A Thousand Reasons Not To

This summer I enrolled in a creative non-fiction class at Loyola in New Orleans. The class was a workshop style and the 12 of us made for quite the diverse group. We varied considerably in age, sex, race and background. Together we could have easily graced the cover of a brochure for a city’s Parks Department or a Volunteer program of some sort. But we all wanted the same thing– to write, and for two months that’s what we did. Our teacher was a classic local New Orleanian who was an active writer in the city and taught in the MFA program. He always wore short sleeved Hawaiin shirts and had a pleasantly laid back approach to teaching. After the first class nerves and politeness wore off, we submerged into a chemistry all our own.

Here's a few of us in an elevator selfie I made us take.

Here’s a few of us crammed in an elevator selfie I made us take. It was late. 

We spent the summer writing and reading and critiquing each others work. I knew there was a lot to learn in our short time together, but I loved more how enjoyable and interesting our sessions were. We all shared this passion, but it was more our willingness to show up every week, to put things out there we weren’t always comfortable with, and to give and receive critcism with honesty and humility. Because of our many differences, we had very engaged discussions, and it was so refreshing to hear the voices and opinions of people who were so different than me. It sounds cheesy, but having that diversity made such a difference. When I reflect on my college classes it strikes me how homogenous they were. I was mostly surrounded by people who looked the same as me and were after the same things. This was different. Better, I think. I remember after the first class feeling so grateful that I signed up and went for it. I noticed it advertised on a coffee shop wall. So often I feel an interest for an “extracurricular” like that and tell myself one day, but I never follow through. I was glad I did this time.

The truth is that “One Day” is always “Today” right? That’s probably a bumper sticker somewhere, I hope. But there really isn’t any other day than this one, which is why one day hardly ever comes. It’s already here!

At the end of our last day of class, someone asked our teacher if he had any final advice for us before we all parted ways. He thought for a moment and then gave a subdued, thoughtful response. “Everyone is always asking, ‘When can I call myself a writer?’ or ‘What makes someone a writer or not?’ It seems so obvious, but the simple truth is that a writer is anyone who actually just sits down and takes the time to write. Who works away at his desk and grinds it out, again and again and again. It really is about just making yourself write, day after day, which is very hard to do.”  I remember thinking how simple but powerful an answer that was. So many people in the community, including me, ask that question, and so few people actually commit to the time and vulnerability and work it takes to create meaningful and honest writing. I think sometimes the idea of things is more appealing than the reality, which is always far less romantic.

I’ve been reflecting on his answer more recently as I’ve committed myself to a writing project that constantly challenges me. It boggles my mind that each morning when I sit down at the computer, I feel the same fear that I felt yesterday. I feel an uncertainty that’s totally unnerving. It makes me see and think of a thousand other things to do, besides writing my inside out. I see dust and think that I should dust. I realize a cluttered desk is no place to write so I clean that out first. I see paper and think I’ll make a list of other things to do, then cross each one off, then sit down and get to work. I check my email just to make sure there aren’t other things I could or should be doing. God forbid I enter the world of Facebook or Twitter or the black hole of the webosphere, never to be seen again. It’s crazy how much time I spend doing other things, with a fantasy in mind that once they’re complete, then I can write. It’s all a facade. It’s another One Day. There’s no perfect place to write, no ideal time, and no shortage of other things to do instead. I thought that once I did this long enough, I’d just wake up and start typing until nighttime and then do it again the next day. That I would overcome the fear once and for all. Not so.

Every day I feel a resistance to do the thing I love and deeply believe in. It’s strange and challenging and completely frustrating. It sounds like such a psychological cliche, but apparently this is a common defense mechanism that most people confront. If you don’t actually try and put stuff out there, you don’t run the risk of failure. Or rejection. In effect it’s just safer not to try. So we become skilled at finding ways not to. But it’s also boring and cowardly to give into it so I try and fight it all the time. Sometimes the fear wins and I don’t try that day. I alphabetize my medicine cabinet instead.

The flip side is, when I go too long without writing I feel like that kink in a hose running on high pressure. I get irritable and uneasy, like I’m going to POP at any moment. I can almost feel my insides stirring and expanding and the answer is always to let them out through words. It reminds me of something Marc Nepo wrote: “Talent is energy waiting to be released through an honest involvement in life.” True dat. The time before I write and the act of sitting down to write can be unpleasant and is usually really hard. But the feeling after I’ve written tells me that it’s what I’m supposed to do. I always feel better once I’ve done it, and sometimes if I’ve done it well, other people feel better too.

Whenever I watch really successful people on TV or listen to them speak, it always occurs to me that they got to where they are because at some point in their lives, they decided to try. And they too faced risk. But that’s always how big things begin. I used to think successful people were that way because fate had it in store for them. I thought they were chosen, as though success picked its people like teams in PE class. Now I realize truly successful people are all very different, but are triumphant in their aspirations because they’re true to their gifts and trust themselves enough to put it out there. They risk failure, but they get a chance at changing things, or going big, or living out their dreams. And how many of us are living out our dreams?! Even if they failed, they’d at least have tried, and there is success and respect in that alone. Some of my best stories and biggest revelations came from me failing first. Did you know I auditioned at Julliard? No, because I failed. But it’s also how I learned I wanted to write instead of act. Plus it makes a for a funny story now.

Our writing teacher told the class he had written two novels but so far no publishers had signed on to them yet. I was really impressed hearing that. I think actually having sat down and written a complete novel, start to finish, is a huge accomplishment. It takes such dedication and time and work, and he had written two. Even if they never get published, having two completed novels under your belt is awesome. Especially because writing is such a lonely thing– no one is really encouraging you or congratulating you until the work is finished. And you always run the risk that at the end of your hard work, it won’t be well received. I guess that’s the vulnerable part we all face any time we embark on an endeavor. But I don’t always think it’s about the finished product anyway. It’s more that we’ve dedicated ourselves completely to something, worked hard at it and saw it through to its end.

It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But by all means, try something.
-FDR

Health, Happiness, and Try Try Try Again.

10 Things Easier Done Than Filling A Legal Prescription In America

1. Buying Illegal Prescriptions/Drugs In America.

2. Teaching a Wild Bear to Play the Trumpet.

Yeah, You Read That Right

Yeah, You Read That Right

3. Buying a Gun

Guns: Much Safer Than Meds For Sick People.

Because Guns Are Safer Than Meds For the Sick. Duh!

4. Going an Entire Day Without iTunes Asking If You’d Like to Install the Latest Update.

5. Getting Your License Renewed Anything Achieved at the DMV.

6. Surviving a Breakup.

.

Half true.

7. Sitting Through the Entire Hour of “Marketplace” on NPR.

8. Teaching Your Grandma How to Use Twitter.

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Preach it, Granny

9. Admitting You’re Wrong in the Middle of an Argument.

10. Playing Golf On the Moon

moon-300x223

This Didn’t Even Require a Prior Authorization!

Health, Happiness, and A Million Miles of Pharmaceutical Red Tape

The Five Days It Took to Turn 30

On Thursday I awoke to the faint scent of change in the air, not unlike the first brisk breeze you feel in late September. But this was not Fall. This was something called ‘thirty’ and it awaited me, ready or not. I didn’t know how it would go down or exactly how I felt about it, only that behind mundane tasks and in the corners of rooms, there it was; stirring, growing, counting down. It caused nervousness, yes, as change often does, but it also caused excitement and irregular bursts of recklessness. At the Circle K I always frequent, I ignored regular intuition when I saw a snickers bar and desired it, but had not yet eaten dinner. I watched myself grab it as though it had always been mine and Circle K had taken it from me. I plop it on the counter feeling proud and dangerous. I’m turning 30 soon, I don’t give a shit.

On Friday, the upcoming change is no longer a scent in the air, but a big red X on the Calendar. I only have a few more days of my twenties and I need to make it count. I have an outdoor lunch with college friends. I keep the conversation fresh. When it hints at boring I steer it another way. We can’t be talking about strangers I don’t know or things I don’t care about at my birthday lunch! It’s so self-involved but I don’t care, I’m trying to get to the root of something. I ask my friends a lot of questions about the states of their lives, all of which appear far more together and grown up than mine. (Jobs, marriage, etc.)  But beyond that I’m trying to gather information. Something within me is trying to assess whether we’re happier now than we were five years ago. I guess I need to know that life gets better with age– a concept I’ve heard but don’t wholeheartedly buy yet. The conclusion is nearly impossible; there are too many variables. When one friend suggests mani/pedi’s I think YES. I need my nails to be in shape for this milestone. I struggle choosing a nail color that complements my mature new age but also suggests my daring nature. (Snickers) I pick a bright, corally orange color. It’s a risk. It’s no ‘soft rose’. But I’m turning 30 soon. Let’s do this ‘cajun shrimp’!

On Saturday, the softest sound of a ticking clock can be heard everywhere I go. Is it my ovaries? Is it the countdown of my ending youth? Hard to say. My body is tired from the muted angst of the last few days and the poor diet choices I’ve made on account of feeling ‘risky.’ I rest a few hours while second-guessing my nail color and making a mental list of people 30+ that are still rocking it. Oprah..Rob Lowe..Kanye.. Next I head to Magazine Street to find the outfit I wish to turn thirty in. I visit my favorite places, and when the sales girls hear I’m turning thirty tonight they say “Awwwwwww” as though I were a wet, lost puppy. They also become exceptionally helpful. Like Don’t you worry girl, we’re gonna get you through this. As I accrue a large ‘no’ pile in the fitting room, finally I’m brought a navy blue floral romper. In the mirror I think This is it. This is the one. Sophisticated print but youthful as a romper. Also my butt looks really good.

Tonight I will have drinks with a couple of friends at Cure, a snazzy bar where our close friend works. I shouldn’t drink. My body straight up rejects alcohol in the form of migraine and then general disintegration of entire body systems, but the cocktails here are good and of high quality. They’re made by mixologists! And at midnight I’ll leave my twenties forever, so gosh darn it, I’ll have a drink or two. A few friends retire early leaving behind my BFF Kaitlin (aka Matt Damon) and the progressive boy I’m dating. He doesn’t like this ‘ritzy’ bar. Something about everyone having on the same outfit. Our friend brings “shots” for the stroke of 12. When the iPhone flashes midnight, we yell and cheers and drink the shot, which tastes like youth mixed with jolly rancher. Kaitlin snags this gem of a photo which at least half conveys the mixed feelings I had.

I’m 30 and I don’t understand my feelings wahh

I am technically thirty now and I feel the burst of recklessness. Should we get forties and go to the park? Light some fireworks maybe? But the progressive boy I’m dating suggests I take it easy. We still have my actual birthday tomorrow. He’s right. We go home.

On Sunday the big day has arrived. I’m getting phone calls and texts while I lay in bed and I’m like God, I love birthdays so much. I didn’t even have to do anything and look at all this positive attention I’m getting! Thanks mom! I soaked in all that love pouring in. Then I realize the small get-together at my pool is supposedly starting in an hour. I am crazy late, it is raining, and the pool turned green overnight. With the help of friends we pull it together. The group trickles in and three different people give me flowers, which shoots me up higher over the moon than I already was. A few of the people at the party I’ve never even met before, and yet somehow almost immediately, a fun and comfortable dynamic forms. One of those perfectly random social events that could never emerge through planning. We swim and philosophize and do birthday things, including passing around my cake in a circle and taking large bites out of it face first. (Kind of what one-year-olds do on their first birthday) We play a very loud game of Scattergories and things turn competitive, quick. There was erratic dancing and a four-part belting of It’s All Coming Back to Me Now by Celine Dion. At one point we were gathered around watching Blue Planet in awe of the earth like Whoooooooa and Woooooooooow! Looking around in that moment I thought Dude, this is perfect. We stayed up late. I guess adults still do that.

On Monday I awake to the haze of a good-time had and party remnants littering the floor. My body hurts. The pool looks hungover. Even Monty is lethargic. I briefly assess the damage and ignore it, then eat a ginormous bowl of Kashi cereal and fall back asleep. When I re-awake, I attempt to “tidy up” but it’s useless. I’m moving like a true geriatric.  There is that Sunday type of melancholy lingering that comes after you’ve had a really amazing time with people and now you’re alone in the aftermath, remembering the fun. I plop on the couch trying to evade it and spot a large vase holding all the different flowers I was given. It’s cliche and sappy, but staring at it I feel a tinge of gratitude and then it explodes exponentially. I don’t feel old, I feel lucky to be alive and to know the people I do. I feel grateful that the people I like actually like me back. So many showed their love to me–In person, people from the past, strangers on the internet, my best friend from kindergarten on FB. It all just overwhelmed me for a minute. I’ve got a family that’s solid and friends who are true and a dog that jumps high and loves me endlessly. If I were a sap on Twitter I’d be like Feeling #blessed.

But I am not.

Turning thirty didn’t change much about me. I feel the same, my battles remain and I’ll continue to do my best. But unlike other birthdays, it finally took me outside of myself, even though it began the opposite. Among the cups and pizza boxes, I felt weirdly inspired thinking of the people in my life. It’s not that they love me, it’s that they love at all. That they’re out there with their own battles and they’re trying too. There’s no one way to do it and we’re all just learning as we go. But thinking of them made me want to try harder. And do better. Not because I’m 30 but because I’ve been shown such incredible ways to go about living and loving– It’d be a waste not to learn from such awesome people. And that’s why it was silly relying on others to prove to me that life gets better with age. Surround yourself by the right kind of people and they are the proof. Life gets better because we get better. We know ourselves more and just that knowing by itself makes so many things easier. For me I’m realizing it’s not about trying to know and understand everything but accepting that I can’t know it all. There will always be mystery to life and part of the deal is living here in the in-between. I think there’s a good time to be had in the middle. There certainly was last night. Anyway, it’s a simple concept I guess. It just took me twenty-nine years to make some sense out of it! Twenty nine years and five days, that is.

Thank you to everyone who helped me ring in 30. It was truly righteous.

Health, Happiness and The Five Days of Thirty