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

Lemonade.

Someone asked me recently what would happen to this blog if I were to get well, given that I primarily write through the lens of life with chronic illness. I remember immediately thinking Dude, what an awesome problem that would be. Were this tiny corner of the internet a documentation of my weird sick life that ended on a high note with my full recovery, it’d be a major celebration. I’d have no problem changing the URL to Zero Pills A Day and then pursuing other writing projects. Or I’d keep writing here, through a healthier lens. But the truth is, while it may not always appear that way, I am still sick. For a couple of reasons I am far more functional than I’ve been in the past. Every day when I think about the crashes I experienced in Colorado and California, and basically all of 2012, I thank every particle in my being that I’m not there again and those parts are over.

That being said, there’s a lot of ‘behind-the-scenes’ work that accompanies life with this illness. I still take a a lot of medicine just to keep my head above water and feel decent enough to do things. I’m lucky and grateful for modern medicine that allows me to feel relief, but I’m still mostly treating the symptoms and not the cause. (We still don’t know it, but we’re getting closer as there is more research than ever) It’s still easy for me to overdo things and then spend a day or two or more recovering. The natural state of my body is pain, and some days I barely leave my room. CFS can be very erratic and navigating it from day to day feels like a job in itself. But by far the biggest factor allowing me to function better and devote time to rest and recovery when I need it is something that’s a bit of a sore subject for me: I am not working. I am thirty years old, a college grad, and I’m not in the workforce.

Even writing that here still stings a little.

In 2011 when I was forced to leave my job, all I wanted was to go back to work. My plan was to recover enough from the crash so I could either return to my old job or seek work elsewhere. I was bitter about not working, and I hated the idea of being unable to support myself. But even my specialist said if I wanted a real shot at getting better, I needed to stop and devote time to letting my body recover. So I did, and while I experienced a bout of health that summer, I crashed again in the Fall, which is when I began this blog. The next year, 2012, was disastrous and I was sicker than I’d ever been. I’ll never forget my sister carrying me on her back up the stairs because I was too weak to climb them, or the deep sadness I felt unable to walk my own dog. That was the hardest year of my life, on a few levels. And I’ve had some shitty years to compare it to! But it was also the year I came to fully surrender to the reality of my situation. I almost didn’t have a choice. Through a lot of tears, weeks in bed, and the care of my family, I made it through those storms and emerged on the other side. It wasn’t easy, but I began to make peace with my circumstances and forgive my experience.

I often wonder if the outlook on my life would have been different if I were told in advance what was going to happen to me. Something like: “Hey, you’re going to get really sick. You’ll have to stop working, but don’t worry, your family and friends are going to take care of you. You’ll feel shitty a lot, but you’ll have new time on your hands to read great books and practice creativity and finally develop the voice in your writing. Remember writing, your lifelong passion?!” I’d probably be like “Oh OK, that’s cool I guess.” It seems like often the source of anger or disappointment with life is that it doesn’t coincide with what we expected or planned. We like to think we’re in control of what happens. And when something like illness comes in and bowls over all your plans, well, it sucks. Mostly because you have to live with the uncertainty of not knowing what will happen to you and relinquishing control. The weird truth I learned again and again through this is that we’re never actually in control. We just feel more comfortable living under the facade the of it. Somewhere deep down we know that our calendars and to-do lists can be wiped out in a second by things outside of our power. But this doesn’t mean we don’t play the entire part of how we face what life throws at us. In fact this is the part where we have the most control. Either you make lemonade, or throw the lemons at people on the street, I guess. In my case it felt like I could stay mad and bitter at the things I lost, or I could try to make sense of the pain and move forward with the lessons and a life that was different than what I’d planned. This took a long time and is something I work on to this day.

To be honest, not working in the traditional sense still tugs at my ego and can make things very uncomfortable. It’s difficult to explain to strangers (and sometimes friends) and I’m well aware of the stigma it carries. I can feel what people think sometimes, and it doesn’t always feel good. At the same time, this is my life right now and maybe only I can know the truth of my experience. Some people will get it and some people won’t, but none of that should really dictate whether I’m able to find meaning in the life I have. My purpose isn’t among the 9-5 world for now, and that’s OK. It doesn’t mean I don’t have one. I just have to look deeper to find it I guess.

It took a long time for me to believe that–mostly because I always assumed the point of life was to grow up and get a job, then marry and have some babies. I never thought to deeply about it or beyond that. Now I work daily on accepting the direction of my life and harnessing gratitude for the things that I do have. In truth it was getting sick that allowed me to pursue writing as much as I have, which was always my passion. I guess I’d call that the Lemonade from sick lemons. Hardy har. Still I look forward to what’s next and other projects that don’t revolve around being sick. I try to use the memories of my experience as fuel and not fear. Mostly I’m just trying to do make the most out of my current situation, and I guess the only thing anyone can do is live and be grateful for the moment, which is now. No now. Well no now its now. Like Deepak Chopras watch says, it’s right-now-o-clock! Life is just the eternal moment.

Health, Happiness, Lemonade.