Forgive yourself

When I began learning meditation, about 20+ years ago, the school of thought was that you could force your brain to be silent – that is how enlightenment would come. Stare at the flame of a candle, think blank thoughts… when I hear this now, it seems preposterous. Through decades of research, we have a better understanding of the human brain. Learning to achieve a cessation of mind chatter, a silencing, is like training a puppy. Which, anyone who has had a puppy knows, can be frustrating, annoying, and requires patience and consistency. And now that mediation, yoga, mindfulness, and any activity that is supposed to bring about a greater sense of self is all the rage in the Western world, the pressure to do so – especially here in our United States of Competition, is great and inevitably linked to failure. In that mindset, if you’re unable to achieve a pretzel body and a quiet mind, its more likely you’ll give up and go eat a bagel. At least, that’s what I do. Along with some general beating up on one’s self. ‘It’s not for me, I’m not good enough, I can’t do it,’ yada yada. What we don’t learn, what we can’t learn until someone has brought us up this way or taught us, is that it’s alright to forgive yourself. It’s imperative, actually.

I read an article recently about the founder of Spanx. When she was growing up, at the dinner table her father would ask what she had done to fail that week. He’d high-five her if she had a failure to share, defining failure as ‘not trying’ instead of ‘not succeeding’. We can’t grow or learn without struggle, and failures. And so, I forgive myself – for not meditating the last couple of days, for not making a blog entry yesterday, for overreacting to something my stepdaughter said last week, for not communicating to my man about my needs, for making a social faux pas with a friend. I used to hang on to all of these failures. Each and every one, and they would pile up and I’d feel that I couldn’t possibly achieve anything – good relationships, self-care, progress in my writing, or ever truly realizing what good I am to the world. It is a work in progress to let these things go, to realize I was lazy – which is a quality I abhor in others – and that everything is still going to be all right. But I’m trying.

Last night

I was supposed to go to a write-in. A place where writers come together, are given a prompt, they write for 15 minutes, and then are (positively) critiqued. I’ve been before and its ok, but last night I said I was going and I didn’t. I lied. I mean, I didn’t LIE LIE. I left on time, got on the bus, got off near Port Authority, walked to the building, and then just kept walking. The problem is that I knew that was going to happen. It was my plan all along. I’m embarrassed and ashamed, of course, but honestly I liked that no one knew where I was. I love the anonymity of NYC. I love that I can be at 42nd and 8th and its a hell hole, wall to wall people, and no one notices me. I loved that I didn’t have to be with my stepdaughters and our little family last night because I can only handle them in spurts, especially if the older one is having a tough time aka being a raging, irresponsible, bratty bitch.

So, I went to the one decent place for food (which I will not disclose here in case you all frequent it and then it will no longer be a safe haven for me,) and then caught a movie. I’ve actually done this before, just once. Maybe this makes it a habit now, I don’t know. Because I desire it. Not the lying part, just the being alone part. It would be hurtful to my man if he knew I didn’t want to be with them. Actually, him either. We have plenty of time without the girls, but we use that time to be together or travel or sometimes with my son. It strikes when it strikes, the need to escape.

I saw a police officer riding a horse the wrong way down a one way street. I heard bits and pieces of bizarre conversations. I smelled smells that made me hold my breath and cover my face with my scarf. I bumped into many shoulders and said many ‘Pardon me, excuse me’s. Best of all, I forgot everything I was worried about, everything I was thinking about, before I got there. I felt anger (at the throngs of slow moving people,) sadness (at the homeless, drug-addicted, and destitute strangers,) blinded (by the lights,) and a strange sense of calm that only comes from being still in the center of chaos. I wish I could achieve this at home, when the storms come, but I am too reactive, too emotional, too personal. It matters to me, and I need to take care of myself so that I do not explode, say all of the wrong things, have a negative impact on those kids.

So, since I can’t go much further than NYC because 1. we don’t have a car and 2. I need to be home at a reasonable hour, Times Square on a Friday night it is.

Day 7

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried keeping a blog or writing as a habit. Its not that I don’t write, I just write sporadically. I’ve kept a journal since I was about eight years old. In the last decade, I write in a journal on two different occasions… on planes, and when I’m super super stressed out about something and can’t sleep. Now, because I have traveled every 4-6 weeks for the last decade or so, I have plenty of entries. It’s a mechanism to deal with anxiety I might feel about flying and it’s also a way to reflect on what’s going on in my life at that time. Separately, I’ve taken numerous writing classes – memoir, screenplay, dramatic writing. I’ve done the Artist’s Way, taken workshops in writing + yoga, and free writing flings. In the moment, when I am working on my writing, I feel challenged and if I’m lucky, inspired. Sometimes, I even write good shit. The problem, of course, is consistency. I have spent most of my life believing that I am not a writer because hello, writers write. Every day. All the time. It’s the work they can’t not do, as Scott Dinsmore says. Or said. Isn’t that right? Isn’t that what defines a writer?

For me, though, I sometimes hate it. Yes yes, the blank page, the fear, the doubt. Moreover, though, am I wasting my time? Shouldn’t I know already? Shouldn’t I feel a deep compulsion, every day, to tell my stories? I think I used to. I have suppressed those feelings for the last 20 years. When I was young, I dreamed of telling stories through film and books, not being able to dream yet of an internet connecting me to the world. I had an active imagination, I had fun with my stories, and I moved to California believing without a doubt that I would make it in Hollywood. Boy, was I dumb. And thank god because if I hadn’t taken the leap, I wouldn’t have had such a wonderful, adventurous life. More fodder for the page, I guess.

Maybe I am more afraid that this isn’t the work I can’t not do (note: as a grammar nerd, this sentence tortures me.) But it’s the work I can do now. I’m in a position in my life where I finally have the time to find out. I am not trying to figure out how to avoid a late notice from the electric company. I’m not worrying about bouncing checks to my ex for rent and wondering how much interest he’ll charge me. I have stability despite the fact that I’m not working, because my supportive, generous husband wants me to take this time to figure out what’s next for me. And I do, too. Which is terrifying, of course, but also liberating – and I still need to find a way to see that I deserve it. That I don’t need to be suffering. And that just because I am white and educated and privileged, doesn’t mean I can’t also complain from time to time. I know who I am inside and what I believe, I know my level of compassion. Maybe the problem is that the work I can’t not do is work I actually can’t do. Humanitarian work? Diplomatic work? Or is it writing screenplays and memoirs about my life which I think is extraordinary but honestly it’s not. And isn’t that the point? That my stories will resonate, that despite our obvious differences, we are fundamentally the same?

So, today is day 7 of the writing challenge. I’m not ready to find out how to monetize my blog or get 100,000 followers by this time next year. I’m not ready to say this is the work I can’t not do. I feel that this work, this expression, much like my journaling, actually just allows me to get the spinning mind down on paper and frees it up for what’s next. I have to remind myself, every morning, that today is a new day, a new opportunity. I only need to see the 10 feet in front of me, I don’t need to know where the road ends.