canned green beans, butterflies, and other phobias.

fear

Fear is a weird phenomenon. Before August of this year, I was scared of butterflies. You know, those horrifying, colorful creatures that lightly land on flowers and FLUTTER!!!… I was terrified.

I’m not sure how I ended up afraid of the same critter that adorns glittery Lisa Frank notebooks. I’ve known it was irrational, yet every time one floated my way… Panic!  This summer, when a fourth grade girl at work laughed at my phobia, I decided it was probably time to get over it. I don’t claim to be a bad ass when it comes to insects, but I like to think I’m tougher than an 8 year old.  So it was incredibly convenient that the metro park a half mile from my house had a butterfly exhibit that I’d been avoiding… a whole greenhouse teaming with those ‘evil monsters’. Bring it on!

Feeling bold, I powered through the front door of this insect filled chamber… and immediately panicked when I realized that I had to walk at least 20 more feet to get to the exit, and there were SO many flying beasts. Wall to wall monarch butterflies, each surface covered with flapping wings.  Then I see a youth volunteer, probably about 8 or 9 years old, sitting calmly on a bench, every part of him blanketed in butterflies. He had braces on his legs,  hearing aid and a speech impediment that made him hard to understand, but despite any physical limitations, this kid was clearly the butterfly whisperer. Every part of my being wanted to run from entrance to exit to avoid having one of these evil insects land on me, and rescue this poor child who clearly hadn’t been warned of the sinister dangers of butterflies… but he was so excited to have someone to rattle off facts to that I couldn’t just rush past him.  As I pretended to listen, while brainstorming an exit strategy and scanning the air for rogue butterfly attacks…it hit me. In reality, most of my fears are about as rational as being afraid of a bright orange butterfly. I waited until I reached the exit, and then I started laughing and couldn’t stop. I laughed at the image of my adult self dodging butterflies, it was SO silly. I had to walk into my fear, really look around and see it for what it was to stop being afraid… and as I laughed all the way back to my car, fear became joy.

…………

But it’s not just butterflies…

I’m afraid of moths, and butterflies that look like moths. I’m afraid of canned green beans and any event in which I might have to eat them, smell them, or prepare them. I’m afraid of mispronouncing simple words while having an academic conversation, and someone realizing that I only majored in philosophy because I’m an excellent bullshitter.

I’m afraid if I don’t write my thoughts down, I’ll forget them. I’m afraid of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia, or anything else that might impact my perception of reality or render me unintelligent. I’m afraid if I spend even one afternoon doing nothing, I might become like this crazy shut I know who tells everyone else how to live their life because he stopped living his own years ago, and now spends his days chain smoking cigarettes, watching the news, and drowning his distorted  reality in a cocktail made from equal parts of liquor and sadness.

I’m afraid of singing in public. I’m afraid that my voice really sounds like it does on my voice mail, uncertain and childlike. I’m afraid speaking my mind will make people uncomfortable. I’m afraid of telling people how I feel. I’m afraid of not telling people how I feel. I’m afraid of not having the right words at the right moment. I’m afraid of silence.

I’m afraid of how long this list has become, and that I’m not even half way done. I’m afraid of people knowing how many things I’m afraid of, and thinking I’m weak. I’m afraid caring what people think means I am weak.

I’m afraid that this blog has become more about me self indulgently purging my thoughts than about writing. I’m afraid that I was a better writer five years ago, before my vocabulary and focus started to match that of the 4th graders I was teaching, before writing all those half ass research papers at the last minute, before I stopped having time to read books for pleasure. I’m most afraid that I was always a sub par writer, even way back then, and no one told me.

I’m afraid that I’m 28 and I’m still not sure “what I want to be when I grow up”. I’m afraid my dreams won’t pay the bills. I’m afraid that being the creative unstructured person in a family of scientists and PhD’s makes me the fuck up. I’m afraid that everyone is waiting for me to “settle down” and “be practical”. I’m afraid that the “American dream” doesn’t appeal to me and yet no one seems to notice that I don’t give a shit about cookware or scented candles.

I’m afraid if my life goes according to plan, it will lose the mystery. I’m afraid of becoming bored. I’m more afraid of becoming boring. I’m afraid of limiting myself.

I’m afraid that deeply loving someone will limit me, that I’ll forget about travel, that I’ll suddenly lose my sense of adventure.   I’m afraid that wanting to spend time traveling means I won’t get to have a family. I’m afraid that when I meet the person I’m supposed to fall in love with, I won’t be ready to be with someone. I’m afraid that I’m so not ready I don’t even know what “ready” means.  I’m afraid that I already met that person somewhere along the way, and because I wasn’t ready, I didn’t recognize it, and now he’s long gone.  I’m afraid at how comfortable I’ve become with being alone, because I’m afraid that after a certain age, my friends will stop setting me up on bad blind dates and just start bringing me homeless cats.

I’m afraid I’ll be so busy thinking and worrying, or even so busy writing, that I miss out on living. I’m afraid that if I choose any one path, I’ll miss out on all the other possible paths. I’m afraid of knowing that I only get one life, because it makes every moment seems achingly important. I’m afraid that every precious second I spend on laundry, grocery shopping, or putting gas in my car is a second I didn’t spend doing something amazing.

I’m afraid I’ll wake up old and realize I didn’t travel as much as I wanted to. I’m afraid I’ll never see those fireflies in Thailand, temples in India, ruins in Guatemala, and that my passport will end up shoved in the back of some filing cabinet in the office of a boring job I took to pay the rent. I’m afraid if I’m not looking, I’ll miss something. I’m afraid if I’m not acting, I’ll miss something. I’m afraid, SO afraid that if I stop for one second, I’ll miss something.

Here’s the thing… the only thing that’s keeping me from missing anything IS fear…this year I’ve dove head first into my fears of public speaking, commitment, calling a place ‘home’, rejection, heights, making an ass of myself, blind leaps of faith, among others. Not only did none of them kill me, in retrospective all the things I’ve been afraid of seem…inconsequential. Comical.   To hell with fear…

Bring on the canned green beans…

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car engines, loud noises, and truth.

writersblock

While anyone who knows me will share that I am rarely lacking things to say,  when I’m writing, I struggle every time with the first sentence. I sit down, concepts forming, phrases swirling, but those first few words… I freeze. Next, I start writing awkward phrases, slamming the backspace key like I’m trying to give myself carpal tunnel, and wonder how I’ve communicated a single idea to anyone ever.

Instead of beating myself up for losing my entire grasp of the English language nearly every time I begin writing, I’ve decided to honor the process & start thinking of it like when I warm my car up on a winter morning. It makes this angry squealing noise for about a minute, a noise that upon first impression doesn’t indicate forward motion. It rattles me every time I hear that noise, for a split second I wonder if this will be the morning I don’t make it out of the driveway? Often I notice a neighbor staring, maybe wondering what on earth I think I’m doing relying on a car so obviously needing a tune up. Yet I get behind the wheel, and by the time I drive a block or two, the awkward noise turns into a healthy engine hum. I’m on my way.

It’s like that with writing. As I’m warming up, as I’m dusting my words off, sometimes I feel like all I’m doing is making noise. Awful, awkward, in-need-of-a-tune-up noise. Then I write a couple messy fragmented sentences. Stop. Start. Write a few more. Eventually I warm up, my thoughts no longer hit the page like an engine ready to explode, they come out like the soft hum of forward motion. However, in the same way I feel a pang of anxiety when I see the neighbor staring towards my driveway, confused by the god awful noise coming from my rusty car; “Uh oh, does that girl need a mechanic?!”, the anxiety still exists that the means of transportation I’m relying on is so god awful rusty that I should just take the bus.

The reason I choose to move past the “noise”? I’m as familiar with it as I am with the sounds of a car engine I’ve listened to for eight years. Just as I know which sounds are everyday noises my engine makes, I know that I always am able to write once I get beyond that first hurdle, quieting the noisy rumble of self doubt. And, although some mornings, that noise is almost deafening, the sentences and phrases screeching out like the engine of a decade old Hyandai, I’ll know as soon as I get behind the wheel and let my truth carry me forward, I’ll find the words.

speak-the-truth-even-if-your-voice-shakes1

…………………………………………

I once read somewhere that the average person speaks about 15,000 words in a day. That’s over five million words in a year, the equivalent of fifty full length novels! We are all story tellers, sharing our story every moment we are awake. Every novice writer is given the advice; “Write what you know,” yet if we speak novels worth of words, why does no one ever tell us, “Speak what you know”? In a society that too often encourages us to conceal ourselves, can we challenge ourselves to use more of those 15,000 words to reveal our story, to share who we are underneath? What about using those words to discover who we are to begin with?

As I was discussing my own errors in communication with a dear friend last week, I was reminded that an important part of communicating compassionately is knowing that I am speaking from my own truth, and from the heart not from fear. It’s only when I come from that place of authenticity, of who I truly am, and what I truly mean, then I can let go of others’ reaction. In that moment, communication becomes about showing up and expressing the unshakeable truth of who I am.

Of course, this isn’t easy to do… actually, it’s exhausting and terrifying! Communicating my truth means… yikes… people are going to see who I am, flaws and all. But in doing so, I choose kindness. In accepting and revealing myself for all my insecurities, fears, and fragility, I hope I am giving others around me permission to love their own perfect imperfections. In being vulnerable, I make the statement that I reject the societal norm of concealing my humanity.

And it’s so easy to make excuses…  There are so many ways we learn to rationalize speaking from places other than truth. Sometimes we hold back our truth in an attempt to be kind, afraid that our truth isn’t what someone wants to hear. Other times we are afraid to share our truth because we think it is wrong, unacceptable, not good enough. Sometimes we don’t speak our truth because we simply haven’t embraced it ourselves; recognizing our truth can be scary, especially when it might shake things up, it might shift a situation, it might create change that we don’t feel ready to face. Yet despite the rationalizations, even when it feels uncomfortable, or unnecessary, what I’m starting to recognize is that unless I communicate from a place of openness and authenticity, something feels incomplete, disconnected…

I also recognize that writing for me has always been the way I recognize truth in myself, and for me starting this blog a first step in sharing that with others. However, I’m not going to pretend to be unafraid, have no self doubts. I struggle with communication, I’m a work in progress. Not only am I still working on “speaking what I know”, I’m just working on knowing what I know. As easy as it is to conceal how I feel from others, I can hide it from myself. I keep uncomfortable personal truths wrapped up in layers of self protection, and maybe the biggest part of my journey is removing those layers one by one to find my true self underneath. I think that’s a large part of the human experience, removing all those layers of defenses until we can truly connect with others.

Thus the title of my blog, “Almost open book”. I couldn’t be a completely open book if I wanted to, because I haven’t read all of the pages. What I recognize is that the more able I’m able to recognize my own strength, and ground myself firmly in my own truths, without personal judgment, the more I’m able not only to speak my own truth with kindness, but to listen to others’ truths with acceptance. And while I can’t share what I don’t know, my resolution as I continue opening my world to those around me, is to share the pages I have read, and even when my voice shakes, even when that first sentence comes out as a jumble of awkward noise, to speak my truth.

as if reclaiming stolen property…

photo

Change has been whispering in my ear, and as I ignored it, shouting, “Wake up, this isn’t working. Stop being afraid. Take a breath.” So while I’ve always thought of change as an active process, today part of the change is that I’m pausing for breath and I’m allowing myself to find answers in the stillness.

I made the collage above a month ago, yet I just now am understanding what I meant by “reclaiming stolen property”.   I take pride in being the master of doing a million things at once, my life measured in to do lists & activities. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve actually penciled in the phrase ‘relax’ on my to do list more than once. Yet somehow that gets lost in the midst of ‘write this essay’, ‘attend this workshop’, ‘volunteer at this event’. I rationalize that all the things I stay busy with are positive things, nourishing my soul, so I probably can survive on four hours of sleep and zero hours of free time, right?

Yesterday I reflected on the absurdity of a recent to do list I’d made. “Drink water” was on my list. I don’t know which was more hilarious; that I had attempted to schedule an activity physically necessary for my staying alive, or that on that particular day I most likely raced out the door without my water bottle and instead attempted to sustain my busy self on coffee and a bag of vending machine peanuts.

So as I mentioned, necessary change stopped whispering and decided to punch me in the face with the recognition that I needed to slow down a few days back. I was hitting a wall, recognized the need for change, then spent days fighting it. However… I punch like a girl, and change is a pretty formidable opponent.  I was going to ignore that voice of reason and keep pushing forward, but then my car broke down.  Message received.  So today, instead of fighting, I found the quiet place within to listen to whatever direction change decides to take me in…

summer sisters, secrets, and sweet things.

sprinkler

The day before grandpa died,

I took a wrong turn on my way into town,

and ended up on Baxter Rd.

Or “Crackster” as you called it,

Because of the neighborhood’s chosen profession.

The street where you had your first apartment,

and we were delighted that at seventeen,

we’d found a cashier who didn’t card us.

We bought cheap wine, fizzy and sweet.

“The strawberry flavor has the most alcohol,”

You told me, and so it became our favorite.

………

Later, drunk,

We smashed every one of those bottles

Against your living room wall.

Creating loud explosions, glass shattering.

It was the only way we knew how

To break the silence of all the things

We’d kept quiet about.

We’d never known where to put all that anger,

So tonight we let it drip down the walls,

Strawberry flavored and sweet.

Delicious.

…..

Each smashed vessel a declaration

Of hurt kept hidden.

Because to protect our family

Was to protect ourselves.

The roar of the breaking bottles

And buzz of alcohol in our blood

Freed our voices, so we yelled.

Each time we picked up a bottle and flung it hard,

Cursing our pain, and the wretched DNA

That left us feeling as broken as the glass

That was piling up on the carpet.

We didn’t want to heal,

We just needed to feel and to break.

And to exhaust ourselves so we could finally sleep.

….

We woke in the morning.

To realize that we hadn’t changed a thing,

Tiptoeing to avoid stepping on shards,

Hungover and again speaking quietly.

…..

When you said goodbye to the world,

I said goodbye to feeling broken,

Goodbye to finding answers in a bottle.

But it’s taken me three extra years

Until the day grandpa died.

To say goodbye to you, my summer sister.

……

I still imagine you drinking sweet things

Fruit punch we made a mess in the kitchen mixing

And added an extra cup of sugar,

when Mom wasn’t looking.

You’ve found your voice,

On a sunny hot day, shrieking with delight.

Running through the sprinkler,

smiling, free,

carelessly barefoot,

Because on this day,

You are too young and too happy,

To be afraid of stepping on glass.