. So, what do my husband and I have planned for this year?  I don’t know, we haven’t talked about it yet. It’s this Friday, right? The restaurants are going to be mad houses . . . Ugh.

We’ll probably just stay home and watch a movie.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: Shenghung Lin via photopin cc

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The Less Fortunate

soup kitchen square

Over the last few years I have experienced what I would consider to be a certain amount of financial hardship. At the time I was laid off three years ago I had been making a very good salary; so good that my husband and I paid all our bills with what I made, and what he brought home was just gravy. We always had money in the bank, and we never thought twice about buying a new pair of shoes or going on vacation. Since the layoff I’ve been striving to make a living as a self-employed person, which has meant that sometimes I bring in money but most of the time I don’t. It has been an eye-opening experience to find out how much we can live without, and we have. It’s been a very long time since I thoughtlessly purchased anything, and my stuff has been wearing out – I recently had to let go of two pairs of winter shoes because they finally lost their soles. Last year we got rid of our 14-year-old artificial Christmas tree because it was falling apart; I decided we could go ahead and throw it out because I was convinced that our financial situation would be significantly better this year and we would get a new one. It wasn’t. This year, instead of a big tree, I found a 3’ pre-lit tree one at Wal-Mart and bought some miniature ornaments to go on it. From now on I will always think of Christmas 2013 as the year of the Wee Tree.

I’m not telling you this so that you will feel sorry for me. I have been through phases when I felt very sorry for myself indeed, and I was angry that things weren’t happening for me when I was working so hard. I felt like I deserved better, and maybe I did. Maybe I do. I still go through times when the fear of not having the money to pay the bills almost overwhelms me, and I have to fight to shake it off. And sometimes something happens that slaps me upside the head, and I realize how stupid I’ve been.

One of those times happened about six months after I’d been laid off. I was at the grocery store one evening when I was approached by a woman with two little girls in tow. She told me her husband was in the hospital up the street, and her car had broken down. I expected her to ask me for money, but she didn’t.  She asked if I would buy her some peanut butter and bread so she could feed her children.

There’s no way this woman could have possibly known that I was unemployed and watching every penny, and for a split second I thought about telling her about my own troubles. I thought I would say “I’m so sorry you’re having a hard time; so am I” and explaining how I would love to help, but I couldn’t. I didn’t do that, though. I looked at that woman, so desperate that she had to beg for help from a stranger in the grocery store, and I was ashamed of my initial selfish reaction. I told her yes, I would buy some bread and peanut butter for her. When she met me in the checkout line she had added some cheap laundry detergent and a couple of Lunchables – items I had not agreed to purchase. She put them in my basket without looking at me; I’m sure she was afraid I would refuse her. It reminded me of a pet who has done something wrong and avoids catching their owner’s eye for fear of getting into trouble. It broke my heart to see a human being do the same thing.

I paid for her items without comment. When I handed the bags to her she said a very simple “thank you”, and left with her girls. As I walked to my car I saw her heading towards the hospital, weighed down by shopping bags and children. And of course in that moment I realized how very fortunate I was; my misfortune was nothing compared to that woman’s. I had a home to go to and a car to take me there and a healthy husband that shared my burdens. I had nothing to complain about.

I’ve had many ups and downs since that incident in the grocery store. I go through phases where I am so grateful for what I have it takes my breath away, and then I get caught up again in the stress and the worry. Not being able to replace things that have worn out or have broken, and not being able to do even the everyday things like get the oil changed in my car or have my hair done gets really, really old. Sometimes it gets to me. I’m human. I’m sure I’m not alone.

But then I go down to the soup kitchen and serve hot food to dozens of homeless men like I did today, and my perspective clears again. I look at them and wonder how they came to be where they are. Some are obviously dealing with mental and emotional challenges, but most of seem as aware of things as I am. I wonder what decisions they made, or what life circumstances happened to them to land them in front of me, asking for a third and fourth refill of their soup bowls. I wonder if this is the only meal they’ll have today.

Some of the men come prepared with containers to take soup away with them. One guy had a stainless steel kitchen canister, the kind you’d put sugar or flour in to sit on your counter. We filled another guy’s big plastic tupperware container; he said the soup was for his supper the next day. One man came up to the counter wrapped in a blanket; he was given a coat to wear before he left. Many of the men got pairs of thick socks, something we’re told is a vital need in the homeless community. Socks.  Think about that.

I’m not telling you all this so you’ll think I’m great for spending time at the soup kitchen. What I’m ashamed to tell you is that I seriously considered not going today. Why? Because my business has picked up suddenly and I’m busy. I had lots of things to get done today and I almost convinced myself that I didn’t have the time. That would have been a huge mistake.

I’ve finally realized that I’m not helping the poor people with whom I come into contact – they are helping me. I learn from their determination, their courage, their humility, and even from their willingness to be “served” by privileged people like myself. I imagine that sometimes they must feel like animals at the zoo to be gazed at and wondered about by the visitors who come for a time and then leave to go back to their comfortable middle class lives. Some of them smile at me with their eyes and tell me they are blessed when I say “How are you?”  I feel so inadequate to their need. I spoon out soup and try to treat them with dignity and respect while inevitably comparing my circumstances with theirs and feeling profoundly relieved I’m not them.

I know now that I need these opportunities to teach me what being “less fortunate” really means.  It has nothing to do with how much money I make. I need the example of these people who can smile in the face of their difficult lives to remind me that no matter what happens it is up to me to decide if I will respond to my own difficulties with anger or with acceptance. I need them to keep my vision focused on the world around me and not solely on myself. This is a lesson that I must constantly learn, and one that I am in danger of allowing myself to forget in my newfound business. I hope I don’t let that happen.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: Jeffrey Beall via photopin cc

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