Feeds:
Posts
Comments

My friend uses the phrase “having a literary life” to mean, as far as I can tell, having a traumatic childhood. You know, the kind that would feature in a literary short story or possibly even form the foundation of a brilliant autobiographical debut novel with a two-word name, like White Rain or Sublime Bodies or Orchids Burning. (Maybe I’ll call mine Broken Magnolias, after the magnolia tree branch in my backyard I accidentally broke when I was six or seven. It would feature a call-back to Duras’s famous Moderato Cantabile, although in my novel the magnolia would symbolize a loss of innocence instead of female sexuality.)

Carolyn See wrote a book for writers called Making a Literary Life. It concerns establishing a regular writing routine (I think this is the first place I read about having a daily word count), becoming okay with submission and rejection, and writing charming notes to writers you admire.

By both of these metrics I have a literary life. But I would like to offer a third metric.

When I think about leading a literary life, I think of the way writing pervades every aspect of my existence. And don’t think I’m exaggerating; it really does.

When something bad happens to me: well, at least this might come in handy for my writing someday.

When looking for a place to live: does this feel like the kind of place I could write? is this part of my story of myself as a writer?

When engaging with the world: I am curious about all the things because you never know when I might need this knowledge or experience for a project.

When being impulsive: It feeds my creative well when I’m leading an exciting, romantic life. Plus this will make a great story later.

When not being impulsive: I need to focus on my work.

When wallowing: Tragedy! I am experiencing tragedy! Now let’s pour this all out into a cool creative project.

When socializing: If I understand people and their behavior and motivations more thoroughly, then think of the interesting characters I can create.

When out and about: People watching. More people watching. More people watching.

When appreciating the small, the mundane, the ordinary: This vividness of experience will translate so much more strongly on the page. Telling details for the win!

When making decisions: I want to lead the kind of life I wouldn’t be bored to write about, and be the kind of character I wouldn’t be bored to read about.

Such is my literary life.

Books books books!

Books books books!

 

Around my birthday, I received a request to write on the blog about my thoughts on aging. It’s a fabulous topic but oh so loaded, so I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about what to say.

I could spend the next five hundred words dancing around the topic, and we all might be a little more comfortable if that’s what I did (I certainly would), but here’s the truth. My views on aging are inescapably tied to my own present experience, and my own present experience is as a woman of a certain age, and a single woman, no less. And what society and the media tells me about women like me is not palatable. I have to expend a certain amount of energy rejecting the negative messages I’m receiving, and even so, I sometimes internalize them by accident.

This is not pretty, but it is reality.

Like it or not, we live in a society that places a very high value on youth and on physical appearance. Women in particular receive constant messages from a very young age that their primary value comes from their appearances, appearances that will inevitably, because of our cultural beauty standard, fade with age. Aging, then, forces us to redefine our own value and place in the world. Women are also more likely to be defined in media by their relationships to others. By a certain age, if they’re in the movies at all, they’re most often somebody’s mother or somebody’s wife, and beyond these roles, they aren’t very fleshed out. (Television seems to do a bit better, which is why I adore Gilmore Girls, for example, in which the main character Lorelai, in spite of being a mother, consistently defines herself.)

So there are some obvious problems here, and earlier this year, I began to feel a new uneasiness about my age. I heard a comment about how it’s all downhill for a woman after 30, and I was unable to deflect. So instead I felt anxious and self-conscious about my age, and then I hit a mini-crisis point. A new acquaintance asked me point-blank how old I was, and my knee jerk response was to refuse to answer. That had never been who I was–I’ve never had any problem telling someone how old I am–but in that moment, I saw that it could become who I was, that I had begun to buy into the absurdity of belittling myself because of my age.

I had reached a crossroads, and after some reflection, I realized that no, this was not okay. We have to embrace who we are–ALL of who we are–and our ages are a part of that. There is nothing to be ashamed of there, whatever society may tell us, and if the question is framed in such a way as to create that shame, that’s on the other person. If my answer causes disappointment or judgment, well, that’s not a person who is going to enrich my life in any case.

And I told the acquaintance my age without apology.

When I contemplated which candles to buy for my “Come as You Aren’t” party, I decided to buy 5 and 0 because if I was coming as I wasn’t, I wanted to come older than I am. I wanted to say, my life would be just as awesome the way it is if I were 50. My age does not matter. My life is defined by myself and by the priorities I have carefully chosen. Not by my appearance. Not by my relationships to others. By me.

You know what I'm not thinking here? "Do I look old?" Nah, I'm thinking, lightsabers and tiaras and this is the first time I've worn a tie, oh my!

You know what I’m not thinking here? “Do I look old?” Nah, I’m thinking, lightsabers and tiaras and this is the first time I’ve worn a tie, oh my!

And I like being who I am. I feel more attractive than I did ten years ago, and I feel more comfortable in my own skin. I have such a greater understanding of who I am. When I look in the mirror, I don’t think, “Wow, I look old.” I think, “Hey, I look happy today” or “I’m tired, I need to start going to bed earlier” or “I need to open my mouth more vertically for that belted note” or even “I like the way I look.” Heaven forbid.

We think so much about age as a physical thing, and in particular how it affects the way we look. But part of age is very much an internal thing. Sometimes I feel vastly old, and sometimes I feel bright and new. (This feeling may or may not be correlated to how much sleep I’ve been getting.) Sometimes I have the enthusiasm of a five-year-old, and other times I have the world-weariness of a sixty-five-year-old. I can be as naive as a ten-year-old and as wise as a seventy-year-old. All on the same day!

Much more important to keep in mind, then, is a commitment to openness, to change, to flexibility and resilience. Much more important to cultivate is a sense of humor. Much more important to remember is to see the beautiful parts of the world as well as the painful parts in order to keep some lightness of spirit.

Because in the end what matters is not our age but who we have chosen to be in whatever time we’ve had.

I’ve been meaning to write about my birthday party, which happened a few weeks ago at this point. The theme was “Come as you aren’t,” a brilliant idea that was originally suggested by my friend Mike on this blog. It took me almost a year and a half to implement the idea, but it was completely worth the wait.

I dressed up as a hipster Jedi princess:

With my shiny lightsaber that makes cool noises!

With my shiny lightsaber that makes cool noises!

We also had some unusually smartly dressed people, a belly dancer, another Jedi complete with Hawaiian shirt (yes!), and a whole host of other oddments of apparel. It was a fun spice to add to an evening of celebration.

And here's me with Petyr Baelish for good measure.

And here’s me with Petyr Baelish for good measure.

I have a confession to make: the obligatory singing after the cake candles have been lit usually makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I always do it anyway at my birthday parties because I tend to get attached to traditions, even ones that cause me slight awkwardness. But it’s hard to be the center of attention when I’m not DOING anything. I don’t usually know where to look or what to do with myself. I kind of wish I could sing along.

But this year, the moment of singing was the most memorable and the most touching. I didn’t feel awkward. Instead I felt surrounded by the love and support of my friends who had gathered in my overly hot apartment to celebrate the fact that I exist and that we get to know each other. I felt caught up in a strangely physical experience made of singing and proximity and affection, like I was receiving a hug from all my friends, even those who couldn’t make it.

I’ve written about creating a chosen family of friends before, and this has been my most tangible experience of this. I used to be so afraid that having such a family was impossible, that the only way of receiving this support was through blood relatives and significant others. I’d comb the internet looking for people talking about chosen families, and I’d come up relatively empty-handed. Why was nobody talking about this? I didn’t know, but I held close the few examples I knew about. I needed the hope.

So when I say that I have never felt as loved and as safe as I did at my recent birthday party, I say it both to thank those of you who have touched my life so significantly and to pass that hope along to those of you who need it right now. Creating a chosen family of friends IS possible. Whatever your situation–if you don’t have much or any family in your life right now, if you are single, if you’ve moved to a new place, if you’ve been through a lot–none of this consigns you to a life of being alone and unconnected.

And of course it’s not just the birthday party. Regular readers of the blog may have noticed I’ve been having a tough time this last month and a half. But one of the things that has made it much easier than it otherwise would have been is the friends who have been reaching out to me. This time has been an inadvertent pressure test, and it has left me with the strong realization that yes, my life really is different now. I am different, and the relationships I have in my life are different, and these changes are a source of strength and solace.

And when it comes down to it, good friends will take you as you are, even when you come as someone different than you used to be.

Isn’t there a saying that everything in this life worth having requires a certain amount of risk?

If there isn’t, there should be.

Life doesn’t come with a guarantee.

#

The trick, then, is figuring out what you’re willing to risk and what you’re not willing to risk. Or if you’re me, figuring out which risks are healthy and which risks are dysfunctional.

Fear, unfortunately, does not tend to be the most reliable indicator. Fear can exist for both positive risks and harmful risks. Sometimes we are more afraid of risks that will be good for us than risks that will be actively detrimental.

Sometimes we want to choose a risk that would be bad for us because those old unhealthy patterns are so very comfortable.

Sometimes what we want has nothing at all to do with the wise course of action.

#

Photo Credit: Martin Gommel via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Martin Gommel via Compfight cc

#

Here’s what happens when you aren’t willing to risk at all:

Nothing happens!

Unless life forces itself on you, which it has a habit of doing. So maybe a few things will happen. Eventually. Randomly. And inevitably. The days will pass, and you will get older, and the world will slowly change around you.

You can embrace stagnancy. Which, when you think about it, is actually a pretty big risk to take too. It just takes less effort.

#

Here’s what happens when you are willing to take some risks:

Maybe you will fail, and you will be completely and absolutely devastated.

Maybe you will fail, and you will learn something.

Maybe you will fail, and you will realize it wasn’t very important to you after all. Or that it is SUPER important, and you are determined to keep trying.

Maybe you will fail, and you will see that you are strong. Maybe stronger than you think.

Maybe you will succeed!

Maybe you will kind of succeed, and end up taking some strange tangent, and it turns out to be the best thing that could have ever happened.

Maybe you will realize that risks are okay, and pain is okay, and disappointment is okay, and All the Emotions are okay.

Maybe you will succeed, and then you’ll realize you have to take ANOTHER risk. Darn it.

#

The past few years, I’ve taken some big risks. Big enough that beforehand, I feel sick to my stomach, and I have to take deep breaths and make strange Amy hand gestures to convince myself to go forward.

(You think I’m kidding about the hand gestures?)

I’ve laid myself bare on the page. I’ve asked for what I needed, even when I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be getting it. I’ve said no, and I’ve said yes. I’ve taken a close look at things I don’t want to look at, and I’ve shared things I’ve been afraid to share. I’ve committed myself to change, and I’ve committed myself to holding boundaries that force me to acknowledge the painful behavior of others.

I have taken a few long shots, because the unlikely payoff would be so freaking beautiful, it makes the risk completely worth it.

I would take them again.

And I have failed

And I have lost.

And I have found things that are infinitely precious to me.

I have cried myself to sleep, and I have been blissfully happy.

And my life is so much richer for it all.

#

Everything worthwhile in this life requires a certain amount of risk.

The choice is yours.

Cute Dog Day

Every now and then, I need to declare a cute dog day. This is one of those days.

Here, have a cute dog photo:

Nala!

Nala!

Even when the blackness of night envelops us, we look for specks of light in the sky. We call them stars.

#

Most of us live so very much in our own heads. We impose our internal reality on external reality. Thus it becomes of critical importance to be able to differentiate what comes from ourselves from what comes from others.

#

All beings suffer. Comparing this suffering is a fool’s game. We do it anyway.

#

With true self respect comes an unwillingness to play a supporting role in someone else’s story. Especially a supporting role that makes us smaller than we actually are.

#

We are all awash in stories. When we believe in a story hard enough, it becomes true to us, even when this is a story that doesn’t need to be true and will act to hold us back.

#

It is easier to dwell on differences, but we are also all the same.

#

We cannot fix another person. Most often we can merely be present, and then only if we are allowed, with grace, to do so.

#

Remember the stars. Hope matters.

Yes, I have now had the equivalent of a college education in blogging. I am taking a moment to bask in my sense of accomplishment.

….

Basking achieved!

#

I’ve been spending more time than usual over the past few months thinking about the future of this blog. Should I continue to post like clockwork two days a week? Should I experiment with length? With topics? With styles? What about Tumblr? Should I even continue to write the blog at all?

#

My very first post on this blog was “Originality: Having Something to Say.” I spent some time last week muttering to myself: “What do I have to say? WHAT DO I HAVE TO SAY?” (Okay, that last wasn’t so much a mutter as an emphatic question.)

I think it’s important to periodically reflect on that question, as a blogger and also as an artist. Even if the answer is sometimes, “I have no idea.”

#

I have heard the observation that blogging is inherently narcissistic, I suppose because it requires the belief that what you have to say matters. I’d argue that if you don’t value what you yourself have to say, it is perhaps not about narcissism as much as it is about a lack of self-esteem or self-confidence.

That is not to say blogging is for everyone. It really isn’t. Perhaps you don’t have a lot to say, and that’s fine. Perhaps you don’t want to post what you have to say publicly, and that’s fine. Perhaps you’d rather say what you have to say through fiction, or through visual art, or through film-making, or through Toastmasters, or through running for local office. Perhaps you want to keep your thoughts for yourself and yourself alone.

All fine, and none of it is automatically narcissistic. Since when did having something to say become equated with narcissism? Are we all just supposed to sit around in a state of complete apathy?

No, thanks.

#

In a recent post, Penelope Trunk wrote: “Because he’s a good blogger, Noa blogs as he learns….” And a lightbulb lit up for me.

Because this is what I strive to do. I blog as I learn. That’s why I never run out of things to say: because I am always learning, and I’m always thinking about what I’m learning. Sometimes you, my readers, help me along the way with your insights and experiences. And then I get to learn even more.

Thank you for taking this journey with me, dear readers. I don’t know exactly what form this blog will take in the future, but I can’t wait to find out what we’re going to learn in year 5.

10450637_10152508595100731_3988031246581205350_n

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,782 other followers