I’m waiting in a parking lot for my boss’s father in law to drop off some food we will be serving at upcoming events. Sounds weird without more context, I’m sure. But as I wait, I’m thinking a lot about the next month ahead. There will be more opportunities than I can count, to let go, practice mindfulness, and work on meditating my way through what will be some challenging circumstances. In these quiet few minutes while I wait, I wanted to share this podcast, which has helped me today, to know when to let go.
I listen to it often. This one hit in just the right spot. There are a number of things, people, and circumstances I need to let go of. What I appreciated about this particular episode was the way that they addressed the fact that there are absolutely times when we need to let go and walk away. And times when we do need to stick it out. But – our American mindset of never give up, can sometimes be unhealthy.
I drove south, about 250 miles, this afternoon. Though I’ve lived near the coast of North Carolina (aka Eastern North Carolina) for most of the last 20 years (with a few detours along the way), I saw country this afternoon I’ve never seen before. No matter how many times I encounter these backroads swamps, corn fields, or sweet potatoes – stretching out forever – nestled between thick pine forest, it still catches this city girl by surprise. It’s always a delight.
I’m in South Carolina’s Lowcountry now, staying at a sweet little Airbnb. My room – with a view of the marsh, is nothing compared to the gift of sitting on this quiet front porch this evening. Blessed quiet. I can’t tell you the joy of not being in an apartment today. The fan is whirring, I have a glass of wine, and I’m currently listening to Ray LaMontagne’s “Such a Simple Thing,” from this playlist:
I don’t know what the days ahead hold for me. I mean, who does, really? But sometimes we have these sweet breaks. Moments of pure joy & delight in the midst of the unknown. And today/tomorrow is one of those breaks for me.
I write about the places I know (California, D.C., and the lovely North Carolina coast). They are featured heavily in my fiction. But outside of Nicholas Sparks, there aren’t many traditionally published writers based in and writing about North Carolina – the coast in particular. There are books set in places such as the Outer Banks. But they’re not “North Carolina writers” and place isn’t something they’re truly intimately connected to. There are exceptions. They are out there. But, those writing about the Lowcountry of South Carolina are a whole other story, however. There are so many. Some of my favorites write about the Lowcountry. I crossed the Edisto River this afternoon, and though I’ve never been here, it’s a name I know well – as if it was an old friend.
For blog readers that aren’t familiar with the area, I’m about an hour and twenty minutes from Charleston, SC and about 50-ish minutes from Savannah, Georgia. The thing about Lowcountry writers is that they write these marshes, pluff mud creeks, palmetto tree, low-tide, and high-tide rivers and creeks, and sea turtle – places, as if the place itself is an actual being. The place is a character in the book. No one else, except maybe North Carolina’s Sarah Addison Allen (who writes magical realism – set mostly in western NC), does this. I can be corrected. Feel free to prove me wrong. But Sparks, though he writes of roads and places and events (New Bern’s Ghost Walk for instance) I know well – his novels don’t make the place a character. The places are written well. But they’re not living and breathing beings. The closest he gets to this is a A Bend in the Road (set in my beloved downtown New Bern – where I once lived).
Low County writers write this place as if it is a living and breathing being – as if the creeks, rivers, and marshes will rise up and chat with you – if only you would sit still long enough. My favorite book (one of my favorite of all-time) that does this is Sweetwater Creek by Ann Rivers Siddons. It may not be the most critically acclaimed novel I’ve ever read (though a bestseller), but I will tell you this right now, Ms. Siddons writes these marshes and creeks in a way that made me long for them as a home, though I’d never been here before.
Maybe one of the most famous Lowcountry writers is the Pat Conroy. Conroy had an ability to write just about anything in a way that made me want to read more. My favorite book of his, isn’t a novel, however. It’s My Reading Life – a sort of autobiography – only it’s through the lens of the impact of the most significant books he’d read in his lifetime. Though I wished to go to the Pat Conroy Literary Center while I was here, they’re not open until Thursday (insert sad face here). I will make it eventually.
“When I started out as a kid in Beaufort who wanted to be a writer I didn’t have the slightest notion how to become one…. My home state has given me a million stories and no writer who ever lived had such riches to choose from. What I owe South Carolina is not repayable.” ~Pat Conroy.
Eventually, I will make my way back up the coast, tomorrow. I may take the long route – but I’ll eventually find myself back in Eastern North Carolina. For how long, I’m not exactly sure. But I do know that this brief break in the pace of my every day life, is a kindhearted reminder, that I can’t lose sight of the main thing.
I’ve spent nearly twenty years of my life making my job the thing. It’s not that it’s not important. I would not trade these years. Maybe. I may not find myself outside of working for the federal government for quite some time. Who knows? I certainly do not. But I do know that I’m learning every dang day, to keep the main thing, the main thing. And the job just ain’t it. As I get ready to turn in for the night, I’m reminded of the pursuit of this thing that makes me who I am. The dream I laid down? It was for a worthy cause, surely. But sometimes comfort become a habit, one we’re meant to throw off.
Sometimes the place you’re used to, is not the place you belong. – Unknown
In the quiet of this cute little brick, ranch house – with its ticking clocks and wooden saints in the window – I’m reminded of the way I was formed and the way I grew. I remember the hard and rocky roads that brought me here. It’s all led to the words I was meant to write. There is redemption and restoration there in those hard places. There is restoration in the words I’m writing now.
When you speak for a person (in your professional life), you can possibly (as I have) become uncomfortable with the push and pull between public vs. private. Even more so when your name is not easily lost in the Jennifer Smiths of the vast interwebs. When the vulnerability you know is required in your writing, exposes you to those you’d rather not be exposed to, you could (I did) shrink back, lessen your words, shrink what you once believed possible, and grow too comfortable with what was.
When I stood at the kitchen sink, in this quiet airbnb this evening, and looked into the yard, past the saint in the window, I remembered what it was like to learn from the artists I knew best (mostly my Grandmother) growing up. If I’m not writing “clear and hard about what hurts” (Ernest Hemingway), I will always miss the mark. I have been missing the mark for quite some time.
For friends still reading this far – here’s what I want you to do:
1. Keep writing (clear and hard) about what hurts (or gives you joy or sets you free or lights a fire in your heart). 2. Don’t hold back. 3. Chase (hard) after those things you know (in your soul) you’re meant to do and be. It may not happen over night – getting to this place you know you’re meant to be. But nothing meant for you will pass you by. Of this I am certain. So keep at it. Keep pressing. Keep waiting – but actively waiting with expectation and hope. 4. And then, keep waiting, hoping, & working.
I don’t know where the path is taking me, but I know what I’m called to do – wherever it leads. I think you know, too – friend.
1. I am trying to get back into a regular exercise routine. Lordy it has been too long. You gotta start somewhere though, right? I’m severely anemic and have to get IV iron infusions several times a year. I should probably get more than that. Anywho, when you’re anemic at just basic levels, you can have major fatigue. I am like realllllyyyy low on iron. I had this feeling that if I could get myself moving after this last bit of iron, I might be able to establish enough of a habit, that by the time my iron started dipping again, I would feel so good from exercising (and noticing the losing of inches) that I’d push through. I am a long way from walking 4 miles a day and being in the gym 6 days a week (like the olden days). I know how good I feel when I do, however. Can you relate? What do you use to keep yourself motivated? I need to combine some yoga in there now. I’ve only got 3.3 miles in this week, so far, but hey – that’s 3.3 more than last week. 🙂
2. My dog is a runner. She loves to run and run and run. And then she will gladly sleep 18 or more hours a day. 🙂 She has enjoyed the walks, in spite of teetering on the edge of her senior years and being sick not all that long ago. But today, she saw a little boy – who just so happened to look like “our” boy. My (foster) son is black and the little boy we saw was also black and about the size of my (foster) son when he left. If you’re new here, I was expecting to adopt my (foster) son. She does this funny little hop, skip thing when she’s happy or sees kids playing (she loves kids). I don’t know how to explain it, but you’ll just have to trust me. She saw the boy and she just knew it was him. She tried multiple times to pull me in his direction. She used to do this a lot more – after he first left. It’s less frequent now, but it still happens. I was teary-eyed. But it also made me appreciate this crazy dog of mine. She loved him so much. He was her boy. She wouldn’t forgive me for at least a year after he left. She didn’t want a thing to do with me (not kidding). About a year ago, she changed her mind and she’s cool with me again. That little boy was her life. She’s a weird and precious dog. 🙂
3. I entered a writing related contest and didn’t win. I was strangely bummed out by this. But then I woke up Wednesday morning and I was feeling pretty good. I woke up feeling better about a lot of things – most of them are things I can’t even remotely control – like work situations & how someone does/does not feel about you. It was a rough 2-3 weeks here recently. I think I’ve turned the corner. This brings me to my number 4…
Loneliness is not something we enjoy. Nor do we attempt to live with it and make use of it – most likely because in the loneliness, we feel pain. If we feel pain, but can’t cure the loneliness – we often then reach for those things that numb us. But making use of your loneliness is, or can be, a gift. I started reading Andrew McCarthy’s autobiography, Brat, this weekend. There’s a line in it that stuck with me. He writes, “The travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux has written about the ‘lucidity of loneliness’ and how it is indispensable in order to experience certain things deeply.”‘
The “lucidity of loneliness,” is a beautiful phrase. Lucidity is clearness of thought or style. But the Oxford Languages definition (Dear Biola Professors, I do hereby humbly ask for forgiveness for quoting from a dictionary) appeals to me even more. It uses the words brightness & luminosity to describe lucidity. I love that. The brightness and luminosity of loneliness. Hmm, how can the lonely places lead to brightness and luminosity in our lives? For most of us – we don’t like loneliness. Or the quiet. We tend to fill our lives with busy, constant running and activity. For those of us who live alone, there can be a tendency to fight against this loneliness. I know, because at so many times in my life, I’ve tried to do this myself.
The last thing we think, particularly when we long for community, relationships, family, etc., is to view loneliness as leading to clearness of thought or brightness and luminosity. Buddhists, though I am far from one or an expert in any sense of the word, teach about different types of loneliness and the way that it can be useful to us. I get this more and more all of the time. As a writer, I think it’s particularly important. It’s nearly impossible for me to write well, without some familiarity with loneliness.
But, that doesn’t always feel so good. There’s a temptation, particularly when we are going through hard things to numb it, quiet it, hide it, or fill the void and loneliness with activity, noise, etc. In the loneliness, when we don’t numb it or try to fill the space with something/anything – we feel. And feeling is often the exact opposite of what we want when life just . . . hurts.
The wound is the place where the Light enters you. – Rumi
For many, many months in 2019, it seemed as though my home was under siege. It got worse as the year dragged on. By summer, I was no longer safe in my own home. I’d packed away and hidden my most precious belongings so they wouldn’t be destroyed. And for hours on end on more nights than I care to remember, my home – walls and doors in particular – were ruined and I lived in constant fear.
When it all ended in August of 2019, I didn’t want to feel. In that space, in the pain – I tried to numb it. I was in some of the worst pain I’d ever experienced. I was heartbroken, alone, and in a house that was a constant reminder of some of the worst days of my life. I wanted it to stop – all of it. So, I kept searching for anything to fill it. I drank more than I ever had before. I gained weight. My health suffered. I searched for anything – anything at all – to change my circumstances. I couldn’t face the loneliness and pain.
I came upon a job opening at an event venue and went for it. I got the job as the Venue Manager/Event Manager. The place is a dream. It’s incredibly beautiful. I was very happy, on the surface – because I knew it was what I wanted. The only problem was, the timing was all wrong. The job filled my days and months until January of 2020, with frenetic activity. It was the right job, at the wrong time. I’d give anything to go back to that world (but under different circumstances). Instead of living in the pain and loneliness, I shut it down completely. I mean, shut.it.down. I’d had no time to face it. I went from the most pain I’ve ever been in, to working 7 days a week. I was excelling – but dying inside.
The stress reached an explosion point as I climbed the stairs to my apartment one evening. I’d worked 7 days a week for weeks and weeks. And as I climbed my stairs, my whole body felt like it was shutting down. I couldn’t breathe and the chest pain I was experiencing was the worst I’d ever felt. I thought I was having a heart attack – at 43. I got inside and dumped all of my bags and coat just inside the door of my apartment. I contemplated calling 911. I laid down on the couch trying to decide what to do. I’ve known anxiety and panic attacks. Especially in the long months of 2019. But this seemed different. I decided then and there that if I didn’t do something drastic, I was going to die. That’s literally what I felt – that I was days or weeks from dying. Isn’t that nuts? I quit that job. But I still didn’t get into and dig deep enough into the pain.
So what does this have to do with loneliness? See the thing is, if I’d stayed in that loneliness for a while, letting myself feel the pain of my loss and the stress of having my physical home and well-being threatened, I think I would have reached a modicum of healing a lot sooner. And then maybe I would be ready now for the job that was the right job, at the wrong time or a healthy, beautiful relationship. The funny thing is, now I can’t move no matter how hard I try. And I’ve got even more to work through now.
When I woke up this morning, after several days of living in the hard and painful places of life, the tears always close to the surface, it became quite clear why I’m still here. I also know that I can’t and won’t push the loneliness away, anymore. It’s in this space that I take steps closer to healing and learning to take care of myself once again. For the first time in ages, I walked with the dog (like exercise walk), read, and sat in the weird & confusing feelings I have going on these days. There’s nothing earth shattering about today – except this – I’ve let myself be lonely and I’ve let myself feel the hurt, this week. And in that, I have much clearer vision now. In the lucidity of loneliness, I see what I couldn’t see in the last two years. I didn’t try to escape it, numb it, ignore it, or run from it. I sat with it and let it do its thing. And now I feel certain I am here in this place I don’t want to be, for a reason – and that is my healing and growth – in spite of the harsh conditions.
It’s hot now in the south – hot and humid. But not all that long ago, we had freezing temps at night – long past what is normal. When we have a deep frost, I cover my outdoor plants with towels or old sheets. But last winter, in the midst of more job stress, I ignored the plants on my patio. I stopped covering them in the frost. My indoor houseplants are doing awesome. But what was happening outside wasn’t pretty.
The plants started slowly dying in the harsh conditions. They weren’t cared for. At all. Every so often I’d pull a dead plant from a pot and toss it over the fence. But for the most part, I just left them there in their pots. On my patio right this very minute, are a couple of dead ferns (I kid you not) and a few other random dead plants. In several of my planters however, there are geraniums. They’re still alive. They look a little beat up. But they’re not only blooming – new, green growth is popping up on their knobby little selves, too.
The thing that really gets me about this (and yes, I’ll get back to my point) is that I bought these geraniums in the sale sections at Wal Mart and Lowe’s. I rarely buy full price plants for my patio. I usually buy what’s on sale or deeply discounted. They’re usually discounted because they’ve been scorched in the sun, overwatered, etc. I am always confident in my ability to bring them back to life. These little stinkers just do not have any desire to give up. I’ve not watered them once. They’ve lived off of the rain – which hasn’t been all that frequent to be honest. I’ve not covered them in the frost. And now that it has turned hot and humid, I’ve yet to water them.
They may not be the prettiest plants I’ve ever seen. And they surely do need help. But their determination in harsh conditions – conditions that are inhospitable and probably a little pain-inducing, are a beautiful representation of what we as humans are capable of, in the midst of our own pain and destructive circumstances.
I veered off the path a little, but it’s all tied together. We want to stop the suffering – stop the pain – stop the loneliness. We want to move on to the good stuff. We want to feel better or feel nothing. We want to prevent harsh conditions. Yet, in doing so, more often than not, we prolong our suffering. I’m not exactly saying that letting your plants suck it up is the right way to go, but clearly, my tiny geraniums lived on – blooming unexpectedly – in spite of the harshest conditions. I think there’s a beautiful lesson in this. We don’t want to face the harsh, painful things. But it’s there in that loneliness and pain, that we can be set free.
In the quiet loneliness and in this place I don’t want to be, I see now that it’s where I gain healing. And it’s now the hope I have – for the foundation of great and beautiful things ahead. Don’t shut it down, friends. Ask from it and the pain, what it has for you. Hope and healing wait for us in these harsh places.
By the way, I spent a few minutes this afternoon, cleaning these ladies up. I trimmed off the dead parts, cleared out the leaves, and watered them. They look a little better with a little care and feeding. As do all of us.
When I posted on Monday, I was a little down in the dumps. My heart is a little beat up and on top of it all, Tuesday morning, I took an early morning phone call, while getting ready for work. A former colleague has passed away. I felt like a zombie all day Tuesday. I made stupid mistakes, I was all over the place. Tuesday afternoon, I took the dog to the vet. She’s got some powerful meds to help get her through an infection and some inflammation. I hope this will put her on the right track. But she’s “old” and I worry about losing her. By last night, I just wasn’t okay. It has been one thing after another, you know?
The thing about this former colleague is that it not only broke my heart – but it drove home – how short our time on earth, actually is. It is just a mere blip. I just saw this person a few weeks ago at work. Initially, I felt a weight in the grief of it all. I had a good long cry last night. But as this loss settles in, I think it’s a far more powerful tribute to the impact this person made in my professional community, to doggedly live this wild life I know is waiting for me. Maybe the word, wild throws you off. I’ll have to write about that someday. But one of the things I mean by that is that I want to live counter to a culture that celebrates things and titles and live in the moment tasting and experiencing life and all it offers us. There’s a richness and beauty to life, but it’s often lost in the pursuit of everything else. But it’s not just that! I think we often lose out on the life we are meant to live – the life we want to live – as these painful moments rear their head, because we won’t face them.
The temptation for me & I’m sure for many others, is to shrink back in our moments of loss, pain, grief, etc. But I’ve decided this is exactly when I need to turn the dial up on my commitment to myself to chase dreams and live fully – each day. What I’m now learning (and leaning to accept) is that I can’t get there without facing the losses, pain, and grief. My words for 2021 were hope & faith. In these moments when I most want to pull the cover over my head and escape the sadness of it all, I’d rather choose hope and faith. I love joy. I love the simple things in life. In the weight of loss, it’s easy to lose track of that. I’m choosing hope & faith – against appearances. But I can’t get there without first facing the other stuff, head on.
In a slightly related and possibly also unrelated note (I’m sure that makes perfect sense to everyone), I read an article yesterday, on Elephant Journal, about the concept of HO’OPONOPONO. The article on Elephant Journal doesn’t do the concept justice – in my opinion. But I’m so glad I saw it. That article led me to do some more reading and then I found this article & video. I found it far more helpful. It’s essentially an ancient Hawaiian practice used to resolve conflicts within family units. But was used later by a therapist Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len and others.
The thing about HO’OPONOPONO, in what I’ve read so far, is that I think its beauty and the healing concepts, come – as you choose acceptance for what is – for wrong done to you or that you’ve done, for that matter. You’re not focusing on changing the person who has hurt you, or who you need to forgive, or the situation, for that matter. You are, however, working on your perception of the situation. The result is forgiveness, love, and comfort, too. This is all a lot to add to this post. Especially when I just read about it for the first time yesterday. But the way it ties together for me, is that my perception of what’s happening, is often what is pulling me out into the current – further from hope & faith. The balance that is gained (or I guess I should say regained) can open the door to that restoration of your hope and faith – because you’re no longer tied down by unforgiveness and the painful emotions.
I’m rambling now. The bottom line is that I’m learning all around me – from people like Brene (in this post), my therapist, and in unlikely places too – that facing the stuff head on is actually the route to hope, healing, and light in the dark places. So in this season of loss, added to the season before it, I’ve made that commitment to myself this evening. I’ll keep facing it. And through that, I’m certain I’ll get closer and closer to living this dream I’ve been chasing so long.
*The Viktor Frankl quote above was given to me today, by my therapist. It’s perfect.
And honestly, it’s kind of freeing, in my opinion.*