I was thinking about the way I used to do things.
Truth be told, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my life used to be. In my younger years. When I was more outgoing. Not as worried and scared as I have become of late.
It’s a strange thing, there has been a noticeable timidness that’s crept into my once outgoing nature as I’ve gotten older. Yet, strangely enough, my self-confidence has been on the rise. I like to attribute the rise in self-confidence to exhaustion. I kind of don’t have time for the bullshit anymore. By Bullshit I mean worrying about what others think about my shorts in the summer, my unkempt hair, my submission to their magazines, my letting go of things that don’t serve me and never did. The other part probably has to do with my therapist and yoga practice.
(Oh god, there I’ve gone and done it. Made myself human to my three fans. Yes, I have been doing yoga on a daily basis for the past two years and yes, I have silently become that person who, upon hearing of someone’s woes, thinks to myself, “there’s a yoga pose for that.” Stupid yoga.
AND, yes, I’ve got a therapist. Sooo in touch with my feelings…(insert choking cough here.) But isn’t it interesting, the fear we have of showing our human-ness to the outside world. When my mom used to have parties at our house –and my mom was the original Martha Stewart; people came to her house and stayed long past the agreed upon conclusion time of said party -but I digress, when helping my mom to clean for those parties, she had us hiding all sorts of things. Put the toothbrushes under the sink, put the extra desk from the dining room in the garage; all clutter cleaned up and put in a closed closet. My sister and I would joke, as we helped that we needed to “hurry up and hide the human side”. I still do this, when people are coming over to my home I hide my ‘human’. I don’t let people upstairs to see the mess that didn’t get cleaned up. I hide the toothbrushes and vitamins under the sink. Little by little, I’ve been letting this practice go. I like to see other’s human side, why shouldn’t they be allowed to see mine? It’s a strange thing, allowing someone in that deeply. Past the superficial. And yet, that level of vulnerability is what draws us closer together. Isn’t this the stuff Brene Brown is always talking about?)
So – I’ve let go of worrying overly much about what others think about me. The fear and stress of life however, that I believe comes from having a child. I worry overly much about what the future world holds for the kid; bullies, car crashes, plane crashes, oh and a whole slew of crap that isn’t soothed by the state of our world these days. I know I’m not alone in my woes on that one.
The timidness however, this new timidness…that seems to have come from life and the feeling of continually being beaten down. I decided to be a writer, and then I decided to give my work to the world. And in giving that work, I decided it’d be kind of fun to get published. And upon getting published a few times, I was told I was a good writer. But then, I found for every ‘you’re a good writer’ comes a hundred, ‘thanks no thanks’ letters that I interpreted as ‘You suck”, even though I tried not to. But I’ve worked diligently at making my craft center stage of my life, and I’ve worked at building up callouses to fight rejection, it still wears on a person after a while. And all these years have resulted in a sort of timidness of character. Not exactly taking over my whole character, but timidness has become a gut reaction of late.
I once heard of Janis Joplin that she had a huge ego – she would clip every article about herself, every picture out of magazines and newspapers and glue them in a scrapbook. Often times she’d send a copy to folks who told her she wasn’t going to be anyone. She had that amazing talent and she wasn’t above speaking her mind. Yet, simultaneously, it’s been said she had intensely low self-esteem – she needed everyone to like her and if one person didn’t, she’d focus on that one person, not the army of those who adored her or had her back. Apparently she fought this dichotomy her whole life.
I see that in myself. As I grew up I was excitedly outgoing, but worried what people thought of me. I think we’re all that way in essence.
In my youth I wasn’t timid when I traveled the world in order to experience life first hand. I was open to new experiences and putting myself out there. I wasn’t scared when I learned to ride a motorcycle that I could crash. I wasn’t worried when hiking in the backcountry that I could fall and break a leg with no one to help me get out. When it came to my writing, when I was in high school and college and in my late twenties/early thirties, I was fearless. Who cared what I wrote, I was writing for myself. Writing my angst and uncertainties on the page and holding it up for all the world to see.
My college roommate and I worked together at our University newspaper, she was a photographer/graphic artist; I was the writer. We didn’t have a dining room table in our apartment, I mean, we had a dining room space, but we turned it into our office. Each of us had a desk set up where we could work. We worked tirelessly on our own projects, big ideas for our future lives and careers fueled us, propelled us forward. We had gumption. We hadn’t been knocked on our ass too many times at that point. And talk about confidence, we were so assured in our talents, we thought it would be fun to see what happened if we wrote to different companies we loved to see if we could get some sort of monetary/ grant-like support. I don’t remember where the idea came from, I’d have to go back and read journals to figure that one out. But we wrote to Starbucks, Coke, Microsoft and a few others. The one’s that stand out as I reflect on this today are Starbucks and Coke. Creativity runs on caffeine. In college, my drug of choice was Diet Coke. Now it’s just coffee. So we sent a sort of shared resume to these companies asking for any help they could give starving artists. Coke sent us coupons for several free cases of Diet Coke and Starbucks sent us two $25 gift cards.
I can’t imagine trying something so bold these days. But the flip side is that I continually do this bold thing several times a week, sending my short stories, manuscripts and grant applications out to the powers that be. I suppose what is interesting is the loss of confidence now. Back then it was a youthful ‘fuck you! I’ve got something to say!” All with a first raised in the air and a fierce growl on my face.
Now, I’ve got more fire, “fuck you, this is what I do. You don’t have to like it. But I love it. And I know I’m good.” There is no first raised in fury of being misunderstood. So perhaps it isn’t timidness at all. Perhaps it’s not a loss of confidence. Maybe it’s just growth and age.
The discipline I’ve applied to writing after all these years, the finding of my voice and ‘how’ I write have become a fire that has replaced the chaotic racing around and finger pointing and confusion of my youth. Age, (and motherhood) have given me pause, where youth gave me haphazard bursting forth-ness and constant go go go.
There is this saying, I think perhaps it’s a Buddhist thing. When you breathe in and out, at the bottom of the out breath, there is a pause before we breathe in again. It’s done without thinking. But that pause is where life happens. I like to think that I’ve become more aware of that pause. Maybe I cherish that pause more than I once did in my youth.
The fear is still something to be worked out, but to challenge that, it’s simple. I continue to leave my house, to go out among my friends and neighbors and try to be kind in the little ways. This era we’re living in can take a few smiles and meaningful hugs every day.
Okay, so I’ve waded through all those past life thoughts and meanderings to come back to this. I’ve been thinking about how I used to be. Aka, how I used to write: In notebooks, with black ink, handwritten, most of the time in coffee shops.
I would sit for hours on a daily basis in various coffee shops, other times in parks, along the river, in the foothills, I would sit and handwrite my stories. There was a comfort in the process. While typing is quicker and the thoughts are allowed to flow faster, there was something about slowing down and writing my stories in longhand. There is a contemplation that can take place as the rhythm of handwriting becomes a meditative practice.
I haven’t written that way in so many years. I was thinking about that as The Kid and I were standing in the store buying school supplies for the year. The notebooks are always so enticing. I could buy an armful and new packs of pens to go with them. There is so much possibility in combining those two items with my time.
I did indeed buy a new notebook and new ink for my pen. I have a few pens I prefer these days; favorites. I decided handwriting my stories is like any muscle or habit, I just needed to use those forgotten muscles once again.
For the past two weeks I’ve been handwriting a story in my new notebook. I filled the first one up in a week, so I’m actually onto the second one. This new book I’m writing is lovely nonsense. Sort of Spy Games meets Indian Jones meets Star Trek meets Bridget Jones’s Diary. I told you, lovely nonsense written just for me at the moment. Written the way Stephen King suggests, write first with the door closed, only for oneself. Then after editing and rewriting, can we swing the door wide open and invite the world inside.
What I wanted to share was the strange calm of confidence, dare I say power that’s seeped back into me. Perhaps its power from the ink stained words on the page flowing into my blood stream through the page. Or it’s just doing something the way I used to that has awakened an old joy of writing. Just by reigniting muscle memory.
Is that what helps us age, dare I say, gracefully? Using old muscles to comfort ourselves? These past two weeks I’ve felt a combination of exhausted confidence mingling with childlike courage. Who knew something so banal, as a notebook and pen, could reignite a sense of self I have worried for the past while was gone for good.