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Posts Tagged ‘trust’

I’m sitting here typing this on the longest night of the year. After this, the nights will be a few minutes shorter, and then a few minutes shorter again. At some point in the not-so-distant future, it won’t be dark at 4:15 in the afternoon. The sun will make it till 4:30 and then even 5:00.

I can’t give you words of comfort about the state of the world because I don’t have any right now. What I can give you is comfort on a more personal level.

Every year I make a photobook of highlights from the year that’s just gone by and give it to myself for Christmas. This year I didn’t want to make one. I put it off, and then I put it off some more. I thought it would be depressing. 2016 was such a challenging and difficult year for me personally, what photos would I even have to choose from? But finally I forced myself to sit down and start the job by telling myself I could always just make a whole book of cute Nala pictures. No one else might enjoy looking at a book like that, but I would like it.

What I found, though, as I started putting photos onto pages, was that there was still plenty to be happy about in 2016. My book wasn’t a lot shorter than usual, and it wasn’t a lot sadder than usual. There was still joy and love and silliness to record on its pages. There was still hope.

And I realize, when I think back on the year, how much of my joy derives from the people I care about. It’s been easier than usual to forget this year because there was a lot going on, and much of that was disappointing or ugly or just plain tough. But when I think about the year, I don’t just think about all the hard times. I also think of all the people who were there through the hard times.

I think of friends in the Bay Area who took me out, who danced with me, who listened to me without judgment, who fed me sushi and waffles and peanut butter pie. I think of those friends who supported me moving to Seattle one hundred percent even though they were personally sad I was leaving. And I think of the phone calls and messages since I moved, and how those friendships haven’t gone anywhere.

I think of my friends at Rainforest who helped me figure some stuff out. I think of my friends in LA who I hadn’t seen in years who welcomed me back into their lives with open arms. I think of my high school friends with whom I shared a special reunion. I think of my friends at Worldcon in Kansas City who looked out for me since my health wasn’t good.

I think of my friends in Seattle and how humbled I have been by their kindness and generosity. I had only been living here ONE MONTH when my life completely fell apart, and you all stepped up to the challenge, even though many of you barely knew me. I can’t think about it without crying. Your willingness to show up and be there for me and help me means everything to me. And there were many people supporting me from a distance as well. You showed me how good people can be and how little it sometimes takes to make a huge difference in someone else’s life. You have forever changed my experience of the world.

I think of my close friends, my inner circle. The ones who know me best, who know my faults as well as my strengths and love me anyway. The ones who walk beside me as we share what we think and how we feel. The ones who understand the less obvious things about me, the ones who validate my feelings, the ones who I trust. I feel so lucky to have met you.

And I think of Nala, of course, who is loyal and sweet and mischievous and empathetic. And who was so scared of being left when we’d moved to a new state that she learned how to grab onto my legs with her front paws while standing on her back paws. There is no one more concerned about my welfare than that little dog, and she brightens my life every single day just by being herself.

When we go through hard times we learn a lot, both about ourselves and about the people who are around us. What I learned this year is that even when everything is going to hell, some people will be kind and they will be true. And there are an awful lot of people out there who love and care about me, and who I love and care about back.

On the longest night of the year, I think about all of you, and then it doesn’t seem so very dark.

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Theodora Goss’s latest post cracked my head open, and thoughts have been pouring out ever since. There are at least three essays I could write in response to it.

This is one of them. It is about secrets.

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Photo Credit: Skley via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Skley via Compfight cc

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I have forged myself into a receptacle for keeping secrets. I have been a reliable secret keeper for twenty-five years. I know things I wish no one would ever need to know.

People tell me their secrets. Mostly men, because I’ve made an inadvertent lifelong study of being the type of woman men confide in. I’ve only realized this recently, and I’m not quite sure what, if anything, I am going to do about it. Is it so bad to be a secret keeper for other people?

I think it actually might be, at least in certain circumstances, because after a while, I disappear in the sea of secrets. The narratives unfold, and I allow them so much space that eventually I compress into hardly anything at all. Being a secret keeper can be hazardous to your health. It takes a master to prevent their encroachment and hold them where they belong.

Can I be a master? Perhaps.

Do I want to be? This is an entirely different question. I think I do, but only when my own secrets get to be a part of the sea.

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There are two types of people: those who, at the slightest hint of anything difficult in conversation, become distinctly and obviously uncomfortable, and those who aren’t afraid of talking about the hard stuff.

There are two types of people: those who know how to listen, and those who have never trained themselves to hold space for another person.

The ideal secret keeper doesn’t blink an eye at the hard stuff, and she holds space without a trace of judgment. The secret teller can then unburden himself in safety.

There is an art to creating trust.

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I have plenty of secrets. I don’t think about them all of the time, even most of the time, but when I do, I feel like they might choke me.

I turned keeping secrets into a modus operandi back in middle school, and I never looked back. My survival, I was convinced, depended on my ability to keep all these secrets that no one would understand. The idea of gossip about me was unimaginably horrible.

So I simply never told anybody anything.

It worked, too. And to this day I don’t think I made the wrong choice.

Then again, I still sometimes say very little indeed. So of course I agree with my past self. Of course.

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I have secrets I might be literally unable to talk about. I do not have the words. I am a writer without words, which as you might imagine, can be disconcerting. I might have to create a whole new language in order to express these secrets accurately.

I do not have the words because that’s what happens when something is traumatic enough. The trauma leaches words of meaning, and it blanches them bone white so they are hard to distinguish.

You read about avoidance of talking about trauma, and you think, oh, that must be like when you avoid cleaning your bathroom. But it is nothing like avoiding cleaning the bathroom. It is more like, your bathroom lacks the coherence and structural integrity to be able to clean. But it’s still sitting there needing to be cleaned all the same. So then you have to rebuild the entire freaking bathroom just so you can clean it.

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Secrets are bad for your health. This seems relevant to the current discussion. It is why one bothers to go to all the trouble of rebuilding the bathroom. Which, any way you slice it, is a huge pain in the ass.

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Right now this blog post is a secret. But tomorrow morning it will go out into the world, and the act of you reading it will transform it into something else.

Now that you have reached the end, it is no longer a secret. It is something we know together.

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At the end of each year, it is my custom on this blog to reflect on themes of the year: things I’ve learned, things I’ve been working on, things that keep coming up until they achieve a resonance with the year that’s gone by. And this year, as with last year, I find myself wanting to talk about friendship.

My friend Rahul wrote a blog post back in July that has stayed in my mind ever since: “Your friends probably won’t be there for you when you most desperately need someone’s help.” I was very bothered by this post because it put one of my fears into words and presented it as truth. Boiled down, the idea is that in your time of need, your family is all you have.

I completely disagree with this idea. And I think understanding this idea is not the only possible truth is perhaps one of the most important things I did this year.

This is not to say that I don’t think family is important. I do, absolutely. But sometimes we might not have very much family, or they might live far away, or they might be dysfunctional in a harmful way. Some of us end up without a lot or even any family. It can happen. And what then?

This is also not to say that all friends will be there for you at all times. More casual friends might not be there for you at all. Or you may surprise each other as the friendship deepens. And friends aren’t operating under an obligation that is the same as the familial obligation we are familiar with in our society.

Friendship. Photo Credit: Pensiero via Compfight cc

But it is possible to build a chosen family, a family of friends. It is not as straightforward, perhaps, as having blood ties. Different friends are willing and able to give each other different things, and this giving can’t be forced the way it sometimes can be in traditional families. Friendship has to be built over time, and because there isn’t one template, one correct way to do things, friendship has to be negotiated in a way that both people are ultimately comfortable with.

Just as with relationships with family or significant others, deeper relationships with friends are not always easy. Sometimes they need more time and care, sometimes they need some space. Sometimes your friend lets you down, and sometimes you let down your friend. Mistakes are made, feelings are hurt, things that need to be said aren’t said. Sometimes tough circumstances can be communicated through, and sometimes such efforts prove to be too difficult. Sometimes you are left with the thin hope that the passing of time will work some magic to allow renewed understanding to pass between the two of you.

This is what I AM saying. There have been times during the past two years when I have desperately needed someone’s help. And collectively, my friends have been there for me. They have shown generosity and caring in a thousand different ways. They have stood by me and let me learn what I needed to learn and most crucially, they have reminded me, over and over again, that I am not alone.

They are my family.

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I love the end of the year. Not only do I adore Christmas (it is my favorite holiday), but I like that it’s cold and it gets dark early, both of which encourage me to snuggle up indoors and reflect upon the year that is coming to a close. I plan to spend a lot of time in the next two weeks doing just that, and this week I’m going to write about the two lessons I learned this year that were most helpful to me.

I’ve been struggling with my writing for most of the year–not, thank goodness, with my nonfiction writing, so the blog hasn’t suffered unduly, but with my fiction. I have spent A LOT of time thinking about why I’m struggling and trying various strategies to make the writing work better for me. Most of those strategies failed. But in the last few weeks, I’ve finally found one that feels right.

I was reading snippets from Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing when I had my Aha! moment. He gives this three-fold advice to writers: Work, relax, and don’t think. Work I felt I understood, so I began turning around the other two steps in my head. What would it look like if I relaxed while I was writing? What would it be like to stop thinking so frantically? What if I stopped trying to avoid all the objectionable components of writing, stopped being obsessed with not making any of the obvious and embarrassing mistakes? What would happen if I gave myself permission to write what I wanted to write? In short, what would happen if I trusted myself as a writer and gave myself free rein?

Photo by Paul Moody

I am cerebral sort of person, so it’s difficult for me to even imagine not thinking, but I’m also stubborn and I was determined to give it a try. I sat down and spent the next week and a half writing a short story without censoring myself. I looked forward to working on it, and the words came more easily. I even voluntarily worked on it on the weekend. Here was the joy I had somehow misplaced for so much of the year. When I finished it, I felt a sense of completion. Whether or not I had written something good, I had written something I felt connected to and could take satisfaction from.

I gave the story to my husband, my faithful first reader, without telling him I had been trying anything different. When he finished reading, he told me it was the best thing I’ve ever written.

In creative work, I think it’s important to strive. I believe in working to learn and improve, in tackling difficult themes and uncooperative characters, in experimenting to learn your craft (whatever it might be) to the best of your abilities. But what I didn’t realize until now is that there is a point when I have to let go. I have to trust that my writing knowledge will be there for me. I have to stop second-guessing every decision I make. I have to believe in my vision and voice as an artist.

And it turns out, I do have my own voice. It’s been there all this time, waiting for me to be willing to listen.

Relax. Don’t think. Trust yourself.

What lessons pertaining to your work, artistic or otherwise, did you learn this year?

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