Please don’t stand so close to me …
When all is going wrong and you’re scared as hell
What you gonna do? Who you gonna tell?
Maybe a hundred bad days made a hundred good stories
A hundred good stories make me interesting at parties
Wonderin’, would you be, my little quarantine?
What the hell is wrong with everybody right now?
Haunted by the melody …
In 2014, I picked the word fierce as my word for the year and it was a damn fine word.
I wanted to be fierce about the decisions in my life. To stand up for my needs more and compromise my happiness less. To live my life fully and not let my fear of not being liked (or loved) stop me from doing what I really want to do. To be visible and courageous and unflinching in my authenticity.
Did I succeed? For the most part …hell yes I did! Not always, of course. And I’m sure I had my clumsy and inelegant moments in which I inadvertently hurt others. But mostly, I loved being fierce. I made some really hard decisions and then hoped my friends would understand. Some did and our friendship is strengthened and more deeply valued by me. Some didn’t and the loss of that connection brings sadness but few regrets.
I tackled some big physical challenges and made it over the damn mountain. Twice. I spoke some hard truths and I tried to do it with love, compassion and thoughtfulness. And I walked into the darkness to poke at what hurts in the hopes of healing the wounds.
Now that it’s 2015, I’m not sure I want to let my fierce word companion go. I think I might keep that fierceness tucked in my back pocket and just keep on keeping on.
But as 2014 came to a close and I began thinking about a word for 2015 one thing became increasingly clear. The most troubled area for me in living fully is still my physical relationship with my body. I’ve put on weight (again). I never feel like I eat healthy or get enough exercise. But July’s experience hiking the Quiraing planted the seed that I needed to get along with my body more. I couldn’t force it to do what I wanted; I needed to support it.
And then, at the end of 2014, I had the incredible experience of being with a dear friend in the last days of his life as he passed away from cancer and his spirit was released from this world. As I watched his body break down and stop working, I realized that I have spent a lot of my life at war with my body. Hating it for being too fat, blaming it for the things that haven’t gone the way I wanted them to (hello rejection and heartbreak), yelling at it to be in better shape like some kind of abusive coach. Faster! Stronger! Not Good Enough!
The fact is, though, that my body is working pretty damn well. There are a whole lot of things going right each day that mean I am mobile, not in pain and able to do the things I want to. It has done its best and stuck with me even with the negative self-talk and the crap I sometimes feed it.
Perhaps instead of being at war with my body, I could instead be at peace with it. Maybe instead of yelling I could celebrate my body and all the amazing things we can do together. Perhaps if I loved my body more then this idea of self-care would become less of a battle and more of a partnership. If I could take the fierceness with which I have tackled the outside world in 2014 and turn it inwards into celebration and partnership then I might be much happier and waste less of this precious life.
And so I have chosen the word stretch for 2015. To stretch my body fully and gloriously and revel in all it can do. To expand my body and my spirit together in partnership to explore the potential of my life. To physically stretch my muscles to allow for free movement.
If fierce was the word that acted as a backstop to keep me from eroding myself away in compromise and people-pleasing then I hope stretch is a word that helps me join hands with my body and reach forward towards my goals and dreams and desires.
It’s time to make peace with the enemy.
The war is over.
Let the parade begin.
don’t give up
’cause you have friends
So here’s to living life miserable.
And here’s to all the lonely stories that I’ve told.
My nerves will be the death of me.
Today, I headed out on a hiking journey in Scotland but instead of counting sheep, I ended counting my fears.
Part of the reason to sign up for this week-long hiking trip was to face a challenge. To stretch my body and my mind and to experience new adventures. But today was far more challenging than I ever expected.
We hiked an area of the Island of Skye called the Quiraing. A giant landslip in the northeast part of the island, the Quiraing has large jagged cliffs with a slope that falls away into the green valley below. Our path wound is way up and through the cliffs, rocky face on one side and steep drop off on the other. Rocky and muddy, the path topped out at a windy and misty summit.
While I knew some of the hiking trip would be difficult, I was not expecting the steep slope or the rocky terrain. It was probably the scariest thing I have done in a long time and most of the four hour hike was spent battling the trail and my fears.
Some of the fears were easily dismissed. The fear of not keeping up? Whatever. The terrain was a challenge and was going at my own speed. The rest of the group could deal.
Fear of physically being able to complete the hike? Well, I could stop and rest when needed. After all, frequent stops for photos was clearly warranted and gave a good chance to catch my breath.
But the one fear that left me paralyzed and struggling to breathe was the fear of falling. About a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with a type of vertigo and while I have had a few bouts of room-spinning, this was entirely different.
My body physically felt like it was about to fall. Panic flooded my systems, I couldn’t breathe and my body would not move. Not a step. It was like my body was saying, “we are about to fall to our death, so I’m not moving from this spot in order to save us from that”.
What is frustrating is that my mind knew better. I knew I was okay. There were other people on the trail, I had a climbing pole and I could go as slowly as needed. But my body was not listening.
But since I couldn’t stand on that hillside forever, somehow I had to figure out how to go forwards, despite that fact that it was the last thing I wanted to do. I had no choice but to try and unparalyze myself from the fear.
Since I’m back at the hotel room writing this, you will know that somehow I made it. I talked gently and lovingly to my body, respecting how it felt while trying to keep it moving forwards. My sister helped me, talking to me the whole way, telling jokes and stories to keep me distracted and she even took my camera and took photos so I could see them later. I watched only the path in front of me although I did manage to look up a few times, if rarely down.
This was my second experience with whatever you call this kind of vertigo panic attack. The first was on Glastonbury Tor last year. From that experience, I learned that sometimes you just have to move forwards through the fear because there is no other choice.
What struck me this time, once the adrenaline had cleared from my system and I was having a nice cup of tea at the end of the walk, was that people say that one of the worst fears is the fear of the unknown.
I’m not sure about that. If I had known at the first upward turn of the path today what was ahead of me, I would not have continued. After struggling through the first of river crossings and down-up that first slippery slope, if I had known that it was but the first of many heart-pounding, breath stealing, panicky stretches of trail then I would not have been able to continue. Hell, if I’d known what that hike was like, I would not have left the carpark!
Perhaps when we face our fears, it’s best not to know what is ahead so we can do it one tiny step at a time. Focus just on the challenge in front of us and not worry about what is next. Perhaps the whole path ahead is too intimidating to think of in its entirety. It can only be traversed one challenge at a time.
Did I have fun? No. Would I ever do it again? Not willingly. Am I glad I did it? Meh, maybe give me a few more days to recover. Am I proud of myself? Hell yes!!!! And I am grateful for everything that my fears and that path taught me today.
And as I take my tired body to bed, I’ll be happy with just counting sheep.
I’m taking a glass blowing class and, wow, am I bad at it.
While sitting at the torch making beads, I have been sneaking peaks at the glass blowing in the hot shop thinking “if I don’t take advantage of this opportunity to try, I am always going to regret it”. I finally mustered my nerve and signed up for a class.
It’s been five weeks and, no surprises, I am loving it. A dance with the fire of creation itself.
But … it’s really hard. And, intense. And, nerve-wracking. And, frustrating.
The teachers are awesome and encouraging. It’s a hard skill to learn. They keep telling us how it takes years to get good. Being me, I want to be good at it now. Like, right now.
I was reminded by my sister of this great quote by Ira Glass (ha, ha) about the taste gap in creating art.
Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?
A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit. And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be — they knew it fell short, it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have.
And the thing I would say to you is everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, if you’re going through it right now, if you’re just getting out of that phase — you gotta know it’s totally normal.
And the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work — do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week, or every month, you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions. It takes a while, it’s gonna take you a while — it’s normal to take a while. And you just have to fight your way through that, okay?
And so I am fighting my way through it. My pieces are wonky. And wobbly. And uneven. And not what I hope they will look like. Certainly not what the demo piece looks like!
But I still love them. In all their wonkyness and beautiful colours. They are trying to be good.
And that’s good enough.