The Power of Sharing Our Stories

Do you blog?

I’ve mentioned my writing to one of my new coworkers at the school in Ecuador where I’ll be teaching English part time, and we’re discussing freelancing. I tell him- yes, I have a blog, but my writing focus at the moment has shifted. I actually ended up in Ecuador somewhat as a result. I wanted to live in a place where I could get by on a part time teaching salary so I could give attention and energy to finish the book I’d been writing. I’d also always wanted to visit Ecuador and work on my Spanish, so the goals intermingle quite nicely- life is lovely that way sometimes.

So I’ve slowly warmed up to admitting I’m writing a book, regardless of how crazy that makes me feel. But I’m still not entirely comfortable talking about what my book is about, because it’s part of my personal story I haven’t shared freely with everyone in my life. I realize it’s somewhat of a contradiction, writing a book about something I’m afraid to even speak of, with the goal of publishing that book and therefore making that content available for public consumption. I often wonder how I will bridge that gap, but I also trust that when I need to be ready, I will be.   Or perhaps I hope….

So despite the recognition that this is a story on some level I wish to share, when asked about it I usually spin a vague response about how it is a memoir, about travel and relationships. And it is, but this description… it’s a cop out. I’m afraid of someone misunderstanding or placing a judgment on the experiences I’m actually writing about.

However this night, maybe because I’m a continent away from my ordinary life, from anyone whose opinion about my history might matter to me, or maybe because I’ve spent the last several months letting go of remaining pieces of my old life, or even it’s just because I’ve had two fairly strong mojitos, my trepidation melts away.

“I was in an abusive relationship. I’m writing a book about it, and how the places I’ve been and my travel experiences have helped me begin to heal.” I say the word begin with a hidden sadness. I’ve realized recently I’m not nearly as ‘healed’ as I thought, and it stings a bit to admit it out loud that I’m still digging through the pile of defenses that have accumulated over the years to find my heart. Then again, aren’t we all doing that on some level?

So here in this tiny apartment with four people who by all social standards are still strangers to me, I finally get the courage to share bluntly the part of my story that for months has been wrapped in layers of shame. It’s a small step but it feels big, because when I reveal that I was abused, I am also revealing that I was too afraid, too weak, and not conscious enough to leave- and these people don’t know me enough to think otherwise. And then I tell them the hardest part, the part I’m always afraid of sharing, that I’m always afraid will be misunderstood- that yes, my relationship was abusive, but that he never physically hit me.

This is why sharing my story feels important, but also why it terrifies me. Tell someone your partner punched you in the face- they get it, and there is nothing more to explain. Tell them that they slowly broke down your entire sense of self with words, anger, control, and emotional manipulation, and there are questions. The answers… aren’t simple. Which is why I’m writing- it’s why this truth matters to me- because it’s one that’s not spoken often enough, and that in my opinion is why women like me have gotten lost in the darkness. There aren’t enough lights. Maybe my story can be one.

So- I’m writing a book not about where I went, but the meaning I found in those places. Because when one is trying to rebuild their entire sense of self, finding meaning in every moment is necessary, even the challenging ones. Especially the challenging ones. If there is even a small chance that sharing what my journey out of this looked like will allow another to find their way out, that my found meaning can help someone discover theirs enough to feel strong again- I have to tell this story no matter how hard that is… or how afraid I am of exposing a part of my life I’d rather had never happened.

And perhaps this is the purpose of sharing our stories – to shine a light on our human experiences with the chance that it will resonate with someone else, and simply through that universality, we can support each other. We can say, That experience you don’t think you will survive? I did. You will. Hold on.

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Flailing in Public, Necessary Messes, and Other “Bad” Things that Are Good

Up until yesterday afternoon, I hadn’t been out of the country in almost three months. More notably, I hadn’t had a reason to speak Spanish with another human being since leaving Peru  this spring. When I left I was just beginning to be able to form a sentence that slightly resembled a coherent thought in a language that seems to sound beautiful from every mouth but mine.

Today I’m in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I arrived a day ago, and am taking a writing break on this balcony:

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 This is a rooftop where one simply cannot sit without composing something, effortless in a way where I wonder if  words are instead composing me. In the same way the ivy has snuck up the bricks, syllables weave themselves into sentences and I am just here to admire whatever story is growing.

As I skim over a few articles I need to finish writing as well as a couple poems I’ve been meaning to submit the person I’m here visiting is taking a Spanish lesson upstairs. I told him I didn’t want to join because, “My Spanish is too terrible.” Which of course is exactly why I should take a Spanish lesson, but oh NOOO… I don’t want to stumble over my words in front of humans! That would be awful.

Hmmm… so either the Spanish learning I was cramming into every moment before I left was some special kind of Spanish that one only speaks to themselves, or I’m doing a silly thing where I base my actions on avoiding embarrassment. This is fairly illogical, because if barely speaking Spanish is embarrassing, it would follow that I might be equally embarrassed at the fact that I become nearly mute when in Spanish speaking countries, and don’t even say the words I do know for fear I’m pronouncing them all wrong and will sound like one of those asshole Americans who listened to one lesson of Rosetta Stone and now thinks I speak the whole language. Instead, at present I’m someone who doesn’t speak at all or lets someone speak for me, which it turns out is far more uncomfortable than the alternative of stumbling through my handful of Spanish words in public.

Maybe I would just let it go if it was just speaking Spanish that I was pulling this crazy illogical behavior with. However, it strikes me in this moment that there are a lot of things I don’t do because I’m either bad at them or haven’t perfected them, and that the reason I haven’t improved has a lot to do with… the fact that I’m not doing them. The logic is incredibly flawed, it’s the equivalent of trying to learn how to swim without going into the water, and the result of my fear of looking or acting foolishly is that I limit myself. Cringe.

The true weight of this behavior is that I realize I’ve at times applied this backward logic to sharing my passions including writing. The first few items I published this year were in my mind mediocre, things that came from a heart space, but I hadn’t put a lot of time into polishing, and had hit the send button with a trigger happy impulsiveness. There was lot going on in my life, so maybe mind was too preoccupied to worry about run-on sentences or sentence rhythm, or maybe my words were so crammed full of all that I’d been holding back that they simply exploded into existence. And while I submitted some work that upon reflection could have been improved on, the beneficial result of my lack of perfectionism was that I was writing daily, and I was sharing it, no matter how imperfect it felt.

Maybe because there was so much of me contained in those spontaneous explosions of sentences and phrases I’d put in a public space, I had what can only be described as an exposure hangover. I pulled back with the same force I had revealed myself.  Suddenly as much as I’d needed to put my words out there, I needed them back. I needed that raw pile of words I’d felt so compelled to publish to not be out in the open.

In fact it felt so itchy having my messes out there floating around that at one point I almost asked an editor to pull a poem I’d submitted. I decided it would hinder my chances at being published on that particular site in the future, so I refrained… and I’m glad that despite my resistance, I left this piece where it was, in all its messy-human-still-learning-to-write gloriousness. Getting comfortable with sharing the messy stuff is so necessary, because writing is never perfect, nor is anything we aspire to do well but are growing into.

No matter how long I spend editing it, there will always be something that could have been worded more gracefully, something I could have rearranged. I will make mistakes, and I will make lots of them.   Really, if any of us wish to share what we create with the world, at some point we have to pick a point where we are willing to let go and just say, “Okay, it’s good enough. Here it is.”

So today as I pull up the article I’m working on, I realize the folder of unsubmitted articles and unpublished blog posts I’ve felt unwilling to share have a lot in common with my Spanish language skills. They are rough, some of the word choices are not ideal, and a year or so from now I will laugh at the roughness of my attempt to communicate. And while I’m always going to be growing into a better version of a writer looking back at my writing from two years ago, I already feel the same way. But I wrote anyway, and I shared. Because this is how one stops sucking… they do the thing, flail, stumble, and in the case of writing suck out loud for others to witness. And it’s not only okay, it’s necessary. In fact the whole process has a name… learning.

The way I see it, with almost everything in our lives, we can choose perfectionism or we can choose growth. We can’t have both, because whether it be writing, learning a new language, playing an instrument, or shifting into a new way of being, growing is messy stuff. It sometimes even requires being willing to be terrible at things, knowing we may look like a fool, and acting anyway.

Fortunately my life seems to offer an almost infinite amount of opportunity to step into itchy imperfection… I’m off to go flail, stumble, and be a mess in public, just for fun. Maybe I’ll accidentally learn a little too 😉

All love, Jen

Vulnerability, Naked Dreams, and Daring to Be Batshit

“I’m a writer”.

There is no phrase I can utter aloud that both fills my heart with as much joy and shakes my soul to the core to the same time. Writing has always been ‘the big one’, the dream that never faded, that stands quietly waiting behind my more ‘realistic’ goals. Most importantly, it’s always been the thing that makes me come alive.

I’m currently taking a publishing course, I’ve written over half of a book. I’ve let go of the ghostwriting someone elses ideas to step up with my own voice, I’ve published a few things online, I have a blog with a fairly decent following, and I got an award for a poem I wrote last year. Yet still when people I know ask me what I’m up to, I tell them about travel, I tell them about the English classes I teach online, I tell them about how I might maybe one of these days finish my therapist internship, or how I’m applying for teaching positions abroad, because uttering the phrase, “I’m a writer”…makes me feel a lot like one of those nightmares where I accidentally show up to school with no pants on.

Those words “I am a writer” feel true, but make me feel naked, vulnerable, and  quite honestly… batshit.

Naked because saying this requires me to remove all the layers of ‘should’ I’ve spent my entire adulthood hiding behind, and say, “Hey, this thing that I’ve wanted since I was a kid, that every social construct and ounce of rationality tells me should be a hobby- I plan on doing it for a living. Everything else I tell you about my career plans is either fear, socially acceptable bullshit, a distraction, or a means to pay the bills while I figure this making a living with my words thing out.”

Vulnerable in the recognition that some people are going to look at me like I’m crazy, tell me about how many books get published and fail, and how many aspiring writers never make it, and ask me what my back up plan is, which essentially feels like stripping down to my essential self and someone saying, “Duuuude weirdo, you’re in your 30s. Put your clothes back on, preferably a pair of dress slacks and some sensible flats, and start worrying about a 501K. If you need a goal, train for a 5k like everyone else your age. Write a book? What a delightful but absurd fantasy.”

And then batshit when even with the awareness of all this I confess, “I’ve decided not to have a back up plan anymore.” Why? Because my back up plan always makes more rational sense, and then it sneaks up into the front seat, and I end up realizing I haven’t written a damn thing for weeks. Sure, I’ll find ways to pay the bills, and hopefully continue teaching in a way that feels authentic, but as far as future plans go… career goals…  Writing. Is. It.

I recently started realizing how off track I’d gotten when I sat with my little brother and talked about his plans for the future. He just finished his first year of college, and I saw the same look I had in my eye when I was his age. It’s that quiet confusion that comes when you realize for the first time that you don’t want to settle for typical, yet it butts up against everything you’ve been socialized to believe about what your career and life path ‘should’ look like.  I think he’s already aware that he doesn’t want to settle for anything less than what he’s passionate about. The urge to have him jump in my car and go on a road trip was strong, but I realized he’s on his own unique journey which quite likely doesn’t have anything to do with crisscrossing the globe and refrained.

So instead, I immediately started yammering on about how big rewards require big risks (there is nothing that turns me into an obnoxious bumper-sticker-speaking motivational speaker like realizing my youngest sibling is asking all the same questions I struggled with), and it was healthy to question whether the things that were supposed to make him happy really would and to carve his own path. Yet as I drove away, I realized how I needed to practice what I was preaching. I have this big scary dream of my own, yet still feel afraid to take those risks and step outside of the cultural norms- for fear I might appear crazy, or even face for a time being something considered even worse than crazy in Western culture… unsuccessful.  

Screw playing small, screw playing it safe. In this moment I’m recommitting more energy to being a naked, vulnerable, and batshit crazy writer, even if that means I end up living in a foreign country so I can afford to work part time and have more time to do what I love, and failing 80 times before I finally succeed. In fact, I know myself well enough to say I’ll probably find five reasons I shouldn’t be putting it all on writing, I’ll probably announce ten more career paths I’ve decided on besides this one while my friends laugh because its only a matter of time before I change my mind.  But I’m going big, especially now that I’ve realized it’s not just about me anymore, it’s about announcing my big dreams, and showing up to prove that no goal is too big, no ambition too ‘batshit’.

….and hey, if I’m going to be crazy, I think  go-big-chase-the-fuck-out-my-dreams is my favorite kind of crazy.

To my baby brother… Dream ginormous kiddo, I freakin’ love ya.

Arrival, The Sacred Valley

A bit of an update is required. I’ve been in Peru for a week and every day has been a swirl of confusion, laughter, frustration, and heart.  The last week seems to have lasted for months, not for lack of joy, but for the sheer amount of moments that have brought me back to myself.  It ended up taking me four extra days to arrive in Ollantaytambo, the Sacred Incan valley, after flying into LIma, due to all sorts of travel hiccups, but even those moments of delay and unexpected chaos have been perfect and what my soul needed.  I’ve experience more kindness in this country than I can put words to, and met new friends around every corner.  There is also an energy in this valley I can’t describe, but my notebook is running out of pages after three days, and I feel light.

As if reaffirming that this trip is what I needed,  yesterday I got fired from one of my online English teaching jobs because my internet wouldn’t work, and what at home would have been a crisis I realized must be what was supposed to happen, and today I just settled into it.  There will be more jobs, more work days, but this I will only get to experience once, and I let it go.  It’s weird, maybe because I have been flailing and challenged since I arrived, even the defeat of getting fired for the first time in my life seems okay in this moment.  

This place itself is somehow swirling chaos and calm at the same time, narrow cobblestone streets jammed with tourist buses and taxis, women in bright Quechua clothing not seeming to notice the honking and police whistles as they float down the sidewalk radiating something inexplicably mythic. I feel like I’ve stepped into one of my dad’s old National Geographic magazines I flipped through when I was eight, deciding when I grew up, I didn’t care what I did for a job, as long as it looked something like these pages.  The photo captions were the first words I fell in love with, because they were so alive. 

Today it’s raining, and I’ve caught a cold, so instead of climbing the ruins or sightseeing, I’m wrapped in a alpaca wool blanket drinking hot tea under an awning. My nose is running, I’m shivering, my back aches, and I’ve still never felt more at peace.  I wrote this poem my first night in the valley. 

mountainsfilter

I have not yet been to Machu Picchu,

Or the crumbling ruins on top of that mountain.

But I have chose.

Chose a destination and

Llegué.

Arrived.

The air smells of flowers and wild onion

I wander the market

Fruit, coca,

Alpaca sweaters.

I cannot choose what to buy

Anymore than I can choose

What I will carry home

In this heart-

Corazon. Heart.

That’s a word I have always remembered.

The rest of my Spanish comes & goes.

No entiendo. I don’t understand.

These two words my saving grace.

I say them so often,

I begin to believe I will never understand

The vendor who speaks to fast.

The sweet man who wants to chat on the bus,

But I was too tired to translate my thoughts.

The woman selling paintings of condors,

That I ask her about,

And smile, because she lights up as she tells me

But in so many words I don’t know.

No entiendo.

These words become so comfortable on my tongue.

That I no longer need

To understand anything.

One night I look at the stars,

The darkness behind them is a heavy wool blanket.

I calmly let the truth of the words I’ve been saying over and over

Wrap themselves around my heart.

As I whisper to the Incan Apus,

The mountain gods, Pachamama, whoever is listening,

Two words that set my soul free-

“No entiendo.”

———-

Almostopenbook.Com is the blog of Jennifer Monet’, writer, wild-eyed-wild-haired adventurer, and lover of life. She offers travel coaching, mobility solutions, and resources to earn a living while turning your passion for adventure into a reality at LifeCREATIVE.org.

Laughing at Myself and Trusting the Universe

Ah the joy of laughing at oneself…. This morning it started with reading my last journal entry before the new year, in preparation to write my first blog post of 2015.

December 31st The experiences of this year have been perfect, because they’ve brought me to my growing edge again and again, a place where I have to be fine not being in control and trust things will always go as they should. That all I ever need is to trust the universe in all its divine intelligence, and to let go.

I laughed, because yesterday after making my New Year’s resolution to trust things to unfold as they should, I sat down and balled my eyes out, because even after writing that, I was still stuck on the fact that I’m setting aside my plan of moving back to Asia to teach English and the trip to India I’d dreamed of for years, to stay help take care of my family. “But I knew what I was doing, I had a plan,” I told my friend, “now what am I supposed to do?”

I laughed when I read it, because just two days ago I knew that the only thing I’m really, really supposed to do is trust the universe enough to recognize the opportunities that exist right here, and be present, even if that means throwing out the 2015 I had meticulously crafted for myself, and just saying, “Alright universe, I get it. I’m not in charge of everything.” I’m supposed to trust, even if it means giving up the certainty I had that this was the perfect plan, and stepping into the big open space no longer having it leaves. I laughed because it didn’t even take me two days to forget what I knew, and get in my head, and totally panic at the idea that I don’t have a plan, or a clue, or a map. I laughed, and I smiled, because the universe was kind of enough to nudge me to write that down, so I could come back to it when I  forget.

I laughed because I just had a poem published where I talked about how I don’t live in my head anymore, and I realize I definitely, definitely hang out there a lot more often than I’m willing to admit. I laughed, because part of trusting the universe is trusting that I’m also exactly who I’m supposed to be right now, even if that is a person who forgets what she knows almost daily, and who really, really wants to live from a heart space, and be a person who deeply knows that all the plans that go awry are a part of some bigger plan, but who has a loud monkey mind that gets in the way.

I laughed at myself the hardest though, when I spent a solid hour meticulously composing the first version of my blog this morning, on how we have to embrace that despite our plans, the universe often has other ones, and then my computer crashed and did not save a single word of it. Because, after an hour of reflecting on adaptability, my immediate thought when I got that dreaded blue screen was still, “Oh great, now I have to start over. That thing I just wrote was really good, and now I have nothing.”

Ohhhh. Good one universe, message received. And then after a fit of uncontrollable laughter, I sat back down, and I started over. All was not lost, it never is, the end result just different than anticipated. I lost an hour of words, but I suppose that was exactly what was supposed to happen, because I wrote what you are reading instead.  And I suppose that’s always the way it goes- we make static plans, we forget that we live in a dynamic world. And, when the universe reminds us, we can either struggle or we trust the journey.

Here’s to knowing that I’ll probably do a little bit of both in 2015, because I’m a human, and being totally okay with it, and to knowing that every time I miss the mark, the universe gently guides me back.  All love, Jen

——-

Almostopenbook.Com is the blog of Jennifer Monet’, writer, wild-eyed-wild-haired adventurer, and lover of life. She offers travel coaching, mobility solutions, and resources to earn a living while turning your passion for adventure into a reality at LifeCREATIVE.org.

Wild Roads, Vandalism, and Blue-Eyed Demons

If jealousy is a green eyed monster

Then self- pity is his blue eyed friend

The innocent-looking accomplice

Who will talk to the cops

If they get caught.

 

They run the streets together

Kicking over trash cans

And laughing mercilessly

As the wind scatters

Dirty heaps of garbage

Into an otherwise open road.

car engines, loud noises, and truth.

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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.